31 October 2008

Victoria's Ongoing War on the Homeless Cont'd

More arrests today.

Sgt. Grant Hamilton said officers moved in to make arrests around 9 a.m. PT on Friday....

The arrests follow the previous arrests of five people who set up a makeshift tent city this month in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park.

That tent city was set up following a decision, also this month, in which the Supreme Court of B.C. struck down a Victoria bylaw that banned people from camping overnight in public parks.

The ruling said it is unconstitutional for the city to prevent homeless people from seeking shelter if there are not enough shelter beds available.

The city of Victoria responded by saying it would obey the court ruling, but that campers would only be allowed to sleep in city parks between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

I am so utterly sick of this situation. It truly has become a war on the homeless. There's no compassion. Not even common sense.

With the boom going bust, there'll be plenty more homeless getting herded out of public parks and other public areas.

Where are they all to go? And how are they to participate in the hoped-for economic recovery if even the minimal shelter of a park tent is denied them?

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Vancouver to Permit Laneway Housing

So reports the CBC. But lest we low-income and homeless people start jumping up and down, shouting out "It's about time!" and exhaling our oh-so-long pent up breath, there is this:

The average cost of a conversion is expected to be around $150,000, but owners will only be able to rent and not sell the laneway homes.

Before any of the alley homes go ahead, there will be public hearings on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis, and only homes already zoned single-family will qualify for the pilot project. That means the first laneway house won't be built for about a year.

No, a conversion needn't cost anywhere near $150,000 as evidenced by this solution and that one and oh, so many others.

However, NIMBYism will continue to be alive, well and thriving. Hence, look for the projected one-year delay to extend long beyond that.

As for pets? As usual, they're likely not to be allowed by the property owners - which means the disproportionate number of people who live alone, are on low income and have pets will be out of luck once again.

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Lawyers for Victoria Homeless: City council wrong again

[Updated] As suggested when I wrote about the City of Victoria's most recent efforts to shovel people who are homeless off to no man's land, lawyers for the city's homeless say that City councillors are wrong - for the second time.

Recall that the City had adopted a bylaw enforcement policy that was intended to restrict homeless people to the hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. for erecting and using their tents in parks.

My response then had been that the need to provide for one's life, liberty and security of person doesn't conveniently turn itself off between certain hours of the day, nor does inclement weather. Further, there is no justifiable reason for making parks accessible for ten hours but not for 24; and the hours specified smack of white-collar, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., centrism.

So what do the lawyers representing Victoria's homeless have to say?

“It appears that the Enforcement Policy is not supported by any bylaw,” wrote Catherine Boies Parker, who along with Irene Faulkner represented the homeless in the October 14 Supreme Court of B.C. win.

The court struck down several sections of the city's bylaws, finding they “are of no force and effect insofar and only insofar as they apply to prevent homeless people from erecting temporary shelter.”

...In her letter, Boies Parker pointed out the city can not have an enforcement policy for a bylaw which is “of no force and effect.”

“It is our position that enforcement action such as that which was recently taken against the campers in Beacon Hill Park cannot be supported by a mere policy which is not grounded in any bylaw,” she said.

The city can pass a new bylaw to reflect their policy, she said, but added it is unlikely to stand up to a court challenge. “An absolute prohibition on erecting shelter between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm will again lead to the result that there will be many times when the homeless will still be prohibited from erecting shelter for themselves when they need to sleep or otherwise require protection from the elements.”

And in other news... Vancouver plays Whack-a-Mole with homeless campers.

Oh, the compassion of it all!

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30 October 2008

Future Priests to Undergo Psych Screening

Couldn't help but laugh at the article's headline.

The Vatican issued new psychological screening guidelines for priesthood candidates on Thursday designed to screen out men with strong homosexual tendencies or an inability to control strong sexual urges...

"In all too many cases, psychological defects, sometimes of a pathological kind, reveal themselves only after ordination to the priesthood," the guidelines said.

Must confess that I consider a candidate who believes that his pope-ishness is the successor of a mythical Peter, who was mythically a disciple of a mythical messiah, who was mythically the son of a mythical man in the sky is himself a candidate for the loony bin.

Hmm, but then, the Catholic church IS a refuge for the irrational.

"Detecting defects earlier would help avoid many tragic experiences" ... [and] problems like "confused or not yet well-defined" sexual identities need to be addressed...

Priests must have a "positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity" and the capacity to "integrate his sexuality in accordance" with the obligation of celibacy...

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Vatican department that prepared the document, said Thursday that homosexuality was "a deviation, an irregularity and a wound" in response to a question about why a man with deep-seated homosexual tendencies could not become a priest, while a man with deep-seated heterosexual urges faced no such restriction.

Homosexuality would not allow priests to carry out their mission properly, he said at a news conference in Vatican City...

The church is struggling to provide enough priests for parishes in many parts of the West because of waning vocations.

Yea, well, good luck with that program.

Methinks the Catholic church is goin' down in flames and it can't be soon enough for me.

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29 October 2008

Standard Time: Better for your heart

This spring, for the first time, I refused to set my clocks one hour ahead. Like clockwork, I've been rising from bed at 7am (ish) Standard Time - although for most everyone else in this hemisphere that has meant 8am Daylight Saving Time.

I just don't adjust well to time changes and it takes me at least triple the time it does anyone else. Now there's support for what the 'ole bod has been telling me.

Heart attacks decrease by 5 percent the first Monday after the [Standard] Time change, and by 1.5 percent over that week, according to an analysis in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. The findings are based on 20 years of data from a Swedish registry of nine million residents.

The springtime transition to Daylight Saving time poses more of a health hazard: Heart attacks increase by 5 percent over the first week after clocks are pushed back an hour, spiking by 10 percent on that Tuesday, epidemiologists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found.

Thing is, I've seen NO change in my consumption of energy over the past seven months, as compared to other years when I did set my clocks forward. Ergo, for me at least, there has been no justification for the demand to change my clocks. And healthwise, there was every reason to leave my darn clocks alone.

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Oh, the poor pharmaceutical companies!

Profits at Merck, one of the US-based giants in pharmaceuticals, has seen its third-quarter profits fall by 28 percent.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck is to cut 7,200 jobs, or roughly 12% of its workforce. Around 40% of the cuts will be in the United States, many of them from management as Merck trims the number of senior and mid-level executives by 25%....

These cuts come on top of the axing of 10,400 positions announced in 2005, which Merck says was "substantially complete" as of last month.

...Research and development spending actually rose by 2% if expenses from restructuring efforts and the 2007 acquisition of NovaCardia are taken into account.

Guess people are wising up about prescription drugs, huh?

  • that they often cause worse conditions than they are supposed to treat, and
  • that Big Pharma promotes its drugs to treat non-existent illnesses, such as menopause, grief and poverty.

Yea, poverty. Rather than treat the cause of poverty-induced anxiety, stress and depression, we just turn poor people into 'patients' and then drug 'em. See Elysia's story for an excellent example of that.

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28 October 2008

More Tiny Houses - for $1,500

The problem with a Tumbleweed house is that even the 65 square foot model is over $36,000, plus shipping.

Well now I learn that early this year students at the University of British Columbia's Emily Carr Institute designed and built four houses, each unique, each 64 square feet, and none more than $1,500.

Unlike the Tumbleweed models, these little houses don't have their own toilet or shower facility. Instead, they're designed with communal living in mind. For example, a cluster of them might be built around a central bathroom and laundry facility.

Michael Johnson, one of the students who worked on [one of the houses], was surprised how fiercely the homeless citizens he met wanted to maintain their autonomy.

"Some of them weren't homeless because of a drug addiction, they weren't homeless because of anything. They just ran completely out of luck and out of money and out of all of the normal safety nets that catch people," he said. "A number of the people, while they appreciated what the shelters were doing, they felt that, to some extent, their individuality was lost. And speaking to some of the social workers, it was the loss of individuality that proved to be the biggest hurdle to overcome toward rehabilitation."

