Saturday, April 28, 2007

Now, if we can just remember who our real opponent is

I know Ottawa's in a bubble, and what goes on here doesn't necessarily reflect the realities across the country, but the mood among Liberals is pretty good in this town right now. I spent last night at a gathering of various staffers and organizers and everyone was feeling pretty pumped about what a good week we had – or at least what a bad week the Conservatives had, which is almost the same thing.

Now, if we're focused and disciplined, we can solidify an effective opposition and peel away the government's carefully constructed façade while simultaneously shining a bright light on the NDP's hypocracy in supporting them. And that's a viable path to forming government again.

But that kind of result doesn't just get created in the leader's office or at 81 Metcalfe. We've got to pull together as a party. All of us.

We have an opponent. His name isn't Stéphane Dion or Michael Ignatieff or Warren Kinsella or Mark Marrisen or Jason Cherniak or Scott Reid.

His name is Stephen Harper.

We win when we work together to defeat his government. There is no other way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Can anyone tell me what the NDP stands for anymore?

After previously advocating for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Mr. Mustache yesterday displayed a stunning piece of leadership by backing the Conservatives in defeating the Liberal motion that would have prevented the government from extending the mission beyond its current commitment to participate until 2009.

Of course, the Dippers insist that this is because they want the mission to end even sooner, but what they want doesn't matter because the effect of this move is what's important, not the principle behind their vote.

If the Conservatives are re-elected – an outcome the NDP seems determined to facilitate – they will have free reign to extend the mission as long as they like. Whether or not you think that's a good thing, the NDP has been clear that they don't. Their 'principled' move has the exact opposite result as their stated objective.

Angus Reid posted its latest poll yesterday which on the surface seems to be a spanking to the May/Dion agreement (Far and Wide has a good analysis, despite its unfortunate and, I think, inaccurate title), but its most significant finding, in my view, is that the deal has the support of 43% of NDP voters. This suggests to me that left-leaning Canadians, who are generally more interested in results than partisanship, are increasingly losing touch with the NDP.

And with good reason.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lessons from the first real weekend of Spring

  • Removing the storm windows and leaving the windows open at night allows the cat to come and go as she pleases, but this will not prevent her from licking your face in the morning when she wants to wake you up. Also, when the temperature drops to 8º it's fine if one is snuggled in a down comforter, but when the alarm goes off and one has to get out of bed to turn it off, it's a good idea to be wearing pajamas.
  • When embarking on long bike rides, pack a spare inner tube.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The appointed Senate needs a pitch man

The poor appointed Senate. It's a bit like Rodney Dangerfield – never gets no respect. The Globe & Mail's little on-line poll yesterday asked readers whether they favoured appointed or elected Senators, or abolishing the institution all together. That 87% of responders favoured tossing a live grenade through the chamber doors should give Stephen Harper pause, if he's thinking about making this issue his Waterloo. On-line polls like this aren't remotely scientific, but even a margin of error of 20 points means that fully two thirds of Canadians think Senate reform is a pointless exercise.

That said, I'm actually among the whopping 3% of folks who think appointed Senators are a good idea. I genuinely believe there's a valid role for our society's elites in evaluating and helping shape our country's laws.

Senators get a bad rap and the common perception of them is that they're a bunch of geriatric party hacks who've been handed a sweet salary and pension for doing basically nothing. And there are, no doubt, more than a few for whom this description is right on the money. But there are plenty of elected politicians who are not exactly prizes. For all it's strengths, the democratic process doesn't always result in the selection of the best and brightest.

And there are a lot of people who bristle at the very notion that our society ought to even acknowledge its elites, let alone accord them privilege or power. It's the antithesis of whatever socialist leanings we may have. It's also, I think, a product of the "American Idol" mentality, where everyone thinks they can – and should – be a star. The people who've experienced success aren't better than me, they're just luckier.

Call me naïve, but I tend to think that most accomplished people got that way by being good at their jobs – by being smart and resourceful and talented. And along the way to and through their success, they had experiences that broadened their perspectives and provided useful insights into the way at least certain aspects of society function and can function better. Whether they're doctors or artists or business leaders or, yes, even political organizers (gotta leave an opening for my own appointment someday, don't I?), a pool drawn from society's most accomplished individuals can – and I think does – add value to the legislative process.

I'm all for democracy, but choosing decision makers by voting for them does have its downside. We see examples all the time of legislative or budgetary choices that have more to do with what's popular with voters than with what is objectively in the best interests of the citizenry. An appointed legislative body provides some balance against the inherent tendencies of elected politicians – across the political spectrum – to pander to their supporters or potential supporters.

