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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Sunny ways—Canada is back

I was nervous Monday.

Despite my reduction in news consumption, and even though off on a wine-soaked vacation last week, I was well aware of what the polling was showing: That Harper’s horrible Islamophobic campaigning had seemingly backfired, and that the Liberals’ numbers were rising steadily—showing a comfy 9-point lead in one of the last polls to be released.

But also knew that polls were often wrong, and at any rate, were entirely meaningless. Only the vote counts for real.

My less emotionally invested yet still interested husband set up his tablet in anticipation of result, using CBC website tools to track certain ridings. He was at the ready as soon as Eastern results were posted. As I distracted myself with housework and such, he was giving reports:

“It’s looking good.”

And a little later: “It’s looking really good.”

And we all know what happened. Canada’s Atlantic provinces turned into one big Liberal red lobster.

Nova Scotia riding results

Yes, I know this is just Nova Scotia, not all the Atlantic provinces…

Of course that made me feel better, but we still had a big time gap til the more decisive Quebec / Ontario results.

So we watched a little iZombie to pass the time.

Around 9:30, I turned on the TV and said I’d just “have a look.” Of course, then I couldn’t stop watching (though I did bounce around channels a lot), mesmerized as the “Leading  or Won” seat counts just kept ticking up. By 10:00, they’d called that the Liberals would have a plurality of seats. The numbers kept going up, til it was clear that majority wasn’t an impossibility after all. And that was officially called around 10:35.

Canada votes Liberal majority
Holy doodle.

This would be the first time in about 20 years that a Federal candidate I voted for was elected as part of the governing party. Not to mention the first time in 10 years that I’m not appalled by a Federal election result.

It is unfortunate that the NDP and Greens were collateral damage in this; I didn’t wish ill to either of those parties, who lost some good MPs. But they were just as out-campaigned by the Liberals as the Conservatives were. The Liberals were able to do something else that hasn’t happened in decades: inspire disaffected voters to come back to the polls. The Liberals received more votes than in any party in Canadian history.

Even when the overall results were evident, I couldn’t stop watching. I looked up particular ridings. I cheered the principled Michael Chong’s victory, the only Conservative for whom that was the case.

I was pleased that my local candidate, Bardish Chagger (#MovesLikeChagger) garnered nearly 50% of the vote. I was glad to see her joined by three other Liberal MPs, replacing our previous set of middle-aged, white Conservative MPs with a more diverse group.

New Liberal MPs of Waterloo Region

(And the remaining middle-class white guy’s name is Bryan May, so he can’t be all bad!)

I liked that the Liberals won seats in all provinces, even Alberta and Saskatchewan! (What’s up with Saskatchewan, anyway? Why so Conservative?)

And I stayed up to watch all the speeches. I admit to being moved by Trudeau’s story about the Muslim woman and her baby. (But then again, it was nearly 1:00 AM, so that might just have been an exhaustion response.)

Trudeau and baby with her mother

This is the picture: It really happened!

And while I was going to say to say that results really don’t affect my daily life much, this one has. Because now that I know this story has a happy ending, I’ve ended my news diet, and have happily returned devouring interesting news stories wherever I can find them.

Though I must say I didn’t expect quite so many of them to be about how “boinkable” Justin Trudeau is. World: some respect for our hot new PM-designate, please!


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Questions for my Conservative candidate

On Monday, September 21, I attended a Waterloo candidates debate hosted by Fair Vote Canada. I knew that Conservative Peter Braid would not be there. I honestly wasn’t angry about that.

Until they read the email he sent in:

“We do not participate in partisan debates on a single issue.”

Wha…?

This is my response:

  1. Why did you characterize this debate as “partisan” (“fervent, even prejudiced devotion to one party or cause”) when:
    1. Fair Vote Canada is a multi-partisan organization promoting electoral reform, but without advocating for a particular voting system.
    2. All parties were invited to attend the debate, and were given equal opportunity to respond to questions?
  2. If you truly believe (as many Canadians do) that first past the post is the best voting system, why not defend it?
  3. This “single issue” debate actually covered many issues related to Canadian democracy, including the “whipping” of MPs to vote along party lines. Would you like the freedom to put your constituent’s interests ahead of your party’s when voting? If not, why not?
  4. The room was full to capacity with citizens–presumably your constituents–whose questions and comments made it clear how passionate they were about trying to improve Canadian democracy. Why not listen to them instead of dismissing their concerns in a single sentence?


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How to make a Canadian quilt

In honour of Canada Day, I just installed the Canadian English Dictionary extension for Firefox, so now WordPress doesn’t mark “honour” with a “u” as a typo. Yay!

I also spent some time (badly) photographing possibly the most Canadian item I own: A red and white quilt signed by various Canadian celebrities. My mother won it in a museum fundraiser back in 1997, and I recently inherited it.

