Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Stories of 2014

Reflecting back on the previous 12 months it is easy to focus on the negative. The nature of the news is to report tragedy, conflict and controversy. The events that shaped this past year will undoubtedly have a a tremendous impact on years to come.

#10 Airline Tragedies

Three high-profile airplane crashes in 2014 drew the attention of the wold. The mystery of the disappearance of the Malaysian Air flight somewhere in Indian Ocean was the topic of rampant speculation. The shooting down of another Malaysian Air flight in eastern Ukraine drew the conflict in that country to other countries.

#9 Scottish Referendum

There was a time this year when people wondered if the United Kingdom had a future and whether or not it would be plunged into constitutional crisis. To be clear, just avoiding Scottish independence does not mean that questions about the country's future has been settled. This story is definitely ongoing.

#8 Shake-ups in Alberta Politics

In the course of the year Alison Redford became a scandal-ridden premier, resigned as party leader, was replaced by Jim Prentice and then, THEN, the leader of the Official Opposition joined the governing party. Alberta politics has been accused of being exceptionally boring, not this year!

#7 Ontario Municipal Elections

Rob Ford. His banishment from the mayoral office has relieved many Torontonians of the embarrassment of his tenure. John Tory will use his mandate to, hopefully, advance Toronto and the GTHA's interest. There are many new leaders across Ontario, including in Mississauga where Hazel McCallion retired and Brampton where Susan Fennell was kicked out. Change was in the air and will have impacts in the years to come.

#6 Fair Elections Act

Sigh. It spawned an intellectual and political upheaval. This story ranks so highly because the changes will impact an election scheduled for 2015. It's possible we will see more complaints and more voting issues. Fraud is a legitimate risk moving into 2015. The public, media and election officials will have to be vigilant.

#5 Quebec and Ontario's Provincial Elections

Quebec elected a new Liberal (federalist) government and Ontarians (reluctantly?) re-elected a Liberal government. The federalist government in Quebec takes the risk of separatism off the table for a time, again. Ontario's voters made an unusual choice in re-electing the government promising more spending and taxes. The fallout for the Progressive Conservatives and ONDP have shaped provincial politics, municipal and federal politics since.

#4 Feminism and Women

The cultural conversation about women, equality, gender and discrimination continued this year. More and more I see this conversation in the mainstream. Frustratingly it feels like for every step forward it's sometimes two steps back, but a number of news items, such as "Gamergate" and Jian Ghomeshi shows that these issues are cropping up in all sorts of places and being met critically and thoughtfully.

#3 Race Relations in the United States (and elsewhere)

Ferguson. For some people they will never forget the name of Ferguson, Missouri. It has shined a blinding light on police violence and militarization, race relations, equal justice and some of the issues at the heart of America's communities. Canadians should take a pause before feeling high and mighty. Issues in our cities, minority communities, and among Aboriginal Canadians echo the experience to the south. 

#2 Ukrainian-Russian Conflict

This was something I didn't expect to see again. A great power invaded a neighbouring country for territorial gain. The chaos in Ukraine, the human suffering and the threat of wider war has raised fears unknown in many ways since the Cold War. I hope this does not portend a trend for geopolitics or will be repeated in 2015.


ISIS exploded on the international scene this year. The revolutionary ideology of that movement threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East. The draw of radicalists around the world has caused renewed concerns in local terrorist actions that had died down in recent years. The sympathizers' attacks against soldiers and Parliament in this country was a sharp, sad moment for the entire country.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CdnPoli Twas the Night Before Christmas

Happy holidays, I hope everyone is able to enjoy the upcoming break. Normally I try to write something seasonally appropriate for my last post before Christmas. This year in my travels I strung together a few parody lines for the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem for Canadian politics and decided to see if I could finish the rest. I hope you like it, take care. 

Twas the week before Christmas, and quiet in the House
Politicians were back in their ridings, home with their spouse.
The next election was less than a year away   
But they worried not and in their ridings they did stay.

The citizens ignored the politics for their own sake
And tried to enjoy their all-too-brief break.
Round the dinner table politics was banned
Until too much to drink had passions fanned.

The pollsters and consultants were all snug in their beds,
While visions of campaigns and controversy danced in their heads.
The media panels met one more time to recap
And name the year’s winners and also the saps.

