Archive for ‘Citizenship’

January 13, 2015

Anti-semitism, balance and the new world order

This one is a very difficult article for me. So many opposing emotions amid so much anger and disappointment regarding the ‘Left’. I am afraid this missive may ramble and be, at times, incoherent. Such are my thought processes at the moment.

I write this several days after the Paris terrorist spree.

In the past 18 months there have been several terrorist attacks on the Jewish community in Belgium and France at schools, museums and synagogues resulting in as many deaths as at Charlie Hebdo. In response there have been no massive demonstrations, no ‘je suis juif’ signs in the streets.

These were not considered an attack of French culture. Not until Charlie Hebdo was attacked was there a perceived attack on ‘France’.

I have watched a lot of mainstream media coverage in the past few days. The attack on the Jewish store has invariably been called an attack on a ‘kosher supermarket’. Why is it so hard to say ‘Jewish’? Why has the store not been referred to as Jewish? I find that very interesting.

More disturbing has been CBC Newsworld coverage that, at first, almost ignored the attack at the Jewish store relegating it to a ‘hostage taking’ at a ‘kosher store’. When, over two days after the attack CNN first paid seperate attention to the issue of anti-semitism it was very strained. Under a banner across the TV screen that read ‘anti-semitism in France’ there was a discussion of the topic. But the discussion paid very little attention to anti-semitism, instead choosing to keep a ‘balance’ in their reporting the discussion centred mainly on the need not to succumb to Islamophobia. What need is there for balance in this situation? Why cannot Muslim instigated anti-semitism be discussed as a topic without trying so hard to be ‘balanced’.

After 9/11 there was a lot of media attention given to the concern of avoiding Islamophobia. I have no argument with that. Only by finding unity can we move forward. However post 9/11 there were more documented cases of anti-semitic outbreaks than of Islamophobic ones. In France as well, while there have been incidents of vandalism at Mosques, as repugnant as those are, Muslims are not being gunned down in the streets, in their schools or on the way home from Mosques.

Anti-semitism is on the rise in France. But polls have shown that among the Christian French anti-semitism has remained at relatively stable levels. Most anti-semitism in France originates among the North African derived Muslim community. But everyone is afraid to talk about it.

And when it is discussed, Israel is usually brought into the equation. I, as do many Jews, disapprove of much of what the Israeli right is doing. But the fact that I have to state that speaks to the collective punishment that the Jewish community is subject to. If Russia is being obnoxious to Ukraine is it acceptable to hate people of Russian decent living in Toronto? Why do Jews, most of whom support Israel strongly but feel uncomfortable with much of its current policies, have to bear collective punishment?

Why do we have to ‘balance’ the criticism of Muslim generated anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel?

Now on to John A MacDonald. Yup, I do see a connection

This is the 200th anniversary of his birth. TVO had a programme about the anniversary and, of course, to balance out the programme there was discussion of John A’s warts…of which there are some.

There has been a recent attempt to paint him as a  genocidal leader intent on destroying Aboriginal culture in Canada. I’m no historian but Richard Gwynn, whose two volume biography of John A I very much enjoyed, is a progressive man and, I think, a pretty honest one. He says the attempt to smear John A is historically untrue. He also said, and this is my point here. that today there are no academic historians with enough guts and integrity to stand up to the current theme considering Aboriginal treatment by John A. Why should it take guts to speak truthfully about history? And why are academics so ‘group think’?

Which leads me to my last theme, the outrageous behaviour of some dental students at Dalhousie University. We all know about the misogynist Facebook comments. We all condemn that. That’s not the point.

I was listening to a CBC radio program on this issue which had three panelists. One was a defence lawyer (not personally involved in the case) and two academics…one a diversity person at McGill ,I should have know from her title, as a diversity advocate, that she would have been an idiot (sorry but these people congregate under that banner). She referred to the female students at Dalhousie Dental Faculty as ‘survivors’. Yes…survivors. If you don’t see the absurdity of using that term in this context then you might as well stop reading now.

