31 August 2015


We interrupt the "78 Tory Wrongs" stream to bring you this lovely song that says it all. Note that the composer and guitarist is a federal government employee who has been suspended from his position because, as we all know, you can't criticize the Prime Minister AND be objective in your study of migratory bird patterns. Wait, what?!

Let's share and give him the millions of views that this song merits!

#30 My Game, My Rules

It must be 1984. There is a law that was adopted by the outgoing government called the “Fair Elections Act” that will make it more difficult for many people to vote, all based on the improbable premise that there might have been someone who voted without having the right to do so. There's no proof of this, of course, but the mere suggestion is sufficient to remove a practice (vouching, which allowed neighbours to confirm the identity of someone who turned up to vote without photo identification, or who doesn't actually have any such identification). Thousands of people used that possibility last election and now it is gone.

Other notable features of the law include limitations on the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer, who will now be prohibited from doing such radical things as encouraging people to vote and reporting irregularities in the conduct of candidates. When you consider that the party in power has had a certain number of infractions charged in the past, leading to fines, a jail sentence and one resignation of an MP, you have to wonder at the convenience of limiting the investigation and reporting powers of the non-partisan watchdog.

An additional plan of attack has been the budget allowed to this agency, which was cut to the point that certain other pilot projects to encourage voting — like online voting — are no longer possible. You have to wonder how it serves democracy to discourage voters from exercising their rights and tying the hands of the regulator who is supposed to ensure that the rules are followed.

We might need some international observers in October to document how things go wrong.

Further reading here and here.

If you want to vote
there are new hoops to jump through
while we run amok

#29 If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...

You always know that someone has policy content and substance that they would like to discuss with you when they focus instead on attacking their opponents. Not for what they have done or the ideas they have put forth, but for their perceived weaknesses or for the things you think you can spin into weaknesses. When your pockets are deep, you can hammer away at the message until a few more people believe it.

This wasn't how politics in Canada used to work. Time and electronic media have gradually worn away the substance of the debates, yes, but it took someone mean-spirited and possibly influenced by the tenor of election campaigns south of the border, perhaps, to make things mean and nasty.

I will be the last person to defend the leadership of Justin Trudeau, but I would prefer to think that I have reasons more than the superficial for not liking him or his style or the substance of his policies and his advisors. His hair? His relative youth? Not particularly pertinent in the debate.

The barrage of attacks against his two predecessors in the Liberal Party were similarly simplistic and irrelevant to the public debate. Unfortunately, they seem to have worked and the Conservative Party is pursuing the strategy with gusto. It is kind of fun to see the Liberals shoot back at some of them with a comic mocking of the Prime Minister in a similar style, but that would be better if it actually put an end to the practice instead of leading everyone down that road.

Further reading here

I violate rights
but he's “soft on terror” and
his hair is too nice

29 August 2015

#28 Steer Me Wrong

The newest annoyance of modern communication: the robocall. You know when you answer the phone and it waits a second then a cheery voice comes on to sell you something. No, it isn't that. The robocall is when all there is at the other end is a recorded voice inflicting sharing information with you.

Apparently used by a number of political parties, form time to time, to get their message out. Also apparently used by one party to send false information to send voters in a close contest to the wrong polling station. That would be robo-voter-suppression, and you would think that a political party would want to encourage participation in the election, not discourage it. Of course, they didn't step up to take “credit” for the move until they had absolutely no choice, preferring that the voters think that it was “another” mix-up from Elections Canada (which actually doesn't do a lot of mix-ups).

For this to work, you would have to have a certain degree of doubt about how well-organized Elections Canada might be, which we could also chalk up to years of inspiring doubt in our democratic institutions. Kind of sad that we have gone there.

When finally caught, the party higher-ups gleefully pinned the blame on a minor staffer, who we are to believe concocted the whole scheme and authorized the payments to the telemarketing company all on his own with no assistance. I suppose it is some kind of twisted testimonial to loyalty that those who are being sacrificed (this one to a criminal sentence) don't turn around and take a few bosses down with them. Not sure I would be particularly proud of that one.

Will we see that again this time around, or has there been sufficient voter suppression in the “Fair” Elections Act? (More on that another time.)

Further reading here

Anonymous voice
calls to change my voting place
Seems legit. Wait, what?

28 August 2015

#27 Flying High

A little thing happened in one riding in the course of the 2011 general election. It was the riding of Labrador and the Conservative Party candidate won by a tiny margin (79 votes) and was appointed to the cabinet. The story doesn't end there, of course.

The story continues through the process of reporting donations and election spending to Elections Canada, where it gradually became clear that this particular candidate had overspent the campaign spending limit by more than 20%, that is if you count the air travel he didn't quite pay for criss-crossing the rather large riding. He wouldn't have been able to fly so much — as, in fact, his opponents weren't able to do — if it had not been for an airline “writing off” $17,000 in costs. That, of course, amounts to a corporate contribution, which is also illegal.

