October 23, 2007

What's That? The Christian Right are Complaining?

*yawn. rolls over and goes back to sleep?*

How many times is the general public going to have to be victims to the Christian conservatives’ conspiracies of the gay community trying to convert our children or some other type of ignorant rant? At what point do they stop and think about their hypocrisy and other problems that are rampant within their denominations?

I thought it was bad enough that Christian right had already condemned the Harry Potter series. What is worse is that 97% of them hadn’t even read the series and were just listening to some ignorant bigot, who also hadn’t read the series, stand on a pulpit and also condemn the books. Now that Rowling has ‘outted’ her main sage, it is definitely a guarantee that these Christian conservatives will never read the book and just spout uneducated and ignorant opinions even more.

If I were American, I might have just sued Ms. Rowling for the entire emotional trauma that I have suffered by her inflaming of the Christian right. But alas, I live in Canada and I also don’t care about who Dumbledore is in love with. And really should anyone? I’ve read the series and consider myself a big fan of both the novels and films. I read the first three books in five days, for crying out loud. Not once did I have dreams or thoughts about other men because of the words of Dumbledore. And look at Harry Potter. In the end he married a woman and had children. There is no conspiracy just as is there is no hidden meaning behind any of the words attributed to Dumbledore. The meanings of all his wisdom do not change just because he is apparently gay. Good advice is still good advice no matter your sexual orientation. Therefore, that can’t be taken away from the books or the author.

What this whole thing does is once again paint all Christians, because of the few, in a bad light. Why? Because once again the Christian right is showing that they are intolerant, hypocritical and narrow minded. Rather than be non-judgmental, accepting, caring, compassionate, sympathetic, etc. – like we were instructed to be by Christ himself – they would rather condemn and marginalize those that are likely in need of those same traits. Rather than thinking in the terms of what Christ may have done in this situation they would rather make all Christians look like hypocrites.

Here’s a very relevant quote to this discussion from the Christian band DC Talk. “The greatest single cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians…” The Christian right are front and centre of that movement every time they or their leadership stand up on their soapboxes and hypocritically pass judgment while their own leaders get caught in scandals of their own. But maybe that’s the point.

Maybe the Christian conservatives intentionally go after others to deflect and distract from their own issues. That might explain why Rick Mercer jokingly, though probably correctly, points out that groups like Focus on the Family ‘think about gay sex more than gay people do’ and you could include people such as the late Jerry Falwell in that category as well. Or what about those like Benny Hinn who makes millions convincing others that he can heal people and sells Bibles that he autographs himself. Attacking other s is about creating controversy elsewhere and putting others into corners so the same isn’t being done to them when their own hypocrisy is brought to light. However, dealing with their issues is something that needs serious addressing but I have little faith in that happening soon because they’ll probably lose their own in the process. And therefore, the attacks from the Christian right will continue, no matter how ignorant or hypocritical it rightly makes them, but wrongly makes the rest of us, look.

However, maybe Christian conservatives are correct in objectifying the Harry Potter series as evil. After all, on the same day Rowling is in Toronto further defending her outing of Dumbledore, Jim Flaherty – our Conservative Minister of Finance – was on TV bragging how he just bought, not one, but two copies of the final book. If that wasn’t a sign of the Apocalypse, I’m not sure what is…

October 18, 2007

Obviously It's Harper that Wants the Election

Now that Harper has been unable to get the Liberals to force the election via the throne speech, he will make a second attempt through an upcoming crime bill. This new crime bill will include pieces of legislation that were previously amended or dropped through agreements made with the opposition. The Conservatives have also indicated that they will not accept any new amendments and the new bill will be a matter of confidence. Obviously Harper is looking for an election in hopes of getting a majority.

So why would Harper want an election when it is clearly not wanted by the public? Well there are all the obvious reasons such as his decent poll numbers, his supposed strength in Quebec, the lack of funds and organization of the Liberals and the declining numbers of the Bloc. Though don't believe for a second that it's only about taking advantage of the opposition.

Over the last few weeks there have been many reports forewarning about the slowing of the Canadian economy. Add this with the job losses that have already been occurring in the manufacturing sector – namely the auto sector – and any government in power will likely be facing a firing squad. Harper in particular wants to avoid this because his government has already had some of the auto sector job losses attributed to his government’s apparent inaction and therefore will likely take the brunt of the blame for a bigger downturn.

There is also the issue over the environment agenda. It is hardly a secret that Harper hasn’t won any hearts or minds over the environment. Right before he was to stand in front of an international consortium touting his environmental plan the results of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy review were released. The news wasn’t good for the Conservatives and reinforced what most people were saying all along – Harper is failing on the environment. Don’t expect that to change either. Aggressively addressing this issue would be an affront to both his base-support (Alberta) because of their reliance on oil reserves and to his ideology on so-called government interference in certain matters.

