Thursday, December 25, 2008


Christmas was always one of my favourite times of the year. It is not so much the giving and receiving of presents, but the presence of others that saves me from myself. After all, Christmas is one of the few times of the year I can truly take time off, as others are more involved in other aspects of their lives and are less concerned with legal hassles, except for the few odd emergencies I worked through in previous years.

While I love Christmas and always look forward in anticipation with the lights, the music and the whole idea of starting off fresh in a new year, it is also a time of year when my cynicism reaches fever pitch. The Salvation Army commercials come on about this time of the year, flashing their statistics on your TV screen, asking you to give, give, give. Food banks are forever predicting a "crisis" of sorts if some white knight or white knights do not come to the rescue with hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the homeless shelters promise to feed the hungry a turkey dinner.

This is a "feel good" time of the year for people who are comfortable. Giving money to a food bank, or a financial donation to a shelter seems to be the thing to do to ease oneself of the guilt of never having to have been a recipient of such a service. For those among us that give very large donations, most do not mind the press coverage - especially a company, as it shows "good corporate citizenship" (even though the same company receiving the heaps of good press may actually be one that pays low wages and treats their workers badly -- but how do we know?). Despite the "good citizenship" deeds that tend to be performed at this time of the year, we hardly give a thought about how the people at the receiving end feel about being at the receiving end. Has anybody ever asked them?

The charitable sector has become ingrained into our political culture to the point whereby we do not really think of those that receive our help, as any more than people who are needy, dependent and in some way, damaged goods. While this is certainly not a conscious assumption, nor is it present in every case of giving ... as I do know personal friends who have formed more reciprocal relationships with the people they set out to help. Unfortunately, this is an exception, not the rule.

When I speak to people who have gone to food banks or other charitable services on a regular basis (as opposed to going only for that one year when times were tough), I learn most of these folks have a very low self-esteem. Some do not believe they are "deserving" of a better life, such as a life where they would have enough resources to reasonably make choices. While they are thankful for the help, they do not see themselves as empowered human beings that are viewed by others as individuals with capabilities, talents and resources of their own. A portion of this group try to steer themselves away from charitable services, thinking they would "rather starve" than accept this help from anyone.

When prospective donors hear about this subset of people who refuse help, they are viewed as "mentally ill" or simply possessing "pride". However, when donors to these services are asked about the people they are "helping", once again - this population is viewed as somewhat helpless, dispossessed and unwanted, although they do acknowledge that some people are getting help as a result of "falling on hard times through no fault of their own". The complicated pseudo-relationship and inherent schema that is developed between the donor and the recipient is rarely considered in how recipients come to view themselves, or their own futures - when in my view, it has EVERYTHING to do with this attitude.

This is not about the people that provide services in this field, the thousands of volunteers that toil daily to sort through donations, others that appeal to the media for more donations and other persons, usually paid personnel that provide direct service to the recipients. It is more about the schema produced and not challenged by these same thousand points of light and the media that backs them about the necessary dichotomy between the helpers and the recipients, roles that are not portrayed as interchanged or interdependent. This role is further entrenched by the screening processes used by such charities to ensure each recipient is "deserving" of help.

Similar to any targeted welfare scheme, prospective recipients are encouraged to disengage themselves as actors and potential participants in their futures, but to focus on everything that is wrong with their lives ... in fact, as with many welfare schemes, one has to prove they have depersonalized themselves and spoiled their identity to the point that the helper is satisfied they have done all they can to reduce themselves to nothing. At the same time, nothing is offered up to address the situation that brought the recipient through their doors in the first place. Many trained in the service delivery model identify with the "spoiled identity" or "damaged goods" version of their entrails, as opposed to questioning why there appears to be a greater number of people each year in similar given circumstances.

While even the social work model professes to work against systemic barriers in favour of progressive social change, this is not what happens when people check their identities at the door to get the so-called "help" they need. The helper is there to "correct" supposed personal deficits of the disadvantaged, as opposed to helping them break barriers to join the "advantaged" part of society. For many social workers and others in related helping professions, they cannot even imagine their clients qualifying to do their jobs, for example.

While most helpers do not necessarily "blame the victim", they do nevertheless, view the victim as somewhat defective. The homeless man is "mentally ill". The single parent with two children in tow is always in abusive relationships. The single man who lost his apartment needs to learn how to balance his budget. The chronically unemployed are there because they are illiterate, lack high school and likely, do not have any skills. When other statistics are presented that show that recipients as a group look more similar to the group of "helpers" than they are dissimilar, helpers resist this interpretation.

I have focused some of my time over the years to talk to people who do not visit food banks, go to homeless shelters or seek other types of counseling assistance - even though their life circumstances and their needs may be identical to those that do use such services. While my observations may be anecdotal in nature, the same themes have emerged over time through different voices. What I have learned from these folks is instrumental and should be not only acknowledged by those that deliver services, but incorporated in their overall philosophy and structure of how they approach anybody coming through their door.

1. People want to be viewed as capable and willing to do for
themselves. A hand out in any way, shape or form makes
the person feel they are viewed as dependent and incapable
of doing for themselves, that somebody with "capability"
must do these things for them.

2. People want a hand up, not a hand out. Traditional charities
are very bad at recognizing that people want out of the
"welfare trap" more than they may believe they need
immediate help. People refusing services know they will not
get a job, get out of poverty or get into decent (and
independent) housing through the charitable service. In
other words, their programs do not work.

3. Even if the service is successful in getting the recipient
"housing", for example, the roof over their head becomes
a social service and not just a necessary product for living
in the community. Homeless people are assumed to be
incapable of living on their own and keeping their housing.
People with mental health issues are assumed to have
issues, outside the fact they are poor and nobody will hire
them, which led to them becoming homeless. Everybody
is deemed to want and need "subsidized" housing, despite
the fact the rules for this program tend to cripple initiative
and force people to remain in poverty.

People that do not want these services may need help to
secure an apartment, but after that, they do not want to
be fodder and continue to be a "cause" for ongoing income
for the charity. (The fact of this matter is those that can
live independently are often falsely assumed to not need
ANY help at all).

4. People want help to reach their full potential, not to
cripple it. Most of those refusing help do not want to
work in low-wage, insecure and low-skilled employment.
They want assistance in developing their career potential,
even though doing this may require funds for retraining,
partial employer subsidies and innovative partnerships
in one's respective community. Charities get paid to
"place" people, not get them out of poverty.

5. People want to work with their helpers as partners in
making systemic change. They want their helpers to
challenge employers that appear to not want persons
with disabilities working for them, or only want them if
the person is happy at working for half-wages. They
want to work with the helpers at making changes so that
the services of charities become less and less necessary.

6. Many of those refusing help feel that their presence as
"clients" of these agencies only "proves" demand and
thus, continues to generate ongoing funding for these
charities, regardless if their personal situation improves.

7. With regards to being given food, clothing, housing, etc.
- people feel they are not allowed to make choices. Why
is nobody giving those in need the necessary RESOURCES
to make these choices on their own, as opposed to making
these choices for them?

The very presence of these charities and the encouragement through the media, community influences and other forces, encourages those that want to "do good" to continue to donate and to otherwise continue to "prove" the legitimacy of these charities, as well as to continue to ignore and disregard the need for true systemic changes that would negate the need for the same.

We go ahead and have our Christmas with our families, go to work the next day or day after, and give to some charitable donation because society expects us to pick up the slack from the government. We do not think about the fact that continuing to support the status quo is taking away choices from those that can otherwise handle them with the resources given directly to them, instead of through an expensive and controlling bureaucracy. We do not think that we may be contributing to the continuation of the problem, not necessarily because we want to, but by donating to the charities, there is still no way any donor can reasonably review the success of any such charity in actually changing things for the people they serve.

Except next year at this very same time, even more people will be knocking on the doors of these same charities, many more in even more desperate circumstances. By continuing this cycle, we have to ask ourselves why we are not asking the correct questions and demanding to know why the more people give, the greater number of people end up in need ...

Think about what you are going to do in 2009, whether what you do will actually make a difference (systemic change) or just continue the same old, same old. If you ask me what I want to do, it is the former -- hands down!

Your thoughts?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Something amazing happened while I was sipping my coffee at a brand new coffee shop downtown where I work. As I watched the words flicker across the screen of the silent television placed above the installed gas fireplace in the lounge, an old song by Duran Duran came on called Wild Boys. Normally, I do not connect any of this to anything, but the song was typically suited to what just happened to our country's Parliament.

Its Official Opposition developed a backbone! It appeared from what I was reading across the screen, then the next day in the newspapers, that Stephen Harper tried to pull a fast one in his Economic Statement tabled on November 27, 2008, before the House. As with everything, including non-money bills, Harper has chosen to make this one as well a confidence vote. This time, it backfired!