The portion I highlighted cannot be emphasized enough. It only surprises me how much most people don't get that those who are homeless desire their autonomy as much as anyone. Shelters deprive them of that.

As for the little $1,500 houses designed by the students, the problem comes down again to land. And because they are so low cost and residents would share bathroom facilities, very likely NIMBYism too would rear its ugly head.

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Housing: Dreaming a Tumbleweed house

All I've ever wanted is a tiny house, on a piece of land large enough to grow my own veggies and fruit, a place where no one can tell me I can't keep Kiltie and Brodie.

And everytime I pass by a dilapidated or unused tool shed or garage, I think again of my dream.

Or when a post like the one John wrote today reminds me to visit one of my favourite bookmarks: Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Below is a photo of the Epu.

It's 89 square feet, the second smallest model of Tumbleweed homes and the one in which the owner of Tumbleweed lives.

Tumbleweed homes range from 65 to 774 square feet.

Can't describe the yearning I feel to have something like that. My very own little house in which there's no question that I can keep my cats and on land which can ensure there's enough nutritious food to eat.

The cost of land prohibits the dream from coming true.

Even if a similar rental situation came up - e.g., there are one-room, low-income cottages for the 55+ nearby -, the likelihood is strong I wouldn't be allowed to keep my cats, as is the case at Crescent Cottages.

That is a non-starter for people who need the companionship of pets.

So now, as I approach retirement with disabilities which limit my employment prospects, there's no question I'll remain a renter for the rest of my life. And as such I'll always be under threat of having to move, as conditions change according to owners' whims. :-(

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27 October 2008

Mobile Home Park Closes, Pets Abandoned, Owners "Irresponsible"

That's the reasoning applied in this article.

There's concern in Edmonton for dozens of cats left in a trailer park after their owners were evicted for a redevelopment... Over 100 families who were living in the park have been given until Oct. 31 to leave, and the property is now almost deserted.

The owner decided to redevelop the land into commercial real estate about a year ago, forcing residents to find somewhere else to live.

Many of the former residents moved into apartments and left their pets behind.

According to Tamara Pylypchuk, a woman who has been visiting the Jasper Place Mobile Home Park to feed the cats, the pet owners' were being "irresponsible."

I suspect not.

What is missing from the brief article is an interview with any of the former residents to ask them WHY they left their pets behind.

Here's a guess: The apartment owners don't allow pets. Exceedingly few in Alberta do.

Oh, and people who live in mobile home parks tend to be poor. Poor people don't have a heck of a lot of choice when it comes to housing.

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26 October 2008

Annie Git Yer Gun

Headline in Canadian Press: "Quebec Ad Campaign Aims to Attract Hunters."

Yes, the Quebec Federation of Hunting and Fishing is promoting killing wildlife in their province. To do so will put meat on your table, boost the economy, pay the guides a living wage and keep those pesky animals from overpopulating, among other wonderful and positive things, so says Federation spokesperson Annie Guertin.

But before you buy a gun with a scope, ammunition, camouflaged clothing and fishing gear before dishing out big bucks to hire a guide to help you search for your dinner, watch the clip below.

"It's a bit of an image campaign . . . . to modify perceptions about hunting," sezs Annie.

Imagine how thrilling it will be to go out and shoot your very own deer, bear, moose, elk, duck, goose or whatever is "in season", to slash it's throat, let the blood flow then to plunge your knife deep into it's still warm belly to slit it open and gouge out pulsing internal organs. This is the image to have in mind when a-hunting you will go.

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Germany Turns Down Full-Body Screening at Airports

You just gotta love the attitude.

On the matter of full-body security screening at airports, this is how Gabriele Hermani, a spokeswoman for the interior ministry put it: "I can tell you in all clarity that we will not take part in this nonsense."

Supporters of scanners say they make it easier to detect concealed objects such as liquids or plastic weapons not picked up by traditional metal detectors.

But the proposal has come under fire from German politicians of all stripes and civil rights groups.

"It is unacceptable, if scanners are used; these are machines that see you completely naked," said Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist faction in the EU assembly on Thursday.

"This is an offence against human dignity."

Yea, well, paranoia is alive and well on this side of the pond. Ergo, apparently, human dignity be damned.

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Kitty and Mac

A cute video has turned up on YouTube, of a kitten trying to figure out the goings-on behind the MacBook screen.

Must confess, I'd never let my cats near my Mac mini or the monitor. They cost too much to repair or replace.

And last time I tried going without a computer the withdrawal symptoms were danged awful. The old PC bleeped its last blip 18 months ago and I was forced to wait TWO WHOLE MONTHS between its demise and the arrival of my brand new Mac.

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"Canadian Retailers Slash Prices" - NOT

Told you so!

You have to read to almost the end of this supposedly good news story to get to this part:

An online search showed that many Canadian retailers are already reacting to the current position of the Canadian dollar for big ticket items - and some of the deals aren't particularly enticing for bargain hunters.

Best Buy Canada has marked down a large portion of its flat panel inventory, though it's still cheaper to buy many of the TVs stateside.

A 37" Sharp Aquos television is sale priced at about C$2,000 in Canada while it's going for about C$1,725 (US$1,350) in the United States... And a glimpse at both the U.S. and Canadian Amazon websites show that many of the top selling books aren't much of a deal either.

Which all sums up to business-as-usual and this advice to consumers: Caveat emptor.

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Fundamental Flaw on Religious-Political Right

There's a fundamental flaw in "right" thinking. And by "right," I mean only, in this case, people who lean both to the right politically and hold fundamentalist religious views.

Presumably, not all people on the right are religious; some may even be atheists.

On the political right, the view is that deregulation and absolute personal freedom or liberty are key. The "free" market is held as the ultimate "decider" of what should and should not be. This applies to everything: trade, the environment, the economy and the banking industry, and social issues such as poverty, housing and health care.

The thinking is that NO ONE should dictate what the citizens of a democracy can and cannot do, provided they do no direct harm to others. If harm is done, then the courts should decide the matter.

Also fundamental to the view is that what should be, in terms of the achievement of the best of all possible worlds, will ultimately result from this free exercise of human liberty.

While on the surface it would appear that such thinking aligns perfectly with far right religious views, in fact it does not.

Here I'm talking of organized, fundamentalist religions and their purveyors. According to these, the sheep need their shepherd. Without that shepherd and without the stern pulpit, the sheep will inevitably stray.

Which suggests that i) anyone not holding to a fundamentalist faith is, by definition, a sinner and therefore should not associate with the purportedly true neo-whatevers (cons, libs, or any other flavour) and ii) the sheep are, well, sheep.

Genesis 1:27 - "God created man in His own image."

From Wesley's Notes: "God's image upon man, consists, In his nature, not that of his body, for God has not a body, but that of his soul. The soul is a spirit, an intelligent, immortal spirit, an active [not passive] spirit, herein resembling God, the Father of spirits, and the soul of the world."

Sheep are amoral, of low intelligence and passive.

See where I'm going with this?

ETA. In the event that you don't...

No matter which flavour of neo-ism one looks at, top right or lower right quadrant on the political compass,

4 quadrants of political ideologies

either the people are sheep and need to be controlled - hence there's a fundamental inconsistency in the neo-conservative property rights/economic view.

Or the people are totally free, both socially and economically - in which case, the inconsistency lies between the neo-liberal view espoused by the political right and their religious fundamentalist thinking.

Again, this post is only about those who hold rightist views both political and religious.

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Charles McVety Smackdown

There's a great video over at Terahertz of an interview on CHCH TV.

Background: The new Atheists and Agnostics Society at the University of Alberta is petitioning to have one phrase deleted or changed in the U of A's convocation ceremony, the section where the chancellor charges graduates to use their degrees for “the glory of God and the honour of your country.”

The issue is getting good coverage, including an interview on CHCH TV with guests Ian Bushfield, the president of the group, and Charles McVety - to whom progressive bloggers need no introduction.

The two hosts get into the discussion. The female host in particular scores several points and exposes McVety as the bigoted idiot he is.

