Friday, 28 September 2007

The Two Faces Of MMP

In our present FPTP system voters theoretically vote for local candidates. Indeed, that is one of the main arguments of the FPTP proponents.

However, we all know that is just theory and that most voters vote on the basis of party without regard for who the local candidates are. They vote for a party's candidate as an indirect way of voting for the party.

MMP will allow voters to vote for the party of their choice directly, rather than indirectly. At the same time it will allow voters to actually consider the local candidates, their background, qualifications and personal positions and vote for them directly without losing their ability to vote for the party of their choice.

This will lead to more interest in the local candidates, more interest in elections and greater voter turnout, and thus greater democracy.

It will also lead to getting more Independent and independent thinking candiates elected.

So why are some people afraid of it.

Vote for MMP

Thursday, 27 September 2007

They've Gone Too Far Now - "Animal Activists"

It was one thing when so-called animal rights activists paraded around only in panties and fake leather boots to protest the fur industry. It was quite another thing when the hung around schoolyards telling children they were evil for drinking milk. And now they have gone over the edge in 'trying to have an animal declared a 'person’

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

No Time to Blog Today - Busy Mountain Biking

Well today I just seemed to be way too busy with mountain biking stuff to blog.

This morning I had to pick up my wife's bike from Joe Mamma's, which has to be Ottawa's best bike shop. She had busted her derailleur hanger and bent her derailleur. Most other bike shops probably would have replaced both parts, but Eric, arguably the best bike mechanic in the world, was able to fix the derailleur.

This afternoon I had to check out trail conditions and do some trail work for tomorrow night's mtbkanata ride. MTB Kanata is a website and mountain biking community that first introduced me to mountain biking.

And tonight it was the OMBA, Ottawa Mountain Bike Association, night ride. OMBA is a mountain biking organization that does advocacy work, trail maintenance and organizes great group rides - a really great group of dedicated people.

One of these days I will blog in more detail about why I love mountain biking.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Big Lie About MMP

The Big lie about MMP is that candidates on "the list" are somehow selected differently, and less democratically, than local candidates.

Referendum Ontario, the agency responsible for the referendum states:

‘List Members’ are candidates from any registered political party. Before an election each political party prepares an ordered list of candidates they would like considered as ‘List Members’.

These lists, and the way they are created, would be made public well in advance of any election in a Mixed Member Proportional system.


Is this different than the way local candidates are chosen. In fact, according to the Ontario Election Act, local candidates are chosen by the political parties and "endorsed" by the party leaders.

The Ontario Elections Act states:

Ballots

Names of candidates

34. (2) The names of the candidates shall be shown on the ballot in accordance with the following rules:

5. The official name of the registered party that endorses the candidate shall be shown after his or her name if,

i. a statement of endorsement signed by the party leader is filed as described in section 28.1, and

Endorsement by Party Leader

Statement of endorsement

28.1 If a candidate is endorsed by a political party that is registered or has applied for registration with the Chief Electoral Officer under the Election Finances Act, a statement of endorsement signed by the party leader may be filed with the Chief Electoral Officer, on or before the close of nominations. 2007, c. 15, s. 17.


In fact, while most local candidates are selected through party nomination votes, the Party leaders can hand pick candidates, and have done so in the past.

The law (and proposed law) is in fact no different as far as the selection of local and list candidates. It is up to the parties to use democratic selection methods and up to the voters to judge them on the methods they use.

Monday, 24 September 2007

"First Past the Post" - Who Dreamed This Up

I am referring, of course, not to the concept but to the term, which Wiktionary defines as "voting system where the candidate with the most votes (a plurality) wins, without any form of preference transfer".

There are no firsts or posts, metaphorical or otherwise, involved. The winner is not decided when a candidate reaches some defined number or percentage of votes (the metaphorical "post") before another candidate (the metaphorical "first"), but by whoever receives a plurality (the most) of votes when all the votes are counted in a particular constituency. Wikipedia uses the more sensible term "Plurality voting system".

The term "winner takes all" has also been used, and this at least makes some sense as it refers to the votes for the winning candidate electing that candidate, while the votes for other candidates or parties are of no impact at all.

At least "Mixed Member Proportional" makes sense as a term.

End of semantic rant.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Vote for MMP

While it may not have been my first choice I want to state that I unequivocally support voting for MMP in the Ontario referendum.

