Saturday, August 28, 2010

Holding Harper to Account

Writing in today's Chronicle Herald, columnist Ralph Surette offers an interesting perspective on what Stephen Harper has thus far done to Canada, and what will be required to unseat him. Check it out here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Politics of Student Part-Time Work - Part One

Having taught high school for 30 years, one of the issues of interest that I carried over into retirement is whether or not students should work part-time. While students have always worked for any number of reasons, ranging from saving for post-secondary education to purchasing things their parents either wouldn't or couldn't buy for them, over the years it was my perception that the number of hours young people were devoting to their jobs rose significantly. A recent article in the Globe and Mail addressed the problem, and some interesting and startling conclusions were reached.

Jorgen Hansen, an associate professor of economics at Montreal’s Concordia University, used data from Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey, a survey that follows cohorts of students over a number of years. His conclusion: working part-time hurts grades. The more you work part-time, the greater the harm to grades.

According to Wendy Patton, a dean of the faculty of education at Queensland University at Brisbane, Australia, the upper limit should be 12 hours per week. Other studies showed a deterioration in academic performance commensurate with the number of hours worked.

From my own personal experience, it was not unusual to have some students, usually seniors, working almost the equivalent of full-time jobs, and, of course, their grades, homework completion rates, and assignments all suffered. Plaintively, they would tell me they had to work to save for university; my usual response was that if they continued to put in those kinds of hours, they likely wouldn't be going to university anyway, as they wouldn't have the marks. Such harsh observations generally, of course, fell on deaf ears.

And this is where we come to the political aspect of the equation. For a number of reasons that I will outline in my next post, I strongly believe that government has a role to play in regulating how many hours high school students can work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Do Big Brother and the Harper Conservative Government Have In Common?

The simple answer is, "They both know what is best for us."

In so many ways, it is such a relief to know that we Canadians no longer have to think for ourselves, as the Harper Government has assumed that burden for us. The latest evidence of their benevolence comes from a story by Richard Brennan in today's Toronto Star about the long-delayed release of a report on the effectiveness of the long gun registry.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Reasons for Mr. McGuinty to Worry

I've been writing lately about the declining political fortunes of the Ontario Liberal Government. Another reason for the Premier to worry about his political fate comes from the latest inflation statistics, which are being pushed up thanks to the HST that was imposed this past July. The Star has a story well worth reading in today's edition.

From my perspective, this is just another example of what happens when a pro-business agenda is aggressively promoted at the expense of the citizen-consumer-taxpayer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ontario's Insurance Reform

One of the biggest pitfalls in striving to practice critical thinking is the risk of either appearing to be, or actually being, a bit paranoid, especially when it comes to government pronouncements. Quite frankly, I am immediately skeptical when government tells me that a change they are imposing or championing will be good for me.

Like the HST, which the McGuinty government tells us will actually result in lower consumer costs as businesses rush to pass on their savings to customers, the latest change in automobile insurance should be met with a healthy skepticism. By lowering the payouts that companies have to make for injuries sustained in car accidents, we are being told that insurance premiums will moderate. One, of course, immediately notes that there is no promise of premium reductions, despite in some cases the impending halving of payouts to accident victims.

Once more, the McGuinty Government is showing a pro-business agenda that is being implemented at the expense of the consumer and taxpayer, something that should be remembered when the next election comes.

Jim Coyle's Column

Although the last person I would like to see leading Ontario is Jim Hudak, a protege and clone of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, according to the latest poll, written about by Jim Coyle in today's Toronto Star, the head of the Ontario Conservative Party poses a real threat to the increasingly disliked and distrusted Dalton McGuinty.

Given his unpopular tax measures, and, from my perspective, his patent dishonesty during the G20 Summit and his lies to the people of Hamilton regarding the Pan Am Stadium, one wonders whether this poll will have a sobering effect on the Premier

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Two-Part Interview with Clayton Ruby

Before starting this political blog, I wrote extensively on my other blog about the abuses of Charter Rights during the G20 Summit in Toronto by both the police and the Dalton McGuinty Ontario Liberal Government.

In this two-part interview by The Real News with Clayton Ruby, the well-known Toronto lawyer discusses both the legality of what happened on Toronto streets in late June, as well as possible ways to prevent future suspensions of our rights.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Article on Critical Thinking

Allan Levine, a history professor from Manitoba, has written an excellent article on critical thinking in today's Globe. An excerpt from the article offers a clear and concise explanation of the concept, and what its goals are:

“Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way,” explains Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. “People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathically. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.”

Illustrating its importance by examining the current controversy surrounding the building of a mosque a few blocks from the twin towers' terrorist attack, Levine demonstrates that those lofty goals are well-worth striving for throughout our lives, even if complete attainment eludes us.

Cynicism and Hope

Reading or writing about politics can be an exercise in both cynicism and hope: cynicism because the worst of human nature is often on display in the performance of our elected officials, and hope because of an underlying belief that our democratic system always allows for the possibility of change and improvement.

