« March 2007 | Main | May 2007 »

19 posts from April 2007

April 29, 2007

Peterborough City Council, Tomorrow Night

OrganizerblankSignificant changes to the way that the City of Peterborough assesses and provides grants to not-for-profit organizations and a proposed ban on the use of plastic bags by retailers within the City of Peterborough should make for lively discussion at City Council tomorrow night. Plan to be there in person or -- if you'd rather view the action from the comfort of your own couch -- tune into the action on Cogeco TV. (Yes, it's going to be more exciting than any hockey games that might be airing at the same time. I promise.)

Quote, Unquote

Greenyellowkeyboard"He has a mean streak, a thin-skinned nastiness that he can't even be bothered to conceal. Never before has a prime minister sought to serve as his own hatchetman. Yet, Harper revels in the role."
- Scott Reid -- the communications director for former prime minister Paul Martin -- sharing his theories on why Stephen Harper has become one of Canada's all-time most unpopular Prime Ministers

"The fact is our plan is vastly tougher than any measures introduced by the administration of which the former vice-president was a member."
- federal environment minister John Baird, reacting to Al Gore's heated criticisms of the Harper government's latest green plan; a subtle variation on the usual theme -- "the previous government)"

"For over 70 years [the Canadian Wheat Board] has -- with Ottawa's backing -- withstood American hostility. Now the Harper government is about to do what the U.S. alone has been unable to accomplish; it plans, by order-in council, to strip the Board of its marketing power on barley."
- Harper's Hit on Grain Farmers by Albert Horner and David Orchard - Views - thetyee.ca

An Uneven Playing Field

Nosign“It was just so obvious that if you didn’t [fundraise] you got nothing. The playgrounds that were getting built were the places where the parents had all chipped in.”
- Caz Zyvatkauskas, the parent of a student at Orde Street Junior Public School, in the heart of downtown Toronto, quoted in
The Playground Wars, by Alfred Holden, Taddle Creek Magazine, Summer 2002.

Peterborough This Week has an excellent story about playground politics in its current issue -- specifically about how the need to fundraise for playground equipment is dividing local schools into "have's" and "have nots."

At the root of the problem is the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board's policy of excluding playground equipment from the list of educational necessities that it provides for its students (and this in an era of sky-rocketing child obesity rates). Parents are expected to fundraise for anything else. This means that schools that draw from wealthier neighbourhoods have a greater opportunity to fundraise for playground equipment than schools from lower-income neighbourhoods.

Parents from one school community note that it took them five years to raise the $20,000 required to purchase new playground equipment five years ago -- equipment that is now deemed unsafe.

The associate director of education, who is quoted in the article, doesn't appear to be troubled by the fact that students being served by the same board of education -- and a publicly funded school board at that -- will provide drastically different outdoor play experiences to students attending different schools because the parents at one school are less well off.

"People believe everything has to be the same, but it's not the same," Sherry Summersides, associate director of education for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, told Peterborough This Week. "There's no definition of public education that says everyone has to be the same. It wouldn't be reasonable or logical for us to do that. There's a breaking point. What do we have to have in place for student achievement and what are the nice to haves. It has to be the local school that makes that decision."

I would argue in favour of top-level leadership: in order to live up to the values spelled out in its statement of mission and vision, the Kawartha Pine Ridge School Board needs to takes a leadership role and to act with principles of social justice in mind. Downloading playground equipment fundraising responsibilities to school communities that lack fundraising capacity amounts to passing the buck where there's no buck to be had. That's no solution at all.

April 27, 2007

Presenting....The Ironic Collection

20070103wallpaperquestion800x600"Question authority.
Campus life circa 2006."

Designer wallpaper for the free-thinking Conservative Party of Canada member.

Or something like that.

Note the hip fonts and the timeless youth rebel yell.

Scott's Call to Action

Scott Tribe is ready to pull the plug on the Harper government -- and, frankly, who can blame him for having had his fill of the most branded government in Canadian history -- the people who brought you such memorable phrases as Canada's New Government, Getting Things Done (a term that productivity guru David Allen came up with, made famous, and has trademarked in the U.S. market), among others.

"It is a disgusting display to watch as Canada’s 'tarnished and definitely no longer new' government desperately flails away (though I admit to some amusement and hope people see the irony as minister after minister got up yesterday and demanded apologies from the opposition parties)," he writes.

