Friday, April 14, 2017

Anti-gay horrors in Chechnya need to be investigated and stopped!

Putra Kurniawan/EyeEm/Getty Images
After various reports in minor media outlets or websites about this story, the Guardian has finally published about it.   Still, questions remain:

Just what is going on in Chechnya?  Are Chechen authorities "rounding up" gay or gay-suspected men and putting them in concentration camps to face violence and even death?  

As the Guardian reports: "Journalists at the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which first reported the story, say they have incontrovertible evidence that at least three gay men have been killed since the operation started, and believe the full death toll could be much higher. Chechen society is extremely conservative and homophobic, and there are fears that some gay men may have been killed by their families after being outed by authorities." 

Of course, the despicable crew of folks running Chechnya and Russia deny the reports, claiming no gay people exist in Chechnya.

I hope more international media pick up this story and find out the truth. 

I'd also really like to know what my national government is doing to stop this outrageous treatment.  No doubt, our federal government is not particularly friendly with Russia these days, so I hope they are taking action to try to stop this.  

I've signed an Amnesty International petition.   I urge everyone to do the same. 

Let's not let this story disappear like so many other atrocities being experienced in our world have been.

********UPDATE********

Glad to see Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, speak out yesterday against the anti-gay violence in Chechnya. 

Here's another petition from OutRight definitely worth signing.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trudeau Liberals keep major promise by introducing marijuana legalization bill

Thursday was a good day for Canada.   The legalization of a banned substance far more innocuous than dozens if not hundreds of other fully legal substances or activities has now been proposed in federal legislation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a major step to keep one of his signature promises, which is good because he's broken too many of them already.   Had this one been abandoned like electoral reform, it might've caused a complete collapse in his support among cool progressives who voted Liberal in 2015, who'd probably no longer care much if Trudeau beats out the next Conservative leader in 2019 (as there'd clearly be little difference between them.)

Now New Democrats won't be happy because those cool lefties will not be pissed at the Grits.

Conservatives won't like legalizing pot, but conservatives don't tend to like the good things in life much at all, so who cares?

The pathetic caution and unease of certain commentators I'm seeing today is definitely annoying.  The media largely continues to err on the side of hysteria, producing alarmist "news" reports on today's legislation that often quote unproven "facts" about the use of marijuana, proving how out of touch they are with the public. 

There are some fundamental truths that make this legalization move the best way forward: organized crime, which has benefited for decades from the ban, will lose massive profits when the underground pot market shrinks to near nothing.  Profits from other drugs that remain illegal will be considerably smaller as other drugs will never be as popular as marijuana.  Plus, a regulated regime will ensure that legal pot growers and sellers on the market become accountable.   Those who have embraced pot but don't grow their own will now be able to know and understand what's in their pot, how it was grown, unlike today where thousands of users simply don't know.   This move today is a win for public health.  

Will this legalization lead to an increase in use?   No.   I can say that with confidence as I truly believe, as all should believe if they're honest, that most human beings are always attracted to that which is "banned" or "taboo" by greater society.   Ban something, you increase curiosity about it.  Legalize it and put it in boring, brand-free packaging, and make it as commonplace as beer, you take away one of its greatest appeals.  Those who like pot will use it legally, the majority of Canadians who don't like pot will continue not to use it (but will at least benefit from the tax dollars raised from the legal sale of it.) 

Years from now, we'll laugh about how silly it was that marijuana was illegal for so many decades.   It's a shameful legacy based on lies and bullshit thinking.   I'm glad we have a government that knows that and is finally prepared to do something about it.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

History made as 'Moonlight' becomes first LGBT-themed film to win Best Picture Oscar

What a beautiful shocker!

I'm thrilled this morning after last night's win by Moonlight as the surprise Best Picture winner at the Oscars, which is now the first LGBT-themed film to take the top prize ever!

It's also the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture at the Oscars!  Bravo! 

After previous disappointments, especially Brokeback Mountain's sad loss to a far lesser film in 2005, one might have assumed a queer movie would never earn the consensus of a body of voters known for their traditional choices and love of grandiose epics.  But last night that changed as the best film of 2016 prevailed, as far as I'm concerned.

We can also probably thank the Academy's preferential balloting system which allows the film with the most widespread support in the Best Picture category to rise to the top with subsequent ballot counts over polarizing or flawed front runners.   It happened last year when Spotlight beat out The Revenant.   And it happened last night too. 

It's also wonderful that this win is shared both by people of colour and queer people together.  That was the magic of Moonlight as it presented African-American characters that are marginalized in our society, including the LGBT community itself, and made their struggles and loves universal.   This is exactly what the world needed at this moment of increasing and alarming hatred and ignorance. 

I'll soon buy a copy of this classic film.  Maybe I'll even go see it again in the theatre to celebrate.  If you haven't enjoyed the poetic beauty of Moonlight, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My short film "Tri-Curious" reaches over 50,000 views on YouTube!



I've mentioned before my side gig as a filmmaker. I finally decided to make my own film as director in 2015 and recruited some talented friends and artists in Toronto to make Tri-Curious, a short film that explores the awkward and anxious moments between a couple about to embark on their first threesome together.