The following video, although not political, offers an antidote to our cynicism. I hope you will be as encouraged about humanity's potential as I was after viewing it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bob Rae's Political Judgement

Having lived in Ontario during Bob Rae's tenure as Premier, I do not regard him with any degree of esteem (a polite understatement). The latest confirmation of the correctness of my opinion came recently when a friend sent me the following email:


It will receive second reading at the next sitting of parliament...

Please read the bill and make your own decision..if you disagree with the bill, please send this to every Canadian of voting age in your address book..

Hopefully by letting your member of parliament know your feelings on the bill, it will be defeated.

If you agree with the bill, you don't need to do anything..

Bill C-428 An Act to Amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirements)

Bill C-428 will allow recent immigrants to apply for OAS (the CPP) in 3 years instead of the existing 10.

This bill had first reading in the house on June 18, 2009. It was seconded by Bob Rae!! MP Ms. Ruby Dhalla who introduced the bill represents the riding of Brampton whose population is mainly East Indian. Right now you have to have lived in Canada for 10 years in order to qualify for Old Age Security (CPP). She wants the time reduced to 3 years. Thousands could come to Canada when they are 62 years old, never having worked or contributed to this country's tax system etc, and qualify for full Old Age Security (CPP) benefits. 10 years minimum is reasonable. 3 is not!

Look this up - Google C-428 and you will see this bill has only one purpose, to featherbed a select group of people for votes.

I certainly hope this bill does not get passed. It is about time we called our elected MP's to ask them to NOT support this bill. Their response may be one factor in helping us determine who gets elected in the next election.

What Can You Do?

1. Spread the message
to family, friends and email buds.

2. Write letters, send emails to all your list, and call Members of Parliament

It is time Canada looked after it's Vets and long-term citizens before tossing OUR hard-earned money around on people who have no right to this money, never having paid taxes or contributed to our economy. If a family wishes to bring elderly relatives here and are willing to waive their own right to collect these funds in order that the elderly relatives can receive them...fine...otherwise, look after them yourself and do not expect the Canadian taxpayers to do it.

There are too many people abusing the generosity of the Canadian people. We need to stop the madness....NOW!

While I do not agree with the rather inflammatory tone in part of this message, I do think it shows a key Liberal, Mr. Rae, badly out of touch with the sensibilities of many Canadians, especially with regard to their sense of fair play. While it is probably no mystery as to why Ms Dhalla authored the bill, given the bad publicity she weathered about a year ago over her treatment of Phillipino nannies, as well as the fact that her riding houses many immigrants, I find it hard to understand why Mr. Rae would have seconded the bill.

In my view, should Michael Ignatieff ultimately be deposed as Liberal leader, the worst mistake the Party could make would be to select Bob Rae as his successor.

Helping People to Help Themselves

If you have read my other blog, you may know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of and volunteer editor with Kiva, a non-profit microfinance organization dedicated to helping people in various parts of the world help themselves.

The concept of Kiva microfinance is surprisingly simple: by circumventing the often arcane and corrupt machinations of governments and working directly with lending institutions in developing countries, the micro financier reads online the loan request of the entrepreneur, and for as little as a $25 loan, can help that entrepreneur meet his or her loan goal for purposes that can range from buying more chickens for a poultry-raising business to buying more seeds for a farm.

Kiva's motto: Loans that Change Lives, is an accurate description of the possibilities for the incremental improvements in living standards through microfinance.

I hope that you will visit their site.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Criticizing the Harper Government Can be Harmful to Career Prospects

I was going to write a post exploring the casualty list of those whose criticisms of specific Harper Government policies have resulted in dismissals, demotions, or resignations, but the Globe and Mail has already done it this morning in its online Political Notebook.

The latest victim is RCMP Marty Cheliak, whose vigorous support of the long gun registry has earned him much praise and recognition amongst police forces across the country but apparently incurred the ire of Harper, who dearly wants to eliminate it, no doubt another sop to his hardcore constituency. While the Government denies any role in the matter, citing it as an RCMP decision, his removal as head of the Canadian Firearms Program, nine months after his appointment, does not pass the smell test and appears to be part of the growing pattern of intolerance of criticism that Mr. Harper is known for.

The official reason for Cheliak's removal? He is not bilingual. Funny, that didn't seem to be an issue until now.

Message received loud and clear, Mr. Harper.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Heather Mallick

In today's Toronto Star, Heather Mallick has an interesting column pertaining to the McGuinty Government's decision to permit Mixed Martial Arts in Ontario. She raises the question of whether or not all governments' mortal fear of directly raising taxes is justified.

Read it and see what you think.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dalton McGuinty

In his column in today's Toronto Star, Jim Coyle has an interesting view of Premier McGuinty's decisions to venture into online gambling and permitting Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Ontario. While I tend to see the two as cynical moves based on a need to raise provincial revenue regardless of the detrimental effects, Coyle sees them as evidence of progressive and canny leadership, at the same time observing contrasts in both style and substance with Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Well worth reading.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

James Travers' Column Today

In his column today, Toronto Star political columnist James Travers insightfully addresses a situation that I have written about a couple of times, the fact that the Federal Liberal Party seems to stand for nothing, judging by its feckless opposition to Stephen Harper's harmful policies. I am taking the liberty of reproducing the entire column, with parts that I have bolded for added emphasis:

Liberals look on as Tories vandalize Canada
by James Travers

OTTAWA—This country has a problem. It has a ruling party that twists the truth and an Official Opposition that can’t, or won’t, straighten it out.

