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November 21, 2011 / amanda stratton

We suck at this.


Be forewarned: This post is not well thought out, and I doubt I’m going to do much editing. I’m going to write it because right now I’m kind of worked up.

You know how people say we should think outside the box in times as trying as those we are currently enduring?
That won’t do.

Don’t think outside the box.
Disassemble the box.
Shred it.
Burn it.
Bury it.
Raze the ground.
Salt the earth.
Forget the box ever existed.

None of what we’re doing makes any sense at all. Everything about the way we govern is unnecessarily convoluted and, in a word, stupid.

I have a half-written blog post about the stupidity of the entire party system, and I’ll post it soon, too, because that’s maybe the start of it all—the initial horribly misplaced building block. But the way we address issues in this country is stupid.  The process is stupid. Maybe not always. In good times, it’d probably be fine. But for right now, for this time, it’s stupid.

You know what I wish they would do?
I wish, for one, that every MP and MPP who was elected would just show the fuck up for one day and act like they take this shit seriously. And on that day, I wish that all of those MPs and MPPs would be prepared to answer one question: what needs to get done in your riding?

I wish they would do that thing where they stop the stupid clock and it stays the same day forever and ever—not because they’re filibustering, but because they’re listening to each other.

I wish they’d stay for as long as it took until every one of those prepared, responsible, caring MPs and MPPs had a chance to say what needed to get done in their riding. Not stupid bullshit, not self-serving crap, not party garbage. Just what really needs to get done so that everyone in this country is able to live at a certain standard. So everyone is warm and fed, at least.

And then I wish they’d all go home for twelve hours and sleep, because let’s be honest, at that point, they’re going to be pretty tired.

And then I wish they’d all come back. All of them. Again. For the second day in a row. Imagine!
And I wish they’d put aside whatever stupid crap keeps them from just being good people, and they’d figure out what needs to get done first where, and they could vote on it, probably. Not with their parties. With their own actual capable individual brains. They’d vote and they’d figure out what needs to get done.

And then they could appoint committees and sub-committees and standing committees and ministers. Ones that made sense based on what needs to get done, instead of committees that decide what needs to get done so they can continue to justify their existence because the title Minister looks great on a business card.

And then they could do those things. I bet some of them could get done pretty fast, if they tried. If they wanted to. If they cared.

We’re trapped inside this stupid, stinky, shit-filled box that we’ve been crapping all over ourselves in for centuries. Just get the hell out of it. Make a new box from the ground up. And some day we’ll have another stupid, stinky, shit-filled box, so maybe save this blog post and read it again in fifteen or twenty years.

Or don’t. Cause let’s be honest, nobody’s listening to me. I’m just this stupid girl who spends too much time thinking about politics, and assuming most people are mostly good, and wondering why the world isn’t better and why we don’t share and how long it will be until it’s too late. And I’m sure all of this sounds really stupid and I’ll hate myself for ever posting it.

But there it is anyway. That’s what I think. That’s what I wish.

I’m sorry for swearing.

 

 

Editing this to add the inspiration for this post:
I watched this video after Naomi posted a link on Twitter. It’s about a state of emergency that’s been declared in Attawapiskat because of the living conditions there. My first thought was what I/we/someone could do to help. Eventually, my thoughts got to the fact that the Ministry of Health recently committed $1.1Million to the construction of a new out-patient clinic in the town where I live. Not another clinic… just a replacement one. A bigger, better one, to be sure, and it will no doubt help meet the demand for our run-of-the-mill medical problems. But for the love of all that is humane, who decided that it should take precedence over committing $1.1Million to putting the people of Attawapiskat into safe homes? Really? That’s messed up.

That’s certainly not the only time I’ve ever paused and wondered about priorities, but it was one that hit home at a time when I was already thinking about what’s broken in our system.

 

October 17, 2011 / amanda stratton

I went. I occupied. I left.


This past Saturday, I decided that since I didn’t, you know, get, the whole Occupy Toronto thing, I’d just go check it out myself. I wanted to talk to people because as I understood it, the group didn’t have a collective goal. It was like-minded people who knew things needed to change and were coming together  to… um… be angry about… things. So I wanted to find out what things.