For once, however, the story takes an unexpected turn. Confronted with the overwhelming evidence, the candidate actually pays back $30,000 he ought not to have received from Elections Canada and does the honourable thing, resigning his seat to run again in a by-election. There is also the expected thing in this story, the blaming of an employee for the “errors” on the campaign spending.

Oh, and on the level playing field of the by-election that cost us all a bunch of money that we shouldn't have had to pay, the former MP and cabinet minister lost, probably to the opponent who would have won if everyone had played by the rules in the first place.

Further reading here

Just like Icarus
he flew too close to the sun
and had his wings melt

27 August 2015

#26 The Old In-Out In-Out

I suppose that in the history of electoral politics in Canada there have been many instances of attempts to influence the voters outside the rules of the game. I'm pretty sure that I have heard stories of alcohol for votes in the very early days of confederation. Those kinds of shenanigans led us as a country to set rules that would make them a thing of the past. It is extra disappointing, then, when we find a party scheming to act outside the rules to gain an advantage in the election.

The “In and Out Scandal” was a scheme to allow the Conservative Party to spend more money on national advertising by charging some of it to local campaigns. The expenses at the local level were questioned because they related to advertising that was clearly not local in nature.

The reaction on being called out on this by elections officials? Resistance and denial for several years, until they negotiated a settlement “to put an end to the proceedings”. An admission of guilt spun as administrative expediency, a fine paid from more funds subsidized by the public (we all subsidize dontations to political parties through the tax deductions from which the donors benefit). Maybe we need some real consequences for breaking the rules...but that is the next story.

Further reading here

That time your left hand
couldn't explain what your right
hand said it had spent

26 August 2015

#25 The Reset Button is Getting Worn

Apart from talking to the premiers on a regular basis, one of the other things we tend to expect of a government and a Prime Minister is that they will pursue their legislative agenda. Now, in the case of the outgoing Prime Minister, not all of us wanted that to roll forward without interruption, but some interruptions are more equal than others, if you'll permit me to borrow from an apt political novel.

Prorogation is a way for the government to say that it has achieved what it set out to do in its speech from the throne (in Québec, an inaugural address, for those who are not aware that we don't do the “throne” thing) at the beginning of a legislative session and it is time to map out a new path for the time ahead. It has an impact beyond the ceremonial, erasing all legislation that has not reached its final stage of approval (you would think that would be minimal, given the raison d'être of the prorogation described above, but not always).

What Mr. Harper has done with prorogation has been to run away from problems and give himself a little breathing room to regroup. I remember a particular moment in time where it looked like the government might fall and the opposition parties were ready to ask the Governor General for the chance to form a government together as a coalition. Not only did Mr. Harper demonize the idea of a coalition as being anti-democratic (quite common in many democracies, so, no...), but he prorogued parliament, taking away the possibility of a confidence vote and kicking the can down the road a few months.

In fact, it seems to be one of his favourite things to do when in a jam. I wonder if he will be wanting to prorogue the current campaign?

Further reading here

When things go awry
remember in government
“prorogue” means “reset”

25 August 2015

#24 Odd Man Out

Considering that the British North America Act, since evolved into the Constitution Act, sets forth a number of areas in which federal and provincial governments share  jurisdiction, and that there is an imbalance between the expected role of governments today and the taxation powers of the players, it is of vital importance that they talk. Apparently not Mr. Harper's opinion.

While Prime Ministers past have met regularly with their provincial counterparts to discuss all manner of issues in the interest of better responding to the needs of their respective constituents. The federal government, after all, shares constituents with each and every province and territory, so one would think it might have an interest in their being happy and satisfied. But no, this Prime Minister seems to want his way and will sabotage any attempt to go down another path. If some things have been accomplished on a collaborative level between the provinces, it has been despite this Prime Minister and not because of him.

Why has this Prime Minister been so absent from the gatherings of the thirteen others? Why does he spend his time demonizing the ones he doesn't like instead of sitting around the table and making is policy points in a healthy debate? A person might be excused for thinking that this is one guy who just does not play well with others. Maybe his shared constituents in each province and territory will put the blame for a dysfunctional federal system where it ought to lie: squarely at Mr. Harper's feet.

Further reading here

If I can't set all
the rules, I will take my toys
and play by myself

24 August 2015

#23 Not Even Transluscent

We hear so much — and have heard so much from the current government, though admittedly when they were not in power — about the importance of transparency to the democratic process and to good governance. I couldn't agree more. On the other hand, I am having a problem actually seeing it in action.

It will come as a surprise to none that certain information is kept tightly under wraps by the outgoing government (fingers crossed on the “outgoing” part). Anything that might contradict its own interpretation of reality, for example. I found myself surprised, however, by some of the things not shared openly, and there is one example I can give that left me truly perplexed as to why it might have been perceived as threatening.