After the Citizens Assembly process that we have gone through, if we do not support electoral reform now we may be stuck with the current system forever. On the other hand, because this will be a new system, I believe MMP will be open to fine tuning, such as improving the party list selection process.

It seems that the main criticism of MMP is that we will not get majority governments unless the voters give one party a majority of the votes. That is right, under MMP if voters vote for a minority government they will get a minority government. That is the main criticism of MMP - that voters will get what they vote for. That seems to be a rather strange criticism of a democratic process.

I am voting for MMP because voters will get what they vote for.

Vote for MMP

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Public Education and Public Health - The HPV Vaccine

I was all set to go on a tirade against the Catholic school system for attempting to thwart local health units HPV vaccine programs. However it appears that the boards have backed down from their threat to put religion before public health. But it could have happened.

The Catholic Church is free to have it’s religious position on non-marital sex but do the church leaders really believe that Jesus would have thought cervical cancer was an appropriate punishment for engaging in non-marital sex.

Our public health system uses the school system to provide effective and efficient vaccination programs. None of the vaccines provided are without controversy, including the HPV vaccine. But it is the responsibility of our public health system to decide which are appropriate to be provided, not the responsibility of religious leaders. The HPV vaccine program is supported by medical experts as well as federal, provincial and local health officials.

This is just another example of the problem with publicly funded religious based schools. It goes beyond education into public health. The Catholics may have backed down but there are certainly many “Christian” and other religious schools that will not allow public health units to use their schools to provide the HPV vaccine, or perhaps any vaccines. With the extension of public funding to all religious schools this will become a real problem, whether the schools co-operate or not.

The benefit of using the school system to provide vaccinations, and this applies to all vaccines including the standard childhood vaccines, is the efficiency provided by only having to deal with two school systems in each community. With public funding of all religious schools we will undoubtedly have more of them and the effectiveness of using the school system to provide vaccines will be greatly diminished.

And, of course, the effectiveness of sex education to prevent the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS, as well as reduce teenage pregnancies, will also be reduced by the increased number of religious based schools.

Public education and public health go hand in hand and that is just one more reason to have a single public education system.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

On Blogging

It seems like I have always wanted to have a blog even before there were blogs.

When I attended Laurentian University I was active on the student newspaper, Lambda, and had a regular column, the Fifth Column, for which my blog is named.

My first personal computer was an Osborne 1 and I remember watching the dots go by as I downloaded files from computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) . My first Internet experience was with the Freeport based National Capital Freenet and I was one of the NCFs first information providers and one of the first NCF information providers to go to HTML web format with the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) Information Service.

My political perspective was formed, as with many people, during my university years where I studied Political Science and was involved in student politics as well as the New Democratic Party. When I moved to Ottawa to work for the House of Commons (indexing the House of Commons Debates and Committee Proceedings), I continued my involvement with the NDP. After moving to Kanata, I became involved in municipal politics as well, in particular the Bridlewood Residents Hydro Line Committee. Since then I have stepped back from active political involvement but remain an interested observer.

Upon retirement it seemed natural to bring my interest in the Internet, politics and journalism together in a blog. My blog is still young and struggling to find it’s place. I do not think I have reached my goal of providing the type of writing that I think I am capable of - original and thought provoking. Finding a distinctive style, beyond avoiding using question marks (as my daughter informs me I do), is another challenge.

I think my blog is going to find it’s place somewhere between a personal blog and a political blog. As an avid outdoors person, hiker, mountain biker, kayaker and cross county skier, I am more than just a “political animal”

I have recently disciplined myself into writing something every weekday. I wonder if this is hampering my writing of longer more thoughtful blog entries, but then if I cannot think of at least one interesting thing to say each day should I really be doing this. Blogging daily has certainly increased the readership of my blog which encourages me to spend more time researching and writing this blog..

Let me know what you think of the Fifth Column. I look forward to seeing how it evolves

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Why I Am Not Voting NDP This Election

Since I started voting in 1968 there have only been two previous times I did not vote for the NDP. Once was as a protest vote after the Waffle was expelled from the NDP and I voted CPC-ML, and the other was a strategic vote for Marianne Wilkinson (who had left the Tories to join the Liberals because of Mike Harris's regressive policies) in an attempt to unseat the sitting Tory, Norm Sterling, and the Harris government.