The whole conflict between between traditional, strict monogamy versus more open-minded, experimental relationships intrigues me greatly.

I tried to embed a bit of that conflict in this film with this couple, along with some humour.  It was my first film as director (as well as full-fledged producer, writer and editor.)  I learned much from the experience and I look forward to making many more films.

Tri-Curious played in a handful of film festivals in 2016 and early 2017.  It also got picked up by U.S.-based, LGBT-focused streaming service Dekkoo.

But it was always my plan to put it on YouTube for the wider world to see it for free.   I posted it on January 30th and I'm proud to say that it's garnered over 50,000 views since then, and counting. 

Please check it out and let me know your thoughts, either here or on the YouTube page itself.   I hope you enjoy it!

And remember: if you want to get into movies as an artist, learn the craft and start making them yourself!   

Friday, January 27, 2017

Screw the police after this week's abysmal behaviour



I've tried to be a moderate person in my writings here and elsewhere, trying to respect both progressive and conservative sides of the political divide, while staying true to my own liberal values.  Perhaps some have thought that makes me wishy-washy or a little too compromising.

But lately, especially since the grotesque election of Donald Trump, which followed my choice to endorse Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (not that that matters too much as I'm Canadian), I've been re-thinking my whole "centrist" schtick.  I want to stop compromising with those on the conservative side who show zero or little respect for those of us on the left.  It's time to stand up for what I believe in again.  If that offends easily offended conservatives, too bad.

Previously, I criticized the decision by the vast majority of (mostly Caucasian) members at the recent Toronto Pride annual general meeting to put the issue of Black Lives Matters onto the agenda without notice and pass a resolution endorsing all of their demands made last year during the Pride parade.

I want to take that back.  In discussions, it's been pretty clear that members did have the right to amend the agenda and overrule the chair of the meeting to do so.  So the vote was valid.

Furthermore, I can no longer take the side of the cops.   The incident captured in the widely seen video above was perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back for me.  That comment from the ignorant and sadly representative male cop, threatening the videographer with AIDS from "spit" from the arrested person, was simply disgusting.  

That cop reminded me of virtually every under-40 male police officer I've encountered in recent years in Toronto: bullying, drunk on his own power, happy to lie to get his way.  And that's just been my personal experience as a relatively innocent looking white man (usually on a bicycle, which might explain the disdain with which I've always been treated by police in Toronto.)

But of course my experiences are nothing compared to my fellow queer people of colour community members, who've experienced harassment and intimidation from the police for years.   A couple of decades ago, white LGBT folks consistently received the same kind of mistreatment.  Even today, the police are still targeting gay folks where they suspect the heterosexual majority don't approve of their behaviour, like recently in an Etobicoke park

Now the police and their supporters are outraged that Pride members would vote to ban police from future Prides?  Screw them.

I don't believe for a moment that Toronto Police have seriously tried to change the culture of their force.  If anything, the culture has become more brutal and bullying in recent years in terms of how cops treat ordinary members of the public.  All the P.R. talk from Toronto Police about "teaching moments" and implementing sensitivity courses are simply bullshit.   

In my opinion, the entire force, especially the under 40 male cops, seem to believe they are above the law like a bunch of storm troopers.  It's time they face consequences for that.  

We are living in a time in which the top cop in the U.S., James Comey, literally intervened in the recent presidential election at the last minute to try to sway the vote in favour of the grotesque conservative, Donald Trump, and Comey got away with it.  The time to stand up to police power is now.  

I support shutting the police out of Pride.  Perhaps we could make the ban on police last for 5 or 10 years.  After that, the community can decide if the police really have changed and can be welcomed back into Pride.   If not, the ban should continue.  

We'll call this the latest "teaching moment" for the police.  Clearly, nothing else has worked to change them.  

The LGBT community must put all of its members first, including its many people of colour. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Completely banning police from Toronto Pride is simply wrong

I'm a member of Pride Toronto.

Had I known that a vote on accepting all of the demands put forth last year by Black Lives Matters protesters during their Pride Day protest was going to take place last night at Pride Toronto's Annual General Meeting, I would've gone to voice my opinion and cast a vote.

But I had no such advance notice.  No other community members outside the room in which the AGM was held did either.

According to well-established procedures governing public meetings and organizations like Pride Toronto, which profess to be community-based, that kind of sneaky move by some community members to hijack the meeting last night and force the issue of Black Lives Matter onto the table without notice was inappropriate.  

The vote to accept all Black Lives Matters conditions is invalid, as a result, in my opinion.  However, it does set up another public debate about the future of Pride Toronto that needs to happen.  

I do sympathize greatly with those who have faced unjust brutality at the hands of police and why they wish to see no police presence at Toronto Pride.

I even think it might be a reasonable balance of rights to ban official floats by police including police unions in the actual Pride parade.

However, I can't support any ban on individual police officers marching in the parade, including in their police uniforms, should they choose to do so.  The point of Pride is personal expression. 

I also can't support the proposal to ban the police from setting up booths in Pride community spaces.   Such booths provide important opportunities for police to dialogue with the community and recruit LGBT people into their profession. 

