Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Public Sphere and the Confederate Flag

Yesterday while driving through Brampton I stopped at a light and beside me was a man in a pick-up truck with a Confederate battle flag draped over the rear window of his cab. My anger was perhaps only surpassed by my disappointment. Let's leave aside the fact that he clearly obscured his own vision endangering himself and others. It seems unlikely to me that this man, who appeared to be a white man in his late twenties or thirties, was from the American South, but even still it is a remarkably strange symbol to spot in suburban Ontario. I'd like to say it's the first time I've seen such a thing, but Confederate window decals and bumper stickers are oddly common in the province of Ontario.

The Confederate Battle Flag, not the 'official flag' of the Confederacy

Why is there such an attraction to another dead country's flag? It seems highly unlikely to me that these individuals are making common cause with the defence of states' rights. The only association that seems to make any sense to me then is cultural. The Confederate battle flag is, charitably, associated with the American South and white Protestants, but it seems more likely that it is associated with rural values including God and guns. But that's really not the whole story and everyone knows it.

It is difficult to imagine that those who put the Confederate battle flag on their vehicles, or homes or persons are not entirely aware of the racist history behind it and endorse that perspective. Even if they do not they are still culpable. As the expression goes, ignorance is no defence.

Across Canada I've seen people with provincial flags or national flags on their vehicles. It's a clear symbol of pride and identity. If these individuals associate with the American South I have to question why the state flags don't adorn their vehicles. Three answers come to mind: the American state flags are pretty god awful in some circumstances and the battle flag is simple, bold design; the Confederate battle flag is a recognized symbol for that region; they willingly and purposefully take on the meaning.

In society we have a duty to our fellow human beings to smooth out our rough edges, to be polite and thoughtful. Driving around a city with a growing population of black Canadians and non-whites with a Confederate battle flag seems a fairly prominent way to declare your opinion that 'those people' do not belong. That being said, I still believe it is a person's right to purchase and display whatever flag they like. The issue currently in the United States has to do with the display of the Confederate battle flag at state capitals and on the state flag (Mississippi). This seems a simple answer to an outsider like me that for the sake of reconciliation and empathy for the African-American citizens that these flags should be pulled down and replaced.

The freedom of speech and freedom of expression are matched with a duty to be thoughtful, responsible and compassionate. The state should not aim to silence anyone, but I would hope that one day someone would tell that man in the pick-up that his flag might represent the values of the American South, but also its heritage, which includes slavery, wanton abuse and murder, lynchings, marginalization, oppression and a kind of human suffering and indignity that one can scarcely imagine.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Worth Reading - June 25, 2015

For a change of pace it's a bit heavy on culture and media this week. 

This first one is about video games. You'll hear people say that the current method of video game and film production makes it easier than ever, especially with crowdsourcing. Here is the story of Tale of Tales and their struggle to put out their passion project, which failed despite making it to market

Bad news from the NWT, the population had the biggest one-year drop in over a decade this year. 

Maclean's offers a bold piece - Star Wars sucks

I really liked this one, from Screen Crush, the idea of 'turning off your brain' is bad for movies and the consumer and leading to worse films.  

From the New York Times, looking at the tragedy of Charleston in the frame of the Obama Presidency

Brampton's LRT has stirred significant controversy for whether or not it will harm the hertiage district. In response Code Red TO wrote a piece about LRTs in cities hundreds or thousands of years old

In a sign that Canadian politics is about to get worse, Justin Ling writes about the rise of Super PACs in Canadian politics. These are third parties raising unregulated money to run partisan ads.

Here is a really interesting article about why it can be so difficult to talk about issues of race with white people

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fifth Anniversary of the Orange Tory

June 22, 2015 marked the fifth anniversary of this blogging project. Five years is a long time to do anything and so I am somewhat shocked to discover that somehow five years has passed. As always I want to give special thanks to my readers. When I began this process I imagined I would be writing mostly for myself, and occasionally my friends who like politics and current events. Somehow though the audience for my blog has grown considerably and I hope that those out there reading it get something meaningful out of it. June is on track to be the most pageviews, if Blogger is to be trusted, that I have ever received.

As for what might be coming soon to the blog, I am currently reading two books that I plan to review and post sometime in the next couple of months: Protecting Canadian Democracy by Serge Joyal and Nation Maker by Richard Gwyn. In Brampton I have been following the Hurontario-Main LRT debate and I have been thinking of how I might want to write about that topic. Also coming up is a post about the Canadian Senate and I think I have a novel approach on how to go about it. As readers have no doubt noticed more and more attention has been directed towards the upcoming federal election, assumed to be set for October 2015. It's likely that I will be taking an active role in the campaign that is to come, however I hope to keep my blogging alive and well during that time.

