Thursday, September 22, 2016

Worth Reading - September 22, 2016

Hello readers, I am on vacation next week so no posts next Tuesday or Thursday. See you again in October!

I think about how struggling cities can turn things around a lot. This interview of Paul Stewart of Oswego Renaissance brought up some interesting ideas. 

The National Post asks, after a year in power are the Liberals that different from the Conservatives

The Globe and Mail is reporting on a study that says overqualified workers often lack basic skills..... 

Somewhat related to the above, from the Onion, Man Just Waiting Tables Until Fundamental Structure of the US Economy Changes

Vice asked people with 'useless' sounding degrees if they regret their choices

John Ivison casts his cynicism towards the electoral town halls being hosted across the country. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quick Thoughts: Canada and the United Nations

It has been a long and busy day, so I am keeping things brief tonight.

Well before Prime Minister Trudeau dashed off to New York to speak at the United Nations I have been pondering over Canada’s role within and with the UN. The UN seemed a critical negotiation space and battleground during the Cold War and in its wake the utility of the institution seemed to wane. Often times it feels like the UN is the hindrance to the right thing rather than the catalyst.

I have recently been reading Shake Hands with the Devil about the Rwandan genocide. In so many ways it is testament to the power of the UN and peacekeeping when done effectively. Equally it explores how broken the United Nations is as an institution. There is a fundamental conflict in that those who wish to engage in global affairs must deal with the bureaucratic and troubling UN. I have no idealism invested in that institution, but as a small nation going it alone we hardly could have the kind of impact we could if we worked within the UN’s umbrella. Also, it would not be surprising to learn of squandered manpower and wealth on pointless infighting and waste.

Our current Prime Minister has uttered platitudes suggesting Canada is prepared to engage more actively in the United Nations. At this point I am cautiously optimistic. Canada, and countries of our ilk, cannot hide behind our wealth and security and ignore the world. I hope to have more thoughts on this topic once I finish the book and have more time to explore the idea. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Worth Reading - September 15, 2016

I had more to add but if I delay any further it'll be tomorrow!

The federal and provincial governments are contributing funds to research flood mitigation in Brampton, which may go towards a "Riverwalk" project

Esquire writes that Trump has paved the way for tyranny if not under him, than a future candidate. 

An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen suggests that Tom Mulcair is the only one who can lead the NDP in the wake of the recent leadership machination. 

Ashley Csanady writes about the distressing world of digital communications among children. 

Is Justin Trudeau a fake feminist

Why aren't the Ontario Liberals more popular 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Ontario Liberals Could Hold on in 2018

In Ontario, it seems to me the Liberals are set to keep winning until their opposition offers a credible alternative to the Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West) government. That statement, I believe, sums up the current state of Ontario provincial politics.

Why is this the case? Steve Paikin recently wrote an article asking the question 'why aren't the Liberals more popular?' I think it was an accidentally provocative question. Many who follow Ontario politics closely have little love for the Ontario Liberals. As Paikin points out, even the areas where the government is getting things right are overshadowed by larger controversies, or issues of mismanagement.

What about the polls? They would suggest that I am out of touch entirely with my assertion. Here is Eric Grenier's breakdown for Ontario. As you can see the Progressive Conservatives are in the lead in the ~40% range, the Liberals are around the 30% range and the New Democrats are sitting in the low-to-mid 20% range. When there is no decision on the line it has been easy for Ontario voters to express their displeasure by drifting towards the opposition parties. This was the case in the lead up to the 2011 and 2014 provincial elections. Both of which, I will note, resulted in Liberal victories.

I think these numbers are very soft. When asked to pick a party the entire dynamic could shift. I asked Eric Grenier if there was any information about how well Ontarians know their provincial leaders. He responded that looking at those who were undecided on their performance was a hint. Patrick Brown (PCPO - Simcoe North) was at 49.3% and Andrea Horwath (ONDP - Hamilton Centre) was at 38%. The real issue, as near as I can tell is that neither opposition party is offering a real alternative to the Liberals. If Mr. Grenier's guess is correct fully half of Ontarians do not know the Leader of the Opposition, or the head of the third party who has been in place since 2009. The governing party remains in place partly by casting the alternatives as radical, ill-prepared, untested, or all three.

I have many issues with the Liberal Party of Ontario. I grew up in part in Dalton McGuinty's Ontario which is what led me become a New Democrat. But, the Liberals are a centrist, pragmatic party that plays politics for its votes in a way that appears crass, but ultimately works (see the Scarborough Subway or Mississauga Gas Plants). I don't think there is a hunger to go back to the Mike Harris days of cuts and discord in the public service and Bob Rae's tenure may have poisoned the well for New Democrats far longer than feared. Likewise the Liberals are buoyed by a popular federal leader who was recently swept to power in part due to a strong showing in Ontario. A strong organization remains on the ground with a network of activists and donors. The base is strongly motivated by fears of the right and fears of the left.