The vote last night at the AGM does not represent the wider LGBT community.  The new Pride Toronto board should consider it when moving forward, but not take marching orders from people who are good at hijacking public meetings for their own ends.

I hope the issue of how to address the demands of Black Lives Matter continues to work its way through Pride's unique dispute resolution process.   That is how this and all controversial issues should be resolved.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favourite Films of 2016

Scene from 'Moonlight', my favourite of 2016
UPDATED JAN 15, 2017

I love films.  I even produced my first short film this year as a director/writer/producer/editor called Tri-Curious (it'll be on YouTube by February 1st, so stay tuned...in the mean time, check out my trailer for it on the right.)

There are many films I still need to see (I've listed those below.)  But here are my top nine of the year so far.  As I see more, I may insert one or two more into my top favourites.  
 
My favourite films of 2016: 

Moonlight - I missed this at TIFF, so I rushed to see it when it got a Toronto release and came to fully understand what all the fuss was about.  Quiet, contemplative, deeply intimate, this is the love story I’ve been waiting for.   I love deliberately paced, quiet films that let their characters breathe and evolve.   This film dealt with somewhat familiar LGBT subject matter, but through a lens we’ve never seen on the big screen, tackling black male masculinity, and masculinity in general in thoughtful ways that brought me relief and deep satisfaction.  This is up there with Brokeback Mountain, and perhaps even better as we get a hopeful ending that leaves open the possibilities of love.  

Hell or High Water - Stunning, fun, enormously funny and entertaining tale of two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) on a bank robbing spree with a difference.  Set in west Texas, we see a side of America I don’t usually have much sympathy for, yet here you learn to love and understand the characters.  A perfect testament to our economic times, even this very year that saw middle America rise up in (misguided) revolt against the powers that be, I won’t soon forget this delight of a film. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - The best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back.  Original where A Force Awakens wasn't, this bold film is simply awesome.  As a longtime Star Wars fan, this was immensely satisfying.  The move to take the franchise out of George Lucas's old hands is paying off big time.  LOVED IT!!!!!

La La Land - Finally saw this and loved it.  I could stare at Ryan Gosling in a suit dancing around the screen anytime.  He and co-star Emma Stone are lovely together as their characters support each other as they struggle to make their dreams come true.   Yes, it's another Hollywood film about Hollywood.  But the catchy music, heartfelt performances and flashy, sensuous visuals make it a highly enjoyable masterpiece.

Snowden - Oliver Stone returns to fine form with this story about Edward Snowden, the former NSA operative and whistle blower who proved to the world the extent of the U.S. government’s spying on all of the world’s citizens.  I now have permanently put a black piece of tape over my computer’s camera to prevent future invasions of my privacy.  The encroachment of the establishment into the lives of citizens remains one of the biggest issues of our times and this movie is a must-see if you don’t yet understand much about Edward Snowden’s story.   (Also check out the documentary Citizenfour, also about Snowden, by Laura Poitras.) 

Jackie - This movie captures the disorientation and sorrow the real Jackie Kennedy must’ve felt in the hours, days and weeks following the 1963 assassination of her husband, former president JFK, with an intimacy that feels both raw and surprisingly current.  Amid her grief, the title character fights to ensure the legacy of her late husband and shape public opinion, her last act of loyalty to a man who would be remembered as one of the great U.S. presidents of the 20th century. 

Arrival - A thoughtful alien invasion movie for once.  Amy Adams is superb, as is everyone else.  For sci-fi fans who’ve been frustrated by other mindless alien attack movies in which all aliens arrive on earth speaking fluent English, this movie is for you. 

Hidden Figures - Superbly well-done historical drama that everyone can get behind and enjoy.  While fairly conventional in terms of its storytelling style, it still knocks it out of the park and packs an emotional punch by shining a light on some obscure, brilliant women who made incredible differences in helping launch NASA's space program. 

Frame 394 - I was proud to see the world premiere of this short documentary at Hot Docs in Toronto.  The film tackles the subject of police brutality against men of colour through the prism of a young white male techie nerd who inserts himself into the story through his analytical deconstruction of an amateur video of a police shooting.  Through the main subject’s journey, the film explores the notion of citizen engagement, subjectivity, and the risk one takes when one moves beyond simple armchair quarterbacking.  This film is on the short list for Best Documentary Short for this year’s Oscars. 

Captain America: Civil War - Loved it, enormously fun and entertaining, even a bit sexy (got a bit of a crush on Tom Holland as the new Spiderman), this film shows that Hollywood still can occasionally get their big franchises exactly right. 

Voyage of Time - If you love Terrence Malick and are ready for a steady stream of stunning visuals that evoke deep thought and emotions, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.  I haven't seen visuals this relentlessly beautiful in years. 

Ghostbusters - The repulsive push back from entitled, misogynistic, lowlife men against this reboot made me sick.  The best revenge was the film was awesome and a great feminist response to genres previously exclusionary to significant female participation.  The icing on the cake was the sexy presence of Chris Hemsworth playing the hottest male bimbo secretary one could ever cook up, who soon gets possessed by the film’s bad guy spirit and exacts havoc. 

