Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 in Review

It is a tremendous understatement to say that 2017 was an unusual year. For most people in Canada I'm sure it was a relatively normal block of time. People carried on their usual lives, marching through the seasons of their life one day at a time. However, I think current events likely intruded on people's lives more than they often did in the past.

Last year as 2016 came to an end it was hard not to feel like the world was in a bad place. It is difficult to articulate, or summarize the feelings. Thinking back I feel the word might be dangerous, or unstable. As the year went on it was easy to feel uneasy as a person paying attention to the news of the world. Any number of natural or manmade disasters were present to hurt the confidence one might have in the future. Admittedly, I am a pretty cynical person so I'm sure those who reflect on 2016 as a wonderful time.

In contrast 2017 has felt quite different to me. It has felt like a time where we have bounced from crisis to crisis. Sometimes they are relatively minor ones, little embarrassments or missteps by governments, people, or corporations, but far too often they threatened something far larger. I'm sure most people reading this would naturally draw connections to the White House and the terrible year the United States has had, but it is easy to look to Europe, Asia, and elsewhere and feel worried for the future. Good news doesn't feel like victories, more like narrow avoidance of deeper defeats. The French and German elections, as an example, raised as many doubts as they salved. The chaos going on between Catalonia and Spain is worrying.

Within Canada things continue to go on fairly well. Sometimes when I think of Canada I cannot help that we are some real-life equivalent of the Shire: a tiny protected enclave in a world being consumed in disorder. We can blissfully ignore it for the most part, though we are under threat her as well at the forces present around the world. I think some incidents and reporting indicates we have to be aware that we are not immune from extremism and violence here either.

Within the country I'm not sure if it is disingenuous to say I've been disappointed by Justin Trudeau and his government because I never had high hopes for his government. The abandonment or betrayal of key promises and general mismanagement of some files has me questioning basic competence on more than one occasion. While the Liberals continue to poll well I have real questions on whether or not the voting coalition that elected them remains held together. Canadian politics will be shaped by key decision made this year, principally I mean the election of Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh to lead the Conservatives and NDP respectively. Barring unforeseen events these three men will lead the contest to form government in 2019.

Closer to home Ontario has struggled politically. Kathleen Wynne leads a tired, and unpopular Liberal government, but Ontarians have proven wary of change before. Ontarians, whether they like it or now, have spent the year in an election season. Next year is also the date for the next set of municipal elections, which will have important consequences for the people of this province. It will also provide some content for this blog.

Speaking of the blog, 2017 was not an easy year to keep writing. I addressed this directly in a post this year. I've considered hanging up my keyboard a couple of times. I know some people truly enjoy this blog and appreciate the time and effort I put into it. However, the last year (and couple of years before that) have been difficult and finding the motivation to write has been very challenging at times.

The human spirit relies on hope and a basic sense of optimism more than a cynical person like me probably naturally assumes. To have hope snuffed out is a very difficult thing, be that personal, local, national or international. With that said, I pray that 2018 is a more hopeful year. That light outshines the darkness and elevates us all as people rather than driving us into darkness in fear and despair. Individual actions make a difference, even more so when organized into group strength.

Thank you for reading in 2017 and my best wishes to you and yours for the coming year.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Worth Reading - December 21, 2017

Good evening everyone, apologies for missing the Tuesday post. I often suffer from insomnia. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I only for a few hours of sleep. Writing something on top of my schedule can often be a challenge. By the time I thought it could be done it was nearly time to write this.

Justin Trudeau violated conflict of interests rules according to the Ethics Commissioner. 

Tom Mulcair will resign from the House of Commons next year. 

What the next Ontario election could mean for commuters and transit users. 

A man who tried to save others at the Quebec mosque shooting is struggling as a result of his injuries

Ontario NDP leader criticizes her rivals as we enter the election season in this province. 

Toronto opened an extension on its busiest subway line. 

As we head towards next year's municipal elections, figures like John Tory are going to be under greater scrutiny. Edward Keenan offers his take on the Mayor of Toronto. 

Finally CGP Grey put out a video about how machines learn

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Worth Reading - December 14, 2017

I wrote a review about Godless this week, here is The Atlantic's take on what the show says about America. 

An artificial intelligence helped NASA detect another exoplanet

Emmett Macfarlane offers his take on the newest appointment to Canada's Supreme Court

In a decision that defies reason and raises questions about conflicts of interests, Brampton Council voted to purchase a private, money-losing golf course

Kurzgesagt created a video to explain Universal Basic Income

The Liberals won three of four by-elections this week federally. 

There was some controversy when Patreon announced changes to its payment model. Brent Knepper writes about who Patreon benefits

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

TV Review: Godless

Netflix recently released a seven episode limited series titled Godless. The mini-series is set in the 1880s in the New Mexico Territory. The desert southwest provides a bleak, stark backdrop for the characters and drama that unfolds. The show is an ensemble cast with powerful performances being put in by many.

