Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blue Country - Post Election Notes

So, as was fairly predictable, Canada dropped the ball again and elected Stephen Harper, our ultra-conservative angry man, who really belongs more to the States than to us.

What wasn't predictable was Harper came very close to a majority government, and I spent a good deal of time thinking about all sort of things he was likely to go after, including, but not only: freedom of speech in the arts (oh, yeah, and the arts), gay marriage (he really never liked it), women's rights (who cut nation-wide services that fund women's shelters?), the environment (which to me, is actually the most important, doesn't matter how bad things get, the land can save you)...
I've never been happier to return to a status quo that I really don't like. All I can say is: Dion, Layton and Duceppe had better make good on their promises to stand up against Harper. Don't keep this parliament running longer than it needs to be; I know it's an unpopular decision to kill a minority, because no one likes an election... but hey.

For those of you who don't quite get Canadian parliament: We have a total of 308 seats in parliament. Any time a party wins 155 or more of those seats, they get a practical carte blanche to do whatever they like. Anything less than 155, they end up with a minority government, which can be toppled by the other parties by voting against a movement in parliament. I'm willing to bet that Harper's confident enough by his almost-majority (143 seats) to try to push the buttons of the other parties: If they topple the government within the first year, they'll be blamed for the ensuing election. He's going to push for things they don't want NOW. But, he will remain acting like HarperLite, because he doesn't have the power to push his more controversial agendas.

Anyway, checking voter turn-out this morning and guess what? Turnout is down to 59.1%. In other words - not so hot. That is a record low, according to CBC. A large chunk of that is Newfoundland, ConLand, where the Conservative Premier stated that Harper's Conservatives were not good for the province, suggesting the catchy "ABC" Voting Strategy - Anything But Conservatives. I expect a lot of people just didn't really know who to vote for.
The other place I expect (don't have anything to back this assumption up) voters didn't show was Alberta. Oh, Alberta. So many new people have moved there, but everyone who votes central-to-left seems to think that since they don't have a chance, they just don't need to try. Well... thanks a lot, left-of-right Albertans. Your lack of voting is really what's screwing the rest of us over on a national level. You need to take responsibility and just elect someone Lib or NDP or, hell, the Greens would have a big fight there, but them too! I know Alberta's not really a great place to live these days. We all know that. You could be making $20/hour and still not be able to afford a house... but you gotta elect a party that's going to help rather than encourage Alberta to degenerate into a cesspool of poverty, oil and crime.
Nevertheless, we're taking our right to vote for granted. It's pathetic.

Finally, remember last year, when all the young voters didn't bother on voting for proportional representation? If you had bothered voting for that, we wouldn't have such a big problem on our hands with the current government.

Popular Vote vs Percentage of Seats (ie. Real Power) in Parliament:
37.63% vs 46.42% Conservative
26.24% vs 24.28% Liberal
9.97% vs 16.23% Bloc Quebecois
18.20% vs 12.01% New Democratic Party (NDP)
6.80% vs 0.00% Green Party

Just bothers me some that almost 20% of voters aren't properly represented (Helps that I'm one of them).

Monday, October 13, 2008







Friday, October 10, 2008

Last Post Before Election!


So, with just one day left until elections start, I'm going to give my personal run-down of each of the parties - something I meant to do, heh, a day or two after the Leader's Debate(s).

So. First off, I'm going to start with our current (crap-for) government. I'm trying hard not to let my own biases get in the way of sounding balanced and sane, but I hold a lot of hate for the Conservative Party of Canada. I hold a lot of hate for Stephen Harper, and I really hope that the majority of Canadians remain ever vigilant and cautious about this grade-A douchebag. Watching the debate, I really just wanted to smack Stephen Harper's smug "I-think-I-got-it-in-the-bag-therefore-I-won't-actually-debate" smirk off his face.

To start, here's a Conservative TV ad, swiped from the Con's channel on YouTube:

I chose this ad because it really stands as a shining example of why the Conservatives are a terrible choice for leadership: they assume that they don't need to worry about Canadians having enough brain power to want to hear about -what's it called...- issues. Hell, they figure, just smear Stephan Dion's name enough and all will be well.

For this entire bloody campaign, they have been smugly going on about how terrible the other parties are - how their economic plans are flawed, etc, etc. What they continuously forget to mention is that it seems that the Cons always give up the government just after they've used up the surplus that the Libs created. That's right, Libs and Cons may both be scheming, lying bastards, but at least the Libs balance the bloody budget. This year, the Cons also, oops!, forgot!, to release their platform until last week. At this point, I haven't actually made the time to go over it - it's a pretty basic Con platform.

