Friday, June 9, 2017

U.K.'s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers...

U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Just a quick note about yesterday's election in Great Britain.

Called by Prime Minister Theresa May to grab a huge majority, she instead found herself and her Tory party reduced to a minority government.

Why?  Her arrogant campaign inspired few, it seems.   Polls showed her party started the campaign in April 20 points ahead of Labour.  She ended up barely two points ahead last night, and now her leadership has been badly damaged.  It's unlikely she'll lead the Tories into another campaign, I predict.    

But the main reason why: Jeremy Corbyn's highly effective campaign.   Where May's Tory campaign bored Britons, Corbyn's campaign to govern "for the many, not the few," resonated.   His longtime activism and obvious integrity connected with Britons looking for major change.   Although he didn't win outright, he emerges from this campaign stronger than ever.

Corbyn's campaign was the latest example of a left-leaning leader inspiring the public with an unabashed progressive agenda designed to help the working and middle classes in these trying economic times.  

This follows similar success in British Columbia where the provincial NDP ran a similar campaign and reduced the governing conservatives there to a minority government and now seem poised to form a NDP minority government with the support of the Green Party.

This article by Owen Jones in the Guardian nicely sums up the state of affairs for the left: 

"This was about millions inspired by a radical manifesto that promised to transform Britain, to attack injustices, and challenge the vested interests holding the country back. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People believe the booming well-off should pay more, that we should invest that money in schools, hospitals, houses, police and public services, that all in work should have a genuine living wage, that young people should not be saddled with debt for aspiring to an education, that our utilities should be under the control of the people of this country. For years, many of us have argued that these policies – shunned, reviled even in the political and media elite – had the genuine support of millions. And today that argument was decisively vindicated and settled."

Bernie Sanders was clearly on to something with his campaign in the U.S. last year.  It's too bad Democrats didn't embrace him.   I'm now of the opinion it's highly likely he would've prevailed against the insidious Donald Trump had Democrats not picked the flawed Hilary Clinton to lead their presidential ticket.  

There are some major lessons here for progressives that need to be absorbed.  Serving elites and insiders against the interests of ordinary people will get you defeated and your party destroyed.  Justin Trudeau better take note.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Victorious thanks to social conservative lemmings, Andrew Scheer has zero appeal to Canada's progressive majority

New Conservative leader Andrew Scheer
While following the now-finished Conservative leadership race, I always felt supremely irritated when listening to Andrew Scheer speak.  The same kind of irritation that hits when being forced to listen to youngish know-it-alls who are just spinning their bullshit ideology as common sense fact.

So sadly, I'm going to probably feel a lot more irritated in the years to come now that Scheer has narrowly won the federal Conservative leadership.    And not just because his face reminds me of someone who could've starred in the 1984 Stephen King horror film "Children of the Corn." 
Stephen King's 1984 horror "Children of the Corn"

I have a confession to make: as a pragmatic democrat, I decided to actually join the Conservative Party as a member to vote in this race.  I had been extremely concerned about the chances of a Trump-style idiot like Kellie Leitch or Kevin O'Leary taking over one of Canada's main parties that I decided to put my money where my mouth is.

However, the exercise proved ineffectual in determining the outcome as my choices were, in order: Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt, Erin O'Toole and Deepak Obhrai.   That support for Chong hung in until the 10th ballot, after which it swung behind O'Toole.   I had toyed with possibly picking Maxime Bernier as my fifth pick, but his policies on health care and the CBC were simply unacceptable to me.  So any influence I had on the final result evaporated for the final count which put Scheer over the top (not that my one vote would've changed the outcome.)  If any social conservatives get wind of my actions, I'm sure that last fact will be comforting to them. 

The support for the two social conservative nobodies on the Conservative leadership ballot - Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost and former MP Pierre Lemieux (who lost his seat in 2015, begging the question why would someone who can't win their own seat be considered a decent leader for the party) - was disturbing, if not surprising.

Trost was a joke of a candidate whose only major contribution to the debate was to emphasize how much he hates gay people.  That seemed enough to garner him almost 15% of the entire Conservative membership on the 11th ballot, putting him far ahead of other leadership candidates who actually brought some leadership ability to the table.

That reminded me of the disgusting rise of Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff, who, despite being 19, home-schooled, with almost zero adult life experience, decided he was MPP material and signed up hundreds of fanatics from his local fundamentalist church in Niagara region to support him.   That was enough for Oosterhoff to push aside seasoned veterans for his local nomination and elect him MPP in a safe Tory seat.

It seems that the only qualification that matters to these social conservatives is shared hatred of gay people, among other issues that continue to drive a wedge between them and the vast majority of Canadians.   Only in the Conservative Party do these folks have influence, demonstrating how truly out of touch the Conservative Party is from the rest of the country.