This will be the third time, and it is essentially over one issue. I do not usually believe in voting based on one issue but in this case I have an opportunity to vote for a party not afraid to raise the issue of one public education system for the province. It should be the NDP, but it is not. On this issue I even find myself agreeing with John Tory, rather than Howard Hampton, on the fact that the existing funding of Catholic religious schools only is discriminatory. Of course I disagree with John Tory's solution, which would only make things worse.

In the entire history of the province only the Green Party has had the political will to stand up for equality and public education in Ontario, and for that they will be rewarded with my vote.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Listen Up - Stephen Lewis on Climate Change

I happened to luck out Saturday and catch this lecture by Stephen Lewis at McMaster University on TVO's Big Ideas. Lewis was as compelling as ever in addressing the subject and making the case that if Canada would take leadership on the issue the world would follow.

Listen Up

Friday, 14 September 2007

Fashion Industry Contradiction of the Day

A British Fashion Council report recommends models be screened for eating disorders. So far so good.

The report notes "The facts of the modelling profession are not so glamorous; it is peopled by young and potentially vulnerable workers — the majority of them women — who are self-employed and do not have adequate support".

It then goes on to recommend "that starting next fall, models arrange and pay for the certification themselves from an accredited list of medical experts".

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Rule of Law and "Veiled Voting"

Canada is not a police state. The police cannot simply tell people to do something because they are the police. They must have legal authority. And neither can other government officials. It does not matter whether everyone thinks that requiring voters to show their faces is a good thing, whether it be the Prime Minister, all political parties, all Muslim organizations and leaders and veiled Muslim women themselves, or even a Parliamentary committee, if the law does not provide the authority election officials cannot require Muslim women to show their faces to vote.

Perhaps the law should be changed. But if the law is to be changed to require photo identification of voters then it must apply to all voters. So why was it not applied to all voters when the act was amended. Perhaps it was because many voters, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, do not have photo identification and requiring it would effectively disenfranchise many of the poor from voting. Do we want to do that simply because veiled women make some people uncomfortable.

And what of those who vote by mail, who do they show their face and photo identification to. Indeed, mail in ballots are a greater concern because there is no guarantee of a secret ballot, one of the basic principles of democratic elections, when mail in ballots are used.

Perhaps we should stop and think before implementing knee jerk reactions to what is in reality more of a theoretical, rather than real, problem.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Bossership vs Leadership - The Failure of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien

It is not a year into his mandate yet, but clearly his record is clear. Larry O’Brien is probably the biggest disappointment in Ottawa history. While a majority of voters clearly believed we needed a change from Bob Chiarelli’s mediocre leadership, this is not what they expected. Indeed, the most disappointed are his own supporters. But even those of us who opposed O’Brien did not expect this. In fact, some of us realized that he could not do too much damage with just one vote on council and hoped that his hyped high tech private sector background might even provide some innovative ideas. But there were none. While we expected policies and leadership in a direction we disagreed with, this complete failure of leadership was not expected..

Rather than recap all the failures of our new mayor I will refer you to Dawg's Blawg: Bull in a china shop, where he does an excellent job of summarizing them.

In hindsight we should not have been surprised. For all they hype about his background as a high technology leader, in reality he was the boss of a gloried temporary help agency that made his money by taking a cut of the salaries of people who worked for other companies or the federal government.

We had our first clear clues that Larry O’Brien was not up for the job when he admitted to never attending a City Council meeting, and made no effort to attend any, even after announcing his candidacy, and saw no need to learn the structure of city government until after he was elected.

Ironically many voted for Larry O’Brien because he was not a politician, but his lack of political skills have been his downfall. He may, or may not, be a great private sector boss, who is used to making the decision and telling everyone else what to do, but he obviously lacks the political skills necessary to build the consensus and coalitions necessary to get things done in municipal government.

Larry O’Brien is simply not a leader. He has clearly demonstrated that. He was clearly a boss masquerading as a leader. It is easy to get people to follow you when you are the one signing the pay cheques. But when, as mayor, he started hiring people not accustomed to being “yes men” he saw his key staff resigning in droves, as he refused to listen to the people he hired to give him advice.