The show concerns several different characters as their stories dive and intertwine with another. Primarily the story is about Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell) and Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels). Griffin is a brutal outlaw, beautifully and complexly portrayed by Daniels as a
disturbing religious figure. He masks his villain in false piety and presents himself as a preacher to gain the trust and acceptance of the people he encounters. Goode was his protégé, companion and a member of his gang until the two had a falling out. Now Griffin hunts for Goode across the Territory leaving bloodshed and terror wherever he goes.

The other major component of the story is the village of La Belle. This tiny community is centred around a silver mine. Two years before the start of the series a massive mining accident killed 83 men leaving the overwhelming majority of the women widows and the community nearly devoid of men. This premise alone presents something interesting. The trailers would make it seem as though the series is going directly for a confrontation between these two forces but there is a great deal that unfolds between that is both gripping and entertaining.

Godless is firmly rooted in the Western genre's traditions. Even my limited exposure to the genre I could feel very clear homage to other films and entries into the genre. The series is both a romanticized and deeply ugly look at the time period. Disease, death, injury, violence and general unpleasantness pervade the show. It oscillates between perhaps going too far and grounded. Given my general ignorance of the West it is difficult to say. Life generally feels quite precarious in the show and that death stalks the land with a greedy hand. The beautiful side of the Western is all present as well from incredible sharpshooting, to incredible vistas and romance.

In this review I do not wish to spoil specific details or elements of the story. What I will say is that Frank Griffin is a truly terrifying villain. He and his gang appear suddenly and without warning and wreck havoc wherever they go. The different characters and communities that we meet are interesting and play at the diversity of the West that has often been overlooked.

I would be remiss if I didn't comment upon the gender aspects of the show. The idea of a town of only women is clearly one of the selling points of the series. Not a great deal comes of that. The story focuses much more on Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), Roy Goode and Frank Griffin. Fletcher lives on a ranch outside of La Belle and her fate is tied to the town's, but in many way the town becomes secondary. That said, the lack of men plays out in interesting ways. The West is notorious for women forging their own paths. So is the same here. The town hardly seems to struggle with the absence of the men, just the fact that the mine has ceased operation. Some women are eager to see a return of men and normalcy while others seem to dread their return. Sexual violence and exploitation of women factor into the story as well, and I cannot claim that the handling of it was particularly satisfying.

I may dedicate more thinking on this at a later date, but it is my opinion that we are primed for a resurgence of the Western genre. Godless, among other programs and films, can demonstrate the way to make relevant commentary on the present with these projects. Godless is a gorgeous piece of television with exceptional performances. While the opening episodes may be slow to develop I urge interested parties to push to the conclusion, for the thing ends in a powerful fashion.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Worth Reading - December 7, 2017

Short list this week as I didn't spent a lot of time reading any fresh news. Apologies.

My local newspaper visited my barber to talk politics. I am sad my dad and I didn't go in for a trim that day. 

I spoke about this in my Tuesday post. Chantal Hebert writes that the Conservatives risk turning their attack into Finance Minister Morneau into character assassination

This is from a couple of months ago, but Strong Towns brought it into circulation again. The difficulty in labour mobility is hampering the economy

Andray Domise writes that the middle in politics is collapsing

There have been rumours and whispers that President Trump might be unwell. I think that's unlikely to be the case except for his clear narcissism.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Liberal Tax Reform Mire

The Liberal tax reform introduced months ago has been a communications disaster for the government. Closing certain tax provisions will increase the amount paid by high income Canadians. The Trudeau Liberals seem to have stumbled blindly into this issue. They seemed entirely unprepared for the resistance to these changes.

The Prime Minister and his team seemed to believe that relying on their tired rhetoric of "strengthening the middle class and those working to join them" would be enough. When you repeat the same thing over and over again to justify everything from tax cuts to road construction to opening a hockey arena don't be surprised if its effectiveness dulls.

There are strong, well-financed forces to push to keep the status quo. Doctors and small business owners will be limited in their tools to save on taxes. A number of wealthy individuals use the existing law to avoid taxes. While perfectly legal there are questions whether it was the intent of the government, or ethical for some parties to pay less in a progressive tax system.

While progressives are generally in favour of changing the tax code the failure of the Liberals to articulate these reforms successfully is putting them at risk. Opponents in advocacy groups and the Conservative Party have painted this as a massive tax increase on small business and an attack on doctor. The attacks have been, to this point, successful on raising doubts about the wisdom of the changes. In reality, it seems offering some sort of transition period would have done a great deal to dissuade modest critics, but the Liberals did not see reason to see that far ahead.