This summer’s oddly hot topic is one example. Gutting the census is nothing less than another Conservative act of public vandalism. Wagging an angry finger is nothing more than another empty Liberal gesture.

Opinion polls reflect that repeating pattern. For more than four years now Canadians have consistently told pollsters they don’t support Conservatives and don’t trust Liberals.

One unlikely way to end that impasse is for Stephen Harper to come clean about what he doesn’t like about Canada and how Conservatives are changing it by stealth and increment. Another is for Michael Ignatieff to screw Liberal courage to the sticking point and declare enough is enough.

Harper owes that explanation. Since taking control of a universally admired country in 2006, the Prime Minister has been altering Canada without a majority mandate or clear statement of ultimate purpose.

Ignatieff has a duty to oppose that strategy. Since replacing Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader has threatened elections and fumed at Conservatives while drawing flexible lines in this capital’s blowing sand.

Harper’s determination and Ignatieff’s vacillation are connected by opportunities seized by Conservatives and missed by Liberals. Without significant resistance or the debate democracy demands, the Prime Minister has consistently advanced policies that are at best controversial and at worst corrosive.

Too often Harper manages to tip-toe dubious schemes past a dozing electorate. While the nation slept, Conservatives grossly abused the budget process with an omnibus bill bulging with unrelated plans to sell the public stake in the atomic energy sector and, even more remarkably, to relax environmental regulations just when the world is reeling from the BP oil spill.

As always, there’s more. There was little discussion of military priorities and less outcry over public safeguards in the sole-sourced contract committing Canada to spend some $16 billion replacing CF-18 fighters. Much was muttered and nothing done to stop Conservatives silencing diverse civil society voices by attacking Montreal’s non-partisan Rights and Democracy and stripping core funding from the umbrella agency has advised federal governments on overseas development for more than forty years.

To Conservative credit, Harper routinely gets the best of a fissured Parliament and an Official Opposition in disarray. The result is a country being forced marched to an unknown destination.

To Liberal shame, serial leaders, with the notable exception of Stephane Dion’s quixotic defence of a carbon tax, have failed to find principled places to stand. In trying every which way to regain power they continue to fall far short of convincing Canadians that a once great party would now gladly risk its hegemony to protect the national interest.

No party or leader willingly commits political suicide. Instead, they lurk in the shadows, weighing odds and waiting for a promising moment to strike. Still, parties risk everything when what’s good for them is seen to be more important than what’s good for the country.

Ignatieff knows that Liberals have taken too long to discard the tattered cloak of Canada’s natural governing party. Liberals are proving equally slow in grasping that an opposition afraid to oppose is an empty vessel voters will fill with blame when the ruling party goes too far.

Conservatives go too far when they trample widely shared Canadian values by twisting truth to fit narrow ideology. Liberals will go nowhere until they are willing to risk something straightening it out.

Ontario To Allow Mixed Martial Arts

My son just sent me a link to a story that says the Ontario McGuinty Government has changed its mind and will allow MMA fighting beginning next year. According to Consumer Services Minister Sophia Aggelonitis, regulating MMA is the best way to keep the fighters safe.

Hmm... not to mention the revenue the government will accrue from it and the online gambling it is about to get into as well.

Oh well, bloodsports and gambling may be two effective ways to assuage people should they grow vexed over their increasingly high utility and gasoline bills thanks to the HST, despite the fact that the latter will be applied to these latest questionable and diversionary McGuinty policy decisions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Do We Assess Information?

The other day I had an interesting and spirited discussion with a colleague at the food bank where I volunteer. Initially the conversation revolved around the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the possible loss of the team with City Council's decision to proceed with the West Harbour as the site of the new stadium over the objections of team owner Bob Young.

The discussion then progressed to how we evaluate the information we receive. My position, using two illustrations, was and is as follows: Because whatever personal expertise we may possess is usually very limited in scope, it becomes incumbent upon us to be very much influenced by experts in any given field.

Take, for example, the Conservative Government's decision to abandon the mandatory long census form. To be quite honest, the topic of the census, until the controversy erupted, was of no interest to me. The subject of statistics is like a foreign language to me, and seemingly of no pertinence to my life. However, after the almost universal condemnation of the Harper decision by a wealth of experts, critical thinking demands that I accept as true that it is a very bad decision that should be reversed.

We then went on to talk about, and disagree upon, climate change. Her position was that she wants to decide the truth for herself, through research on the Internet. That may well be a sound approach if she has enough time and the ability to evaluate the sources of her information, something that is very hard for a lay person to do on issues with a high degree of technical information.

Nonetheless, I have already accepted the truth of climate change, not just because of the worldwide evidence of something happening at an unprecedented rate of change, but also because, again, the overwhelming majority of experts in the field say that it is essentially indisputable. I italicized the word experts because a favorite ploy of climate change deniers is to have people whose credentials lie elsewhere to call into question the analyses of the real experts, thus sowing doubt amongst the lay people.

