Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A voter's lament

I'm an avid voter — I've voted in eight elections in six years — and I highly advocate the practice. But after turning off the depressing B.C. election results last night I realized a sad and slightly frightening voting tradition I've carried out after almost every election: I thought about leaving the country. I thought about where in the world I could live where politics is fair, where my vote actually meant something.

I am very much left of centre, but I wouldn't describe myself as a fringe voter. This election I found myself wading into the unfamiliar territory of voting Green, but only because political parties in B.C. seem to be bizarro versions of the parties I know and loathe federally and provincial in Newfoundland and Labrador. Where else in Canada would the NDP want to get rid of a carbon tax? Where else would Liberals fear deficeits to the point of destroying or privitizing social services to the detrement of an ever increasing homeless and impoverished population?

But while I wasn't surprised to see the Liberals get back in, I was surprised and incredibly disheartened to see the Single Transferable Vote referendum fail. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that British Columbians have little to no faith in their voting system — only 48 per cent even bothered to vote. This resulted in the Liberals taking 13 more seats even though they had roughly the same percentage of the popular vote that they had in 2005.

The same thing happened in the federal election last fall — only 60 per cent of Canadians even bothered to vote resulting in the Conservatives coming away with an even stronger majority than they started with, despite only recieving 37 per cent of the vote. Some may argue it's because the vote was split (the Liberals blamed Jack Layton, for example, for taking their votes) but what's the point in having a democracy if you can't vote for the party that best represents you because you're too afraid of letting the party that least represents you in?

Maybe Single Transferable Vote wasn't the right kind of voting system — some people argued Mixed Member Proportional representation is a better system. But how much longer are we willing to wait out First Past the Post? I highly doubt people will be willing to look at another voting system the next election that comes around.

Voting doesn't have to be so disheartening, but now that STV has failed twice in B.C. and once in Ontario, no province will be bringing it up any time soon. In the meantime I'll fantisize about living in a magical fantasy world where the poor are taken care of, the environment is a bigger concern than business, and my vote matters.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Dyrgas

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Old-fashioned misogyny

He hasn’t even sat down in his newly appointed Senate seat, and already people are calling for Patrick Brazeau’s resignation.

Brazeau, former national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), is facing allegations of sexual harassment from two former employees: Jade Harper, and an unnamed woman, dating back to 2007.

Harper filed a complaint against Brazeau and the CAP with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging drunkenness and sexual exploitation in the office. She told the CBC she decided to come forward after hearing about allegations made against Brazeau last year by another former employee.

Is it only coincidence, then, that Harper came forward as soon as Brazeau is appointed to the Senate?

It’s easy to dismiss Harper as a harpy, a vindictive woman determined to see her former boss fail because of some unknown grievance. What better time to exact revenge than when he’s appointed to a position of prominence and power in Canadian politics?

At the same time, Harper claims she went through complaints procedures at the CAP to no avail. Imagine her surprise, then, when she turns on the TV in December to hear the Stephen Harper has appointed Brazeau to the Senate.

After learning about the previous allegation, perhaps she decided to take her experiences to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and thus into the middle of a political controversy.

Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford takes the view in her January 10 column, “Watchdogs of sexual harassment eager to bite as they ever were,” that Brazeau is at worst guilty of being an “old-fashioned” man.

While Blatchford believes it’s unfortunate women have to put up with sexual harassment in this day and age, she thinks women should just learn to cope with it.

Do we really want someone with such “old-fashioned” attitudes towards female co-workers in our Senate? I’m hard-pressed to see Blatchford take a pat on the head (or behind) by a male superior lying down, so why should we subject Brazeau’s female staff or Senate colleagues to the same treatment?

I agree sexual harassment is a grey area — I’ve worked in some sexually charged workplaces before where pats on the behind, sexual innuendo, and even drinking occurred on a regular basis. I was rarely offended, but I was working with friends. If they crossed the line, I let them know it.