So the Senate has its function, but it also knows its place. The elected body of the House of Commons remains dominant, as it should be. The appointed Senate doesn't pretend to be the central legislative institution. It's the body of "sober second thought". It seems inevitable to me that an elected Senate would expect its legislative will to be on a par with that of the House of Commons, and that's a recipe for the kind of deadlock we often see south of the border, particularly when the two houses are held by different parties.

There are things about the Senate that can be improved, to be sure. The distribution of Senators disproportionately favours some provinces over others. And the appointment process could be taken out of the hands of the PMO, or at least could include an appointments committee that sought to make appointments less overtly partisan. But the Harper government's half-assed approach to reform solves none of the real propblems and only serves to create new ones. Electing Senators only serves to create a second institution driven by partisan and electoral objectives, and abolition removes a set of legislative functions we can't afford to lose.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Mr. Speaker, the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over."

To be replaced by a prolonged period of shouting.

In fairness, provincial Premiers will never be satisfied with the federal government. Flaherty's failure to create a satisfactory solution to the fiscal imbalance shouldn't surprise anyone, since:

  1. The fiscal imbalance doesn't exist; and
  2. Premiers need the issue more than they need the money.
Flaherty's real offense was his smugness in making a claim that was so blatantly full of crap.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns R Us

I made the mistake today of sitting down to eat lunch where the only newspaper available was the Ottawa Sun. In response to yesterday's shooting at Virginia Tech, there was the usual opposition to gun control, on the grounds that law-abiding citizens with guns aren't the problem, and that gun control isn't effective in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. Several of the Sun's informed and enlightened readers went as far as to suggest that the school was at fault for banning guns from its premises. Because if the other students were armed, someone could have taken the guy down before he killed so many people.

I'm going to resist the temptation to suggest that these letter writers (and one candidate for the Republican presidential nomination) need to increase the dosage of their medication. Instead, I'll actually look at this rationally, as if these were reasonable arguments.

The first one's almost too easy to dispense with: Cho Seung-Hui was a law-abiding citizen, right up to the moment he took his legally purchased handgun, loaded with legally purchased ammunition, and started killing his fellow students with it. Criminals don't wear black hats. They're law abiding citizens before they become criminals, and they don't usually announce their intention to make the change.

To the second suggestion, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that some of the other people at the school were armed – perhaps as many as one in six. What happens when these people pull out their guns and start shooting? A fire fight, that's what. And not the pretty Hollywood kind, where the good guys hit what they aim at and the bad guys keep missing. We're talking complete fucking chaos. Everyone panicking and ODing on adrenaline. Bullets flying everywhere indiscriminately and no one even sure who the bad guys are.

Then the police arrive. They don't know who the bad guys are and who's trying to save the day. All they know is that people are shooting.

I'm willing to be large sums of money (well, hypothetical sums of money, anyway) that this results in way more than 33 dead bodies. I'm also willing to bet that it results in many otherwise law-abiding people having to live with the consequences of killing or crippling innocent bystanders in their amateur attempt to save the day.

And that's just in this extreme scenario. Never mind the day to day impact of having a fully armed population. It would make our experiences with road rage and bar brawls look like a church picnic.

Of course, we Canadians can take comfort in the fact that this is an American problem that could never happen here.

Oh, wait...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Not again

For god's sake, why is it always students being shot?

All of a sudden nothing else seems to matter.

Except restricting access to the freaking guns. But we can't do that, because it would violate people's inalienable rights.

More on the May/Dion love fest

Good analysis from Susan Riley and Far & Wide. Quite frankly, anyone who thinks making decisions based on your deeply held convictions is a sign of weak leadership needs to go back to school.

Always winter and never Christmas

Maybe Laureen Harper is the White Witch in disguise.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Steve's Sunday Compendium of Stuff

Having been too busy to comment on these issues as they arose, I'll hit a few key points today.

  • Scott Bradley is one of the classiest acts I've seen in politics. His concession of the Ottawa Centre federal nomination to Penny Collenette was as instantaneously gracious and supportive as anyone could want. And having spent some time talking with him afterwards, he seems to be completely without bitterness. Thankfully, he's not going anywhere and he's got youth on his side. Ottawa Liberals will remember how he's handled himself the next time around.

  • This is a great move, one that I've been advocating since May first announced she'd run in Central Nova. And despite the chorus of criticism from Liberal bloggers and other commentators, I'm inclined to think it will resonate with Canadians who care more about results than they do about partisanship.

  • The fact that Jack can't come up with anything better than this is more proof that it's a good idea, and that he's justifiably scared. Jack's the one who's got a lot to answer for, having sold out his party's values for a few extra seats and the misguided view that the NDP can or should form government federally. The NDP has served this country best by being the centre's conscience. It's lost sight of that under Jack, but it's traditional supporters haven't, and I think they may be fighting to hang onto official party status when the counting's all done on Election night.