As far as I can tell, a plurality, perhaps a majority, of Ontarians badly want to end the Liberal government for their mismanagement, corruption and long term in office but basically maintain the majority of their policy platform. However, offering Liberal-Light is unlikely to inspire any opposition's base or draw voters substantially away from Wynne. If a leader could inspire confidence among voters the Liberal ship could sink. Nothing is certain in politics, but in my estimation, despite what polls say or recent by-election results, I wouldn't bet against Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in 2018 yet. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Worth Reading - September 8, 2016

Chuck Marohn takes a look at the American elections and talks about the short-sightedness of the 'infrastructure crisis'. 

Johnny Sanphillippo writes about all the subsidies that go in to support the $700000 homes on the edge

Brampton's City Hall is staggering after the City Manager laid off twenty-five managers and key staff in city government. 

Peter Criscione reports that city hall is in a confused state after the mass firings

Steve Paikin writes about the possible fallout from the Progressive Conservative victory in the Scarborough-Rouge River by-election. 

Paikin also has another piece about why predictions of a Progressive Conservative defeat in Scarborough were wrong. 

From the Boston Globe, is the era of two-hour movie over

Adam Radwanski wrote an extensive piece on Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister's chief advisor 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How We View Ourselves

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast and the people on the episode discussed a very familiar concept. They were talking about how the fact that our government, politicians and we ourselves see ourselves as consumers and how it has shaped us. I've heard this line of thinking before. Most people who are left-of-centre have heard, and to some degree, agree with the "I'm a citizen, not a consumer" slogan. For a period at least, and seemingly into the present, that is a minority held opinion.

However, this tired cliché transformed as this person unpacked the idea. I wish I could remember where I heard the interview, even money say Strong Towns. Here's the basics. We are all consumers, but we are also all citizens (for the most part), and nearly all of us are workers. We can be easily subdivided into the major categories that make up life, but the priorities of one cohort of society is radically different to another. There are some very easy examples. As a consumer I wanted the lowest cost goods of a reasonable quality. This set of values leads to all sorts of policy and economic decisions. Basically the end logical conclusion are massive box stores or retailers like Amazon. They exchange service for price and expediency. They also trade away reasonable wages, domestic manufacturing and other potential ideals. As a worker first, or primary worker-based mindset I come to different conclusions. I start to see my interests now in the prices of the bulk, poorly-manufactured goods on the shelves, but with my fellow workers. I understand that their plight is inexorably linked to my own. In this equation there is only one Walton family, there are plenty of Wal-Mart greeters, and I know which group I am closer to. There is more to consider than the bottom line... isn't there?

From the consumer mindset I want maximum control over my own resources. Low taxes, low fees, and a small government fit within that rationale. Government can be efficient, but even still it is rarely cheap. A vague sense of collective responsibility falls to the wayside when measured against one's own towering self-interest.

In a world before we were all consumers there was a certain rationality to how we could and did look at society. Look at farmers. This bizarre subset, neither worker nor capitalist, is squeezed out by our collective interests. What do I care about agriculture? I want my share of suburbia and they charge too much for their vegetables anyway. Advocates used to speak on behalf of different factions within society and did not need to be part of a special coalition, task force or interest group.

The examples, I am confident, are endless. Perhaps one to end on is civic identity. Within North America (and I'm sure in some quarters still) one's neighbourhood and town/city was a major source of pride. Boosterism described the unmoored optimism about people's hometown. Perhaps the symptom is more acute in the 'burbs, but I know few who care about their hometowns. They live wherever they could afford it, or happen to work nearby. There is often a vague support, but only if it comes with no sacrifice. They don't know their mayor, or councillor or local issues. 

These identities and which one holds primacy shapes how we perceive the world and what values we manifest. Acting out of our consumer interest certainly is valid, but as it has become predominant and overriding I cannot help but wonder what has been cast aside, and if it will ever be restored.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Worth Reading - September 1, 2016

CGP Gray has put out a video explaining, in part, where traffic jams come from. I want to quibble with the details/solutions, but *shrug*. 

Patrick Brown flip-flopped, sort of, on sex education in Ontario. I wrote about this on Tuesday, but it's worth checking out this summary article.

Patrick Klepek writes about the backlash against No Man's Sky following its release

Strong Towns take a look at suburban poverty through the case study of Lehigh Acres, Florida

Edward Keenan questions how long Mayor Tory can continue to sit in the middle of every Toronto issue

Polls close in minutes for the by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River. Earl Washburn lays out the background here

Peel District School Board will be implementing gender-neutral washrooms in its high schools starting this school year.