Thursday, April 28, 2011

Aboriginal Issues? No Trespassing

Hey all, sorry I've been away. Although, you probably don't care that much. But here is something to care about!

There was an article in the Toronto Sun on the 22nd, that detailed First Nations in Northern Manitoba and their request for adequate sanitation infrastructure. The Island's Lake First Nations requested running water and long term sewage solutions. Long story short: they were sent 5-gallon buckets (toilets) and 45 gallon drums (above ground septic tanks). In some instances "15 people were sharing one 5-gallon bucket as a toilet". Not at the same time, obviously. This is shameful of Ottawa. How have issues like this not received more attention during the campaign? Even the more socialist parties, the NDP and Green, have not mentioned aboriginals issues, in any depth, at any of the rallies or debates I have seen. Locally or Federally. People in the audience have not asked questions about it either. We were all too busy worrying about people getting ejected from rallies.

To make matters worse, people post ignorant and distasteful comments on the Sun's article message posting. Reading some of the racist dribble people post while hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, makes me sad :( If you read below the article, and look through some of the previous comment pages, the negative comments become more clear. Why do people express so much anger at the money given to First Nations?

A friend of mine, of mixed Ojibwa and Caucasian descent wrote an apt response to the Sun's article, and many of the racist and distasteful comments made by posters to the Sun's online forum. Her views are her own, while I may not agree with all of them, she makes some very valid points, and combats some of the stereotypes placed on aboriginals.


I find it very disheartening that many of you can’t seem to develop a more in depth perspective of native societies. Recently, I went on a Canadian Roots exchange to the East Coast native communities and got to see and hear first hand some of their issues and accomplishments.
Yes, there is corruption on some reserves due to ill-natured chiefs (just as there is corruption in our own government.)
Yes, some natives are alcoholics or drug addicts (just as there are of any race, but more prevalently so because of the long-term psychological and societal damages caused by the residential schools natives were forced into.)
No, former African-American slave descendants may not be asking for assistance the way natives are, but they also came to Canada to gain freedom whereas natives are still fighting for that freedom (and let us not forget that African-Americans have also been forced to internalize the image of being an under-educated, lower class where kids feel the need to adopt “gangster” behaviour because our media portrays rappers or basketball players as the only means of making it out of Ghettos - especially in the states where sports scholarships seem like the only way most of these families can afford to send their child to post-secondary.)
Also take note that reserves are necessary for traditional survival by means of hunting grounds and natural resources. Unfortunately, there are reserves whose jurisdictions were assigned to the most barren land and were pretty much meant to be a death sentence. Not to mention our whole society’s view towards bastardizing the environment. We can sell our fresh water to the states, but we can’t pay for a reserve to have a functioning sewage system –open buckets of festering urine and feces doesn’t seem very sanitary; there is a reason why we don’t throw buckets of human waste into the streets like 14th century England. For native people it’s not simply about going to a mosque or church and praying on Sundays; the environment is our church. We view the animals and elements of nature more as our sisters and brothers than our commodities. A study was done which indicated that children that don’t get enough interaction with the outdoors actually develop severe health issues, namely depression. Now extrapolate that to an entire society whose entire history has been based on nurturing close bonds with nature.
Not all native societies are playing the blame game however, and it is important to mention these groups. It seems as though they don’t get enough media attention because no one wants to gossip about happy news. Bear River reserve, for instance, has taken active steps to encourage young members and females to participate on council, have developed good rapport with local fishermen (after much conflict however), are working hard with the ministry to foster such programs as salmon rehabilitation in the wild rivers and other things of the sort. In Eskisoni, angry parents and families protested drug abuse through a walk that ended up on the front door step of a known drug dealer. Many aboriginals have become excellent entrepreneurs and are creating businesses that not only pay taxes, but attempt to develop a bridge between reserves and the rest of Canadian society. Also, reserves as protected land can be misleading, if the government wants to put a highway through a reserve then in the end, that’s what they’ll do so the negotiations between the two parties are merely to save some face (this happened a couple years back with the Iroquois)
One thing that must be kept in mind is that it’s hard for a people, as whole, to overcome the stereotypes thrust upon them when those stereotypes still exist. African-Americans, natives and even immigrants alike begin to internalize the view that they can’t do it when it is repeatedly rammed down their throats. Government funding is necessary for these communities to build the infrastructure and skills required to be on par with the rest of Canada. I can see how so many people can overlook the 3rd world status of natives in our own country – out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes, and when they are in sight it’s not for their accomplishments, it’s for their strife.
As a mixed aboriginal (Ojibwa, English, Irish and Scottish) who grew up visiting my grandmother’s reserve, but growing up in the GTA, I think we need to stop viewing ourselves as native or non-native and start viewing ourselves as Canadians. And as Canadians, we have a duty to our fellow Canadians to offer them the equality to such basic elements of life as food, shelter, education and health care. We are only as strong as our weakest member, and as it stands our native communities are, as a whole, our weakest member.
Just in case you didn’t get it:
You wouldn’t like it if I came to your house, removed all your landscaping; killed all your pets; removed your fridge and pantry; forced you to live with all your relatives because the entire extended family couldn’t afford their own house; stole your kids and forced them to learn my religion in a dialect they didn’t understand – which when they rebelled I would beat them to a pulp and maybe rape the cute ones; shake hands over some promise to let you keep your backyard, then laugh at my promise as I remove your fence and build a new one giving you half the yard space as before; throw a wad of cash at the problems and hope the green of the $20 bills resembles your land close enough that you forget this whole thing ever happened.
And surprisingly, after all of this, natives are ready to forgive as long as they get a little respect. No one wants to shit in a bucket every day, it’s just degrading and furthering the rift between us. Give them some fucking port-a-potties in the meantime for god sakes (which is what they were asking for) – it’s not like they’re asking for your souls... though it would be nice if you gave them some of your heart.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Conservative Side of the Ballot Bungle