According to this article in the Edmonton Journal, many universities in the country either never had a reference to god in their convocation ceremonies or, if they did, had long removed it.

In addition,

Andrew Chan, of the group Christians in Action Bible Study, said he wouldn't make a fuss if the controversial line was softened somehow, but believes the religious theme should remain part of convocation. "From my standpoint, the line has historical value because the U of A was founded on Christian beliefs," Chan said. "Taking that out would take out a part of the university's history."

But Brett Sawchuk of Cross Impact, another Christian group, argued that such history is now essentially irrelevant.Whatever Christian flavour the U of A may have had in its early days is no longer a part of the academic culture, he said.

"Nowadays, universities don't espouse those values at all."

That's why Sawchuk was surprised to hear the "God" reference last June when he attended convocation to receive his bachelor of science degree.

"As believers, it means something to us Christians and other people who are religious, but taking it out is probably a more accurate portrayal of the university," he said.

"Christians who attend the U of A know they are attending a non-Christian university."

Which supports Bushfield's contention that some god believers support having the ceremony changed to be inclusive of non-believers.

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25 October 2008

ONE municipal ACM - Its focus: Issues of concern to downtown business group

That's right. In the municipality of Duncan, there will be ONE and one only all candidates meeting.

Which would be fine if it weren't that "the focus of the meeting will be on the Downtown business community and the issues that concern that community."

Forget that to own a business in Duncan doesn't mean you necessarily live there.

Forget that the residents of Duncan might like to hear the candidates address OUR issues.

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Calling all southwesterners! - as in 'social libertarians'

Do we need a Social Libertarian Party of Canada?

OK, ok, stop throwing stuff at me! And stop mutterin' on about "no more parties on the left!"

I ask the question cuz a whole lotta people are sayin' that they inhabit the southwestern wilderness on the 'ole political compass.

As do friend Daphne and I.

And, according to said compass, all of Canada's political parties either occupy the northeast or are moving their homes mighty close to that region.

So what is a good Social Libertarian to do?

Pack up and follow the rest to the cold, harsh, rigid climes of a certain northern region? Or stay in the sun-filled (when not in monsoon season), warm, exquisite environment of the southwest?

If we choose the latter, then we've no option but to form our own new Canadian federal party. Right? Or move outta this country altogether.

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24 October 2008

Retailers, Manufacturers: Falling loonie, more sleight of hand

Opportunity! Can't wait 'til holidays are over!

So the CEOs and Boards of Canada's retail and manufacturing industries - and their counterparts who sell their goods to we foolish Canadians - are likely thinking.

Remember those days when Canadians were complaining that prices weren't falling as they should - back when the loonie was (and had been for at least three years) soaring?

Prices inched everso slightly downward but never did reach the point that would have seen the wealth shared with Canadian consumers. That scam meant that not only have we been propping up the otherwise slumping retail sector here at home, but also the one down south.

Now the loonie is falling - down as of today by more than 20% of its high just a few weeks ago.

So, hey! We ought to be grateful that retailers will magnanimously hold off hiking prices, to reflect the rise in the loonie, until after the winter holidays. Right?

"The costs that [the retailers] incurred for their holiday merchandise were incurred months ago so those are loaded and locked and won't change for the holiday season," said Peter Woolford, a spokesman for the Retail Council of Canada....

When the dollar achieved parity with the U.S. greenback in September 2007, many consumers called on retailers to lower their prices to reflect the true value of the dollar. Large manufacturers introduced discounts in a bid to keep shoppers from heading across the border, while smaller companies assured consumers they would introduce discounts once they had moved through the stock they had purchased before the loonie's surge.

Nowhere that I could find, online or out in the real world, did prices fall anywhere near the point they should have, especially the prices of books and electronics.

In fact, there's even a name for this phenomenon. It's called sticky pricing. So when prices do go up, don't be fooled into thinking that's only fair.

It won't be. The benefits of the loonie at par never were shared with Canadian shoppers. Instead, they bloated already gorging corporate profits, thus doing their bit to advance that "economic boom" we all heard about but never experienced in our own lives.

Which all means that, once again, when prices hike up as they inevitably will, Canada's consumers will get the shaft and shoulder the largest burden for maintaining the retail and manufacturing industries on both sides of the border.

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22 October 2008

Podcast - Stories of Poverty in the 1st Person - E20, Tatum

Episode 20 of 24. A reading from the book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front.

One of several native women who participated in the project, Tatum has proven herself to be a fierce fighter against injustice: of that done to her as a child, woman and Indian, and to others in similar circumstances. As with two other of the storytellers, Tatum took her abuser to court. Also like them, she paid harshly for doing the right thing.

Beyond what has become the dishearteningly common tale of childhood sexual abuse, there are the abuses against native culture and identity.

I lived in Vancouver when I was 19, 20, 21…. My whole life, I think that’s what’s a live and so burning anger. We lost our language and every other culture is out there yakking their language – on public buses and on public streets. Oooh, that used to burn me in Vancouver when I was young! I used to be so angry when I heard another nationality’s voice in their own language. I think I still am. Then I have to be a Canadian citizen and you’re telling me I have to know French?!?!

Discrimination also remains alive and thriving in our community.

[As someone who doesn’t look like the stereotypical Indian,] I never felt discrimination until I had this ex in my life…. Renting in Victoria … there was so much discrimination. They would give the place to me when he was working… Then I’d bring my Indian husband. BAM! We don’t have a place anymore. Two hours ago I had it! No problem, no question. Then they see this Indian… He was in work clothes and everything!

Two more stories remain - Vanessa and Waneta. They will be followed by one podcast each for the two project reports.

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Congrats to Harper & Co - I'll be a tool no more

Dana's post over at The Galloping Beaver touched me deeply.

It so expresses what I've been feeling since the results came in from the latest show produced by our federal political parties. You know the one, the $300 million production designed to fool Canadians into thinking they were participating in a democratic process.

Dana expressed the same sense of dismay I've been feeling and a profound disturbance that Canadians have allowed themselves to be so swayed.

I've been thinking all morning and over the days before and since our most recent reality TV election that I'll likely not vote in the next one.

I've done that only once before. Had been away from the country for a few years and had only just returned when a federal election was called. I was uninformed and out of touch with the issues which mattered to my riding, the province and the country and so I thought the most responsible thing to do was not vote rather than risk choosing the wrong candidate.

Next time, I am likely not to vote for equally valid reasons:

  • Our democratic institutions and practices no longer function as they should. In fact, I'd say that our democracy has become a sham.
  • The voters have become puppets of the corporate regime, fed propaganda by the corporate media and then blamed by it either for not voting or voting the wrong way.
  • The only value of a vote for a party which never wins is a $1.95 per year between elections. In theory, if a party gets enough votes, then it can buy its way into the public consciousness. Yet not all money has equal purchasing power. I can easily envision corporate media turning down ad purchases by parties whose ideology the owners don't support. That already happens in the U.S. and we know that the CPoC has adopted the U.S. neocons' tactics.

There's a provincial election coming up in BC May 12, 2009. And a second turn at a referendum on electoral reform.

Last time, British Columbians voted 58% in favour of changing to the Single Transferable Vote system. The change we voted for was denied us by the BC legislature's imposition of a 60% threshold. The Opposition NDP approved.

We get to do it all over again on May 12th. Same 60% threshold. Same collusion by the purportedly progressive provincial NDP.

If the BC referendum again doesn't get passed, that provincial election will be the last one in which I cast a vote. I will no longer accept being a tool for corporate Canada.

To have to say this saddens me beyond description.

I'm 58 years old and only missed that one election. Yet as I canvassed with my local candidate over the past weeks, we met many people at the door who had made the decision not to vote. It was never apathy which had turned and was keeping them away; the media has that wrong - deliberately, I suspect. It was disgust which had made these engaged citizens disengage from our farcical electoral process.

Unlike them, I've just been a little slow to catch on.

