Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 Stories of 2013

Over the course of twelve months a number of stories have captured my attention. If internet trends are to believed numbered lists are quite popular at the moment, so I thought I would embrace the format for my final post of 2013.

#10 - Ontario’s Five By-Elections

In August 2013 five by-elections were called in the province of Ontario. The three provincial parties fought tooth and nail to shape the narrative in the aftermath of the election. Five Liberal incumbents, all former cabinet ministers, retired, triggering the political contests. Two of the seats were won by the ONDP, two by the Liberals and one by the Progressive Conservatives. Despite the Liberals losing three strong seats the narrative in the media shifted to a PC loss and NDP victory. Here was my take

#9 - Lac-Megantic Train Accident

The town of Lac-Megantic is still recovering from the disastrous industrial accident that devastated the small Quebec town. The disaster has raised serious questions about industrial regulation and safety in Canada.

#8 - Idle No More

The Idle No More movement began in 2012 but its effects have continued to be felt in the country. The proposed Aboriginal education legislation is evidence that despite efforts to push the federal government into meaningful discussions has been ignored. Protest has continued across First Nations communities. Here is my take

#7 - Big Move Stopped

I am not sure there is any leader who believes that the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area is not in need of desperate of investment in transit. The Big Move plan has struggled to get off the ground for a lack of funding. This is one of the major policy questions facing the province and inaction on the file is chronic.

#6 - British Columbia’s Provincial Election

In April the British Columbia general election delivered a shocking upset victory for the BC Liberals. Polls and pundits expected the BC NDP to do well and Adrian Dix to become the province’s next Premier. But on election night the voters returned the Christy Clark government.

#5 - Natural Resources and the Environment

These kinds of stories appear in the local media of the Northwest Territories all the time. There are serious concerns about the development of our natural resources and the impact it has on the environment, and by extension, our health. From fracking protests in New Brunswick to water contamination in the Arctic there are clear consequences to this form of economic development.

#4 - Justin Trudeau becomes Liberal leader

As much as I may dislike Justin Trudeau, his selection as Liberal leader has had a dramatic impact on the standings of the parties. The Liberals now lead in the polls, buoyed by Conservative scandal and the appeal of Trudeau.

#3 - The Reform Act

Michael Chong’s (CPC - Wellington-Halton Hills, ON) private member’s bill to change the way leaders maintain the confidence of the House of Commons has triggered a fascinating debate about Members of Parliament, the division of power, and political leadership. It will continue to be a story in the new year, but also represents discontent within the House.

#2 - Rob Ford’s Ongoing Saga

Rob Ford. Sigh. Certainly the most outrageous story in Canada this year. We watched in rapt fascination as an elected official dragged a city deep into the mire of his own personal demons.

#1 - Senate-PMO Scandal

With an ongoing criminal investigation, and deep unhappiness within the public regarding this scandal, this could be a major weight around the Conservatives’ necks going forward. Thomas Mulcair continues to press the attack on this issue very effectively, and Conservative supporters and MPs are increasingly unhappy. Depending how it all plays out it could be the end of the Harper government and it certainly demonstrates the paranoid, controlling nature of the PMO and how it has backfired.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Worth Reading – December 26, 2013

My last Worth Reading for 2013 is a tad bare. As I hope most of my readers, I have been spending time with friends and family and not immersing myself in the world of politics, government, policy, and my other general interests. I got three books for Christmas that I will hope to review in 2014, Shopping for Votes, The Longer I’m Prime Minister and Paikin and the Premiers.

Andrew Coyne writes great satire, here is a fictional interview between himself and Prime Minister Stephen Harper

One of the early defining points in Ontario 2014 political landscape will be two by-elections in Thornhill and Niagara Falls. The Liberals have their candidates, so an election will likely follow shortly. 

A big story in 2014 will be the Ontario municipal elections. Rob Ford’s campaign to be returned as mayor is not the only interesting story. Mississauga and Brampton’s municipal elections are sure to be interesting. Nominations open January 2, and the vote will be held in October. 

The Progressive Conservatives of Ontario announced their plans for transit, were they to form government. In my opinion, it is a foolish and misleading plan. Ontario’s public service is one of the smallest per capita and is far less wasteful than the public and conservatives would have you believe.

Chantal Hébert says that Mulcair and the NDP needs to target Ontario rather than Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Fascinating point, and makes a strong argument for NDP offensive for seats, rather than fighting in the polls.

My family have heard loud booms and have worried of greater damage to our home/neighbourhood. Turns out it was a strange phenomenon called frost quakes

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

To Serve One Another

I have journeyed home to Ontario for the holidays. After about eighteen hours of taxis, airports, planes, more airports, bigger planes, and car ride home I safely made it back to the province of my birth. I find when you travel like this your brain condenses time. Back in Fort Smith I could feel the four months I had spent there, but soon as I got back to Brampton the time collapsed and it feels like some sort of strange dream. Before departing I was repeatedly reminded by my coworkers that I do have to return.

Here is a short list of the things I have missed about Ontario (besides from the obvious stuff): take-out Thai food, naan and hummus, fast internet, speed limits between 40 and 90 km/h, fully paved roads, temperatures above -20 (it was 0 when I landed and I started sweating).

Given that today is Christmas Eve I wanted to take a moment to encourage my readers to consider those around you and the work many people do every day to make our modern lives possible. The afternoon after I returned to Ontario the ice storm arrived. For many hours straight rain fell from the sky and quickly froze to whatever surface it found. When I went to bed around midnight I heard the first branches breaking as the weight of the ice shattered limbs of stressed trees. The neighbourhood I grew up in is a mature neighbourhood with many trees well over 20 meters tall. Some are dying, or rotten, or just old and the storm overtaxed them and virtually every property in my area is affected.

The power went out not long after. The next morning, devoid of anything to do, and still suffering from time difference, I wandered my childhood neighbourhood and joined in the efforts to clear debris from the road. Neighbours helped each other where they could, but in many cases heavy machinery was needed that brute muscle power could not deal with.

It should come as no surprise that the devastation was great, but government workers and private individuals/companies pitched in to ease the burden to make things normal in time for Christmas. I know people are upset and worried, especially if their homes are still without power, but there are too many who have not given thought to the people trying to make this happen. Power in some neighbourhoods will not be restored until Thursday, or so is said, but that means that power workers will be working day and night over Christmas. People forget that it is another person who makes the service work. The public utilities would much prefer to be home or with family and friends than fixing power lines and transformers.