I just had my exam for my Canadian Democracy class, I hope I did well :(

Yesterday at the special ballot box in the UC some Conservative Party hotshot came around, and told everyone the ballot box was illegal...

If you don't know the story:

Guelph Mercury - Conservatives want to dump Guelph U student votes

Join me as I make a poor attempt to understand what happened.
I phoned Marty Burke's constituency office in the morning, and the lady was not very helpful. She was actually rude. When I asked her name, she refused to tell me. I then made up some nonsense about her having a legal obligation to tell me her name because she was representing a government institution. She told me her name and hung up. I didn't use a accent.

I phoned again later in the afternoon. A much nicer women answered the phone, and she explained that she didn't know all the facts and she took my number to call me back... I did use an accent.

I then phoned the Conservative Party of Canada Office. The nice man explained the Conservative side of the story. I used an accent. Sorry about the quality, I have slow internet. It is a long video, because I mostly just let the dude talk.

I sincerely admire the integrity of the man who answered the phone. He maintained perfect composure during our phone call, even though I may have been slightly baiting him. It is people like him, the foot soldiers of each campaign, that do the grunt work, who make Democracy in Canada the beautiful thing that it is.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let's all be really cynical for a moment.

Why are politicians not addressing the most blatant problems in our society? Afghanistan, Canada's largest military endeavour since World War 2, has been a footnote in this campaign. Do the troops stay or leave? Liberals and Conservatives say stay, NDP says leave. In all likelihood they are staying, but there has been no concrete plan to change Canada's military role. Why are Afghanistan's expenditures still tallied in bullets, bombs, and human life rather than Afghan literacy rates?