I presume that Harper believed the Opposition would cave as it always had under Stephane Dion over the past two years, as his party battered the media with repeated negative attack ads and daring to force the Opposition to call an election. He took it for granted that Dion and his fellow Opposition Party leaders would either back down or split their votes on this one. He got more than he bargained for that Thursday afternoon at Parliament Hill.

The Opposition had been planning to form a "coalition" of sorts, which would include the Liberals and NDP in a type of joint government arrangement with the support of the Bloc Quebecois on all confidence matters. Why this came as a shock to Prime Minister Harper is beyond me ... people can only be stepped on for so long before they fight back! I was proud of the Opposition Parties that night and I thought that for once, maybe Canadians will see a change for the better in their government.

The next few days enshrined newsworthy clips of formalization of the "coalition" government-in-waiting, as Harper began to appear more and more desperate to cling to power. No, the Opposition Parties were not going to back down this time ... they were going to return to Parliament the following Monday, December 8, 2008, and vote the Harper government down. Instead of the Governor-General dissolving Parliament and calling another unwanted election, the "coalition" can then be asked to form the new government.

This event triggered a groundswell of Canadian response all over the web, largely those opposed to the idea of the "coalition" being Harper supporters or people who simply don't have a clue about how our Parliamentary system operates. The masses of the uneducated or under-educated Canadians are typical fodder for the right-wing when they want to convince them of anything. Those in favour of the Coalition understood this was a possibility and perfectly legitimate role for the Opposition in our constitutional system.

On December 1, 2008, the "coalition" parties signed a deal and sent it in a letter to our Governor-General Michaele Jean, who was then forced to cut a cross-European trip to "come home" to deal with this "crisis" as some media pundits referred to it as. To me, there was no "crisis". It was just the Opposition showing their backbone, like they should have done ages ago to rid our political system of the arrogance, partisan bickering and dysfunctionality that has typically marked the federal government for the past several years.

Debate on Face Book reached fever pitch with Harper supporters or others with no clue as to how Parliament works, accusing the Opposition of "stealing their votes", or "partaking in a coup d'etat" without "being elected" ... both assumptions of course are not true. Even if the "coalition" did get a chance to form government, nothing happens with anybody's local representatives that they had selected on October 14, 2008. Tories are still Tories, Liberals are still Liberals, and so forth, as well the party breakdown in the House remains exactly the same as it was when this new government was sworn in.

Further, the act of "taking power" has no relevance to Parliament under a constitutional monarchy, which Canada is. First, all of the members of the "coalition" parties were just as "elected" as the members of the Conservative Party. Secondly, the governing Conservatives lost the confidence of the House. The Conservatives were unable to get enough votes besides their own to push this Economic Statement and all its related partisan tactics, to pass the House. As this was a confidence vote, all Opposition Parties have the power and the right to vote this government down.

As for whether an election gets called or a "coalition" gets appointed, this is the choice of the Governor-General, not unprecedented in Parliament (and has actually taken place in many provincial legislatures). The role of the Governor-General becomes crystal clear here. Her choice is to allow election after election after election with no promise of long-term stability in government, or she can elect to invite the "coalition" to form a government (provided they give her a business case for a stable Parliament for a reasonable period of time).

The Prime Minister knows this, but would not allow Canadians to become educated on this possibility. First, he made a publicized press conference which showed itself to millions of Canadian viewers to tell them the Opposition Parties were trying to take power despite not being elected to do so, and that nobody asked Canadians about whether they wanted this "coalition government" either. On the other hand, I ask, did anybody ask Canadians if they wanted their government to act the way the Harper government has been doing in the past few weeks?

On Thursday, December 4, 2008, Harper then crosses the street to Rideau Hall to speak to Governor-General Jean to prorogue Parliament in order to prevent that all important non-confidence vote he already postponed to December 8, 2008. She granted his wish after what some reported was a two-hour meeting. Parliament will re-open on January 27, 2008, with the expectation that a budget would be tabled in the House.

While proroguing of Parliament is also a legal move, but it was used this time for the wrong reasons. Proroguing or "rising of the House" is done usually after a legislative session has ended and a full program announced in a throne speech, for example, has been achieved. It is a way for the government to re-group and consider what its next steps might be. This time, the proroguing of Parliament was simply used to avoid the inevitable non-confidence vote faced by Harper and his government and for no other reason.

Despite the prorogue of the House, online debates continued ... many of them mirroring the behaviour of Parliamentarians at their worst in the House. If one went to the anti-coalition site, which many pro-coalition supporters have "joined" in order to "observe", those asking questions or trying to get people to think beyond the lies they've been fed or their lack of education and understanding of Parliament, respond violently with ad hominem and angry attacks on the messenger.

I was one of the people going online with them to ask them questions. In no way did I criticize or attack anybody, but just asked questions. I wanted to actually hear an argument against the "coalition" that was not based on emotion or lack of information from this side of tracks. Unfortunately, despite their large numbers, not a single person responded with any intelligent answer. That doesn't surprise me - people tend to be married to their ideological beliefs - however they were acquired.

They don't like Dion. They argue Dion was never elected to be Prime Minister. Well, neither was Stephen Harper, another fact these folks have difficulty absorbing. They "voted for" a Harper government, not a "coalition" - yet on my ballot, there was never any choice given to me as to who I wanted to lead the country, just my electoral district. After several back and forth nonsense, I left, as it is apparent to me that right-wing governments would tell people the moon is made out of green cheese if this would help keep them in power.

After the dust has blown over, so to speak, the Liberal Party of Canada, decided that Dion was a liability. Again, this is another "optic" thing, as really nobody can actually tell if Dion would make a good Prime Minister or a bad one. We already seen Stephen Harper act arrogantly, pro-partisan and Machiavellian in his role as a minority Prime Minister, so we have an idea of what kind of leader he is. One can only imagine if he actually had a majority, and I know instinctively that if he were ever to get a majority, most Canadians would be begging for a change and fast!

Almost overnight, the long-term leadership battle for the Liberal Party between Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic Leblanc, was resolved by fiat of the party's executive, much to disappointment of many grassroots Liberals. Both Leblanc and Rae resigned in concert over as many days. The party's executive crowned Ignatieff the "interim leader" with this appointment only to be formalized at the already organized policy conference in May 2009.

Ignatieff seems to be somebody with a bigger backbone who probably would not back down on attacks by the Conservatives, although his lengthy absence from Canada can be deemed an issue. Some might say he dropped from the sky in 2005 to suddenly be a candidate for the Liberal leadership in their 2006 contest that eventually crowned Dion in the first place. However, many Liberals would say he proved his mettle in caucus and has developed his own strategies for forcing the Conservatives to govern in the national interest.

Almost as soon as he was placed in the leadership suite, Ignatieff brought the Liberal Party's ratings to 31%, while the Conservatives dropped to 37% of voter support. Ignatieff personally had the support of 28% of the voters as their preferred leader, while Harper had the respect of 27%. Under Dion, his ratings were 25% and 23%, respectively. Harper has not mentioned this sudden comeback of his Opposition, although he is no doubt aware that his chances of even winning a majority if an election were called today have all but disappeared. Therefore, Harper took his next step.

Remember, Parliament is prorogued. The doors are locked and Parliamentarians are not working. However, Stephen Harper, who at one time decided that Senate Reform was one of his major priorities, is suddenly taking advantage of that very institution that he hates. He decided that before Christmas, he is going to stuff the Senate with at least eighteen (18) partisans to get his party a "working majority" in the Red Chamber. Even though the Liberals and others still far outnumber Conservatives, his new appointees will likely be more active than those appointed well before.

Stuffing the Senate was an allegation that he made as the leader of the Canadian Alliance and then later as the leader of the Official Opposition when the Liberals governed. Should I publish Harper's many quotes on this subject that he stated to the House during these also very rocky periods? However, either his mind changed or something in the drinking water at the ruling side of the House has caused him to deem this is now an acceptable practice. To me, this is obvious that Harper fears still losing power, particularly now with a formidable opponent in Michael Ignatieff.

So, as time crawls by during the prorogue period ... Canadians have a wide open opportunity. The door has been opened by Michael Ignatieff, one might say. Ignatieff did say he cannot properly vote against a budget that he has not yet read, which makes sense. He has also left the ball in Harper's court to make sure that the budget is in the national interest. So, I would expect all national organizations that are concerned with cuts to the court challenges program, cuts to programs for persons with disabilities, changes to EI program, and so forth, should be FLOODING Parliament Hill with their requests for pre-budget consultations, saying if Harper doesn't do it - they will push the "coalition" to consider these proposals. Lobbying firms are probably busy right now.

Stephen Harper put his own foot in his own mouth by the Economic Statement, and by assuming the Opposition will remain lame duck and always back down, fearing obliteration by an election. Foot in mouth disease is relatively common among politicians of all political stripes. This battle cry by the Opposition is just the medicine this Parliament needed to excite Canadians, make them hope once again, for their own Obama. As Americans voted out the right-wing in droves and installed in place the first Black American as President, Canadians are looking south for this kind of hope ... to me, this is what the "coalition" did.

