Thursday, August 17, 2017

Worth Reading - August 17, 2017

We'll begin with the tragic news of the day of a deadly attack in Barcelona, Spain

John Ibbitson writes about the rallying point Trump provides for fascists

How do we raise taxes in the era of populist revolt

The Ontario government's promise of a balanced budget is relying upon optimistic projections

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, says he won't be interviewed by Rebel Media until there is a change in their editorial direction

Ontario municipalities are calling on the province to raise the HST to help fund infrastructure

Emma Teitel defends shaming those who participated in the right-wing rallies in Charlottesville. I have mixed feelings about this, and haven't made up my mind yet. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


On Saturday violence erupted on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia escalating in vehicular homicide wherein a car was driven through a crowd of people. That's probably the most bloodless, tame way I could describe what occurred a few days ago, but this is an opinion-based blog, so it's probably time to put that aside.

Would highly recommend watching this New York Times video giving a simple breakdown in the events that occurred in Charlottesville. Violence in Charlottesville was likely inevitable on some scale. Neo-Nazis tend to stir up strong feelings, surprisingly. However, there were at least two groups who were anathema to one another. The first was a demonstration and march by White supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered in park and intended to march through the city to Emancipation Park. A group of counter-protestors gathered at nearby park and intended to countermarch to disrupt their gathering.

While I think that it has been pretty disturbing all on its own, I don't particularly want to discuss the nature of response to these events. Though from what I've seen I am none-too-pleased by some of the media coverage. Some have seemed to find far too much comfort in the "their both to blame" narrative.

I think we have to take a moment now to reflect on how the hell we came to a point in 2017 where people are chanting racist, literal Nazi slogans, waving Nazi, Confederate and other right-wing flags in America. While I cannot substantiate the veracity of the tweets I saw a number of posts apparently from veterans (this is where it gets dubious) about having fought the Nazis and now their flags are waved by Americans claiming to be patriots. Something has gone deeply wrong here.

In a certain sense this is nothing new. In the far-right and white nationalist movements of the United States there has always been a blend of American patriotic and Nazi/German imagery. Right-wing militias, survivalists, Aryan Nation, and certain biker gangs have all formed a cohort of white supremacists. The Nazis are the go-to villains in much of American culture, yet we see with far greater public acknowledgement that there are those who view Hitler as one of the good guys.

It's a baffling about face, especially given the degree to which America's history in World War II made the country what it is today. Still, I don't expect twenty-first century racists and fascists to have a strong grasp of history.

White supremacy has always been tied to terrorism. This is a fact. If you don't believe me do a casual search for the history of the KKK and lynchings. There is a certain dark poetry that the vehicular murder of a protestor and the injury of nineteen others mirrors attacks by Islamic radicals in recent years.

I am going to try to keep my remarks balanced here. I do not believe we're seeing a mass movement of grassroots American Nazis. I do believe that in the last few years that far-right rhetoric has been normalized to a certain extent. A few years ago these people would be far more marginalized and few would be willing to publicly defend them. Parts of the far-right, the racist right, is now part of normal discourse. I don't put this on Donald Trump. This has been an element of American culture for decades, and normalized particularly in the wake of 2007 and during the Obama years and the Tea Party.

America in 2017 is not Weimar Germany. I hate that I have to say that so sincerely. What is socially acceptable, or reasonable within the public discourse though is increasingly embracing these people, and if it doesn't they create their own media to share their own twisted ideology. This problems is only likely to get worse. Racism, fascism and Nazism are inherently violent ideologies and we should sadly be braced for more incidents such as this. There is no part of that that isn't heartbreaking.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Worth Reading - August 10, 2017

Shorter list this week. No reason why, just less grabbed my attention I suppose. 

From TVO's The Agenda's Blog, the cost of our democracy with the death of the local press

A short video that explains the costs of free parking

Toronto's Medical Health Officer discusses the notion of full drug legalization

Andrea Horwath has criticized Kathleen Wynne for not calling a by-election for Toronto Centre

Brad Wall is stepping down as Premier of Saskatchewan.

Jagmeet Singh shows impressive fundraising numbers in the NDP leadership race. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cutting Back on Sugar

I instinctively dislike elements of the 'Nanny State.' With some exceptions it seems to me that certain governments are far too willing to interfere in the private lives of its citizens. Some regulations make sense as they have a public health connection, others less so. The first one that pops into mind is the pit bull ban in Ontario. It doesn't bother me much as I dislike dogs, but it hardly seems like the role of the government to pick and choose acceptable breeds.

However, something popped into my mind lately and I have a hard time shaking the fact that there might be something to the fact that we may require a little more government interference in our lives in a certain way. I want to talk about sugar.

When I heard about the initial spate of sugar taxes I have to admit I was highly dubious. It felt like unnecessary interference in people's lives and an irritating "Father Knows Best" approach to public policy. However, in the years since the first controversial sugar tax proposals I have become increasingly familiar with the negative role sugar plays in our private and communal lives.