I know nothing about Richard Florizone, President of Dalhousie, but I think that a restorative justice approach to what happened is a thoughtful and courageous response to what happened. With the religious Left on a rampage for ‘justice’ by which they truly mean a public lynching, it is very courageous for him to say ‘wait a minute, we need to take the time to deal with this properly, equitably and honestly’ before proceeding to summary execution. We know from books like Richard Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, Joseph Heath’s Enlightenment 2.0 and the work of Steven Pinker that a rushed decision is often a flawed decision.

Who more than an academic should know that thoughtful dialogue and discussion is what is needed in these matters. We have to enact cultural changes not just punish misbehaviour. Yet the witch hunt is being led by academics. There was a time when I thought academics were leaders in progressive thinking. By progressive here I mean thoughtfulness and inclusiveness. But then I remember that there were large pro Nazi academic movements on the campuses of Germany in the 1930s. And similarly the concept of freedom of speech seems only to be offered to like minded people here in Canada by so many on the Left but particularly in academia.

I wonder if Charlie Hebdo attacked progressive values the way it attacked religious values whether the Left would be so upset by the recent terrorist events.

As my friend just expressed to me, what I am saying is that the ‘handwringing about a possible backlash against Muslims, the rush to judge the Dalhousie students and the condemnation of John A’ are all part of a suffocating and revisionist view of history that promises to subvert evidence based analysis of the facts. George Orwell had a lot to say about all this.

And no, I will not accept criticism that my article today stems from a growing conservatism on my part as I age. I have always held these values. But I am afraid many I know only hold these values when they support their world view. Groucho Marx once said ‘those are my principle and if you don’t like them, well I have others’.

I used to identify myself as a Marxist. I still tend to look at the world this way but I’m thinking I’m more of a Groucho-Marxist.

May 24, 2014

Tacking to the centre or losing our way?

I have written twice now about the Ontario election. Today there is a public letter out from a number of NDP stalwarts bemoaning the move to the centre of the Ontario NDP. It reminds me very much of all the years I put into the NDP when I was younger.

Perhaps I am becoming more conservative with time. That’s always a possibility, as scary a concept as it seems to me. But I wonder about the value of ideological purity in the absence of access to power. The NDP has always struggled to reconcile the contradictions between seeing itself as a movement or a political party seeking to attain power.

Many in the party, and I suspect that includes most of those who signed the letter and many labour leaders, enjoy the self satisfaction of the concept of purity. They enjoy the self righteousness that the Left likes to feel about itself and are seriously disturbed when they have to relinquish some of that in order to persuade others to come along for the ride. The object of a political party (and, I would think, of any political movement) is to convince others that they have the correct approach that will eventually lead to solutions of problems and a better life outcome. This often means compromise and dialogue. That is hard for many people. And the Left finds it very hard.

I don’t object to some tracking to the centre. New Labour in Britain may never have attained power without a move to the centre. One may reasonably ask then what is the purpose of attaining power if only to be the same as everyone else? That’s a fair question and one that can reasonably be asked of Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP. Considering they don’t have a response to the Liberals’ pension plan, they are week on public transit (particularly how to pay for it) and took forever to respond to the Liberals’ raising of the minimum wage, why then vote for them?

And that’s the question I would ask today.

It’s not the ‘tacking to the centre’ that the NDP have undertaken that I object to. It’s the complete absence of vision that concerns me. The NDP have borrowed from the federal Conservatives the concept of ‘retail politics’. They are offering individual tidbits to parts of the electorate in an attempt to buy their votes. The is not social democratic territory in any realm.

As I said in a previous article, the Right has gone a long way to convince the public that there is no good role for government, smaller is better. The Ontario Liberals with their transit, but particularly the pension plan, are saying that there IS a role for government. And to me that is a huge statement and a huge ideological platform that I strongly support.

One last thing. I chuckled when I read that some traditional NDPers object to Horwath saying she would try to stop waste in government. Of course the phrase ‘cutting government waste’ is often code for cutting services. But I think Tommy Douglas would be turning in his grave if he thought that the NDP would not be fiscally prudent and hard on mismanagement and waste. Any prairie socialist understood that taxpayer money was a trust. Too bad today’s socialists seem to have such little regard for thrift.