Since 1997, some of the signatures have faded, and some of the “celebrities” have become obscure. But a number remain fun to look over.

Mr. Dressup signature and image

Aw, Mr. Dressup!

Jann Arden, Pamela Lee sigzantures

So Pamela Anderson was still married to Tommy Lee in ’97. And an interesting juxtaposition beside Jann Arden’s drawing (yes, that angel is naked. As angels are.).

Pamela Wallin and Jean Chretien signatures

Speaking of Pamelas and juxtapositions, Pamela Wallin was then just a TV journalist, not a disgraced Conservative Senator. The modest signature below hers is that of the Prime Minister of the day, Liberal Jean Chrétien.

Shania Twain, Stompin Tom, and Michelle Wright signatures

Stompin’ Tom was still was us in 1997, and Shania Twain is still with us today. Not sure what’s up with Michelle Wright these days…

Lynn Johson signature

And this one is just lovely

A few more items in Canada’s tapestry:

Google logo, Canada Day

Google’s logo today

Songza’s curated Canada Day playlists.

Raccoon on deck

A recent deck visitor

Trout, spinach, and roseRaspberries, strawberries, and dessert

Some fine local food.

Happy July 1, everyone! Canada flag


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The Orwellianly named Elections Act: Comments and questions

When the federal Conservatives drafted Bill C-23, the so-called “Fair” Elections Act, did they expect it would garner so much attention, becoming a major topic of conversion among politic geeks? Did they anticipate the near universal condemnation the bill has received? Or was this all a nasty surprise?

(If you need a primer on the Bill, see Everything you need to know about the Fair Elections Act, courtesy Globe and Mail.)

But shouldn’t you need ID to vote?
Apparently feeling this is their best defense, the Conservatives’ talk about ID issues a lot: That vouching is too open to voter fraud, that 39 different pieces of ID can be used instead.

What they fail to mention is that the ID you present must contain your current address, and most ID does not. The only common piece of ID that does is your driver’s license—but not every Canadian drives.

Most non-drivers currently back up their address-less government ID with the Voter Registration card. However, Bill C-23 would make that card inadmissible. Vouching has been another backup, but again, Bill C-23 would ban that practice.

This bill would make ID requirements more stringent than those in any province, or in most other countries. But voting is a right, not a privilege, and up until 2007, we could vote in federal elections without any ID at all! Provincially, many of us still can:

Voter ID requirements by province

So, arguably, you should not need ID to vote, actually. But if a government decides to require it, they must do it in a way that account for circumstances such as have recently moved, living in an institution, having a PO box as a mailing address—or being unable to drive. Not doing so is voter suppression, and is likely unconstitutional.

What if they fix the ID thing? Then we good?
No, this Bill has other issues, such as:

  • Severely limiting what information Elections Canada can share with Canadians, and specifically preventing them from promoting voter turnout. This will kill certain educational programs such as Student Vote. It also may mean that they can’t share the results of their investigations.
  • Allowing the ruling party to nominate poll supervisors for local voting stations—positions that clearly required neutrality, not partisanship.
  • Increasing spending limits, and allowing parties to exclude the costs of contacting anyone who has donated to them in the past five years. Can you say loophole?
  • Requiring that robocall records to be kept, but only for a year—not enough time for a full investigation (as the still-ongoing investigation into the fraudulent robo-calls of 2011 demonstrates: three years and counting).

(Handy YouTube video on bill’s issues at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht_sOeGJJG4)

During hearings, the Conservatives have been unable to come up with a single expert who agrees with this bill. (One they had been quoting testified that they were misrepresenting his report.) In fact, I don’t recall such universal condemnation of something they tried to do since they banned the long-form census.

So they have taken to dismissing all their critique as “self-described experts” or “celebrities”, and personally attacking them: Election Canada’s Marc Mayrand (appointed by Harper) is power hungry. Sheila Fraser (praised by the Conservatives for her work as Auditor General) is a paid shill. It’s been really nasty.

Fair Elections Act: Because Elections Canada has a hidden agenda, and Harper's Conservatives don't

Also, having delivered the bill two years after they said they would, not having consulted ahead with anyone on its contents, they are now trying to rush it through as quickly as possible, limiting debate through time allocation.

Why are the Conservatives doing this?
That is the question.

Other controversial policies, such as GST tax cuts or harsher sentencing laws, are very popular with some people. They are policies that will win them votes, and help raise money. So no mystery why they propose those ones.

But electoral law? Not motivating like money and safety. Sure, diehard Conservatives agree with them, as they do on everything, but this issue just isn’t going to be a big vote-getter or money-maker.