I asked everyone I met two questions:
Why did you come?
What do you hope is accomplished?

Literally nobody I spoke to had an answer to the second question. I didn’t talk to everybody obviously, but I talked to enough people that someone should have had an answer. Heck, even I had an answer. I don’t think it’s enough to just be angry, and again, the importance of a single, simple demand was stressed from the outset of the Occupy Wall Street movement, too.

I think a key thing to understand about this campaign–and really, that’s what it is–is that gathering together the anti-establishment crowds and the angriest people will simply not be enough. They don’t make up a large enough portion of the population to make a difference. You need to sway the opinion of others, which begins by raising awareness, continues by educating them toward acceptance of the fact that there is a problem and that it can be solved, and ultimately, calls for action to correct it.

Occupy Toronto has two parts:
The first is to get the attention of, and then educate, the general population. Enough of it to make a difference to lawmakers. The call to action for them is simply to join the movement, but that’s a pretty big feat all on its own, but it’s one that’s easily defined.

The second is to make those lawmakers aware of the level of discontent. You probably don’t have to educate them so much because they know. If you have an MP or MPP who isn’t aware of the economic situation in your riding, then why did you elect them? So let’s just assume they’re all educated. So you need to convince them to act. But to do that, you need to let them know what you want them to do.

I don’t think Occupy Toronto is a lost cause yet, but I think it has more than a little potential to become one quickly. And that kinda sucks. I wanted it to be more than what it seems to be. There was a great opportunity there, and maybe there’s still time for it to become something awesome.

If there is, I have some thoughts, to be taken with a grain of salt, I suppose, because, c’mon, I’m just some stupid girl.

 

AMANDA’S TIPS FOR OCCUPY TORONTO

1. Don’t engage in illegal activity.
As I understand it, protesters didn’t even J-walk while marching downtown. Extend  that respect for the law and desire to maintain peace to everything else, including marijuana possession. Not only does having pot at the protest create a legitimate cause for it to be disrupted, but it sends the message that Occupy Toronto is just another hippy protest. You may not like it being seen that way, but if you’re running a campaign, you have to accept the reality of perception.

2. Set up an education booth.
Most of the people that I talked to were not well-informed and couldn’t speak with any level of education about the issues at hand. To be fair, most people in general don’t know anything about these things. But it would be great to try to make sure that when a journalist, or a politician, or someone just checking things out approaches a random person from the crowd, that person knows what they’re talking about.

Awareness of this campaign is pretty high. Wall Street made sure of that. Now you have to move fairly quickly into education to keep people interested and convince them to join. As a fairly educated and informed person talking to the people at Occupy Toronto, the judgement I made about it based on talking to people was not very good.  Some people didn’t even seem to care whether anything ever came of the protest. They were just really happy to be there and be involved in it. Which brings me nicely to my next suggestion…

3. Figure out what you’re asking for.
It’s difficult for people to know whether they support something if they don’t know what it is. That’s pretty self-evident, I suppose. At this point, Occupy Toronto is a rally not a protest. It’s about to get cold. If you want to see more people acting in support of the movement before they would rather stay home and sip hot cocoa by the fire, then define the movement fast.

There are any number of demands that could be made that I know I would support, and I know a lot of other people who would support them, too. I even know some people who would support them in ways that may reach further than sitting in a park. But give them something solid.

Even at the end of Saturday, I saw this starting to come together. They were trying to figure out how to figure out what the demands should be anyway, so there was movement. But I think people will have lost interest by the time something clear has been defined.

 

NOT THAT ANYONE SHOULD LISTEN TO ME
Wait, no, actually, they should. Because I was the easiest demographic to hit. I was skeptical but open-minded. I understand the issues and believe in the necessity for certain changes. I actually fully support Occupy Wall Street, if only in my heart, and I hope they’re successful.

So what I’m saying is that after the people who were already predisposed to support this movement no matter what, I was pretty much the easiest person to inspire toward action and should have been the first to sign up. But I was not inspired. I was disappointed. And I don’t think that bodes well for the task of convincing the other 98% of the 99%.

October 14, 2011 / amanda stratton

Sorry! This One’s Occupied!