I am not saying I support or do not support any one or all of the Opposition leaders, but all I can say is that night in the coffee shop, I actually had some hope that something might change for Canadians, who unfortunately are still largely caught up in the myths that tax cuts, shrinking government, privatization of health care, and so forth would make their lives better. I always tell people to look south and ask the masses who voted for Obama if eight straight years of laissez-faire economics did their families any good. It should not take an economic crisis the size of that in the United States to make Canadians better understand that we can make change, and we can expect better. Why not now?

Sunday, November 30, 2008


There is a very controversial crisis going on right now with the economy.

The U.S. just approved $700 billion in bailout money for the financial sector to back up mortgages and credit card debts. They are now ready again to approve a further $800 billion.

The three automaker CEO's then come flying to Washington in their private jets to pressure Washington to bail them out as well to the tune of $25 billion. The Canadian government is exploring doing the same at both the provincial and federal level.

As a taxpayer that does not make anywhere near what an average autoworker makes, nor do I have any hope of retiring with a pension ... likely, I -- like many other people -- will be working until the day I am in the ground, I vehemently disagree with all these bailouts.

On one website, I read how the governments in Ontario and Canada pissed away $1 billion in the auto sector already and the writer posted the number of jobs lost at respective plants in the past year or so. The question the writer asked afterwards, is for us all to do the math, how many job losses will $5 billion buy? Do the math!

First, before bailing out the auto sector or any other business, it should be noted WHY these big firms are finding themselves in trouble. If people are not buying the over-priced cars that the Big Three are making, how is $5 billion here and $25 billion in the U.S. going to create these markets? This bailout will not make the average family better off to the effect they will now be able to buy a new car ...

The issue is jobs, jobs, and more jobs. If I am not working, nor are my neighbours down my street working, are we going to be able to go out and buy a GM or Chrysler product, just because they are now being bailed out so they can make more product that nobody can afford?

If you want to help the car companies, or anybody else for that matter, help should be delivered to families and small businesses, so they can purchase more ... people with no disposable income, such as people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program, are not going to be buying new clothes, eating in restaurants, seeing movies, etc. let alone buying a car. People who work for low wages are also not in a position to buy a new car.

However, when people ARE working and EARNING good money, they have the confidence to go out and buy more things, including new cars.

The only people this bailout is helping is well-paid unionized autoworkers, as well as highly paid executives, the very same group only months before, were crying to the government to cut their taxes ... and it is so interesting that when the first sign of trouble comes, they come running back to the taxpayer ...

In their world, governments are supposed to get out of the way with respect to taxation, regulation, health and safety, product safety, etc., but come back into the fray with huge sums of money on demand, just because ... if our governments say no, which they should for the most part to the extent of their legal capacity to do so, these same companies also threaten us all that if we don't pay the untold billions that virtually ALL the plants will shut down and leave this country, and leave more than a million jobless in its wake.

You, nor anybody in the government, should be paying heed to this. We have already paid and paid into this sector through so-called economic development initiatives, only to see several plants close or cut major shifts on their assembly lines anyways, despite the aid and tax cuts we've already given them.

The unfortunate thing, however, is we may be stuck backing part of the GM workers' pension plans. They say the average worker gets $1,600 per month from GM, but what they don't tell you is that they likely get the maximum amount for CPP, which is just over $1,000 a month, plus the OAS of approximately $500 per month, in addition to whatever funds they saved on their own. This is a far cry from the $1,100 a month most people will be getting, so why should we care?

If the government foolishly made a promise that they will cover some of these costs, likely under the Bob Rae government during the 1990's, then we probably will be stuck paying and paying for this. If you ask me, we should be giving them nothing more.

Until I see the government handing out money to small businesses like me, or housing help to homeowners seeking to make repairs to their homes in a less convoluted bureaucracy that already exists, then I say what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I walk down the main streets of my city and see many businesses closed down for good, as well as meet people who are losing their homes ... because they injured themselves at work or got sick and the insurance company or WSIB is giving them an incredibly hard time.

I don't know about you, but I sense when these small businesses fail (and of course, their owners have to immediately resort to welfare as there is no Employment Insurance for them), or people either get denied or lose benefits to which they are otherwise entitled, these people, which seem to be growing in number year after year, are NOT shopping in the stores, eating at restaurants and least of all, not buying cars.

The Employment Help Centre here in Niagara found that out of a thousand people they interviewed that use their services, only seventy of them had both a valid license and a vehicle. Yet, what do 99.9% of all employers in Niagara demand? A license and a vehicle!

Would it not be better to help people access better paying jobs, so that eventually they develop the disposable income and/or credit rating necessary to buy cars, as opposed to just pouring more money into a black hole, while people continue to suffer?

I have nothing against autoworkers, and I am sure the loss of a job is just as hard for many of them as it is for anybody else, but I absolutely resent our government playing favourites with what industry it will support and which industries it will not.

Some members of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, although I am not sure if this is union-inspired or just brought about by a few radical members ... are trying to get their members to support only businesses that have owners that drive GM products, for example.

What about those of us that do not drive, because it has been determined by somebody else that our medical conditions don't permit it? How about those that don't drive because they simply cannot afford to do so? Are these autoworkers going to penalize them, just because they do not have a $50,000 GM product in their driveway?

It is time that taxpayers speak up. It is time that small business owners speak up, as well as Canadians who are going through long-term unemployment for reasons that have nothing to do with this economic restructuring ... perhaps, ageism, abelism, classism, etc. have a lot to do with it, which is the silent partner in this crisis, though nobody will admit it.

To me, if anybody should bail out the auto industry, it should be the big oil companies, as for the past five or so years, they've profited immensely by keeping people in their cars (and blocking people from using alternative transportation options).

Let the Big Three go through the Chapter 11 in the U.S. and the Companies Creditors' Arrangement Act here in Canada (similar to a Chapter 11 in the U.S.), and let them all restructure. Air Canada been through it. Stelco been through it. Many other companies have been through it and re-emerged stronger, more streamlined and responsive.

If these CEOs are as smart as they say they are and the union leaders feel they are in for more than just the ride, then perhaps they should be contributing to the solution, as opposed to coming back to taxpayers cup in hand, begging for handouts. Shame on them!

Yet these are the very same people that demonize and attack the poor in our society for ending up in the positions that they are in. They get told to get a job, any job. At the same time, these same executives are begging for major billions of dollars of taxpayers dollars. Why is nobody demonizing them?

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 10, 2008


One of my areas of expertise is ethics and knowledge-based analysis. One of my earlier projects (almost eighteen years ago) focused on the underpinning values that eventually erupted into the Holocaust. If you ask people today what led to the Holocaust, people will argue it was Hitler's rise to power. However, my project's research has shown the underpinnings of society's value system at the time resulted in Hitler's rise to power, as opposed to the other way around.

Society's values, often reflected in so-called scientific 'achievements' and measures to back them up, were used to assign values, as opposed to determine hypothesis. The fact so-called western culture has evolved through many cultural and counter-cultural periods can aid in one's understanding of how such values and beliefs determine how the society will address its problems. Instead of being viewed as challenges, such 'problems' were defined as societal nuisances, tragedies and other negative values assigned, and the instruments of science and policy were utilized to eradicate, as opposed to accommodate, such challenges.

I don't want to go into great detail as to how the social psychological theorum developed around these ideas, the founding of eugenic-based thinking and its gradual acceptance and implementation took place, but to demonstrate how the same social psychology and its structure exist in our society today and how it is impacting on our most vulnerable populations. As one speaker series I attended recently demonstrated, how society "defines" its problems and their "causes" results in what policy instruments are used to tackle them.

This particular speaker was part of our International Day to Eradicate Poverty forum held at the region. The interesting aspect of this speaker's discussion was something I always knew to be true. She simplified this scenario in how people view the economy and as a result, what solutions are available for reducing poverty in society. She separated her presentation in three parts.

The first part demonstrated a belief that our economy provides equal access to opportunities for everybody and anybody can achieve what they want by tackling their challenges and "working hard". The corollary to this thinking of course means that those that do not find success in the existing economy are not "trying hard enough" or are "not taking advantage of opportunities afforded to them". Policy solutions imposed by this thinking relate to creating "incentives" for people to work and get off social assistance, for example. The idea here is that if we prod people hard enough, they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Assistance should be minimal, temporary and difficult to get, or such thinking would go, "it becomes a system that can be abused".

The second part showed a different scenario whereas one believes that usually the economy works well, but there are periodic issues that need to be addressed. One such issue could be the current banking crisis and upcoming global recession. Thinkers in this category believe that the economy is not a structural barrier in itself, but periodic shifts and changes make it necessary to develop policies to assist affected individuals in "adjusting". Policy initiatives brought about by this manner of thinking tend to focus on strengthening the individual through re-training programs, labour adjustment opportunities, job finding clubs and resume upgrades. If people learn how to find work and upgrade their skills for the "new market", everything will be fine.