In politics communications often matters more than the policy itself, to my eternal grief. In some parallel universe the Liberals sold these policies to enough Canadians to ensure their passage, now it will cost Trudeau significant political capital. Part of the explanation is who the messengers are.

Justin Trudeau was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his finance minister, Bill Morneau is a very wealthy man. Men who have taken advantage of the same system the seek to right. Morneau has been dogged by questions about his finances and personal business dealings and whether or not the meet the rigour of disclosure and freedom of conflict of interest. Chantal Hebert warns that the Conservatives, by pursuing Morneau will lose sight on the defeating these reforms.

It would be fitting for the Liberals to stumble forward into success. It would join a questionable list of policy accomplishments for the Trudeau government. It leads me to wonder how many more lucky breaks they may have in them.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Worth Reading - November 30, 2017

I love podcasts. I've appeared in podcasts. I've considered starting podcasts. This College Humor video was made for me.

Police authorities are now investigating the Progressive Conservative nomination in Hamilton

In policy news, the Progressive Conservatives announced their plans for transit in the Toronto and other policy proposals

John Michael McGrath writes that the Progressive Conservative platform hones closely to the Liberals' policies

From Vox and 99% Invisible, road signs suck, so let's get rid of them

I still haven't finished going through this report, but here is the Brampton report on the economic impact of the proposed university

The inter-city bus network is failing Ontarians

As I wrote about on Tuesday, Postmedia and Torstar shuttered 38 newspapers across the province this week 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Democracy Dies in Darkness

Nothing has worried me more about the future of Ontario democracy lately than the news that dozens of papers in the province will be shuttered. A deal between Postmedia and Torstar will result in the closing of 38 community newspapers in Ontario. News media has been in crisis over the last couple of decades. Newsrooms and coverage has been contracting, investigations and critical reporting shrinking. Newspapers are hollow shells of what they once were.

The journalism in most smaller and medium-sized cities and towns has been severely lacking in the twenty-first century. The fourth estate is fighting a rearguard action against irrelevancy and insolvency.

The simple truth is that journalism, especially mass reporting, has been critical to the healthy function of our democracy. We are less than a year away from municipal elections, and only a few months from a provincial election. The next elections will be much the poorer without their commentary and coverage.

As I write this I can hear the criticism clear as day. The newspapers had a narrow viewpoint, a small ownership base, they were/are a dying medium that failed financially and failed to adapt to new circumstances and alternatives exist to take their place. These, for the most part, are valid critiques. However, we have not seen a website, Twitter account, etc. replace a newspaper and truly fill its function. The journalism could be relied upon to be factual, even with editorial bias.

Let's consider some of what we have lost in these communities and others. Newspapers during an election can be counted upon to at least profile all the candidates for office for their audience. Newspapers often organize debates and moderate them. Perhaps most importantly they provide a platform for candidates to communicate to the public en masse without expending great amounts of money. I've worked on campaigns and the hardest thing is getting the public's attention. Newspapers and local media catch a distinct audience in a geographic audience and can serve them meaningfully and deeply.

Then there is the usual coverage of day-to-day politics and government. How are public institutions faring? What issues confront the community? How do changes in laws and policies or events impact local people and organizations? Newspapers have been failing in some of these respects, but nothing has offered their reach, capability, or public service.

As we move forward we risk depriving the public of objective sources of local information. Our civic life will only be poorer in their absence until alternative models can be arrived at.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Worth Reading - November 23, 2017

This was a strong episode of Canadaland Commons on the Sixties Scoop

Strong Towns shares a story on how parking regulations nearly destroyed a town in Idaho. 

From the Atlantic, the nationalist's delusion

Martin Regg Cohn takes a look at the college strike in Ontario and its mismanagement. 

Steve Paikin looks at the fortunes of Ontario's NDP

The #MeToo campaign began a conversation about harassment that has had far reaching implications. However, Lauren McKeon writes we shouldn't be surprised

Premier Kathleen Wynne faced strong criticism at a public town hall recently. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book Reviews: Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

This series of books offers a grim glance into our futures from the mind of Paolo Bacigalupi. Bacigalupi depicts a world that is an environmental dystopia, deeply impoverished and unequal. In both novels our protagonists are children. We witness this dark future through their eyes.

In Ship Breaker we meet a group of children who work on a "light crew," stripping dead ships for valuable materials. Their little bodies are perfect for scouring the tiny crevices for copper wire. They live, I estimate, on the drowned coast of Texas in the oppressive shadow of the scrap dealers in their shacks.

In the follow-up book, Bacigalupi trades economic marginalization for civil war. The Drowned Cities is set in the tropical swamps and jungles in the Potomac River area. Our heroes are caught in the brutal, bloody conflict between warlords around the former capital of the vanished United States.