Honorable Mentions:

Barry

Deadpool

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Manchester by the Sea - Decent, well-crafted and acted, but disappointing.  It was simply too bleak with not enough emotional payoff.  Director Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me was much better.  

Sully

Movies I need to see as soon as possible:

I, Daniel Blake

Toni Erdmann

Fences

I Am Not Your Negro

Lion

The Lobster

Love and Friendship

Loving

20th Century Women

Movies I’m planning to see soon, but not rushing:

American Honey

Edge of Seventeen

Being 17

The Birth of a Nation

Nocturnal Animals

Passengers

The Worst of the Year: 

The 5th Wave - Incomprehensible crap with an even less comprehensible ending. 

X-Men: Apocalypse - with the lamest bad guy this franchise has ever seen.  Very disappointing. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Memo to Kathleen Wynne: Upload the Gardiner & DVP back to the province to stop tolls

There has been huge debate recently over Toronto mayor John Tory's proposal to impose tolls of some kind on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP).

Lots of anger too, mainly from those motorists who will potentially get stuck with extra user costs for choosing to drive into the already-congested city of Toronto.

Some progressives argue that tolls are good because they ding the actual users of the roads to pay more for their upkeep.  Tory has said such tolls would also help finance the many public transit projects he hopes to build like Smart Track.

Of course, this follows his dumb decision, backed by the majority of councillors, to spend $3-4 billion and counting to extend by one stop the Scarborough subway.   How progressives can give Tory such a blank cheque to continue to find new money for his "priorities" remains a mystery to me.

Yes, Toronto needs more public transit that covers all the corners of the city and gives 416 residents better transportation options.  The now-dead Transit City would've seen high speed transit added to the far corners of Scarborough and Etobicoke.  Other light rail options to some of those areas may still see the light of day though.  The Eglinton Crosstown line will eventually be finished, I hear, with 2021 as the expected start date for operations. 

Had Mike Harris not cancelled the Eglinton subway in 1995, that line would've already been a reality today.  We might instead be seeing the near completion of the Scarborough subway extension or even the Downtown Relief Subway Line today, rather than years or decades from now.

Such is the continued toxic legacy of Mike Harris and his neo-conservative, penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to government.   The debate over Gardiner and DVP tolls is also a part of that legacy as it was Harris who stupidly downloaded the costs for maintaining those regional highways to the city of Toronto.

Yes, property taxpayers in Toronto (and that's everyone who owns or rents anything in the city) are the sole funders of upkeep for the Gardiner and the DVP.   Folks who live outside Toronto pay nothing for them, even though they are clearly major regional arterial highways.  This is wrong and Tory's proposal, in part, corrects that.  There are no other such highways in the province so important regionally that are only funded by local taxpayers.

Ever since the fiasco of Donald Trump's election, I've been thinking hard about how progressives have lost touch with the working classes they claim to represent. 

It's clear that the father-knows-best attitudes of some progressives, particularly those downtown folks perceived as "urban elites", are contributing to this phenomenon.  If our progressive policies like road tolls and carbon taxes are just making it more difficult for average folks to live, then we are pushing them into the arms of neo-conservatives with their easy answers.

That's got to stop.  We've seen an erosion of support for Kathleen Wynne due to the perception that she's out of touch with the hardships faced by ordinary Ontarians.  Skyrocketing hydro bills are a part of that.  Teary admissions of guilt won't do much to reverse the damage to her popularity.  Some major populist moves that prove she's re-engaged with those hardships and willing to make tough decisions just might. 

I do believe that if John Tory succeeds in implementing tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP, with the approval of Kathleen Wynne, this will mean a total collapse of support for Wynne's Liberals in the one area of the province she still has much potential support: Toronto and the surrounding 905.   Tolls might be the final nail in the coffin that all but guarantees a Patrick Brown government after 2018.

What's the solution?  Simply deny Tory the road tolls and do nothing else?  Or refuse tolls but increase funding for Toronto transit projects?  Perhaps.  But that one-time capital funding won't help Toronto's long-term operating costs for these two highways. 

A better choice would be to reverse the stupid decision by Harris to download the Gardiner and the DVP to Toronto, I think.

If Ontario uploaded responsibility and upkeep costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to provincial taxpayers and continued to promise never to implement tolls on them or other existing Ontario highways, this would relieve local Toronto property taxpayers, and also remove the threats of tolls on 905ers.  Instead, all provincial taxpayers would be supporting these highways like they do all others.

Sure, John Tory might be miffed he lost a potential source of revenue.  But Tory put Wynne in this awkward position by proposing this in the first place, while also highlighting one of Wynne's least popular decisions (privatizing part of Ontario Hydro) by ruling out selling Toronto Hydro.  She owes him nothing on this issue.   

Sadly, the uploading option doesn't seem to have dawned on Wynne based on her most recent statements.  She's still describing the Gardiner and the DVP as "local roads." 

The Gardiner and the DVP are not local roads used by local residents only.  They are major arterial routes that bring traffic from miles away directly into the core of the city.  Estimates are almost half of daily users of the DVP and the Gardiner are not from Toronto.