The third part showed even a more different perspective. The belief system here demonstrates that opportunity is not shared equally among all people in society and that some people benefit more from the status quo than others for a variety of reasons and regardless of how "good" the economy is, there are always people who are left behind. The thinking here is that the people left behind are not at fault, but do deserve not to be left behind ... so the solution to this scenario is more structural, as opposed to individual or laissez-faire. Policy options would include infrastructure projects, improved urban planning, consideration of a minimum citizen's income, as well as support for broad-based community services, such as education, health care, daycare, transit, etc.

The reason I bring up these scenarios and am reminded of this presentation is from a recent article published in the Toronto Star about how today's welfare rates are probably set for 1988 levels. The article exemplifies a young man that had once experienced the "Canadian dream" of a middle-class job, a successful business and a happy marriage, only to see it ruined by addiction ... and several years later, he is clean, but unemployed and living in poverty. With these feature articles, the Star has a comments section where any reader can contribute their thoughts. Almost 200 comments were printed, many of them exposing the vicious prejudices of the writers, beliefs they held about poor people, why they were poor and they would only solve their problems if they just "got a job". It is interesting if life were that simple.

Readers in this category pointed out how there are so many 'help wanted' ads in store windows, how one can easily get a minimum wage job and so forth ... well, these readers would love to see a law passed to force people who are not working to take a job, any job. However, would these same readers be willing to have the same law applied to employers, to force them to hire whoever showed up at their door - regardless of their skills, training and aptitude? Of course not! If this were ever imposed, there'd be a civil war of sorts started by the business and employer community about the state's will being imposed on their businesses. The reason I ask this is because very few people on social assistance want to be there; survey after survey shows that almost everybody wants to work, but most that don't work experience major barriers to doing so.

So, until these barriers are removed, we have to do something about people that are unable to find work or perhaps, either temporarily or permanently, are unable to work ... some argue we should just let them starve. Surely, if we do so, they will suddenly find it in their "interests" to take any job. Right? Sadly, this will not likely work. Would you want to live next door to one of these people, who perhaps you believe should "starve" who through no fault of their own is having trouble securing a job? You better lock your doors! How about your taxes? You think your taxes are high now? Just wait until our medicare system takes in these "starving people" for malnutrition, self-harm, exposure, addictions, fatigue, infections, etc. Or our local jails take them in for petty theft, vandalism, causing a disturbance, assault, etc.

A shocking statistic shows that 75% of people in our prisons are illiterate and more than 80% of them come from low-income backgrounds. Natives and visible minorities are disproportionately represented in prisons. A study overlaying Toronto's 13 poorest postal codes with the residential locations of the shooters during the notorious Summer of the Gun showed almost all of them came from poor and desperate neighbourhoods. I don't even need to tell you how much it costs on an annual basis to keep each of these people in prison, particularly now that there is a public appetite to keep people locked up longer.

While we expect a percentage of prisoners to leave our prisons eventually to live in the community, none of us wants them in "our neighbourhoods" or in "our schools". A prison record almost guarantees lifelong unemployment and thus, the vicious cycle returns with greater force the next time around, which may expand the seriousness of the crime and increase the take. Life becomes cheap when your own life is not valued by the society you are living in. These people simply will not go away, despite the simplistic answers of many of the people who signed their comments in the Toronto Star that day. It is interesting that such comments could be registered anonymously or under a pseudonym, which certainly allows one to distance oneself from their comments and not have to take personal responsibility for saying them.

It is hard to say what the solution is for resolving issues like entrenched poverty, but it definitely revolves much broader than around the individual. If you expect somebody to "take a job", the employment market must be ready and prepared to hire that person. If employers do not want to hire that person, then employers (and other that don't want "those" people around) should pay more taxes to support the person until they are able to find work.

For individuals with disabilities, employers must be proactive in identifying and removing barriers to persons with disabilities. This must be done by reviewing all steps of the engagement process, starting out with the development of the job description or what the position would involve. Then, the next step would be to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to information about the job and the means to apply. People with disabilities will apply for jobs they feel they are qualified to do, as in the case of anybody else.

Employers like other people hold certain prejudices about people with disabilities, which need to be overcome in order for them to facilitate the participation in the paid labour force of more disabled persons. Hiring persons with disabilities helps all of us, not just the person with the disability. The employer has somebody to fill their position; the person with the disability has a job; and taxpayers no longer support the person with the disability by paying out their pittance of a disability income. It is also likely that the person with the disability will enjoy greater health and on an aggregate level, with more people hired, there will be more money in the economy spent on small businesses, which in turn, leads to the creation of other jobs.

Unfortunately, myths continue to prevail about people with disabilities. It is assumed that people with disabilities do not have as many qualifications as other workers. Many people with disabilities have advanced education and professional credentials, as well as substantial work experience. Further, there is no evidence that the work ethic of the person with a disability is any less than it is for anybody else. Their performance is either equal to or exceeds others as a rule. Further, some employer believe that people with disabilities should get paid less because they receive ODSP, which they assume is a "subsidy" ... when in fact, most people seeking work while on it, want to get OFF ODSP. Paying people less than minimum wage or even less than other workers is not only illegal, but is counter-productive as well.

This is just one area where there is shared responsibility for poverty reduction. Of course, there are people that cannot work due to health issues, or caregiving issues, or other reasons. Society needs to re-examine its current beliefs about the need to "punish" these people for being unable to contribute for either a temporary or permanent period of time to the paid labour force. Ontario Works is now the assistance of "first resort" for most people, as other forms of benefits get cut back and more difficult to get ... and as a result of getting on Ontario Works, one unfortunately has to strip themselves of all assets and virtually lose any financial cushion they once had, leaving them very vulnerable to long-term reliance on assistance.

Maybe we should take a look at the other benefits that are being cut and should be easier to get? It is said that less than 35% of people in Ontario who are unemployed could access Employment Insurance. People in receipt of long term disability insurance or worker's compensation are vulnerable to setbacks in adjudication cycles, which often can leave workers cut off with no financial security at all. Insurers suddenly decide your two years are up and you should be able to return to work, or WSIB believes your employer's "modified work" is truly adaptable for you (even though you will be essentially doing the same job you did that you got injured in). Forcing all of these people onto Ontario Works, which does not cover one's basic shelter, let alone their basic living costs, is certainly not good for the economy.

Is it really that good to have these people not shopping in your store, ordering a coffee in your cafe, or not buying clothing from the local merchant downtown, and more and more people ending up in this position? What does this do to the likelihood of jobs being created in your community? What does this do to the health of your local businesses, ranging from the butcher shop to the dry cleaner to the movie house? What about people who can no longer afford to stay in their homes? Where do they go?

Simplistic policy solutions do very little to either: (a) get people involved in the labour force; or (b) get the economy moving. Perhaps, we may need to re-think our ideas before spouting them off on the web, thinking we have all the answers. These issues are way more complex than they usually appear and solutions can only start when we end the blame game.


Sunday, October 19, 2008


One three hundred million dollar election later and what did we learn? As I predicted at the very start, Stephen Harper came back with yet another minority government. Yes, he will once again have to face a dysfunctional Parliament and get engaged in more partisan bickering the voters are frankly getting sick and tired of ...

I worked for the elections again this year. I usually do when I am available to do that. My husband and I took a poll at my son's high school. All together, there were eight polls, each with their own Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk, as well as other polling station staff, such as an Information Officer, two Registration Clerks and a Central Polling Supervisor. Working for the elections for the uninitiated is a very LONG day ... starting out relatively early, usually about 8 - 8:30 a.m., depending on your state of readiness.

I arrived and immediately set up my polling station and the part of the table where my Poll Clerk was going to work. It was already set up so that my ballots were in consecutive order, each ballot booklet numbered on the front and several of them initialed at the back. Some other DRO's, I hear, did not choose to do this ... oh well, voting started at 9:30 a.m. Greeting voters is a very interesting job. People are in a for a quick, relatively painless experience at the polls. The feds imposed heavier ID requirements, but people were okay with this ... I would rather see people out voting than being discouraged by bureaucratic barriers. Many new voters registered; these people are voting for the first time.

Some interesting things happen on polling day. One fellow was given his ballot. He went behind my voting screen and voted, then he proceeded towards the front door with it ... until he was stopped by other polling staff. I had him come back to put his ballot in the ballot box, explaining it would not do a lot of good for him at home. Another woman was in such a rush to vote, she moved behind the voting screen and forgot to take her ballot with her, which I was holding out waiting for her to return. I suppose she wondered what she had to do behind there, when she had no ballot to mark. People are interesting once they return their ballots, get the strip off the side torn off, then they deposit it into the box.