Every five years for quite some time now the Public Health Agency of Canada commissions a poll on Canadians' attitudes toward HIV. It is generally published shortly after its production and those most concerned comb through it to analyze its contents and what it might mean for our work. The most recent version did not follow that path. We hadn't actually noticed its absence until we were contacted by a journalist who had obtained a copy through an access to information request and wanted to know if we would comment on it.

An access to information request was necessary to see a poll on something not particularly central to the government's program and that had been published without incident many times in the past. I can't even fathom a reason for this, except that the culture of secrecy has gone to such an extreme that no information is willingly released, unless it is spun into a beam to support the government's outlook on things.

The example below (in the further reading link) is not about this poll, but about information not being provided to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is in fact supposed to receive all the information he asks for. I've had more luck seeing through a brick wall.

Further reading here

The  “transparency”
zealots don't know that we all
can see right through them

23 August 2015

#22 Absolutely

It didn't start with the current Prime Minister, this centralization of power in the PMO. No, it started much earlier, but it seems to have been carried to its logical conclusion by the current government. Some of the early Tory ads (the ones not attacking others) showed it glaringly — the Prime Minister working long hours, alone in his office. I can't imagine how a government of one could be sustainable over the long term or legitimate for one second.

To be fair, it isn't one person doing this, but a select group of advisors and staffers working to determine the whole direction of the government, to be approved (not so much debated) by the caucus and then by Parliament. Not what comes to most of our minds when we think of democracy and good governance. But it is apparently considered efficient, what with none of that pesky dissent or fiddling with the direction that has been determined.

I used to find it fascinating, at the beginning of the current regime, how every major announcement came from the mouth of the Prime Minister, with the minister responsible for the file dutifully standing by and observing. There is another way to do that, of course, and this PMO has discovered it. Brief, well-honed talking points that can be handed out and parroted by whoever might be speaking. The multiple faces give the illusion that many are involved in the governing, but the scripted lines ensure that things move along in the direction that has been pre-determined.

Debate and dissent might be messy and might delay getting certain things done, but ultimately, that would be a lot healthier an approach to governing a country. Decisions get better when truly compelled to withstand scrutiny and to adapt to legitimate criticism.

Further reading here

He controls the reins
We ask what was the price of
absolute power?

22 August 2015

#21 Ice, Ice, Baby

It's always a nice thing to see a father spending time with his children. When Dad works long hours, those things you are able to do together are as rare as they are special. So I guess it should warm all of our hearts that we have helped to pay for Mr. Harper to spend a little quality time with his children, right?

I am, of course, talking about the infamous use of the government jet to fly with his daughter to Boston to take in a hockey game. Oh, he paid for his own tickets to the game (should we be thankful for that?) and then he reimbursed the equivalent of what a commercial airline ticket would have cost, but that was hardly anything like the cost of sending the government jet with crew to Boston and back.

They will tell you that the Prime Minister cannot travel on commercial flights because of security concerns, but I would ask when and how the Prime Minister of Canada became a big — or even known — target for anyone out there in the world. Could it be that, having transformed the country from peacekeeper to combatant he is now worried about his own safety? And shouldn't the security measures that inconvenience and protect us all suffice to protect the guy who has frittered away our positive reputation in the world?

Why am I feeling a little less safe about my own air travel after his shining example?

Further reading here

He pays the expense
that you and I would have paid
but flies private jet

#20 Gone Fishin'

Sometimes, when a man is fishing, he just loses track of time. Surely that would be the explanation for sending an armed forces helicopter to a fishing lodge to retrieve the Minister of Defence, who was there on a personal vacation.

The story also shows us that if you get caught out on this kind of use of government resources, you have several recourses:

• invent a reason for which this might be a reasonable action for a Minister, like evaluating the response times of search and rescue operations;

• order your staff to try to dig up dirt on those who would criticise you, trying to see if any of them had previously taken rides on military aircraft;

• attack said individuals with the information you obtain;

• when it turns out that the requests for their ride-alongs originated from your office, just clam up and hope the whole thing goes away.

Sometimes pointing fingers means never having to say you're sorry.

Further reading here

When going fishing
you catch the whopper, don't get
caught in a whopper

21 August 2015

#19 Let Them Drink Orange Juice

Sixteen dollars is not a lot of money. When it becomes the symbol of spending excess because it is the price of a glass of orange juice in one of the more expensive hotels in London (no, not Ontario, England), it starts to look a little more significant.

Bev Oda, then Minister for International Development, was attending a donors' conference for a program to immunize children in poor countries. The five-star hotel booked for the conference couldn't provide her with a smoking room, so she got her staff to rebook her at the Savoy Hotel, about 2 kilometres distant. Cancellation fees, extra cost of room at the luxury hotel, limousine to travel back and forth to the hotel and the infamous $16 glass of orange juice.