I'll still write on the issues, volunteer to help my local candidate, and work to inform those who still vote about the practices, policies and platforms of the various parties. But I'll not collude with the major players by allowing myself to be their puppet.

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21 October 2008

Harper Govt 2007 "Public Consultations" on Reform - P2

This is the second of what will be six parts investigating the Harper government's "Public Consultations on Canada's Democratic Institutions and Practices." Part I can be found here.

In this post, I focus on the call for tender for this government-funded project and the two organizations which ended up being awarded the contract.

The call for tender

The call was published January 9, 2007, revised January 15 and closed January 31. Unless you know a particular tender is in the works, you would be hard-pressed to put together a decent proposal in time.

Under the Nature of Process is the following:

The public consultations will consist of deliberative citizen forums as well as a large sample national telephone survey. Deliberative processes are designed to delve beyond top-of-mind approaches and provide a detailed understanding of citizens' considered perspectives on complex issues. They take a sample of citizens that is roughly representative of a cross-section of the larger population; have them learn about an issue in an objective/impartial manner....

The resulting report will identify priorities, values and principles which Canadians believe should inform democratic reform. It will also provide an assessment of the views of citizens regarding various options for change. [My emphasis.]

The items stressed will feature in my future analysis of the actual process undertaken in these "deliberative citizen forums," particularly in light of the conclusions in the investigators' final report.

Also among the project requirements listed in the call for tender is a telephone survey and workbook for participants. The outcome of the survey is to provide "detailed information about the views of Canadians" on the state of Canada's democratic institutions and practices.

The workbook should enable participants to "educate themselves on the issues" and guide them through "a number of scenarios so that different broad courses of action for each issue or series of issues can be discussed. Participants are thus confronted with choices which serve to focus their views."

As I comb through the workbook, I'll be assessing the (choice of) content/issues and its framing.

Another section to highlight in the call for tender is Some of the Mandatories.

Er, "some"? If there are other mandatories, why aren't they included in the call for tender?

Any, moving along, I come to a point where I begin to suspect the fix - well, one of them - is in:

Bidders MUST submit proposals that are jointly prepared and submitted by a) one or more independent research organization(s) ("think-tank(s)") and b) one or more firm(s) that is/are principally dedicated to public opinion research. Bidders MUST clearly demonstrate that each of a) and b) have experience within the last two years conducting research related to governance and/or democratic reform and/or citizenship issues.

Further into that section there's a reference to "Annex A of the request for proposals," but I can't find an online version of that RFP.

Cost of project: Including expenses and GST, no more than $900,000.

Project Principal Investigators

The winning bidders for this project were COMPAS Research and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

COMPAS Research

It didn't take much reading before I hit on something which elicited "ahhAHHahh" - in suitable rising crescendo.

Our experience with the [Financial] Post taught us a lot about designing research to help a client’s bottom line.... Today, COMPAS is a research partner to CanWest, Canada’s largest media company. CanWest’s many assets include the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, and Montreal Gazette, as well as the ... Global Television Network.

Frontier Centre for Public Policy

FCPP is a self-described prairie-focused, Winnipeg-based think tank. Without looking further than a Google search of the company name, which conveniently spits up a list of organizations and groups which use FCPP as their primary source of information, I'm guessing this think tank does research which skews to the right, maybe even the far right.

A short visit to the FCPP website (it was all I could stand) supports this view. For example, under Aboriginals, one finds this enlightened title on a recent publication: "Ask not what your country can do for you..."

Under Environment, their policy would move away from the "'command and control' style of regulation and towards the use of markets and property rights."


There's likely a lot more which could be uncovered about the tendering process and the two organizations which were the investigators of this government-funded study. But I'll leave that to others to do.

Next up: The methodology of the forums and survey, including recruitment and payment to participants.

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Harper Govt 2007 "Public Consultations" on Reform a Sham

In 2007 and all within the space of five months, the Harper government began and completed "Public Consultations on Canada's Democratic Institutions and Practices," issued a call for tender for the "independent" overseeing of same and as part of this project, had 12 Luntz-style forums held across Canada, a "national telephone survey" done - whose response rate was 11 percent - and produced a final report, two appendices and a participant workbook.

The purpose of these public consultations?

To learn the view of forum participants (after they'd 'studied' the issues) and survey respondents on, in the words of Peter Van Loan when he submitted the final report to the House of Commons on September 10th, 2007, "a wide range of issues, including" - i.e., far from limited to, these topics:

  • Citizen participation in a democracy - including discussion of voting and volunteerism
  • House of Commons
  • Senate
  • Political parties
  • Electoral reform

The twelve forums were each held over the course of a single 24-hour period. In other words, less than six hours of actual study was done.

From the final report: "Video presentations by subject matter experts were presented at the forums. Each topic began with a presentation, typically involving a video and brief questions and answers. This was followed by extensive discussions in breakouts. Breakout groups then re-assembled for concluding discussions."

It took the citizens assemblies of British Columbia and Ontario up to ONE YEAR to study various electoral systems alone. Yet forum participants in these "public consultations" were expected to provide an informed answer on their voting system preferences after ONE HOUR and at the end of an intense session at which other topics had been thrown at them.

“Canada’s New Government committed to consult Canadians on the state of our democracy,” Minister Van Loan said. “With the release of the report, we have fulfilled that commitment.”

“We approached the consultations process with a clear goal: to move beyond the vested interests, entrenched institutions and powerful lobbyists in Ottawa to determine the views of average Canadians, whose voices in this day and age often aren’t heard,” said Minister Van Loan. “I am pleased to say we have achieved that goal.”

No doubt the Harper Conservatives were pleased. The design of the forums ensured the results they wanted.

Am going to write much more about this. However, I just wanted to get this stuff out there now.

As calls for reforming our electoral process get louder and more frequent, Harper & Company will most assuredly argue that they've consulted Canadians and learned that we're happy with the electoral system the way it is.

No doubt the Liberals (or the power-brokers among them) will sing the same tune.

You know the song: "Been there, done that and results align with our view."

So, too, will the corporate media, whose owners also have part ownership of our two major political parties.

Fellow bloggers, please have at it.

Download for posterity the full report, Appendix 1, Appendix II and workbook.

Dig into:

  1. the tendering process and the backgrounds of the people/organizations who conducted these consultations;
  2. the methodology of the forums and survey, including recruitment and payment to participants - I couldn't find the number of participants who attended the forums anywhere;
  3. the questions asked, and their number and order in the survey (Appendix 1);
  4. the authorship (COMPAS Research/Frontier Centre for Public Policy) and content of the workbook - electoral reform was treated last, over three pages and there's clear bias;
  5. the conclusions made in the final report, with a comparison of them to the framing and order of questions and how the forums were conducted.

Am going to start my own digging expedition and shall be reporting back...

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Fair Vote Canada Calls Government on Electoral Reform

Fair Vote Canada calls on the new government and Parliament to quit the dithering and dodging on electoral reform: Commit to a citizen-driven electoral reform process before the next election.

When the new House of Commons is convened in mid-November, Fair Vote Canada says the first order of business should be a commitment to institute a citizen-driven electoral reform process, with a timeline that ends no later than the next election. The call for action was issued at a Parliament Hill press conference, where Fair Vote Canada was joined by Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

“How far does our system have to deteriorate before our political leaders address the appalling democracy deficit created by our dysfunctional voting system?” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. “The lowest turnout in history, distorted results, seven million orphan voters, the Green Party with nearly one million votes being denied seats, the Bloc getting a million fewer votes than the NDP but far more seats – this is not democracy and it is not tolerable.”

“First-past-the-post was developed in the 11th century, when people believed the earth was flat,” said Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. “When it was first used in Canada, leeching was still considered a cutting-edge medical practice. Time has moved on but Canadians are still being punished by a dysfunctional voting system that is an embarrassing relic of a bygone era.”

Fair Vote Canada is calling for a citizen-driven federal reform process, with one model being the independent citizens’ assembly and referendum process used by British Columbia and Ontario. The process used by New Zealand in the early 1990s is another option: in a first referendum, voters indicated whether they wanted reform and also voted on their preferred alternative system; in a second referendum, they voted between their preferred alternative and the status quo.