The storm offers a stark contrast, but the same is true with most services. My flights home were delayed. I was impressed not to hear people complain, but stoically and agreeably work with the airlines to get things moving. Having worked in retail, or entertainment over the holidays meant providing people a service they wanted at the expense of your own time. People are frustrated and stressed, but that is no reason to forget you are dealing with a human being and everyone is doing their best to deal with constraints imposed by supply/demand, companies, weather or the million other random circumstances of life.

To borrow a line from The West Wing we should endeavour to be better servants to one another. We should try to find ways to make the lives of others easier and perhaps more meaningful, and have greater compassion and empathy for those whose lives we touch. Most of us now work in the service industry, which means we routinely deal with people. It would be a wonderful gift, or resolution if we worked to be more patient, caring and understanding to one another, especially those who work to serve us. We are not alone and I think we would find great comfort in the community of our circumstances rather than the outrage of our personal suffering.

Brampton couple walk hand-in-hand after the ice storm.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Worth Reading - December 19, 2013

The decade of darkness is a line used to describe the military cuts and shortfalls experienced by the Canadian military under the Chretien Liberals. It is fitting then that Jon Ivison uses the same language to describe the deep cuts impacting Canada’s foreign service. As Ivison puts it, “But is all this activity motivated by a desire to protect hard-working Canadian taxpayers, as the government claims? Or is it a short-sighted and politically motivated fire sale, designed to help the Conservatives balance the books?” 

Chantal Hébert writes that Mulcair and the NDP need to focus on Ontario if they hope to form government in 2015. 

I think this story shows a microcosm of what is happening in Toronto. Rob Ford’s crassly partisan paragraph in a standard correspondence has been altered to more neutral language over his protests.

Jon Lorinc writes about the current state of politics in Toronto and calls on the voting public and candidates to embrace strategic voting to get Ford out of office when the next election comes in October.

Bruce Hyer (GPC – Thunder Bay-Superior North, ON) changed party affiliations from independent to Green this week. Hyer was initially elected in 2011 as a New Democrat, but had a falling out with the party in 2012. I cannot blame Mr. Hyer, and I find the vitriol of some New Democrats on this very unsettling. I really like the Elizabeth May and the Greens, so I understand Hyer’s switch. As an independent he had common cause with May on several issues. 

In the “There’s something wrong here” category, Ontario’s ombudsman reported that municipalities are addicted to secrecy. Many local governments are improperly using in-camera and excluding public oversight of council meetings. 

A think tank has come forward with criticisms of Metrolinx’s proposal to improve transit in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area. I found this a tad frustrating because the desperate need to improve transit is constantly hindered by hemming and hawing over specifics. My general opinion is that investment and construction should have begun years ago, but they raise interesting points about a few of the Toronto projects. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Threat of Illiberal Democracy

Apologies for not posting a Worth Reading last week. I was on the road for work and my hotel’s internet was less than optimal. My personal laptop was not exactly eager to cooperate with their wireless system. By the time I got home Friday evening I did not feel the motivation to write, and so here we are.

Back in university I wrote a paper about the August Putsch in 1991 in the Soviet Union. I argued that the traditional interpretation of Boris Yeltsin as a democratic champion was terribly flawed, and that the years immediately following his rule did not reflect what we would typify as a liberal democracy.

In the spectrum between liberal democracy and totalitarian dictatorship there is a great deal of variation. Much of that middle spectrum can be called illiberal democracy. In the initial definitions this was seemingly democratic states who restricted the freedoms of their citizens. Russia is a good example of this, and Singapore is sometimes held up as part of this phenomenon. Basically the government intrudes into the lives and freedoms of the citizenry. However, is it possible that illiberal democracy could form from citizens’ disinterest in the state?

I think the threats to modern liberal democracy are manifold and as opposed to the state encroaching in our freedoms we have a disengaged populace who is allowing institutions to decay and fail on their own. The government is the easiest one to begin with. Decreasing voter turnout, declining participation in formal politics, increased ignorance and apathy towards our politics means that political leaders are given a freer hand in abusing our system.

Prorogation is an obvious example here. Putting aside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) tenure in office, there is evidence elsewhere that the conventions that used to govern our system are in absolute freefall. British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly sat 36 of 576 days, is this really evidence of a healthy, vibrant democracy? If you heard that about somewhere else, what would you think? If that comment was about Zimbabwe you would dismiss as an obvious truism of an undemocratic society.

A free press is also a critical component of a liberal democracy. Even if you accept the presence of strong redoubts of meaningfully critical, thoughtful media, it is safe to say that the lowest brow, least critical, least relevant media is gaining traction over anything thoughtful. More people probably get their news from Buzzfeed than the Globe and Mail, or their local paper. Institutional, thoughtful reporting is in a real crisis. The consolidation of papers by large companies, and the diminishing market share, along with sad appeals to market increasingly disinterested in news has hurt our free press.

The state is not particularly interested in silencing the freedom of speech, but very few citizens care to listen (or speak) anymore. Most of my participation in political events consists of myself and the usual suspects. Freedom of assembly is only somewhat battered, but no one cares to participate. While you may reject my premise that Canada, and other countries, are progressively sliding towards illiberal democracy, I don’t think it is possible deny that the vibrancy of our democracy is fading.

Accountability at the federal level now seems to be defined by whether or not criminal charges have been laid. This type of arrogance is only possible because so few people care. The Mayoralty of Rob Ford can continue blithely because he can be rest assured that the huge number of Torontonians will not vote and he can still carry the day despite his abysmal behaviour because people have such a low opinion for our system already.

The passivity of citizens must have some sort of long-term impact. I do not blame the government, or some other boogie man. Some sort of socio-economic/technological change is dramatically reshaping the culture and leading to the shocking erosion of traditional institutions. This loss of faith and acceptance is having a tangible impact on how we are governed and the lives we lead. Sadly, I see no averting these changes, and those who are expressing concern may be crying into deaf ears of a public who prefers to not listen. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review: The Victory Lab by Sasha Issenberg

Following Barack Obama’s surprising victory in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 a great deal has been made about how exactly the Obama team managed to pull it off. The campaign’s impressive work in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election has solidified this opinion that they have managed to do something special and win over voters. Issenberg in his book The Victory Lab gives us a tiny peak into how.

This is the premise that I do not doubt attracts a majority of the readers of The Victory Lab to the text. It has been frequently called “The Moneyball for politics”, but I do not think that that is a fair comparison. The Victory Lab is basically a history of American research and practice of electoral politics. It begins modestly with the story of the first quantitative research on elections, and how to improve voter turnout. From the early twentieth century to the present day Issenberg explains how changes in technology, media and developments in the marketing/public opinion industry have reshaped American (and Canadian) politics.