The additional problem in this case was how long it took to own up to the facts and reimburse the unwarranted expenses. A journalist uncovered the expense claim through an access to information request and, after a time for public outrage and the calls of the opposition for her resignation, she paid back the excess costs.

There is nothing like doing the right thing when you have been caught and have no choice.

Further reading here

Who knew that child health
could lead a journalist to

a juicy story?

#18 Maybe They Will Just Go Away

In the wake of the ongoing Senate spending scandal and subsequent trials and tribulations, Stephen Harper seems to have come to the conclusion that the NDP was right all along about the upper chamber. He still remains timid about the possibility of talking to the provinces about anything, let alone constitutional change, so his big plan is to let the Senate wither away through attrition.

The problem that highlights is an ongoing one: either you have the courage of your convictions (pardon the pun) and get on with what would really be required to do away with the institution, or you make it work properly by keeping an effective force of people who take their roles seriously and study legislation as it ought to be before approving it.

I guess it might suit the Prime Minister just fine to be down to a handful of senators faced with the mammoth task of studying one of his trademark omnibus bills with an odious name, and their giving up because they have neither the time nor the support to do so.

That is a cynical and disgusting approach to governing, and certainly not leadership.

Further reading here

A bolder move would
be to act on the courage
of their convictions*

*Note that as of 21 August 2015 no senators have yet been convicted.

#17 Jobs to Seventy-five

The great job creator. Or so the Prime Minister would have us believe. So many good full-time jobs lost and transformed into lower-paying and part-time positions. It wouldn't be fair, however, to attribute all of that action on the jobs front to a single individual, even if that individual would take credit for any good news in a heartbeat. No, the transforming of the middle class into the upper poor comes from the greed of others, facilitated by the tweaking of a law here and there, the elimination of a right here and there.

What we can credit directly to the Prime Minister is the filling of a certain number of rather well-paying jobs that, until recently, came with some rather generous and poorly-supervised expense reimbursement possibilities. Yes, our friends the senators. While they are technically appointed by the Governor-General, they are for all intents and purposes appointed by the Prime Minister.

In his time in office, Stephen Harper has been able to appoint 59 senators to their jobs, mandates that last until they reach the age of 75. Of course he is not the only Prime Minister to do that, as each and every prime minister who has held office for more than a few months has appointed a fair number to the so-called chamber of sober second thought.

Not for he, however, the least effort to pretend at rewarding merit on its own: every one of the Prime Minister's 59 appointments to the 105-seat senate has been a Conservative. In the past, office-holders have at least made some pretense of “balance” by appointing someone with a different party affiliation from time to time. Not since Brian Mulroney used a little-known clause of the constitution to appoint a raft of “extra” senators (to overcome the unbalance of having too many Liberal senators blocking his government's legislation) have we seen such unblemished partisanry, and even he went on to appoint a couple of people not aligned with his party to the Senate over the course of his time in office.

Yes, the guy who claims now to want to eliminate the senate has appointed more than half of the members of that body, all from his own party, and several figuring prominently in the expense scandal that is rocking it now. But more about the future of the senate in another post.

Further reading here

He came to change the
upper chamber, he said, but
just came with blue paint

20 August 2015

#16 Put That on All of Our Tabs

Remember when the old Reform Party used to rail against the “pigs at the trough”? Those were the days! Now you can't hear the railing for the oinking. As it turns out, our ruling elites have changed little over the years — they are better than you and I and they deserve a better class of things. We are called upon to pay for it.

Take the case of one Senator, called out for claiming reimbursement for a breakfast when on an international flight on which breakfast was served as a part of the price of the flight (no word on whether this was in economy or not, but I'll leave that for you to guess). Confronted with this difference — one of many accumulated in this senator's particular audit — the response was something out of Upstairs Downstairs. “Ice cold Camembert and broken crackers...nobody can be expected to eat that!”

That's one line item on one senator's questioned expenses. There are dozens more senators who have racked up tens of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses over the years, all the while pulling in salaries that far outstrip yours and mine. While even taken together these amounts are probably a drop in the bucket of government spending, it just feels wrong to be paying for the luxury.

Don't get me wrong on luxury: I probably appreciate it as much as the next person, but when I indulge myself, I am generally paying for it from the salary I already receive, not claiming it as an expense. Perhaps I am training to be a senator so that I can ask taxpayers to cover that cost while getting a raise at the same time?

Further reading here

The public “trough” hides
behind crowds of those who are
just more entitled

#15 I See Nothing

Sometimes I worry that the delight that I and many others are feeling as we watch the unfolding of the trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy (oh, that's right, he's back on the payroll for the duration of the election campaign) is not shared by the whole of the electorate. Could there be people out there who are closing their eyes, covering their ears, chanting and rocking back and forth to block out any negative portrayals of the Prime Minister?