During the next campaign I hope that this platform can provide more in-depth examination of the local races and candidates. The national discussion will be readily accessible and the local news is what I fear will be lost. Brampton will have five federal races and there will be dozens more  in the area around it. I am debating trying to interview candidates, but given my expressed partisan preferences I sincerely doubt that that will be practical. What might be interesting is writing about what it is like inside a campaign, something most citizens never experience.

Aside from the above I can only give scant ideas of what the next year might look like for the Orange Tory. I am in a moment of transition in my life and so I cannot say if a year from now where I'll be living or what I might be doing and how that might impact this project. I am always interested in feedback so please feel free to comment of send me a tweet @SLee_OT on Twitter. Thank you to the friends and supporters who have been so valuable in this process and I hope the fifth year stands above all the rest.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Worth Reading - June 18, 2015

Aaron Wherry writes that the 2011-2015 Parliament should perhaps be named the Lamented Parliament but (cautiously) suggests that things may improve in light of our national despair

Paul Well at Maclean's lays out Justin Trudeau's announced platform for reforms to Canada's Parliament, elections, etc. 

Chantal Hébert writes that the focus on parliamentary and democratic reform will hurt the Conservatives going ahead. 

John Ralston Saul says that the Truth and Reconciliation's report is the last chance for the country to get things right with indigenous Canadians. I sadly disagree, if this moment passes another will return in a generation, but the best time to start addressing these issues was decades ago not decades from now.

Mallory Andrews in the Dissolve writes about the tenth anniversary of Revenge of the Sith, nostalgia,trauma and what the new Star Wars films have to try to balance. 

A Liberal candidate in Nova Scotia resigned his candidacy when the Liberal Party supported Bill C-51. I have been hearing a lot of chatter about how Liberals hate what the party did on C-51 and here is some tangible evidence.

In the Ottawa Citizen Peter Loewen writes on how Mulcair may become Prime Minister. Likewise, a similar piece was in the Globe and Mail, link here

The Immigration Minister made some embarrassingly racist and then ignorant comments, Paul Wells takes him to school

This articles explores the intersection of transit and gentrification. Better transportation lets people access markets and connect the hottest job markets with people who can afford to live in those markets.

The Hill Times writes that the Conservative Party is having real trouble attracting star candidates to replace the number of high profile ministers they have lost over this parliament. 

Finally, Emmett MacFarlane wrote a series of tweets criticizing the elected leadership of our House of Commons. Definitely worth considering. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A New Flag for Ontario?

This year two of Canada's flags mark their fiftieth birthdays. The most prominent is, of course, the national flag, the red maple leaf. However, as the Red Ensign was lowered in Ottawa and across the country and replaced with the red maple leaf it rose somewhere else. Until 1960s Ontario did not have an official flag. There was significant resistance to replacing the Red Ensign so Premier Robarts of Ontario decided to adopt it as Ontario's flag and replaced the Canadian coat of arms with the Ontario one. Thus the flag of Ontario was born. Steve Paikin outlined the history of Ontario's flag here

Ontario's Red Ensign

Last week in the Worth Reading I included an article by Martin Regg Cohn suggesting the merits of replacing Ontario's flag. As Cohn put it, "Today, that flag flies in the face of our diversity - its design unheralded, its anniversary unmarked, its inspiration utterly unoriginal. Like our flagging monarchy and segregated schools for Catholics, it is an anachronism that defines Ontario's political culture of inertia." I am not so hard on Ontario's Red Ensign, but the knowledge that its origins comes something more out of reactionary spite than proud tradition certainly dampens what few warm sentiments I may have had towards it at one time.

I assume that the main objection that Mr. Cohn has about the Ontario Red Ensign is that it is overtly British. Let's leave aside the question of whether or not the Union Jack should be on our provincial flag, is the Ontario flag a good flag? The North American Vexillological Association has five simple principles of flag design.

1. Keep it Simple - The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.

2. Use Meaningful Symbolism - The flag's images, colours, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.

3. Use 2 or 3 Basic Colours - Limit the number of colours on the flag to three which contrast well and come from the standard colour set.

4. No Lettering or Seals - Never use writing or any kind or an organization's seal.

5. Be Distinctive or Be Related - Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

Canada's National and Provincial Flags, note Ontario and Manitoba's Red Ensigns

Ontario's Red Ensign fails four of these five criteria. No child could draw it from memory, it contains several colours, and its sole distinguishing feature is the inclusion of the seal of Ontario. The worst though, in my opinion is that it is not distinctive. Looking at a picture of all of Canada's flags it takes a careful eye to not mix up Manitoba and Ontario. Canada is fortunate in that many of our provincial flags are quite beautiful and distinctive. Newfoundland and Labrador (and the separate Labrador flag), Saskatchewan and Nunavut's flags are all very appealing, in my opinion, and even New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia, despite being overly complex, are unique and unlikely to be confused for something else.