May 23, 2014

Say no to Hudak

I continue to watch the polls like a hawk.

The Conservatives continue to lead. The polls seem to show that the Liberals could still get more seats with a lower percentage of the popular vote because of their vote distribution. Yet it is disturbing that the Conservatives are still ahead.

The polls are a bit volatile, however.

It appears that the Conservative vote is more likely to hold than the Libs or NDP with voters moving between the latter two in preference. That would suggest that the biggest battle at this point is among the more ‘progressive’ voters. Conservatives know what they want, the rest of us are unsure. And that’s where strategic voting is so important.

At the moment the NDP have no chance of forming a government. They know that. They are hoping that disgust with the Liberals (and fear of the Conservatives) will move voters enough in their direction that they have a significant jump in seats after this election. That would position them, they feel, for a legitimate run in the next election. They could care less if this strategy puts in power an extreme right wing government in Hudak.

This is the same strategy used by Layton to dump Martin. To some extent it seemed to have worked. Their seat total propelled them into Official Opposition. The fact that it has given us 8 years of Stephen Harper seems not to matter to NDPers.

If the Liberals are resurgent in the next federal elution and the NDP goes back to 3rd party status all their machinations will have failed. This currently looks like a real possibility. They will have had a temporary blip in popularity at the price of a country-wrenching Harper government.

And this is what we may see in Ontario. The NDP will hand the reigns of power to the Conservatives while realizing some temporary gains in seats.

Having had a look at the NDP platform just released can anyone really say it is worth the gamble so the NDP can gain seats?

I know Liberals are not to be trusted. I know their ‘progressive’ attitudes can be fleeting. But Horwath is hardly the clear headed and decisive leader to move this province forward. She took weeks at each of the last two budgets, while standing outside with her finger in the air, before deciding whether she could support the Liberals. She is an opportunist.

I’m not looking for an ideologue. I can live with the NDP deciding a move to the middle is where they want to be. But they haven’t moved to the middle so much as the muddle.

I’m voting strategically. And I’m voting Liberal. That is, unless a shock happens and the polls show the NDP passing the Liberals in likely seats. Then I will vote NDP.

As I’ve said before: when the votes are counted and the Lieutenant Governor approaches a party leader to form the next government, I want that person to be anyone but Hudak.

May 17, 2014

Election Ontario

I’ve been wrestling with how to vote for a while now. Ever since St Jack screwed Canada so royally.

We had a negotiated national child care program, a Kelowna Accord. We lost both of those so Layton and the NDP could stroke their egos by denouncing their true enemy. No, no the Conservatives, but the Liberals.

I’ve been involved in politics for a lot of years. I began formally working for the NDP as a teen. I learned early on that the real enemy was those fickle Liberals. As Smokey Thomas pronounced at the start of this election campaign ‘at least we know what the Conservatives stand for’.

Well, yes we do. They stand for a lot of regressive and nasty things. Just the way Stephen Harper is no Brian Mulroney or Joe Clark, Hudak is no Bill Davis.

Now I have to admit, when I was younger I thought all Conservatives were the same. And, to be sure, I still don’t like them in most any guise. But Harper and Hudak aren’t your patents’ Progressive Conservatives. They are a new breed, a spin off of the American Republican right. Yes, we’ve seen these kind of people before in Canada. But until recently there has always been a tempering dose of Red Tory-ism in the party. Not this iteration.

So when the NDP hands the reigns of power to the likes of Stephen Harper because of some crass internal political calculation we have to take notice.

And if Andrea Horvath, in her new role as a small ‘c’ conservative populist, hands the election to Hudak’s Conservatives, then the NDP will have cemented their role as obstructionists to the progressive agenda.

I like my local NDP MPP. But when the ballots are counted and we are presumably left with a minority government (oh my god, not a Conservative majority) I want the Liberals to have one more seat than the Conservatives. Even if that means one fewer NDP sear. I want the Lieutenant Governor to ask the Liberals to form a government, not the Conservatives.