The Conservatives and opposition parties unanimously decided to support the no-fly zone in Libya. Which party has developed a plan to get Canada out of Libya with the most positive result? The entire issue has become bogged down in red herrings. The Conservatives use it as an excuse to purchase fighter planes, and the Liberals have an unrealistic plan of supporting rebels. Supporting rebels may prevent a complete massacre on behalf of Gaddafi, but by training and arming rebels you are still creating war. If Gaddafi is a problem, don't fight a proxy war using rebels to receive the bullets. The comparisons between Iraq and Libya are inevitable. Yes, oil will entice foreign governments to have a hand in the jar. Yes, an unpredictable and dangerous dictator is power. Yes, Arab angst occurs in both places. But keep this in mind: The US's second round in Iraq (you know the one where they got Saddam) occurred almost 13 years after Saddam committed his genocide against the Kurds. The timing was way off. Did peace keeping discussions stop on 9/11?

In my perspective, aboriginal issues have been largely left out of the discussion. It's all fine and dandy for the major political parties to talk about misspending millions during the G20. But where has the discussion been to address the largest economic and social gap between aboriginals and "everyone else"? It is not even like aboriginals are a small portion of the population. In fact, aboriginals are one of the fastest growing groups in Canada. How can we prevent cholera in Haiti, when we can't even deliver safe drinking water to our brothers and sisters on reserves. This is not the fault of any specific political party, but a failure of all. This isn't a deep issue steeped in ideology, like abortion, this is a failure of our collective ability to prioritize issues. The answer is obvious, discussion about this has to happen now! But it hasn't shared the spotlight once this election.

Sorry if this comes off as a rant. Which it probably is. I'm actually a happy person.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

candidate forum good, message is clear

note: I made a drawing of the candidates before I knew Marty Burke would not attend, and that the Communist Party and the Animal Alliance Party would be present. Rather than make a new drawing, I crudely edited my previous drawing in manner even Bev Oda would approve of.

This evening the local MP candidates squared off in a round table forum in Peter Clark Hall. Moderated by Professor Tim Mau, candidates answered questions pitched by the audience in a non-confrontational setting. The event was wickedly successful, with one major disappointment. Marty Burke the local Conservative candidate failed to make himself present. In his defence, "How I Met Your Mother" was on at 7pm. Then again, he probably has a VCR.

Burke's absence from the local forum, and the subsequent televised Leader's Debate, made something very clear to me. This is not an election between political parties across the spectrum. It is an election between Stephen Harper's Conservatives and NOT Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Does that make sense? Let's not forget why this election occurred. It was due to contempt. By holding the government in contempt of Parliament, the majority of the House of Commons wanted an election to redistribute the power. But if the opposition cannot agree who will take power, it will again result in a Conservative minority. Unless the Liberals, NDP, Green and *Bloc* can come together in a *coalition* or if some voters compromise some of their beliefs and strategically vote for the dominate opposition party, it's status quo. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

With little exception, I feel the messages of the Liberal, NDP, and Green platform can be lost within their inter-party squabbling; at least at a federal level. However, at the local MP forum candidates seemed mostly cordial and agreeable with each other positions. If Burke attended the forum it would have been way more interesting; like the difference between french fries and poutine. Once you add all that fat, it just becomes so much more appealing.

I can't speak to directly to Mr. Burke's case; perhaps he has an ill family member or his car broke down. But the failure to send a representative to the forum, shows contempt to the public. It shows a failure to provide information and insight to the public regarding your party. It also shows a lack of concern for the audience. Students.
Gee whiz, you're telling me there was no hotshot Conservative up-and-comer willing to take Burke's place?

To be fair, from Burke's perspective he doesn't really have any reason to attend. The student audience is mostly at odds with the Conservatives after stories of Awish Aslam and Izzy Hirji filled the media. A perceived "Liberal protest", which was actually a "vote mob", might have scared the Conservatives away from any land adjacent to the university. The Conservatives also don't need student votes. Or should I say, they don't want students to vote... for anyone... According to polls, if students/youth voted the ranks of the opposition parties would be bolstered with support, and the Conservatives would be fighting a steeper uphill battle. How bad does it sound when a wise political strategy is to disengage a group's interest as much as possible to keep power? It is a sad reality. Stephen Harper's political prowess has been likened to an excellent chess player; excellence aside, it is remarkably clear who the sacrificial pawns are in his game against the opposition.