“Frankly, looks like my voters were part of [what] put [Scheer] over the top,” said Conservative MP Brad Trost.

“Me and Pierre Lemieux had about 15 per cent of [the points] on the first ballot. That’s the hard core social conservative [vote], and they cut disproportionately to Mr. Scheer. Had they even split 50-50, he would not be the leader today. So, that tells you pretty much how this thing went down.”

Scheer is also a social conservative, but more in the Stephen Harper mold of being a politician willing to flirt with other social conservatives but never actually implement their extreme agenda into government policy.  In that sense, I don't fear Scheer re-opening old social issues.  But nevertheless, I find little comfort in a politician who hates my guts just because I'm gay and wants to deny me full citizenship in my own country, but simply won't because he's afraid of the political consequences.

That's why I disliked Harper so much and why I dislike his successor too.  Scheer is very much just a smiling, younger version of his predecessor.   Nothing else is changed: he still sounds arrogant discussing Harper's so-called "principled" foreign policy, such as unconditional support for every single thing the Israeli army does to Palestinians.

Special memo to Scheer (which I'm sure he'll completely ignore): the progressive, Canadian position supporting justice for all, including Israelis and Palestinians, is actually more principled than your ideology.

Let's face it: Christian fundamentalists like Harper only supported Israel simply due to their religious beliefs that Israel must remain in Jewish hands until the Rapture finally happens (at which point, all Israelis will drop dead and shuffle off to the Christian hell while true Christian believers ascend into their glorious Heaven.)  Or something like that.  
 
This compromise winner who only garnered 50.95% support on the 13th ballot to clinch victory I suspect will have a very difficult time beating Justin Trudeau in 2019.   Especially if he starts throwing little bones to his social conservative base in the party as thanks for putting him over the top.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

BC election proves unabashed left-wing messages can win wide voter support

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan on election night
I wrote last weekend about how the progressive/socialist left needed to start winning elections in order to prove they (and not wishy washy centrists) should be leading the charge against conservative opponents. 

After so many disastrous electoral battles which saw left-wing candidates trounced by conservatives posing as the "safer" option, particularly when it comes to managing the economy, I had my doubts about the electability of leaders like Bernie Sanders.   Hence, why I and many other moderate progressives felt more comfortable backing Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination last year or Justin Trudeau for Prime Minister in 2015.   

But Clinton's defeat including her inability to win over angry, middle-class white voters in rust belt states gave credence to Bernie Sanders' message: progressives need to do a better job at connecting with working class peoples' lives and shed the stench of elitism that has taken over too many party establishments.

We'll never know if Sanders might've been able to win over those votes Clinton lost to Trump.

But Sanders' message and progressive or, dare I say it, socialist policies designed to diminish the gap between the rich and poor, not ignore or widen it, and help out the working and middle classes instead of governing just for the top 1%, may have much wider appeal.   

The British Columbia New Democrats under leader John Horgan just this week did something that party has failed to do in 16 years: connect with voters and almost topple the conservative B.C. Liberals.   At the same time, the B.C. Greens also pushed policies of fairness, equity, and democratic reform, including removing the stench of big money from politics.   Together, both parties increased their support in B.C. from a combined 48% in 2013 to a combined 57% this week and now they hold the majority of seats between them, barring recounts in the very tight election.

Despite B.C.'s buoyant economy and Premier Christy Clark's message not to shake the boat, B.C. voters did some major shaking.

So while the NDP didn't take it over the top, they made big gains and may indeed find themselves in government there soon as I'm sure Horgan will continue to push his message that province needs a government more in tune with ordinary people's needs.   This is instructive for progressives going forward.

The B.C. result followed the massive victory in France last weekend of centrist reformer Emmanuel Macron over right-wing racist Marie Le Pen.  Yes, centrists have long proven their ability to beat conservatives.

But now the B.C. NDP and Greens have taught us that unabashed left-wing platforms can also win wide support and topple nasty, elitist, out-of-touch conservatives, or at least reduce their power too.

If Jeremy Corbyn manages somehow to turn things around for his Labour Party in the U.K. ahead the June 8th election, it'll redefine what's possible for progressive, left-wing parties the world over.   I'll be watching very closely. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Far left progressives need to put up or shut up when it comes to beating Conservatives in key electoral tests

French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron
Last year, we heard often from Bernie Sanders supporters and other sympathizers that the Democratic Party had forgotten about their poor and progressive base.   Choosing Hillary Clinton, the great centrist, part of the family machine that first defeated conservatives after a long period of dominance under Reagan/Bush Sr, was said to be a mistake that alienated ordinary, angry white folks who then turned to Donald Trump.