Under Wynn the Liberals are campaigning to the left of the NDP. I know, the NDP rhetoric is that you cannot trust the Liberals to carry out their program. They have a history of running from the left and ruling to the right. I am not naive. But what I like about the Liberal campaign is their pension plan policy and their transit policy. Unlike the NDP’s policy of handing nibbles to the ‘middle class’ the Liberals are not afraid to offer vision and a bold role for the public sector. I feel the Liberals are saying ‘government is back’. I think in these times of less taxes and smaller government that’s a hugely important message.

That’s why, for the first time in my life, I’m going to vote Liberal. I want to break away from the strangle hold I feel the NDP has had on my vote and give it to a progressive party. This time around that appears to be the Liberal Party.

May 6, 2014

“Farmers feed cities”

I’m sure everyone has seen this bumper sticker at least once. It seems to be growing in popularity.

I guess farmers are feeling neglected.

Now I have nothing against farmers. We need food so we need farmers. But I find the whining and winging a bit annoying.

If it weren’t for urban population concentrations where would farmers sell their goods? If it weren’t for manufacturing and the urban working class how would farmers plant and harvest their produce? If it weren’t for scientists at universities how would farmers get those new hardier and more economically/environmentally viable strains of grain and other plants?

What I resent, as a progressive urban dweller, is the conservative governments that farmers continue to disproportionally support. Rural voters (not all farmers, of course) stymie the progressive instincts of the urban population. They vote for governments that would decrease the earning power of the people who buy from farmers and produce their machinery. They vote for governments that deny climate change and would cut back of agricultural scientific research.

So every time I see one of these bumpers stickers I feel like asking the driver ‘what the f**k are you asking for?’.

Read this article for some of the economics of farming in Canada:

I think it’s better to practice the politics of inclusion and unity of working people…whether in the city or on the farm, not sow division the way these silly bumper stickers do.

November 30, 2012

Rob Ford, the Right and the failure of our education system

Yep, your heard me. They are all involved.

Rob Ford has been found guilty on conflict of interest charges. The prescribed penalty is banishment from office. You may think the penalty a bit harsh but that’s what it is. So now many members of the  body politic are up in arms. They say it’s undemocratic that a judge over ride the democratic choice of an electorate to remove Ford from office. I’m not going into this in a substantial way because in the past few days many others, more articulate than me, have done so. I just want to say that if you think an elected official found guilty of conflict of interest should not be punished then you have no clue as to what democracy is all about.

Why do we have laws to keep politicians in check if we aren’t going to use them? I find it disingenuous that the Right screams that it’s a left wing conspiracy that one of their own is found with their hand in the cookie jar and then claim it unjust when he is punished. And to make matters even more absurd, the proponents of mandatory sentencing rail at the harshness of the punishment meted out. They claim it is out of proportion to the circumstances that this should be taken into account.

Well, I say, welcome to the world of your own creation. How do you like it so far?

Nope, we’ve made a huge mistake in our school system. By putting so much emphasis on testing and acheivement we’ve forgotten about civic knowledge. It’s not that we need more ‘cooperative play’ in the schools. we have a lot of that and it doesn’t seem to have done much for us. What we need is a deeper pedagogy of teaching the roots and practice of democracy and our political system. Young adults have to graduate with critical faculties and the skill to understand and work with subtle nuances. Our educational system has proven itself not up to the task of teaching civics and critical thought.

If I were a teacher, I’d be ashamed of myself and my workplace right about now.

Otherwise, look what happens.

November 25, 2012

Calgary Centre By-election: Nov 26

Well it looks like the left is about to do it again. I’m talking about handing the trophy to the Right without a fight.

The biggest disservice to Canada by a political party in recent memory has to have been the NDP handing the reigns of government to Stephen Harper in the first place. Until then he was a scary figure to most Canadians. He was unlikely to have won an election for Prime Minister outright.