Talking about nutrition and diet information on the internet feels virtually pointless to me to a certain extent. Whenever I have sought even basic answers to questions the internet will spit back contradictory advice. This is besides the point, I just say this because I'm going to be light on sources for this one.

There seems to be a growing academic and public awareness of the problems related to sugar. By sugar I mean refined white sugar and similar additives. This information had been bouncing around my head for a few years but it came to a point when I watched a video talking about how sugar has become such a problem in the North American diet.

I have no doubt that there are flaws in that video. Here are the salient points. A public association between fat and weight gain/ill-health created a strong stigma for fat content in foods. To improve taste sugar was added. No to mention sugar is used as a preservative and is present in large quantities in a huge array of products.

Over the decades there has been a growing obesity epidemic and rise in diseases such as diabetes. Trying to change public perception on issues like this seem near impossible. Every day for the rest of your life you could be told the sugar in your soda pop is cutting you life short and you'd still probably regularly ingest one. I know this, and I do.

Sometimes the state has a duty to discourage destructive behaviours. I hesitate to support something like a sugar tax because I know immediately that the burden would fall disproportionately upon those disadvantaged and least able to afford it. Still, policymakers may have to contend with the large quantities of sugar in our diets and the social and personal impacts that may have. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Worth Reading - August 4, 2017

Sorry for the delay in the post. I was working on it yesterday and it got so late it seemed silly to post it when no one would see it. 

Strong Towns looks at housing in San Francisco and affordable housing in general

Eric Grenier takes a look at the NDP leadership race and discounts some of the talking points about fundraising. Donor analysis is perhaps misleading. I've given to three leadership candidates so I appear as a unique donor in three camps.

Researchers have concluded that 13 Reasons Why had a negative impact on mental health. 

Canadian journalist Jen Gerson kindly asks Americans to pull their heads out of their asses when it comes to Justin Trudeau. 

Andrew Coyne writes on the current discussion on how to reform Parliament

Here is another article from Strong Towns looking at the topic of gentrification and what it means

Here is a cute little animated short about a boy who have a crush on another, cause why not? 

The City of Brampton gave money to the Brampton Beast hockey team under questionable circumstances

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Canada as a Concept for Others

I am a supporter of a podcast call The Mixed Six. As a reward for backing the podcast I get the privilege of submitting questions for the hosts to answer. The two hosts are well-educated and modestly inebriated men having heady conversations over beers. The conceit is basically the best conversations I have with my friends after about three or more beers. I submitted a question on the week of Canada for their perspectives on Canada and its influence on American debates as Americans, which they answered in episode 19. They are both lefties, it is safe to say, and I found both of their takes interesting and it inspired some thinking on my part.

It is no secret that Canada is often used as a prop during American political debates. Our country plays an important role in the rhetorical exchange of Americans, but the interesting thing it isn't Canada itself that plays a part in this debate, it is the conception of America. Both Spencer and Caleb of The Mixed Six cottoned onto this distinction immediately. Discussions in America about Canada aren't really about Canada for the most part, they are about America. The same is true to a lesser extent here, but Canadians have a greater familiarity with American and vice-versa so it's possible that our conversations are more grounded in the real experience of American lives.

Depending on an American's given political perspective Canada can be an illustration to how thing should/could be or an abject lesson in policy failures. For the conception of Canada the facts as relates to this is entirely irrelevant. Perhaps the best case study for this is to look at how Americans discuss our healthcare system. For many on the American left Canada is a model for what healthcare in the United States could be. We have universal care that does not exclude any Canadian on the basis of wealth. Even as a person familiar with these issues in America I don't understand American healthcare. How many times have you heard distortions about the nature of our healthcare? I don't view it as perfect, but it's certainly offers trade-offs I'm willing to accept. From the conservative point of view we live in a rationed system of long wait times and privation. Both sides caricature life in our country as a stick to beat the other, not to say anything about Canada.

This fetishization of Canada is epitomized during controversial elections and with coverage of our 'beloved' Prime Minister. It was widely reported that the Canadian immigration website crashed on the night of the American election and the days followed it. Liberal/progressive Americans often use the refrain that if a conservative wins they will flee to Canada. It is a convenient short-hand to reject the reactionary element of American political life. It's not truly rooted in a sense of Canada as a real place. Likewise the humiliating fawning the world does over our Prime Minister really fails to paint an accurate picture of his government or its policies. Would international press celebrate his feminist credentials if they saw the arms deal to Saudi Arabia? Or the way junior female cabinet ministers have been repeatedly thrown to the wolves? Or what about his broken promises on key electoral issues, or he violation of his government's commitments to Indigenous Canadians?

While familiarity breeds contempt I think is more accurate to say American familiarity with Canada has created complacency. Canada is as different as a subset of America, like how California or the South is distinct from the rest of the country. Canada is America but with French people, it's colder and has healthcare.

Ultimately this misrepresentation in foreign media reinforces and lends strength to those comfortable in the status quo. The privileged can pat themselves on the back because despite his flaws Justin Trudeau is not Donald Trump, which is hardly convincing enough on its own. Doubling down on our own (unearned) smug superiority is hardly helpful for Canadians. It's a curious mix of reactions. On the one hand we want to be acknowledged for our successes without becoming complacent by them.