Wynne's current reaction to the tolls proposal - that she would simply approve any city of Toronto request for tolls - is the wrong one.  Unfortunately, it's in line with some of her other tone deaf decisions that have created the impression she's out of touch with the average Ontarian.  She better get smarter if she doesn't want to hand power over to Patrick Brown's PCs. 

Uploading the costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to the province would be a major win for the premier, who's got to be desperate for one these days.   It might even be the beginning of the recovery she so desperately needs if she's going to pull her Liberals out of the popularity basement and have any chance of hanging on to power in 2018.  Seems like a brilliant plan to me. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Electoral reform seems dead despite Trudeau's latest words

I've been a longtime advocate for dumping Canada's first-past-the-post / winner-take-all voting system.  It continues to shock me that otherwise intelligent people continue to support it. 

I remember being a rabidly anti-free trade teenager in 1988 during the early part of the federal election that year when I looked at polls showing Brian Mulroney's PCs with 45% support.

"There you have it, they can't pass free trade because the Liberals and NDP have a combined 55%," I said to my parents.

They shook their heads and explained that Canada's voting system doesn't align to the popular vote; parties need only to carry the majority of seats by winning the most votes, usually with much less than half of the popular vote.

In truth, most parts of the democratic world embrace proportional voting (PR) systems where the seats won in Parliament align with the will of the people.  When new democracies have been established around the world, PR systems have been put in place to avoid the dangers of extremists winning total power with as little as 30-40% of the vote.  This has been civilized.

But not in Canada.  Recent Canadian elections have seen one party win a majority of seats with less than 40%.  This used to be rare, even under winner-take-all, but now it is commonplace.  

Just last month, the world was thrown into craziness with the "election" of Donald Trump, thanks to the U.S.'s own archaic winner-take-all Electoral College voting system.  The people voted for Hillary Clinton by 2.5 million votes (and still counting), but they've been overruled by a rigged system that has handed victory to a racist, whiny buffoon.   Despite attacking the electoral college when he wasn't a candidate, Trump now supports it because it handed him victory.  

Such is the case with any political party in Canada that actually stands a chance of winning elections.  The NDP, when it's been in power in the provinces, has never moved to implement PR voting systems.  Indeed, the British Columbia NDP has been most vociferous in its opposition to previous PR options in that province.  This is ironic considering the status quo has ensured B.C. New Democrats have been completely shut out of government and decision-making power for 31 out of the last 41 years.

Chantal Hébert is absolutely correct here that the federal parties continue to put their own partisan interests ahead of the public interest in this current debate.   

Despite Justin Trudeau's election promise and his current unwillingness to abandon it publicly, it now seems clear electoral reform isn't going anywhere federally anytime soon.  

The Liberals on the parliamentary committee that reported this week refused to cooperate with opposition colleagues on proposing a way forward for the debate, even calling Trudeau's promise to reform in time for the 2019 election as "hasty".  

Those same Liberals could've made a deal with the New Democrats to implement the only system that would actually be an improvement over the status quo - proportional representation - but they clearly refused.  

Thus forcing the NDP and Greens to side with the Conservatives on proposing a referendum on proportional representation versus first-past-the-post.  

Yes, the Conservatives have agreed to a referendum that could see the implementation of a voting system they would hate.  But they have done so simply because they are confident, based on recent Canadian history, that PR would be voted down by the public in favour of the status quo.  That's been the case in every recent referendum on the issue with the exception of a Prince Edward Island plebiscite this year where PR won with 52% (but now the PEI government plans to hold another binding vote on the same subject.)  

With the Trudeau Liberals in charge, it seems they've lost their appetite for change.  As Hébert points out, they've done nothing to promote the one voting system Liberals seem to favour the most - instant runoff or ranked ballots - at public meetings held by MPs or the parliamentary committee.

Trudeau's Liberals are clearly laying the groundwork to abandon this pledge.  They'll do so with the support of a majority of Liberals, unfortunately.  

When I campaigned in favour of Mixed Member Proportional during the Ontario 2007 election, the reactions I got from most Liberals were largely hostile.     

That crushing 2007 defeat, along with various other voting reform defeats, convinced me Canadians, like Americans and Brits, simply don't embrace the values of fairness and equality as much as I hoped.  To the majority, stability and the ability of governments to act with autocratic control and decisive action seemed more important than ensuring parties with 10% of the vote get 10% of the seats. 

I've argued ad nauseam that the current voting system essentially ensures that 3 + 3 = 9, while 2 + 2 = 3.   Sometimes it even ensures that 4 + 4 = 7, while 3 + 4 = 10, when it hands victory to the popular vote loser.  It's broken!

People just shrug their shoulders and their eyes glaze over.  Canada seems pretty strong and stable with the current system, so let's just keep it, they say. 

You can't win such arguments with those who value power and stability more than justice. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Open letter to Bill Morneau: Stop Bill C-27, an attack on the middle class and all workers

While the Trudeau government has done some good to help out the middle class in this country, they have failed a specific group of workers who are employed in federally-regulated industries including Crown corporations with the introduction of Bill C-27, an Act to Amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985.