By defeating the Liberals and handing power to the Conservatives, Jack Layton broke the cardinal rule. He handed power to the enemy thereby giving them the tools of government and all the perks one has to influence the outcome of future elections. What the NDP did was allow Stephen Harper to look Prime Ministerial and not so scary. They allowed him to position himself for the subsequent drive for a majority.

Of course, the NDP has always considered the Liberals the enemy and not the Conservatives in their naive drive to move Canada toward a two party system where they feel they would have a better opportunity to achieve power (a la Britain). In doing so they handed the reigns of power over to a brilliant tactician.

Tomorrow is a bi-election in Calgary Centre. The Conservative candidate is polling at 37% with the liberals in second place at 32%. The Greens are at 17% and the NDP at 12%. The riding has been Conservative since it’s inception in 2004 and prior to that the same area has been Conservative since dinosaurs roamed Alberta (which, in fact, they still do).

In the last election the Conservatives got 56% of the vote with the NDP in second spot at 16%. So the bi-election polls are showing a major realignment of voters’ sympathies. And as we know from Stephen Harper’s election, it’s easier to fight from an incumbent’s position than a challenger. What a sea change this would be for the political landscape.

The polls show that no one but the Liberals have a chance to knock off the Conservatives. Everyone else is way back. Nathan Cullen, when he ran for the NDP leadership spoke of cooperation among the progressive parties to unseat the Conservative. Elizabeth May expressed  similar thoughts.

Why then has it come to this? There is a chance to take a seat in the centre of the Conservative holy land. There is a chance her for a model of cooperation to unseat Stephen Harper in the next federal election. No one is asking the opposition parties to stand aside and not contest every close riding. But there are ridings where only one opposition party is close enough to unseat a Conservative and where the difference in polling suggests it would be an easy take. Calgary Centre is one such riding at a crucial time.

To think that the parties of progress might not be able to do the right thing is unbelievable. What we are witnessing is the handing of political power to Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada for the next federal election. If this is the future of politics in Canada then it will result in a real and significant cultural change as the Conservatives continue to stamp their misdirected interpretation of our history on this county.

September 27, 2012

Is Rob Ford really an indictment of our educational system?

This has been troubling me for a long time.

Rob Ford was elected on the basis of ‘respect for the taxpayer’. Having said that, he has skirted conflict of interest issues for several years. He has been caught using City staff to help in his private affairs (like coaching football kids).

Now there are allegations that he wielded influence to get the City to do some paving at his business.

He has cost the City millions in cancelled transit plans that were previously committed. He wants to build subways in places that planners warn are not economically viable and will, therefore, cost us millions down the road.

He hires expensive consultants to advise on budget cuts, none of which have panned out.

And now that he cannot ram through City Council any of his ideas he has taken his marbles and, essentially, gone home. At taxpayers’ expense. He calls this ‘respect for taxpayers’.

His brother this week called all reporters ‘pricks’ for asking the Brothers Ford questions they don’t like.

Just two weeks ago a public opinion poll showed 42% of Toronto residents (yes, mainly suburbanites) have a favourable view of Rob Ford.

So, what’s happening here? Why is Rob Ford so obviously a useless Mayor with so high an approval rating?

The only thing I can come down to is our educational system. We may score well internationally in Math and Reading skills. But I am guessing if there were a test for critical thinking Canada would do awfully poorly. How else could people read the newspaper and not say about Ford: ‘what an idiot’?

Surely it’s time to question an educational system that allows this to happen. Now, I know that there is a tendency for all progressive people to assume that an educated populace with perforce be left wing. And I admit to similar feelings. However it is possible that one could come to an informed conservative conclusion. But even so, people like Ford would not be electable. The point is that people should be able to at least spot a sham and ask questions to come to an understanding of issues.

And isn’t that really the main purpose of our education system? Oh, I know. Everyone is all up in arms about teaching kids things so they can get a job. But an informed citizenry is really what it’s about. And we are failing miserably at that. And our toady and uneducated press isn’t helping.