So, why?

a) Is it revenge?
That’s one theory. That Conservatives are angry they were found guilty of electoral fraud in 2005, that several of them have been charged with over-spending during the last election, that they are still under investigation because their voter database was used to commit electoral fraud (the robocalls directing people to the wrong polling stations) in 2011.

They feel picked on, so they want to take power away from Elections Canada as punishment.

b) Is it fear?
About those robocalls: Another theory is that Elections Canada is finally, nearly ready to give its reports on what happened with those in 2011. And the Conservatives, being in government, have an idea what’s in that report, and it’s not good.

So they need this law to pass now so Elections Canada can’t talk about it and they won’t face any repercussions.

c) Is it a nefarious plan to rig the next election?
The Conservatives aren’t so popular right now, remarkably so given that the economy isn’t doing too badly. And there is no doubt that many provisions in this act favor them: They could put biased people in charge of polling stations; they could reduce voter turnout among youth and aboriginal, who don’t tend to vote Conservative; they could spend more money than ever advertising themselves and attacking other parties (and they do have more money than other parties). They could even do more fraudulent calls, with even greater hopes of getting away with it.

Maybe they think this bill is their only chance of winning in 2015.

d) Is it megalomaniac belief that every bill they put forward is pristine and perfect and that anyone who disagrees with them is a silly poo-poo head?

Given this party’s incredible fondness for time allocation to suppress debate on every bill they introduce, combined with an unwillingness to entertain any amendments from any other party, ever: Entirely possible.

Whichever theory you prefer, none of them makes the Conservatives look very good here.

I’ll close with a reminder that if you think this bill maybe has some issues, you can:
Contact your MP about it
Fill in this handy-dandy petition at Democracy Watch
Join the NDP’s opposition
Join the Liberal’s opposition
(And the Greens are also against it.)

And also, you know, vote. Preferably for a party that cares about your right to do so.

Full text of Bill C-23


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Stephen Harper: The Musical

As a fundraiser, Fair Vote Canada sponsored a production of James Gordon’s one-man show, Stephen Harper: The Musical. I got curious about it, and Jean agreed to go with me. (This was last weekend; this weekend we went to the lovely Yuletide Spectacular Christmas concert with the KW Symphony, like normal people.)

The location was kind of neat and one I hadn’t previously known about: A former shoe factory now repurposed as a cultural center—the Courtyard at Bonnie Stuart. The room where the show was performed was on the small side, but they did manage to pretty much fill it.

Stephen Harper puppet and James Gordon

James Gordon with the Stephen Harper puppet

I really didn’t know what to expect from this show, except that it would be critical, have music, and feature a Stephen Harper puppet.

For the critiquing, some I certainly agreed with it, but some was more anti-corporate, anti-capitalist than I was totally comfortable with. Bit too hippy-trippy, even for me.

But the songs weren’t half bad, making for a pretty entertaining show, overall. It was also supplemented with some video segments. One of my favorite bits was a discussion of the church Mr. Harper belongs to, an area rarely covered in the media. That featured a video cameo by “hippie Jesus”–that is, the actual peace-loving, money-damning dude of the Bible, as opposed to the distortion version espoused by some churches (whom “hippie Jesus” disavowed).

Given the subject matter, Gordon also strives to keep the material updated. There was a segment on the Occupy Movement, but he acknowledged that now seems kind of long ago (doesn’t it?). But it also included a very funny “Thank God for Rob Ford” song, so new he needed to refer to the lyrics sheet, that opined that Harper had quite appreciated Ford’s antics this fall drawing attention away from what the CPC government is up to.

As Fair Vote Canada is supposed to be non-partisan, I wasn’t sure about the fit with this show, until we got to the “What can you do?” segment. One suggestion was a change in the voting system to be more proportional. The whole last bit is meant to be something of a motivating call to arms, that didn’t entirely work on me.

But it certainly wasn’t a bad night out.


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Canadian democracy is broken, but you can help fix it (in 140 characters or less)

Canadian democracy is in trouble. Governments won’t give straight answers to questions in houses of governance, they limit media access, they routinely impose time allocation on debates, they pass bills to limit the rights of independent MPs, they delay and censor access to information requests, they conduct business in secret, they refuse to provide budget information to civil servants.

I think the root problem with Canadian democracy is our federal and provincial voting systems. Most people’s votes elect no one and therefore have no other effect (now that the federal per-vote subsidy is gone). Only votes for the winning candidate matter, and whether it’s by 11 votes or 11,000, the winner still gets the entire riding. Votes for all other candidates are wasted. (More at Fair Vote Canada.)

As a result, a party needs only 35% to 40% or of the popular vote to win the majority of the seats. They can and do narrowcast their appeal, so they don’t really care if most citizens don’t like what they’re doing. It disincentivizes parties from working together, as everyone is chasing the 35% dream of absolute power. And it encourage abuses of the electoral system, in overspending (as with Dean Del Mastro and other MPs), expense schemes (“in and out”), and outright fraud (robocalls), because such illegalities can give that small percentage extra needed to win it all.

