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11 posts from May 2007

May 31, 2007

A Quick Guide to Politics, Blogging, and Fair Play

PencilsgreenHere's something I really struggle with when I'm wearing my blogger/activist's hat. Maybe you struggle with it, too. Sometimes politics can get so personal.

Here's what I mean.

My parents always taught me to attack the problem, not the person, but these days politics seems to have become as at least as much about personalities as it is about issues.

As a social/political activist, I tell myself that it's reasonable to criticize a politician's record, but it's not fair game to attack the politician as a person unless the criticisms are relevant to that person's performance as a politician (e.g., the politician has done something really wrong that the public needs to know about).

And as for the all-out political attacks on political opponents that seem to have become a form of political entertainment in Ottawa as of late, I'm totally opposed to them.

  • First of all, they basically amount to bully tactics; and I disagree with bullying in any arena, including the political arena. Besides bullying tends to lead to a general lack of respect and civility and, as we've seen in recent weeks on The Hill, it's hard to get much of anything done in a climate of mutual distrust or outright loathing.

  • Secondly, personal attacks sidetrack the political debate, allowing the conversation to become focused on personalities rather than the issues that should actually actually be being debated or the work of Parliament that should actually be being done.

I think I may have crossed the line a few times in this blog (although when I re-read the posts that make me wonder, I'm not quite sure). If I have, I apologize. What I can promise is that I'll try even harder to err on the side of generosity of spirit in future, even if it means taking a blogging timeout when it comes to a particular issue.

P.S. This post wasn't motivated by any incident in particular; just me trying to live my life in synch with my values (which is always a tall order). Since I was mulling over these issues, I thought I'd blog about them in case someone else was mulling them over, too.

May 24, 2007

Stéphane Dion's Trip to Peterborough

I've had the most awesome, inspiring day. I had the chance to meet someone who accomplished the impossible, given my experience of recent months: restored my faith in politicians (or at least some politicians).

I had the chance to spend about a couple of hours in the company of Stéphane Dion and to watch how he treats other people. He was in Peterborough today to tour St. Joseph's at Fleming -- a state-of-the-art eldercare facility -- and to spend some time with our newly elected Federal Liberal candidate, Betsy McGregor.

Here are my impressions.

Stéphane Dion was kind and respectful to everyone we met, from the youngest child to the most elderly senior citizen. It was the little things that really caught my eye -- the way he'd knock on a resident's door before entering (even though other people in the group barged in ahead of him, forgetting that they were entering someone's home, not a retail store front or some other public space). Not every toddler or aged senior was thrilled to have a politician in their presence: he acknowledged this with grace. Other people had expressed an interest in meeting him, including one older gentleman who was clearly his number one fan.

Some people have been spending a lot of time, energy, and money manufacturing a mythology about this man because the simple facts about Stéphane Dion are clearly fightening -- and threatening -- to many people.

He speaks the truth.
He is genuine.
He is likeable.
He is forthright.
He is thoughtful and intelligent.
He has principles.
He is a man of vision.
He is inspiring.
He is someone you can believe in.
He treats people with respect.
He embodies so many great Canadian values.

He would make a wonderful Prime Minister.

And, yes, I sound like a rock star groupie.


I can tell you this: I wasn't the only one.

In fact, I'd be willing to bet no one else who met Dion today got any work done for the rest of the day either. Our day was that inspiring.

Jason Cherniak's comments on this leg of the tour - Part I
Part II
Peterborough Examiner

Stéphane Dion's 2008 visit to Peterborough

May 18, 2007

Del Mastro Wants CBC to Explain Programming Decision

Upset by the content of an absurdist comedy satire he read about but did not actually have the chance to watch, Dean Del Mastro would like CBC officials to be called before the House of Commons' Heritage Committee so that they can explain why they aired two half-hour show pilots for The Altar Boy Gang.

He will also be writing a letter to the president of the CBC to express his disappointment with the show's content.

CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay told The Peterborough Examiner that the CBC's audience relations department had received both positive and negative feedback about the show. Most of the negative feedback was generated by media coverage about the show.

Keay explained that, as a condition of receiving funding through the Canadian Television Fund, CBC was required to air the two-half hour show pilots. He added that the CBC had already decided that the pilots would not air again, nor would the show be made into a series.

Related Story:
Catholics angry at CBC over Altar Boy Gang
Group protests 'blasphemy of sacred rituals'; Janice Tibbetts, The Ottawa Citizen

Killing Time Until Recess

Graffitti2It's hard not to get discouraged about the speed at which Parliament gets things done -- or doesn't get things done -- when you consider all the important work that is waiting to be done on the social justice, environmental, health, and poverty fronts. (That's just the starter of a very long "to do" list which the government doesn't appear to have any interest in tackling.)