Reading Scott's passionate call to action got me thinking and typing as well. (Confession: I kind of took over his comments section of his blog in much the same way as certain Members of Parliament take over the floor in the House of Commons and have to be forced to sit down and shut up. Sorry, Scott.) Anyway, here's what I had to say, just in case you didn't make it over to read Scott's diabtribe du jour.

What has shocked me since I really started paying attention to the actions of the Harper government (about six months ago) are

  • the way it refuses to answer legitimate questions that are posed in a direct and civilized manner (usually by answering a totally unrelated question or by attacking the record of the previous government);
    how it treats other members of the House of Commons and members of the media with such disrespect -- like it is above any standard of accountability;

  • how little of substance it has achieved during its time in office -- and how little legitimate concern or interest it has shown for some of the most pressing issues of our time: aboriginal issues, children's issues, healthcare, youth issues, social justice in all its forms, and the environment;

  • how it doesn't seem to care about anything else but achieving the all-might majority (which has to make you wonder what it intends to do with that majority if it gets it);

  • how it is willing to do u-turns on the facts -- and what it allegedly stands for on a daily -- if not an hourly -- basis. How can Canadians have confidence in a government that doesn't appear to stand for anything but principles of self-interest and getting re-elected?
  • The Conservative Party spin-doctoring has been impressive, which means there is a greater need for media literacy and political literacy education at the grassroots levels -- teaching people how changing the subject when you don't want to answer a particular question, providing a partial truth, and other tried-and-true message management tools have allowed the Harper government to misuse the privilege of power and waste Parliament's time -- time that could otherwise have been used accomplishing something of substance.

    The Guardian -- Quiz: Could You Be the King of Spin?

    The Center for Media and Democracy

    Politics and the Press Bibliography

    April 26, 2007

    A Man for All Seasons: Dean Del Mastro

    After reading Dean Del Mastro's heated comments about Garth Turner in Tuesday's Peterborough Examiner, I decided to try to figure out why Dean Del Mastro is still so touchy about the income trust issue, other than the obvious reason, of course: Peterborough Riding has the second highest per capita population of seniors in the country, and many of those seniors were less-than-impressed when the Harper government did a u-turn on this issue. And the fact that Del Mastro serves on the Finance Committee only adds insult to injury.

    Anyway, while I was researching this issue, I discovered that Del Mastro has re-spun his take on the income issue at different times. He is clearly a man for all seasons -- or at least he has a fresh spin for every season.

    Income Trusts: A Winter's Story

    SnowmanBack in January, Garth Turner described Dean Del Mastro as "a Conservative member of the finance committee who voted [at the committee] against holding hearings into the income trust controversy."

    On January 30th, Garth Turner issued the following clarification on his blog, at the request of Dean Del Mastro:

    "Dean says [the information provided on the blog] is untrue. He wants me to tell you that he did not vote against holding these hearings, presumably because he was absent."

    [Editorial comment: If you stopped reading at this point or if Garth Turner had not questioned Dean Del Mastro further, you might have assumed that Del Mastro wanted to issue clarifying information because there had been a significant factual error (e.g., he had, in fact, wanted there to be hearings). Generally this is why a clarification is issued. Read on.]

    "During the meeting today I passed him a note, and asked, 'For clarification, would you have voted to support having these hearings?'”

    "He answered me, writing, 'No, but I am happy that the Minister has the opportunity to clarify his decision.'"

    [Editorial comment: This is a classic political spin technique. It's known as bridging. Clearly the Conservative troops received some question-diversion training at some point. And Del Mastro has mastered the spin cycle techniques particularly well. Now back to Garth.]

    "So, there you go. Dean del Mastro did not vote for the hearings, but he would have not voted to support having the hearings, had he voted. If you live in Peterborough riding, you read it here first!"

    Garth.ca via Confeederation.ca

    Income Trusts: A Spring Tale

    CottagesceneA few months pass by (long enough for some voters to forget about what some politicians have said about some issues), and Dean Del Mastro is no longer doing personal damage control on the income trust issue. In fact, he's had a total change of heart on income trusts. They're suddenly A Good Thing.

    On Monday, April 23 in the House of Commons, Dean Del Mastro declares, "I am very proud of the actions the government has taken [on income trusts]." (See Section 1620).

    So what's next? Summer of course -- and a story as yet to be written.


    Other noteworthy instances when Dean Del Mastro has reversed his position on the issue of the day

    April 22, 2007

    Democracy Soapbox

    PeoplelogoI posted these comments in response to Andrea's excellent post about working for environmental change.