In fact, that is the tack regularly employed by Globe and Mail writer Neil Reynolds who, in his last column on climate change, cited the opinion of some environmental economists to support his thesis, and in a previous piece used the 'expertise' of a Nobel Prize-wining physicist.

Bringing these issues into sharp relief is writer Antony black, who had a column in today's Hamilton Spectator. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting.

No Election in the Offing

As reported in the Globe's Ottawa Notebook, Stephen Harper's former pollster, Dimitri Pantazopoulos, feels no federal election is imminent.

Given the profound timidity shown by the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff's leadership, which I have already written about, that is hardly a startling prediction. The latest indication that the Liberals are 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," is Bob Rae's comments on the wrong-headedness of the Harper Government's decision to end the mandatory long form census. When asked if this could trigger an election, he was, to say the least, non-committal.

As I have said before, the Liberals are going to have to prove with more than cheap words that they are defined by something other than an intense desire to return to power before they can have my vote in the next election.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Adam Radwanski's Column

In today's Globe, Adam Radwanski offers an interesting perspective on the decision of the McGuinty government to get into online gambling.

I will reproduce a small part of it where he discusses an aspect of it that did not occur to me. The italics are mine:

Assuming Ontario can avoid a fiasco like the one in British Columbia, where the new online casino had to go offline because of privacy breaches, it will lend legitimacy to an industry that until now has been murky. That will lead Ontarians who’ve shied away from online gambling to give it a shot. If some wind up hooked, and take their business elsewhere after getting booted from OLG's site, the government will have inadvertently lured vulnerable people to what it refers to as “the grey market.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Morally and Financially Bankrupt Provincial Government

Some days, it is almost more than I can do to muster even a modicum of faith in our political system. Confronted as we are on an almost daily basis with evidence of corruption, betrayal of the public trust, and reminders that we, the voters, count only at election time, it is difficult to affix any credibility to the utterances of our 'representatives'. Currently, my ire is particularly directed at the Ontario Provincial Liberals, led by Dalton McGuinty.

My acute disaffection with the Premier began in late June, during the G20 summit. It was only after the summit was over that the Premier revealed that the so-called five-meter fence law allowing police to demand that people show their identities and the contents of their knapsacks did not actually exist. This, despite the fact that Bill Blair, the Toronto Police Chief, was trumpeting its importance since the day before the Summit actually began, and Dalton McGuinty was enthusiastically agreeing with him in the press that such extraordinary measures were necessary to provide an adequate level of security for the delegates.

After it was all over, McGuinty simply said that they “could have done a better job in communication” and facilely dismissed the idea of a public inquiry, despite the fact that he had obviously colluded with the police to deprive citizens of their Charter Rights guaranteeing freedom of movement and association.

My disaffection with him has deepened given the events that transpired over the weekend regarding the site for the Pan Am stadium in Hamilton, which I have already written about.

And today comes the announcement that the Provincial Government is going to move into the lucrative field of on-line gambling, whereby they hope to realize a minimum of $400 million dollars annually, choosing to ignore, despite whatever public-relations gestures that will be forthcoming, the gambling addiction of many Ontarians and willfully exploiting that weakness to enrich government coffers.

So now, in a province that is almost financially bankrupt, we have seen, in at least three different ways, its declaration of moral bankruptcy.

One can only hope that voters will take notice and remember during the next election campaign.

Jeffrey Simpson's View of the Census Debacle

In today's Globe, Jeffrey Simpson examines the emptiness of the 'reasons' Harper surrogate Tony Clement has given for abandoning the compulsory long census form, concluding that this decision may well be the defining moment in the Harper Conservative Government's fortunes. He concludes that the long census form will eventually return, but Conservative support will not. You can read his column by clicking here.

Munir Sheikh''s Suggestion

Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada whose integrity demanded that he resign rather than be a party to the dismantling of meaningful data through the elimination of the mandatory long census form, has an article on the op-ed page of today's Globe and Mail.

The article's well-reasoned nature guarantees that it will be ignored by the Harper Government.

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Excoriating Editorial

The Globe and Mail excoriates the Harper Conservative Government over both its decision to end the mandatory long form consensus, despite almost universal criticism, and the fatuous reasons the government has given for its action. The editorial can be read by clicking here.

A Recommended Site

While I will soon move on to other things on this blog, an excellent source of information for those of you following the Hamilton stadium debate is Raise The Hammer, a web magazine devoted to various issues pertaining to Hamilton.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What Is Really Going on Here?

In reviewing earlier statements pertaining to the Federal Conservative Government's decree that they would not fund the West Harbour Stadium site, it is obvious that we are being lied to, by both the federal and provincial governments.

Allow me to reproduce part of a report carried in the August 07th edition of The Hamilton Spectator:

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, MPPs Sophia Aggelonitis and Ted McMeekin confirmed the province is pulling its funding from the west harbour. Aggelonitis -- who says she got a phone call late Thursday from the premier's office alerting her of the funding change -- said the move was prompted by a federal government decision to choose the east Mountain.

