Thursday, October 27, 2016

Worth Reading - October 27, 2016

Apologies for missing my usual Tuesday post. I came down with a fever that knocked me out of commission for the last two days. 

From the Toronto Star, millennials want to engage in politics, but parties and politicians won't talk to them

Nine new Senators were named this week further transforming the upper chamber into... whatever it will become. 

The province of Ontario announced funding for new universities in Milton and Brampton

How the Scarborough LRT fell in favour of the subway. 

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario nominated a candidate for the Niagara West-Glanbrook riding. They chose a 19-year-old student over a veteran MP. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Worth Reading - October 21, 2016

Apologies for being late, between a cold that won't leave me alone, poor sleep, and work I didn't have it in me on Thursday night to put it together. On the plus side, there are a lot of great articles below. 

This piece on Kim's Convenience highlights the need for greater diversity in Canadian media. Oddly, it's a show like Degrassi that best shows New Canada, to my opinion, in recent years.

Strong Towns, whose praises I sing often, recently had a week dedicated to biking. They put together this list of all their articles. I will highlight a couple that caught my eye below.

Gracen Johnson writes about her experiences entering the biking sphere

Another Canadian contributor wrote about how riding a bicycle made her more aware of life in her city and local concerns/issues. 

How to make a city more bike-friendly for $0

A Chicagoland case study of the Housing Crash of the 2000s

Politco reports that Donald Trump's chances in the electoral college are narrowing

Canadian reporter Daniel Dale has been following the Trump campaign. Notably he reports the numbers of falsehoods/lies he says every day. In this article he shares what he has learned

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 2016 Election and the Duty to Represent

Over the last couple of weeks it is hard to watch the American election and not feel like at the presidential level (at least) there has been terrible failing of their system. Polling broadly suggests that both parties, somehow, managed to nominate the least liked candidates in their history. It's as though they wanted to see what a LBJ vs. Nixon match up would look like in 1976, though those comparisons are far too charitable.

When I think of the Americans I know I have a hard time seeing them in either of the candidates purporting to represent them. Obviously there is a difference of degrees here. Clinton's checkered past as a career politician, as was recently written in the Huffington Post, is likely exacerbated by the fact that she is the first woman to run for president. I think that's a simple excuse and more could probably be gleaned from the long public life and her husband's presidency. Clearly, by far and away, it is the Republicans who have disappointed their electorate.

Conservatives and critics of the Obama administration have valid opinions that should be voiced in the public sphere without being subsumed by sexual assault allegations and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. The transformation of the Republican Party over the decades has left a growing segment of the electorate without a coherent voice. That all said, I have written previously that Donald Trump is clearly speaking for a segment of the American public and those who dismiss them do so at their own peril.

Perhaps as America becomes a majority minority nation one must consider if the two-party system still serves them well. Previously there were strong factions within the parties, i.e. moderate New England Republicans, Dixiecrats, etc. While on a national level the parties were not necessarily consistent the local variation allowed for political competition to a certain extent. With a diversifying population and interests it is hard to imagine that two parties can successfully encompass them all. For instance, on a political compass calculator Hillary Clinton is considered a right-of-centre politician. Yet the Democrats have to find a way to bring in the most left-wing element of the country within that tent.

How different would America look today if they used a different electoral system? What if they used a run-off system, like France? The country as a whole could choose rather than a slim slice of voters in primaries/caucuses. What if they had a parliamentary system? Would a Socialist Party under Bernie Sanders, and Green Party be prepped to form a coalition with centrist Democrats under Clinton while the Trumpists, Tea Party and Republicans are pushed to the opposition?

In a sense political parties have no obligation to anyone but themselves. Yet in a two-party system the static nature makes their failures a much greater risk. As much as I hope 2016 is an abject lesson to the parties in America I fear it will be one more point on their downward trend.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Worth Reading - October 13, 2016

Martin Regg Cohn goes to bat for Jagmeet Singh to lead the federal NDP

Desmond Cole argues that body cameras are useless if there are not tools to hold officers accountable. 

Jerry Horwarth refuses to say "Indian" as Toronto and Cleveland face off in the MLB playoffs. 

Brampton City Council rejects electoral reform, to my deep and abiding frustration. 

Johnny Sanphillippo writes about suburban transit in California

Another from Cohn, he calls on the Ontario government to intervene in Toronto's housing market

The federal Liberals have backed the plan to build a liquid natural gas pipeline in British Columbia. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Carbon Taxes and Federal-Provincial Relations

Earlier this month Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to introduce a federal carbon tax to be implemented by 2018. The federal government has been negotiating and pressuring the provinces to take a concerted, meaningful effort at reducing CO2 emissions. A number of provincial governments have taken steps independently before the federal election to curb emissions. British Columbia has been a leader, but Alberta, Ontario and Quebec have also laid out plans for or implemented carbon pricing or cap and trade.

Unsurprisingly there are a number of provinces crying foul over the 'unilateral' decision of the federal government. Saskatchewan's Premier Brad Wall, a key opponent from the outset, has objected to the imposition, but protest has also come from Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal government and Nova Scotia

The plan is that the federal government will impose a $10 per tonne carbon tax in jurisdictions that have neither a cap and trade plan or a carbon tax of their own in 2018. British Columbia has a price of $30 per tonne at the moment. For those concerned about the impact on the economy it might be valuable to point out that British Columbia has the strongest economy in the country at the moment. The money collected in each province will be returned to the province, meaning that there is no transfer of wealth from the provinces to the federal government. The tax, that is to say, is not punitive.