We trod a very fine line, however, as newcomers might not share our depraved sense of humour. We ran a constant risk of subjection to sexual harassment cases ourselves. But can you find me a newspaper run by university students that doesn’t?

That being said, everyone has the right to feel comfortable and safe in the workplace. And if they don’t, they have the right to make their concerns known and see them addressed.

Blatchford fears allegations of sexual harassment could ruin Brazeau’s reputation, even if he’s found innocent. She cites an external investigation conducted into the first allegations last year at the request of the CAP, which cleared Brazeau.

But former CAP Board Member Will Menard told CBC the investigation did determine there was inappropriate behaviour on Brazeau’s behalf. He also said Brazeau didn’t violate the CAP’s sexual harassment policy only because it was “so weak.”

This doesn’t prove Brazeau’s guilt, of course, but it does cast a shadow of doubt. If he really is innocent, Brazeau should face these allegations head on, with the best lawyer his six-figure salary can afford.

If he’s found guilty, however, Stephen Harper should not only strip Brazeau of his seat, but also take a long, hard look into the closet of his next appointee for any “old-fashioned” skeletons.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Putting the brake on young drivers

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wants to curb young driving offenses by changing the law to drivers under 21 must have nothing above a blood alcohol level of zero, drivers 16-19 can't drive anywhere with more than one passenger also 19 or under, and will face up to a 30-day suspension of their license for speeding. The premier cites protecting older children as his reasoning behind these "modest restrictions" and says as a father, he's prepared to make his kids suffer for their safety. 

This is all fine and dandy if you want a seriously pissed off section of the population (some of who can vote, Mr. McGuinty, so watch out), who will either go ahead and break the law anyway, or increase green house gas emissions by not carpooling. But what happens when they go drinking? Not everyone is going to be the designated driver, and only so many people can sleep on your floor. Call me crazy, but I think predictions of an increase in drunk driving are spot on if these rules come into play.

These laws will also come on top of the extra restrictions already placed on new drivers in Ontario, which has a graduated license system. Drivers start out with a G1, which requires drivers to maintain a blood alcohol level of zero, and to always drive with a licensed driver who has at least four years driving experience (a permit in Newfoundland and Labrador). After a year and passing the G1 test, drivers move onto G2, where you still have to maintain a blood alcohol level of zero, but you can drive with anyone, provided there's only as many passengers as seat belts (isn't that the law for everyone? Shouldn't it be?), and you still have to pass a drivers test at the end of 12 months.

There are already four Facebook groups dedicated to stopping these new rules before they become laws, with over 15,000 members already. While I agree with maintaining a zero per cent alcohol level for new drivers, overall babying of new drivers will not provide them with the experience and skills required to become good drivers. Just because teenagers are young does not make them any less competent than a 30-something learning to drive, and bestowing extra restrictions on them will leave Mr. McGuinty with yet another segment of the population extremely peeved about cars.

** Photo courtesy of djuggler.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Questioning the Weatherman

I subscribe to The Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report podcast, a daily independent news show out of the US. I admit, it's pretty lefty (surprise, surprise), but what I appreciate most about the show is that host Amy Goodman questions everyone, for example when a guest called Karl Rove a liar, she asked them to back it up, even though most people wouldn't dispute that statement. So when I heard former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were going to be on the program, I got excited. Sure, the Weather Underground were lefty radicals, but many people believe they took it too far, myself included, and I thought for sure Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzales were going to take these two to task.

To give you a bit of background on The Weather Underground and where I formed my opinions on them, they were a radical anti-Vietnam war group during the late 1970s, who bombed banks, New York City Police Headquarters, the US Capitol, and The Pentagon. I learned about them through watching the documentary The Weather Underground a few years ago. The group usually bombed buildings at night when no one was supposed to be around, but during a bomb making session in a Manhattan town house, three Weather Underground members were killed. The bombs they had been making were supposed to be used to bomb a dance at an army base.