What The Victory Lab demonstrates is that commercial interests now have a tremendous amount of information about us and political parties and candidates are now learning how to use that information to press our buttons. On one hand it is a staggeringly cynical way to look at politics. It is not particularly new; allow me to provide an example. It is not unusual in the 20th century for a pro-gun candidate to contact the list of subscribers to a hunting magazine to trawl for potential voters. That’s a pretty obvious correlation. However, the vast database of individual consumer purchases, when aligned with similar people and their voting patterns, means that campaigns can very specifically target individuals. The way Americans preserve voter information makes this far more feasible than for their Canadian counterparts.

If you give the right data to a modern campaign operative she/he can identify the type of party/candidate/message will best appeal to you. It’s important to remember that this is not a one-to-one analysis. Buying Pepsi does not make you a Democrat, but a person who lives in your style of neighbourhood, with a luxury smartphone plan and premium cable tends to vote for candidates X, and prefers lower taxes, and worries about public safety issues. So instead of getting the mail item about the environment you get the one about policing. It’s clever, and vaguely terrifying.

The tragic part about The Victory Lab is the specifics of how this all works is left vague and unclear. Issenberg lays out the history and how American politics has reached this point. The ubiquity of consumer data and the constant expansion of voter database information means that things are bound to change. Issenberg alludes to the fact that personal politics has eclipsed the mass politics, in a way reverting to democratic origins of the early republic and the 19th century.

The observations and some of the anecdotes are fascinating. The academics in the book are always looking at ways to squeeze out more turnout and figure out objectively what works best to bring people to the polls. However, the methods being employed now undermine consistency in politics. A campaign can freely speak out of both sides of its mouth. However, the strategy is for a more positive end for now, driving up turnout. One of the interesting things about the 2012 election is that the Obama campaign was able to turnout its supporters so effectively it distorted the composition of the certain states. Like old 19th century elections, it’s a numbers game again, so line up the men and make ‘em vote. Vote early, and vote often.

Ultimately though, the story Issenberg presents is merely a history and how campaigns have changed and how traditional thinking and posturing by pundits and “strategists” is terribly outdated. He makes a compelling case, but case studies are not fleshed out enough to connect it. This is a narrative, not a how-to. Issenberg points frequently to Donald Green and Alan Gerber and their book Get Out the Vote as more of a manual. Issenberg provides a fascinating overview of how American campaigns have changed, and how they will likely continue to evolve, but the relatively dry subject matter is really only for the most dedicated of reader on this topic.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Worth Reading - December 6, 2013

Apologies for the delay. I was on the road yesterday. After logging 600 km on the road, and getting up at 4 AM I did not trust my ability to articulately share interesting reads.

Michael Chong’s Reform Act is gaining significant momentum, and opposition. The Star updated us on the efforts to empower Members of Parliament and change how political parties operate. 

Chantal Hébert discusses the communications strategies being used by the Prime Minister’s Office on the Senate Scandal and how it reveals their tone deafness

Jon Lorinc might be the most interesting writer chronicling Toronto politics. In the Walrus he compares Rob Ford to Don Quixote

How increasing density would help decrease congestion in Toronto. One of the most interesting aspects of congestion/sprawl in the GTHA is that people cannot afford to live in the areas they want and therefore must move to the suburbs and must own a car. This is something that is definitely reflected in my personal experience. 

Martin Regg Cohn writes that an election is approaching for the province of Ontario. The NDP are doing well in the polls and are the only party that has supported the minority Liberal government. Expect the Wynne government to lose the budget vote in the spring, Cohn warns. 

Christopher Moore reviews a book analyzing Westminster parliaments in the Anglo-world. Moore’s review highlights to what extent Canada is an outlier

Worth Watching

Patrick Klepek, news editor at Giant Bomb, recently spoke at a TEDx talk about internet etiquette. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Defending the Reform Act

Michael Chong (CPC – Wellington-Halton Hills, ON) has sensed his moment and he has acted. The normally unassuming Member of Parliament in the Conservative backbenches is best known for his attempts to reform Parliament. At first he tried to tackle Question Period, but now it seems that he has set his eyes on something far larger.

Chong has plans to introduce a bill short titled the “Reform Act” which has the potential to fundamentally reshape political power in the House of Commons. Andrew Coyne is probably the most outspoken and well-known public intellectual who has heartily endorsed the plan, but individuals from all parties have come forward to lend support to the idea.

Andrew Coyne in the National Post eagerly endorsed the legislation as an important first step to restoring Parliament. The Reform Act has three central components: it would enshrine MPs ability to call a leadership review, it would allow caucus to decide whether or not an MP may sit among them, and candidates for election would not require the signature of the party leader to be a candidate. This is precisely the package of reforms I endorsed, and Andrew Coyne proposed in his speech “The Alarming State of Canadian Democracy” that I featured on this blog a few weeks ago.

It can hardly be surprising that I find a great deal of merit in this legislation. Though I have written about it in the past I will quickly say that re-establishing the MPs’ right to topple their leaders, control caucus collectively and win the support of their riding associations free from leader interference would go a long way to restoring the independence of MPs. I, unlike others, do not believe this will correct our democracy overnight, but I hope it will act as a course adjustment and create a greater public diversity of opinions and stronger, more influential Members of Parliament.

Not everyone is as enamoured with the proposal. Today Alice Funke’s analysis and calls for “Sober First Thought” has gained traction as chief critic. First, I’d like to say I greatly enjoy Funke’s work and have shared it on this blog, but I would like to take some time to deconstruct her argument.

Funke begins by suggesting that the mad rush to endorse the legislation that had not even been presented was foolhardy and showed the clear desperation of some for reform. I believe she has a point here. I was stunned at the mad rush of support that I witnessed. I think it is significant though because it reveals that this reform has an honest intellectual basis of support. As has been iterated many times, this is the practice in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. It is how a parliament is meant to function. The excitement around it also speaks to the desperation to staunch the bleeding. Clearly our politics and democracy is sick, even a cotton swap and bandage start to look like miracle cures.

Funke’s second line of argument is the formalization of caucus ousting leaders, “the Bill would formalize in legislation a party caucus’ ability to call for and effect a leadership review. I say formalize, because there is nothing in the law currently preventing party caucuses from doing this very thing now, and indeed they have done so frequently in our current system”. This is one of the great weaknesses in Canadian democracy. So much of our system is governed by convention and ritual that there are little formal restrictions on power. Prorogation is a perfect example. It is a common tool used in Britain, but rarely more than a day or two, but there are no “formalized” procedures for its use so there is nothing preventing a government for hypothetically proroguing for months and months.

