Monday, September 28, 2015

Desperate Times Require Desperate Measures: Canada's Old Stock Political Parties Fan the Flames of Prejudice With Canada's Old Stock Voters

Pretty pathetic if you ask me.  During the longest campaign in living memory, suddenly the question of a Muslim woman wearing the niqab (a partial veil that covers the face but not the eyes) is front and center during the 2015 Canadian General Election.  WTF?

Recently, a Canadian tribunal overturned the requirement that a woman could not wear the niqab during a ceremony when new Canadians become citizens.  The court ruled that it was sufficient that the woman showed her face to the judge in private before the public ceremony and then could participate in the ceremony while wearing her niqab.

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Now, the Conservative Party of Canada swears it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and if elected will pass a law in parliament banning the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony during the first 100 days of a new mandate.  Likewise, the Bloc Quebecois is running television ads in Quebec demonizing the front-leading New Democratic Party with a graphic of black oil oozing out of a container and pooling into the shape of a niqab.  Enough to drive a separatist to shout out "Hostie, Tabarnac" (swear words in Quebec referring to sacraments of the Catholic mass).

Yet, as Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, so eloquently pointed out during the leaders debate in French, "what does a woman wearing the niqab have to do with the economy, climate change, or health care"?  Well Elizabeth, if you would permit me to respond to your rhetorical question: nothing, zero, zip, nada, sweet fuck all!!!

Really what it comes down to is two political parties that are trying to avoid a disaster and are appealing to their voting base of old stock Canadians of either English or French heritage, you know the two founding peoples, that just happen to be mildly to overwhelmingly xenophobic.

Their chains are being yanked to bring them to the polls because as it stands now, if many of the party faithful decide to stay home on election day, the Conservatives will not only lose their majority government but will register their worst share of the popular vote since Confederation, and the Bloc stands to be wiped off altogether from the electoral map.

Fortunately, such fear mongering doesn't work with the vast majority of Canadians that have come to accept that Canada is a multicultural nation that respects the rights of each of its citizens regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their age, their sexual orientation, and yes, their religious beliefs.

Oh Canada, I stand on guard for thee!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hey Canada, Step Into the 21st Century: Stop Outsourcing Governance of the Nation

I get the Empire Loyalist thing.  The way we go about running our society is firmly anchored in our colonial past.  Canada is a proud member of the British Empire.  Well, the world has changed a lot since the demise of our historical progenitor.  The UK is no longer a world power.  It no longer matters what Britain thinks or does within the existing global order.

As a result, we are on are own.  We have to be making on our own decisions and we should do so with a decision making process that is made in Canada, a Canada that exists and preferably thrives in the twenty-first century.

 As a former colony we should know a thing or two about wealth extraction, particularly our natural resources, a process carried on principally for the benefit of those who do not reside here.  Sure, some of the wealth does trickle down, but for the most part, the most important economic activity centered on the depletion of our natural resources (oil, minerals, and forestry products) creates wealth disproportionately for the directors of foreign corporate entities.  In other words, the lion's share of the profits are funneled offshore.  It's been that way since the Hudson Bay Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company planted their corporate banners on Canadian soil and opened the land up for business.

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In order to keep the natives from getting restless (I'm talking about the millions of people who came here as economic refugees and their descendants and not the First Nations Peoples since they were taken care of by all together different and by far more cruel means) they are allowed to participate marginally in the electoral process that installs another corporate entity, otherwise known as a political party, that administers the affairs of the Dominion.

Importantly, it must be kept in mind that this process has never been democratic.  Canada is not a democracy.  How could it be democratic if it inherited its political institutions from the UK, which still to this day has a hereditary monarchy, no written constitution, and a bicameral parliament in which the upper house is still called, get this, THE HOUSE OF LORDS!  Rule Britannia.

In keeping with corporate rule, a political party is most definitely a corporate entity.  Its leader is the chief executive officer: he signs the papers of all those who would be candidates; if he forms a government, he chooses who will be his cabinet ministers; he appoints people to the Senate; he names judges to the Supreme Court; hell, he can unilaterally declare war if he wants to.  With such concentration of political power in his hands, small wonder that in reality the federal government in Canada is run out of the Prime Minister's Office.

At first glance, it may appear that Canadians are electing those people who will represent them in Parliament.  In reality, however, since all those who are elected to Parliament vote as they are told to vote by the party almost all of the time, what they are really doing is participating in the process which will see the governance function vested with the citizenry transferred to the Prime Minister, who for the most part becomes Canada's elected monarch, assuming the Crown's Royal Prerogative while governing the land.

As a result, a general election in Canada is in fact a contest to see which of the political parties will win "the contract" to administer the state.  Thereafter, having effectively transferred their sovereignty until whenever the Prime Minister calls the next election, (yes there is a law that stipulates that general elections are supposed to take place every four years, but because of the Prime Minister's Royal Prerogative, he is not obliged to abide by it) Canadians then stand on the sidelines and watch how power is wielded by the man to which the contract was awarded.  