I know the 1960s and early 1970s were a tumultuous time — government corruption, racism, violence, an unpopular and unjust war that killed millions of Vietnamese and Americans. Even though we face similar circumstances right now, it's nothing compared to the upheaval the Western World, the USA in particular, was going through. Nevertheless, I can't condone bombing; The Weather Underground (or The Weathermen as they were originally known) could have hurt innocent people, and did kill some of their own members as a result of their actions. How does that make them any different than sending off poor kids, many of them black, to their deaths in Vietnam?

On the show, Bill Ayers denied The Weather Underground were ever a terrorist organization because no one ever got hurt. But terrorism doesn't have to result in people getting hurt or killed, by definition it is violence and intimidation used for political gains, and there's little more violent or intimidating than a bomb. Sure, the people responsible for the Vietnam war, the beating of protesters, the beating and murders of African Americans deserved a nice wallop of karma coming their way, but violence isn't the answer to violence.

Unfortunately, when the townhouse explosion came up in the Democracy Now! interview, when Bernadine Dohrn said it was after this explosion that the group decided human casualties were no longer acceptable, neither Goodman nor Gonzales pressed Dohrn or Ayers about whether they had intended to kill people originally, and/or why were human casualties acceptable. 

Goodman then went on to ask Ayers about an accusation Bill O'Reilly made about The Weather Underground bombing a police station and not regretting it, and he skirted the question, speaking generally about him not condoning the groups actions in his latest book Fugitive Days (which had the initial, unfortunate, release date of September 11, 2001). Yet later Ayers says he has no regrets about what they did. 

I'm not seeking justice here — most of The Weather Underground members served their time and are now getting on with their lives. It's the fact they don't see the error of their ways, or the possible consequences that bothers me. I see where they were coming from, and I understand their rage, but bombing banks and police stations are not and were not the way to get the government to listen to what you had to say. While I'm sure some of the "bad" people were intimidated by the bombings and actions of The Weather Underground, many more innocent people were scared and thus turned off from their ideas. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon  were assassinated, but their messages of peaceful protest and change have reached far more people than The Weather Underground's bombings. 

I'm not going to stop listening to Democracy Now! because of this interview, as it's otherwise an informative program not only about the United States but situations happening all around the world. However this has put a damper on my excitement about the program — as journalists it's our job to question people, even if they're our heroes, our best friends, or our own mothers, and in this interview I don't think that criteria was met. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blame Jack?

I attended a Liberal Party rally in downtown Vancouver last night to cover the event for The Ubyssey, UBC's student newspaper. It was a bloodbath for the Liberals, winning only five of a possible 36 seats in BC, but two of the winning candidates — Hedy Fry, and Ujjal Dosanjh— were in attendance and full of fire and brimstone for the New Democratic and Green Party leaders. Basically, they blamed their loss on vote splitting, on the New Democrats fooling Canadians into thinking they could form a government, on the Greens for being the "Ralph Nader" of Canadian politics, and the media for not doing its job properly in failing to show Canadians Dion was a better choice for prime minister than Harper. 

I understand the argument on vote splitting, but I think it's pompous and naive of the Liberals to believe Canadians had been "tricked" into voting for Jack Layton or Elizabeth May. I, for one, had a really hard time deciding who to vote for this time around; the Liberals, NDP, and Greens all had positions that I agreed with, but they also had positions I disagreed with. I usually vote NDP, but Jack Layton rubbed me the wrong way this election, particularly with his attempt to block Elizabeth May from the leadership debates. But I also don't agree with the Green Party's position on the seal hunt. I was tempted to voted Liberal, but since moving to Vancouver poverty and homelessness has become an important issue to me, and the gap between the rich and poor increased dramatically under the Liberal government during the 1990's. When it came down to the wire I sucked up my dislike of Layton and voted NDP. 