However, it is possible that Harper could survive criticism over the economy and make amends with the opposition over the environment. So what else could there be? Well, there’s the growing storm over three separate investigations involving the Conservatives. I can’t say to any certainty how far these investigations will get but each has the potential to damage the credibility of the Conservatives to some degree. One in particular that involves the breaking of election financing laws and seems to have some clout, is likely to hurt them the most especially since Harper once made a big deal about accountability and trust with the parties and government. While none of these are at the scale of the sponsorship scandal each will still have a negative effect if brought to fruition.

It would seem that the plan at this point is to have an election in hopes of achieving a majority. With a majority Harper could spend an uncontested four years weathering the storm of a declining economy with the hopes of it righting itself before the next election. He could also force the adoption of an extremely poor and ineffective environment policy without question. And he could guarantee his hold on power even in the event any of three brewing controversies cost him support or confidence. At this point, Harper has probably had enough with making compromises with the opposition and having to really deal with policies that he could care less about. Since being in a minority government is forcing him to at least make an attempt at governing, Harper can’t do what he wants to do most; force a failed ideology on the masses and then quit governing out of principle. However, I'm pretty sure that the tactics to force an election will be attributed to Harper. This latest move reeks ala Joe Clark and Harper is likely to get called on it. Crime is not as much an issue of importance as health care, the environment or poverty are and therefore is likely not to produce the intended effect. And one only has to look at the Ontario election to see how much the 'law and order' banter has any pull in the face of declining crime rates. My call is that the worst-case scenario has Harper with another minority with the same number of seats of fewer.

October 15, 2007

Looking Ahead at Ontario's Education System

Since the faith-based education situation arose in Ontario there has been a lot of talk about which way to go. Do we fund all faiths, some faiths, one faith, or none? These are all possibilities that have been explored in countless ways since John Tory let his monster loose on the electorate. While it seemed that the majority of Ontarians were in favour of the ‘no faiths’ option, they supported the status-quo of ‘one faith’.

I would argue that – for now – this is the best policy and in the best interest of our public education system. It’s no secret that our system isn’t perfect. After the lashing it took at the hands of the previous Conservative government, it is just back on the road to progress. It has finally recouped the funding that was lost and is once again working in the interest of students. Attempting to overhaul the education system or divert much needed funding, at this junction, would likely undo much of the progress that has been made. Yet, with the obvious divisions that were found when Tory announced his plan, I’m confident that the issue over faith in education will not simply disappear.

So what does that mean going forward? Do we just stick with status-quo in spite of the apparent public desire to change it? If we are honest with ourselves, funding one faith isn’t fair no matter how historical – or whatever – the program is and I think people recognize that.

Just over two years ago, in a post of random afterthoughts I had suggested collapsing the Catholic system into the public system. Note that I didn’t suggest eliminate. I have no issue with faith education in schools, even publicly funded schools. I just don’t believe that everyone needs to be apart of it. However, I support it being there for those that do wish it to be apart of their education. It should just be done in the form of a ‘stream’.

A special stream within the public education system is not a new idea. Especially in secondary schools, streams are found for many programs. French immersion, technical studies, performing and visual arts are some of the specialized streams that can be found. Why not develop a similar concept around faiths?

In this program all the generalized classes (math, language, etc.) would still be taken by everyone together. Those that are enrolled in the religious stream would just have to meet a further requirement to graduate. This being their prescribed religious credits the other students wouldn’t have to be concerned about. This type of system keeps our education system truly inclusive while also being fair. It also works in the interest of efficiency of funding and resources. Which is something that all governments ultimately need to be concerned about. This is an option that could work for everyone that is involved. For those people that want something different there would still be private schools available at their own expense.

When is the right time to do this or seriously explore other options? It isn’t now. As I had said above, Ontario’s education system needs to be much further ahead than it is to handle a major shakeup. That will take time. Maybe in 2010 when the expected funding review takes place, the education system will be ready to handle a massive change or maybe it won't. Whenever it is, I’m confident that the Liberals will eventually get it there and then we can explore our options at that time. After all, if there is one program that the Liberals have done well with and have a clear vision for, it’s education. Hopefully, when the time is right, their vision will include seriously addressing this issue.

October 11, 2007

Faith-Based Funding Was Only the Catalyst. The Real Story is a Boring One.

What a month! My first campaign as an official organizer (I was the #2 guy for a Liberal candidate) has come to an end and life as I knew it, prior to September 10, will be back in full force this coming Monday. However, none of this has anything to do with my post - I just wanted to shamelessly promote myself!!