A more serious flag debate is taking place in NewZealand. New Zealand's flag is not too different from Ontario's in conception, but worse still, it is very similar to Australia's. For decades there has been pressure to swap the Kiwi flag for something more appropriate. A binding referendum is planned for 2015 and 2016. New Zealand's process may provide a handy guide if Ontario chooses to replace its own flag. A panel of New Zealanders were assembled to select four of the best candidates for flag replacements, submitted by anyone. The public will vote this winter on which of the four they prefer and in April the question will be asked which flag should be the national flag going forward.

When I first considered writing about this I thought the idea of replacing Ontario's flag was silly, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. I was once asked by a friend from Alberta if there was such a thing as an Ontarian identity. I'm sure the lack of easy symbols doesn't help. Perhaps a new flag more representative and pleasing could forge a more cohesive identity. Looking online people already have some ideas, usually incorporating the provincial flower, the trillium. Obviously there are bigger problems facing the province, but there always will be, just like Canada in 1965, but I doubt few today would object to the change once made.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Worth Reading - June 11, 2015

Michael Den Tandt writes up the Auditor General's report on the Senate expenses. He recommends we burn down the Senate, so clearly it's not as bad as it seems. 

This article is a familiar one, a college professor is concerned if modern liberals have become too focused with silencing speech and put a chill in the halls of academia. Putting that aside I though the author made a really interesting point that modern social justice/progressive critics would rather examine the latest Avengers film for gender bias rather than discuss meaningful social problems, like unemployment. That point alone made it worth sharing.

Aaron Wherry reports on an undercovered issues inside Bill C-59. The Conservatives have inserted a clause to escape a Access to Information violation and court case. Another sad commentary on our parliament.

After too many years of delay the Premier of Ontario has announced a plan to expand the Ontario legislature by 15 seats along the same lines the federal government did after the 2018 provincial election. I am concerned about this, especially for how disproportionate seats will be in 2018.

It is curious that many of Harper's most prominent appointees to the Senate are also those with the greatest violations in the Senate scandal. Chantal Hébert writes about the connection here

As we get closer to breaking ground on the Hurontario LRT in Brampton and Mississauga opposition is mounting. Some of the alternative ideas are absolutely ridiculous.

Picking up from Paikin a few weeks ago Martin Regg Cohn argues that its time to replace Ontario's flag with something that better fits its modern identity

Finally, enjoy this piece of satire from the National Post mocking the boycott of Tim Horton's

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Getting to Truth and Reconciliation

Recently the Truth and Reconciliation Commission completed its work as part of the settlement for residential schools. Over six years and thousands of statements they released their reports detailing 94 recommendations to help heal the rift in Canadian society between Natives and Newcomers and the damage done to Aboriginal communities. You can read the 94 recommendations here

The report was met by many institutions with open arms. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, representing local governments across Canada, committed to achieving the recommendations. However where the greatest responsibility falls there has been much less commitment. The federal government has expressed no desire to work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to address the recommendations put forward by the commission. As Chantal Hébert reported, this is not unusual. Federal governments for decades have worked to shirk responsibility towards Aboriginal people following similar reports. 

Many of the recommendations are understandable and straightforward. Several can be clustered under the idea that the Commission wants people to know how Aboriginal's lives differ from their peers. For example, they recommended monitoring how many children were removed for protective care compared to non-Aboriginal children or to track funding to ensure equity between Aboriginal students on and off reserve and compared to non-Aboriginal students.

Working in the Northwest Territories I got to see the legacy of residential schools up close. The Government of the Northwest Territories is far from perfect but they have put a concerted effort into addressing these concerns. Given the composition of the population it is much more at the forefront of people's minds than here in the south. A year ago the Department of Education wanted to implement a junior kindergarten program. The program had a wide range of issues, which was reported in the media, but one issue was raised that my colleagues and I didn't think of. Community leaders and elders told us that they were taking the children too young and it worried them. JK means children as young as three-and-a-half would be in the schools and it struck a nerve and old memories of residential school.

It is easy to think that residential school is something off the past. The grainy black and white photos with the sombre faces and bleak environments certainly give a haunting image, but the last residential school closed in the 1990s and a great number of Aboriginal adults in this country had some exposure to them. Factor in the intergenerational impact. The culture around education is marred by residential schools and my former colleagues worked tirelessly to compensate for that.

But the Northwest Territories is not the rest of Canada. Far too often people in this country ask why Aboriginal people just can't "get over it" and challenge why their tax dollars should go towards supporting their welfare. I find it difficult to answer these questions calmly. A cultural genocide was inflicted upon a people and yet we feel more comfortable debating language than discussing how damage can be repaired.