Ultimately very few of us know another culture, country or society. What we have is our conception of them. Our broad understanding of these places drives our reactions to them and perhaps provides tools for our own debates. While it may be nicer to have the world understand us better I think it is more important to be more critical of these reflections back on ourselves and not stare too deeply into blurry that is so appealing.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Worth Reading - July 27, 2017

The Globe and Mail has an opinion piece about the virtues of our constitutional monarchy

From Huffington Post, The Culture of Smug, White Liberalism

The Beaverton has a brilliant satire here on the right-wing merger in Alberta: Alberta's two right-wing parties merge to form an oil company

Eric Grenier looks at the electoral potential of the united right-wing in Alberta. 

Strong Town tackles some myths about suburbia

NDP leadership contestant, Guy Caron, announced his infrastructure and jobs plan

Rolling Stone did a glowing piece about Justin Trudeau, Canadian critics had some fun picking it apart

This piece looks at the factual errors in said Rolling Stone article. 

The New Yorker looks at the TV program that created Donald Trump

Steve Paikin makes the pitch for honesty in political advertising

Progressive Conservative in-fighting continues over nominations

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reviewing NAFTA

Assuming Donald Trump isn't forced to resign, or is impeached there is a major area of policy Canadians should begin thinking about because it's entirely possible things could move very quickly on this file: trade and NAFTA.

Though it may be difficult to remember now both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ran on platforms seeking to address shortcomings in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The politics of NAFTA are a bit difficult to parse. I will try to lay out the basics as I understand them.

NAFTA in many ways is associated with the collapse of the manufacturing sector in Canada and the United States. As a result critics among the left and workers say that NAFTA destroyed their jobs. While I'm certain consolidation harmed employment to a certain degree the NAFTA trade deal has also greatly expanded the volume of trade and economic activities between the three countries. As a piece of anecdotal evidence, about half the people in my family had work that directly or indirectly benefitted from the NAFTA trade agreement. The collapse in manufacturing has a great deal to deal with poor management by corporate players, changes in technology, increased competition from foreign competitors, and finally automation. In the case of many of the jobs people point out there is very little hope of them ever returning let alone in the numbers they once existed in. Factories do not employ thousands anymore, the often do not employee even hundreds.

In the United States I think it is fair to say that a significant component that drives criticism is the distrust or discomfort towards Mexico. Here criticism of NAFTA gets tangled up in feelings about immigration and migrant workers, which are entirely separate issues. I believe when Canadians think of NAFTA they generally think about the United States while the U.S. often thinks of Mexico and this shapes each nation's opinion.

I am far removed from a trade expert. From the limited media reporting I've read on this topic I have come to two basic conclusions: Canada's economy is dependent upon NAFTA, or a NAFTA-like, trade agreement and there are areas of the treaty that deserve revision after all this time. NAFTA is over twenty years old now. The world has changed substantially so perhaps it is time to modernize.

As odious as the current federal government of the United States we have no choice but to deal with it. Our economies are deeply intertwined. Any stress to that existing network will have a devastating impact on our economy. That doesn't mean we should bow to Donald Trump and his Commerce Secretary's dictates, which I fear is the road Trudeau is walking down. We should unite with Mexico on as many issues as we can and use our combined leverage to extract concessions from the United States.

There are a number of areas Canadians should be concerned about and anxious to defend. The first that comes to mind is water and healthcare. Water should not be treated as a tradable commodity under NAFTA. We should resist the imposition of American intellectual property laws, which strike me as deranged at times. Easing access for certain agricultural products, and dismantling supply management, could be a nice bonus out of these negotiations. Perhaps we could settle issues like softwood lumber once and for all within a revised NAFTA. Surely the telecommunications provisions could use a refresh given that the internet was in infancy when it was signed.

I'm sure the Canadian government has a list as long as my arm of issues they would like corrected in the treaty. Ultimately we need to see our leaders start to discuss this in a concerted way and why this matters. The last thing we can allow is some quick fixes to get pushed through without the public's informed consent. This critical aspect of the Canadian economy should not be allowed to be distorted by demagogues or abandoned without the understanding by Canadians for the consequences. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Worth Reading - July 20, 2017

Jagmeet Singh received an endorsement from a Quebec MP

The Telegraph reports the pornography has profoundly impacted the life of young people. 

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has announced intentions for a gender diverse shadow government, with Lisa Raitt as his deputy. 

Steve Paikin that the prospect of victory, ironically, has some unease in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. 

Strong Towns examines two New England towns and sees whether or not they are truly 'strong'. 