Canadians everywhere would take the time to gather,
Discuss what matters, working themselves into a lather.
But “Canadians don’t care” was often the quote,
Citing the evidence of the declining vote.

The glow of the T.V. and news of the year
Filled the heart with fondness, anger and fear.
On the screen for all to see were our servants and pols,
But most of us were too busy, shopping at malls.

The cynics and nerds declared with great passion and fear,
“I wish that everyone would pay attention next year.”
The stalwarts and hacks worked and made plans
Ready to war against the other parties’ clans.

Mayors, councillors, MPs and Minister,
All politicians both honest and sinister,
Will be held to account by the public at large,
For that is the citizen’s duty and ours to discharge.

Democracy, it is said, is the greatest gift,
But citizens must work to stop it going adrift.
Sickness at the heart of our nations sources of power
Will be the soil for a democratic revival to flower.

One does not have to be Prime Minister to make the world change,
It starts with caring and taking part in the exchange.
There is a simple truth, for all to know, and an absolute fact,
The people have power and can make change when they act.

Happy holidays to all, and keep your democracy aflame,
It means more than which party and politician to blame.
There is far more to see than scandals and brawl
Our system should be the voice for us all.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Worth Reading - December 18, 2014

Reading over the articles below it becomes quite clear there is a great deal going on politically in this country even if most of its citizens are rushing around preparing for the holidays. Let's get started. 

Sean Marshall, whose website I featured in last week's post, has an interesting piece suggesting that the results in Wards 1 and 2 may offer something hopeful

I am sure it is a common enough experience to be sitting somewhere and people start swapping (bad) medical advice, often inspired from something on TV. Vox has a piece discussing the value of advice from television doctors, ex. Dr. Oz. Ready yourself for those discussions with family.

I missed when this story broke due to work but I could not believe it when I read it. Danielle Smith (PCAA - Highwood) abandoned her own Wildrose Party, WHICH SHE WAS LEADING, crossed the floor, and joined with the Progressive Conservative government. Madness,

Lately it has been a lot of bad news for New Democrats. This piece perked me up and reminded me of my own feelings about both the Conservative Party and the NDP. Ethan Rabidoux writes why he has jumped from the Tories to the Dippers.  

A piece was published in The Economist defending the suburbs, here a writer dismantles their argument

Someone on Twitter commented on this article that it was nice to see that Calgary can make boneheaded decisions too. The National Post's take on Calgary's horrendous policy history on second units. 

Former Senator Hugh Segal writes on the ongoing leadership troubles for the Manitoba NDP and whether or not they fit with the constitutional framework of the country.

A report states that Ontario's Greenbelt faces major challenges going forward if it is going to fulfill its mission to protect farmland and water.

A federal New Democrat is planning to run for the provincial Liberals in a by-election in Sudbury. Here is Steve Paikin's take and a fuller story from the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reining in Uber

The unregulated taxi-cab market has exploded over the last few years. The most prominent, Uber, has been since engulfed in controversy. Initially the controversy was over the legality of these unregulated app-based cab services. I remember the harsh penalties imposed on unlicensed cabbies driving university students home while I was a student, and while some municipalities have tried to stamp out these companies none have had any meaningful success.

As opposed to the people trying to earn a few dollars by shuttling intoxicated undergrads home companies such as Uber are protected as multi-billion dollar companies who can hide behind their apps and cater to a more affluent crowd than those in the unlicensed cab space. I’ll let the class implications of that one speak for itself.

While Uber is joined increasingly by competitors such as Lift it remains the frontrunner, but its status might soon be threatened by a number of internal scandals and public relations disasters.

The most extreme case is at least two incidents where Uber drivers have been accused of raping female passengers, one in Chicago and another in New Delhi. Uber has been blamed for improperly screening its drivers and given the nature of Uber’s service makes these crimes more possible compared to traditional cabs. As an app Uber has a great deal of personal information about its clients. At a private party Uber executives “joked” about using their data to embarrass journalists opposed to their business practices. This is the terrifying part of the privacy-less tech revolution - that someone might use it against us.

