Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: Year in Review

2010 has been a rough year. Perhaps we remember the bad times more than the good, but I do not think that many could doubt we have faced many trials in the past twelve months.

2010 started with the massive earthquake in Haiti. Despite nearly a year having passed Haiti is still struggling to recover. The initial outreach by the global community has waned, and as has our attention.

On a more positive note the February Winter Olympics were a massive success for Canada. It was a great moment in our collective national memory. It felt like a massive surge of patriotism across the country, from coast to coast. Canada was well represented on the world stage, and our performance will be tough to beat.

In April the Icelandic volcano, which shut down European flights, leaving thousands stranded. It seemed like Mother Nature was having a field day. But we got ours back when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. When historians look back at 2010, it seems like the massive pollution and destruction that occurred will be what keeps their interest, and notes this year.

Spring saw Greece enter a financial crisis, triggering a ripple in the European economy, which has yet to stop.

Around the world during the summer and fall saw political and social unrest. The problems in the global economy caused pain on the ground. Riots, protests and unrest marked much of the past twelve months.

The consequences were manifested when in November when the U.S. Congress switched from complete Democratic control to a Republican controlled House of Representatives. President Obama, who won in 2008 in a landslide was rebuffed by the American public.

The 2000s have been called the Lost Decade. 2010 has not proved much of an improvement. So here’s to 2011, may it be more gentle to the world than 2010 was.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Tis the Season

Normally, at this time of year, it is easy to become disheartened and sickened by the commercialization and greed that seems to consume the culture, and society. Commercialism is a bothersome and worrisome for me, but that is not what I want to talk about.

The greatness of human character often comes forward now. It is always encouraging to see people take their time and money and donate to charitable causes. The contrast between the extreme commercialism and capitalism with community groups asking for small donations is pleasant. At the mall I frequent the Salvation Army’s stand is across from a luxurious jewellery shop. During December I try to drop whatever change I have from Christmas purchases to the cause.

Christmas is a difficult time of year for many, as is well known – emotionally and economically. Families who cannot afford even modest gifts for their children, people who don’t have anyone to spend the holidays with, or people who must weather the brutal weather while others sit in comfort.

I’m not saying that everyone must go out to their nearest soup kitchen and spend all of the holidays there, but I would like to encourage the few that read this blog to give a little something – donate a toy, or food, or money, or time to a charity that you believe in.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Best Disinfectant for Brampton

Despite living in St. Catharines for about five years now I still consider Brampton to be home. Though I voted in St. Catharines I like to keep an ear to the ground for what’s happening in Brampton. Shortly before the election allegations that Mayor Susan Fennell has some inappropriate financial dealings surfaced.

Susan Fennell won the mayoral election for 50.7% of the vote. Her nearest competitors was 30 points behind. Pressure has been building for an integrity commissioner. Fennell has asked the City Manager to provide a report on the viability and usefulness of getting an integrity commissioner, further delaying the issue.

The city manager recommended against the commissioner post in 2007. I somehow doubt she has changed her mind in the intervening three years. According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, Mayor Fennell has been holding secret meetings with members of council – her closest allies – on the question of an integrity commissioner.

While the Mayor’s financial dealings do worry me, I do not know if an integrity commissioner is needed. It seems like an expensive and burdensome post that makes it more difficult for candidates to run for local offices. I assume that an integrity commissioner would also become responsible for overseeing aspects of candidates for election. But, I’m willing to admit that I’m wrong. Would it not be better to force politicians to publicly disclose their financial deals, pass laws to ban certain questionable or corrupt activities? I do not see why the police could not be called on to investigate allegations of corruption, instead of another city bureaucrat.

However, it is worrying that secret meetings of council members are occurring. Public disclosure is the best way to ensure that government is functioning honestly. Backdoor meetings hide the business of the city, which defeats the mission of city council meetings being open to the public. If the media and citizenry were able to scrutinize their government, than we wouldn’t need a commissioner. I hope Brampton cleans up this mess, it has been known to be a city with good government. Next it must deserve that reputation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

For Americans, their political system is set on a very specific clock. Without an intense overhaul of their political system anyone can tell you the date of every major election they will have between now and.... well forever I suppose. Whether the American Republic will last forever is a different discussion altogether (though the answer is no).

The reason the Americans can tell you when their elections will be is because they have set election dates. On the first Tuesday after November 1st elections are held. If you ask when the next federal election will be to a Canadian, at best, he or she could give an educated guess. Or worse, a wild stab in the dark. I follow Canadian politics closely and I have no idea. So-called experts can only hazard a guess. Right now the person who is in the most control of the date of the next Canadian election is the Prime Minister himself, Stephen Harper, and I bet he does not even know when the next election will occur. Unless he’s scheming.

Canada, for the most part does not have fixed election dates. Most parliaments in Canada are only allowed to sit for a maximum of five years, unless there is a major crisis – such as war, which can extend it. Parliaments can fall at any time. A simple motion of no-confidence sponsored by the opposition or the government would lead to an election following dissolution.

Four jurisdictions in Canada have fixed, or semi-fixed election dates: British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories chose to fix elections because holding elections in the winter in such a jurisdiction was less than pleasant.

In Canada municipalities also have fixed election dates. Elections, for the most part, are held every four years at roughly the same time.

What made me write this was something I noticed about American media coverage following the 2010 Midterms. Within hours of the outcome becoming clear the pundits and newscasters began to postulate on 2012. That, generally speaking, does not happen in Canada. When an election finishes in Canada, or even Britain, there is about a week worth of analysis, maybe more if it was a close election. Then the media usually starts focusing on the “What next?” story.

Questions circulate over how the new Premier/Prime Minister will govern, who he or she will bring into Cabinet, if there will be a coalition and what policies will come forward. Then, because we just finished an election, we are generally spared election talk for about 6 months. Then periodic crises (if it is a minority parliament) draw our attention to the possibility of an election. Elections come and go, and after about 8 weeks it’s all over. Between these periods is, generally, governing. On the other hand with two years until the 2012 elections the American political machine is gearing up. Governing will take a backseat to partisanship for the next two years. I’ll take political jockeying over elections over non-stop politics any day.