Our traditions are so atrophied and weak that is only logical to formalize the conventions to restore them, and protect them from further loss. Yes, parties now could kick out their leaders, but there is limited ability in the party constitutions to do so. The recent examples Funke cites involve parties in opposition whose leaders are far weaker than sitting premiers or prime ministers.

Funke also raises the arguments that voters want cohesive party messages and not a disparate array of opinions. That makes sense, this would not, however, eliminate party discipline. In the UK it is not as though voters are unsure of the general positions of the Labour or Conservative Party. I would add that in our system we do not elect parties, but Members of Parliament. This may encourage a greater degree of scrutiny of those individuals.

My blog is running long and Funke had other points. I will endeavour to address some of the final points quickly.

Canada is a distinctly regional country. Burying our regional conflicts under the guise of a national party does little to correct or address them. Maybe it makes sense if all the British Columbian MPs, regardless of party, came together on an issue that affected them. This will change the nomination process and parties will have to be more careful, Funke argues. It seems to me parties are already pretty careful, even still, crazy candidates slip through and the public (thankfully) rarely elects them. Voters should be the safeguards of quality, not the central party. Local riding associations have a duty to put their best foot forward, let’s not let them off the hook.

What Alice Funke misses is that the legislation is meant to empower MPs and give them a weapon to use against the leadership. The leaders will still be able to run roughshod over the caucus, but there will be a consequence. Consider Mark Warawa’s (CPC – Langley, BC) efforts to speak out on a motion regarding abortion. The Prime Minister would be welcome to silence him, but the Conservatives would back Warawa might be far less inclined to support him, or if Warawa declared a challenge, back him.

The hope of reformers such as myself is that this legislation may restore the long-vanished backbones of our Members of Parliament. That the leaders will have to think carefully about whether or not they can afford to silence our democratically-elected representatives, and whether or not parties can survive a diversity of opinions. It works in other countries, and I desperately hope it will work here.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Worth Reading - November 28, 2013

Over time one of the ideas that I have come to embrace is that there were not such distinct, polarizing cultures between Canada and the United States, but several cultural regions. Basically, people in Chicago and Toronto have more in common than people in Toronto and Vancouver. This week the Atlantic Cities shared some studies of regional dialects in the United States, which I found quite interesting. Soda, pop or coke? 

The company responsible for the coal slurry now making its way through the Athabasca-Peace watershed is ordered to clean up the mess. Obviously the question is how much of the damage can be contained.

Another tidbit out of Brampton politics: The Brampton Guardian reports on how two city councillors spent their budgets. A significant portion seems to have been spent on personal expenses.

Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) has been trying to seize Jack Layton’s mantle. Brad Lavigne, recent author of “Building the Orange Wave” and former Layton advisor sets Trudeau straight

Related to the previous, Alice Funke reflects on what the by-election results from Monday might suggest about the future of cooperation

Another piece from Pundits’ Guide argues that despite the incumbent parties winning in the respective ridings, a great deal actually changed

Andrew Coyne in the National Post discusses this week’s by-election results and how it reveals a serious setback for Conservatives

With the release of documents from the RCMP investigation of the Duffy Affair there is little doubt that the Prime Minister knew more than he let on in his statements to Parliament and the public. 

This is a fascinating piece from New Socialist. I am unfamiliar with this group, but whatever. The author Todd Gordon takes a very nuanced and interesting analysis of Rob Ford’s base of support that you are unlikely to read elsewhere. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shallow Politics: Canadian Politics and Media

In the back of my mind on Tuesdays I am always thinking about what I am going to write. Sometimes the news of the day just doesn’t provide me with the materials I want to work with. Today I saw these tweets on Twitter from a Toronto-based journalist:

You can follow Ms. Csandy at @AshleyCsanady. I highly recommend it.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been pleased with our media, on balance. They have done a good job at holding our dysfunctional politics to some form of account. At least the grubs under the rock are being exposed and we have to deal with it.

However, our media and politics, one must admit, are burdened with an incredible shallowness. Before I take both out behind the metaphorical woodshed, I should add that the public may be largely to blame in this. Politicians and media are serving us, they do not perform this twisted theatre for their own amusement.

Media outlets are hungry for eyeballs, and politicians live and die on their ability to draw attention. These (should be) self-evident truths, but both groups have learned an important lesson in the modern era: emotion is more valuable than reason. I should probably couch that claim in that it is as old as the Age of Reason itself. Ironically we are re-learning it with disastrous consequences for public life.

I recently finished reading Sasha Issenberg’s book The Victory Lab. One of the key discoveries is that people seem to be rarely swayed from their political positions. Political campaigners used to believe that with the correct policies voters could be won over. From my understanding this was particularly prominent problem among the Democrats. However, people are not interested in marginal tax rates and infrastructure programs, they are interested in values. It is a more complicated concept than I explain in a paragraph, but basically emotional factors and whether or not a voter feels connected to a candidate has far more to do with a candidate’s likelihood of success than policy. Policy can reflect this values, but it seems the latter informs the former, rather than vice versa. This was famously captured in the “who would you rather have a beer with?” question. With fundamentally different approaches to foreign policy and the world voters were often more split on a question of personal comfort.

Combine this with realities of new (and old) media and you start to get a rather unsettling picture of what our public discourse may one day become. Consider Ms. Csanady’s tweets. If evening news programs decided to lead with the recently introduced Conservative crime omnibus bill and framed it as a dispassionate discussion of the impact of criminal charges to cable thieves (or another nail in our parliament’s coffin) I sincerely doubt many outside the hardest of political junkies would have stayed tuned in.

Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) is a strong embodiment of this problem to my opinion. His strong name recognition and (inexplicable to me) public appeal means that any story that features him would attract disproportionate part of the political-news audience. By invoking the name Jack Layton, a politician that many Canadians have at least a passing affection for, and setting Trudeau loyalists against New Democrats you have set the stage for meaningless conflict that has great appeal.

The Rob Ford saga presents a similar problem. Often elements of the story that were more salacious made headlines and grabbed attention. The lewd comment Ford made regarding an alleged incident of sexual harassment is a perfect example. In the very same interview Ford confessed to drinking and driving. A crime that most Canadians take very seriously, but because sex and the embarrassment of his wife was involved that was buried. It returned in the later coverage, but it is still an important symbol of what is valued in the current culture.

I sincerely doubt that the politicians from years gone by who we praise could survive in such an environment. The inability for only the most cursory of labels of issues to permeate and the inability for sustained discourse on issues of importance means that our public life is facing a breakdown. Democracy is dependent upon an informed electorate, yet our electorate cannot (or will not) make decisions based upon information. Post-modernists would point out that this fantasy of the rational citizen never really existed. Everyone is burdened with their own peculiar set of bias and dispositions; there is no dispassionate evaluation of policy choices.

