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.