Quietly introduced a couple weeks ago with no public statements, clearly the government is trying to sneak this into law without much notice, even though the impact on workers who are counting on their employers to deliver on their promised defined benefit pensions could be horrendous.   I'm one of those workers.  Like many, I have made a deliberate decision to stay in my current employment (which I do enjoy) partly because of this benefit, generally unavailable for my generation in the private sector.

For more information on how Bill C-27 will hurt workers, check out this page set up by CUPE. 

I penned this open letter this weekend to Liberal Finance Minister and Toronto Centre MP Bill Morneau about my concerns, urging the government to stop this attack on middle class workers.  I urge anyone impacted by this bill to write their MPs as well:

****************************************************************************

Dear Bill Morneau --

As my MP for Toronto Centre, I am writing to express my frustration and disappointment in you as a member of the Trudeau cabinet that introduced Bill C-27, an Act to Amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985. 

Your government was elected in 2015 to support and help the Canadian middle class, which has seen its earning potential grind to a halt the last 30-40 years.  Wages have stagnated barely ahead of the rate of inflation, and today, most average Canadian families include two adults who both must work full-time in order to simply survive.  Few of them earn enough to save in insecure RRSPs and defined contribution pension plans to adequately ensure a secure retirement.

At the same time, employers have seen their profits surge to historically high levels.  The wealth of our nation is not being shared equitably with the workers whose labour has greatly made that wealth possible.  You should know this full well - as these realities were often referenced by your leader during the 2015 election campaign.  

Defined benefit pension plans have sadly disappeared from most private sector industries, including federally regulated industries.  In the private sector, they only exist for certain older employees whose defined benefits have been grandfathered while younger employees have been forced to accept defined contribution plans, if any at all.  

This has been yet another reason why the rich 1% at the top have seen their wealth skyrocket in recent decades, while the middle and working classes, after seeing their pay stagnate, now realize they have to face 20-30 years of retirement not knowing if they'll be able to afford food or pay their bills in their elderly years. 

This is all part of the unfair deal that the neo-conservative/neo-liberal agenda has hoisted onto working people, exasperating unfairness and injustice, allowing the rich establishment to get richer and richer. 

The folks who run industries or Crown corporations effected by Bill C-27 are getting paid so well that they never have to worry about their retirements.  The salaries, stock options, bonuses and other perks ensure they'll be alright.  Many even continue to have defined benefit pensions.  Even Member of Parliament like yourself will enjoy bloated defined benefit pensions most Canadians can only dream of. 

The vast majority of the employees who will be hurt by C-27 include civil servants who work for Crown corporations. I'm one of those people.  We've chosen to work in organizations to promote the public good.  We've foregone more lucrative careers in the private sector in order to serve the public. 

Part of the deal was, at least, people like me would be able to count on knowing how much retirement pension money we'd receive every month following a long career serving the public interest.   Now your Bill C-27 would betray us, giving employers or former employers the power to pressure us to give up those pensions and lose retirement security, with little or no ability to transition or prepare for these losses.   If you're an employee in such an industry or corporation who is 10-20 years from retiring, how can we now change our careers or earn enough to make up for the potential losses that C-27 will bring?  

This is disgusting considering the waste and mismanagement that is still rampant in my own corporation, as it is in most federally regulated Crown corporations, despite these tight fiscal times.  And let's not even get started about the corporate excesses at the top of the private sector, who now also stand to benefit even more from C-27. 

A very well paid manager of mine very recently gave himself a cross-country, all expense paid national tour, visiting dozens of offices of the corporation including those in Northwest Territories, at great expense to the department, all paid for by the corporation.  This happened shortly after he laid off dozens of workers due to tight "fiscal realities."  The manager said his cross-country tour was necessary to meet the people in the regions working for him.  However, this same manager planned to and indeed did retire just a few months later, thus making his in-person visits fairly pointless.  All of this spending was approved by the corporation.  

Other managers throughout the private and public sectors continue to spend recklessly.  Corporate waste at the management level is rampant.  Giving those managers the option of peeling away their defined benefit pension obligations to their employees only will inspire this culture of waste and mismanagement to continue and even accelerate.   These corporations are not in financial difficulties.   Banks, for certain, are seeing record profits, as we know. 

Now Bill C-27, if passed, will put pressure on more workers to take on all the risks with regard to their retirement savings.  It will undermine the most vulnerable people in Canada - the individual workers struggling to make ends meet - while rewarding those at the top running these corporations, who've already shown little fiscal responsibility and now will be even more empowered to legally steal retirement benefits away from their workers. 

Your party has no mandate to legislate this bill.  Even Stephen Harper didn't go so far as to allow employers to betray their workers and pressure them to give up their hard-earned pension benefits. 

During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau wrote: "I continue to believe that while they may make sense in certain circumstances, any changes to (defined benefit plans) should be made on a going-forward basis.  (Defined benefit plans) which have already paid for by employees and pensioners, should not retroactively be changed into (Target Benefit plans)."

Now your government is doing the exact opposite you promised in the 2015 election.  C-27 would allow retroactive changes to pensions.  Target Benefit plans, as would be promoted under C-27 if passed, are exactly like Defined Contribution plans - workers take on all the risks while their employers, who profited immensely from the labour of those workers, keep all of that profit for their own ends, ensuring an uncertain future for those workers after they retire.   Target Benefit/Defined Contribution pension plans free up managers to continue to make bad fiscal decisions without consequence to themselves, while workers will bear all the burden.