"We have said all along that we respect the decision-making process and we want to make sure that Hamilton gets a Pan Am stadium," Aggelonitis said. "What has now changed, unfortunately, is that the federal government has told the city it will not fund west harbour."

"We didn't make the decision, but at the end of the day, the province does not have the money to fund a whole stadium. We cannot go it alone," Aggelonitis said.
Local MP David Sweet and federal Minister of Sport Gary Lunn didn't reply to calls for comment.

Ted McMeekin said the federal government passed its decision on to the province through Pan Am CEO Ian Troop.

"Apparently the federal minister called Ian Troop and made it clear that they weren't going to come to the table with money for the west harbour," he said.

Troop issued the following statement via e-mail:
"Toronto 2015 will be able to offer some perspective when we know the city's direction. Until then, we don't have anything to add to the discussion."

According to the above excerpt, the message from the federal government was passed on by Ian troop, CEO of HostCo, to the Provincial Liberal Government. Now, especially given the denial of the Harper Government through Federal Minister of Sport Gary Lunn that such a statement was ever made to Troop, isn't there at least one logical question clear thinking demands?

That question: “Is there any credible way, short of concluding massive incompetence on the part of the Liberal McGuinty Government, that there weren't measures in place and employed to confirm the truth of what they were being told by a private citizen, even if he is is the CEO of the 2015 Pan Am Organizing Committee? In other words, are they trying to tell us that they made no inquiries of the feds about this, but based simply on the Troop notification, they drafted a united front with the feds?

One more thing that is also immediately interesting is that, given the chance when the veto story first broke, both area Conservative David Sweet, and Federal Minister Lunn, declined to comment. Would that have not have been the perfect opportunity to comment, to set the record straight?

Yet only silence. Until, of course, the official story was concocted.

A Portrait of Passionate Local Democracy

Having grown up just east of the core, there will always be a special place in my heart for downtown Hamilton and the vivid memories I have of a time that it teemed with people at night, attracted to the wide array of stores ranging from Kresges and Woolworths to Birks Jewelllers and Eatons. I suspect it is the realization of how important a vital downtown is to the health of a community that propels so many people to vocal and passionate support for the inner city, something I suspect might be difficult for those raised in the anesthetic environs of suburbia to really understand.

That passion and love was much in evidence at yesterday's rally for the West Harbour Stadium site held in Hess Village. What follows is a small photo essay that I hope helps to convey a small element of that fervour.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where Does It Ever End?

Although it is not my intention to have this blog revolve around municipal issues, I find the politics surrounding the location of the new Pan Am Stadium in Hamilton to be fascinating. The latest pronouncement from Federal Sports Minister Gary Lunn is a complete disavowal of the Harper Conservative Government's earlier decree that it would not support the West Harbour site favoured by the City. Perhaps the strong reaction against the decree took the federal government by surprise, but the fact that the Conservatives are now saying that they made no communication with the Provincial Government stipulating the East Mountain site as the only one they would fund strains credulity.

Reminiscent of the worst abuses found in Orwell's 1984, this rewriting of recent 'history' is indicative of a very troubling Government characteristic: its absolute contempt, not only for local democracy, but also for the intellectual capacity of the average Canadian.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Letter to McGuinty

While the following may seem quite harsh and unforgiving, it accurately reflects my sentiments regarding the betrayal of Hamilton by the Ontario Liberal Government. This will be of interest only to those who are concerned about the current controversy revolving around the selection of a stadium site for the Hamilton portion of the Pan Am Games:

Dear Mr. McGuinty:

Once more you have provided me with another reason I was right in deciding to withhold my support from the provincial Liberal Party at the next election. Despite claiming for the past few weeks that the location for the Hamilton Pan Am stadium entirely an independent local decision, you have overridden local decision-making and decreed that it must be located on the East Mountain. In addition to that decree, which will wind up costing local taxpayers $80 million more than if it were sited in the West Harbour, according to a staff report delivered to city councillors, I believe you are once more being dishonest with the public as to the reason for your betrayal of your earlier statements of impartiality.

According to your spokesperson Sophia Aggelonitis, the reason for this reversal is that the Federal Government decided it would withhold funding for the West Harbour site, and the Provincial Government cannot go it alone. The only flaw with this fable is that the announcement made it sound as if both the Federal and Provincial Governments were in accord on this issue. Since you stand to lose much owing to taxpayer outrage over this dictate, why would you have gone along with it? Would there not have been more political capital, especially if you hope to have more than one elected Liberal in the area after the next election, had you said that the Province stands behind the independence of Hamilton's decision, and would guarantee the already committed amount of money, provided that a new stadium was actually built for the Pan Am Games?

As well, when questioned by CHCH news host Nick Dixon about the influence that private interests might have played in influencing the decision, her answer was, as they say in television courtroom drama, unresponsive, as she went on to answer a question that wasn't asked, a favorite trick, I have observed of the contemporary evasive politician.

It is clear to me, and probably to many clear-thinking Canadians, that private interests (a.k.a., Bob Young) reached out to other private interests (a.k.a David Braley, the former owner of the Tiger-Cats, former Pan Am board member, current owner of two other C.F.L. teams, and a newly-appointed Conservative Senator) whose business interests are best served by a football league that includes the Tiger-Cats.