The plots of both stories, broadly, are similar. An incident and encounter with someone new forces our protagonists to try to flee for their safety and an opportunity for a better life. Their escapes lead them deeper into danger and shows the reader more of their ruined world. Only rare glimpses of wealth and comfort are given. Mostly, we see an America in decay where everyone makes their living by picking the bones of the dead.

The science and speculative fiction elements are bold. Genetic engineering, climate change, and technological adaptation paint a gritty, alien world. Non-human species are now a part of everyday life, but also act as a constant source of unease and horror.

Despite these elements the stories feel grounded. This is likely because endless civil wars in poverty stricken countries are a real thing in this world. That child labour in dangerous ship-breaking is a real thing in this world. The setting and circumstances are changed, but it remains a human, contemporary story in significant ways. I would highly recommend these novels to fans of science fiction. While both of these books are great reads, I still think The Wind-Up Girl is Paolo Bacigalupi's best work.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Worth Reading - November 16, 2017

Some humour to start, The Beaverton reports that General Sir Isaac Brock's final wish was to have a 'mediocre' university named in his honour. 

Macleans writes that the Trudeau Liberals may be running out of steam as they reach the half-way mark. 

The Scarborough subway is a terrible, no-good idea and a monstrous waste of public energy and money. But hey, it's going ahead anyway

Aaron Wherry looks at how the Liberals are doing at fulfilling their promises to Canadians. 

Adam Radwanski writes that the culture has swung from one extreme to the other to bad results. 

Jen Gerson articulates a thought that haunts me. We are the greatest threat to democracy

Hadiya Rodrique pens a piece talking about her experiences as a black woman in Toronto's professional circles. 

A teaching assistant is under scrutiny for using video clips that illustrate a debate on language from TVO.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Morality and Foreign Policy

Before I write this all out I should say that I am undecided on this topic. It began as reflecting on a series of news items over the last couple of weeks. In the end this may end up as more of a Devil's advocate piece, or just reflect some evolution in my thinking.

In Western democracies we often use sanctions, political or economic, to penalize governments who violate human rights or operate outside of the geopolitical concert. It's a tricky balance riddled with hypocrisy. There are glaring examples of these contradictions, such as Chinese and Cuban relations with the United States.

Countries exist within a spectrum of human rights. The willingness of us to tolerate a government's human rights abuses seems inversely proportional to its economic importance. We make arms deals with Saudi Arabia and trade with increasingly autocratic Turkey, while we help overthrow the government of Libya and sanction Iran.

However our policies can be slow to respond or adapt, especially when European states are involved, or a big economic relationship is in play. Hungary has been going down a troubling path for years now but there is no calls to discipline them.

For decades there have been questions about the effectiveness of these policies. South Korea and China have improved in their human rights and grown their economies as the world has entered and trade increased. Cuba, Iran, and North Korea seem to have become more and more entrenched as the sanctions dragged on. Sanctions hurt the wrong people and enrich the elite.

I'm not suggesting we sell nuclear technology to North Korea or weapons systems to Iran. What I am doing is questioning the utility of broad sanctions. Sanctions and penalties may make sense for regimes that employ slave labour or terribly exploitative worker practices because giving access to our market only encourages these abuses.

The logic of sanctions also raises questions. Cuba and North Korea, as examples, have been under broad sanctions for decades. They have failed to bring down their regimes. Will four more decades improve the situation or condemn generations to poverty and backwardness? Eventually under this logic doesn't regime change become imperative? If forty years of economic hardship is justified isn't the use of force to compel regime change? Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate the folly of such interventions, but laying endless economic siege hardly seems worthwhile either. In the case of some countries the sanctions are so strict all that is left is military force for negotiation.

Part of my writing on this was inspired by some of the coverage of President Duterte of the Philippines. The man seems a brutal, awful man, but should we let that define our relationship with the 103 million Filipinos?

To a certain extent, especially in semi-democratic/democratic countries it feels like punishment for their choices. It is a grand scale of election meddling. Say Canada put something in place to sanction Duterte, does the government remove them if a challenger beats him in the next election?

As cold as the calculus is it might be worthwhile to consider the opportunity costs for Canada in these sanctions. What options are being abandoned for a system that has not truly proven to be effective? I know in recent years sanctions have targeted leaders rather than countries. In that instance at least I can see a correlation. However, with over one hundred and ninety countries no blockade is tight, so I think it would be worthwhile to consider our effectiveness and intentions when we call for bans, boycotts, sanctions and penalties on those regimes we find odious.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Worth Reading - November 9, 2017

As we examine questions around housing affordability, a writer at Strong Towns suggests that we might need to make 'lower quality' housing an option to reduce price. 

This week marked the centennial of the Russian Revolution, Anne Applebaum offered some of her thoughts on the topic in the Washington Post. 