  • I don't imagine Buzz Hargrove will be offering any smooches to Mr. Dion any time soon, which can only be a good thing. The biggest single threat to the Canadian/American auto industry is the CAW and adversarial relationship it perpetuates between the industry's corporate leadership and its labour force. With any luck, Buzz will get kiss and make up with Jack, and help remind Canadians just how weak the NDP's environmental bona fides really are.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who says my ideas aren't worth anything?

Angus Reid just paid me a dollar.

So, why do it?

Given the downside to public life, as outlined in my earlier post, why do folks choose to run and run again? I mean there's clearly no shortage of candidates. I spent part of yesterday evening at an event with the various Liberal candidates for Ottawa Centre. Six candidates running for two nominations, all eager to step up and serve.

Having spent no small amount of time with various politicians and would-be politicians, it's been my experience that most of them are driven by one or both of these two things:

  1. Desire to effect change
  2. Ego
You don't have to have both to get elected, but I'll argue you need them both to be effective over the long term. The extrinsic rewards of politics primarily gratify the ego – masses of volunteers campaign workers, victory parties, parliamentary privilege. Change is harder to come by and the failures far outnumber the successes. It takes a powerful belief in the process to compensate for a shortage of ego.

Belinda, we hardly knew ya

There are lots of reasons to be disappointed about Ms. Stronach's decision to leave politics. We need more strong women in politics, not fewer. She's always carried a star quality that's rare and valuable. And many it will view it as another example of weakness in the Liberal Party.

But most disappointing, I think, is that she was just starting to get good at the actual work of politics.

Politics looks glamourous but it's really not. The hours are long, the pressure is high, the work is often incredibly mundane, it's largely thankless and the pay is a fraction of what one can make in the private sector. Sometimes I wonder why anyone would want to run for office.

So public life struggles to attract and retain the best and the brightest, particularly women, who are perhaps less ego-driven than men (if I can indulge in a gross generalization), Belinda being the exception that proves the rule.

Note the date stamp

Just when you thought it was safe to go out without a coat, the white stuff starts falling again. @#$*#$!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogging Code of Conduct

Technology blogger Tim O'Reilly has been working towards the creation of a Blogger's Code of Conduct. I find the response, at least as reflected in the comments to his post, interesting. It's largely oppositional, although I'm reminded of the business axiom that customers are ten times more likely to write in complaint than in praise.

But that said, I find particularly interesting the concern many seem to have with restricting anonymous comments, especially since the issue of anonymity was something of a catalyst in getting this blog started. That first post drew responses from two bloggers who post under pseudonyms, one of whom I know and respect and the other who I just respect. Both of them articulated valid reasons why remaining anonymous is important to them.

In contrast, my participation in last week's Blog Against Sexual Violence led me to this post, with it's chain of comments that includes some of the most vile shit I've ever had the misfortune to read. Posted anonymously, of course.

Maybe this is the price we have to pay to enjoy the right to free speech, but too often we forget that freedoms carry inherent responsibilities. This code of conduct strikes me as a good attempt to remind each other of that, and by adopting it to acknowledge individually the shouldering of ones share of that responsibility.

And ultimately, it furthers the cause of credibility in the blogosphere. Stephen Taylor's recent experience in the House of Commons and this discussion of whether bloggers are journalists point to the gap that still remains between new media commentators and those in the main stream media. A big portion of that gap rests on credibility issues and the lack of any "industry standards" within the blogosphere.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

“Three Strikes” proposals mean business as usual for child sex predators

Blog Against Sexual Violence logo

A great many courageous women will be openly discussing their experiences with sexual violence today. I hope readers of this post will take a little time to click the link above and read some of their experiences. The personal doesn't get much more political than this – something Bev Oda might want to think about.

So today seems like a particularly good day to talk about one of the government's key legislative initiatives Parliament will be addressing after it resumes sitting on April 16th – Bill C-27: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), better known as the "Three Strikes Bill".

The Conservatives like to talk tough on crime, but the truth of the matter is that they're just simplistic on crime. Leave aside that Stephen Harper and his successive justice ministers seem to be taking their policy inspiration from jurisdictions that warehouse their citizens for such egregious crimes as stealing chocolate chip cookies and video tapes, and which apply the death penalty to juveniles.

Leave aside that this initiative will require extraordinary increases in prison spending, and that the notion that tougher sentences will serve as a deterrent is a fallacy. And leave aside that the “reverse onus” approach to prosecution – where the accused are required to prove their innocence, rather than the other way around – is probably unconstitutional, and that a Justice Minister should know better.