Realistically, though, I don’t think the voting system is going to change any time soon. I think it’s worth trying, but it’s natural for parties to love the current system. Having nearly a one in three chance of winning it all is pretty hard to resist.

But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.

Great Britain, for example, uses the exact same voting system as Canada, with the exact same distorted results in seat numbers. But nevertheless, many have observed that government works better than ours. British MPs quite often vote against party lines, something Canadian MPs almost never do. British ministers, unlike ours, actually answer the question during Question Period. MPs seriously debate issues using their own words, not party talking points.

British MPs are much more empowered than Canadian ones. And it makes all the difference.

Somehow, gradually over the last 30 or so years, Canadian MPs have lost more and more of their ability to make much of a difference in Parliament. Here are a couple of accountings of their sad lot, by Andrew Coyne’s in The Walrus, “Repairing the House” and in this blog post from On Procedure and Politics: The real problem is MP irrelevancy.

But right now, this week, Tuesday, a private member’s Bill is being presented that could change this. Michael Chong, of the Conservative party (yes!) has been working on a it for a couple of years. Andrew Coyne (him again), endorses it  as A bill that would change Canada’s Parliament forever.

It proposes that MPs get to decide who sits caucus and who gets to be leader, and removes the provision for party leaders to sign off on all electoral candidates. Doesn’t sound like much, and by itself, certainly would not fix everything. But it does lay the groundwork for reform, by once again empowering MPs to actually represent us, the citizens, and not just their parties, in Parliament.

So if you’re in favor democracy and would like to see it working again in Canada, tell your MP to support Michael Chong’s Reform Act.

If you’re on Twitter, you need only 140 characters and this list of Canadian MPs on Twitter. You can also follow the discussion via #ReformAct.

If you’re on Facebook, you can Like this page (or whatever the heck it is you Facebook people do): https://www.facebook.com/TheReformAct

If you’re on email, you can email your MP — here’s the list: http://www.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx

Parliament in Ottawa

Let’s make this place work again


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Byelections are hard

My riding is one of two in the midst of a byelection for the Ontario legislature. And I am Undecided.

I have decided against the Progressive Conservatives (I know, you’re all shocked) and the six fringe candidates that are running. That leaves three options: Liberals, NDP, and Greens.

Recently I’ve just been voting for whoever appears to have the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate, and in this riding, that’s normally Liberal.

But a byelection is not the same. For one thing, I do not have to fear the Conservatives in the same way, because even if they happen to win both seats up for grabs, they will still not form government.

For another, it’s not really so clear the Liberals are the next leading contenders. The NDP have a strong, well-known local candidate, and with voters not having to fear an NDP government resulting from her winning the seat, they might just vote for her. There’s no knowing for sure, but all indications are that this is a three-way race.

So, another strategy I sometimes take when struggling to decide is to just pick the best local candidate. In a byelection, this seems a particular sensible approach. Therefore, I watched the local debate, and came to the conclusion that… All the candidates I’m considering are quite good, really.

The Liberals Eric Davis and the NDP’s Catherine Fife both speak very well and knowledgeably. He’s a lawyer and she’s local schoolboard trustee, and they both already have the politician’s ability to seem like they’re answering a question when they haven’t, really. And it’s in this respect that the Green’s Stacey Danckert was quite refreshing, even though she was soft spoken and less assured. But she was also clearly very smart, informed, and sincere.

Plus, the Greens have some cool policies. Combine the Separate and public school boards? Yes, we can! (Wait, that’s someone else’s slogan.) Reduce income taxes and increase pollution taxes? Sounds good to me. Proportional representation? Bring it on.

But do the Greens have any shot at all in this thing? That is unlikely. Do I consider them anyway, for supporting the candidate and the policies? I’m undecided.

This byelection is also unusual in that actually could change the shape of the Legislature. If the Liberals happen to manage to win both byelection, they’d end up with a very slim majority. Do I want this? Majority governments—including this one—tend to be rather arrogant and undemocratic. But minority governments are all gamesmanship, with everyone threatening elections at every opportunity… All dreaming that majority they might win.

Basically, we have terrible political system, in which both majority and minority governments kind of suck. I can’t change that with my vote. (Ontarians could have changed that in a referendum a few years ago, but they didn’t. I may never forgive you for that, Ontarians. But I’m digressing.)

So… Not much point in voting strategically, no clear favorite amongst a set of good candidate, not really sure who I want to win the seat (except I’d prefer not Conservative or a fringe candidate).

Gosh, I may actually have to read the party platforms, or something.