“Mr. Harper said he intends to address the future of the Senate.” said Andy Blair, Vice President of Fair Vote Canada. “Last year, Senator Hugh Segal and others floated the idea of a national referendum on abolishing the Senate. If Mr. Harper proceeds with such a referendum that is an opportunity to add a referendum question on electoral reform for the House of Commons.”

“The next Parliament will be judged by the Canadian people on whether it continues the do-nothing path of past Parliaments, or if it finally recognizes the urgent need to give Canadians equal votes, fair election results, and a truly representative House of Commons. With voters walking away from the system in disgust and young people concluding that voting has no purpose, Canada cannot afford a Parliament that sits on its hands,” said Blair.

- 30 -

Reprinted from today's Fair Vote Canada media release.

If you care by electoral reform, please sign up to become a member of Fair Vote Canada or to volunteer to help with its campaign to reform Canada's electoral system.

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19 October 2008

Podcast: Stories of Poverty in the First Person - Sheree

Episode 19 of 24. A reading from the book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front.

I've always hated the way I looked. I was fair-skinned; I had light hair. I wasn't Status. I was considered Caucasian by the Native community and by the government, but the white people would look at me: "You're Native." I was hated and ridiculed by my family and my peers: I was nothing; I was nobody; I would never amount to anything, no matter how I tried, where I tried or who I tried with; I was adopted; I was found in the ditch; I was found in the garbage. That was what they told me. I was beat up physically everyday. By the time I turned 5, I was made into a sexual object.

I read that over to myself after copying and pasting it and don’t know what else to add. It sickens me what Sheree and so many of these women have gone through.

All these stories were heart-wrenching to collect, assemble and hold secret until I released the first project report. Now to read them again, out loud, for these podcasts - well, that has proven difficult.

In that respect, Sheree’s story is no exception. Nor is Sheree an exception in protecting and nurturing an incredible inner strength to overcome what so many others wouldn’t:

I’m hiding right now in this little place. I’m trying to gather my energy to go out in the world and say:

“OK, here I am again! Let’s try it again. One more time. Let’s get it right people!”

I think I’m so stupid sometimes, seriously, because I go out there and try again. I really, honestly think that I’m going to find someone who’s going to help. It won’t go away. I just believe.

These women are amazing and literally take my breath away. It’s been a profound privilege to know them and to be trusted with their stories.

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Star Wants Democracy Only for Some

Alberta's turnout was among the lowest in the country, fourth from the bottom, with the Northwest Territories (48.6%), Nunavut (49.4%) and Newfoundland & Labrador (48.1%) the only provinces or territories lower.

In the case of Alberta, with only 52.9% voter turnout the Conservatives obtained 27 of the 28 seats. But that 94.6% virtual seat sweep was courtesy of 34.2% of the Alberta electorate. The other 65.8% of Alberta voters either stayed home or voted other than Conservative.

Now consider Newfoundland and Labrador, which came in last for voter turnout. NL Premier Danny Williams and supporters pushed his Anything But Conservative campaign hard throughout the province. Reports were common of demoralized Conservatives and the CPoC's struggles to find people willing to run as candidates against the moneyed avalanche which was the ABC campaign.

Should progressives be pleased with the demoralization of the CPoC's supporters in the province?

No, not if they hold that democracy should be inclusive of and for everyone, not just those with whose views they can agree.

I feel as bad for the disenfranchised Conservatives in NL as I do for the 65.8% disenfranchised Albertans who either voted differently or didn't vote at all.

The numbers are telling. No matter which political ideology you hold, surely you can see that forcing a multi-party democracy into a two-party voting system is unfair to the electorate, undemocratic and horribly wrong.

The first past the post voting system was designed and implemented back in the days when Canada and most other democracies had just two parties competing for office.

A true democracy adapts to change.

All but three democracies had done so by the end of the last century, having recognized that the development of more parties, as created by the citizenry, meant the requirement to accommodate to this growth. Adapting to change did NOT mean forcing those parties to reduce back to two, thus forcing citizens of the democracy to choose between only two options.

The needed change was obvious to the leaders of these democracies, to move from a voting system which was designed for only two parties - first past the post (also Alternative Vote, as used in Australia, or Instant Runoff Vote) - to one of proportional representation, which is designed for multi-party democracies.

But there continues to be resistance to such democratic change in Canada. It comes almost exclusively from the elites who hold power, among whom are the corporate media, such as the Toronto Star.

That the Star should tout earnestly about the need for poverty reduction, environmental protection, etc., etc., etc., but at the same time be consistently against proportional representation speaks to how stuck in the old days the paper is.

If Canada had a system of proportional representation ... the pro-life Christian Heritage Party, for example, might win enough votes to get seats. And new parties might emerge to win seats – say, an Alberta First party or even ethnic parties.

So Harper might be kept in power by entering a coalition with pro-life and Alberta First parties. Now that, indeed, is a scary prospect.

Scare mongering. How quaint.

The Star needs to catch up with the current century and get its head out of its ass expand its view. If Harper, the Alberta First Party, and some pro-life and far-right parties collectively obtained a majority of seats under proportional representation and they formed a coalition majority government, then the government would represent a true majority of Canadians.

This would be a democratic result, which proportional representation is all about.

Clearly, the Star endorses democracy only for some. Which, in the end, amounts to no democracy at all.

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18 October 2008

This Day 79 Years Ago Women "declared" Persons

Seventy nine years ago today, October 18th, Canadian women became PERSONS (activates audio file). Our voices were heard through the efforts of a small group of politically motivated women from the prairie provinces.

Much has changed since that day, but too much has stayed the same.

Recently, the Federal Conservatives deleted the word "equality" from the Status of Women's statement of purpose; discontinued the national child-care proposal that all Provinces were engaged in structuring and cut funding to many social services that benefited women, the elderly and families.

Suddenly, according to Mr. Harper and his neo-cons, the women in Canada ARE equal to men.

How can this be when we earn 25% less for doing the same job as a man; when we are under-represented in the practises of law and the sciences; when we must fight to gain credence in the political sphere; when we are not safe walking alone at night; when rape and abuse of our person is punished less than a corporate embezzler?

Nelly McLung, in her speech on CBC radio 79 years ago said, "...and the end is not yet". Truer words have never been spoken.

Woman's endeavour to walk beside their male counterparts continues.

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Hey Liberals! It's the grassroots!

According to a Liberal candidate with whom I had a long conversation, there are no Liberal grassroots, locally or nationally.

Here's the story...

When the Green Shift was first announced, I was excited about the Liberal Party for the first time in my life.

So I contacted my local Liberal candidate to volunteer to maintain his website - keep it up to date with the latest news items, refresh its design, post events, etc. - and to help with canvassing. I also later volunteered my services to the Green candidate, an offer which she took up.

Got an email response from the Liberal candidate within a few days with a Thank You! and an advisement that I'd be hearing from his campaign.

Never heard a word from them.

Nor, coincidentally, did I receive a reply to an email of inquiry I'd sent to the President of the local EDA a year or so ago, a man well known in the community.

I too am known in the community both for my work through WISE on exposing local poverty issues - not appreciated by all, to be sure - and my having done such nationally-recognized work while living on extremely low income.

Am beginning to wonder now if my social status was the culprit - you know, I am and represent local throwaways, people with whom the LPC would prefer not to associate and who couldn't conceivably have anything to offer the great "natural governing party" or its local team.

Anyway, it's not as if the local campaign couldn't have used the help. The website never was maintained, events posted continued to be from a year and more ago, some even from the last election.

When I met the candidate in the last week before the election, I suggested that the local Liberals really needed to get their grassroots involved - at which point he said in a disheartened manner and apparent resignation, "There is [sic] no grassroots."

The implication from the subsequent conversation was not only an absence of "ordinary" Canadians in local and national Liberal campaigning, but also that said ordinary folk wouldn't be welcome by the Liberal elites - of which the shrinking party seems mainly made up.