Just as you and your Party evaded responsibility for the cruel lie you perpetrated on Ontarians when colluding with the police to deprive peaceful protesters of their Charter Rights, this latest misrepresentation leads me to conclude that your contempt for the people's right not to be lied to merits the withholding of my vote in the next election, and provides me with the motivation to try to persuade as many as I can, through the various media available to me, to do likewise.

Lorne Warwick
Dundas, Ontario

The Magnanimity of Stephen Harper

The generosity of spirit that has marked Stephen Harper's regime since assuming office was once more evident today. After more than 30 days of refusing to answer questions from reporters, today Mr. Harper was moved at a 'press conference' at Rideau Hall to allow four questions: two from the English media, and two from French-Canadian media. The full convoluted story can be found here.

My only question is why the press allows itself to be party to this kind of charade of openness and transparency.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's Too Early for The Federal Liberal Party to Start Celebrating

Despite the fact that the latest poll shows the federal Liberal Party virtually tied with the Harper Government, may I suggest that it is far too early for celebration?

While I have generally voted Liberal throughout my life, I have, over the past year or so become increasingly disenchanted with the party's performance under the stewardship of Michael Ignatieff, the main reason being that he has displayed very little leadership and provided almost no reason for support.

Whether accurate or not, historically the Liberals have been seen as the party of the centre, incorporating policies from both sides of the political spectrum but usually avoiding the kind of polarization that has been so characteristic of the Harper Government. Unfortunately, since being in opposition in the latest minority situation, they have emerged as the Opposition Party that wants to form the next Government because ….. well, because they crave the power that comes from being the Government.

Absent, as far as I can see, is any overarching vision that would inspire people to trust them with governing this vast country. Time and time again, either through House of Commons votes that support the Government or by engineering the absence of sufficient House numbers to allow them to vote against confidence measures without bringing down the Government (which would force an election), the Liberals have shown themselves to be hypocritical and without consistent principle.

The most recent example, although I could cite many, is the Conservative's American-style budget omnibus bill which the Liberals rightfully strenuously opposed and voted against, carrying as it did many items that had nothing to do with the budget, including reductions in environmental assessments, selling off parts of Canada Post, selling Atomic Energy Canada without Parliamentary approval, etc. However, because it was a vote of confidence, and because polls showed that the Liberals wouldn't benefit were an election called, the party ensured that 30 Members were absent from the House so the Government wouldn't fall.

At the time, Liberal Bob Rae said that the Senate was the best venue for amending the budget bill. Those amendments were made, with the contentious items removed; however, shortly before the Senate vote on the amendments, a spokesman for the Conservatives said that any Senate amendments would be viewed as an election issue by the Government. So what happened? Predictably, the vote on the amendments saw an inadequate number of Liberal Senators in the Red Chamber (12 were absent), and the bill was sent back unamended.

Michael Ignatief, Bob Rae, and the rest of the Liberal Party will have to do much better than that if they are to have my vote.

New Poll Results

I suspect that the Harper Conservatives are going to have to ramp up their demagoguery quotient given the results of a new poll that suggests the Tory insistence on eliminating the mandatory long form census is eroding its support. Below is an excerpt from today's Political Notebook on the Globe website:

Jane Taber

1. Absent PM faces 'virtual tie.' Stephen Harper’s decision to kill the compulsory long-form census is killing him in a new national poll, wiping out an 11-point lead he enjoyed over Michael Ignatieff just weeks ago.

The latest EKOS survey shows the Conservatives virtually tied now with the Liberals, 29.7 per cent compared to 28.5 per cent. Pollster Frank Graves calls this the “revenge of propeller-heads” – the educated class in Canada, which seems to have reacted swiftly and negatively to the Tory government’s census change.

“This is really a very bad poll for the Conservatives,” Mr. Graves says. “They have slipped back into a virtual tie with the Liberals … and looked poised for a disastrous rout in Quebec.”

The two-week poll has Jack Layton’s NDP at 17.4 per cent, puts the Green Party at 11.1 per cent and shows 10.4 per cent support for the Bloc. The EKOS survey of 3,444 Canadians was conducted between July 21 and Aug. 3 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

One of the Requirements of Critical Thinking

Rather than relying on the frequently hysterical, emotion-arousing pronouncements of politicians today, most reasonable people will demand proof, either in the form of statistics or studies, to support assertions. Never has that been more important than in today's political climate, especially at the federal level. Commentary from readers in today's Globe and Mail make that abundantly clear, evidenced by the mockery with which Stockwell Day's assertions about unreported crime are being met. Click here to read those letters.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Differences Between the Conservative and the Liberal Mind

About three years ago, a scientific study was undertaken to examine some of the differences between the conservative and the liberal mind. One of the conclusions emerging from the study was that liberal people tend to be able to handle ambiguity and nuance better than conservative people, processing new information that might challenge some of their beliefs, incorporating that information and even altering their thinking on a subject as a result. Conservative minds, on the other hand, tend to adhere to beliefs and convictions despite evidence that call them into question.