It goes a little like this: tax cut here, tax cut there, give a little tax cut everywhere!!! Now if you're lower middle class or impoverished, you're saving something like $200 a year - but to afford these cuts that make your nobility (oops, I meant, the upper-middle class and the rich) lots of extra money... oh, yeah, about those arts programs, the environment, hell, even the whole job issue... let's just SLASH. Oh, yeah, good luck with the pending economic DOOM!

And, next up to bat, the Liberals! Oh, those good old classy Liberals, the ones who have provided my two favourite PMs in Canada's history: Pierre Trudeau for his policies, social reform, all round "good-guy" appearance in Canada's history (except when you remember that small occurrence in Quebec... ), and awesome sass: "The government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation!", "Just watch me!" and so forth; and Jean Cretien for his absolute ridiculously inappropriate sass and willingness to mock himself on the Mercer Report, even if he was a corrupt bastard. (I'd like to see Cretien kick Mercer's ass, actually, but hey, can't get all my wishes). Stephan Dion might actually be my favourite party leader these days - well, he was, up until the Leader's Debate. Get into that later.

Here is the Lib ad that, for me, most summarizes what the Libs have been saying:

Now, some people say that this is just as smeary as the Cons' ads, but I'd argue that this is fact-based, rather than an all-out "Gamble on Dion and die" approach. Because these things did happen. I remember it happening - especially calling Ontario the last place in the world to invest. God, Ontario actually needs to start crucifying its Conservative party members, the way that they have been treating us. But, outside of Toronto and the other major cities, most people seem to have the ability to clamp fists on their ears and yell "LALALALA".
Nevertheless, to talk about the Liberals: I like the Green Shift plan. It's not perfect, no, but it's a step in the right direction, which is a hell of a lot more than the Con plan is (reduce 20% of emissions by 2020? Right, by then we've all asphyxiated already). And there really is no perfect way to reduce emissions, other than going back in time and stopping "progress" in this direction.
Now, social programs, not bad. Support for the arts? Not bad. Economy? Not the classic laissez-faire approach, but hey, that approach certainly didn't help the poor fools who elected Conservative governments in the 1930s, did it? It was the more left-wing, "socialist" approach that saved that day, and I strongly believe the same goes for this day. Most of this, however, can be applied to the slightly less corrupt NDP and Green platforms.

The other thing I'd like to say about the Libs is about their leader, Stephan Dion. I honestly believe that Dion is the best federal Liberal party leader since Trudeau. He might not be overtly heavy with the party whip, and keeping his party in perfect line, but that is what democracy should be, baby! Now, I don't think Dion has everything to be desired, etc, etc. But what has driven me crazy about this election is that he has been facing slander from all sides - and yet he slugs on. The Cons slander him. The NDP slanders him. The Green party... well, they really haven't insulted anyone except Stephen Harper, and I think it was just. Hell, even some members of his party have been insulting him (quietly since the election was called). Most of all, though, ALL THE MAJOR NEWS NETWORKS IN CANADA have been saying: "Stephan Dion is a weak, uncharismatic leader" constantly. And it changes people's opinions. I've heard people quoting, over and over again, these reports. And you know what? I think Dion's got charisma. And I think that he's shown fortitude, maturity (which many world leaders tragically lack), the way he continued to stand strong against this shit, and really hasn't whined about it. So, I say: "Stephan Dion, you have my respect."

On to the NDP!

I'll be honest. I like Layton's politics, I like Layton's party... I just have never really liked Layton himself. I don't know why. He's just never really captured my heart... Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Layton shares the same policies as his predecessor, and yet, he's not called names, like "Sausage Face" on talk radio. Oh, wait, she was a woman. This makes her policies unimportant, instead, her appearance takes precedence! (I'll add a full blog about this eventually, I've got a list of female politicians in this boat).

Anyway, NDP is the party I'm most likely to vote for. And here is an ad that, for me, summarizes the campaign. Enjoy:

The NDP is probably my favourite party in Canada. Unfortunately, they never win, and when they finally do win, they are far too surprised themselves to deal with their own political success. In fact, I think that they do best in coalition with the Liberals, because the Liberals keep grounded in the Capitalist reality.

Anyway, this election, they're yammering on about just about everything that I feel is important to me. Things like... oh, creating Canadian manufacturing jobs. You know, maybe Canadian companies, making Canadian goods? Instead of letting companies like General Motors fuck us over again and again and again? Oh, yeah, and doing things to help create a bit more social justice? Like, you know, closing the gap between the rich and the poor? Sounds good, don't it?

Oh- yeah - the cap and trade versus the carbon tax? Same policy, different phrasing. Layton, Dion and May need to get the fuck over it. They're basically all proposing the same thing - except the Liberals are, indeed, central rather than left wingers.

Well, try telling that to people in my riding...