In local Brampton news, Gurpreet Dhillon is switching offices, or trying to, in the next municipal election. 

This week incumbent mayor Denis Coderre lost re-election to a challenger, and Chantal Hebert suggests it could be a warning to the elite of Montreal. 

Jagmeet Singh has come out in favour of wide drug legalization

This piece is a little bit older, but it suggests the five things Singh must do now that he leads the NDP.

Martin Regg Cohn writes about Ontario's approach to cannabis legalization. 

The Toronto Star has two different takes on the 'zombie' law which targets pedestrians using their phones while crossing the street. Here is one in support. Here is one against

The Greater Toronto Region is becoming more geographically divided by wealth and polarizing between extremes. 

Research suggests there is an unknown chamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Consolidation of Culture

I had a pair of conversations this week that goes together with some recent news that I found irritating. The news was that the Disney Corporation may be seeking to buy out 21st Century Fox.  The conversations with my friend involved the artistic hollowness and shallowness of the film industry and culture more broadly.

I would like to think I am not a terribly naive person. Popular culture is a business enterprise. That's fine, since the time of patrons and master craftsmen artists have needed supporters to financially back them. But for those who love to the market it might be time to consider the consolidation of our cultural industries.

An alarmingly small number of massive corporations produce most of our popular culture, especially in the areas of film and television. Furthermore, these companies are often deeply entwined with one another in business deals and frequently share common interests. If you want to see the twists copyright laws they are a good case in point. Disney perhaps is the peak of these oligarchs, and I fear nostalgia and positive associations deflects much of its criticism.

Defenders of, or those comfortable with, these few titans dominating our cultural life might point to the "meritocracy" of services like Twitch or YouTube which allow 'anybody' to find their own audience and create content and share it widely. Both are platforms owned by massive companies, Amazon and Google respectively. We have many example of creators running afoul of these company and losing their businesses, demolishing the illusion of their independence. Market concentration has made competition incredibly difficult as has the simple reality of creating such a service in 2017.

While many enjoy the products of these few dominant media companies the consolidation and death of meaningful competition is a concern. Disney has being pressuring distributors for special treatment for the upcoming Star Wars film. Though distribution is also problematic, this can happen as companies become excessively dominant in the market. The space for small, independent artists is dictated by large companies over again. A rich culture is a diverse culture that takes risks. It may be time to shatter the oligarchy that dictates the terms for the films and television we watch.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Worth Reading - November 2, 2017

Sorry for missing the Tuesday post. Hallowe'en is a big holiday for me and between work and finishing off decorations and a costume I lost track of time.

Toronto City Council appointed a replacement for the departed Pam McConnell, Edward Keenan suggests their conduct was unsavoury

Samara Canada released some research on the topic of heckling this week. 

Strong Towns looks at the collapse of the shopping mall and its impact

Strong Towns takes a look at the idea of fine-grained versus coarse-grained urbanism. 

Steve Paikin writes about how the Ontario Liberals are struggling with democracy in its own party

Senator Jeff Flake made a splash with his speech on American political life. The New Yorker answers back with this piece on the GOP's complicity in the Trump era

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Worth Reading - October 26, 2017

Google's proposal for Toronto's waterfront would bring it back to the 19th century. 

Adam Radwanski writes about how the by-election bribery trial was a waste of time

Paul Wells offers his take on Bill 62

The New Republic calls Trump out for being a weak president

Edward Keenan writes about term limits for municipal politicians. 

A Dalhousie student faced critical backlash after criticizing Canadian history and in specific White Canadians

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bill 62 is a Disgrace

Bill 62 is a disgrace. In the fullness of time it will be seen in the same light as separate drinking fountains for different races. It is a clear, cowardly attack on a cultural practice that applies only to a tiny minority.

In case you are unaware Bill 62 is a Quebec piece of legislation that will prohibit those covering their faces from receiving or providing public services on behalf of the government. While I appreciate Quebec has  a different tradition of secularism than English Canada it is hard not to see this as a targeted hit against Muslims.  I sincerely doubt the framers of the law had any concerns about excessively observant Catholic nuns in mind. The law is clearly intended to penalize Muslim women.

My values tell me that the state shouldn't be in the business of dictating our clothes (aside from basic decency). The hue and cry that these sorts of laws are intended to protect and liberate women seem, at best, paternalistic. In modern Canada we all access government services constantly. From buses to police officers, from driver's licenses to permit clerks, we frequently have to interact with public servants and depend upon their work.

In a secular society it is not required for the people not to profess their values or hide their religion, rather, it is the government that should be neutral and fair. This law hardly perpetuates the idea that Quebec government is an unbiased party. Instead it seeks to punish those who do not conform to its preferred group.