I’m sure by now all of the nine of you who read this blog know about the Occupy Movement. About this particular issue, I’m not uneducated, and in my opinion, I’m not stupid. I’ve been following it since about a week after the occupation of Wall Street began on September 17, and I researched it in earnest during the past couple of weeks.

The rest of this post, I’m referring almost entirely to the Occupy Toronto portion of that movement, which begins officially on October 15. That’s because I don’t really know anything about American government or corporations or finances. I know marginally less nothing about their Canadian counterparts.

A question remains in my mind despite all my research (which I argue has probably been far more extensive than that of many of the people supporting the movement):

What are the occupants asking for?

(Also, isn’t occupant a much nicer word than protester? I’m going to use that word from now on.)

I get being angry, and being fed up. I’ve been angry and fed up about injustice and inequality for a long time. And not because it’s ever affected me because, honestly, it hasn’t. I pretty much haven’t suffered a day in my life. When things haven’t gone so well, the social safety net has caught me rather well.

But I’m one of those people who says things like, “I don’t understand why anybody doesn’t have food when some people have all that money” and “Why can’t we just give all the homeless people a place to stay when it’s cold?” and other things that I’m assured by others “simply wouldn’t work” even though I’m still pretty sure they would.

I also don’t like certain things about our government. I think the lack of transparency is appalling, and I would pitch a tent in support of more open government for as long as it takes. I think that’s one of the issues people are upset about, right? I know they relate it more strongly to corporate influence on government, but it’s a problem across the board. I intend, as a matter of fact, to devote myself, if allowed, to attempting to improve communication between representatives and their constituents. I get that.

So what I’m saying is that I don’t NOT get what people are upset about.
What I do NOT get is what they’re asking for.

Because if you’re not asking for something in particular that will remove you from occupation, then how do the people who are in a position of power know what to do to appease you, and what incentive do they have to do it?

The Adbusters campaign that began the Occupy Movement pointed out the importance of a single, specific ultimatum, and correctly identified the presence of such a demand as the reason why the Arab Spring protests were so successful.  Adbusters called for Obama to set up a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence of money on representatives in government.

So the implied contract of the Occupy Wall Street movement was “We’re staying here until you set up the commission, and when you do, we will go home.” That contract is probably no longer applicable because it’s become a grassroots movement (can something become grassroots? I’m not sure.). So what incentive does Obama have now to do it?

I know that people are angry about a lot of different things. I know that there isn’t a single solution to all of it. And I’m not saying we have to choose our battles and disregard other things, but you fight your battles one at a time. It’s the one thing the Germans taught us well. Okay, that and to love David Hasselhoff.

My Only Real Philosophical Problem with the Movement
To me, the principle behind the movement should be, and perhaps originally sought to be, equality and inclusion. I think that philosophically, it probably still is. People don’t want to be left behind anymore. But inclusion goes both ways. And a lot of the postings by Occupy activists propagate a very “Us versus Them” attitude toward government. I would love to see a concerted and conscious shift toward a different rhetoric.

Because the government isn’t an Other. They aren’t above us or against us. They are of us. That’s what we should be asking for everyone, especially our representatives and leaders, to remember is the guiding principle behind democratic representative government. And ultimately, that is what everyone is asking for, right? Nobody’s trying to actually overthrow the government, are they? I wish the way people are asking for more inclusion better reflected the spirit of co-operation they hope to instill.

And Maybe There Are Some Things We Shouldn’t Be Angry About Here in the GWN (Great White North… it’s a good acronym–let’s start using it.)
Canadians don’t have quite the same cause for anger as Americans do on the financial front. Yes, the economy is shit right now and a lot of people are unemployed. Also, our income gap (which actually doesn’t fit the 99 and 1 yet) is widening at apparently an alarming rate, and there’s a problem there. However, our government didn’t completely screw us over by poorly regulating our financial sector. In fact, ours did a pretty damn good job of regulating our financial sector and had the foresight to prevent what’s been happening in the US for the past decade from happening to us.