Importantly, since the object of the exercise is to outsource the governance function and not to  democratically elect the people's representatives, it matters little that the political party that wins the contract rarely has the support of the majority of the electorate.  Most often, only forty percent of the votes cast is sufficient to award the contract to a single political party.  Yes, that does mean with a participation rate of about 60% (the eligible voters that actually cast a ballot) in a general election, the political party that has been chosen to run the country in reality does so with the support of less than 25% of those who are eligible to vote.

As you can imagine, such institutional practices have democrats in Canada wringing their hands and tearing out their hair in disgust.  Yet, Canadians seem to be quite content with the how the voting system performs its function: all four referendums that were held to change the first-past-the-post method at the provincial level did not gain sufficient support to go ahead and make the change.

I do not believe that is the unwavering respect for the Westminster parliamentary system that prevents Canadians from abandoning what is truly an outdated political institution.  Instead, I think the majority of Canadians prefer to be called upon only once every three to five years to make a political decision.  Let someone else sweat it out while we concentrate our efforts on our individual concerns.  If things get really bad, we can simply award the governance contract to another competitor.  That way we really don't have to keep on top of things like concerned citizens in other countries that enjoy democratic rule.  Who's got the time?

That being said, regardless of the Canadian desire to cede the political decision making to someone else, the present political landscape no longer lends itself to false-majority rule (plurality of seats won in Parliament).  Five out the six Parliaments have resulted in minority governments.  Moreover, it now appears that each of the three contenders for the crown have more or less the same support, perhaps two or three percentage points more for the leading party than the third party in the contest, well within the margin of error.  Finally, it could easily happen that the party that receives less of the popular vote than one of the others will form the next government because of the vagaries of the first-past-the-post voting system.

Perhaps, it is time Canada modernized its political institutions, beginning with the voting system.  Unlike Senate reform, it is entirely doable, no constitutional amendment needed.  Indeed, both the Liberals and the New Democrats have stated that if elected, this general election will be the last to be held under first-past-the-post. 

What remains to be seen is what type of voting system will replace the present one.  The New Democrats propose a proportional system that would make each and every vote an effective vote.  In such a system Canada would be moving to a more consensual form of government.  The Liberals, on the other hand, favor the alternative vote, which will keep Canada in a majoritarian/authoritarian system of government, much like Australia, which uses the alternative vote for its lower house, but elects its upper house with a form of proportional representation.

Could this be the last Canadian general election held under first-past-the-post? 

I bloody well hope so!!!



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It Took A Photo of a Child Washed Up on a Beach To Get Canada's Political Class To Shut the Fuck Up About the Economy

Last week's electoral campaign in Canada took a turn from the banal to matters of importance. 

Early in the week, we learned that the Canadian economy had contracted for two consecutive quarters, and, as a result, the Canadian economy is by definition in a recession, albeit a mild one. 

Because the official status of a recession was pronounced during an electoral campaign, which up until last week was the most boring on record, the leaders of the political parties tried desperately to spin the latest statistics in their direction.  The opposition leaders claimed this was further proof of the government's mismanagement of the economy, while the Prime Minister responded that only the oil and gas sector was in recession and that the rest of the economy was doing fine.  As well, he said that last month's figures showed that "we had turned the corner."  Was this going to be the topic of debate for the next eight weeks?

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Then, something completely unexpected changed the focus of Canadians entirely.

The image of a drowned 3-year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach appeared on our screens and upon those around the world.  As we were to learn, his family was trying to emigrate to Canada and were unable to navigate the bureaucratic process that refugees must go through to make it to our shores, in spite of the fact that a member of the family was already living here.

That cut deep, to the very core of what it is to be Canadians.  We are the "UnAmericans."  Yes, in many ways we lead similar lives, but there are important differences.  Universal health care is one.  Decent public education is another.  We like to think of ourselves as the kinder, gentler America.

Yet, this image throws our long-held beliefs about ourselves into doubt.  Where was the compassion?  What have we become?  How did we fail so miserably to take in this family so desperately in need?

It is all fine and well to talk from time to time about interest rates, taxes, budgets, and trade, but not at the exclusion of everything else and especially not at the expense of things that really matter, those things that make us human, that make life worth living.

Sadly, the Canada in which I grew up in no longer exists. Over the years, we have become far too focused on the material aspect of life, hence the popularity of trying to reduce politics to little more than debates of economic policy.

Nations at their very core are imagined communities, meaning that we must imagine ourselves as part of a very large community and how we relate to others who are not members of our immediate family.  This is largely an act that carries with it feelings of belonging and of compassion for those who are less fortunate than we are.

Imagining ourselves solely as producers and consumers in an economy diminishes who we are, but that's exactly how the corporate sector and the media that it owns would have us believe are the most important aspects of life here in Canada.

But that image reached out and touched us.  It let us know that there is something seriously amiss with the way we lead our lives.

So, it will be interesting to see how the campaign unfolds from here.  Will we just forget that this tragedy ever happened and return to the well-worn script of talking economic shop, or will something different emerge, like a vision of another way to structure our society?

I can only hope that we can rediscover the compassion that was once part of this nation's fabric.