As the next federal election this commission and its recommendations should not just be a question for candidates in areas with substantial indigenous populations but every riding across the country. Until Canadians and our representatives feel an obligation, a kinship and a partnership with Aboriginal Canadians than the process will always flicker out in the wake of more pressing matters for the majority, that's the truth.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Worth Reading - June 4, 2015

From the Guardian in the UK, what is the job of a MP? Is constituency work overburdening Members of Parliament

The Ontario government announced plans last week to introduce legislation to allow all municipalities the option of using ranked ballots. I filed this one firmly under "good news".

I referenced this one in my post on Tuesday, but once again here is Andrew Coyne on Peter MacKay's career in public life

If you'd like something different Maclean's has a longer piece about MacKay's career, again, it's hardly glowing

Peter Loewen is obviously a fan of this blog as his piece about allowing politicians to make mistakes, such as Deborah Drever and Elizabeth May, parallels mine from two weeks ago quite nicely. Loewen makes the argument well and it's topic we'll have to wrestle with even more in the future.

You may never have heard of Jenni Byrne but she is one of the most powerful women in Canadian politics. She is in charge of the Conservatives election campaign for 2015.

From City Lab, a man who has drawn his own massive fictional city over decades. I can't say I'm not a little envious.

The National Post asks, does the Senate have a death wish? I would counter, can it be killed?

Eric Grenier has a piece about how the recent rise in the NDP's fortunes differs from previous ones. 

Paul Wells at Maclean's writes about Trudeau's declining inevitability

Finally, Alice Funke looks how the Harper Conservatives could use their resources and changes to election laws to "out-election" their opponents

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

No More Peter MacKays

Peter MacKay is not a household name in this country. He is part of a coterie of bland politicians who have been a part of the federal Conservative government for nearly a decade but their particulars often escapes those except for the most diehard. As I thought about the announced departure of Mr. MacKay (CPC - Central Nova, NS) I realized what a pleasant surprise this is.

I don't suppose Mr. MacKay is a bad man (hardly a ringing endorsement) but his checkered past is indicative of a kind of politics which, if nothing else, is deeply discouraging. Many writers have offered their summation of MacKay's career. None of the ones I have read are particularly flattering and most are highly critical.

Mr. MacKay has never been man of significant talent. He was elected as an MP after his father retired from the riding of Central Nova. Indeed sometimes the scions of politicians surpass their elders and achieve greatness. At best MacKay can be said to have achieved mediocrity despite holding a number of significant roles. In the early 2000s he became leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He won the leadership by committing to a leadership rival that he would not merge the party with the Canadian Alliance. In short order he broke that promise.

Until the recent defection of Danielle Smith to Jim Prentice's Progressive Conservatives in Alberta there may not be any such clear political betrayal in Canadian politics of a leader to their members. Over the years the anger and dissolution of the PC faithful has died out, but many of them defected to the Liberal Party in due course or have had an unhappy time in the Conservative Party more generally. Given how much stronger the Alliance was than the PCs the merger has been interpreted by some as more of a hostile takeover. MacKay did not challenge Stephen Harper (CPC - Calgary Southwest, AB) to be leader, who easily won in 2004.

When Stephen Harper came to power in 2006 he owed a great deal to Peter MacKay, the man who dissolved a political institution for personal gain. Since 2006, despite having no governing experience or obvious talent for the positions, MacKay has always held prominent ministerial portfolios. Harper over the years has seemed to be clear that he didn't trust MacKay to handle anything complicated and moved him to quieter files until he bungled them.

I may sound harsh, but it should be remembered that this was the man responsible for the F-35 file (whose spending is radically out of control and the government has repeatedly obfuscated the true costs) and abused his power of Minister of Defence to use a helicopter for personal use. Here I would recommend Andrew Coyne's article on MacKay's various ministerial posts

Then add in the fact that MacKay has been responsible for some very tasteless comments over the years. As a member of the cabinet he has been one of the many talking points-driven automatons, avoiding even simple accountability on questions like veterans services. He was the Justice Minister during the introduction of much of the horrible so-called tough on crime legislation. Add in his stumbling over comments about women, such as his explanations about why women don't become judges and that moms pack lunches while fathers shape minds and MacKay presents a kind of leader few should follow and even less should emulate. 

My criticism of MacKay is simple. He sacrificed, or abandoned, the noble aspects of politics: loyalty, values, and principles for petty gains, prestige and to abuse power. When people criticize politicians and say they're all the same and beneath their contempt I imagine the careers of men like Mr. MacKay go a long way to shaping that perception.

But while MacKay has ended his career as an undistinguished minister who brought very little to national life, it is important to remember that there was a very real alternative set of events. Eric Grenier has written this very entertaining piece about a hypothetical election in 2003. If nothing else it shows the value of having competent, credible and thoughtful women and men, people of character in our politics. In the future we must try to do better.