Canada also has nowhere near the poverty problem that the US does because we’ve been somewhat socialist for a long time. That safety net I mentioned earlier is about a bazillion times better than the US safety net. And we actually have a tax system whereby the wealthy do pay more to help support the unwealthy. There are limits of course, and it perhaps can’t continue this way because the fundamental structure of our economy has changed and we need to update our systems to reflect that. And I happen to think that there’s no such thing as too socialist. But that’s another post for another day. What I’m saying is that, so far, I’m not entirely sure what people are so angry about because it surely isn’t the same thing Americans are angry about, right?

So, to sum up
I want to support the Occupy Movement. I’m still tossing around the idea of getting a babysitter and becoming an occupant for the weekend myself. But I want someone to please just tell me what I’d be sitting in support of demanding. Please.

As a further side note,
If you know me, you might assume that some of this post was sarcastic. It’s not. I am genuinely asking if anyone knows WHAT the Occupy Toronto folks are asking for. Because I genuinely want to know. And nobody so far has been able to tell me. The only responses I’ve received have been variations on “People are angry.” Also, as always, I welcome your comments, even if just to tell me I’m a moron. I posted this because I want to understand, not because I’m against it. I’m pretty much the furthest thing from against it. But my brain’s critical machine doesn’t have an off switch.

October 7, 2011 / amanda stratton

Fear and Voting in the 2011 Ontario General Election


Despite the close finish, or maybe in part because of it, the big story from election day seems to be the low voter turnout. The most common assumption is that low voter turnout indicates high apathy. Although, for the record, I support a person’s right to not vote, I’m disinclined to believe that apathy was the key factor. I think that low voter turnout indicates indecision.

In part, it may be because people didn’t feel well-enough informed. There’s so much information that gets floated around, and it’s hard to sort through. And people know that the truth is often obfuscated to serve political agendas and media bias. Facts are sometimes just opinions. Statistics can lie. Trust No One.

That makes it hard to make a decision in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. The difficulty of deciding is directly proportional to the lasting importance of the decision. And the entire world is at an important juncture right now. I don’t know whether we call it a crossroads, or a turning point, or the part with the rock on one side and the hard place on the other.

However we want to frame it, the next four years are important, and we’re potentially facing an economic and social problem we haven’t seen in seventy years. We can’t just be content to say “here’s the new boss, same as the old boss” this time. What happens next matters. It’s not a situation where we’re all going to be okay no matter what because this is Canada, and gosh darnit, we’re Ontario.

I don’t think fewer people voted because more people didn’t care. I think fewer people voted because more people were scared to make the wrong decision. There will always be a certain number of people who routinely abstain from voting for whatever reason, but when people who normally do vote decide in large numbers that they won’t, I think it must be something besides apathy at play.

I don’t think people suddenly decide they don’t care anymore when the decision matters most. They’re just afraid of making a mistake when they feel like marking that ballot could also mean leaving an indelible mark on Ontario–their lives and their children’s lives.

I don’t think people don’t care. I think they’re scared. And I don’t really blame them.

 

 

 

October 6, 2011 / amanda stratton

Well, the Countdown is Over


When I first posted about the upcoming Ontario election, I said I was going to post lots of things about parties and platforms. Hey, surprise! I didn’t.

Kind of a funny thing happened. I did research the parties and platforms and candidates in my riding. I did decide who I’m going to vote for, and I count myself lucky that not only is it the party I would most like to vote for, but I also think the candidate is going to do an amazing job as MPP.

Oh, what the hell—I’ll be voting Liberal. If you haven’t decided yet, please feel free to take my word for it and go out and vote Liberal, too. Especially if you’re in Perth-Wellington, because John Wilkinson is pretty much tops, as far as I can tell. It’s been an honour and a blessing to have him represent us, and I hope we will continue to have him working for us in Toronto.

But the funny thing that happened is this:
I kind of realized that I don’t care that much about elections. And I feel bad if I dropped the ball on anyone who was counting on me. Sometimes lately kind of a lot of people look at this blog, so maybe?

Anyway, I don’t intend to say that elections aren’t important. They definitely are. I just didn’t want to write about it. All the really interesting, cool stuff happens after that. And before that. And I think understanding that stuff is the really important thing. At least for me.

But I also think the reason we have a representative government is so that you can elect someone to do all the thinking and worrying for you and you can go about your quite-likely-equally-important business while they do that. So if you don’t happen to care about the stuff that happens behind the scenes, then, um… probably don’t read this blog anymore?