I'd argue the vast majority of Conservative students will vote Conservative regardless of the issues at hand. I did see some young Conservatives scattered around the audience videotaping the major party candidates. Towards the end they stopped video taping John Lawson's segments. Maybe their batteries were dying. Then I guess it was back to the bat cave to scrutinize hours of film for political misspeak from candidates. But you know what? More power to them. This ardent support and proactive style of dominance is what has kept Stephen Harper in power, for better or worse.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A student rally and a Conservative Rally

Today the University of Guelph student body, lead by Yvonne Su and Gracen Johnson, organized a pro-political rally in support of youth voting. Over 400 students lined the sidewalk adjacent to the Delta Hotel singing songs, playing instruments, and sending the message: Students are voting! But unfortunately, at least in terms of how the events proceeded, the message fell on deaf ears.

I attended the Conservative pep rally; it was an experience. I attended partly out of curiosity (voyeurism), and partly out of excitement for the upcoming election. I was excited to see the Prime Minister, and the energy in the room was contagious. It was standing room only around a stage framed by checkered blue and white election signs. A large Canadian flag back dropped the Prime Minister, along with the youngest members of the crowd centred in front of the cameras.

Let's start with my entrance. I preregistered for the event online, shortly after it was announced in order to get a place. Immediately upon entering, I was greeted by two young men and a dozen OPP officers scattered around the lobby. "Hi, I'm here for the Stephen Harper Rally". I must have sounded like the biggest Conservative noob, not to mention the twinges of red in my shirt.
"Yup, just over there to the left. But you'll have to check your bag first", said the gangliest of the two young Conservative hosts. I checked my bag at the hotel's front desk, and proceeded to the long line of tables staffed by, what seemed to be, the oldest members of the Conservative community. They all smiled at me; maybe because I was one of the youngest people there and I might be ushering in a new wave of conservative values among youth. I wasn't there for that, but it's always nice to be thought of with potential.
As I approached the ballroom entrance, I was about to burst with excitement. So, I asked an authoritative man which way the washroom was. As I left the washroom, I felt out of place; as if everyone could tell I didn't absolutely care about the Conservative agenda. My suspicions were confirmed.
"Excuse me, can I speak to you for a moment", the same man who directed me to the washroom now blocked my path with an out stretched arm, "You have been recognized by one of the staff, and we just need to make sure you're safe to enter".
I replied, "Oh ok, that's fine. I have a small political blog, it's not partisan. It's just a hobby. I'm not a socialist or anything"
He said, "do you know Brent?"
"No, who is that?"
"Well he says he recognizes you from somewhere. Do you belong to the party?"
"No, I don't belong to any Party, I'm just here as part of the public. Is that ok?"
He smiled, and asked me to come with him. He took me outside the registration area into the lobby, to the information desk. Two other girls from my geography class had been corralled as well. Apparently, one of the girls had been flagged in the "system" by the RCMP. She protested that she had never been involved in any conflicts, and there was no reason to suggest she should not be allowed entry. She was denied. The young lady and gentleman staffing the table inquired if she had joined any Facebook groups that might have had suggested different intentions. Is this how the Conservatives screen participants? Through harvesting the names of people who "like" Facebook pages with anti-Conservative sentiment? I picture hundreds of young Conservative volunteers combing through their friend lists and blacklisting people who share, "Can this Onion Ring Get More Fans Than Stephen Harper?". Or maybe they have a computer program that does that.
Anyways, the elusive Brent came to the information desk and greeted me with a firm handshake. He asked what my name was, and then how it was spelled. He also asked me what my website's url was, and then how it was spelled. It all seemed very formal. Brent turned to the young staffer at the information desk and they both played on his laptop. I can only guess what they were looking up. Although, I'm pretty sure they just searched my name on Google. Perhaps, it was some Conservative database of blacklisted rally participants or the RCMP's terrorist database. Who knows? But I'm pretty sure I saw the Google logo in the top corner of the screen. Besides, if it was Google, the top link is "Ben Baena and Son Custom Drapery".
After the laptop scan, I was clear to enter. "He seems ok to enter", Brent whispered in the other man's ear. "Ok, you can go ahead," the man confirmed. There is something about blue blazers that confirms authority, especially when generic sizes are made to fit everyone. There is an ill-fitting consistency.
The ballroom quickly filled up with middle aged, ethnic majorities, while ACDC and Def Leopard played over the speakers. I was handed a pair of noise makers which I greedily accepted (collector's item?), and joined the hurrah. Everyone sang O'Canada and Marty Burke, the local Conservative candidate, offered a brief introduction to Stephen Harper.
Harper captivated his audience as he touched briefly on several key aspects of the Conservative platform and budget. At some points it was like a rock concert; Harper would call out to the audience and everyone would chant back. Behind Harper, framed under the Canadian flag, were a collection of the youngest members of the crowd. Homemade signs were held up by the youth in the camera's background and seemingly jeered at the end of every sentence. Harper emphasized taking care of the men and women serving overseas as top priority, along with protecting a fragile economy. The room was in love. It's an empowering spectacle to see fresh faced teenage boys in power suits, tiptoeing on chairs at the back of the room. Plaid socks peeking out from beneath pleated trousers.