    DEMOCRACY IS A RESPONSIBILITY. We have a lot to lose in the current climate (no pun intended). Do your homework on all the issues that matter to you. Don't be a passive voter who gets swayed by sound-bytes and newspaper headlines and campaign attack ads. Find out for yourself what each candidate/party stands for and what they can reasonably deliver, given his/her personal track-record and the party's track-record.

    Because we have to use our one vote to vote for both the party and the candidate in Canada, you may have to balance out your faith in the local candidate vs. the national party (e.g., if you'd give the local candidate an A+ and that candidate's national party a B-, for example).

    Make your vote really count because other people who have particular agendas to promote have been busy rallying their troops for a long time and you may not discover until after election day which agendas are being promoted and by whom. Some people have a vested interest in promoting an anti-environment agenda (the same people who have pooh-poohed climate change for a very long time: do some research and you'll be surprised to find out that many of those people have become environmental chameleons, speaking the language of environmental change because it's now in their political interest to do so, but they may still not necessarily be prepared to truly walk the walk).

    Ditto for any other issue that matters to you. Realize that if you aren't finding out which candidates/parties will best respresent your views and interests, you risk being sweet-talked into voting for the best talker (or the best financed candidate) rather than the candidate of principle who actually stands for something.

    April 21, 2007

    Peterborough Riding: A Cinderella Happy Ending

    If you wanted to sell a script about a political nomination campaign, you would never be able to sell one about the campaign that just wrapped up here in Peterborough.

    Any director would tell you right off the top that the plot twists were too unbelievable; the characters larger than life (particularly the dastardly ones); the setting too surreal.

    But, the events that played out here actually happened. (I should know. I've been living and blogging my way through them for the past four months.)

    The story does have one redeeming quality: it delivers up that one ingredient that will win the hearts of even the most cynical movie-goer (and even a script-weary producer or two): a Cinderella happy ending. Cinderella triumphs at the end of the story.

    In this story, Cinderella is Betsy McGregor -- the newly elected Federal Liberal candidate for Peterborough Riding. (Woo hoo!)

    Congratulations, Betsy.

    You totally earned this victory.

    And you did it with class and style and integrity.

    That's the most soul-restoring part of this story: that bully-tactics and other campaign ugliness did not triumph in this one race, this one time.

    Perhaps there's hope for democracy after all.

    I'll be Live Blogging from the Peterborough Nomination Meeting This Afternoon

    QuestionmarkI've been asked to send updates from the campaign floor at the Federal Liberal nomination meeting in Peterborough Riding this afternoon (Trentwinds International Centre and Motor Hotel. The live action begins at 1:00 p.m.

    I'll have my camera in tow because I'm hoping to upload the odd photo.

    I'll be blogging from Team Betsy's perspective at Betsy McGregor's Blog.

    Any of my own observations that aren't relevant to Team Betsy will appear in this blog.

    Peterborough This Week has already got a head start on the rest of us, reporting who will and won't be there.

    Should make for an interesting afternoon.

    April 17, 2007

    The Political Fix-It List

    Every household has its own fix-it list -- a list of things that need fixing. Here's my stab at a fix-it list for Canadian politics. I'm writing this from the vantage point of a political newbie and first-time campaign volunteer.

    The 75% solution: Eliminate the huge tax breaks that are provided for contributions to political parties (75% on the first $400 and on a sliding scale thereafter). Charitable donations (which most Canadians would consider to be at least as worthy of a tax deduction) are deductible at rates starting at 23% and topping out at 45%, depending on where you live. Making political contributions one-and-a-half to three times as deductible as a donation to the most worthwhile charity you can imagine doesn't seem right.

    Appoint a Political Hall Monitor: Put an objective, non-partisan individual in charge of overseeing the nomination process in a particular riding right from the moment a candidate first declares an interest in seeking the nomination for a particular party. This will give each candidate an impartial ombudsman to turn to if there's a dispute and it will take the pressure off the local riding association to resolve any issues that arise between the candidates.

    Get Rid of Patchwork Quilt Politics: Insist that all ridings follow the same rules about important issues, as opposed to reinventing these rules on a riding-by-riding basis. Better yet, have each party put its rules in writing in a country-wide basis so that any candidate considering running in any riding in Canada has a copy of the rules before he/she makes the decision to run -- and so that he/she can feel confident that these rules will remain constant throughout the campaign.