But do read it because I like when people do. And sometimes it’s pretty much as funny as you’re ever going to get in a political blog, so there’s that. But mostly the making me feel good thing.

 

ONE LAST WORD ON THE ELECTION
You may also recall that I posted a video about taking my kids to vote in the federal election. Please take your kids to vote with you. Tonight I told my kids that tomorrow is election day, and they were squealy and excited to the amount of Bieber. It’s like a holiday for them, and I’m not even letting them miss school this time.

I don’t know whether my parents ever voted when I was growing up. I think maybe I remember them doing it once. They may have voted all the time. It wasn’t something we talked about. But it’s like reading: if your kids see you do it, they’ll learn that it’s, you know, normal and expected and just something you do.

If you don’t take them to vote with you, please make sure your kids know what you’re doing when you go vote. Make sure they understand what you’re doing. Discuss it with them. I asked my kids to tell me what things they thought mattered the most and then we looked at and talked about party platforms to see how they fit. They probably only understood about half of what I even said, and the actual impact of about 3% of it, but it’s about teaching them the exercise of voting.

If they grow up knowing how to get educated and vote, they’ll never face what I did, feeling daunted and overwhelmed when I finally decided I wanted to participate. So please include them somehow.

Okay, I guess that’s all I have to say about that. Now go have your say!

September 29, 2011 / amanda stratton

Dear Janice Kennedy


At the beginning of this week, I noticed an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece by Janice Kennedy being floated around Twitter. It wasn’t by any means the first time I’ve seen a very biased and unsupported article being flouted as indisputable fact. I doubt it will be the last. I don’t normally engage with the people who float them around, and I only very seldom comment on the articles themselves, which are sometimes in online newspapers or other magazines, and other times just blog entries from respected individuals.

So I don’t intend to attack any particular individual writer. In fact, I don’t even blame the writers of these articles for the problem I think is becoming endemic among people who want to be—and usually appear to be—politically-minded citizens. But to illustrate my point, I’m going to address Kennedy’s piece, because it’s popular and timely.

The thing about the article, titled “I don’t recognize this Canada” and available here, is that almost none of the opinions are supported with even loose facts. It’s rhetoric and misrepresentation on the scale of the best political smear campaign, and twice as dangerous because people assume that a journalist adheres to some ethical code that would prevent such a thing.

I wouldn’t want to take anything out of context, so the entire article is quoted here, with my comments interjected at relevant points. Any bold font, excluding the title, has been added by me merely in order to draw attention to the particular points I’m addressing.

I don’t recognize this Canada

Parliament resumed this week. So did the profound nuttiness.

It is no coincidence that, also this week: a Mexican refugee claimant and mother of two Canadianborn children was ordered deported – despite credible fears for her safety from an abusive ex-partner, a Mexican police officer; Walt Natynczyk, Canada’s high-flying top general, faced questions about his taxpayer-funded $93,000 Caribbean vacation flights; unionized Air Canada employees were, for the second time in under three months, effectively deprived of their right to strike.

Really? Because that sounds like exactly what a coincidence is. But using the phrase “it is no coincidence” gives the whole thing an air of conspiracy. Even if perhaps, at most, Air Canada and its employees felt the pressure to conclude their negotiations before Parliament could get around to back-to-work legislation, which would mean it’s not a total coincidence, phrasing it the way Kennedy did implies that there was something malicious at the heart of this confluence of events. I’d have to venture to say there wasn’t.

And did I mention the resumption of Parliament?

Parliament is the stage for Stephen Harper’s Conservative agenda. And this week’s news stories about labour abuse, top-brass entitlement and screwed-up immigration priorities are all, not coincidentally, mirror reflections of the Harper Conservative perspective.

(Note: I did not say “conservative perspective,” certainly a legitimate political option. I refer to the narrow focus of a prime minister who seems bent on creating Texas North, a man who once called Canada “a second-tier socialistic country.” “Harper Conservative” means something specific.)