Also from Strong Towns, Chuck Marohn discusses what he sees for the future of American cities

Martin Regg Cohn writes about the intersection of politics and statues

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Shape of the NDP Leadership Race

Note: In the wake of the posting of this piece several criticism have emerged which I wish to address. First, the Brampton South NDP has reached out to every leadership campaign and solicited their interest in visiting our riding to meet the regional membership. Second, this piece does not discuss Niki Ashton. This is, I admit, my own bias. I didn't address her directly because I didn't wish to publicly point out why I think she is a flawed candidate for leadership. Ashton came dead last in the last leadership race, and I have not seen in her the capacity to be leader now. I will add that speaking to members has confirmed my biases. I haven't met, in person, a party member who is ranking her first or second. If you're a supporter of Ashton I wish you the best of luck, but on an opinion-based blog I am not required to write about anything or anyone other than what I choose to. 

For those outside observers the NDP leadership race may seem like a quiet conversation in a neighbouring room. As a local activist it has seemed akin to several independent campaigns that do not really interact with one another until they cross paths in the debates. I can proudly say that my riding association, Brampton South, under the leadership of our riding association president has had Peter Julian, Guy Caron, and soon Charlie Angus in to meet with local members. I feel this has given me a greater sense of what's going on in the campaign than perhaps the average member.

I should say, that while I am not formally committed, I am inclined at the moment to support Guy Caron. My interest in Caron started after I watched the first debate and he displayed the kind of humour and rhetorical deftness that I think the next leader will require. My support of Mr. Caron was solidified when I saw him speak in person. He is a trained economist, and didn't back down, or shoot talking points at any of the questions posed to him. Perhaps most importantly when asked about certain economic problems he said there were no easy solutions and to those making blanket promises, like free tuition, were oversimplifying and misleading party members.

The next important caveat is to remember that no one knows anything about this leadership race. Polling party races is incredibly difficult. This is only magnified when you consider the issues around using a ranked ballot. Endorsements and fundraising may indicate some things, but they are not definitive indicators.

The media's near-total disinterest in the NDP leadership exists in stark contrast to the attention is paid to the Conservative race that concluded a few weeks ago. It is pat NDP response to cry into our beers about how the media maligns us, but I feel the contrast is justifiably strong to make that point. To be fair, we don't have any 'crazy' people running, and gaining support to lead the party. The general consensus among the candidate is to generally align more clearly with left-wing policies. There is little disagreement among the candidates and they are all perceived as serious contenders. In short there are no Kellie Leitchs or Kevin O'Leary to grab media attention for the contest, and so it languishes in the public consciousness somewhere back where PEI provincial elections do.

What we do know is that Peter Julian has withdrawn from the race due to disappointing levels of support and fundraising. Charlie Angus has led in polls, which are notoriously unreliable in this context. Jagmeet Singh has a lot of positive perception in the media. He is often spoken of as a breath of fresh air. Being a Brampton and Toronto-area New Democrat I see a lot of enthusiasm for him, but I am aware I exist within a bubble. Singh also leads the candidates with endorsements. Endorsements are not necessary for victory, but Andrew Scheer had the most caucus support during the Conservative campaign. July 31st is when the next fundraising numbers will be disclosed.

I have heard Eric Grenier, polls analyst with CBC, say that Ontario and British Columbia are the big targets/battlegrounds in this leadership race. The NDP uses a one-member-one-vote system, and those provinces have the most members. This would seem to indicate that Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus have a slight advantage. Singh has also been building a network in British Columbia for years and has received significant endorsements there. Quebec is a serious question in this leadership race. While 2015 devastated the party's standings in the province the NDP still has a significant presence there. I think it could be argued that Tom Mulcair partially won in 2012 because members wanted to hold on to those Quebec seats. Would this give an advantage to Guy Caron?

In situations like this often gut instincts and anecdotal evidence is just as valuable as 'hard' data. First, it doesn't seem like anyone is running away with the race. New Democrats are undecided and have no engaging issue that divides the membership/candidates. Indications would suggest that Charlie Angus and Jagmeet Singh are frontrunners in a very fluid race. I think momentum is behind Singh, but there is a lot of time for that to evaporate. This is likely the shape of the range until the vote. What do you think? How do you see the race at present?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Worth Reading - July 13, 2017

Tabitha Southey's column argues that the far-right's bravado is a way to deny responsibility

Steve Paikin contends that the Mayor of Brampton has the hardest job of her peers in the GTHA. 

Briefly during the G20 meeting Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, filled in for him during a conversation about Africa. Perhaps the reaction was strong, but it's hard to understand why a family member of the president rather than a State Department official didn't take his spot.

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns writes that the concept of 'negativa' might be the solution to our bizarre housing markets

On a related topic, the Toronto Star is reporting that the region is undergoing a 'housing correction.' 

Toronto City Councillor Pam McConnell recently passed away. She had a tremendous impact on the city of Toronto and her voice will be missed by many.

From a great Councillor to... well, John Sprovieri of Brampton is under fire for insensitive e-mails he sent suggesting that newcomers to the city needed to learn white values

Finally, I end with a video. This film critique looks at the trend of young, naive women out of their element as a plot in science fiction and fantasy movies. He calls it 'Born Sexy Yesterday.'