Yes, the least powerful and able to bear the burden, will bear all of it, thanks to your government.    

Canada needs more defined benefit pensions that will ensure a dignified retirement for workers, not fewer such pensions.  We've already seen workers' rights stripped away at every level for decades, including the stripping back of retirement pensions.  Now those few federally-regulated workers who still have defined benefit pensions are being put at risk by your legislation.  This is an attack on the middle class and all workers in federally-regulated industries, and by extension, all workers who aspire to a dignified retirement. 

While I support strengthening and increasing the Canada Pension Plan, as your government has done, these improvements will not even come close to helping those employees who stand to lose so much by your Bill C-27.   In reality, this move will ensure that more Canadians struggle in retirement while their rich managers become empowered to abandon those same workers and continue to spend recklessly and with fewer consequences. 

I urge you to abandon this attack on the middle class and all workers.  This bill would be yet another stake through the heart of working Canadians and the dignity of retirement. 

Sincerely,
Matt Guerin
Toronto-Centre resident

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will America avoid its 'Rob Ford' mistake next week?

Comedy Central meme interview with Trump supporter.
Over two weeks ago, Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne wrote this insightful article entitled, "How does Donald Trump still have supporters?"

In it, Coyne wrote, "The actual Republican nominee is a man who has shown himself unfit, not just for high office, but for any office; not just in his abilities as a leader, but in
his qualities as a man; not just occasionally, but on every day of the campaign.  He is not just deficient in this or that respect - knowledge, experience, judgment, tact, decency, integrity, leadership, policy - but utterly lacking in all.  Donald Trump is not just the worst candidate for president ever nominated by a major party, he is very nearly the worst candidate it is possible to imagine, and was even before it was revealed he was a serial sexual predator."

I love it when decent conservatives like Coyne show integrity and turn on horrible standard bearers like Trump.   Many also turned on another grossly flawed conservative in Toronto by the name of Rob Ford, once those flaws were exposed after he won the mayor's chair.

I'm not the first person to compare the Trump phenomenon south of the border with Toronto's own former and late mayor.   As the U.S. campaign finally winds down, I thought I'd compare the two men. 

The dynamics in this 2016 U.S. race and the 2010 mayoral election which saw Ford take the top job at Toronto city hall are eerily similar.  But there are also some major differences, which I believe will produce a different kind of result next week.   

Trump is an outsider with zero political experience.  Rob Ford was already an elected councillor with ten years experience at city hall when he ran for mayor, and a well-established record for local constituency service.  Although Ford still had a reputation for being an 'outsider.'

While Trump's bombastic campaign designed to shake up the establishment this year proved effective at vanquishing his mostly weak opponents in the GOP primary, including his pandering to racism and xenophobia in the Republican base, it has been less successful at winning over mainstream Americans.

Instead, Trump has proven to be an inept campaigner, following his shallow, stupid instincts like getting into a week-long Twitter war with a former Miss Universe after falling into every debate trap launched by his more experienced opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump's been tone deaf and has failed to exploit Clinton's perceived weaknesses, usually going over the top in his attacks.  By contrast, Clinton's attacks on Trump have defined him as a sexist, racist jerk who is fundamentally unfit for the presidency.

In 2010, by contrast, Rob Ford's campaign was laser-like in its focus on "fighting the (imagined) gravy train" at Toronto City Hall and reducing taxes.  It was exactly what Toronto voters wanted to hear that year, at least on taxes.  Ford's main opponent was George Smitherman, an openly gay, former Liberal cabinet minister with a provincial record perceived by some as scandal-plagued and wasteful.

Sadly, Smitherman proved to be far less adept than Clinton at exposing his opponent's weaknesses.  Sure, many of us on the left knew that Ford was homophobic and racist, based on his previous comments.  Still, that didn't seem to matter to the 47% of voters who decided to give him a try in the mayor's chair.  In the end, the best theme that Smitherman could muster was essentially "I'm not Rob Ford."  That wasn't good enough to stop the Ford juggernaut that swept across Toronto's inner suburbs.  

When they voted, Toronto voters didn't know about Ford's drug and alcohol addiction problems, plus his apparent ties to criminals.   When his crack cocaine scandal emerged in 2013, many in Toronto were genuinely shocked.  Had a crack video emerged during the 2010 election campaign, it's easy to assume that Ford's campaign would've fallen off the rails like Trump's did following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video. 

Instead, Toronto had to endure four lost years as Rob Ford spent more time smoking crack in the basements of gang members instead of governing at city hall.  It was a shit show we won't soon forget.

This year, it seems that Clinton has been able to successfully define her opponent as unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans.  Despite her own flaws and history, she is widely regarded as capable.  She's mostly won over the progressive left, aided by the generous support of her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders.  And now she seems to have won over the majority of independents and even some moderate Republicans who've looked on in horror as Trump's enormous flaws have been exposed.