Yes, yes he did. ELEVEN YEARS AGO. And taking that line out of context is a move straight from the Liberal mud-slinging playbook of 2006, when it was already outdated. And let’s not forget that was the same campaign in which the Liberals ran an ad claiming that Harper was against abortion and wanted to criminalize it. It is a total coincidence that as I write this, some of Harper’s own backbenchers are taking a rare stand against him because they think he’s too strongly in favour of a woman’s right to choose. So, let’s not take our journalistic cues from attack ads, hm?

This is all not to mention, of course, that the quote is generally taken grossly out of context, from what I gather. Originally published in the National Post, Harper’s article containing the phrase seems to have been scrubbed from the face of the earth, but one source gives some insight into what he really meant and why he said what he did.

Under the Harper Conservatives, it’s fine to threaten back-to-work legislation even before a strike is called, even when no essential services are involved. It matters not a whit that this country has, and believes in, labour rights. With a sleight-of-hand well practised at turning black into white, the Harper government professes to respect those rights while persistently stomping all over them. This is nuttiness.

I can’t keep up with who I’m supposed to hate. Weren’t we pissed that the government didn’t interfere with the postal strike fast enough? Cause frankly, I didn’t really consider that an essential service. There are not so many things that go by Canada Post that couldn’t just as easily have found their way by some other route. The same is not true, in my opinion, of Air Canada’s service.

So is the Harper Conservative promotion of military imagery, which flies in the face of its own truth. Even as lower-ranked members of the armed forces remain underpaid and overworked; even as returning combat veterans remain undertreated; even as ombudsmen who champion their causes get swiftly replaced – the brass get to take pricey free vacation flights. (Ignore the PM’s chastising rhetoric this week, the hasty retort of someone obviously reacting to an embarrassment.) Black is white.

First of all, the end of this paragraph has nothing to do with the beginning of it, and I just don’t know what to do with that. There’s a sort of metonymous manipulation here, in which Kennedy attempts by way of juxtaposition to paint all military affairs and policies with a brush that ought really only be applied to some.

Also, everything mentioned is vague and the assessments aren’t supported by any kind of fact. I read A LOT about politics and I only know what two of the references in this paragraph are to, and them only vaguely. I’m sure Janice Kennedy did her research. I’m not sure everyone who passed this article around the digital world has any idea what she’s talking about. And I’m also sure Janice Kennedy knows that.

And yes, of course, ignore the PM’s recent comments and all current political stances and goings-on, but whatever you do, DO NOT ever stop bringing up that eleven year old comment and misrepresenting it.  Good advice from the journo world, right there.

Under Harper Conservative nuttiness, which maintains “getting tough” as sacred mantra, lists of immigrant bad guys are trotted out with great public fanfare. Meanwhile, immigration authorities show just how adept they are at getting tough – not by rejecting unskilled 17th-cousins-twice-removed of members of vote-rich ethnic communities, but by ordering the deportation of young mothers with credible scare stories. Black is white, and the result is nutty.

With the Harper Conservatives back in the House in full majority finery, we have returned to the politics of naked emperors praised for their shining raiment. Everything is haywire as they trot out their daily distorted realities.

This paragraph in particular (and the article as a whole) hits one of my least favourite sensationalist scares: the idea that democracy is dead. And of course, Stephen Harper single-handedly killed it. It’s not dead. This isn’t our first majority government. Everyone keeps acting like this rodeo has never been in town before and all the locals are getting swindled by the cowboys. That’s really, definitely, without a doubt, NOT what’s happening.

What really bothers me about the Death of Democracy argument is that it’s intended to sell newspapers and embitter citizens against individuals, and the people who propagate it either don’t realize or don’t care that it’s an ultimately nihilistic stance that discourages people from being engaged with politics and government. It demoralizes and disheartens, and leaves people apathetic. Continually declaring the death of democracy is the very thing that’s killing it.

But I digress…

On the military front – and despite the disproportionate sacrifices of our soldiers – Afghanistan is sinking back into a Taliban quagmire. Yet Harper glibly capsulizes the mission as “a great success.”

How nutty is that?

Yep. Know where he said that? Kandahar. Know who he said it to? The troops serving there.
If you were standing in front of people who just flew across the world and put their lives on the line for something, to borrow a phrase from the inimitable Howie Mandel as Bobby, what word would you say?

I’m not sure how Kennedy knows he was glib about it. Maybe he was. I never saw a video tape.