I can't help but wonder if that might be at play in many of Conservative Government's policy decisions. For example, despite the fact that the abolition of the mandatory long form census is opposed by almost everyone, Stockwell Day insists he has only heard three complaints about it.

Many people insist that the Government's intractability stems from an ideologically-driven agenda, but I think it is legitimate to wonder whether an inability to incorporate new and contrary information might also be at work here.

Abolishing the Mandatory Long Form Census

I will be the first to admit that higher mathematics, including statistical analysis, is not my forte. However, the almost universal condemnation the Harper Government has received for its decision to scrap compulsory completion of the long census form by 20% of the population has convinced me of the vital role it plays in, among other things, social and economic planning, both of which are essential to Canada's well-being. The matter is of such import that the head of Statistics Canada, Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh, in a lamentably rare demonstration of public integrity, has resigned over the issue. Indeed, the entire census debacle has led me to consider a number of things, not the least of which are a citizen's responsibilities within a democracy.

In an obvious nod to the Tories' reactionary power base, Industry Minister Tony Clement claims justification for ending the compulsory aspect of the long census form by asserting it is too intrusive upon people's privacy, yet another instance of government interference in citizens' lives. In fact, he claims that both Statistics Canada and the Government have fielded many complaints from people about this intrusion. Ironically, statistics do not support his claim, as both the Government and Statistics Canada have received only about three complaints each.

Nonetheless, even if it had received a large volume of complaints, would the Government have been justified in eliminating it? It is this question that got me pondering both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

The majority of us, I assume, are aware of our rights under The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (especially in light of the fact that several of them were willfully violated by both the Government and the police during the recent G20 in Toronto). However, how often do we consider the obligations citizenship entails, along with the fact that we generally discharge those obligations faithfully, whether we like them or not?

Take, for example, jury duty. I have never known anyone who goes to the mailbox hoping to receive a summons for duty along with its potential to disrupt the normal flow of daily life, sometimes even for months at a time, with little or no financial compensation. Yet in spite of its intrusiveness, we accept it as one of our responsibilities under the law, one that helps to ensure a fair trial for the accused.

Similarly, despite a seemingly almost universal belief that taxes are too high, most of us, again in recognition of their importance in maintaining a society reflective of our values, pay them instead of attempting to defraud the government.

As well, whether they be municipal bylaws requiring us to clean up after our dogs or maintain our property to certain standards, traffic laws that forbid the running of red lights, provincial or federal laws prescribing penalties for criminal acts against property and people, the vast majority of us obey and support these intrusions, in no small measure because, once again, we appreciate their vital role in civil society, where the inclinations of the few do not trump the needs and values of the many.

So to live in society, by definition, requires reasonable limitations on personal freedoms; those limitations, in turn, entail a measure of government intrusion into our lives. However, by pandering to the worst instincts of a minority of the population, the Harper Government is once more undermining values that Canadians hold dear, thereby once again demonstrating its contempt for true democracy and the people it was elected to serve, yet two more reasons we should question whether or not the Conservative Party deserves to continue to govern.

Is There a Federal Prison in Your Future?

Contemplating any petty crime or vandalism in the near future? I would strongly suggest that you abandon such anti-social considerations, especially given the Globe and Mail's amplification of Treasure Board President Stockwell Day's comments during yesterday's puzzling press conference.

You may recall his assertion that statistics showing significant declines in crime rates are misleading, given the number of crimes that go unreported. While it is a little hard for me to get my head around the concept of statistics for unreported transgressions, (almost as difficult as understanding the justification for spending $9 billion for new prisons to contain this phantom explosion of crime), in today's paper Day explains that voluntary surveys establish these crimes as fact. There seem to be only two problems with his explanation: the last survey of this nature was done in 2004, and in comparing it to the previous one done in 1999, there was no increase of unreported violent crime, only a small rise in unreported vandalism and petty theft.

With the upcoming multi-billion dollar expenditure for new federal prisons, the Conservatives are sending a very clear and powerful message: steal your neighbour's hedgeclippers or take a spray can to a wall, and you'll feel the full weight of the law.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stockwell Day's Press Conference.

A friend just sent along this You Tube video that, I think, speaks for itself.


The Need for Critical Thinking

While Prime Minister Harper has kept a decidedly low profile this summer, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day did surface long enough for a press conference in Ottawa today to talk about 'how well' the government's Economic Action Plan is working for Canadians. Unfortunately for him, reporters had other things on their mind, including questions about the elimination of the mandatory long census form and his assertion that crime statistics are misleading, that there are many crimes that Candians are not reporting. For a change, it sounds like journalists were thinking critically and asking the hard questions that challenge the blithe claims that politicians are only too happy to make

You can read the full story here.

My Political Philosophy

When I was teaching, I used to tell my students that one of the first things they should try to determine when evaluating a piece of non-fiction, whether a biography, autobiography, or essay, was the bias of the writer. Sometimes that bias can be inferred from the content of the piece, but other times it can be helpful to know something about the writer or the organization upon whose behalf he or she is writing.