What Larry O’Brien has done is demonstrate clearly that mayors are not as powerful as people think. The mayor is just one member of council. We forget that sometimes because we see the accomplishments of great mayors of the past in this city and others. In fact their accomplishments did not come because they had power, not because they were the bosses. Their accomplishments came because they showed leadership. Larry O’Brien has clearly not shown any leadership as Mayor of Ottawa.

It appears that Larry O’Brien may even be recognizing his own failures as a leader and giving up on trying to be the leader and trying to be the boss instead, by attempting to take over the role of the City Manager. That is not his role. If Larry O’Brien does not want to lead this city he can sit back and fulfill his ceremonial duties and let City Council run the city without him.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Canada Elections Act - CLARIFICATION

It appears that I have been duped into believing that the Prime Minister actually understood the legislation that his government proposed and passed.

The amendments to the act do not establish photo identification as mandatory.

Bill C-31 states:

SUMMARY

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud or error. It requires that electors, before voting, provide one piece of government-issued photo identification showing their name and address or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer showing their name and address, or take an oath and be vouched for by another elector.


And for more certainty it states:

21. Sections 143 to 145 of the Act are replaced by the following:

Elector to declare name, etc.

143. (1) Each elector, on arriving at the polling station, shall give his or her name and address to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk, and, on request, to a candidate or his or her representative.

Proof of identity and residence

(2) If the poll clerk determines that the elector’s name and address appear on the list of electors or that the elector is allowed to vote under section 146, 147, 148 or 149, then, subject to subsection (3), the elector shall provide to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk the following proof of his or her identity and residence:

(a) one piece of identification issued by a Canadian government, whether federal, provincial or local, or an agency of that government, that contains a photograph of the elector and his or her name and address; or

(b) two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer each of which establish the elector’s name and at least one of which establishes the elector’s address.


The Fifth Column apologizes. It should know better than to take Stephen Harper at his word.

The Canada Elections Act and "Reasonable Accommodation"

The Canada Elections Act has recently been amended to require photo identification of voters. Elections Canada, the body responsible for enforcing the Act, has ruled that "electors wearing face coverings for religious practices" do not have to provide photo identification when voting but can provide two pieces of "authorized" identification or be "vouched for" by another elector. Is this a reasonable interpretation of the act. Requiring photo identification becomes rather redundant if one cannot compare the photo to the elector.

What is "reasonable accommodation in these circumstances. According to the Globe and Mail a number of Canadian Muslim organizations have criticized Elections Canada's handling of the issue. "Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, which says it is the country's largest Muslim organization, said Muslim groups were not consulted about the rule change. If they had been, he said, he would have told officials that the small minority of Muslim women - perhaps as few as just 50 of Canada's 750,000 Muslims - who wear the niqab would have no problem showing their faces to a female election worker to verify their identity."

It seems that all that was required was consultation with the people affected and a much more reasonable accommodation, one that does not conflict with the spirit, if not the letter of the law, could have been made.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Should Taxation Fund Religious Schools in Ontario

Ontario has two publicly funded school systems, one secular and one Catholic. According to the 2001 Census there are 3,935,745 people that identify themselves as “Protestant” and 3,911,760 people that identify themselves as “Catholic”. Does it not seem strange that the one religious group that gets public funding for its schools is not the group with the largest number of followers.

Of course it all goes back to history. At the time of confederation Ontario and Quebec had Protestant and Catholic school systems. “Protection of the Separate School system was a major issue of contention in the negotiations that led to Canadian confederation, due in large part to racial and religious tension between the (largely Francophone) Roman Catholic population in Canada and the Protestant majority. The issue was a subject of debate at the 1864 Quebec Conference and was finally resolved at the London Conference of 1866 with a guarantee to protect the separate school system in Quebec and Ontario.” ((Wikipedia). This was guaranteed in Section 93 of the British North America Act, now the Constitution Act. In Ontario the Protestant system evolved into the secular school system and now there is only one Protestant school board in Ontario with one school, the Penetanguishene Protestant Separate School Board.

So we now have a secular publicly funded school system and a publicly funded Catholic school system but no public funding for the small religious groups or even the larger Protestant religious group. Does this not seem at odds with the equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Charter states:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

However the Charter also states:

29. Nothing in this Charter abrogates or derogates from any rights or privileges guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada in respect of denominational, separate or dissentient schools.