Furthermore, the comment is again taken entirely out of context. My point is not to argue about Afghanistan and how successful the mission there has been. My point is that there is a context in which this comment doesn’t mean what Kennedy wants you to think it means. But I’m going to encourage you to make up your own mind. You can read a lot more about Harper’s address to the troops here or here or even here. And probably a number of other places to which our mutual friend Google would be willing to direct you.

Internationally, the possible recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations is not even considered, thanks to this government’s knee-jerk support for Israel. True, it’s a delicate and complex issue, and Palestine is probably not yet ready for statehood. And true, Israel is a longtime ally that must be respected as such. But no Canadian government should be so craven as to reject absolutely the truth that Israel is often far from blameless, and that Arab nations are not always villainous.

I don’t think anyone, at least not on behalf of the government as a whole—or even just Harper’s Conservatives—has done that. I certainly don’t see where that’s happened. I’d be happy to have Kennedy show me, or anyone really, if it’s happened. I’m just at a loss here.

As an aside, perhaps some modifiers are just dangling, but is Kennedy trying to imply that the Canadian government with its “knee-jerk” reaction has single-handedly decided the stance of the entire United Nations on Palestine? Surely, she’s not even trying to slyly imply that to those not reading critically enough to catch such an unintentional overstatement.

What distorting Canadian lens renders our current Middle Eastern policy so un-nuanced and lopsidedly predictable? For that matter, what blindness must exist for a government to repeatedly ignore any and all Muslim interests, at home or abroad?

Any? Yes, I entirely agree.  There’s an issue that needs attention. I sure as heck don’t know what to do about it, but I guess she’s right that the government doesn’t much address certain things that it perhaps should.

All? At home and abroad? I strongly disagree. Again–if there’s some evidence of what’s being suggested, I’d be more than happy to admit my error.

Then there’s the environment. With disastrous evidence all around us, it cries out daily for action – and is ignored by a government that sees few political brownie points on that front, in Albertan tarsands or anywhere else.

Instead, we get nuttiness dressed up as public policy. A massive new omnibus crime bill is introduced – with no price tag – even though the unConservative reality is that crime rates are actually down. Lots more jail time will be served, despite overwhelming evidence from the United States that this approach has been catastrophic. At the same time, thanks to political optics and archaic rhetoric lifted from the U.S. reverence for “the right to bear arms,” Canadian gun control is about to be loosened.

I don’t know that I’d have called it nuttiness, but I respect the theme and stylistic choice. I also agree with most of what Kennedy is saying in this paragraph. I would note, though, that I don’t think the decision to scrap the long-gun registry has anything at all—not even a smidge—to do with the American right to bear arms. It seems to me that Kennedy is intentionally and erroneously playing on the hard-wired Canadian desire to be anything but American.

There are so many things wrong with our national picture these days, from empty swagger to lost compassion to a tragically eroded sense of international diplomacy, that it is no longer even recognizable. It is a picture that now looks not only mean, but stupid.

How did this happen, this paleolithic official mindset with its darkly Disneyfied world view? The Tea Party wannabes who control Parliament represent no more than a third of Canadians, and yet they’ve put their stamp on all of us. Their counter-intuitive politics have become our mark of Cain.

The tragedy here is that a good country is being steadily turned into a bad joke. And that is nuttiness at its most disturbing.

I guess Kennedy isn’t as good with mathematical logic as she is with rhetoric, since the Harper Conservatives have 39.6% of the popular vote. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she just has trouble with fractions and wasn’t deliberately misleading anybody in an effort to play on the Left-loved “They Shouldn’t Have Won” post-election dirge.

I’m just going to let the rest of these paragraphs, in all their rhetorical brilliance, lie. Because it’s really just a summary conclusion and not worth addressing separately.  But in eleven years, someone please remind me to refer to “Janice Kennedy who once said Canada was becoming a ‘bad joke’.”  Thanks.

MY POINT?

People seem to love being nihilistic and angry. They swallow whatever pseudo-political gruel is put in front of them because they think that if they’re upset, that must mean they’re knowledgeable and that they care. This is my opinion, anyhow, and it’s based entirely on observation and not on any psychological expertise I certainly don’t have.