 Worth checking out. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TV Review: House of Cards (U.S.) Season 5

Political fiction, for reasons beyond my understanding, are incredibly difficult to do well. I think it might be because I know just enough to break the suspension of disbelief. I know enough of the norms of American, Canadians, and (to a lesser extent) British politics to know what is reasonable and plausible. I suppose I should say something like "asterisk Trump" but he, tragically, exists within a certain norms.

Beau Willimon, showrunner and creator of the American House of Cards, is a passionate critic of American politics so it is easy to see these influences on the show.

I consider myself an intelligent fellow and savvy viewer of television, yet after 13 episodes of House of Cards season 5 I feel reasonably confident I couldn't tell you what the hell is going on in this season.

As I start parsing the show I come up with easily a dozen plot lines but none hold primacy, nor stand out. I suppose the primary plot is Frank Underwood's desperate gamble to stay in power. He faces twin threats: a congressional committee investigating his potential criminal acts and the election. The latter is the far more interesting angle. Elections are fantastic sources for drama and intrigue. Even the savviest politician in a democracy is powerless in the face of the electorate's will. Willimon takes the audience through an electoral crisis. Key states are unable to certify (confirm) their election results due to widespread disruption. This throws the entire election into question. While some of the wheeling and dealing is interesting the minutiae is tedious at times, especially because the same characters flip-flop back and forth.

House of Cards has a real character problem. It doesn't know how to grow, develop, or introduce new characters. Three major new characters joined the show, and for the life of me I cannot tell you their names, nor could I while watching the show. I looked it up, the characters I have in mind is Campbell Scott as Mark Usher, Patricia Clarkson as Jane Davis, and James Martinez as Alex Romero. *Shrug*

I hate to repeat myself, but much of my reservations about seasons three and four are only worse here. We are no longer co-conspirators with Frank. The audience is left in the dark, or at least I was. The fun of the show is cold and dead. All that's left are hollow twists purporting to be clever schemes.  

It's a real shame. The show has a some great moments and was truly exciting at points. Here I'm particularly remembering those great fourth-wall-breaking quips of Frank's. I hope the early season inspires future TV creators to produce works that give the audience what season five fails to deliver.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Worth Reading - July 6, 2017

This week's Worth Reading is a bit brief, I spent most of the last week out of town. I hope this sample still offers something interesting. 

This article from Maclean's takes a look at political extremism and meme culture on the internet. It expresses some ideas I've been rolling around in my head lately. I find its implications interesting and distressing.

Andrew Coyne calls Prime Minister Trudeau's tone-deaf approach and missteps in government

On a related note, Chantal Hebert writes that Trudeau's popularity among Canadians may have more to do with the small standing of his first minister peers

Paul Wells interviews our illustrious Prime Minister on Canada Day

John Michael McGrath argues that the political interference with Metrolinx means that the institution has no purpose

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Canada 150: Tomorrow

 In the final entry in this three-part series I would like to discuss Canada moving into the future. Four days ago Canadians from coast to coast to coast celebrated the formation of the country. I think many of us reflected on our present position. We rejoiced in the many riches this country has offered us and our families and simply enjoyed ourselves. I am sure that some among us took a moment to reflect on our history, with pride and with criticism. I wonder how many of us took some time to think about the future of this country and its people.

Now that the big party is over I think it would be wise for us to start to think about where we want our country to go and what we want it to be in the future. For me the question comes down to this, 'What do we want Canada to look like when we celebrate its 200th birthday?" 2067 is approaching sooner than we may think. More importantly the decisions we make today in our communities, cities, provinces, and country will shape our/their future.

Perhaps it is out of character for me, but I am quite optimistic about the future of this country. Unfortunately I do not think our leaders or we as citizens give much attention to long-term thinking so here are some questions we should start thinking about today.

On Canada Day there were approximately 36.5 million Canadians. We are one of the smaller wealthy, Western countries of the world. That does not seem likely to remain the case. By 2067 Canada will have nearly doubled its population (based on estimates) to over 60 million. That would make us roughly the same size as Italy, the UK, and France. I think Canadians are comfortable thinking of themselves as a small country, but this is going to change in the space of a couple of generations.

Canada today is about the size of Poland, and despite our greater wealth, we are only expected to contribute so much to international military operations, foreign aid, and leadership. This will change in the coming decades. Barring unforeseen consequences or disasters this is the path we are on. As we grow we must also mature into a country more willing to exert its influence on the world. All signs point to less stability in the near future, so a more robust Canadian military and foreign policy will likely be needed.

Nearly doubling our population alone will have a tremendous impact on our communities. What will be the next great cities in Canada and how will we prepare for that? How do we spread growth around so that our largest cities don't crack under the strain? How do we prevent the loss of valuable green space and farm land in sprawling cities? How do we adapt/expand our infrastructure to meet these new demands? Some provinces and cities have plans on the books to try to address the medium term change, but many are failing to comply. It is reckless to just stumble blindly into the future given the costs that will be involved.