In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that this was not a violation of the Charter primarily due to the provisions of section 93 and 29 of the Constitution.

So we have what appears to be a case of constitutionally entrenched violation of the Charter.

The United Nations human rights committee says Ontario's policy of fully funding Roman Catholic schools, while denying full funding to other religious schools, is discriminatory.

The status quo is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the Charter, and cannot be justified by any logical argument. The only argument presented for it seems to be that “has always been that way” and to try and change it would be politically difficult.

However, such constitutional provisions can be changed and have been changed, even in the Roman Catholic dominated province of Quebec which eliminated funding for Protestant and Roman Catholic schools systems and established language based school systems instead. Public funding of religious based schools in Newfoundland has also been eliminated.

So what we essentially have is not a constitutional issue but an issue of public policy. We can continue the discriminatory status quo or we can either extend public funding to all religious schools or provide it to none. There is no other justifiable or logical alternative.

The current policy of funding Roman Catholic schools has not been without concerns, including the teaching of evolution in science classes and creationism in religion class; the teaching of Catholic sex education and the church’s attitude to birth control; as well as the churches attitude towards gays and lesbians and it’s statement that they are sinners for simply being who they are.

Extending public funding to every religious group will not only see public funding of extremist groups within the mainstream religions, such as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims but potentially funding of groups such as Witches and Satanists. Lest I be cited for fear mongering, let me say it is not the labels we need to worry about. I am more worried about the extremists within the Christian churches than I am about the Wiccans. I have heard the bigotry, whether based on race or sexual orientation spouted by some so called Christian churches and I do not want taxpayers funding such propaganda. I am not as familiar with the extremists in other religions but I have no doubt that there are extremist Jewish, Islamic and other groups whose teachings most Canadians would not be comfortable with.

How would this be done. Who would decide what was a legitimate religious school worthy of funding. Who would police the thousands of individual independent schools to ensure they were following the provincial curriculum and were not teaching bigotry or hatred. It would simply be unworkable.

I am one of the biggest promoters of multiculturalism and religious pluralism is part of that. Canadian multiculturalism is a wonderful thing. It allows immigrants to become part of Canada without having to deny or abandon where they came from. It allows them to bring their cultures into the Canadian mosaic. It is important that they keep their cultural institutions. But the school system should be an institution that brings us all together, a place where we can learn about each other, share our cultures together as Canadians, and learn Canadian values.

It is time for a single publicly funded secular school system in Ontario. It is almost enough to make one vote Green

Thursday, 6 September 2007

My Referendum Quandary

What to do about the referendum. While i believe we need electoral reform I would prefer a preferential ballot system to a proportional representation system, as stated in a previous Fifth Column. My quandary is that if I vote yes in the referendum question and it is approved will it shut the door forever on a preferential ballot system and if I vote no and it fails will the likelihood of electoral reform of any kind be nil.

The answer of course is obvious. Looking at these questions rather than the ballot question itself is the same as strategic voting, which is what I believe to be the biggest problem with the current system. The simple question is whether I prefer the status quo or the proposed alternative. No other questions are on the ballot.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Much Ado About U of Nothing

Well this election campaign sure is taking the high road and tackling the big issues.

I was somewhat perplexed by Mister Tory's latest remarks. Having lived in Ottawa for thirty years I have never heard that expression in reference to the University of Ottawa, nor for that matter had I heard it during the four years I was involved in student politics and journalism at Laurentian University before moving to Ottawa. So, as I was wondering just who the "we" was that Mister Tory was referring to, I decided to search the net for the infamous phrase and other than news articles on Mister Tory's remarks all that Google and Alta Vista found was the same single reference on a listserv in 1992, referring to Carleton University students using the phrase.

So I guess Mister Tory can take heart in the fact the be belongs to a select group.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Does Your Family Need A Day in February

There is a long time between New Years and Easter, most of it cold, without a holiday break. It has been the subject of debate and proposals for years.

At both the federal and provincial level there have been numerous proposals and Private Members Bills to create a new February holiday from Heritage Day to Flag Day to Prime Ministers Day and even Family Day. Indeed a recent poll by SES Research that found that 70% of Ontarians support a new holiday in February.

It is probably a good idea. It is the sort of thing that calls out for an all party agreement, not the sort of thing that should be used to buy votes in a provincial election.