Despite the large student rally outside the Delta, Harper failed to recognized the University of Guelph, or its students. Then again, there was practically no visible student presence in the crowd. Harper also failed to take questions. Not even pre-written, soft-ball questions from audience members. Did the "5 questions" policy, turn into the "no questions" policy?
One contention I have with the student rally was the choice of colour. I know it was unavoidable to pick anything other than red and white because those are the colours on the Canadian flag. It was promoted as a non-partisan event, which it was in spirit and action, but the colour red represents the Liberal opposition. And long after the majority of people left, several remained and chanted anti-Conservative slogans. This positive event was spectacular, but maybe everyone should have dressed in white and purple(?), or if everyone had a golden morphsuit (that would be rockin'). Whatever the case, the organizers did a tremendous job of spreading a positive message towards youth engagement in the democratic process. Perhaps Stephen Harper avoided student issues to spite the rally he viewed as entirely Liberal in nature, and critical of the Conservatives.

For more information:

Media Coverage: CBC Politics

what if youth voted?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from youth about voting is that, "my vote will not make a difference". That is entirely true and false at the same time. It's true, an individual vote will not make much difference when candidates usually win by margins in the thousands. But think... what if everyone voted? What if every student voted? The political landscape would not look the same as it does now. There are 500 000 undergraduate students in Canada. Roughly 1/3 Vote.
Would you drive a car without putting your hands on the steering wheel? That's like being a Canadian citizen and not voting.

Ok, here's the deal: If you have ever voted in Canadian Idol, you must vote in the Federal election. It would be really sad if you only voted in Canadian Idol, really sad.

Students at the University of Guelph are empowered to vote, as was seen in the recent "Vote Mob" video. Today, students have something else planned: A "Surprise Party" for Stephen Harper; the event's description is a bit of a mis-nomer as 700 people have already confirmed their attendance on Facebook. Harper is coming to the Guelph Delta Hotel this afternoon to support the Conservative candidate Marty Burke. Guelph students will line the sidewalks on Stone road, and will probably be super loud.
This event has been advertised as non-partisan, but I'm almost certain it will be dominated by leftist supporters (not that there is anything wrong with that). Besides, if you actually support Stephen Harper's policy regarding student issues, why would you stand outside in the rain and complain that student's voices are not being heard. If you support Stephen Harper, your message is being heard already and you're probably more likely to actually register and attend the event at the Delta.
The goal of the rally is to raise awareness of student issues among politicians. Or at least, that's what I take away. This is such a great event, and hopefully the message spreads to other candidates. Here was the first "Flash Mob" video:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jenga vs. Lego? Which builds the better platform?