Debates and elections are no longer battles of ideas, but battles of personality. In such a shallow measure it should not be surprising that those with more persona than sense rise to the top and those bookish politicians who prefer to concentrate languish in obscurity. As a trend it is hard to imagine it changing any time soon, if at all. There is rarely great thoughtfulness or eloquence in 140 characters or a 10 second sound-bite. In a system where power is often bestowed to he/she who can hold the spotlight longest is it any surprise things begin to look more and more like a circus? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Worth Reading – November 21, 2013

A lot in here about Rob Ford this week, but I feel the columnists have enough distance that they are starting to say something more interesting than a recitation of the day’s events.

From the Chronicle Herald, a former-politician reflects what the death of the Red Tories has meant for Canada

Andrew Coyne takes a crack at the Ford issue and suggests that short-sighted populism is the culprit for the Ford dilemma.

Andrew Coyne followed up with a piece calling for Ford to be removed from office

The Globe and Mail reported that Rob Ford was reduced to “mayor in name only” as his powers were stripped away by Toronto City Council. 

Mayor Susan Fennell of Brampton is facing mounting criticism over her office’s spending. City Council has ordered a forensic audit of her expenses. 

An interesting article from Hepburn of the Toronto Star, where he suggests that the scandals and crisis in Ottawa and Toronto may fuel greater democratic participation.  I really, really hope he’s right. I can imagine how it might encourage some to get involved, but I also assume an equal or larger number is turned off.

Students from Deninu School in Fort Resolution have been learning photography. Here is a selection of their work

Michael Den Tandt writes that Rob Ford’s appeal makes him incredibly difficult to deal with and a powerful and lasting force in Canadian politics. Basically, Ford has a huge mass appeal, which in a regulated political fundraising environment is critical to obtaining funds.

This is a great piece posted on Samara’s blog. A campaign volunteer for Linda McQuaid’s campaign in the Toronto Centre by-election speaks about being engaged in politics and dealing with stereotypes people have about her

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Faith in the Water

Through either experience or observation I have come to distrust the fossil fuel industry. It’s not that I think the people who work in fossil fuels are bad, but the track record of environmental catastrophes and damage to communities is troubling. My favourite documentary series to date is Gasland and Gasland Part 2 by filmmaker Josh Fox. His expertly produced film, putting a human face on the mismanagement of large fossil fuel companies and impotence of government to regulate them fairly well summarizes my concern about this industry.

The knee jerk dislike of so-called “big oil” is something that bothers me about myself because it feels like it is motivated more by emotion than hard fact. One of the things that concerned me about moving to the Northwest Territories was the focus on natural resource extraction here and in northern Alberta. I even casually checked to see if Fort McMurray was downriver from Fort Smith to see if the carcinogens that are produced there might appear in my adopted town’s drinking supply. I comforted myself, but I had misread the map. The water from there flows due north to where I am now.

An abandoned coal mine in northern Alberta suffered a breach and toxins/heavy metals are leaking from the site into the Athabasca River system. The Athabasca River flows into Lake Athabasca and from there north in the Slave River to the Great Slave Lake. The department of Municipal Affairs and Environment are monitoring the situation carefully. This could be one of those situations where ‘mercury levels four times above the regulated amount’ still would not harm a house cat, but it is still unnerving. I wonder if northerners and Canadians in general have disrespect for stewarding the environment because the vast, relatively pristine land surrounds us offers a false comfort.

The idea that it would be possible to poison or damage such a vast area is really difficult to imagine. Disasters such as the Deep Water Horizon causing the contamination of the Gulf of Mexico are basically unfathomable. The operations in western Canada are far less vast, but I am concerned sure dangers are involved we do not fully understand.

Reading northern newspapers it did not take me long to learn that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas was hot button issue. However it seems momentum has built behind those interested in pursuing fracking in the Sahtu region. It seems within the short future ConnocoPhillips will be drilling into the Sahtu’s shale layer, breaking it apart in pursuit of gas and in the end perhaps poisoning the water table as Josh Fox endlessly demonstrated in Gasland.

I do not know of many wealthy cities or countries built upon toxic land. The list of nations that have built a solid foundation upon a cesspool is brief. My fear is that jurisdictions are mortgaging their future for the short-term benefits. Substantial investment in local communities is attractive, but the extraction industry is not sustainable and it will vanish in time. While I write I saw this article pop up. Toxins from the coal mine have reached the Athabasca River. The old coal mine is not the same as fracking or the tar sands, but it is a powerful reminder that decades after these operations are abandoned they can still profoundly affect the regions left behind. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Worth Reading - November 14, 2013

Dear God, this week was as close to madness as one could reasonably expect when it comes to news coverage. The self-immolation of Rob Ford is as disturbing as it is fascinating. With that said though I constructed a list of OTHER stories that came out this week that may interest you.

This is a sleeper story that will bother anyone concerned with progressive urban development. Years ago the McGuinty government of Ontario set in place a Green Belt to control the sprawl of the 905 suburbs. However, according to this Toronto Star articles the measure has been entirely ineffective because the province refuses to enforce it. About a decade has been lost now and sprawl has produced worse urban form and cost billions of dollars.

Just before Remembrance Day David Frum wrote in the National Post on the important of forgotten or overlooked Canadian contributions in World War One. Frum posits that Canadian contributions may have ultimately been a greater cause of German collapse than the American entry.

A little bit of northern issues. According to the Arctic Institute neither Canada nor the United States are ready for an active Arctic shipping lane

Former Premier Bill Davis spoke at an event celebrating TVO, an institution he founded, and offered some pointers and harsh pointers for today’s provincial leaders

Brampton is finally beginning the Bovaird expansion of the Züm bus rapid transit program. I wish they had this up and running when I was still in the city, it would have easily cut 45 minutes from my commute.

From the Fort Smith based Northern Journal, Dene leaders in the Northwest Territories mark the anniversary of Idle No More

Also from the Northern Journal, Northwest Territories MLAs ignore changing electoral boundaries at the risk of a major court challenge. It’s interesting trying to offer representation in such a massive area.

From TVO’s The Agenda blog, the hypersexualization of girlhood

Samara had a great article this week about how to reinvigorate civic participation. Three cheers for these six ideas.... is that three cheers then, or eighteen cheers? ...

From 308 Blog, changes in polling numbers for the provincial parties means there is a great deal of uncertainty, particularly the surge in the ONDP numbers, bringing them to 31%. 

From Chantal Hébert of the Toronto Star, Trudeau is making rookie mistakes that create a bad contrast for Liberals between him and the NDP. 