One thing that will probably be a big question for Canada is how we adapt to and deal with the impacts of climate change. I have my doubts that humanity will be able to bend the curve on CO2 emissions in a meaningful way in time. What is our policy about the Arctic? How will we enforce our sovereignty? Will this expand our agricultural potential in the 'near North'? Will we have to move people as sea levels rise and storms become more powerful? How will we deal with inconsistent precipitation leading to drought and flood years? These are things we need to start thinking about and will shape 2067 Canada.

There are many things we cannot predict, nor do anything about. We are entering a period of intense automation, which may make work as we know it obsolete. Perhaps we are on the verge of the Star Trek utopia, or, a dismal society where there is a large underclass of unemployed/unemployable people. New industries will rise and fall. New technologies may change our lives, communities, and society as we know it. Politics domestically and internationally are unpredictable to say the least. However, as we walk into the 21st century I feel there is every indication that for next fifty years Canada is set to continue on a path of becoming an even greater country, if we have the wisdom and foresight to make it so.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Worth Reading - June 29, 2017

This piece is from a few months ago, but I think it might be worth checking out again. Shawn Micallef writes about the failure of the provincial government and municipalities to defend green space in the GTA

Chantal Hebert writes on the state of the sovereignty question

Justin Trudeau blamed the failure of electoral reform on the opposition's refusal to select his preferred option. He better pay a price for this hubris in 2019.

Aaron Wherry writes on electoral reform as well. 

Brampton City Council is striking a new committee to push for regional transit interests

The Star writes about Brampton's search for a new urban vision by hiring Larry Beasely. 

What happens when the presidency loses its legitimacy

Maclean's writes about the daring cynicism of Christy Clark and the current state of BC politics

My former employer, the South Slave Divisional Education Council, warns that they are not prepared for junior kindergarten

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Canada 150: Today

This Saturday marks Canada's 150th birthday. It's a fascinating milestone in some ways. Compared to some countries were are young and immature. Compared to our North American peers, the United States (1789) and Mexico (1810), we are the junior member. There are a number of countries that make us seem like children. Though we can honestly put that aside. France may have existed in some form since the fifth century, but the modern France we understand today dates from either 1945 or 1871, however you examine it. This leads me to the first thing I want to talk about.

When I was growing up it seemed to me that Canadians could not rest easy with Canada as itself. We were constantly comparing ourselves to other countries and usually the comparison was not favourable. At best we would exaggerate small achievements beyond their reasonable scope, or award ourselves participation ribbons for some historical event or piece of trivia. I think, thankfully, we are moving past that as a collective culture.

From my childhood in the 1990s and early 2000s to the present I get the distinct impression that Canadians are unapologetically proud of their country. They do not feel the need to pull out the international measuring stick and feel inferior or superior to other countries. The blanket anti-Americanism I recall from my youth has ebbed away. Our emotional/cultural relationship with the United States will always be complicated I imagine, just like say Denmark and Germany, or the UK and France, or Turkey and Greece, except our historical links are far closer and our differences smaller. This maturity has the tremendous benefit, I believe, of allowing Canadians to look inward and ask themselves how to make this country better without looking wistfully through the glass at others.  

I consider myself a patriot. There are as many reasons to love our country as people who live within it. I'd like to take a minute to celebrate what I find so special about it, if you'll indulge me.

I think the moments when I feel most connected to Canada is when I'm travelling. It doesn't have to be elaborate. I feel it when I bike down the bike path in Brampton. I've felt it driving down rural highways across Ontario, and crossing the Northwest Territories, or flying over the Rocky Mountains, or zooming along in a GO bus towards the CN Tower, passing through Ontario on the train to Ottawa, or zipping through Toronto on the subway. I guess it has to do with something about taking in our country. It's breaking a routine and seeing other Canadians going about their lives in all its mosaic beauty.

The place I have felt most in touch with this feeling is in Ottawa. There is a magic, for lack of a better word, at looking up at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. Looking at the statues, the Ottawa River, the Rideau Canal, the sculptures, the monuments and buildings fills me with awe. I am a big politics and history nerd so I am sure that plays no small part, but Ottawa embodies our collective spirit. The natural beauty of this country from icebergs, to wildlife, to incredible vistas inspire wonder for a country of such wealth.

While it has become clich├ęd there has to be something said about our openness as a country. We are not perfect, certainly, and I think we ignore those who are upset with growing diversity and how our transforming society is living some behind, as in Europe, as in America. Still, Western countries around the globe struggle to do what we are accomplishing in this country. There is much work to be done, but men, women and children of different ethnicities, faiths, and beliefs live side by side, work together, go to school together, and build relationships with one another in peace. Is that idealistic? Yes, but I think it is rooted in fundamental truths about our country. It is something to cherish.

Our country has radically transformed over the last 150 years. The process has been painful and at times very difficult but it has brought us to the present moment. Canada on its sesquicentennial has much to celebrate. So, on July 1st take a moment to enjoy our shared country and the people who make it what it is today.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Worth Reading - June 22, 2017

Yesterday marked the 7th anniversary of this blog! My sincere thanks to my readers; past, present and future.