Finally, last but not least, the Green Party! (I'm going to add - there is also the Bloc Quebecois, but they really only run in Quebec, which is roughly a 10 hour drive from my current location, speeding the whole way. Nevertheless, I respect them, and don't hate them for wanting to protect Quebec culture).

Anyway, the Green ads are really low budget in comparison, so... enjoy!

To start, Elizabeth May is probably my favourite party leader this time around. She approaches things in a level-headed way and responds intelligently. She seems to honestly believe in making Canada a better place, as well as the world.

The Green Party platform seems like a proposal to create Utopia. It is, unfortunately, absolutely impossible without the support from the entire world, by which I mean, most of all, the world's big "superpowers", ie, United States and China (yes, I think China is going to have its say in the future).

Last election, the Green Party almost stole my heart from the NDP, until I read their platform. Last time, it was a very Conservative platform, and I was angry at it leeching votes off of some of the NDP's less attentive flanks. I maintain, actually, that it would be for the best if the Green Party and the NDP merged - NDP keeping a strong focus on social justice and the Green half keeping a strong focus on environmental justice. And, yeah, slap May up there instead of Layton, because Layton's just never been an excellent speaker. He makes me cringe sometimes. (Although don't get me wrong, I do respect him... I just respect Elizabeth May more). It would be nice to have some measure of guarantee that the Green Party won't blur itself into the right wing end of things.

In conclusion, I'd like to see Harper lose by winning an extremely narrow minority, opening the show for a coalition between Dion and Layton's parties. I'd like to see May get a few more seats, but not if it means throwing off the NDP's base.

I feel, however, that I support the classic ABC Voting Strategy - Anything But Conservative. I'd rather have another Liberal majority and a Conservative one.

And to complete this, some messages from a not-quite major party contender: Neorhinos!

My French is not astute enough to understand all of this, but it's still awesome:
Neorhinos on CBC

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find their "Cubeq" ad, in which they propose to merge Quebec and Cuba to create a new national drink- lots and lots of Cuban rum with just a touch of maple syrup.

I love the Neorhinos!

And a wonderful reason to avoid the Cons:

More important than anything:

NO EXCUSES! JUST VOTE. Please, vote anything but conservative, but JUST VOTE!

(If you're an American, please, for the sake of the entire planet, just vote Obama. We all beg you.)

Sarah Palin's Literary Cousin

Although I really hate that Sarah Palin is the US media darling right now - the other day I realized something.

Sarah Palin is a real-life Serena Joy (a character in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale).

Now, if you haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, I really can't paraphrase it so that you'll get it, but if you have read it, but can't remember: Serena Joy is the wife that Offred works under. The one who used to be an evangelist darling... and then may or may not regret the changes that have actually relegated her to her own home after so long...

If you're an innocent little American and you know all about Sarah Palin and nothing about Atwood's the Handmaid's Tale - you should read it! It's a wonderful book - an excellent satire and yet horrifyingly frightening possible circumstance. It's a great book to read concerning not just feminism, but totalitarian governments and fundamentalist religion - and how these things can pan out in the world. It's somewhat... ...erk... Orwellian..., but I prefer Atwood as a writer - even if Orwell gets things named after him more than Atwood does...

If you're lazy, you could always just watch the Playboy (!...?) endorsed movie from the early '90s. But the book is much better in its social commentary than the movie is. Really, it's an old, somewhat dated, book - but it's an excellent read.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Word From Margaret Atwood In Defense of the Arts

This is a piece written by Margaret Atwood in response to Stephen Harper's cuts to the arts.

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

September 24, 2008 at 11:00 PM EDT

"What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of country do we
already live in? What do we like? Who are we?

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we've been punching above our weight on the world stage - in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it's a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada's cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada's GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector
accounted for an 'estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).'

But we've just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called 'ordinary people' didn't care about something called 'the arts.' His idea of 'the arts' is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand:
I'm one of them, and I'm no Warren Buffett. I don't whine about my grants because I don't get any grants. I whine about other grants - grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they'll be millionaires.

Every single one of those people is an 'ordinary person.' Mr. Harper's idea of an ordinary person is that of an envious hater without a scrap of artistic talent or creativity or curiosity, and no appreciation for anything that's attractive or beautiful. My idea of an ordinary person is quite different. Human beings are creative by nature. For millenniums we have been putting our creativity into our cultures - cultures with unique languages, architecture, religious ceremonies, dances, music, furnishings, textiles, clothing and special cuisines. 'Ordinary people' pack into the cheap seats at concerts and fill theatres where operas are brought to them live. The total attendance for 'the arts' in Canada in fact exceeds that for sports events. 'The arts' are not a 'niche interest.' They are part of being human.