This is the guy who maintained such a tight grip on his party and his government that he managed to keep most of them from saying anything too over-the-top outrageous for years. For the first couple of minority mandates they had, it was almost rare to see a cabinet minister make an announcement pertaining to his or her department — all announcements of import were made by The One.

So in this context, it is a bit difficult to believe that Mr. Harper knew nothing of the rather large cabal around him to quietly pay back the expenses that Senator Duffy ought never to have claimed in the first place, and to shut down any discussion of just how that might have unfolded. Also, how does someone get charged with accepting a bribe for accepting a transfer of funds when the person who transferred those funds is accused of nothing whatsoever?

The image in my head is of the Prime Minister in the closet of his party's caucus room, eyes closed tightly, hands over his ears, chanting something about his being the best manager Canada has ever had.

Further reading here. Or just open your local newspaper to read the latest from the trial currently underway in Ottawa.

“I knew nothing” says
he who claims to know it all
Willful blindness much?

#14 Kicking It Down the Road

Before the Tories came into power, they made it clear that they were no friends of the environment. No plan of their own, they were content to sit back and criticize the previous Liberal government's lack of action to meet the goals set out in the Kyoto protocol. They are, in fact, hostile to the idea of limiting carbon emissions, as that would be a “job killer”, which is true, I suppose, if your entire economic strategy consists of extracting petroleum from the ground that selling it.

So we tend to have very few expectations when Canada now participates in international talks about climate change and the need to limit and reverse levels of carbon emissions to try to slow down the changes that are ravaging parts of the planet, and even parts of Canada (but I guess that's Jesus doing that, not industry, so we ought to throw our hands up in defeatist acquiescence to the inevitable).

Image the surprise that there was some kind of international agreement to end the use of carbon-based fuels and that Canada had participated in those talks! It all makes sense when you dig deep enough below the headline to see the timeline: by 2100.

Now that's kicking the can down the road a bit, isn't it?!

Further reading here

Pressing problem now
let's set goals to deal with it
in eighty-five years

19 August 2015

#13 Painting It Black

Probably nothing symbolizes the Harper government more than the massive tar sands development in northern Alberta (has it spilled into Saskatchewan yet?). I know they don't want us to call it “tar sands”, but “oil sands”, or maybe “that pretty impressionist painting on the northern landscape that fuels our cars and lines our pockets”.

What it really is is a monument to short-sightedness. They have onned our economic fortunes on a single extraction industry — all the eggs in one basket — and done nothing to develop transformative industry around it. The celebrated (or bemoaned) Keystone XL pipeline project was all about shipping this stuff raw down to Texas to be refined into something useable. So they can sell it back to us? Now, with the downturn in oil prices, this rather expensive method of extracting oil from sand is looking a little less lucrative. And the lack of diversity in the Alberta economy means that the province rides the roller coaster along with the price of oil.

The other aspect of the short-sightedness of this is the environmental impact it is having and is likely to continue to have. On a continent (in a world, really) of increasing drought problems, massive amounts of water are used to steam the petroleum out of the sand in which it sits, and carbon fills the skies. Good thing there is no climate change, right Steve?

Further reading here

That's not “Texas tea”
you're steaming from the sand and
you, sir, are no Jed

(with a nod to the Beverly Hillbillies)

#12 Between Friends?

I think we have established by now how I feel about war and the glorification of war. I do recognize that is has a place in our history (and in the pre-history of the country of Canada, that is, before 1867), but it doesn't and shouldn't have all the place.

2012 was a year that marked the bicentennary of a war between the British and their former colonies, the USA. It also marked the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Care to take a guess at what was deemed by the current government to be worthy of commemorating and celebrating? That's right, the War of 1812.

Ah, the pomp and pageantry of old-timey uniforms and weapons like muskets wielded by men who were taught to stand in formations and shoot at each other until the guy on the horse decided it was time for tea. There is the “burning of the White House” story that is a staple in the Canadian telling of it that does not so much figure in the American accounts of the same history. There is the story of Laura Secord, bravely herding her cows across enemy lines and sharing information on the US troop movements and plans (we remember her by selling chocolate).

The real story is what came after. How did two countries overcome such hostility to become such close allies? While I am asking that question for the USA and Great Britain (Canada didn't come into independent existence until 55 years later), I think that might be a worthy bit of history about and from which to learn.

But I guess it is better to celebrate your glorious, if disputed, victory over your friend than the many years of friendship that have ensued.

Further reading here

Many years ago
we fought. Let us remember
that and not the peace

18 August 2015

#11 Fighting History

For some people, history is all about the battles that were fought, the wars that were won or lost. While humanity has been particularly good at the whole conflict thing, that has not been the totality of our existence.