Frankly, if I were a teacher (or any kind of educator) I would be embarrassed by the election of people like the Fords. I think every school teacher should look in the mirror and ask what they can do in the classroom to make sure that their students can think. Otherwise, why go through the motions?

July 26, 2012

Losing creativity for safety.

In the next while over several instalments I want to write about a topic that has troubled me for a while and has become more urgent in recent months. It’s a complicated issue of the struggle between oversight and creativity, between guarantees and risk taking.

Our culture seems to have quietly been overtaken by a sense of wanting guarantees that nothing will ever go wrong and a sense that when they do that someone is to blame. It began as a legitimate sense of oversight of services. In the 60’s society finally matured and democratized a bit with a sense that we cannot just leave ‘the powers that be’ to govern.

For instance, police services needed oversight, there had to be civilian watchguards of policemen and the police department activities. Spying on citizens is not acceptable. Arbitrary arrest and beatings, while they still occur, are no longer acceptable. We no longer take the word of a policeman/woman who arrests a citizen. We want to see proof of wrong doing.

But somewhere along the line that desire led to ‘keeping a paper trail’ which became a huge burden to the point where now upwards of 40% of police personnel’s time it taken up by paperwork. The cost is enormous in financial/economic terms. But the cost is even higher in lost creativity, which I will get into in future articles.

In medicine, where I work, I spend increasing amounts of my time satisfying Ministry requests of proof of my compliance with guidelines and other administrivia to the point that it really does impact how I work.

But what bothers me most is the sham that these bureaucratic procedures represent. Everyone I speak to at the Ministry claims these regulations are to safeguard the health of the public. But I know that they are simply there so that if something goes wrong, the shit will land elsewhere but on their shoulders.

Today I was talking to someone who does basic research in a hospital lab. He was telling me about the numerous procedures he must go through and the compliance paper work he completes that are mandating by administrative authority in hospital and government. The joke is that these procedures are promulgated ostensibly to protect the public and lab workers against accident. But he freely says that they do no such thing. They are simply there to assure then if and when something goes wrong highers-up can say they took all precautions and it’s not our fault.

Examples abound everywhere. Everyone working in the real world knows what I am talking about.

The sad thing is that many people on the left are the perpetrators of these regulations. Partly they do this in a genuine desire to protect the public service. But too often they do it because there is a bureaucratic and non creative, almost fearful strain in the left.

Progressives all too often see any criticism of the public service as an attack on social values. And hiding behind this misunderstanding they allow the public service to rot from the inside.

Government bureaucracies and social services are of the people not above the people. It’s the same theme of people as citizens and not consumers of services from the government. It’s the rejecting of the management based system instead of the creative provision of services.

Unfortunately the right and left are afflicted with misunderstandings of the provision of service by the public sector. The right sees us all as consumers looking for ‘bargains’ in the provision of service. But the left, while not using the label of consumer, can nevertheless be patronizing in what is to me that absolutely galling manner of managerial correctness. They never saw a round peg that couldn’t be squared to fit in their much neater square holes.

July 18, 2012

Mayor Rob Ford–really??

I am just apopleptic today. A day after another outbreak of gang violence in Toronto and the Mayor has spoken.

This is the Mayor who cannot deal with public transit improvement–who can only say ‘no’ to every workable plan, a Mayor who cuts back on libraries, public housing and community expenditures.

This is a Mayor whose sole focus is on Torontonians as taxpayers rather than citizens. A Mayor whose sole focus is tax cuts.

This Mayor’s solution to gang violence is to increase the police budget. And, this Mayor is so gutless that he won’t even try to fund such increases out of the City budget but rather is asking other levels of government to pay. He doesn’t even have the guts that Councillor Karen Stintz has. At least she believes that citizens of Toronto are mature enough to be asked to pay more in taxes in return for an increase in transit services.

Nope this chicken of a Mayor doesn’t even have the courage to spend Toronto’s money on something he truly believes in (notwithstanding that it is entirely misguided).

I’m disgusted by his lack of ANY understanding of social mechanisms and his complete lack of guts in tackling real problems.

He’s just the bully we always thought he was. Talks loudly and runs fast.

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