The irony couldn't be more obvious. The success of a political party depends on its ability to win the hearts and minds of so-called ordinary Canadians, or at least enough of them who vote.

Yet a party can't win those hearts and minds unless they employ the use of said Canadians in their campaigns.

It's not all about throwing money around, as we've seen from the Conservatives' recent win and the gains by the NDP and Greens. It's about connecting to your supporters and including all and any who are willing and want to help.

NB: I've never met an "ordinary" Canadian.

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17 October 2008

City of Victoria vs. Homeless

Wow. They just don't give up, do they? Recently, a decision by the BC Supreme Court struck down a City of Victoria law which prohibited homeless people from erecting tents on public parks. The law was found to be unconstitutional.

Now city councillors have slapped a limit on the times of day the tents can be up.

According to Judge Ross, sections of the two Victoria Bylaws which denied homeless people the right to provide themselves shelter on public land “violate ... the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in that they deprive homeless people of life, liberty and security of the person in a manner not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

So what do the City's councillors do in response?

The city plans to appeal the court decision, but until the appeal is heard - which could take more than a year - the city has adopted a bylaw enforcement policy that will allow homeless to erect and use tents in parks only between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

At 7 a.m. a person using a tent in a park will be asked to dismantle it and move on. If they refuse, the city will dismantle the tent and remove it.

The policy, which will be in effect at all times when the number of homeless in Victoria exceeds the number of available shelter beds, restricts the erecting and use of temporary shelters in public spaces to homeless persons. It prohibits cooking, campfires and fire pits in parks, and will not allow tents or temporary shelters to be erected on streets, sidewalks and boulevards....

"We're looking at business as usual with the understanding that we have to allow camping in parks," [Acting Mayor Dean] Fortin said yesterday.

"We're going to ensure, on behalf of the residents of Victoria that we're taking care of children's playgrounds, sports fields and sensitive ecosystems. We must protect those parts of parks but at the same time follow the judgment."

"Maybe the politicians should pack up their homes and take them with them during the day," said James, a man who was sleeping at the [Beacon Hill Park] encampment. [my emphasis]

Good on James!

And incidentally,
  • The need to provide for one's life, liberty and security of person doesn't conveniently turn itself off between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., nor does inclement weather.
  • There is no justifiable reason for making parks accessible for ten hours but not for 24. Moreover, the hours chosen smack of white-collar, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., centrism.

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16 October 2008

Electile Dysfunction Worsens in 2008

The disproportionality of our so-called representative democracy worsened in 2008.

Among the astonishing facts: The only party to have gained votes in Federal Election 2008 was also the only party not to have won a single seat to the House of Commons.

All other parties LOST VOTES. The following table, whose data was obtained through Fair Vote Canada, visually highlights how deeply eroded our democracy has become.

 20062008Vote ChangeSeat Change
Cons5,374,0715,205,334down 168,737 votesup 19 seats
Libs4,479,4153,629,990down 849,425 votesdown 27 seats
NDP2,589,5972,517,075down 72,522 votesup 8 seats
Bloc1,553,2011,379,575down 173,636 votesdown 1 seat
Green664,068940,747up 276,679 votes0 seats in HoC

Given the Conservatives gain of 19 seats (by our ridiculous and archaic first-past-the-post voting system), Stephen Harper claims to have received a "stronger mandate" to govern. On the contrary: In losing almost two hundred thousand votes, his party lost favour with Canadians.

Not only does Election 08 go down in history for the first in which voter turnout fell below 60%, it may also have gone down in history for delivering the least democratic result since the formation of Canada.

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15 October 2008

Fair Vote Canada: Electoral dysfunction, yet again

Press Release - October 15, 2008

Fair Vote Canada

Electoral dysfunction, yet again

Greens deserved more than 20 seats - voting system also punished New Democrats, western Liberals and urban Conservatives

Once again, Canada's antiquated first-past-the-post system wasted millions of votes, distorted results, severely punished large blocks of voters, exaggerated regional differences, created an unrepresentative Parliament and contributed to a record low voter turnout.

The chief victims of the October 14 federal election were:

  • Green Party: 940,000 voters supporting the Green Party sent no one to Parliament, setting a new record for the most votes cast for any party that gained no parliamentary representation. By comparison, 813,000 Conservative voters in Alberta alone were able to elect 27 MPs.
  • Prairie Liberals and New Democrats: In the prairie provinces, Conservatives received roughly twice the vote of the Liberals and NDP, but took seven times as many seats.
  • Urban Conservatives: Similar to the last election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal.
  • New Democrats: The NDP attracted 1.1 million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 50 seats, the NDP 37.

"How can anyone consider this democratic representation?" asked Barbara Odenwald, President of Fair Vote Canada.

Had the votes on October 14 been cast under a fair and proportional voting system, Fair Vote Canada projected that the seat allocation would have been approximately as follows:

  • Conservatives - 38% of the popular vote: 117 seats (not 143)
  • Liberals - 26% of the popular vote: 81 seats (not 76)
  • NDP - 18% of the popular vote: 57 seats (not 37)
  • Bloc - 10% of the popular vote: 28 seats (not 50)
  • Greens - 7% of the popular vote: 23 seats (not 0)

Fair Vote Canada also has data for each province on the number of seats won and number of seats actually deserved by each party.

Odenwald emphasized that any projection on the use of other voting systems must be qualified, as specific system features would affect the exact seat allocation.

"With a different voting system, people would also have voted differently," said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. "There would have been no need for strategic voting. We would likely have seen higher voter turnout. We would have had different candidates - more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We would have had more real choices."

Fair Vote Canada (FVC) is a national multi-partisan citizens' campaign to promote voting system reform. FVC was founded in 2001 and has a National Advisory Board of distinguished Canadians from all points on the political spectrum.

- 30 -

Interested in learning more about electoral reform or volunteering to help spread the message? Then visit Fair Vote Canada's website and its new home for Canada's latest Orphan Voters.

[Press release reprinted with permission.]

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Historic Low in Voter Turnout Indictment of Gaming the Vote

Election 08 now goes down in history for being the first federal election campaign to have generated such public disdain that over 40% of the electorate didn't bother even to cast a vote. Only 59.1 percent of us showed up at the polls.

For Conservative voters, there was a greater incentive to get to the polls. In general, they knew that in voting FOR a party, their votes might actually count.

For most supporters of the NDP, Liberals and Greens, there would have been a depressing awareness that a visit to the polling station was going to be a useless exercise, that their vote wouldn't go toward electing anyone. Either that, or the elector had the distasteful 'option' of casting a vote AGAINST the Conservatives and for the party running second, one which they considered less than the best for Canada - that alone could have been a disincentive to show up.

Did vote swapping or strategic voting work? Not on your life. And the lowest voter turnout ever suggests that it helped achieve the opposite of what their proponents had wanted.

This is just one more argument for reforming our electoral system to one of proportional representation. I hope that federal Liberals, NDP and Greens across Canada will do their utmost to support the referendum coming in BC on May 12th, 2009.

Four years ago, British Columbians voted 58% in favour of changing our electoral system to the Single Transferable Vote, one which includes both a preferential ballot and multi-member ridings. The BC Liberal government's imposition of 60% for passage of that - and the coming - referendum, a threshold supported by the opposition NDP, ensured that the voters were denied. For voters who had favoured STV, the irony couldn't have been more obvious.

Now we get to do it all over again in just over six months.

If British Columbians manage to exceed that 60% threshold, then a change from first-past-the-post here could increase the public enthusiasm and volunteer effort for proportional representation across the country.

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14 October 2008

Congratulations to NDP and its entire volunteer team

OK. 'Tis premature.

But am betting the NDP increase their number of seats by at least 20% compared to the 30 seats they had at dissolution. Which therefore calls for a big thumbs up to the team for a job well done.

Now am curious to see by how much they exceed that estimate.