Some were clearly indicating who they were voting for. Others joked about whether they were going to throw the bums out, or put new ones in. Others had questions. A few had come to the wrong polling station or were unsure of where they were supposed to vote. I watched older voters, younger voters, disabled voters, frail voters as well as ethnic voters all come and go all day to their various polling stations to vote. It is always interesting trying to guess how these people are thinking, because we are not supposed to know how they voted until we count the aggregate samples in each of the polls.

One of the things the uninitiated discover is that we are not allowed to leave the building during the day until our polls are closed up for the day. We can go to the bathroom or accept deliveries of food or drink, but we cannot leave our polling stations for too long at any given time. I discovered the best time to get take-out delivered is before the dinner hour ... as between 5 - 7:30 p.m., there is usually non-stop voting. It is still busy after that but it does dwindle after that until it trickles to a dull roar about 9:00 p.m. Therefore, polling staff have to eat on the run, eat fast, portable foods and sneak medications or other fluids in during lulls in voting patterns.

At the end of the day, I add up the unused and used ballots by matching the ballot strips and subtracting the last ballot number used from the final ballot number issued from the unused stack and if they match up, then the ballot box is opened. Scrutineers from various political parties and candidates come throughout the day to collect information on who voted (so they can continue to bother those that didn't to go to vote). At the end of the day, many of them stick around and assist with the count. Even after knowing how each candidate fared in our eight polls, it is only part of the broader picture.

You know when you sit at home and watch the election returns, there are "elected and leading" figures under each party across the country ... some of them are only "leading" because not all the polls have been reported. There are things that can happen at a polling station that can slow things up. For example, an unnamed DRO who is probably reading this was unable to balance his Statement of Vote. He was still struggling after I assisted another group to close up and was ready to go myself. His Poll Clerk wanted to go home ... After working with the two workers, we learned there were some missing ballots that were soon recovered and we were able to re-enter the Statement of Vote. These are the situations you see on TV with "8 polls still needing to report", etc. The report is called in almost immediately and once delivered, the formal Statement of Vote that is signed is handed directly to the Returning Office, along with re-sealed ballot boxes (in the event of a recount).

Anyways, all across the country, we had over 160,000 polling stations and other staff working at both the Advance Polls and Voting Day Polls, as well as the candidates, their volunteer campaign teams, as well as paid advisors at the party level, and 308 returning offices to report ... and $300 million dollars later, after people get paid, printing bills are paid, halls are rented, etc. ... Stephen Harper is returned to Parliament with yet another minority!!! Harper argues it is a stronger mandate than he had last time. True, he had more seats, but he still secured approximately 38% of the vote ... less than 20% of the eligible voters voted for Harper this time around.

It is now time when the main political parties decide what to do. Every party lost this election, as far as I am concerned. The Conservatives failed to get their coveted majority. The Liberals failed to get more than 77 seats. The NDP, while they increased the number of seats, failed to increase them beyond the number they sought when they first set out and Jack Layton announced he was running for Prime Minister. The Green Party lost as it failed to get ANY seats despite the doubling in its popular support. Perhaps, the only party that can claim "victory" in any way is Bloc Quebecois, as this party single-handedly prevented a Conservative majority. Is this all that elections have become? Sadly, it is true.

Of course, approximately 59.1% of eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. We don't have the demographics of the voting public yet, but I am hoping it has increased among the young and the low-income populations, both of whom tend to vote less. Nevertheless, this low turnout was subsequently bemoaned by all political leaders, wondering what can be done to increase the voter turnout. This has been a chronic problem, possibly due to our first past the post system which really does not turn out results that are truly reflective of voter opinion. Also, one wonders about the impact of all the finger pointing and negative campaign ads. To me, parties should be forthright and attempt to sell themselves directly to voters, as opposed to giving us lots of reasons why not to vote for the other guy.

I worry about how this Parliament is going to conduct itself. I have a certain respect for Stephen Harper, but not for his partisan meanderings or any of the partisan meanderings of the other parties as well. The other thing that bothers me is right after the election, one can almost predict with crystal clear accuracy of how fast and against whom the knives will come out. Stephane Dion is suddenly under attack. He apparently spent several days away from the media, possibly feeling hurt and under attack for not doing as well as he should have. I am not so sure it was entirely Stephane Dion's fault. I think it was the carbon tax or "Green Shaft" as it eventually became known that had turned off voters. As former Prime Minister Kim Campbell once said, elections are not the right time to discuss complicated issues.

People felt kind of safe with Steven Harper because he played it cool during much of the campaign and did not go to extreme steps in pushing new taxes or complicated policies that voters are not likely going to understand, or may even fear for that reason. Despite Harper's "cool" campaign with little new announcements other than a few small steps targeting industries that are in trouble, etc., he mentioned very little about what he might actually do regarding health care, jobs, environment and poverty alleviation - the big four, according to all major political opinion polling companies. It may well be that Harper would prefer to leave these things to the provinces and simply hand out money, but the more sinister among us are concerned that there is a creeping privatization of health care that needs to be retrenched by enforcing certain provisions of the Canada Health Act, as an example.

On the other hand, voters did not feel confident enough to give Harper or any political party the full reign of majority rule. In reviewing comments about minority versus majority, people associated a "majority government" with a dictatorship, regardless of who was at the helm. People are still too close to remember Liberal scandals, HRDC-gate, sponsorgate, etc. and many voters are also quick to point out that the Conservatives have gone through some scandals of their own. No party can be trusted at the helm of a majority, it seems. This campaign was a big ABC movement all over, although people were reluctant to toss Harper out on his ear.

As an interested voter and political observer, I often point to electoral reform as at least part of the solution. Reforms are in place in the majority of democratic countries of the world that more closely tie voter preferences to seat composition. Ontario attempted to have a referendum for its last election as to whether or not this province would change the way votes are counted, but it once again was rejected by the voters ... I don't think the voters were given a good education on the proposed reforms and the way they were explained to people almost scared them, sort of like the idea of a "Green shaft" scared many voters in this election. However, BC is hosting its second referendum on electoral reform at its next provincial vote, so all might not be lost.

As a cynic, I also wonder if Stephen Harper knew the stock market was about to tank like it did, or knew that Barack Hussein Obama was going to do so well in the U.S. (where voters seem to have a taste for change), before he set this vote. Unfortunately, his urgency to go to the polls backfired on him in a sense that he did not get the majority mandate that he wanted and Parliament will once again be returned to what he thought was a "dysfunctional state" before he called this election in September.

Several people are talking about the possibility of the Opposition Parties, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc uniting under some type of Coalition against Harper's government, perhaps to give rise to a vote of non-confidence and then lobby the Governor General to ask the leader with the next highest number of seats to form a coalition government. It happened in 1926 with the King Byng affair and again, in Ontario, in 1985 when the Liberals and NDP joined together to vote the then recently re-elected Conservative government under Frank Miller to form what was then an "historic Liberal-NDP accord" which kept the government stable for two years in response for passing mutually accepted legislation.

While the idea seems appetizing for some, it is unlikely especially because the Bloc would have to be part of this Coalition. While Bloc Quebecois is progressive in its political perspectives, it is also a separatist party that has somehow gained the right to run candidates in federal elections (and subsequently collect Canadian pay cheques and Canadian pensions after they serve two terms in office). Would two essentially federalist parties be able to work with a separatist party for long enough without this becoming an issue? For those that fear separatist flames, the whole idea of the Bloc holding the "balance of power" in any such coalition is scary.

However, one thing is true. In about eighteen months to two years, we will be talking once again about a federal election, as at some point either Stephen Harper decides Parliament is too dysfunctional, or perhaps Parliament itself decides that it is ... and sends voters back to the polls. One thing that is nice about that is that I can look forward to once again sitting behind the counter as a polling official for Elections Canada, as this is one type of job I do enjoy doing as it contributes to the operations of democracy in Canada.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


When Prime Minister Stephen Harper walked into Rideau Hall to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and issue the writ of election this past September 7, 2008, he was smug enough to believe he could transform his uncomfortable and "unworkable" minority situation to a stronger majority.

But, not so fast, Stephen Harper!

Canadian voters are stupid, but they are not THAT stupid. Calling the election a year early is Harper's idea ... full, front and center. So, if his party self-destructs as a result of calling this election at the worst time, guess who is going to carry the blame?

As the election moves along, other news we read about in the papers involves numbers outside of those pesky political election polls: these numbers are jobs being tossed out by the thousands as company after company decides to spurn Canada for the greener pastures of Mexico or even the southern U.S. As the country continues to bleed jobs, Harper struts along as he continues to "go the course". Dion calls it "doing nothing". Layton calls it "giving his buddies at Exxon and the banks a $50 billion gift".

As Harper landed and exited his campaign UFO in Niagara Region lately, he likely had no idea where he landed ... he began to talk about regulating the sale of chocolate cigarettes, something that he condemned as being marketed to children. This was here, in the Region of Niagara, where thousands of jobs just left the Region and workers recently given the pink slips were not even allowed to cross Harper's barricade to bring the Prime Minister up to date on this reality.