Canada has a War Museum. Canada used to have a Museum of Civilization, but our buddy Steve decided to rename it and change its focus. The Canadian Museum of History, with plenty of room for the glorious military part of that, no doubt. Just another part of a legacy that has attempted (in vain, we can hope) to instill a certain level of militarism in the Canadian psyche. At a cost of $500 million.

Oh, and the other part of history that many might agree on is that it needs to be accurate and not misleading. Oh yes, the winners of a conflict get to write the accounts of it, lessening their culpability and emphasizing that of their opponents, but there is generally some level of evidence to support the stories presented and their contexts.

Imagine my revulsion, then, when I visited the Citadel in Québec City recently. This is a fortress built by the British to protect the city against attacks coming from our neighbours to the south. Well, in the main museum part that we wandered through before our guided tour of the facility, a giant exhibition on wars in which Canadians have been involved, none concerning the Citadel, where not a single cannon has ever been fired in anger.

And there, in a display case in the midst of all of this, a blue burka. The government not seeking to provoke islamophobia or anything has put a burka in what has become another glorification of war, likely to show who the enemy is. And in case you, too, are wondering what a burka has to do with the Citadel in Québec City, let me add that in another small museum on the premises — this one intended to show life in what became a small military prison — another burka! Now we all know why the Citadel was built: to protect Québec City from an attack by the Taliban!

History is bigger than war, and our museums to the accomplishments of humans need to show the totality of that work.

Further reading here

You say potato
Tories say a war was fought
on soil it grew in

#10 Flotsam and Jetsam

There is actually a distinction in maritime law between flotsam and jetsam, the former being what is found from a wrecked ship and the latter being what the people on the ship might have chosen to throw overboard. Jetsam, I believe, is more subject to acquisition by scavengers, at least in the eyes of the law. (Someone will surely correct me if I have that wrong.) I'm going to focus here on some flotsam, although I don't really know if it is still considered flotsam if it sinks...

The Franklin expedition. A couple of British ships looking for he Northwest Passage, caught in the ice and eventually destroyed by it, no survivors. The other description of it would be that it was an obsession of the Prime Minister's, finding the remains of the ships on the floor of the ocean in Canada's north.

He could have listened to the stories (oral history, it is called) from the Inuit elders who pointed to where the ship was last seen by the Inuit of the time. No, why start listening to Canada's original peoples now? We'll send scientists to look elsewhere and we'll spend twice as much as we said we were going to spend doing that, only to eventually “discover” them right where the Inuit oral history said they would be.

But don't stop there! When the scientists find the last missing ship, it should obviously be  the Prime Minister making the announcement, right? That's not how scientific discovery usually works, but this time, yes. And the spending wasn't over: three times as much as it cost to find the ships (the real cost, not the low-ball official estimate) would need to be spent on flogging the discovery and the story of this pre-Canada event, “vital” to Canadian history. We're talking about well over $7 million for the ads alone. That would be the jetsam, I guess.

But this government has always been better about advertising its “accomplishments” than it has been actually accomplishing anything.

Further reading here

Vaunted history
dead “conquerors” in the north
Worth our ten million?

09 August 2015

#9 Rights Dying on the Order Paper

When you can’t propose legislation to explicitly take away people’s rights, you can always get all passive-aggressive and allow the private member’s bill that would have protected the rights of an unprotected minority to die on the order paper of the Senate (you know, that place you sent your spendthrift friends).

It is actually quite surprising that the House of Commons managed to approve a bill to protect trans rights proposed by NDP MP Randall Garrison. Less surprising is that the bill was gutted in committee in the Senate and then left to die on the order paper. Not killed by the election call was the bill to compel certain financial disclosure by unions (but not by companies, I guess).

I guess it’s more important to impose superfluous extra obligations on democratic structures that don’t agree with you than to protect a minority that is discriminated against both socially and systemically. Priorities, hmmm?

Further reading here.

Demon senators
refuse to protect people
who really need it

#8 No One to Find You at Sea

While hacking and slashing at budgets, many an essential service gets in the way and ends up amputated and lying on the floor. Having decried the previous government’s cutting of a weather station in Newfoundland and restoring it when taking power with their first minority government, they turned around on the occasion of their first majority government and moved two search and rescue offices a little further from the oceans where the scary troubles happen.

Yes, Halifax is still on the Atlantic, but arguably further from the action of colder iceberg filled currents coming from the Arctic and Peterborough…well Sarah Palin might be able to see the Atlantic from there, but I don’t think anyone else can.

Further reading here.

Have you ever been
to sea, Billy? How about
to Peterborough?

#7 Protecting Our Freedom by Taking it Away

While we’re on the topic of the government’s so-called anti-terrorist legislation, let’s look at it. Apparently all of us are suspect and must be ready to give up our freedoms in order to protect them. Wait, what?