I don’t think most people know what Stephen Harper or John Baird (Don’t we love to hate those guys? Sure sells newspapers!) do on an average day. I don’t think most people know what Parliament does every day. I don’t think most people have any idea what the MP they voted for does every day. The civilian involvement in politics is being reduced to a too-easily manipulated swaying of opinion.

And that’s dangerous. The principles on which democracy functions are being destroyed in a fire of propaganda that, sadly, starts at the grass roots, where truth is expected. We should be able to rely on news media and certain pundits and public figures to provide relevant information and not just the best stories. I think they’ve let us down.

More importantly, I think we’ve let ourselves down. I think we do every time we read an article and decide whether we believe it or not without questioning any of the facts behind it. I think we contribute to the problem every time we pass that article on and add our own uneducated ascension to it. I think we’re all responsible. That’s how democracy works.

I’m nobody’s opinion leader. I know that. I’m a girl who’s just smart enough to know she doesn’t know enough. But if there’s one thing anybody would ever listen to me about, I hope it’s this: ask questions, look for facts and learn to distinguish them from opinions, and engage with your government, not just with politics.

To do otherwise is just plain nuttiness.

 

September 21, 2011 / amanda stratton

Dear Candidates:


This is an open letter to ALL candidates for political office, but it is certainly one that some of the candidates in my riding could benefit from.

On Monday, I attended a Perth-Wellington all-candidates meeting–the first all-candidates meeting I’ve attended since the 2000 federal election, which happened to have been the ONLY all-candidates meeting I’d ever attended.

For most people, the ultimate voting decision comes down to a mixture of party and candidate. Some people may prioritize one over the other, but I don’t think many people could vote for one without confidence in the other.

An all-candidates meeting, then, is a great opportunity to get to know the people who would like to represent you in Parliament. In part, it is an opportunity to ask for clarification or further information regarding party policies, and it’s a great time to ask how candidates foresee policies affecting the riding.

On a more basic level, though, I think it’s about asking two questions:

  • How well do these candidates understand this riding and our needs?
  • How well would each of these candidates represent us?

So, candidates, here is my debate advice from a layperson with remarkably little business offering such advice:

KNOW YOUR RIDING
If you can’t apply your party’s policies directly to the riding you’re supposed to be representing, then you’re not a good choice for representative. It’s as simple as that, really. At that point, I feel like you’re desire is to represent the party and not to represent the people in your area.

If you don’t seem that connected to us before you even start spending half of your time somewhere else (in my case, only two hours away; in some cases, even farther with fewer visits home) then we have trouble believing you would be staying in touch with us, our views, and our needs if you were elected.

DON’T BE SO VAGUE
I heard a lot of “We support better education,” “We are in favour of easier access to healthcare,” “We support families having choices,” “We like pizza and puppies.” Well, who doesn’t? Honestly, which party is out there running on a platform of poor education, longer hospital wait-times, fascist control of our lives, and the banishment of tasty snacks and adorable baby animals? None of them.

When you talk in general terms, not only do you kind of waste everyone’s time because we could have gleaned all that from the party platform and the debate is supposed to be about digging deeper, but you also sound like you don’t really know anything more specific than that. It doesn’t look good.

JOIN TOASTMASTERS OR SOMETHING
Part of your job is to ACTUALLY physically represent us, the people who voted for you, when you get to Toronto (or Ottawa, if that’s the case). You should be able to speak publicly–including extemporaneously–knowledgeably and with confidence. This isn’t just a matter of how you present yourself and looking the part. It’s about how you are going to represent US and advocate for OUR NEEDS.

It’s hard to put faith in your ability to argue on behalf of what’s best for our little slice of the world if your five-minute opening remarks are weak, or if you give vague, conviction-less responses to questions. If you flounder under the pressure of a local teacher asking about education policy, then what are you going to do when you rise to speak in front of a house full of politicians?

Practically speaking, your ability to walk the walk and talk the talk with the big boys does matter. So, do what you have to do to learn how to speak publicly. Except don’t picture us all naked. That’s ew, and not acceptable.


Okay, that’s all my unsolicited advice for today. Well, not all of it, but I’m saving the rest for yelling at the TV while I watch Dr. Phil.*

[*no, not really]