Far left progressives or socialist types have long lectured pragmatists who've learned to put some water in their progressive wines about the alleged errors of their ways.  They've often chastised such pragmatists for accommodating or cozying up to business interests and resembling some of their establishment conservative opponents.   We know there were many far left activists who saw no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Now, of course, the U.S. and the world are suffering greatly because of those real differences. 

I agree that the partisan establishments of centrist parties like the Liberal Party in Canada, or the Democratic Party in the U.S., or even mainstream New Labour types in the U.K., are largely distasteful to most ordinary progressives.  I worked in politics - I know how sleazy backroom politics can be.  Many in the left rightfully yearn for progressive political leaders who are rebels, who can rescue us and rid societies of longstanding economic and cultural injustices.  The list of injustices sadly runs long.  Such progressive folks rightly suspect the establishment which has largely taken over the Liberal and Conservative parties will never on its own relinquish its power over them.  So the program and populist message of Bernie Sanders resonates.  But it's never been tested, at least not recently, in the current context which is seeing right-wing populism, or outright racism enjoying a renaissance.

We know that centrists can beat conservatives.  Justin Trudeau is the latest example of a moderate progressive who could beat conservatives.  Ironically, he bested Tom Mulcair and the federal NDP by veering far left, as Mulcair moderated himself into a typical centrist and blew the 2015 election.

Is it easier for a centrist Liberal to win by veering left and beat conservatives?  Or for a Socialist to win by veering to the centre?  Who can do that with greater credibility?  Who's had more success?

The British Labour party has rarely beaten the U.K. Conservatives over the decades and looks right now to be facing another massive defeat under leader Jeremy Corbyn, the hero of the Far Left if there ever was one.  After two years of lacklustre press, Corbyn is unleashing some passion in this campaign.  He's a firebrand socialist with obvious convictions promising to shake things up.   If Bernie Sanders was truly on to something with his populist message of reaching out to disaffected white people, then Jeremy Corbyn should win the U.K. election for Labour.   But so far, Theresa May's Conservatives seem to be far ahead in the polls.  The U.K. votes June 8.  

British Columbia also votes on May 9th in a provincial election which pits the 16-year reign of the B.C. Liberals, which are essentially a conservative/blue Liberal coalition, against the NDP under John Horgan, their main challenger.  Horgan has been channeling Bernie Sanders too with arguments that the incumbents are in bed with their big donors and the top 1%.  He's calling for political finance reform.  He wants the B.C. government to do more to make housing more affordable.  He's promising to implement a stronger plan to fight climate change. 

Meanwhile, the B.C. Greens are also attracting a lot of support in this race, polling around 20% in several polls.   It remains to be seen how many seats that vote gains.  Many think the Greens are taking votes equally from both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP.   Some voters tired of Christy Clark's Liberals who aren't willing to vote NDP might choose the Green option this time, putting all kinds of seats in play.

By any standard, after 16 years, the BC Liberals probably need a time out.  I'd like to see the NDP win this one and put in place a government in B.C. more in tune with ordinary people's needs.   Horgan has come across this election as a passionate, hard-working guy many would like to have on their side in government, a welcome relief after Christy Clark.  In some ways, this is another big test for a Bernie Sanders type at beating down a conservative foe. 

France votes even sooner this Sunday with a presidential run-off between far right fascist Marie Le Pen and centrist progressive Emmanuel Macron, a globalist who wants to cut taxes on business and individuals.  But he's had a difficult time getting some far left types to back him to stop Le Pen.

Those far lefties need to kick themselves and vote against the one candidate who can stop their country from dissolving into a racist hell hole a la Trump.  I agree with this Guardian writer that Macron is the person they should support this weekend.

So we have three major electoral tests coming up: one with a French centrist facing down a hard right conservative opponent, and two with a socialist party - the NDP in BC and Labour in the U.K. - as the main opponents to conservative incumbents. 

If the far left is to have any traction in leading the fight against conservatives, it has to start winning.   If the BC NDP get swept back into opposition, or Jeremy Corbyn's passionate defense of his policy agenda leads to a historic defeat by the Conservatives, while Macron wins, it'll be clear to me that the Bernie Sanders solution was not much of one at all.  

This won't mean that centrist pragmatists need to do nothing to win back the support of progressives who rightly want major policy changes, especially when it comes to dealing with economic inequality, and demand their leaders and progressive parties to do a better job helping average people.   Centrist leaders and parties most certainly need to do a better job of that as failing to do so is giving rise to dangerous right-wing populism. 

But more defeats for far left heroes will mean that pragmatic, moderate progressives are far more successful against conservative opponents and actually implementing any kind of moderately progressive agenda. 

You can't always get exactly what you want when you want it, but as long as progress is being made toward it, rather than regression under conservatives, isn't it a better option?   In my opinion, yes.   I'd rather live under a moderate liberal doing some good things rather than some conservative fascist. 

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.