With little oversight, policing and spy agencies will be allowed to pretty much gather whatever information they want about us, including our otherwise private communications. Acts of civil disobedience might also be considered terrorism in the definition of this piece of…legislation…so I guess this will be one more time that we will have to wait years and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars before the Supreme Court finally declares it unconstitutional. At least the opposition parties voted agoinst it and are promising to repeal it — or at least most of them.

And you can cross out those mobility rights, too, if they get re-elected, as the Dear Leader has announced that he will criminalize "travel to places where terrorists are active" if he gets back in.

Further reading here.

Speaking? Assembling?
Not supporting the PM?
You are dangerous!

#6 If you’re not with us…

We live in one of the most peaceful countries in the world. We used to live in one of the most universally liked/respected countries in the world, but someone has been perverting our foreign policy for the last few years, trying to be more warlike than peacelike. Remember how one of our former prime ministers won the Nobel Peace Prize for having come up with the idea of UN Peacekeepers? I don’t think we even participate in that anymore. Just sad.

What goes along with that, of course, is identifying and demonizing an enemy, to the point of inspiring the less tolerant in our society to take out their fury and fear on people living here who have not so much as jaywalked (well, except in Montréal where it’s a way of life). And if it weren’t enough to identify people by ethnicity or religion, we are also to go overboard and start using the “T” word with anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with the policies of the current ideologues in power, and anyone who wouldn’t target all of the above as being “soft on terror”.

Hey, isn’t there a new offence in the Keeping Decent Canadian Families Safe From the Scourge of Environmentalists and Other Terrorists Act (close enough on the name) that says something about terrorist hoaxes. Like spreading news that would lead the public to believe there is a terrorist threat while knowing there isn’t? Can we charge the prime minister?

Further reading here.
Behind every tree
an evil person who wants
to scare us (Tory)

07 August 2015

#5 Neither rain nor hail nor Tory blight

So a couple of years ago the crown corporation that is Canada Post had a deficit! Perish the thought in a world where each thing, including a service that delivers letters and parcels to every corner of the country and not just the high traffic areas, must be self-sustaining or closed down. If it’s self-sustaining, of course, politicians of a certain stripe will find a way to sell it off, likely to their friends (they have wealthier friends that the rest of us) and likely to “balance” yet another budget by selling assets.

In response to this unthinkable deficit, a five point plan. I don’t remember what the points all were, but I’m pretty sure they revolved around charging more for less service and squeezing their employees for concessions, but that’s only three. In fact, there was a large shock of a price increase on letters and parcels, too, I believe, and then a plan to phase out home mail delivery and replace it with community mailboxes. For everyone.

The problem with those community mailboxes, particularly in an area with high population density, is that they are unsightly, and would be the only thing we could see in our major cities, where there is no room for them anyway. Beyond unsightly, some serious concerns about their safety and their accessibility for anyone with mobility problems, especially in winter.

Then comes the next problem with the plan: the giant rate hike made that terrible moneypit of a postal service turn a sizeable profit last year, well before any of the cost savings of eliminating home delivery. Now how do you justify the service reduction when what you’re doing is turning a profit in addition to its being considered an essential service across the country?

Further reading here.

What does the postman
always do? Ring twice, or build
unsightly boxes?

#4 Now you see it…

There’s nothing to grease the lead-up to an election campaign like a raft of cheques being sent out to households across the country, the new improved Child Care Benefit. There’s a good reason that things like that aren’t allowed to happen during the election campaign, but I wonder what might have been the reason for the delay in sending them out until the weeks before the election call? Remember that the cheques were retroactive to January 1st, so I guess it took a long time to write and sign all the cheques, and that’s the explanation for the timing?

Worse still is the fact that this “boost” in the Child Care Benefit is accompanied by the elimination of the Child Tax Credit that the people who got the cheques won’t see until they do their taxes, several months after the election. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

In case the timing alone were not enough of a scandal, we had the delightful opportunity to see a ministerial photo opportunity with a forbidden partisan touch: Pierre Poilièvre in a Conservative Party polo shirt making an official government announcement. Wanna bet that any expenses related to this activity will be borne by you and me?

Further reading here.

Team Tory writes cheques
for kids large and small, but wait
tax time looms ahead!

06 August 2015

#3 Income Splitting for the Wealthy

It sounds lovely, having a program to help families reduce their income tax burden by redistributing their incomes between them to take advantage of lower tax rates. Sounding lovely doesn’t necessarily translate into tax savings for all…and in fact the analysts were pretty unanimous in pronouncing this measure advantageous for single-income wealthy families, but no so much for others.

If you already have equal incomes (low or high), this does nothing for you. If you are a single parent, this does nothing for you. If you are a couple with divergent income levels but no minor children, this does nothing for you.

Just another program that sounds good and continues to transfer more wealth to those who already have it.

Further reading here.