The plan is seen my many climate change advocates as a positive development, if not going far enough in their opinion. However, the plan and the reaction to it may illustrate more of the inherent frustrations of the Canadian system. In Canada the provinces wield significant powers, yet it seems logical for the federal government to take the leadership on an issue such as climate change. In an ideal world the provinces would come up with effective strategies tailored to their unique circumstances, but many seem content to sit on their hands. The federal approach may be just enough carrot and stick to pressure the provinces to act.

I will admit that climate change is an issue that I am not passionate about. I worry about it, but I also concerned about our ability to switch over to a carbon neutral approach. That said, this has been a long time coming, and I hope this approach helps to bend the curve on our emissions and bring on a new era for Canada.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Worth Reading - October 6, 2016

Samara Canada is seeking nominations for its Everyday Political Citizen contest

The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform is seeking public input in a simple survey

Desmond Cole writes about policing in Toronto

The strange zoning conflict in Brampton over a big blue house continues

Another Brampton zoning issue, the Ontario Municipal Board has approved development of a massive mall complex in Northwest Brampton

Ashley Csanady writes about the viral video of a Toronto woman giving water to pigs misunderstood best practices and government regulation. 

Steve Paikin asks if the fall of the Liberals in the polls in Ontario means that the NDP can make an advance

Paikin also recently wrote about a good problem that the Progressive Conservatives have

Human Transit writes that Uber is not just seeking to undermine the taxi industry, but also public transit

My former boss, and great guy, Brent Kaulback is retiring. He contributed a great deal to education in the Northwest Territories, I know my former colleagues and the communities will miss him greatly. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book Review: Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire

For the last six weeks or so I have been working through Roméo Dallaire's account of the Rwandan genocide and civil war. I was a very young child at the time of the genocide, so I do not myself have any memories of the event. Even if I was capable of it I wonder if word of the massacres entered my world. One of the key problems was that the world largely ignored what was happening in the small African country in the Great Lakes region. Did my parents hear on the radio or on the nightly news what was happening on the other side of the world? I do not know when I first learned about Rwanda. I assume it was at school, tied to my learning around the Holocaust and other genocides. Most of my preconceived notions likely (to my embarrassment) to the film Hotel Rwanda and the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Reading this book I came to understand that I knew virtually nothing.

I assume that most people assume the Rwandan genocide was a simple inter-ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. This is a dramatic oversimplification. Rwanda was a Belgian colony. The Belgians elevated one group, the Tutsis, over the Hutus. In the 1950s the Hutu majority pushed for greater political power. Civil unrest broke out, the Tutsi were pushed out of power. Reprisals occurred and the hundreds of thousands of Tutsis fled the country. This led to the formation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the 1980s. The RPF was a combination of Tutsi and Hutus who opposed the government in Kigali. The situation gets complicated here. In short, the RPF was on the verge of victory. The French backed the government forces, the Belgians were suspected of backing the RPF. The President of Tanzania helped to negotiate a truce and working agreement between the forces which came to be known as the Arusha Accord. The United Nations peacekeeping force was part of the agreement, which is how UNAMIR and Dallaire ended up in Rwanda.

The book opens with Dallaire's personal biography. It explores how a French-Canadian navigated the politics of the Canadian Army. Dallaire comes off as a capable, dedicated, and a problem-solver. In many ways he seemed like an ideal candidate to lead the UN mission. Dallaire entered Rwanda optimistic, naive and enthusiastic, by his own admission. The UN force was undermined from the very beginning. They had insufficient manpower, insufficient resources, and insufficient support from the local elite or the UN Security Council. Reading the early chapters a is a struggle between optimism and dread. As a reader you know where this is building to, but Dallaire lays out numerous scenarios that could have reconciled the factions and averted genocide. The existing government, moderate parties, extremist Hutus, and the RPF could not come to an agreement and establish a coalition interim government. Racist Hutu rhetoric stepped up dramatically during the period of political gridlock.

Dallaire does little to point fingers are particular people or factions. When he does it is more an acknowledge of how failures or stubbornness precluded a peaceful resolution. Growing tensions exploded with the assassination of President Habyarimana of the established government. It seems likely that Habyarimana was killed by hardliners of his own party. His assassination was depicted as a Tutsi plot. Racist Hutu militias (Interahamwe) began targeting and executing moderate politicians. From there the genocide spiraled.

My exceedingly brief description covers about the first third of the book. Dallaire does an excellent job laying out the political and military situation in Rwanda. Though he sometimes slips into excessive acronyms there is a glossary at the back for terms and important figures. The book drips with the tortured life of a man who had to stand by helplessly and oversee the worst genocide of the post-Cold War period. Dallaire shines a gruesome light on the horror of what happened. It does not feel exploitative, but a simple summary of a fraction of the trauma he experienced.

We are still experiencing the fallout of the Rwandan genocide. When western powers did intervene they bungled it and only exacerbated elements of the crisis. Dallaire sees blood on the hands of the United States and France in particular. Shake Hands with the Devil tells a much fuller story than is likely popularly known. This was a troubling and highly informative read. Since I began reading it I have found myself rethinking our attitudes about peacekeeping, Africa and conflict. This book should be mandatory reading for Canadian policymakers, and those interesting in peacekeeping operations.