As a feminist raised in the West I do not like the niqab or the burka. At first blush they seems to be in the long tradition of controlling women's bodies and sexuality. That being said, I have no intent or desire to ban them or badger women who wear them. Nor would I prohibit mini-skirts for the opposite reasons. It's not my place. I've spoken with women who wear head coverings. They have been consistent that it is a choice they have made, and that they like it.

Quebec could do much for the Muslim women in its society. This act seems a declaration that a small subset and the broader community do not belong. While the law is likely to be struck down by the courts it would send a more powerful message for elected leaders to repeal it. I doubt that will happen. However, sometimes moral courage appears at surprising times.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Worth Reading - October 19, 2017

Should Puerto Rico's debt be forgiven

A week ago the Ontario Progressive Conservatives revealed some of their policies as the next election draws closer. 

A columnist with the Ottawa Citizen takes a look at the Trudeau Liberals' accomplishments and finds them wanting

Chantal Hebert writes on the ongoing headache that is the Liberals proposed tax reform plan

I missed this a couple weeks ago, Hebert offers her take on Singh's victory in the NDP leadership race

Lauren McKeon writes about how age impacts women in their lives. 

The Auditor General wants the Ontario Liberals to stop manipulating their books

After the failure of polls in the Calgary election, Adam Radwanski asks for some humility from the polling industry

The Washington Post takes a look at the adult daycare that is the White House

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

And on it Goes: European Political Struggles

It's difficult to cast an eye to the European news lately and garner much sense of optimism. I should declare at the outset that I am no expert on Europe and only approach the subject as an observer. That said, reading recent headlines out of the continent are certainly enough to give pause.

Last week I wrote about Catalonia and the political instability of Spain. A few weeks before that it was discussion of the rise of the AfD, a far right party, in Germany. Now, we have fresh stories out of the UK on its struggles with Brexit and the growing leadership challenge for Prime Minister Theresa May and far right victories in Austria. This does not make a rosy picture for Europe. While the situation is not as dire as that immediately following the economic collapse years ago, all the following events stem from that time to a certain degree.

The Catalonian situation remains a mess. Conflict continues between the central government in Madrid and secessionists. The constitutional court ruled the referendum illegal, but this will likely only spur divisions between separatists and unionists. Leadership on the Catalan side has been jailed. Surely this escalation would only result in worse outcomes.

Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is struggling to hold her party together and complete Brexit negotiations. The UK is less than 18 months away from being booted from the EU if they don't get a new deal in place. May suffers in the negotiations because of divisions within her own government. Conservatives cannot agree on the form of Brexit which is undermine British negotiations. May could be forced to drop Brexit, but who knows if such a thing would be possible anymore?

Austria's right-wing People's Party and Freedom Party made concerning gains in the most recent election earlier this week. The party will form government after running an anti-immigration, and anti-immigrant platform. The Freedom Party won second and has been a long-standing far right-wing party in Austria. Austria narrowly avoided this outcome in their presidential elections not long before, but it seems the voters of Austria are willing to give the new right a shot.

Looking at the last few weeks alone has been unpleasant for Europe. In Canada it would be quite easy to sit back and ignore what's happening across the Atlantic. However, it is always useful to be aware of trends, especially in some of the globe's largest economies and our closest allies.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Worth Reading - October 12, 2017

Strong Towns looks at the word 'gentrification' and its shortcomings as a term in our discourse. 

PM Trudeau tries to move the Trump White House on NAFTA, but pleas may be falling on deaf ears

Journalist, writer and activist Desmond Cole is considering a bid to be Toronto's next mayor. 

Heading towards the 2018 municipal election the city of Toronto is adjusting its ward boundaries

Ontario's Financial Accountability Officer is warning about the province's debt and budget deficits

Paul Wells weighs in on Trudeau's tax reforms

Elamin Abdelmahmoud tells you why some of us have to pay higher taxes

Supriya Dwivedi writes that Jagmeet Singh's team needs to brush up on their communications tactics

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catalonia: Breaking Countries and Making Nations

We may soon bear witness to the birth of a new country. Spain has a fractured and difficult modern history, which includes violent separatist movements. Recently the Catalan region held a referendum on the question of its independence. Like make such referenda the history behind this is long and not easy to summarize, but where this referendum differs from Scotland, Quebec, etc. is that it succeeded.

Catalan's regional President Carles Puigdemont is expected to declare independence for his region soon. Puigdemont is in a difficult position as he moves forward. Hardliners within his governing coalition will expect a unilateral declaration, but this will impact any future negotiations. Another important difference was that the referendum vote was held without the consent of the Spanish government. Spanish police forces attempted to prevent voting on October 1st which resulted in violence.