Conservatives only took 44.4 per cent of the vote in BC, and 37.63 per cent of the vote in Canada as a whole — hardly the 50 per cent plus one ideal for a winning party. If you believe what the Liberals claim about vote splitting and "stealing", the NDP, Greens, and Liberals combined took 51.24 per cent of the country's vote, meaning the majority of Canadians did not support the Conservative government. Fair enough, but the Liberals are assuming Canadians who didn't want a Conservative government were "confused" and would have voted Liberal if they had known better. 

The NDP might not be forming a government anytime soon, but they did increase their seat count from 19 t0 29 in the 2006 election, and to 37 during this election — a long way from a minority government, but steadily rising. I'm no rocket scientist, but I think this means there are some Canadians out there who identify more with the NDP platform than Liberal or Conservative. 

The Greens didn't get any seats this time, but they did take 6.8 per cent of the vote — more than the previous election. Oh, and then there's the Bloq Quebecois with 50 seats out of a possible 75. Perhaps it was because it was a British Columbia rally, but neither Fry nor Dosanjh mentioned the Gilles Duceppe when listing off election scapegoats. 

I am disappointed with the outcome of last night's election — particularly the record low voter turnout (less than 50 per cent in Newfoundland? Seriously?!) — but I think the blame for the Conservative minority government should fall mostly on our first past the post voting system. Most of the opposition parties supported a reformed proportional representation electoral system, such as Mixed Member Proportionality, though this was a new stance for the Liberals - perhaps because they haven't been able to form a majority government since 2002. Whether or not they'll maintain this stance if they should form government again remains to be seen. 

Photo: Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry. Credit: Alfred Hermida,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prayer solves gas pains?

Every time (and it happens quite frequently) that I hear someone say "Americans are stupid" or something to that effect, I cringe. It doesn't matter how intelligent that person is, once they utter that phrase they go down in my esteem. It's like saying Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are stupid — it's a sweeping generalization, and it makes you sound ignorant and arrogant. There are over 350 million Americans and if they were all stupid, America would not have reached the super power status is has today — I'm not saying it deserves that status, but it didn't get there by being a country populated entirely by idiots. 

That being said, there are, like anywhere, some stupid, arrogant people in the United States and some of them are crediting God for lowering their gas prices

I make no secret of my lack of spiritual beliefs, but I try not to infringe on the spiritual sides of others. However, this really got my goat, as it were. There are over 6 billion people living on earth today, and according to the World Bank over one billion people live in extreme poverty, living on less than $1 a day. According to world religion statistics compiled by, the number one religion is Christianity with approximately 2.1 billion devotees, followed by Islam with 1.5 billion, Hindus close behind at 900 million, and so on  — in short, there are a lot of believers out there, which leads me to make what I believe to be a well-educated guess that a lot of people pray at least once a day. 

Though most world religions teach you to be selfless, chances are a lot of people are praying that they make it through the day, and yet a lot of people die from something we take for granted in the West like nutritional deficiencies or influenza, many of them small children. So it boggles my mind that there are people out there praying for gas prices to be lowered, particularly since they believe their prayers are being answered. 

When I first heard the story on CBC radio this morning, one woman complained that she had to make the decision between food and gas for her car — now, I don't know her exact situation, maybe there is no public transit where she lives, and she can't carpool or walk to work. But then again, maybe she can, and in that case she needs to get her priorities straight. 

The "Pray at the Pump" movement are ignoring some statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, which says Americans are driving less — 53.2 billion miles less — and that's what's causing the drop in American gas prices to $3.78/gallon from the over $4/ gallon it was this in July. 

Perhaps I'm taking this too seriously, and I should be laughing off people who think the drop in gas prices is a direct result of divine intervention. But there's something about this that just reeks of a sense of entitlement due to living in a first world country. 

Someone told me recently that if third world countries were as rich as Canada or the U.S., they would be just as decadent. That may very well be true, but it's no excuse for whining over not being able to drive our cars when some people don't even have access to bicycles.