Steve Paikin asks why Canadians hesitate to re-elect female premiers/prime ministers. 

The Senate of Canada has been exercising more of its powers, likely emboldened by the new independent senators. Andrew Coyne argues that until they are elected the Senate should remain a toothless body

Automation is dividing our communities into winners and losers. 

Robin Sears warns NDP leadership candidates to tread carefully lest they splinter the party

Metrolinx has approved of two new GO stations. However, it seems politics rather than good sense may have determined the winners in this round.

Foreign Policy questions Donald Trump's basic intelligence to do the job of president.

Chantal Hebert calls our Trudeau and the Liberals on their hypocrisy on transparency

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Canada 150: Yesterday

To mark our country's 150th birthday I will be writing a trio of posts. I want to look at Canada's past, present, and future. It, of course, won't be definitive in any way, but figured it would be a valuable way to talk about our sesquicentennial. Before I go on to the topic I would like to take a moment to point out that this week marks the seventh anniversary of this blog. What a strange idea that is.

I've written about Canada's history before. I've written on specific topics and on the general notion. This post will fall firmly in the latter category.

The 150th anniversary of Canada has stirred significant controversy. The first is setting Canada's birthday and age at 150. Critics argue that setting the date there inherently cuts the narrative of people before 1867 off. Our country does not exist in a vacuum so there is an inherent time before Canada that led to Canada. You can tell our story 1867 forward but I think many Canadians don't see it that way. Quebecois, First Nations, Inuit, and Acadians and on want to see their deep history reflected in this national narrative.

This fundamentally reveals the truth that any historian can tell you: Canada doesn't have history, it has histories. This isn't just about identity politics. We can examine history through a social lens, an economic lens, a regional/local lens, a cultural lens, and on and on. If you look at a generic history of Canada you will find an exceptional amount of attention on personalities which loses marginalized voices. The story of Canada as we traditionally tell it doesn't give insight into life in Saskatchewan in 1890s, or the impact on the collapse of the fur trade on workers and our economy, or any other number of voices that aren't 'central' to understanding how we got to where we are.

Canadians are tragically ignorant of their history. I have seen this as a teacher and in my interactions with normal Canadians who have no idea what I'm talking about when I have mentioned fundamental parts of our history. Obviously I likely set an unreasonably high bar, but the critical failure surely doesn't inspire confidence.

Canada's histories are certainly things to be celebrated, learned from, criticized and enjoyed. One of the problems our ignorance causes is that blind celebration seems ignorant. Canadians can be tremendously proud of their history. Likewise we don't need to feel damaged every time a figure or moment in history is problematized by critical commentary. This feedback enriches the project.

Take for example the connection of this country with the national railway. I think the 'traditional' telling of that story is quite boring. It's about how great men and visionaries stitched together the country with a ribbon of steel. Now that story is incomplete without discussing Chinese labourers, the corruption and graft on the railways, the state of the West at the time, and the dramas all those entail.

Richard Gwyn wrote a fascinating biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, which I reviewed on this blog. The human portrait of one of our great leaders does not diminish the man, but elevate him. Being critical of our national heroes does not mean we are tearing them down.

As we mark our 150th birthday, and the centuries that preceded it, I would strongly urge Canadians to take some time to reflect upon their history. Visit a museum, read a book, watch a documentary, or talk to someone about our shared history.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Worth Reading - June 15, 2017

The next provincial election is 51 weeks away. John McGrath at TVO breaks it down for us. 

Chantal Hebert takes a look at Jagmeet Singh's commitment to the federal NDP in her latest column. 

Strong Towns attempts to answer the question of why did incremental development stop?  This appears to be the third entry in a series. I recommend the second one which provides a cute example about how incrementalism works. 

Kuzgesagt put out a new video about automation and how this recent pattern of automation differs from the past and may be causing all sorts of social problems we are seeing. 

Ashley Csanady writes about the uselessness of interpreting dystopian literature literally instead of extracting its symbolic meaning. 

Justin Ling paints a very dim picture of the new Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, by looking at the leader's positions on the issues

What if transportation decisions were taken out of politicians' hands? (It's impossible, but it's fun to dream). 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Post-Apocalyptic Pondering

This post is going to be off from the usual fair on this blog. I hope you'll indulge me.

Post-apocalyptic literature is perhaps my favourite subgenre. I like post-apocalyptic video games, movies, and novels. I even wrote my own novella in this genre. As a result I think about problems within the genre and its conventions. Post-apocalyptic fiction can be divided in many ways, but one of the ways is the time scale. Most fiction is either set in the near-future or the distant-future. In the first category you have entries like Station Eleven, Dies the Fires (Emberverse series), One Second After, The Book of Eli.

Most post-apocalyptic fiction is written as a social commentary. Stripping away the trappings of our modern society exposes root the human nature in the authors' eyes and often the cause of the apocalypse is a comment on the things wrong with our current world taking to their extreme conclusion. During the Cold War we saw plenty of examples of post-apocalyptic fiction that examined the consequences of nuclear war. The Stand and Station Eleven look at our fear of plague. Likewise a recent spate of media examines the impact of climate change and how it may lead to the collapse of modern society.