Couple with this that Uber’s employment strategies might cast the company in an even worse light. First Uber has been taking a greater share of its drivers’ revenue. According to a recent episode of “This is Only a Test”, the podcast of Tested.com, it was stated that Uber now charges drivers 35% of their fare. Worst still, Uber is aggressively marketing predatory loans, subprime loans to its drivers. Not long after news surfaced of a student loan program seemingly designed to fleece students/drivers. Uber seems to have quickly bridged the gap between feisty upstart and predatory corporation in record time.

Uber and its cohort proved that major innovation was and is desired in the taxi-cab market. However, Uber’s behaviour justifies the existence of these regulations. Clearly municipal governments should examine the pricing structures used by taxi companies to ensure greater flexibility in the market. On the other hand the immoral and unethical behaviour of Uber demonstrates that the state has a role in protecting its citizens as employees and customers.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Worth Reading - December 12, 2014

Apologies for the delay, I did not have the time yesterday to finish this. I hope it was worth the wait.

MP Craig Scott (NDP – Toronto-Danforth, ON) has a piece in Maclean’s outlining the proportional representation position of the NDP

From the Brampton Guardian, Peel has selected a new regional chair and will confronta long list of issues.

From the Economist, why is the price of oil falling

CBC’s That National had a conversation about white privilege. It’s great to see this discussion on national media.

Copenhagen is considering building artificial islands to create new neighbourhoods, but the idea is not without controversy. 

An interesting piece that compares military spending in Canada and Australia. Summary: Australia is kicking our butts.

John Ivison has had the chance to meet some of the Liberal candidates in 2015. His impression is that despite the talent they might have they seem to have limited mission

Sean Marshall has been posting really great maps from the Toronto election. Check them out at his new website

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sinking Oil

Noted Canadian historian Harold Innis spoke of the long legacy of Canadians as the hewers of wood and drawers of water; dependent upon the staple economies. In the centuries after European settlement began it is remarkable how little that has changed. Despite industrialization and the development of the knowledge economy it still seems like Canada is a county built upon its natural resources.

In the last decade or so the strength of the Canadian economy has been built upon fossil fuels. The tar sands boom, the Hibernia fields off of Newfoundland and the growth in Saskatchewan are all tied to the opportunity tied to the high-cost energy market. As many of you may have noted the price of oil (and therefore gasoline) has declined lately. While consumers might cheer the relief on their pocket books it comes at a price.

Several Canadian provinces are dependent upon the energy economy, especially their governments who use it as a major source of revenue. Royalties from resource extraction will be down and there have been reports of the multi-billion dollar shortfall Alberta is expecting. Here in the Northwest Territories it means there will be a decline in development given the high costs and lower price.

It is important to note that the world’s energy economy has adapted to the $80+/barrel economy. While Canada will struggle the impact on other countries could be dramatic and dangerous. Discovery’s Test Tube channel recently discussed the impact here: 

In developing and fragile economies unrest and instability is entirely possible.

From my brief research it seems that increased production in the Middle East and North Africa and declining demand in Europe and Asia the price for oil has tipped lower. Canadian oil is generally expensive and cannot compete well below $70/barrel.

Despite critics of Canada’s petro-economy the simple fact is that it forms the current backbone. As wise and necessary as it is to move on and diversity our economy we’re not there yet and nothing competes with its profitability. The interesting this is that this price dive has shown how big a part of our economy the fossil fuel industry is. Its decline has caused sharp dives in the Toronto Stock Exchange.

A strange part of this is that it reveals we have more in common with other petro-nations than we might like. As a result I hope it proves to government officials the need to move away from the boom and bust oil economy and find something more sustainable for the nation’s economy. Relying on the golden goose is marvelous as long as it’s fat, happy and laying eggs, but we cannot control when it will ultimately stop, and it will inevitably stop. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Worth Reading - December 4, 2014

John McGrath on TVO's blog writes about reforming Toronto's City Council. Should elections be reformed? Should the number of councillors increase? Decrease? Would that impact the debate at City Hall?

Martin Regg Cohn writes in the Toronto Star that Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West) and Mayor John Tory are aligned politically and should usher an era of more peaceful relations. I'm of the opinion that there are institutional difficulties between Queen's Park and City Hall that means things may continue to be difficult.

The Last of Us is a video game that I very badly want to spend some time playing, but I do not own a Playstation 3 or 4. This article discusses how realistic the fungal zombie-style outbreak is presented in the game's universe.