These questions are inevitably difficult as they dive into questions of loyalty and identity. Despite the animosity between Catalans and the central government, is it still possible to be proud to be Spanish and Catalan at the same time, or to reconcile these differences? Add into the fact that Spain has spent the last ten years struggling with its economy and debt and the risk of disintegration only grows. Especially in the case of Spain it is important to note that there are other regions agitating for greater autonomy or independence. Principally the Basque come to mind.

Since Spain has not recognized the referendum it has threatened to suspend Catalonia's self-government it makes further moves towards independence. While I don't think there is enough suggestion that we are at this stage, there is a very real risk of civil violence if not civil war in Spain. The legitimacy of the vote is in question, not only because of suppression by the central government, but also because only 43% of the electorate turned out to vote. The Catalan government claims that 90% of voters supported independence.

I suppose in the coming weeks and months the only certainty is uncertainty. It will be very difficult to close this particular Pandora's box and it is just as likely that accepting this dubious referendum will cause just as many problems as accepting it. Spain is not unique in this regard. Many countries have defined, distinct regions, cultures, or nations within their boundaries. Divorcing these areas and bodies from the central state is as complicated as it is messy. Catalonia may provide an object lesson on the difficulties of this process, but the lesson may be costly for Europe as a whole at a time when it can scarcely afford it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Worth Reading - October 5, 2017

The India Times wrote a piece on Jagmeet Singh's win, but raises issues between Singh and the Indian government

Chantal Hebert argues that the biggest loser of the NDP leadership race was Charlie Angus

Noah Richler reflects on the NDP and Tom Mulcair

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns takes a swing at the culture of regulation, certification and licenses. 

Adam Ruins Everything looks at the intersection between race and the suburbs and how they perpetuate racial inequality. 

Strong Towns talks about biking in difficult urban conditions

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas I found it difficult to process the event. I have grown very weary of the tired tropes that define these conversations. So, I'd like to share this piece from Salon on the masking of these shootings as mental illness and denying terrorism committed by white men

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Jagmeet Singh and the New NDP

Disclosure: I voted for Guy Caron to lead the NDP in the recent leadership contest. 

This week marks an important moment in Canadian political history. As far as I know Jagmeet Singh is the first non-white leader of a federal party, and among the first in the country. The British Columbia NDP and Quebec Solidaire have had non-white leaders prior to this selection. 

There can be no doubt Singh represents a radical departure from Tom Mulcair. Mulcair represented competent, prosecutorial, experienced leadership. Trudeau bested Mulcair and the NDP by seizing the mantle of "change". New Democrats have decidedly selected the most Trudeau-like option among the leadership candidates on offer. Few challenge the narrative that Singh is a young, handsome, stylish man. He is also intelligent and has an impressive resume, but lacks experience in government and has none at all at the federal level. However, he has displayed a certain 'mass' appeal.

Singh certainly appealed to a group of supporters: urban progressives, young people, Torontonians, and suburbanites - especially Punjabi and Sikh voters. During the campaign there can be little denial that he received substantial endorsements from members of the party representing different constituencies.

Let's put aside how Singh won. Instead let's consider how this impacts the party's fortunes going forward.

The NDP is at a crossroads. For all the handwringing about 2015 it was the second best result in the party's history at 44 seats. It was a drop from the over 100 in 2011, but still significant for a party that spent the preceding decade plus in the political wilderness. The question comes now if the NDP will be relegated back to third party status, or, rise to Official Opposition or government.

Samara's research, if memory serves, says that the leader determines people's votes more often than the local candidate so he will impact support for the NDP across the country in some way. That impact, of course, is unlikely to be uniform. Most assume, I think fairly, that Singh could lead to a surge of support for the NDP in suburban areas, particularly with large South Asian populations. That is not to say all brown-skinned voters will support Singh, but the prospect of the first Indo-Canadian Prime Minister will certainly engage some voters. Seats in Brampton, Mississauga, Halton, Surrey, Edmonton, etc. could flip to the NDP in 2019.

But Singh's race is a double-edged sword, I am sad to say. I fear his skin and religion will turn off voters elsewhere in the country. We cannot pretend, especially since 2015, that racial prejudice is dead. In Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and their environs race may help more than it hurts, but it could easily cut in places like Southwestern Ontario, the north of the provinces, etc. This needn't explicitly be about bigotry, it could merely be voters feeling less able to connect with Singh given cultural differences. I don't mean to cast aspersions on my fellow Canadians, but comfort with a non-white, turbaned Sikh is in question.

Then there is Quebec. While I'm certain the racial dynamic is also at play, more important may be secularism. Ujjal Dosanjh, former BC Premier and MP, and many elected Sikhs tone down their religiosity. Though, to be fair, many, such as Navdeep Bains, are turbaned Sikhs. Singh decidedly does not tone down his faith. His very nature could repel the soft-nationalist voters that the NDP won over during the last few elections that created the larger seat totals in 2011 and 2015.