And with The Star reporting that Harper may be looking for excuses to shut things down -- perhaps for as long as a four month recess -- well, you have to wonder if this government is just killing time, hoping that its political fortunes will improve so that it can seek that all-mighty majority.

I remember reading a poll that indicated that politicians tend to get higher approval ratings from the public during the summer months when Parliament is on recess, so maybe that's part of the latest Harper strategy: get the Conservative Party members out of The House, where they're annoying Canadians on a daily basis, before they drive his poll numbers down any further.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with Stéphane Dion's take on the situation -- that the Conservatives are "beyond strategy." Why else would they have resorted to distributing a handbook on the art of disrupting Parliament?

And speaking of Conservative Handbooks, you have to wonder if some Canadianized version of the U.S. Conservative Debate Handbook is making the rounds in Ottawa. It makes for quite the read.

Shocked and Appalled (or Something Like That)

RobotfaceI posted the comment below over at the The Stop Stephen Harper Blog. The post was talking about other blog posts referring to a report in today's National Post that some Conservative party members have been given a secret manual outlining strategies for disrupting parliamentary procedures. ("A secret guidebook that details how to disrupt parliamentary committees has been given to select Conservative MPs.") How this is supposed to improve the mood and the conduct in The House is beyond me.

It appears that a new strategy is to feign outrage at the tactics being used by the opposition -- the very same tactics that have been made famous by the Harper Government.

On Wednesday, Dean Del Mastro (a Harper-ite, my MP, and a master when it comes to manipulation and time wasting strategies) said "Mr. Speaker, once again we see debate in this House brought down to levels to which it should never go. The member quite frankly brought up so many points that were false, I do not know where to begin."

Of course, later in the same session, he objected to the "disrespect" shown by Garth Turner to members of the automotive industry, leading Garth Turner to respond: "I thank the member for Peterborough for eating up some time uselessly."

In Peterborough, we don't need any other channels but the Parliamentary Channel to entertain ourselves full-time.

And our preferred daily reading? Hansard, of course!

May 17, 2007

Income Trusts and Trustworthy Professions

RunningonemptyIf you read Garth Turner's Guzzler post about Dean Del Mastro's car, you may want to check out the portion of the Hansard transcript when Dean Del Mastro decided that Garth Turner wasn't being politically correct in his comments about politicians and car salesmen. And for the total reference junkies in the crowd, here's the Ipsos-Reid study that Garth was referring to, too.

Hon. Garth Turner (Halton, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans for his intervention. He is an honourable gentleman and those of us who have worked with him certainly know he is sincere in what he has just said to the House.

Turning to the topic at hand, it has been six months since, out of the blue, the administration imposed a 31% tax on investors and caused their retirement savings to tumble. Some people ask why we, on this side of the House, keep fighting this move. Why do we tell average taxpayers not to give up? Obviously, we could and that would be the easy path but the easy path is not what we are choosing in this particular instance.

I will give five reasons why we think the income tax trust must be stopped, delayed or at least modified.

First, there, but for the grace of the Minister of Finance, go all the rest of us as taxpayers. If the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister can impose a crushing new tax on personal investments and wipe away $25 billion in private savings and not care and get away with it, then it will probably happen again. One must ask what the next target will be of the finance department to minimize tax expenditures and to maximize revenues. Will it be to eliminate, to cap or start to tax RRSPs? Will it be to impose a capital gains tax, maybe even a modest one, on the massive real estate capital gains being enjoyed homeowners these days? Let us think about it. Without political accountability anything can happen.

Second, this is a simple betrayal. Many people invested in income trusts or increased their stake precisely because the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister said that it was okay to do this. They said that they would never tax these investments. The man who is now Prime Minister said that over and again and his very words of course caused an increase in the flow of savings into these vehicles. His very words also encouraged many companies to convert into trust, secure in the knowledge, they thought, that a Conservative government could be counted on to keep its word. Now we know differently.

Third, this shows a profound and deep and troubling lack of respect. Such a draconian move by any government demonstrates that it does not care about individual security and, more worrisome for the government, it does not care about property rights.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance knew well what this move would do to the pool of private savings in Canada: that the tax would depress the market value of all trusts and erase capital. However, they did it anyway. What is worse is that they knew a majority of these income trusts investors were seniors who had no pensions and so pension splitting is of no value to these people whatsoever. There is no offset and many of them are too old to recoup their losses. However, those guys did it anyway. A government that so disrespects seniors is not deserving of our respect.