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ID Rules: Two-thirds of Dalhousie students turned away

This news is disgusting and all too predictable:

At Dalhousie University in Halifax, nearly two-thirds of the students showing up to cast ballots on campus were turned away because they didn't have the necessary signed form from their university residence stating their address or were off-campus students, said Mark Coffin, vice-president of education on the Dalhousie student council. The form is the only way for some students to prove they live in the area, as many of them have IDs with an address from another region...

"You know, 1.4 million young Canadians didn't vote in the last election," Coffin said. "Well, these new rules aren't making it any easier for students to vote."

...[Elections Canada official Dana Doiron] said Elections Canada got a sense of how widespread the lack of awareness was at the advance polls when people failed to show up with the proper ID.

Guess which party is most served by this failure of our electoral system to be accessible to all Canadians? A change which was pushed by that same party?

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Carbon Footprint Award: Greens win, NDP last

The David Suzuki Foundation evaluated the carbon footprint of each of the four national campaigns. The results?

Green Party - 2.5 - to visit 26 cities
Liberals - 503.4 - to visit 68 cities
Conservatives - 514.4 - to visit 66 cities
NDP - 586.1 - to visit 64 cities

All parties bought offsets to compensate for their carbon footprint.

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A Supreme Court Win for "Homeless People"!

Or, as I prefer to refer to such friends, those who live (and may choose to live) without bricks and mortar around them.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has struck down the City of Victoria's bylaws that prevent homeless people from sleeping in city parks.

In a judgment released today, Justice Carol Ross found it is unconstitutional to prevent homeless people from sleeping on public property or erecting shelter to protect themselves when there are not enough shelter beds available for the number who are homeless...

“I'm sleeping in a tent-city tonight,” wrote David Arthur Johnston, one of the defendants challenging the bylaws, in an e-mail. Supporters were to meet at the Victoria court house at noon. “From there I intend to go to where I will set up a tent and invite others to initiate a tent-city.”

So here's one for David! - as in David and Goliath.

I urge people who are interested in this issue to read the study which I cite in that second link above. It has to be one of the best qualitative, in-depth studies on homelessness I've come across in all my years of research. It makes the poignant case, mainly through the voices of people who once built a community and made non-traditional homes for themselves in Toronto, of the importance of allowing tent cities.

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Making system work not all up to voters

Someone over at another blog made the following comments:

All I am asking is that the rest of us ... appreciate how those most informed on this critical issue are so conflicted in our allegiances... Let’s hope that in the next government ... we begin the process of moving to a new electoral system where people no longer have to make such undemocratic decisions at the ballot box. [my emphasis]

I haven't linked to the post since it's the content which I want to address, not the person who wrote it and who included his professional accreditation after his name, as though to give extra force to his argument.

The comment is paradigmatic of countless arguments we've seen over the course of this campaign.

First, I've known people who never made it past fifth grade who've demonstrated more wisdom and perspicacity than all the academics and professionally-certified I've met combined. And I've met a lot of them.

Second, the other portion I highlighted employs less than all the facts by, for example, omitting one role which party leaders in this democracy should be playing.

Voters are never forced to vote this way or that, at least not in Canada, and we're certainly never forced to make an undemocratic decision. The democratic choice is always to vote for the party which represents the values, policies and platform which the voter thinks are best for Canada - and, for some voters, the world. If voters choose to vote other than this way, so be it. But don't suggest that we're forced to do so. We are not.

In this democracy, which is currently saddled with a two-party voting system, it is up to party leaders to make the system work democratically and to fix it when it doesn't. It is up to our party leaders, when necessary, to form a coalition government - indeed, a government which amounts to a majority - which represents the will of the people, as democratically expressed at the ballot box. That party leaders have never done so at the federal level is reflective of their choice to allow the voters' choice not to be honoured. It is these leaders' own moral failure, not that of the voters, to make our representative democracy work.

The argument employed in the above comment has placed the entire onus for the results of the current election on the backs of voters, whereas the responsibility lies with both voters and the parties we elect to make the current system work and to change it when it doesn't.

I agree that this system needs changing, urgently. In fact, beginning the process toward proportional representation should be the first order of business of the new government.

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13 October 2008

Nanosophy: May likely hurt Green breakthrough

There's no doubt that the oblique and not-so-oblique comments uttered by May which urged Green supporters to vote Liberal or NDP or Bloc - but, by extrapolation, NOT Green - will prevent what likely would have been a Green Party breakthrough this election.

Nik Nanos (PDF), the pollster whose work and methodology I most respect, would seem to agree.

Elizabeth May will likely preside over the best showing for the Green Party of Canada in terms of the aggregate number of Green votes. Getting into the leaders' debate represented a breakthrough for the party but it is unknown what type of negative impact she had on Green Party support by telling Green voters to cast their ballot for the Liberals. [my emphasis]

I think May's negative impact on GPC support will outweigh any gains. Her intentional (?) obfuscations and duplicity have perplexed, frustrated and finally angered this Green Party supporter.

There's a GPC convention shortly after tomorrow's election... Should be interesting... Wish I could go.

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Subtlety from CBC: Two images

Currently on the home page of CBC's Canada Votes section, there's an image of two side by side head shots, those of Harper and Dion.

See anything interesting about the photos chosen or how they've been rendered?

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12 October 2008

May is against, for, against, for, against ... strategic voting


I just have to wonder how often Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, can be misconstrued in the media. Is it a concerted effort by all media types deliberately to distort her meaning or is there something about what May is saying which makes her position, at minimum, ambiguous? I mean this question seriously.

Here's the latest press release, issued from the Green Party of Canada a few hours ago:

Elizabeth May did not advise strategic voting

Green Party leader Elizabeth May has not called on voters to abandon Green Party candidates. A news story that states otherwise is misleading.

Ms. May did say that, "Being honest with the voters, I acknowledge that there is concern over vote-splitting in a small number of ridings. But I am not going to say 'vote Liberal here, vote NDP there.'

"I do understand how difficult choices can be due to the perverse results of the first-past-the-post voting system. Canada needs an electoral system that accurately represents how Canadians vote.

"I repeated over and over that I would not advise voters to vote for anyone other than Greens. Attempts to misrepresent my position on this issue are tiring. I do not support strategic voting and I have not advised voters to choose any candidate other than Green."

All media reports of May speaking about strategic voting have included direct quotes. Given the sheer volume of those reports, can we continue to believe there's no truth to them? That they're ALL putting words in May's mouth?

I'm always inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt. But frankly, I'm getting tired of the number of times I've had to do that over the past couple of weeks regarding May's comments on strategic voting.

And that hasn't been the only issue on which May's words have gone back on themselves.

There was that kerfuffle awhile back over May's supposed remark on TVO's The Agenda, which had her purportedly agreeing with the statement: "Canadians are stupid'.

Alas, no guest on that show uttered such a sentence.

What one guest did say was: "Politicians think that Canadians are stupid."

The taped video of that program reveals that May never agreed with a statement which, we've already established, was never made. It did show May turning, in mid-sentence, to someone off-camera. She appeared to remark to that person, in response to something he/she said: "And I agree with that assessment."

Here's the problem. Neither did May say, "and I DISagree with that assessment," which she claimed in a follow-up program of The Agenda, to which she'd been invited in order to clear up the matter once and for all.

Moderator Steve Paikin, who had sat right next to May during the first program, said he had not heard her say 'DISagree' nor did he hear her say it on the video tape of the program which they both watched together. Moreover, it was clear to anyone else watching the video tape that she hadn't said 'DISagree' either. She'd said "agree." But on that second program May continued to insist, having just watched the clip of the first show, that she'd said 'DISagree'.

So, was that the end of it? No.

A couple of days later, May wrote on her blog exactly what most people had thought had happened - what I described above as the first explanation: turning to someone off-camera and agreeing with that person's unrecorded statement.

Which means that May reversed her own explanation as given in that second program of The Agenda.

This is why I'm not at all confident that what May is reported to have said by some media types (the few reputable ones) isn't exactly what she did say.