Moreover, 'ordinary people' are participants. They form book clubs and join classes of all kinds - painting, dancing, drawing, pottery, photography - for the sheer joy of it. They sing in choirs, church and other, and play in marching bands. Kids start garage bands and make their own videos and web art, and put their music on the Net, and draw their own graphic novels. 'Ordinary people' have other outlets for their creativity, as well: Knitting and quilting have made comebacks; gardening is taken very seriously; the home woodworking shop is active. Add origami, costume design, egg decorating, flower arranging, and on and on ... Canadians, it seems, like making things, and they like appreciating things that are made.

They show their appreciation by contributing. Canadians of all ages volunteer in vast numbers for local and city museums, for their art galleries and for countless cultural festivals - I think immediately of the Chinese New Year and the Caribana festival in Toronto, but there are so many others. Literary festivals have sprung up all over the country - volunteers set them up and provide the food, and 'ordinary people' will drag their lawn chairs into a field - as in Nova Scotia's Read by the Sea - in order to listen to writers both local and national read and discuss their work. Mr. Harper has signalled that as far as he is concerned, those millions of hours of volunteer activity are a waste of time. He holds them in contempt.

I suggest that considering the huge amount of energy we spend on creative activity, to be creative is 'ordinary.' It is an age-long and normal human characteristic: All children are born creative. It's the lack of any appreciation of these activities that is not ordinary. Mr. Harper has demonstrated that he has no knowledge of, or respect for, the capacities and interests of 'ordinary people.' He's the 'niche
interest.' Not us.

It's been suggested that Mr. Harper's disdain for the arts is not merely a result of ignorance or a tin ear - that it is 'ideologically motivated.' Now, I wonder what could be meant by that? Mr. Harper has said quite rightly that people understand we ought to keep within a budget. But his own contribution to that budget has been to heave the Liberal-generated surplus overboard so we have nothing left for a rainy day, and now, in addition, he wants to jeopardize those 600,000 arts jobs and those billions of dollars they generate for Canadians. What's the idea here? That arts jobs should not exist because artists are naughty and might not vote for Mr. Harper? That Canadians ought not to make money from the wicked arts, but only from virtuous oil? That artists don't all live in one constituency, so who cares? Or is it that the majority of those arts jobs are located in Ontario and Quebec, and Mr. Harper is peeved at those provinces, and wants to increase his ongoing gutting of Ontario - $20-billion a year of Ontario taxpayers' money going out, a dribble grudgingly allowed back in - and spank Quebec for being so disobedient as not to appreciate
his magnificence? He likes punishing, so maybe the arts-squashing is part of that: Whack the Heartland.

Or is it even worse? Every budding dictatorship begins by muzzling the artists, because they're a mouthy lot and they don't line up and salute very easily. Of course, you can always get some tame artists to design the uniforms and flags and the documentary about you, and so forth - the only kind of art you might need - but individual voices must be silenced, because there shall be only One Voice: Our Master's Voice. Maybe that's why Mr. Harper began by shutting down funding for our artists abroad. He didn't like the competition for media space.

The Conservative caucus has already learned that lesson. Rumour has it that Mr. Harper's idea of what sort of art you should hang on your wall was signalled by his removal of all pictures of previous Conservative prime ministers from their lobby room - including John A. and Dief the Chief - and their replacement by pictures of none other than Mr. Harper himself. History, it seems, is to begin with him. In
communist countries, this used to be called the Cult of Personality. Mr. Harper is a guy who - rumour has it, again - tried to disband the student union in high school and then tried the same thing in college. Destiny is calling him, the way it called Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who burnt all records of the rulers before himself. It's an impulse that's been repeated many times since, the list is very long. Tear it down and level it flat, is the common motto. Then build a big
statue of yourself. Now that would be Art!"

I'd like to also add a point to those who tell the artists to quit whining, that the 4.6 million dollars of cuts only constitutes a drop in the bucket, that overall its not really that much. In looking at the bigger picture, you completely miss the little things, the everyday ways that are effected by this loss. I'm certain that four million dollars are not mere pennies to the 'ordinary' Canadian. Four million dollars would go quite the way for many an artist, musician, curator, director, actor, comedian, educator, gallery, workshop program, radio broadcaster, writer, and well, you get the picture. Most artists are not gala*-going, rich disconnected elitists. In fact, artists that do live comfortably could not have done so for the most part without grant support. It's very hard to work full-time on creation when you are out working in other jobs just to pay your rent.

And anyone notice that the programs cut from the budget are the ones that affect visibility and accessibility to Native populations? So much for that apology for Canada's historic (and current) treatment earlier this year, eh Mr. Harper?

*Galas, by the way, in which his wife attends. Galas which are thrown by big-wigs in order to raise money to supplement the grants. Galas, which do not compromise the majority of the time spent by artists. Galas, which I'm pretty sure none of the people directly affected by the cuts (which by the way involved pulling money out of already existing programs right from under their feet) are going to.