For example, when reading an advocacy piece from the C.D. Howe Institute or The Fraser Institute, or an editorial from the National Post, it is fairly safe to conclude that the material reflects a very conservative, right-wing bias. Similarly, if reading something by Jim Stanford, an economist employed by the Canadian Auto Works, one Canada's preeminent unions, it is reasonable to infer a liberal, left-of-centre bias. Why are these distinctions important? They simply provide another tool with which we can evaluate material.

So to help anyone who may read this blog, I would like to articulate my own bias. As accurately as I can express it, I would have to say that in my political outlook is essentially middle of the road, or at the centre of the political spectrum, a position that at one time was very respectable, but now, unfortunately, owing to the polarization of politics that has accelerated under the Harper Conservative Government, has become the equivalent of being either 'wishy-washy' or leftist, perhaps too-polite terms if you read some of the labels that are regularly used on The globe and Mail website's Readers' Comments' section. I was initially going to say 'fair and balanced,' but unfortunately Fox News has given that phrase a very specific and odious connotation.

So what does being at the centre of the spectrum mean? For me, it means having a respect for each side's views, as long as neither is extreme. It means respecting the labour side of the equation, as well as the owners' side, i.e., the capitalist model. I draw the line, however, with unbalanced and extremist applications of either perspective. It is as anathema to me to say that all owners are simply fat capitalist exploiters of the workers as it is to tell me that the union model is dead, having outlived its usefulness. Both positions bespeak a kind of faith-based belief that permits no reasoned discourse in opposition to to their arguments/rants. In other words, I really don't have time for the kind of simplistic thinking that so often attaches to those platforms.

The question that has dogged me for so long, related to the above discussion, is: Why can there never seem to be moderation in contemporary politics and discourse? Why does one side so often seem to want to “win it all”? For example, if we study the history of the labour movement, the major impetus toward unionization was the frequently inhumane and dangerous conditions and hours of work under which people laboured. But why, other than thinking they could get away with it, did the owners seek to extract the maximum profit out of each employee at the expense of his health and life outside of work? Why could they not have been satisfied with reasonable profits from their investments? The obvious answer is that capitalism is all about the maximization of profit in order to promote even more entrepreneurship and investment; however, those making the decision to send five-year-olds into the coal mines were not principles, they were human beings. What is it then, that makes humans enslaved to a principle or belief, no matter the cost?

Or, on a related matter, why is reasoned discussion in our society so often trumped by cheap emotion, where demagoguery, if engineered sufficiently skillfully, can carry the day?

Are we really such flawed human beings?

Monday, August 2, 2010

An Article I Recommend Reading

While I have been polishing up my post for tomorrow, I just came upon an article written by David Susuki that fits in nicely with the the theme of critical thinking.

A Brief Introduction

About three years ago, about a year after I had retired from the high school classroom, I started a blog entitled Educations and its Discontents – Observations from A Retired high School Teacher. Based upon my 30 years as an educator, I felt that I had a great deal to share, especially about what I perceived to be the truth behind public perceptions about education; I examined educational policy, the often politics-driven decisions made by administrators, the behaviour of students and teachers, literature that I feel is crucial to developing well-rounded thinkers, etc.

I think, as far as those goals were concerned, I succeeded. However, I found that as time moved on and my distance from the classroom increased, my definition broadened to include almost anything that in one way or another relates to life-long education, whether related to my travel experiences, the development of critical thinking skills, or the broader area of politics, especially Canadian federal and provincial politics.

It is the latter that has been occupying an increasingly larger portion of my thoughts, in part because I see things happening in Canada that are very disquieting, and also because I have been pretty much a lifelong 'political junkie,' fascinated by the role politics play in influencing and even molding public perceptions and values. Looking back at this year's postings on Education and its Discontents, I see that the vast majority of what I have written pertains to either provincial or federal politics, and so I deemed it time to start a separate blog entitled Politics and its Discontents – Reflections, Observations and Analyses by An Evolving Critical Thinker. The latter part of the title derives from the fact that I am striving more and more in my later years to assess issues, people, and policies through the prism of critical thinking.

While I do not claim to be an expert in critical thinking, part of what I know about it derives from my experiences teaching it as a subunit of a senior English course when we examined George Orwell's famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which I then followed up with fallacies of reasoning. That section of the course, which I spent at least six weeks on, turned out to be my favorite part, as it provided me with the opportunity to help students begin to think critically as well as sharpen my own thinking skills within the arena of the classroom.

Of course, being able to think and assess critically involves much more than merely knowing some of the most common fallacies of thinking. It is an ability borne of an on-going engagement with the world, a willingness to accept new possibilities, and a fairly broad educational base. I sincerely believe that we never reach the point where we say there is nothing more to learn and that we are now expert and skilled thinkers; indeed, I am sure that as my posts accumulate, my own values and prejudices will become abundantly clear, but the distinction (at least I hope!) between an uninformed rant and what I write is that the latter will be conveyed through the filter of education, reflection, and critical assessment, all of which I hope will result in something worthwhile to read.

In my next post, I'll write a little about my own political philosophy, which may help you to better-evaluate what I write.