As he left the discussion about cigarettes, he reassured us folks in Niagara that our economy is producing more jobs than it is losing and for us to be reassured that our economy is doing very well, thanks to his government's policies ... well, tell that to our folks that were pushed out of jobs that paid $25 - $30 an hour and are now working at jobs that pay $10 an hour. The push to drive wages down has been in force for quite some time, although the two major political parties never talk about it.

So, as one part of the news highlights further and further job losses and bigger and longer dips in the TSX and Dow Jones, the Conservatives' popularity numbers appear to be following. I am not naive enough to suggest that there is a lot the government can do about the stock market, but there are steps they can take, in conjunction with the private markets, to ease the blow. As Dion suggested time and time again, Harper's answer to this problem is to "do nothing".

It is said the Dion was the winner of the French language debate last week and for the English debate, the victory was split between May, Layton and Duceppe. While the Conservatives continue to portray Dion as being a "weak leader", I watched him speak today before the Canadian Club in Toronto and boy ... if I was a Liberal supporter, I would be wow-ed back into his camp! If I were a tentative Conservative voter, I may be as well. No, Dion is not a "weak leader" ... he was called that in order to lead the weakest minds among Canadian voters to follow the blue brick road to the Conservative camp.

The unfortunate thing about this election is that it started off being about nothing ... other than Stephen Harper's allegation that Parliament has been dysfunctional (despite passing over 63 pieces of legislation, two budgets and one economic statement). Harper was getting impatient and no longer wanting only a piece of the pie. He wanted the whole pie.

So, he starts off on the attack ... long before an election was called. Somebody should do a Freedom of Information request to find out how much of our tax dollars were spent on pre-election ads and where this money came from. Elections Canada might like to know. For me, I could not care less about the attack ads. It took almost to the eleventh hour of this election for Harper to even release a platform, let alone answer any questions ...

The Conservative election platform is a 41-page document which includes 22 pages of glossy colour pictures of himself, some of which include that lovely sweater he started off this campaign with ... others of his kids. How cute. The sad part of this whole affair is that I do like Stephen Harper as an individual ... he has two young children, both of whom he walks to school. He does not come from big money like many former PMs have. He is an economist, but is also not a lawyer or from Quebec, which gives Canadians a breath of fresh air. He also takes in stray cats ... something on its own makes me feel for the man.

Stephane Dion is more of an intellectual with a background as a university professor. He is married and has an adult stepchild, as well as a dog named Kyoto. The fact that he named his dog Kyoto makes me wonder about this man, not that he is not allowed to name his dog anything he wants ... but he takes pride in the fact that he helped create the Kyoto Accord, which Harper came in and rapidly unraveled.

Jack Layton is a controversial individual. He was a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, as well as at one point operating a type of environmental consultancy. He is married to Olivia Chow, also an NDP MP from the Toronto area. Neither came from money; in fact, Layton's fortunes probably grew after the two of them became city councillors for the City of Toronto. Both are known to travel by bike as well as public transit, something you will never see happen in Niagara with ANY of its politicians, no matter how humble their beginnings.

While I will probably be voting for the NDP this time around, I still have considerable issues with this particular party. I might personally prefer the Green Party, but I might want to see their party and organization grow first. My concern right now is to get people to vote for the candidate who is most likely to keep the Conservative candidate out. It is nothing against Stephen Harper; in fact, if I could vote for my local candidate and Prime Minister separately, I would definitely vote for Stephen Harper as the Prime Minister. I just don't like a lot of his underlings.

Now down to the point of this entry ... a recent opinion poll has placed the Conservatives at 31% of the vote, Liberals at 27% and the NDP at 24%. I smell a minority government of a different type. Maybe there might be enough NDP votes to keep a minority Liberal government in place. The best interests of this country would be served by a minority government of any stripe at this time, as it forces the parties to work together ... as opposed to one party imposing its own ideas, hell or high water, on everybody ...

The election campaign started with Harper well ahead of the Liberals, at one point his party was at 41% ... there was a lot of talk about a Conservative majority. There was even talk about who will be picked to be in his Cabinet. At the same time, many people are fearing a Conservative majority ... apparently now, enough of them to prevent one from happening. Dion seems to be taking his votes back, probably because he isn't spending much time babbling about the Green Shift, which his advisors probably realized is too complex to talk about during an election.

Instead, Dion speaks about a 30-day economic plan following his election as Prime Minister, something Harper appears to lack, even AFTER the release of his 41-page platform. His focus is on finding ways to alleviate Canadians' fears about the stock market which is now in a free fall, talks of the "Great Depression" are intercepting news reports on the $700 billion bailout in the United States (another unfortunately necessary measure, though controversial). People want to hear about jobs, their savings and their incomes.

All this talk about chocolate cigarettes didn't work, Mr. Harper.

However, I don't vote for political parties anymore. I vote for local candidates. After all, these are the people I will be darkening the doorsteps of in order to push my own agendas, as well as the people who will be taking issues of the people in Niagara to Ottawa. Sometimes, I want to vote for the person whose lens it is that will be interpreting what I tell them, as opposed to a party and/or a platform (which as it demonstrated during this election, can change at a whim).

On October 14, 2008, my husband and I will probably be working at the election. I do this, not for the money, but for the support of democracy. This is an institution that is very important to me ... although I am not a Liberal either, but there are reports of people with Liberal signs on their lawns in three Toronto ridings and in Niagara Falls, who are getting their car brake lines cut, their homes vandalized and are getting threatening telephone calls telling them to take their signs down. This to me is reminiscent of Third World elections, where people are made to feel fearful of expressing their opinions or support for particular candidates.

In this country, we should have nothing to fear when we speak out or show our support for any particular candidate. People in Canada should be safe to put ANY sign on their lawns, voice unpopular opinions and even join pressure groups to influence public policy. This is a part of our democracy that I feel strongly about ... and this is what I am sometimes fear we are losing.

Educate yourself, my friend. Learn about all of your local candidates and vote with your mind and your heart and turn up at the ballot box on October 14, 2008.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


There is lots to be said about the malaise felt by many voters in the current federal election.

I personally feel this election is a joke. We go to the polls, exactly one year earlier than previously legislated by our own Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Oh well, politicians are allowed to break their own rules when it is convenient.

People get interviewed on the street and respond by how much they are "tired of voting". Well, it is better than the alternative, I suppose. That is, we can stop elections altogether and just appoint a dictatorship or allow one to appoint itself.

The Conservatives haven't proposed any new policies except what their policies would NOT be. I am interested in hearing their position on health care and the Canada Health Act. It was Stephen Harper himself that spoke a few years ago that people should be allowed to purchase private health insurance for any type of service and that physicians should be allowed to choose to deliver privately any service they wish ... arguing this would not erode into public health care or access for everybody else.

Well, news flash. We don't HAVE enough doctors to fill both coffers full of medical staff and if private medicine proves to be more promising, many physicians and other care providers will skip public health insurance altogether to see private patients exclusively. I personally don't know Harper's position on health care right now, as he is not saying anything. Sometimes it is what politicians DO NOT say is more important than what they do say. I would advise people to study all candidates of all parties, their personal backgrounds and their positions on issues that are important to you, before you mark that ballot.

For example, an astute letter write wrote a letter to the Welland Tribune to "educate" voters in the area that the Conservative candidate for the Welland Riding, Alfred Kiers, was formerly a candidate for the Family Coalition Party. For those that want to learn about that small party's politics, you can always visit its website to learn about its policies. This does not necessarily mean Mr. Kiers will push these values on the party, but one should be wary that some politicians do impose their religious beliefs on the electorate. This is commonly known to be the Religious Right in the United States, where many states have backward policies on a number of issues, imposing certain morals on the electorate through legislation as opposed to personal choice. We certainly do not want that attitude imported to Canada.

Current election gaffes include a number of Conservative (as well as at least one Liberal) bloggers that have been reprimanded or asked to withdraw from the race once their blogs and posts on various websites were uncovered; it is not hard to find out if your local candidates have been actively keeping a blog or journal online. All you need to do is google their name via the web or even blogsites. You can also try finding them on sites like MySpace and Facebook, where many candidates have formed web pages to keep in touch with supporters. While they may have "official" views on these pages, you may wish to explore various discussion groups to see if they also posted there. That way, you can learn about your candidate and see if their views are something you could support being represented at the political level.

Another method is to meet your candidates and talk to them personally about the issues that concern you most. Ask your candidate the difficult questions and do not let them get away with political double-speak, which is either answering your question with a question or answering your question by giving information that does not answer your question. To get them to be truthful, play devil's advocate with some of the issues you care about. For example, if you strongly support universal health care, ask your candidate if there are instances where they believe the private sector can deliver health care effectively and efficiently and to identify what circumstances these might be. If you care about the homeless, ask the candidate what they believe is the cause of homelessness and how it should be addressed.