Pretending to share
for income tax purposes
keeps fat wallets fat

04 August 2015

#2 Canada’s Excessive Advertising Plan

If you haven’t seen them or heard them, you don’t have a television and you don’t get out much. “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” seems to have been designed to stimulate the recovery of the sign-making and TV commercial-making industries. If that were the truth, I might have to concede that it was quite successful.

The government told us that the ads were to make sure that Canadians could take advantage of the programs outlined in the federal budget, even, it seems, when the programs weren’t really underway. Now, not every program or investment that was promoted was non-existent, but you can be sure that the first action item in each project that did receive funding was the same: get that sign up!

Further reading here.

I flog and I flog
and some of what I’m selling
is available

#1 Theft of the Employment Insurance Fund

After years of tightening the rules to the point that only a minority of workers will ever be eligible for Employment Insurance benefits, the Minister of Finance dipped into the “surplus” of this fund to help him “balance” his budget.

Never mind that the fund is entirely funded by employees and employers, not the government. Never mind that an insurance fund is supposed to provide for those who need it because they have lost their jobs — for whatever reason. Never mind that this little exercise in prestidigitation seems not even to have succeeded in balancing said budget (according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer)…. We’ll just take that anyway.

I am well aware that this is not the first time and not the first government to have done this (*cough* Liberals), but I’m dishing out my negative kudos to those who are giving us 78 days to reflect on their wrongs this time around…

Further reading here.

A safety net for
would-be workers taken by
budget “balancers”

Let me count the ways…

A 78-day-long federal election campaign? Let me mark it by rolling out 78 ways the Tories have wronged the country since they took power in 2006. My list is neither ordered nor exhaustive. Some are big, some are small, all are wrong. I will roll them out in little spurts of writing over the course of the campaign.

This little exercise will also serve to kickstart my creativity, or at least my writing habits, as I have been rather remiss of late. Watch for the first ones very soon!

03 August 2015

Clinging to My [Personal] Pessimism

When I was diagnosed almost 18 years ago with a CD4+ count of 4, I didn’t really expect to be around this many years later. Oh yes, my doctor said all the right things about living as long as my friends (yes, even then!), but inside myself I didn’t really believe him. After all, I was kind of starting on the precipice and I’m not all that nimble.

I’ve done my part along the way, missing a handful of doses of my original Crixivan/d4T/3TC regimen — that’s three times a day fasting on that Crixivan and for more than 7 years, folks. As I started to develop my hump, signifier of my particular experience of lipodystrophy (all accumulation and moving around, no sign of the fat loss that might have calmed me), I made my first switch, to Sustiva/Tenofovir/3TC. On that simpler regimen, I think, oddly, that I missed a few more doses, but mostly I missed sleeping properly. My intolerance of that treatment lasted me about another 2½ years (I’m a bit conservative on abandoning the things that are keeping my viral load in check) and I switched again, to Intelence/Tenofovir/3TC, which I’ve been taking ever since.

The so-called “pill burden” has never been all that important to me, as I take a handful of things all at once, and have three times per day for dosing: before and after breakfast and after supper. Only six of my fifteen pills each day are for HIV, but I have that all under control. Viral load quite under control, too, CD4+ count not going up or down anytime soon (it hovers in the mid-to-high 200s). This last thing is what helps me maintain my personal pessimism.

I should really say that my pessimism doesn’t extend to anyone else. If there is a good time to have HIV, it is probably now — easy to take treatments, good news on taking treatment early and on the preventive impact of an undetectable viral load, even effectiveness of PrEP for our negative friends. I even heard a doctor speculating that people with HIV today might even live longer than our friends without HIV! The secret? We see our doctors three or four times a year and most of our friends don’t have that kind of health monitoring. Someone needs to tell the insurance companies about that increased longevity, I think.

So back to me. When I was diagnosed, I was working in a relatively poorly-paid community organization job and the issue of retirement savings was not really on my radar, or at least not in the realm of my possibilities. The diagnosis, despite my doctor’s kind words, gave me a reason to revisit any concerns I might have had about living beyond retirement. As I changed jobs and started to have more disposable income (what a term!), I made decisions to prioritize living now, with a little commitment to charitable giving on the side.

I don’t shy away from indulging myself, and even that might be an understatement. After all, why would I sacrifice and scrape by now when I’m still not expecting to reach the age of eligibility for Old Age Security? (We can thank the government for putting that just a little further out of my reach by raising the minimum age to 67.) Not I! Eat, drink and be merry! Go to the circus as often as possible, the opera four times a year and a movie every Friday evening that I can! Sponsor my friends in the AIDS Walk! Save nothing…

Well here I am, all these years later, showing no sign of sliding toward my early demise and I’m now only ten years away from the magic date…twelve if you go by the government’s calendar. All this good news on HIV treatment has thrown a real monkey wrench into my retirement plan. I might have no choice but to sue those evil pharma companies for stealing my pessimism and making me live too long, but I suspect that might not make it past a judge. Wish me luck!