This is an article about the transformation of Chicago's economy and its impact on its transit system. It's a really interesting idea that the modes of the economy shape transit usage and distribution.Chicago and Toronto share a lot of DNA so I'm sure much could be applied to the other.

Women are woefully under-represented in our legislative bodies. Obviously there are barrier to women getting elected, but Scott Gillmore asks if women should shoulder more responsibility for their absence and intervene.

Edward Keenan wrote a scathing piece in the Toronto Star suggesting that Mayor John Tory has already abandoned his commitment to unite the city. Mr. Tory has named his team and has excluded the progressive members of Council. I think Mr. Keenan is being too hard on the new mayor. I am happy to give him his honeymoon period for a while longer.

The NDP put forward a motion in the House of Commons on mixed-member proportional representation this week.This issue ranks as one of my passions so I was pleased to see the NDP's position made clear here.

Marcus Gee in the Globe and Mail writes on the suburban transit development around Toronto. I think Gee might be a tad too optimistic, but the construction and development is encouraging.

From NOW Toronto, Jonathan Goldsbie writes about Toronto's City Council's race problem. While the piece is about Toronto it be applied to many other contexts.

Desmond Cole travelled to Ferguson, Missouri to cover the stories there for the Walrus. Check them out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pushing Against the Sea and Fighting for Change

The twelfth century ruler of England, Denmark and Norway, King Cnut, stepped out onto the beach and commanded the waves not to rise. But the tide rolled in and wet his feet and in that moment he proved to his flattering courtiers that kings cannot bend the elements and the power of God. Though the story is perhaps apocryphal it is illustrative of not just of the limitations of our rulers, but the power of human beings to shape events.

I am writing this because lately I feel like I have lost a bit of hope that change can occur. The power of incumbency over interesting and dynamic challengers, the broad populace’s disengagement and apathy, and our political institutions’ inability to deal with a myriad of complex issues in sophisticated ways is... uninspiring.

To me, and I’m sure others, the idea of making positive change can seem so insurmountable. Perhaps most distressing is that it isn’t just global issues that seem out of reach, but international issues, national issues and sometimes even local issues. How much can we each do to make a difference that counts? I accept the position that each of us making changes can have cumulative effects that will improve our communities but sometimes it’s not about cutting down on water waste or recycling, it’s about urban design, or making our economy fairer or helping to lift people out of bad circumstances.

Ignorance might be bliss because soon as you start to recognize the greater causes of our socio-cultural and economic issues the challenges become so much more daunting. I have been going down this mental path lately because I have been thinking about the issues confronting the Northwest Territories. A couple of weeks ago I participated in a budget consultation with the territorial government with members of the community of Fort Smith. Minister Michael Miltenberger (MLA – Thebacha) painted a somewhat bleak future for the Northwest Territories: the territory is too dependent upon government, the big mines only have a few years left, the territory has overwhelming infrastructure problems/needs, climate change is having a growing impact and the traditional way of life is facing extinction. How to approach these problems and put the territory on a positive path is a difficult set of questions to address.

But it’s not just the North. I could say similar things about my hometown in Ontario: how does the city sustain itself and transform out of being ‘just a suburb’, how will it pay for extensive infrastructure costs, can transit be developed to serve the city, will the people allow the city to evolve and become more urban, will Canadian multiculturalism evolve and develop to ensure everyone feels welcome, how will we reduce growing poverty in the city, will affordability ensure no one gets pushed out or gets excluded? These are just some of the issues confronting one city none of which a single person can do much about, at least so it seems. I am confident a similar list could be made for nearly every community in Canada, big or small, regardless of geography.

What I am trying to articulate is the conflict between the desire to make change against the frustration of the status quo (or decline) and pessimism that things can change. One of the few things that gives me hope is that I see evidence here and there of people who are making a meaningful difference: people I know who have stood for office, people who are activists, people who are journalists, people who are writers and thinkers and advocates. I see them and I believe the work they are doing is doing good and I want to take part. Ultimately I suppose that’s what fueled this blog as a project but I find more and more that I want to make a bigger contribution and I am not sure how to do that, whether it’s working for an organization whose mission I believe in, starting my own business/organization, becoming more involved in my community, or getting more involved in politics – or some combination. Frustration is natural, change is not uniform nor in a single direction, I’m just trying to find the right place to push against the water.