Again, I talked about this video in my Tuesday post, but if you skipped over it I invite you to watch. Andrew Coyne offers a speech titled, “The Alarming State of Canadian Democracy”. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Coyne: The Alarming State of Canadian Democracy

A friend of mine had the distinct pleasure to attend the Merv Leitch Lecture at the University of Alberta. This year’s speaker was Andrew Coyne, oft cited journalist on this blog, from Post Media. With the possible exception of Steve Paikin, Andrew Coyne is my favourite journalist in Canadian media at the moment. This might sound distinctly odd for a person of the self-declared left such as myself, but I like smart people who make compelling arguments who disagree with me. I’m not sure if it’s the weight of arguments over time or my own political evolution that has seen my position reform, but I find we are more often than not in agreement.

Below is the YouTube video of his speech. The speech itself is about an hour when you skip the introduction and the audience questions.

One area where Mr. Coyne and I are in lock-step is the issue of democracy in Canada. The title of his speech was the “Alarming State of Canadian Democracy”. He lays out an impressive case. Evidence mounts that Canada is slipping towards a “largely ceremonial” parliament, and journalists feebly maintain any form of check on power, while politicians are long neutered. Is it alarmist? No, I don’t think so. Perhaps we are only a generation away from living in an illiberal democracy. I sincerely doubt that in Canada we’ll ever seen the jackboots in the street, or secret arrests or government monitors of telecommunications... okay I can imagine government monitors, but it’s the gradual erosion of ourselves as self-governing peoples that frightens me, to paraphrase Mr. Coyne.

He does not offer hope for his audience. There are no green shoots of promise to hold on to, but he does offer solutions. Most importantly he offers a first step.

As I have talked about previously in this blog, the tight reins of party leaders over their caucus is the ultimate albatross around the neck of our democracy. A first step to freeing up our democratic freedoms is to free up our Members of Parliament. Right now leaders hold a defacto veto over MPs because to run as a party’s candidate the leader must sign your nomination papers. Displease the leader and you may be blocked from seeking re-election.

Party nominations at the riding level should be determined by riding associations. This change would encourage grass-root activists and incentivize parties to strengthen them to ensure good candidates and a solid process in nominations. From this one action more reforms could flow. MPs could demand the right to be able to remove leaders from power, committee leaders could be selected by caucus, and the ambition of electoral reform might be all the easier to reach.

This won’t happen as things are though. MPs cannot, or will not, take the risk. Mr. Coyne concludes by saying it is only through public pressure will things change. In a polity that can barely raise interest on issues or war and peace, the environment, the budget, infrastructure and healthcare, how are we suppose to get people to care about this?

After watching Coyne’s speech I felt inspired and that it’s not enough to want change, you have to push for it. I started scribbling notes for a group called “Citizens for the Restoration of Parliament.” The group would have a simple aim, repair constitutional parliamentary democracy in Canada and help reverse the abuses.

Then the practical realities set in. I have more time than most, but I do not have the financial resources to start a “movement” such as that. Would anyone care over such a small issue, even if it matters so much? I leave it to my readers. I’d like to know if it is something they would get behind, though obviously I have only a vague idea how to execute it. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Worth Reading - November 7, 2013

Polls and events in Ontario might mean an election is on the horizon. Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) has attacked the ONDP, and it might mean a split in the opposition

David Akin, journalist with Sun News, writes in his blog about the media focus on the Liberals over the NDP. It is filtered through Brad Lavigne’s new book about the 2011 election. It definitely seems the case that the status quo of ignoring the NDP is strong.

The PMO is closing ranks around itself, so much so that it is not kicking out high profile members of its own party. Andrew Coyne suggests that these actions are creating more enemies

Hurray for our weak-mayor system! Even if Rob Ford hangs on as Toronto’s mayor the city council can contain him and govern the city. To be honest, it’s not as though they were following his leadership before.

My hometown of Brampton and neighbouring Mississauga has begun to confront serious budget constraints. I suspect we are seeing the fiscal issues the organization Strong Towns (http://www.strongtowns.org/) discusses, and the Ponzi scheme of growth.

Related to the above, a Globe and Mail article about the cost of sprawl

Emmet MacFarlane writes in the Globe and Mail that Rob Ford reveals a flaw in our democracy, the inability to impeach politicians

On a lighter note, the Washington Post writes about Ford in a satirical piece as though he was a politician in a banana republic, or developing nation.

Last week I shared something about the exceedingly generous compensation the mayor of Brampton gets. This week the Brampton Guardian breaks down the $800,000 spent by council

Brent Rathgeber (IND – Edmonton-St. Albert, AB) writes on his blog how the dismissal of the three Senators has been a terrible abuse of the rule of law

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ford, Wallin, Brazeau and Duffy: Satisfying the Mob

I am a pretty nerdy guy. This much is evident for regular readers of this blog. One of my favourite things to nerd-out on is history. Recently I have been reading about republicanism and the French Revolution. The French Revolution is definitely one of the more interesting chapters of human political history, in my opinion. One of the things that makes it interesting is the contrasts between it and the American Revolution which occurred short years before. One factor that existed in the French context that never materialized in the American was the importance of public opinion, commonly referred to as the mob.

Mob justice or the calls from the public for blood is as old as human society itself. I do not understand the anthropological/sociological reason why, but maliciousness and cruelty emerges from people when you put them in a group, disguise their individuality and confront them with controversy. Watching the fallout from Mayor Rob Ford’s revelations about drugs and alcohol to the world, literally, was paired against the discordant gleeful chirps, snarky comments and catcalls from the public galleries of radio, Facebook, Twitter and wherever else.

Anyone who reads what I have written about Rob Ford knows that I am no fan of the mayor of Canada’s largest city. I would never have voted for the man, nor have I supported him in office very often, but I take no pleasure in the public disgrace he now finds himself. I am embarrassed by Rob Ford as a person from the Greater Toronto Area. I think he makes my region, province and country look bad and that we deserve a substantially better caliber of mayor at city hall. I believe he should resign, but I cannot side with those that seem to take such heart in the man’s downfall, nor cheer while it happens.

When the news broke that Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were being suspended from the Senate without pay I was in first in favour of the action. However, as time passed I realized they were being pushed out to cover up the abuses that they and their party masters had participated in. The revelation by Senator Duffy definitely reinforced this perspective. However, when the Conservative government in the Senate made this motion I saw a live poll on CBC that suggested that over 60% of viewers wanted to see them turfed out.

For those who transgress against us we want to see them suffer. Bring them to the public guillotine where there bright lights and cameras hum and let’s see a little humiliation and suffering to satiate our anger. As I suggested this isn’t a recent phenomenon. Bev Oda’s, former Conservative MP for Durham, $16 orange juice pales in comparison to millions misspent by Treasury Board Secretary Tony Clement (CPC – Parry Sound-Muskoka) in his own riding that was earmarked for border improvements. But the abstract is less likely to rile up a mob than the concrete.