Post-apocalyptic literature is often not about the apocalypse itself, but rebuilding society and what that looks like. The survivors band together for security and get to work patching the world back together. Normally a handful of highly-skilled characters lead their groups to some sort of sustainable, or progressive future. The material written in the 20th century could generally rely upon a large existing population with resources and skills to rebuild. Farmers, craftsmen, mechanics and renaissance men and women use their squirreled away knowledge to put things back in order. However, as we enter the 21st century I am beginning to have real questions about how likely this sort of scenario is. This flaw has two sides, the first side is the Into the Wild problem. In the film Into the Wild (spoilers) the protagonist goes off on an adventure in the Alaska wilderness believing he has enough skills and knowledge to survive in the wilderness. This ultimately results in his death. The vast majority of people live in cities and possess few of the skills that would be required to pick through the wilderness. Canned food could last perhaps five years but after that they have to start preparing their own food. I've had gardens a few times in my life but I have no idea how to collect seeds from my plants and make sure they'll germinate next year, or when to plant them, or what conditions they need. The average level of survival skills without modern conveniences is quite low, I estimate.

The second flaw is that our material environment is less well suited to a sudden collapse in technology/maintenance. A growing number of machines require functional computers, for example, our cars. We live in a digital and electric world. These delicate pieces of technology will hardly be useful in their absence. Even if you accept that there would be simple machines left behind there is the question of materials. Many of the things our machines are made with are advanced composites that are not easily replicable in some kitchen laboratory or work shed. Even our intellectual resources are digital. In several novels I've read the characters raid libraries for 'how-to' books to acquire critical skills. The last time I was in the library the book shelves were given less attention to computer resources. How many times have you talk yourself something with a YouTube video? What if YouTube is gone/inaccessible?

Here these two flaws marry together to create a real problem. Our highly specialized, advanced economy means that our existing materials are difficult to retrofit to primitive purposes and that we lack the skills to resurrect the old skills. How many traditional carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, hunters, and farmers do you know? How many horses are out there to move the ploughs when the gas runs out? How many of those horse-driven ploughs are still out there? If not, who knows how to actually make them? More and more it looks like a hard crash at the end of any collapse.

One of my favourite series, though it's fairer to call it post-collapse rather than apocalypse, is The World Made by Hand series. It is set a few years after our normal way of life has come to an end. A huge number of people have dismally struggled to figure out how to survive in the new world and barely scratch out a useful existence. Many simply fall in line with resourceful leaders who need extra hands on their farm/commune. Lawyers, insurance adjusters and real-estate agents have very little use in a world where most people have to grow food for their survival.

In nature when species become too specialized they are in danger of sudden extinction when things change. Humanity and our economy in that sense is in danger with a sudden economic/social/environmental/technological change. In that case it may not be probable that humanity will bounce right back from the apocalypse but enter a new Dark Age. This brings me to the second form of post-apocalyptic literature; ones set in the distant-future.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a beautiful set of stories that show humanity's attempt to recover from a decimating nuclear war over centuries, and perhaps be ultimately trapped in a cycle of violence. After the war humans revert to savagery and barbarism to survive. Humanity gradually advances back through centuries of technology as knowledge is lost and reclaimed. As I think about the trends in our culture and economy I increasingly wonder if post-apocalypses will have to stick to this formula to be plausible. Any fracture in our current system would likely result in serious regression and we do not have easy access to the tools and techniques to recover. I read an estimate once that it takes about a minimum population of one billion people to maintain the level of technology and sophistication we have today. It would have to be the right billion though and have them connected with transportation and communications.

The apocalypse is not terribly likely and isn't something one should dedicate much serious concern on. However, it is a useful mental exercise. For me it forced me to think about our values in our society and how strong they are in the face of desperation. How long would democracy, tolerance, or gender equity last in a world where life was nasty, brutal and short? How resilient are we right now if everything went wrong?

Images in the blog come from the following article

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Worth Reading - June 8, 2017

Check out these incredible images of spaces abandoned by people. Very post-apocalyptic.  

This was something that was bothering me over the last little while. The United Kingdom suffered two terror incidents recently, but so did Kabul and Baghdad. I understand why the bombing in Manchester drew the attention; it was an attack on a fun aspect of our lives and targeted children. Still, as this piece in the Independent says, I think this should give us pause about how we value victims differently

Martin Regg Cohn makes the pitch that we underpay our provincial politicians in Ontario. 

Nik Nanos suggests that global trends indicate an opportunity for the NDP federally

There have been some crazy stories coming out of Brampton's City Hall. Brampton's civil service created a $1.25 million dollar slush fund for bonuses. 

There is some concern that the NDP-Green coalition will force the Speaker to become a more partisan position in the legislature. David Moscorp in Maclean's says that BC should dissolve and go back to the polls

Paul Wells writes about the trouble with political dynasties

Second unit housing (or basement apartments) is a deeply contentious issue in Brampton. It recently came up again at City Hall