That aside, there are some peculiar goings-on with media bias particularly during this election.

Therefore, is it so totally out to lunch to suggest that, for example, The Canadian Press - which has been observed to have jettisoned any semblance of objectivity - isn't up to some mischief making? We've already witnessed CanWest media up to no good - e.g., Mike Duffy shilling for the neocons on CTV, ditto Craig Oliver also on CTV and CanWest newspapers across the country all dutifully falling in line with endorsements of Harper.

I wonder who owns The Canadian Press now?

Anyway, combine corporate media bias with May's loose tongue and all kinds of interesting things can happen. None of them, unfortunately, seem meant to further democracy.

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Fishy: Scrutineers given possession of ballot boxes?

This is scary news. We are used to seeing such things reported from the U.S. and other countries, but not from within Canada.

Police in Quebec City are investigating the disappearance of three ballot boxes from an advance poll held early last week in a city riding.

The scrutineers took the boxes home, but when they were returned, three boxes containing hundreds of votes were missing.

Media reports Saturday also said the seals had been broken on some of the boxes.

Elections Canada had asked the scrutineers to take the boxes home with them, but then ordered the boxes to be returned to the local returning officer when media reports revealed the broken seals...

One serious question to ask: Why would scrutineers have been given possession of ballot boxes in the first place?

Scrutineers are party representatives, specifically representatives of their party's candidate in a given riding. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!

Let's hope the RCMP get to the bottom of this quickly. Or, as one commenter astutely noted, perhaps it's best to leave the investigation to Elections Canada.

The RCMP? Well, 'tis not so corruption-free or trustworthy itself lately.

See more recent post for an update.

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11 October 2008

Feminists, Poverty-Environment-Health Activists: Attention please!

This commentary by Elsie Hambrook, Chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, is a must-read.

When Doris Anderson, former and famed editor of Chatelaine and lifelong activist, came to Saint John on a stormy winter night in 2003, drawing hundreds of women to hear her speak on electoral reform, she confided something that, years later, still makes some of us think.

She was more than 80 years old, feisty as ever, and she said if she had it to do over, she would spend all her energies on electoral reform. She had had many causes and careers, several to do with advancing Canadian women's equality, and she had become convinced that without an electoral system that better reflected the actual votes, women would not gain political equality. [My emphasis]

I made such a decision when WISE folded December 15th last year, to pour all my energy into advancing democratic and electoral reform, the latter with emphasis on changing our archaic, undemocratic first-past-the-post majoritarian voting system to a system of proportional representation. After all, WISE had made that its very first of three goals.

Ever since making that decision, I've felt one frustration after another. And yes, I do know that a mere ten months isn't a long time; there have been people working for years to get electoral reform to the position of importance it needs to be in the minds of the Canadian public.

As we found when operating WISE, getting the message out to the public is damn hard. Not just because the media and corporate and party elites are so strongly against democratic and electoral reform, but because, among other things, locations where people come together are increasingly not available for canvassing or soliciting.

For example, at the All Candidates Meeting in my community, I wanted to distribute Fair Vote Canada flyers on the seats in the theatre. I'd printed off 250 flyers, plus sheets of the FVC petition for candidates and audience members to sign (was hoping to ask a question at the mic on ER/PR).

When I arrived at the ACM venue, I asked permission of the manager to distribute my flyers on the theatre seats.


So I asked permission to distribute the flyers outside, at the front of the building.

Denied again.

Even the purportedly public sidewalk fronting the building was off-limits.

It's a common problem: more and more places that used to be public gathering-places are now in private hands. Even public places can be under lease to private concerns.

Anyway, with an issue as fundamental as electoral reform and the unfortunate glazing of eyes one witnesses too often when it's mentioned, I was immensely gratified to learn of two other feminists, one of whom is located in one of Canada's leading feminist hotspots, writing about the same issue and urging some serious activism in support of proportional representation.

As I've argued previously and will no doubt do again and again, the single most pressing issue for Canadians is the recovery of democratic choice for voters. Until that happens, none of the issues that matter to the true majority of Canadians will be addressed. At best, they will be given only lip service. At worst - and this is no different than what's happening now -, Canadians will continue to be governed by politicians whose priorities are the same as their corporate backers and moneyed lobbyists.

That's because the people with the power to change policy - those who get 100% of the power on the basis of 60% of the seats, which in turn are on the basis of less than 40% of the popular vote - have no reason to listen to the remaining 60+ percent of Canadians who voted. Nor do they have to listen to the 35 to 40 percent of the Canadian electorate which has given up voting altogether.

Until acceptance of politicians' applications for employment to these powerful positions are directly tied to whether or not those politicians DO listen to the majority of the electorate, said politicians will keep on ignoring the issues which matter to 76 percent of the Canadian public eligible to vote.

For more information about electoral reform, please visit Fair Vote Canada and their brilliant new website for Canada's Orphan Voters.

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Falling Markets - Rich get richer, the rest get poorer

There's an excellent money-for-dummies article out today, written by an Associated Press writer, which explains a basic economic fundamental in plain terms. Once you understand that basic principle, you soon realize the broader implications for "ordinary Canadians" of Harper's "great buying opportunities."

Titled "All that money you've lost - where did it go?," the article explains the difference between the value of stocks vs. the value of cold hard cash.

If you've ever been confused about the distinction between the two - or never supposed there was one - then you should read this article.

Trillions in stock market value - gone. Trillions in retirement savings - gone. A huge chunk of the money you paid for your house, the money you're saving for college, the money your boss needs to make payroll - gone, gone, gone.

Whether you're a stock broker or Joe Six-pack, if you have a 401(k), a mutual fund or a college savings plan, tumbling stock markets and sagging home prices mean you've lost a whole lot of the money that was right there on your account statements just a few months ago.

But if you no longer have that money, who does? The fat cats on Wall Street? Some oil baron in Saudi Arabia? The government of China?

Or is it just - gone?

If you're looking to track down your missing money - figure out who has it now, maybe ask to have it back - you might be disappointed to learn that is was never really money in the first place.

The bottom line in terms of those "great buying opportunities" mentioned by Harper?

The people most hurt by the stock market slides are those who need to cash in their stocks. In other words, people who haven't already enough in their chequing accounts - or under a mattress, buried in the yard, or tucked away in a drawer - to support them over the coming year or so.

Which means, in turn, that the rich are about to get richer, again, on the misfortunes of the middle-class and those who have worked so hard to create for themselves a small investment nest-egg.

And it means that numbers of the middle-class are likely soon to be joining the burgeoning number of us who live below Canada's poverty line.

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10 October 2008

Cadman Affair: Harper expert says tape NOT doctored

The Conservatives' own audio forensic expert found the tape of journalist and author Tom Zytaruk, which had featured Zytaruk questioning Harper about his involvement in the alleged attempted bribe of former MP Chuck Cadman, had NOT been doctored.
A tape recording at the centre of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's $3.5-million defamation suit against the Liberal party was not altered as the prime minister has claimed, a court-ordered analysis of the tape by Harper's own audio expert has found.

The key portion of the recorded interview of Harper by a B.C. journalist contains no splices, edits or alterations, says the finding by a U.S. forensic audio expert.

The analysis was filed in Ontario Superior Court on Friday by lawyers for the Liberal party, despite attempts by Harper's lawyer to keep the opinion out of the court file until at least next week.

Harper sued the Liberals in the midst of a raging controversy earlier this year over claims in a book by B.C. author Tom Zytaruk that Conservatives offered late MP Chuck Cadman a $1-million life insurance policy in return for help defeating the minority Liberal government in 2005....

Former FBI agent Bruce Koenig, the sound expert Harper hired to prove his allegations [of doctoring], submitted a report dated Friday to Harper's lawyer, which also had to be sent to the Liberal lawyer, Chris Paliare, saying the contentious portion of the interview was uninterrupted.

Spread this news far and wide. Harper will want it kept far away from voters eyes and ears. Let's do our best to thwart his ambition.

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