Everyone I mentioned I believe should have resigned and then be quietly allowed to exit public life (or sit as an MP, depending on their error). It’s the public reaction and the call for blood that I find difficult to stomach. Mike Duffy has a documented heart condition and it is understandable why he hid behind it once the storm began. It is ironic that with the massive number of professional and citizen journalists, media outlets, Twitter and bloggers that our discourse seems only able to focus on one story at a time. Why is that? I suppose an answer might be found back in that mob in the streets of Paris; despite the many peering eyes there can only be one speaker and the mob answers with the din of a single voice.

What do these public witch hunts (which has uncovered witches) communicate about public life? What member of the business, academic, intellectual elite would look at the events of the past week and embrace the chaos and thrust themselves into it? The optics are terrible. Ford and his supporters believe the man never had a chance and he was hounded by the media, destined to fail. Can anyone expect a fair trial in the court of public opinion? Once a story breaks opinions solidified and politicians forced to deal with the consequences, even if they are ultimately vindicated.

French Revolutionaries soon learned that the mob hungers for blood and that there is no true end. I wonder now if we are struck in a mob fueled by scandal and we eagerly ferret out the next controversy until someone gives. It seems an unhealthy way to run a democracy or a government regardless of the mob’s satisfaction. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Worth Reading - October 31, 2013

Happy Hallowe’en all! Hallowe’en is my favourite holiday on the calendar. I could go into detail extolling its virtues, but I have to write this in between dishing out candy.

I do not consider myself a teacher anymore. I work in education but I do not stand in front of children and run a classroom or impart wisdom. However, I still like reading about education and have opinions about what the system should be doing and look like. This article best described, I think, what I would like public education to look like. 

From poor Detroit, a forest is about to appear within it. A for-profit forest, strangely enough.

Toronto City Councillor Karen Stintz announces her intent to challenge Mayor Ford in the next election. 

This was a very interesting piece. Richard Reep suggests that the type of protests we have seen in the Middle East and urban conflict elsewhere in the world might be a new reaction to globalization he calls localism. He cited Marxist social analysis, so I was intrigued immediately.

Sad news from home, Brampton has a massive budget shortfall this year. Mayor Susan Fennell wants to make draconian cuts to transit to fill in the gap. City Councillors want her to start with her own budget.

The United Kingdom prorogues their parliament once a year, but it is used entirely differently than ours. 

Conservative support has dropped to the lowest point in years, suggesting that the Senate scandal is wearing down the Tories’ core support. 

If you need a synopsis of the Senate scandal Robert Fife does a good job here. It definitely helps that he initiated much of the reporting.

Premier Wynne of Ontario floats the idea of green transit bonds. If it meant better transit I could definitely imagine investing in them. Seems like a great way for passionate advocates to show support.

The city of Mississauga continues to lobby for its independence from the Region of Peel

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Our Teflon Prime Minister?

There is a certain beautiful irony that the same week the Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) revealed that his government had made significant progress towards a European trade deal that the Senate scandal reared its ugly head. Mr. Harper is in his seventh year as prime minister of Canada. The natural length that party leaders stay in power is about ten years, which means that like many politicians he is seeking to enshrine a lasting legacy.

According to Paul Well, reporter with Maclean’s Magazine and author of the new book about Stephen Harper, The Longer I’m Prime Minister, Mr. Harper wants to fundamentally change Canada. He has tried to make Canadians comfortable with the idea of a governing Conservative Party and stave off the return of the Liberals. Interestingly, if you look at Canada’s history you’d see long periods of Liberal governance punctuated by brief-to-decade-long stints of Conservatives/Progressive Conservatives. To many (especially Liberals) this is the natural order of things. Mr. Harper would like to permanently change that.

The Canadian-European Trade Agreement, if accepted, will be definitely one of the items Mr. Harper is credited for long after he leaves office. However, much like the last Conservative PM, his trade deal may well be passed but his party could be run off on a rail.

As every major news broadcast and newspaper is reporting, Senator Mike Duffy, Senator Pamela Wallin and Senator Patrick Brazeau are fighting tooth and nail against a motion in the Senate that would suspend them indefinitely without pay. In a last move of desperation they have, understandably, turned against their former masters in the Prime Minister’s Office and decided to attack. Unlike previous incidents where an errant MP had been kicked out, Mr. Duffy and the others are mired in scandal, and they have paperwork to pull down their former comrades.

This has been the news for over a week now. On Monday afternoon Senator Duffy publicly released documents that revealed that the Prime Minister misled the public/parliament about his knowledge and actions related to this scandal. Last week in my Worth Reading I cited an article my Chantal Hébert where she suggested the Harper leadership team is losing control of the caucus.

Now, this isn’t Great Britain or Australia and it is highly unlikely that Mr. Harper will be suddenly and unexpectedly removed from office, as Margaret Thatcher was. The next election is not expected until October of 2015, two years from today. Will the electorate’s rage simmer for that long? Will the Conservative’s popularity dip dangerously low?

Journalist David Akin tweeted this on Monday:

These numbers are incredible and reveal for the first time since Stephen Harper became their leader that they have polled third. It seems possible that the reek of the scandal has turned off enough voters to at least send them temporarily into the arms of the NDP and the Liberals. This type of scandal badly hurts Conservatives among their base. The NDP’s consistent message to abolish the Senate may be gaining traction.

I am too cautious to believe that this is the end of Prime Minister Harper. The man has weather scandals before, serious ones that challenge his credibility as a leader. This one is clearly a shot closer to home and more dangerous, but it is unlikely without a caucus revolt to send him out. Caucus could revolt, but with not obvious heir(s) apparent the Conservative MPs likely fear fracturing their party. For Canadian political nerds, we certainly are living in interesting times.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Worth Reading – October 24, 2013

A collection of articles to stimulate the brain:

Developing sound approaches to cities is quite tricky. One of the big problems is the “one size fits all” idea. This article talks about why it is so hard to apply one city’s success to another.  

From the Kingston, The Whig (a paper never featured here before), apparently democratic engagement leads to a better sense of well-being. I can definitely appreciate why some of this might be true. Winning victories and feeling like you have input in the process is empowering and probably offers a sense of control.

Aaron Renn is one of my favourite urban bloggers to read, but I rarely feature his stuff because of the narrow context he often writes in. However, this week he had a post about how cities are ignoring the needs of those with the least to cultivate the upper-class of global urban residents in Chicago. Basically, the notion is that Chicago is taking public funds and putting them towards the well-off rather than supplying basic services to the disadvantaged.