An NDP with strength in cities and suburbs is a radical departure from the past political calculus. Weakness in rural areas and northern areas may offer fresh opportunities to the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc. Perhaps even the Green could find an advantage on Vancouver Island.

As one of the most important political leaders in Canada Jagmeet Singh is both a reflection of Canada and Canada will in kind respond to him. The fortunes of the NDP and our politics rides on his shoulders as he shapes the new NDP.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Worth Reading - September 28, 2017

Strong Towns takes a look at the word 'blight' in terms of its use in discussing urban issues

Guy Caron sits down with the National Post to discuss his leadership campaign for the NDP. 

From the Tyee, instant memberships undermines the leadership campaigns

Adam Radwanski writes about the NDP's difficulties in Quebec

Samara Canada recently opened its Everyday Political Citizen contest. If you know someone deserving of a nomination for what they give back to their political community, nominate them!

In a move that baffles the mind, there is a move to name a stadium after deceased former Mayor Rob Ford

Chantal Hebert writes on the proposed tax changes by the federal government. 

Martin Regg Cohn writes about the connection between the provincial government and precarious employment

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Considering Free Speech

There is a subject that has been troubling me. I won't pretend the 21st century is unique in facing illiberal political movements, but I live in this historic moment and feel compelled to note the links between a harder line left and the new right and the difficulty liberal democracies may be facing moving into the future. This post is partially spurred on the German election results, where the AfD gained significantly in the parliament. There have been moments in modern history where polarization in between extremes fractures the polity and wrecks the centre.

In the face of this how do liberal societies defend themselves from those who would use their principles to undermine them?

Today I want to narrow today's topic to the freedom of speech. A liberal, at core, would  not like to limit people's speech. The liberal position says that we need strong justification to curtail anyone's right. Libel laws or harmful speech (fire in the theatre) are obvious restrictions. For classical liberals restrictions are difficult decisions and they prefer to err on the side of speech.

Speech works if we can rely on some basic ground rules. However, the evidence abounds that lies and mischaracterizations spread like wild fire while the truth plods along. Liberal ideals are undone by the most basic human instincts, instincts which are all the easier to embrace in the digital sphere. Enter the era of "fake news." Even beyond the political, lies or misleading headlines stand at equal heights of fact. People are increasingly unable to filter information meaningfully. Look no further than the misinformation on vaccines to see how muddled and mired we are.

As a liberal-minded person I have to concede my discomfort with these sources of "information" or confirmation bias, but I'm not at all comfortable with interfering with these forms of speech.

Then there is hate speech. Here two sides of my thinking war with one another. Speech matters. It shapes thinking and attitudes. Calls for violence are illegal, and I think most can agree are reasonable restrictions for public speech. However, calls for violence are common on the internet and this speech is not curtailed in any substantial way. The debate then goes to what constitutes hate speech. Most people are canny enough to mask their racist rhetoric, or cloak it in policy language. Distrust of Muslims is cloaked in anti-refugee, terrorism, and geopolitics. Anti-black racism is buried in conversations on crime, poverty, and urban culture broadly. the coarse dialog (or rants) of the internet now infect our real world life. Things not uttered in 'polite society' are now bellowed proudly.

Liberalism is a modernist idea and relies on reason, rationalism, and truth. How does it operate in a world where half-truths and lies rule, or at least easily remain on par?

The current debate of free speech is rather odious, in my opinion. Progressive voices seek to silence certain forms of speech deemed inappropriate. It has a streak I find deeply troubling. Protest to disrupt speakers, regulating the use of language, and the bevy of terms to police language seem to belittle real oppression for the sake of bourgeoisie sensitivities of the intelligentsia. To be clear, I am not joining the ranks complaining about all silly university antics.

The right has corrupted free speech as a notion to its own purposes. In reaction to the left they now claim free speech. However, free speech is increasingly used as coded language for expressing racist, bigoted opinions free of consequences.

the last few years has helped to demonstrate to me the power of language. Leaving some to routine abuse by those trying to assert historic dominance makes me uneasy. That said I'm not sure I'd comfortable regulating speech. But speech can be used to undermine a liberal society. Critics may answer the solution is more speech, but I fear there are growing indications that those that seek to distort our polities are fighting with guns while liberals only have knives. This thought is one that worries me.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Worth Reading - September 21, 2017

Steve Paikin raises the question of whether or not we might see a NDP government in Ontario in 2018. 

Aaron Wherry breaks down the NDP leadership race

Chantal Hebert questions whether or not Jagmeet Singh will be the next leader of the NDP. 

The Vancouver Sun reports on some of the feelings of Sikh Canadians on Jagmeet Singh. 

The Manitoba government will amend a law that banned floor crossing

Metrolinx continues to struggle to provide Ontario's urban core with effective transit