Get involved with political websites of parties you are not necessarily likely to support, but have questions about. There are likely people that post to these discussion boards that present ideas or opinions that might represent the position of the party and the majority of its candidates. If something bothers you, ask for an official interpretation of the party's position on that particular subject, not necessarily what the writer actually believes. For example, the Conservative's official position may still support universal medicare, but some of its candidates may not. The other thing is don't assume that parties of the so-called "left" all agree on positions either. There are Liberal party candidates that have supported the war in Iraq, privatization of health care and vouchers for religious schools. These are not necessarily bad policies, but if you feel they are not good - learn about what your candidates actually support.

Another cue to learn from is to go to the Elections Canada website to get a list of last election's donors to the various political parties. By law, donors that give funding or services in kind to any political party have to be named and reported to Elections Canada. Which businesses and organizations appear to be likely to donate to your political party? Does the party appear to have more organizations donating or individuals? You may want to google the names of individuals that appear to give significant amounts of money to any party to see who this person is. Many times, they are former candidates or executives in the party or they are part of an organization whose interests would be served by the particular party. For example, if a person is active in the labour movement, they might be supporting the New Democratic Party. If they are academics or policy analysts with private think tanks, go to the academic site and search up articles they've written or co-authored. If they are part of a think tank, such as Canadian Policy Research Network, the Fraser Institute, CD Howe Institute or Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, you might want to go to these websites to learn about what policies these organizations support and who is behind them.

Being an educated voter is hard work, but I would rather educate myself as to who I intend to vote for than to vote blindly or as in the United States, vote through some kind of middle man at an Electoral College. The campaign is getting silly here and this, unfortunately, benefits the incumbent party. People get sick and tired of listening to negative ads, finger pointing, opinion polls and other "media coverage" of the election. This coverage sadly is very incomplete and does not tell you who the people you vote for really are. Some people are comparing the Green Party to the Liberal Party of Canada, by saying that the Green Party is simply campaigning for the Liberals and if you vote Green, you are supporting the Liberals. Skip the middle man, they say, and vote Liberal directly.

As for the so-called "left", there are people out there advocating that the Liberals, NDP and Green Parties unite in their efforts to defeat Stephen Harper. Some are setting up "strategic voting" sites to encourage people to vote for one candidate in an attempt to prevent another candidate from getting elected. Nobody votes for who they want anymore. They vote against who they do not want or dislike the most. Our election system is antiquated to the point that strategic voting becomes necessary if we want to prevent massive majorities at 38% of the vote, meaning that instead of appointing them - we are ELECTING dictatorships. I prefer some type of proportional representation, but whenever something like this is proposed to the electorate, representatives from the two main political parties put on an anti-reform agenda to prevent people from choosing change ... simply to protect their own butts!

In my own view, they should have an option called None of the Above. If you are in the voting booth and NONE of the candidates appeal to you, which is slowly getting to be the case with people like me, folks would have an option to register their "vote". However, this can present itself in the likely scenario that None of the Above forms a "majority" of the votes in the majority of the ridings. Or people can always vote for the Marijuana Party, the Work Less Party, the Communist Party or even the Marxist Leninist Party. I'm sure there are equally bizarre options out there; maybe I might form my own political party someday.

Anyhow, people whine and complain and wonder why we have to go to vote again! I say, why not ... voting just takes a few minutes of your day. You can call the office of any candidate and ask for a ride. That doesn't mean you have to vote for the candidate of the office that provided you with the ride ... it is a secret ballot! You can even go in there and write on the ballot in bold block letters, "Throw the bums out!" or decline your ballot. If you decline your ballot properly, your "vote" is registered. However, do anything ... just don't stay home.

Happy Election Day (which will be October 14, 2008). Check the Elections Canada site for advance polling dates, special polls and other ways to vote to make sure your voice is heard. See you all there!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally pulled the plug!

This was several weeks after projecting commercials about himself sitting by a fireplace wearing a comfortable sweater portraying himself as a family man, as well as another one where paid stooges were put on film to say they will be voting for Stephen Harper. Well, the pain of waiting is over ... the plug is finally pulled and the pain of waiting is over.

This election is predictable as anything else. Harper's team started a website called and on another site, portrayed a video of Stephane Dion standing in front of what appears to be a chalk board, until a flying puffin blows by and poops on his shoulder and disappears. Dion's team struck back with their own scandalpedia outlining the innumerable gaffaws by the Conservatives during their relatively short reign of minority rule. What does this have to do with the price of bread, one may ask?

Political parties continue to believe that Canadians are stupid. They think Canadians will rush to vote Conservative because they see Stephen Harper portrayed as a "family man" before the hearth talking with glowing terms about playing cards with his son, Ben, and his daughter, Rachel. Congratulations, Stephen! I'm so glad that you have a family. But this does not take away from the fact that Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Elizabeth May also have families, and they likely enjoy spending time with them too. But does this make him the best choice for a Prime Minister? God only knows.

Because nobody seems to know what policies any of these people have. All we are seeing are flying puffins, attack ads, comparisons of Harper to George Bush in the U.S., and so on. All of that means nothing to me as a voter. A survey was done of voters and it was found that the majority of them did not feel that the party in power made a difference in how well their lives went. That is probably true, but I also believe the big issues are important ... which is why we should be voting and studying the political parties' positions.

Pollsters are estimating that the Conservatives will win. Okay, so why bother voting, if we already know what is going to happen? Publishing these stupid polls is probably what bothers me the most. The pundits are pointing to a likely minority government headed by Stephen Harper again; it is like we ran out the back door, only to enter the same house through the front door all over again. Whoopie doo! Nevertheless, the ABC groups are being set up all over the web, citing "anybody but Conservative". I am still looking for the group that attracts the flying puffins.

In between these irrational election ads are commercials pushing vehicles, often with hard rock music that tends to attract the elder portion of the baby boomers, e, g. those with money. The latter group doesn't have any. I am still eagerly awaiting clear cut information about what each of the party leaders plan to do to further screw up our country and when I do finally vote, I will hold my nose and put my X beside the name that offends or nauseates me the least. Maybe one or two candidates might even provide petroleum jelly before they start their country screwing tactics, for example.

The Conservative party has not once spoke a word about how it intends to reduce poverty. Perhaps, they are part of the community that believes there is no poverty, much like my region's politicians believe. They talk about the wonder of tax cuts, which do absolutely nothing for low income people, but then again, some voters will be fooled. The Liberals promise a plan to reduce poverty, but at the same time they want to create more of it through their proposal to create a carbon tax, which Harper rightly describes as "a tax on everything". NDP Leader Jack Layton told his supporters the day the election was called, "The Prime Minister quit his job today. I am now applying for his job." Yeah, right. Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, is finally allowed to participate in the Big Debates, which I will probably watch if only for that reason ... usually that would be an exercise in where best to place the barf bag.

Elections are viewed by most Canadians as something we must tolerate every so often, like it is such a burden on our privacy and an invasion of their busy lives. Perhaps, we should stop having them and then watch everybody scream about dictatorships and authoritarian governments. Canadians are stupid bunch anyways; I can never understand them. The media whines about summer elections, while summer elections wouldn't make a difference to me anyways. I am in the same place during the summer as I am during the spring, winter and fall ... working, probably until I am put in the ground.

The media whines about winter elections, whining about how Canadians would rather be in Florida getting some sun. Must be nice to have money to go to places like that, but I'm still here like I am the other 364 days of each year. The media whines about elections during or too close to holidays, like as if ALL Canadians just spend quiet time with their families ... assuming all Canadians have families to spend quiet time with.

But the thing that pisses me off the most is that when they raise so-called "pocket book" issues, it assumes that all Canadians have "disposable income" - a foreign concept in many people's lives. They talk about reducing taxes, but many of my clients don't pay income taxes. They need an income to pay taxes on. If some of them got the good jobs that other Canadians seem to have, they can join the same bitching rounds as everyone else about how high their taxes are. Wouldn't that be nice!

However, as the so-called middle class goes the way of the do-do bird, and less and less people have the "disposable income" to pick up a cup of coffee, let alone buy flat screen TVs, computers and new clothes, ANY government of any stripe will be scratching their heads to figure out what happened ... as they literally wiped out taxes on wealthy families and are quickly going into a deficit to cover basic operating costs, maybe we need to start thinking about doing politics differently.

Wealthy and upper middle echelon people often think of taxation as "theft". To me, if they truly believe that, they should all move to some island somewhere that has no government, no rules and no infrastructure to be taxed for ... let it be man against man, pitting life against life, lest only the strongest survive. They want to stop paying for health care because after all, they are healthy and even if they aren't, they can afford out-of-pocket medical care. They want to get rid of welfare and leave the less fortunate at the mercy of charity, and both you and I know what charities don't do -- they certainly don't do any better than the government, in fact a lot worse, at dealing with the problems plaguing the disadvantaged.