The next two are about the developing Senate scandal.  From the National Post, Mike Duffy’s speech to the Senate revealing Stephen Harper’s (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) involvement in the cover-up. I hesitate to offer “the truth” about this story. I am heavily biased and think there’s a certain Shakespearean justice at play here.

Chantal Hebert of the Toronto Star says that the story here is more than just the Senate. The missteps of the Conservatives in the last few months illustrates that the Prime Minister is losing control of his party. I do not know if I buy that. Frankly it is a narrative that Mme. Hebert has been selling for over a year. If Stephen Harper’s party collapses around him history will bear her to be right, I’m sure.

It is with profound jealousy that residents of the troubled cities of Toronto and Vancouver must look at their peers in Alberta. Calgary and Edmonton elected new mayors of exceptional high quality in their local elections this week

I believe I have expressed my fondness for Myers Briggs earlier. I recognize its shortcomings, but I find the study of human personalities and temperaments fascinating. Researchers conducted personality tests and found certain types more common in certain geographic areas. 

Touching on one of the previous articles, this commenter says that Toronto needs more than an anti-Ford candidate, or a strong mayor like Naheed Nenshi (Calgary) or Don Iveson (Edmonton), but wholesale change in the political culture there

Journalists discussing the merit and usefulness of pundits and whether or not it has perpetuated lazy journalism

Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) has convened 36 panels to discuss numerous issues confronting my home province. I like Premier Wynne, but I wish she would take some bold actions, such as on the transit file, and stop passing the buck for fear of losing her government.

The magnificent CGP Grey has a new YouTube video out explaining what is a country?

A tweet I came across today that I thought I’d share.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Canada After Natural Resources

It has been a busy day in Canadian politics. It seemed big stories trumped each other one after another. The Alberta local elections, the suspension of the Senators, and then Senator Mike Duffy’s speech in the Senate this afternoon which kicked up a new firestorm. It made for a distracting day, that’s for sure.

It’s my policy not to discuss really recent news if I can resist. The scandals that continue to rock the Senate are too fresh for me to offer any meaningful insight. I do have a topic I want to write on though.

I had a conversation today with someone about the federal parties. I shared my preference and he shared his, and offered an explanation as to why. He cited the comments Tom Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) made about the oil sands and proper pricing to include the pollution costs. The “Dutch disease” controversy, such as it was, gave this citizen a negative view of the NDP and he defended the West’s right to develop natural resources. Sadly for Ontario and Quebec he had the facts on his side that the natural resource sector was driving the Canadian economy.

The last point I couldn’t argue with. I have no intrinsic problem with the natural resources sector. Canada and her people should get whatever value we can out of our natural abundance. This is a particularly salient point here in the Northwest Territories. The entire economy of the NWT, as far as I can tell, is dependent upon the public sector and the natural resources industries. The shockingly obvious question is what happens to Canada when the market changes and these goods are no longer in such high demand, or, we run out. It’s as though our entire economy is predicated on very slow growing bubbles that no matter what we do are destined to pop.

It’s not as though we have not seen it before. Canada is littered with dead industry towns. The mine closed. The forestry moved on. The fishing quotas were imposed. The wells ran dry. I find it inexcusable that our entire economy should be driven towards industries that will ultimately cease to exist. I hate to sound like this type of lefty, but look at Europe, look at Japan. Japan has virtually no natural resources but has one of the world’s largest economies. Most of the European countries are also resource poor. Through a combination of manufacturing, and high services their economies are able to produce a very high standard of living. There is an asterisk there though, Norway has massive natural resource wealth from North Sea development.

I have not seen any obvious solutions. I am confident if there were any we would have heard them clearly articulated by now. It seems to me the big cities of Alberta have recognized that while the natural resources sector is very profitable it too may be fleeting. Therefore they have elected mayors who have promised to invest in their cities to improve the quality of life and turn natural resource wealth into a sustainable service and knowledge economy when it fades away.

In closing, I support the careful development of natural resources and stewarding them for the benefit of Canadians, but I would like to see some long-term thinking about what our country might look like when these resources are extinguished. Trying to predict and plan the economy is fraught with disaster, but more consideration for our ultimate destination is required at this juncture. We’re lucky that while our leaders in Ottawa preside over disaster some promising civic leaders are showing what can be.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Worth Reading – October 17, 2013

A few minutes ago I arrived back in Fort Smith from a brief trip to Yellowknife, the territory’s capital. I was there on a schedule so I did not get to do a lot of exploring, not to mention I was without a car so I traveled to most of my destinations by foot. Yellowknife is a city of about 20,000 people, which means roughly half of the people in NWT live there. The first thing that is apparent is that Yellowknife has a standard of living and quality of life very similar to cities in the south. The hotel I stayed at was beside a Tim Horton’s, a Mark’s Work Warehouse and a Wal-Mart. All the comforts of southern consumerism at my fingertips! I could have been in any small city in Ontario in the winter. It was -2 when I got off the plane. I also ate at a Vietnamese restaurant last night, which is not something I’m sure most readers from south of 60 think they can do here.

Here is a somewhat truncated list of what I thought was cool that I read this week.

I have been working on my own fiction this week, and it helps me to hear what other creative people are doing. Listening to a podcast someone mentioned this blog post. In it the author speculates what sort of minimum population you need to sustain modern life with all the amenities and services. It’s not at all scientific, but it is fascinating to think about the complexity and interconnectness of modern life.

In Tuesday’s post I referenced mega-projects and how the public is much more hesitant of ambitious government plans. The Atlantic Cities defends mega-projects here

Kady O’Malley, legendary Canadian politics tweeter/reporter, writes on some of the... issues with the Conservative response to a judge’s ruling on robocalls

This isn’t exactly timely, but it definitely is interesting. It is fascinating how different the political cultures of Quebec and English Canada are. The Charter of Values is a perfect encapsulation of this. Here is an explanation for how the Charter makes sense in Quebec

I’m not sure of the long-term impact of this, but on the face of it, I am very excited about the federal Tory’s plan to let Canadians pick and pay for individual channels. Let the revolution begin!

Jonathan Kay looks at the chaos in Washington D.C. and argues that perhaps it is a good thing so many backbenchers are spineless worms. Ok, that was strong... can’t say I want to edit it though...

In the crazy-Northern-story file, a man in the Yukon may have shot the largest moose EVER

This came to me courtesy of a friend on Facebook, ironically enough. It is about annoying Facebook statuses. Normally I wouldn’t post something like this, but increasingly I think a conversation will develop around social media/digital etiquette. Frankly, I cannot wait.