Fourth, this really hurts the political system. The government was supposed to be different. It promised transparency and it promised consistency with no tricks, not getting elected saying that it would eliminate a tax and then not doing it, just steady Eddie government that we could all count on with a populace streak and a new respect for the common voter. That is what we were told but not so much. In a stroke that changed. It is now politics as usual: say one thing to gain support, get into power and do another, and that sucks.

It proves once again that politicians deserve to have the same standing as used car salesmen, which is what the latest survey shows.

Fifth, this unfairness is overwhelming. (1825)

Mr. Dean Del Mastro:
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I take offence to what the member just said. There are a number of people, and I am certain a number of people in his own riding, who work in the automotive industry and do not deserve to be drawn into disrespect by that member or any other member in the House in the manner that the member has just done. I would ask him to withdraw his comment.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau):
The hon. member for Halton is rising on a point of order?

Hon. Garth Turner:
No, Mr. Speaker, I am on debate. (1830)

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau):
You have less than a minute to finish.

Hon. Garth Turner:
I thank the member for Peterborough for eating up some time uselessly.

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, my fifth point here is that we have an unfairness this week that is overwhelming.

This past Monday, the Minister of Finance went to Bay Street and at the modest urging of corporate Canada did a flip-flop and all of a sudden eliminated a $1 billion tax loophole from his budget. Yet, he does not have the decency to stand in this House and even apologize to investors from whom he stole twenty-five....

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau):
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When this matter returns, the hon. member for Halton will have another four minutes. [Translation]

Great Canadian Quotes from The Hill

Partofcanadianflag"Mr. Speaker, once again we see debate in this House brought down to levels to which it should never go. The member quite frankly brought up so many points that were false, I do not know where to begin."
- Dean Del Mastro, CPC Member of Parliament for Peterborough Riding, is shocked and appalled by the conduct of his fellow MPs

May 12, 2007

What the Mom Working at WalMart Really Wants for Mother's Day

Woman14 leading women's groups in the U.S. have joined with WakeupWalmart.com to launch the
Moms Deserve Better Than Wal-Mart Campaign.

Here's the campaign pledge:

I, _____________, pledge not to buy a Mother's Day gift from Wal-Mart unless Wal-Mart promises to pay a living wage, provide affordable health care, and end its anti-family policies that hurt all women, especially moms, who work at Wal-Mart.
This year, until Wal-Mart changes for the better, I promise to
"Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart"

Christian Science Monitor Review of The Wal-Mart Effect by Fast Company Editor Charles Fishman: "Today, when Wal-Mart negotiates with suppliers, it tends to get its way. The firm has an obsession, Fishman reports, 'almost a corporate fetish' with the kind of cost- and price-cutting that have made Wal-Mart a consumer magnet....Dangling the prospect of volume sales, it essentially gets companies hooked....Wal-mart is perhaps a perfect fit for the culture that spawned it - one that simultaneously values frugality and loves to consume."

WalMart Watch: "Our mission is to persuade Wal-Mart to assume its leadership role as America's largest corporation and enact positive change."

May 02, 2007

Playground Politics

StoponpavementPeterborough This Week has two "Letters to the Editor" reacting to its recent story about the playground fundraising pressures being faced by parents in certain school communities in its current issue -- the letter I wrote expressing my concerns about the fact that some students won't have access to playground equipment while others will (a "have" and "have not" situation within the same board) and a letter from a reader who sees the situation quite differently than I did:

"I find it hard to believe that we are born with the right to playground equipment, but I also do not know of any existing legal document in which the right to playground equipment has been afforded to every individual. In my opinion, it cheapens the word 'right' when parties co-opt it for their own particular issues. The existence of universal rights in general can still be debated. When every party with a grievance claims their 'rights' are being violated, it does not serve proponents of universal human rights well. I urge the Prince of Wales Parent Council and all other similar organizations to consider their terms when engaging in politics."


I've been thinking this over some more, and I'm wondering if, in fact, a case could be made that knowingly providing unequal playground facilities could be viewed as discrimination as defined by The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

May 01, 2007

Politicians and Potty Training

QuestionmarkDue to the nature of my work, I end up researching a motley assortment of subjects. This gives me an unusual (some might say warped) perspective on the world. Take, for example, what I noticed about the world today:

The phrase "get the job done" is extremely popular with

  • politicians (particularly those with a conservative bent, whether they're Canadian and American and British) and
  • experts from the world of potty training.
  • Anyone want to play amateur shrink?