From the beginning of the election to the end, the issue of faith-based funding was front and centre. As an organizer I heard it from concerned electorates at every turn. All sorts of opinions were being provided - they were overwhelmingly opposed - and there were millions of questions being asked. When the final count was given, I was most relieved that I wouldn't have to hear of it again. Today though, every columnist and pundit seems to be saying that faith-based funding was the reason the Liberals won or the Conservatives lost, depending on which side you stand.

That is a pure copout and laziness on the part of the writers. Don’t get me wrong, faith-based funding played a significant role in the outcome. I would argue that it was actually the catalyst for the end result but to say it was THE reason for the outcome is to overlook much of the story. What is lost is that this election was just as much about the shortcomings of John Tory and the Conservatives’ campaign as it was about Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals’ record and campaign. Faith-based funding was a catalyst in the sense it started to get people thinking about the Liberals’ outlook versus that of the Conservatives’.

It’s no secret that there were issues with the record of McGuinty and the Liberals from the past four years. Every opposition candidate reminded us of it on a consistent basis; these being the ‘broken promises’. However, while there is some truth and much spin to that facet there is also the other side of those problems. These range from the reasons as to why the broken promises occurred to what effect they may or may not have had on the province. Any real inspection of the broken promises, especially the ‘big’ ones, reveals these underlying reasons and serves to only dull the anger over them.

There were a number of people that I had spoken with, who had pledged their support for the Conservatives, that when I had asked them about their opinions on cutting funding to social programs they would often speak out against such an action. Put that into the perspective of the health premium/tax and their outlook often softened on how serious it was of an issue. Too bad it didn’t result in them changing their vote.

Essentially, that is what I believe to be a huge part of the Liberals’ victory. Once many voters actually reflected upon the state Ontario is currently in, things didn’t actually seem to be that bad. And they aren’t. The stats speak for themselves. There was an increase of doctors in the province for the first time in over a decade, education is light years ahead of where it was prior to 2003, health care is slowly making progress, etc. Does this mean everything is perfect? Not at all. And the Liberals didn’t once make a claim that differed from that. They only claimed that, overall, progress had been made and their aim was to continue in that direction. The record is simple and the outlook just as simple.

When looking at all of this from the perspective of the Conservatives, while they seemingly had it made early on by hammering away with the leadership message, they ultimately had a tough task ahead of them. Like any individual candidate taking on an incumbent, especially a decent one, beating out a government that has a record of progress is tough. While early on it seemed as though there was going to be a much tighter race, I believe that the Liberals would have pulled it off anyway, just maybe not by the margin they did. The record and outlook of Liberals would have won out in the end.

What didn’t help the Conservatives was their message and platform and to some degree, their past. Running on the message of leadership is a risky move for any person or party. One only has to look at Paul Martin’s ‘Team Martin’ campaign. To run on that message your leader has to essentially be a flawless human being. This type of campaign puts all the spotlight and pressure on the leader and a single mistake, no matter how miniscule, will be turned into a crisis by the opposition and/or the media. With Tory’s past of finding ways to lose, him never seemingly being able to say things the way he wanted to and at some point attacking everyone in the province, putting all the attention on him was definitely the wrong strategy.

In addition, the fact that the Conservatives’ message was very negative from the get go didn’t help their cause either. After Tory said he wouldn’t run a negative campaign but then struck out viciously, that didn’t help his case. Taking shots at your opponent is one thing, but if it’s all you’re doing you only get people interested in the topic and they begin to wonder what all the fuss is about. What they found was a different McGuinty than what we’ve seen in the past and a generally positive record. Tory pushed people to have a serious look at his opponent. Furthermore, Tory attacked teachers, crown attorneys and others (and in the last few days he also insulted voters). Along with aspects of the Conservative platform, it only served to bring up memories of the Harris days where pretty much every public servant was cannon fodder. Remembering the recent Conservative government wasn't going to aid Tory in anyway and unfortunately, for as much as Tory wanted to escape that past, he couldn’t.

The Conservatives were also not helped by their platform which also played to their past problems. Faith-based funding got people to look at what was being offered and what was found was poorly explained, vague and generally unappealing to the general population. It also didn’t help that it was released prior to the audited budget and then it got hammered about being financially unrealistic. It contained terms such as ‘efficiencies’ and ‘privatization’. Again, these terms and the outlook of the platform only served to remind us of the days of Harris and Eves, something that Tory wanted to get away from but couldn’t. It also didn’t help that Tory pretty much confirmed everything that the NDP and Liberals had always said about the previous Conservative government. Tory, by saying that McGuinty hadn’t done enough since 2003 to fix our social programs, was admitting that Harris and Eves screwed everything up.

So where do we find ourselves at? We have another significant Liberal majority. How did we get here? It was not because of the faith-based funding issue however much it got the ball rolling. It was because of the un-extraordinary basis of the ‘us versus them’ scenario, which is the general decider of most elections. It may also be a factor as to why the voter turnout was also very low – but that’s for another post.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)