The Liberals announced their platform yesterday. If you're interested in what they propose, check it out online. A platform is like a giant Jenga tower built of promises, for the purpose of campaigning. One of the biggest criticisms came from the business community who complained about the proposed tax hike from 16% to 18.5%. Although, in 2000 the business tax was 29%; would an increase really hurt?

When you are looking at the platform, take notice of the "Canadian Learning Strategy" as this is most applicable to students.

UFC = Ultimate Federal Candidate

I was thinking about elections today. You know how sports fans play fantasy football, hockey, baseball etc? I was thinking about fantasy elections in Canada and super match-ups. This would pretty cool; sort of like two political sagas intertwined into the greatest political match up of all time. or not.

Friday, April 1, 2011

NDP Update, proof Jack Layton may be a transformer

***Update: October 28th 2011. I was just going back and reorganizing my blog post when I came to this one. Rest in Peace Jack Layton. Your dedication to the people of Canada will never be forgotten***

The NDP's Jack Layton has gained 3% popularity, rising to 17%, in the past week. This has been the largest jump in popularity so far this election; coming from a candidate who has been plagued by health problems in the past year. The strength and tenacity of Layton is pretty remarkable; hobbling around on crutches, touring the country, and attracting the
largest crowds the NDP has seen this election (although not near Liberal of Conservative numbers).

The NDP are focusing on real Canadian families; this is in contrast to the Conservative emphasis on economic growth.
Where has he been so far? Oshawa, Ottawa, Brampton, Montreal, Sudbury, and Halifax. It's day 8 of the campaign, and we are heading into the phrase where parties start to aggressively unroll policy. Let's look at some of the NDP's major policy introductions:

-Cutting federal subsidies to fossil fuel produces (including the Alberta oil sands): The current government has provided billions in subsides to one of the dirtiest sources of fuel. Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought oil production was very profitable. I understand providing subsidies, because it boosts investment and Alberta's economy, but I'm pretty sure the oil sands will continue to operate even if subsidies stop. People need petrol. This policy also includes a redirection of those subsidies into green energy investment. Hey, if our government is going to subsidize energy it should probably include some recognition of the environment. But who knows? fuel will probably just get more expensive.

“It’s time Canadian families got a break. This recession has forced many families to turn to their credit cards just to make ends meet. As a result, the average Canadian family is now $100,000 in debt.”

I find this statement a bit misleading because it somewhat ignores the impact of mortgages on debt. I understand credit cards greatly contribute to debt, but really? Canadians are averaging $100 000 in debt from credits cards? Maybe I should invest in Visa.

-Investing in front-line health workers: Layton plans to hire 1200 doctors, and 6000 nurses. I work at a hospital part-time as a janitor, and I see the inadequacies of our health system. I see over crowded waiting rooms, and people waiting 8 hours to see a nurse; so I can definitely support an investment in front-line workers (as supposed to ehealth). Although honestly, I think most people who come into the ER don't need to be there. Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning, drink some echinacea tea, save the ER for people who really need it.

-Policies related to the economy:
-Drop the small business tax rate from 11% to 9% - a 2 percentage point tax break that will help create jobs.
-Create a Job Creation Tax Credit for employers of up to $4,500 per new hire.
-Extend the Accelerated Capital Costs Allowance for the next four years.
-Restore the current Corporate Income Tax rate to 2008 levels and ensure Canada’s corporate tax rate always remains below the tax rate in the USA.

There have been several other promises made by the NDP, so check the website: NDP Press Releases