Leave all that aside. Because the real problem with Bill C-27 is that it utterly fails to address the deficits in our criminal justice system that allow sexual predators to victimize children. Not because it isn't tough enough, but because it continues to treat sexual predators the same as other kinds of violent criminals, when every shred of evidence available proves they're not. The problem with this bill is not that it goes too far, it's that it doesn't go far enough.

The truth of the matter is that the methods and patterns displayed by predatory sex offenders are so distinctive and predictable that we don’t need to wait for a third, or even a second strike to identify the danger they pose. One strike is enough. Sometimes it may not even take that.

Now, before I go any further, it's important to distinguish between sex offenders and sexual predators. All predators are offenders, but not all offenders are predators. Some (perhaps most) offenders act out of impulsiveness or opportunism and their crimes, although despicable, are uncomplicated (although the fallout may be) and driven by the same motivating factors as most other kinds of violent offenses.

Predatory sex offenders, on the other hand, are generally thoughtful, deliberate and meticulous in the planning and execution of their crimes. They contrive to place themselves in positions of trust, with the conscious intention of later abusing that trust. They carefully groom their chosen victims to become receptive to their sexual advances, and to stay silent. And they are driven by a compulsion that overrides any sense of responsibility to conform to society’s rules in these matters.

Our correctional system is based, at least in part, on three key notions:

  1. That the threat of prison offers a disincentive to offending against the law;
  2. That, for those who break the law, a period of incarceration, and the teaching of new life skills, followed upon release with appropriate monitoring, can help those individuals function normally in society; and
  3. That the completion of a correctional sentence is equivalent to the repayment of a social debt, which, once paid, entitles the individual to all the freedoms and privileges of full citizenship.
But in the case of sexual predators, none of these presumptions apply. In virtually all cases of where offenders displayed predatory patterns of behaviour, their compulsion had superceded any sense of deterrence the threat of incarceration might provide. Far more significantly, at the time of their release, psychologists inevitably predict a high risk of reoffending. But having “paid their debt” to society, the system has no choice but release them with fingers crossed.

We know they're going to abuse more children as soon as the opportunity presents itself. We know it. But instead of proposing a results-based solution, such as a parallel system for this subset of criminals, Bill C-27 just says, "if we catch you doing it two more times, you'll really be in trouble," despite the fact that we can accurately predict that the strength of their compulsion will ultimately override the deterrent factor.

And how many children will be hurt in the meantime?

Now, in farness to Stephen Harper and former Justice Minster, Vic Towes, who drafted C-27, these are complicated matters, and it’s far easier to talk tough on crime than it is to effectively address the substantive reform necessary to have a real impact. “Three Strikes” has a satisfying ring to it. But I’m reminded of Ben Stiller's inflatable cod-piece in the movie Dodgeball. Looked impressive at a surface glance, but there wasn’t really much there.

So my expectations of this government for effective solutions have always been low, but even so, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that for all their bluster, the Conservatives couldn’t be a little more creative than simply cribbing failed policies from the Republican playbook.

In truth, the solutions we need will necessarily be controversial. Some of our beliefs about criminals and the criminal justice system are so deeply entrenched that we find it difficult to look outside the box. But the principles of our justice system were established long before we understood about sexual predators. If we’re going to do more than pay lip service to the problem, we need a new paradigm. Until we can muster the political will to create one nothing we do will ever be more than sticking a band-aid on a festering wound.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The real national identity question

Toronto is inhabited by Torontonians. Montrealers live in Montreal and Vancouver has Vacouverites. But what's the moniker for folks who live in our nation's capital? Ottawans? Ottawegians? Ottawites?


Uncommonly, a complaint about other drivers

Having just spent most of the morning on the road back from Toronto, in the pissing rain, with the mist off the tires of transport trucks helpfully blending the grey of the road with the grey of the sky, I have to say this to my fellow drivers:

Turn your damn lights on. Running lights aren't enough and you're frickin' invisible.

Nuff said.

Someone's been watching too much film noir

Okay, this is for all those who whine about liberal media bias. Only those few who take the time to read more than just the headline and first paragraph will see that the "shadowy network" is made up of two people who haven't been involved with the party for years. But let's not let the facts interfere with a salacious headline.

Convenient timing for this bit of gossip from an unnamed source (who, by the way, is not identified as a Liberal). With any luck, police will finish reviewing the remaining files in time to release some new vaguely incriminating tidbits in the middle of a spring election.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lessons from the dance floor

I spent the weekend at a swing dance workshop in Toronto, which included a jazz dance session dedicated to the memory of James Brown. Key learning: I can not now, nor will I ever be able to move like the Godfather of Soul.

Mercifully, no video cameras were present.