By announcing his departure, Dion signalled the end of a noble experiment in Canadian politics where a principled politician could concentrate on ideas and policies, rather than imagery and advertising. But his formidable intellectual credentials, his political coourage during the national unity debates, and his impressive commitment to saving the environment and fighting poverty failed to impress voters.

Toronto Star editorial, 21/10/08

Student vote

Remember when I mentioned the lack of engagement among students with the electoral process? It seems that not all is lost. Today I ran into a good friend of mine who got a new job – she works for Student Vote, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering the habits of democratic citizenship among young Canadians. Whenever there are Canadian elections, the organization work with affiliated schools across the country (there are currently over 4,000 schools in the program) so they can duplicate the entire election process in the schools. Students learn about the parties, candidates, debates, etc, and Student Vote sets up election booths so that the students can vote in a parallel election. The results are announced on CBC, on the night of the elections.

Here’s a blurb from their site:

In 2003, a young couple set out against the odds to reverse the trend of declining youth voter turnout – with a basic idea:

Practice makes perfect.

If we want young people to vote, why not give them a chance to practice first?

The Student Vote parallel election initiative was designed to give students an opportunity to develop and practice the habits of democratic citizenship during official election campaigns.

The initiative was designed for students to discuss and deliberate the current issues, parties and candidates in class and with family and friends.  The exercise would culminate in an authentic voting experience where students voted on the real candidates.

In the fall of 2003, a largely volunteer team launched their trial program to coincide with the Ontario provincial election.  More than 1000 schools registered to participate; received learning materials, electoral supplies and campaign support.  Over the course of the campaign, hundreds of candidate debates took place and political discussion was on the menu at dinner tables across the province.

On October 2nd, students took on the roles of election officials and organized a vote in their school on the candidates running in their electoral district.

More than 335,000 Ontario students cast a ballot from all 103 electoral districts.

The Student Vote results were reported live on CBC television on Election Night and printed in twenty regional daily newspapers the following day.

Since 2003, more than 1.5 million students have participated in Student Vote’s flagship parallel election project.

Student Vote is also responsible for pioneering civic engagement exercises that have occurred outside of elections.

Isn’t it cool?

Exciting Canadian elections

Who said Canadian politics couldn’t be exciting? After weeks at the top of the polls inching ever closer to a majority and distancing themselves from the Liberals, who were second but sliding, the Conservative party has lost a lot of support in the week after the televised debates and final week of campaigning. The latest polls have the Conservative party with 32% and liberals with 27% (the difference was something like 40% to 21% before).

I can’t help but admit that I’m very excited by this turn of events. There’s much about Stephen Harper and his conservative party that troubles me and this campaign has just confirmed my worst fears. During the whole campaign, Stephen Harper avoided any contact with the public and appeared only in made-for-tv rallies with pre-selected audience. He has used the RCMP to keep the media away from him and conservative candidates all over the country have avoided public debates when they would have to answer questions from the public. It is almost as if they are afraid of answering questions about their policies and platform. But maybe it is because they didn’t have a platform until two days ago and were afraid people would notice? I don’t know. But it troubles me to see our Prime Minister avoiding the people he works for. This is nothing new. During the past three years, the PM has not only avoided the press like the plague but has muzzled members from his own party.

He has also imported a practice that might have marked politics south of the border but was never really prominent here in Canada, which is practice to personally attack political opponents. Canadian politicians and the electorate have for long been very pragmatic in their politics, often discussing issues and skills rather than making political opposition personal. The personal attack ads against Stéphane Dion that were aired days after he won the Liberal leadership two years ago are a case in point.

But I’m still hopeful that Canadians are going to recognize that they are being manipulated. Make your voice heard! Vote on October 14th. Remember, if you are Canadian, you do not need to be registered to be able to vote. Just find your electoral district and show up with appropriate IDs and proof of residence on election day.

I have never seen anything like it in Canadian politics.

Mercer Report

If you are a Canadian student, I urge you to check out Rick Mercer’s rant from yesterday’s (Oct 7th) show. I couldn’t put the video here, but you’ll find the link on the right hand corner of Rick’s site. Just look for the episode from Oct 7th – it’s the one labelled Rick’s Rant.

Basically, he addresses the lack on engagement among Canadian students, which is evident by the silence, on the part of all candidates in this election, on anything to do with education.


One of the big issues for me in these elections is the environment. We are already paying a heavy price for our mismanagement of this issue, both individually and collectively, and the tendency is to get worse. If you are voting on this upcoming election here in Canada, here are the various platforms on the subject, courtesy of BlogTO:


Liberal Party


The Conservatives don’t seem to have an actual plan. Let me know if you know otherwise.

I’m a bit disappointed at the NDP plan, which I find vague and less concrete. I like the Liberal plan the best but would like to see it accompanied by massive investment in new alternative energies. And if you find the whole carbon tax hard to understand, here’s David Suzuki’s explanation.

Rick Mercer on the elections

I don’t know if I liked Rick Mercer right away but in the days I didn’t have TV, the Rick Mercer Report was one of the few shows we could watch on the net without having to illegaly download something. I realy like his satirical and sarcastic sense of humour and his political comentary.