In spite of last Friday's bizarre announcement by the FBI that they've found more emails that may or may not be pertinent to the Clinton email server scandal and subsequent fall-out, it does seem that most Americans have already made up their minds.  They're not going to hand the nuclear codes to someone as obviously unfit as Trump.
@thelaynee: Trump supporter hangs black mannequins in tree.

Yet, Trump's bigoted base persists in supporting him.  Why?  In my mind, because they're largely racist and don't care much about whether Trump is otherwise unfit for office, or aren't smart enough to notice.  They've been won over by Trump's attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, and don't seem to mind his admitted history of sexually assaulting women enough to change their votes.   

Like Trump, Ford too had his diehard supporters who stuck by him and his brother despite the crack cocaine scandal as well as his failure to "stop the gravy train".  They stuck by Ford because they knew, like them, Ford hated LGBT people and spared no opportunity to show disrespect to them.  In Ford, they saw a kindred spirit.

Perhaps in some ways, Ford was a lot like his supporters.  Trump, on the other hand, is a billionaire philanderer who never gave a crap about the poor or the uneducated until he wanted to seize power with their votes.  

A very effective Clinton campaign seems to have stopped the Trump monster in its tracks, I'm glad to say.  Of course, we'll see how it goes next Tuesday.  But I'll be hoping the U.S. avoids its Rob Ford mistake.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Social conservatives elect young twink to be Progressive Conservative candidate in Niagara West-Glanbrook

19-year-old PC candidate Sam Oosterhoff (Facebook)
I've been busy with work and life these last two months, so my apologies.  A few topics, mostly around the ongoing U.S. election, have been on my mind lately, which will inspire some posts in the very near future.

But I couldn't let this day go by without marveling at the mindless audacity of most social conservatives, particularly those still hard at work in the grassroots of Patrick Brown's Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Yesterday, local Tories voted to select a successor to Tim Hudak to run in the provincial byelection Nov 17th in Niagara West-Glanbrook.

They chose 19-year-old, first-year university student Sam Oosterhoff, pictured on the right, whose experience seems to be little more than graduating high school and working briefly as a junior staffer for a Conservative MP on Parliament Hill. 

By they, I mean the social conservatives who reportedly swamped the local membership to back this inexperienced yet undeniably handsome young man.   He's the perfect definition of a young twink if there ever was one.

In taking the nomination, Oosterhoff beat out party president Rick Dykstra (a personal friend of leader Patrick Brown and former MP for St. Catharines), as well as local businessman Mike Williscraft and Niagara regional councillor Tony Quirk (who was the preferred choice of outgoing MPP Hudak.)   Thus, local Tories were not bereft of highly qualified choices.

Yet the so-cons chose this kid, who's now promising to be “a voice for common-sense, pro-family policies and concerns” when he squares off against Liberal lawyer Vicky Ringuette and New Democrat retired cop Mike Thomas next month.

“I will never waver in my support of parents as primary educators, and I will strive to ensure that parental rights are respected in education,” said Oosterhoff, echoing the concerns expressed by mostly homophobic opponents of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s updated sex ed curriculum.  


Such is the extremism of socially conservative wingnuts.  It seems no lack of experience in a candidate is preposterous enough to earn their passionate support. 

Look at Donald Trump in the U.S. who has also won widespread support from social conservatives, despite the fact that he's a philanderer and has flip flopped on all the important issues these folks claim to care about.  

Oosterhoff's strange win also points to more serious chaos inside Patrick Brown's party.  How on earth did Brown's office manage to screw up the local nomination so badly?  And allowed this kid to emerge victorious?  

This, of course, follows the controversy during another byelection fight in August in which 13,000 letters were circulated to Scarborough residents - in English and Chinese and bearing Brown's signature - promising to "scrap" the sex ed curriculum if he becomes premier in 2018.  Brown then reneged on that pledge, alienating social conservatives.   Brown insists he supports the modernized sex-education curriculum and is pro-choice, despite his long pro-life voting record as a MP. 

Perhaps Brown has little ability to run his own party?  The result in the Niagara nomination race would suggest that's the case even though I'm sure Brown's allies will argue this is just healthy local democracy at work.   

Yet how healthy can the grassroots of the party be when they elect someone this inexperienced simply because he spouts what social conservatives want to hear? 

As far as I'm concerned, this is just more proof the far-right, socially conservative wing of the Ontario PCs is stronger and more organized than leader Patrick Brown would have us believe.  This is not a mainstream, moderate party, by any means.

***ADDENDUM***

I must say that, by using the term "twink," I am referring only to Oosterhoff's age and body type.  I am not implying anything else about him as I do not know him.  Some have interpreted my use of this word to mean I'm implying he's gay.  I am not doing that.  Not that there's anything wrong with being gay, of course!   

"Twink" is not the kind of word usually used to describe nominated political candidates, I agree. That's my point.  I'm mocking the social conservatives who looked past his obvious inexperience and put him in this position.  Social conservatives like Oosterhoff have been mocking folks like me with words far more insulting or belittling for generations, so it is more than fair for me to respond and use words they may not appreciate to describe them.   This is a gay-themed blog so I used the word to be playful, comedic and provocative.