These are the same people who will tell a homeless man that needs glasses to go the Lion's Club to pick up a used pair, regardless of what his requirements are ... or to go to the welfare dental clinic and get his teeth pulled and then slap him in the face if he doesn't find a job. They are roundly criticized if they have a cell phone, lest they waste the money "taxpayers" give to them ... but then we somehow expect them to magically be in touch with employers to find work. The logic of these people is sorely lacking, as I see the results of this logic every day in my legal practice.

And these people think we pay too many taxes right now ... just wait until we open more prisons, hire more police officers, fill more hospital beds with patients with conditions that could have been treated had they been eating healthy and had enough funds to stay warm in the winter. Poverty is expensive. Our country cannot afford another ounce of it.

But then again, I am yearning for politicians who are true leaders for this country. This is something I think all Canadians miss. We no longer have the Sir John A. MacDonalds, the Diefenbakers, the Pearsons, even the Trudeaus ... we are stuck with the Harpers, who pay as much for their "image consultants" as twelve of my client's families pay for their entire expenses over the entire fiscal year. We have the Dions who can't communicate his "green shaft" plan in either English or French, not much better than one of his predecessors that spoke from both sides of his mouth. Then we have Jack Layton, who is probably closest to being "an ordinary Canadian" among them all, but yet so politically correct, he squeeks. I don't know enough about Elizabeth May, except that she practised law at some point, but then again ... aren't 99.9% of politicians over-represented by lawyers and wealthy business interests?

Some suggest a "none of the above" option on the ballot. It sounds like a good idea until it is implemented and I know for sure what will happen ... what happens, for example, if "none of the above" gains a majority in Parliament? Does it mean we have to start all over again and bother our vote-weary Canadians in going back to the polls to pick from yet another equally incompetent group of losers?

I don't know the answers, but I would at least like to see some way of reflecting a proportional representation so that people can stop twisting their voting strategies into pretzels and off-track betting proposals in order to prevent certain parties from getting in, as opposed to choosing a candidate of one's choice. During the provincial election, there was a lot said about bottles of Visine being used to "get the red out" and how voters could have done the same on October 10, 2007, by getting rid of Liberals ... but it seems that the Selsun Blue needs to go, but nobody seems to know how. I love you Harper, and I know you are a good person, a good family man, a hockey fan, a man of my heart ... but I just don't know what you have up your sleeve and how it will affect my constituency.

As you know, my constituency comes first and I intend to educate them in a non-partisan way, because I really don't "support" any political party ... I go for specific candidates, some of whom are Conservative, others are from other parties. I trust those that I know, regardless of political stripe. But if Stephen Harper came to my door tomorrow to tell me what he will do for my constituency and could convince me on how it will improve their lot, he might have half a chance. I might even send him a few flying puffins.

Anyways, I *will* be voting. I don't know for who yet ... but it should be a blast. See you at the ballot box folks, where we can all "throw the bums out!"

Sunday, August 31, 2008


There are lots of clues in the air that a federal election will soon be called. First, Stephen Harper himself flies to the Arctic to make an appearance in the far northern community, only to speak to the media about the possibility of sending Canadians to the polls. Further, a television commercial featuring a number of "ordinary Canadians" who speak highly of Stephen Harper and their intent to vote for him in the next election has already been put on the air, despite the fact no writs have actually been dropped.

There were threats of plunging Harper's minority government into an election for the past couple of years, but nothing ever materialized. Harper's Government actually tendered and passed an election bill that would set future election dates, namely the next one, which was supposed to be set for October 2009, and not this year. The only exception to this specific date is if the Government fell to a non-confidence vote. So, why is he going to the polls now?

I am hearing from people who feel that calling the election now would certainly be a breach of Harper's first promise, which was to not call an election himself until October 2009, which in itself was enough to steer some people away from his party and government. Further, Harper indicated that he felt that Parliament was dysfunctional and difficult to govern, given the minority situation, so an election call was valid ... nevertheless, Harper himself admitted we might just put another minority back into Parliament again, given the polls showing Harper's governing party and the opposition Liberals to be neck and neck in popularity.

At the same time, this is a minority Parliament and it appears that all parties have attempted to make minority government work. Thirteen bills have been passed into law, as well as three budgets have been implemented since the election of this government. Henceforth, it is certainly not as dysfunctional as some might suggest. Further, the appetite of Canadian voters appears to lean towards minority governments, which can force parties to work together on proposals, as opposed to ramming their own through despite massive public opposition.

Do I want another federal election? I personally could not care less, although I tend to participate in the public debate around issues in the election, write letters to the paper and attend meetings, if possible, as well as cast my vote as I did since I was old enough in every federal, provincial and municipal election. I might even work on voting day at the polling stations, something my husband and I have done for years.

However, to me, real issues are hardly ever discussed in elections. When the then Right Honourable Kim Campbell was campaigning to return to her job as Prime Minister, she set the standard that an election was not the time to discuss issues. However, to some extent, it is. In the last election, for example, the Conservatives focused heavily on 'accountability' and 'transparency' in government. Unfortunately, this has not translated into action, particularly when the same organizations continue to get the same funding and are mandated to carry on the business of serving people, when these organizations don't seem to have accountability of their own. But then again, who am I?

I observe that elections get sillier and sillier as time goes on. Politicians want you to vote for them not on the basis of their own policies, but on the policies they want you to dislike of other politicians. To me, this doesn't make a lot of sense, as I prefer to vote for a candidate with the best policies from my perspective. I want to know what they want to offer me, and I don't care why they dislike the other guy. This is too much like going into a car dealership, where the man trying to sell you a Toyota spends all his time with you berating GM products and not telling you why you should buy a Toyota.

So, if an election is going to be held, and by the looks of things, it probably will - it is likely the Tories will put out ads depicting Stephane Dion as a bad leader, particularly given Dion's broken English (which again tells me nothing about Dion's policies or his leadership). The Liberals will probably put out ads about how they feel the Tories are a bunch of right-wing zealots that are going to sell us down the river to the United States, if they haven't already. The NDP will try to attack the Liberals, while unknowingly at the same time, boost the Tory votes. The Green Party will simply be taking a swipe at NDP votes, so these two parties can compete for third party status. The Bloc Quebecois will continue to run on the same agenda they always had, that Quebec should be given nation status and get out of Canada, all the while continuing to collect paycheques with the Canadian flag on them.

Cynical as my observations are, people reading this will know this is truthful. Virtually none of the parties will provide a clear message to voters as to why we should vote for them; just why we should not vote for the other guys. To me, all the political parties have positives in their platforms, as well as negatives. I would rather have each political party roll out their platforms, stick only to key promises and provide arguments to back each of them up. Then, let us as voters decide what party and platform we as Canadians like the best.

The Tories haven't really done anything to piss me off, but then they haven't done a whole lot to endear me either. I am sure that like any politician, they are subject to the whim of lobbyists and interest groups and have to respond to situations as they come up during their electoral term and frankly, most political leaders do try their best with these things. In the US, as Hurricane Gustav threatens to outdo Hurricane Katrina from three years ago, almost to the date, presidential candidates from both parties are doing their Sunday best to speak to the nation as leaders, while attempting to sidestep as many political differences they have at this time to allow the nation to deal with this new potential disaster.

I don't know if it is because it is an election year, or because the fallout from Hurricane Katrina gave the current administration such a big whopping when it did, but I notice the emergency response to Hurricane Gustav is much more organized and is ensuring that any citizen that wants to get the heck out of the way of Gustav can and will be safely housed until this storm literally blows over. There are also key steps being put into place to protect the property of citizens from those who decide to stick around to become looters, something not unheard of when disaster strikes.

But in many ways, our own country is going to Hell in a handbasket and Nero continues to fiddle while Rome burns; therefore, I want to know what our political leaders want to do about it. What do they want to do about the environment? What do they want to do about increasing poverty, instability of the labour market and massive layoffs in the manufacturing sector? What will they promise in terms of accountability and transparency, so that taxpayers can be assured that their monies are spent appropriately and in the best interests of all Canadians?

Canadians are getting more cynical about politicians, and not without reason ... particularly when promises are made and not kept, or politicians seems to get involved in scandal after scandal and later, vote themselves double digit increases and gold-plated pension plans the rest of us can only dream of. Politicians really need to understand this cynicism and do something about the root causes of it if they want to increase participation in elections, as well as increase popular support for the right reasons ... as I once asked, what would happen to our government if nobody voted?

Well, if the None of the Above Party gets into power, chaos would ensue. At the same time, government needs decisive direction based on consensus building, that is based on core values held by most Canadians. Unfortunately, we don't get this. We get vague promises never kept, while our country's suffering continues ... this is certainly not a treatise to tell people not to vote, as I do feel strongly that people should vote. However, our responsibility as Canadians does not end there. We must also hold our politicians to account, even after they return or newly get elected to office.

Among those reading this blog, what do you feel most strongly about at the federal level that must be addressed? Your thoughts?