In his blog, he has recently written a comparison between the American and Canadian elections. The premise is that the current Canadian elections can be just as exciting as the American counterpart. A few highlights:

Sure Prime Minister Harper was never actually tortured for six years in a Viet Cong prisoner of war camp like John McCain was; but he’s angry enough that he could have been. In fact on a good day Harper seems way more angry than McCain ever does. Like with McCain there is pain and anguish in the man’s eyes. McCain suffered at the hands of a hostile enemy bent on breaking his body and soul and he survived and triumphed. Stephen Harper, the story goes, suffered from onset adolescent asthma and so was often picked last for team sports. This helps explain his dislike for all people in general. He was also startled quite badly by a clown at the age of six which explains his lifetime commitment to destroying arts organizations.


And then there are the wild cards. Other than our Prime Minister there will be 307 Conservatives running in the next election. Will they be silent on all the issues or simply mute? Will they refuse to address any local concerns during the campaign or will they simply not be available for comment? Are they terrified of their leader or just alarmed in his presence? This is the stuff that will engage Canadians like never before.

In the Liberal Camp we have a host of political players that are true Canadian celebrities in their own right. Ignatieff, Rae, that woman who wears the scarves and the short guy whose name escapes me at the moment. Sizzle sizzle.


All of this will make for a scintillating election. But those are just the personalities. Issues, as always, will define the thrust of the campaign as it progresses, and as of now it’s simply too soon to tell what those issues will be. Also, nobody really knows how badly Canadians will react once they figure out all that money we had is now gone and the economy is shaky at best. By the sounds of it, Canada’s books suddenly look like whoever’s in charge has an internet gambling addiction.

So buck up Canada. A great drama is about to unfold and it’s every bit as good as whatever’s happening south of the border. All we need now is for the prime minister to walk across the street and dissolve parliament in the middle of his term. Something he looked us in the eye and promised us he would never do. See it’s already sexy.

See full entry here.

Immigration changes

Yesterday I had a good chat with a friend of mine who specializes in Canadian history with an emphasis on immigration history. I spoke of my misgivings about the changes done to immigration law and policies under the current conservative government.

Although I don’t often discuss partisan politics in this blog, I haven’t made a secret that I support open immigration policies and I believe society can only benefit from being open to immigration. And that is precisely one of the reasons I want to see an end to the Harper regime.

For years, the Canadian government worked to design an immigration system based on clear policies that reflected Canadian values and was non-discriminatory and objective. Power was removed from the immigration ministers and passed onto a bureaucracy so as to prevent immigration from becoming a tool in partisan politics and processes to proceed smoothly irrespective of who is in power or changes in government. A set of criteria was established defining the kind of skills Canada wanted from its immigrants and as long as the person fit that criteria, he or she was in.

Under the pretext of making the system speedier or cheaper, the conservative government has been granting more and more power to the minister of immigration who can decide on a case-by-case basis who gets in and who doesn’t. Prospective immigrants can no longer be sure if they will get a visa even if they qualify because under the new rules, if your file is not processed within a year, your case is simply denied and sent back. And now the government is proposing to limit the list of professions that qualify to 38 occupations.

In short, we are going back to pre-1967 policies. To a time when the government could speed up applications or select exclusively immigrants from a particular country or ethnic background because it felt they would “adapt better”. Policies that were racist, discriminatory, and subjective.

Harper and the fiasco about the arts

One of the issues affecting the conservative campaign recently here in Canada has been the proposed cuts on federal grants towards the Arts. This comes after the government implemented new guidelines giving its ministry powers to deny government grants on the basis of whether it finds the content of the film/music/play seeking government funds to be offensive and/or appropriate. That has of course caused much debate within the art circles and as something like this can easily be seen as a form of censorship for who is to define what is appropriate or offensive? A funny video about it quickly ensued.

In defense of its cuts of government support for the Arts, Harper infamously claimed that the ordinary Canadian doesn’t care about seeing his money go to rich artists who hang out at exclusive parties and complain about their grants. That was a slap in the face of the overwhelming majority of artists in this country who live on under 20,000$/year and has to struggle on many jobs in order to support their art. It also ignores the fact that the Arts industry generates over 40 billion dollars to the Canadian economy (about 3.8% of Canada’s GDP) and employs hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It was an unfortunate remark that shows how out of touch the Prime Minister is with reality and the lives of the so-called ordinary Canadians.

Margaret Atwood answered Mr. Harper on today’s Globe and Mail with a very poignant article that is worth reprinting here:

To be creative is, in fact, Canadian

by Margaret Atwood

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

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

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

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

Continue reading “Harper and the fiasco about the arts”

Montreal 1 x 0 Toronto

Remember when I raved about Bicing, Barcelona’s bike share program?  I was so impressed I even wrote to a city councillor here in Toronto who supports cycling as a means of public transit to suggest this is the way to go. He answered with the usual “Yes, I know, we are looking into many options, bla bla bla”. Well, Montreal just did it. Meet Bixi. I really need to move back to Montreal… sigh…