Thursday, September 28, 2006

Meanwhile, the United States is getting set to gut due process

This story, about soon to be passed legislation in the United States, isn't getting nearly enough attention. The United States Congress is in the process of passing a bill effectively denying habeas corpus to detainees held in overseas prisons. The Globe and Mail isn't even covering it on their website.

That's right, the United States, in its hysterical abandonment of its senses, is about to deny detainees a right which we here in Canada guarantee under Section 10(c) of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and our national newspaper doesn't think this is news yet. The CBC has it buried way down in its online international news coverage, below such rivetting news as Tory allegations that the Liberals left the Ministry of the Environment in a mess (no doubt a calculated shot at Dion before delegate selection weekend).

It's a very sad commentary on the state of the world when the United States is taking apart the due process of law and not only are we not outraged by this, but we don't even think it newsworthy.

Recommend this Post

Endorsements of various sorts...

Although I haven't posted much on the Liberal leadership race in the past few months, I've been following this race keenly.

A few recent endorsements have piqued my interest:

First, Calgary Grit's spoof of the "leaked memo" from the Conservatives saying that they are most afraid of Michael Ignatieff (and implying that they would prefer to face Bob Rae) is a fun piece of political satire. Anyone who takes this supposed leak as anything other than a Tory attempt to muck about with the leadership race is a fool.

Paul Wells and A BCer in Toronto offer their observations about Liza Frulla's endorsement of Ignatieff. Martinites opposing Dion's candidacy is hardly a shocker.

And finally, Rick Mercer, finally back in blogging form, offers the wry observation that Liberal candidates are accepting endorsements from the dead - Bob Rae recently having accepted the endorsement of Hedy Fry. Harsh, but darned funny!

I'm still trying to decide where I stand with regards to the leadership race. I'm not a current Liberal party member, but this decision could bring me back into the fold. Right now, I'm leaning towards either Stéphane Dion or Bob Rae. Both have some unfortunate political baggage in their home provinces, but their ideological positions are closer to what I could see supporting, for reasons I'll explain in a more detailed post.

Recommend this Post

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ramsay Cook, The Teeth of Time: Remembering Pierre Elliott Trudeau

The 2006 publishing year has been a bountiful one for Trudeauphiles. Earlier this year, Max & Monique Nemni made a huge splash with Young Trudeau, published both in French and in English translation. Focusing on Trudeau’s intellectual development until he became a young man, the Nemnis created a huge media stir with their revelations of Trudeau’s youthful flirtation with French-Canadian separatism and authoritarian Catholicism. Graham Fraser’s Sorry, I Don’t Speak French revitalized public interest in official bilingualism, one of Trudeau’s greatest legacies for Canada. Historians are currently waiting with bated breath for the October 10th release of Citizen of the World, the first volume of historian John English’s official biography of Trudeau – written with the benefit of full access to Trudeau’s papers.

A much smaller volume was released last month by McGill-Queen’s University Press, and is unfortunately likely to get lost in the shuffle. I am speaking of The Teeth of Time: Remembering Pierre Elliott Trudeau by historian Ramsay Cook. This short book is a personal reflection on a forty-year friendship between two intellectuals whose work has had a powerful influence on English-speaking Canada’s understanding of Quebec and French Canada. Trudeau’s impact needs little explanation. But for those outside the historical profession, Ramsay Cook has been perhaps the most influential English-speaking historian of French Canada since the 1960s. Currently the co-editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Cook’s numerous former graduate students are now full, associate, and assistant professors in their own right. Although I never had the benefit of being Cook’s student myself, it was his student, Arthur Silver, who taught me French-Canadian history as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto. My Canadian and Quebec politics professor, David Cameron, also used Cook’s work on Canadian and Quebec nationalism extensively in his courses. At graduate school at the University of Ottawa, it was yet another Cook student, Michael Behiels, who supervised my MA and PhD work. York University professor Marcel Martel, still another Cook student, served as external examiner for my thesis defense. Even as a post-doc, working on cultural and media history, I still found former Cook students Mary Vipond, Ronald Rudin and Molly Ungar working with me at Concordia. Ramsay Cook’s historiographical influence looms large in the Canadian historical profession, to say the least.

It was thus with keen interest that I read Cook’s account of his intellectual friendship with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a friendship which dates back to the early 1960s, when Cook, a founding member of the NDP, encountered Pierre Trudeau at the wedding of Blair and Jacqueline Neatby (themselves key figures in the Canadian historical and political establishment, and the parents of yet another Quebec historian). Cook weaves a fascinating tale of his conversations, letters, meetings and cottage visits with Trudeau. His work provides a unique, personal perspective on certain aspects of how and why Trudeau chose to enter politics, shaped his constitutional policies, and intervened to stop what he saw as the wrong-headed policies of the Mulroney government. Particularly compelling is the discussion of how Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis shook Cook’s confidence in his friend, a decision about which he remains ambivalent.

This is not solely a work about Trudeau. Indeed, Cook’s discussion of his role as a public intellectual is perhaps equally interesting. Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Cook was active not only in the halls of academia at the University of Toronto and York University, but also as a public commentator for the CBC, a contributor to many magazines and newspapers, and a speechwriter for Trudeau during the 1968 election campaign. For academics who seek to balance their research with the public application of their knowledge, Cook’s model is a compelling one. I don’t know, had I been in Cook’s shoes, that I could have resisted the invitation to work in the PMO after the 1968 election – choosing between Trudeau and a year working at Harvard would have been an agonizing decision! The narrative thread of Cook’s balancing act between his dual roles as academic historian and public intellectual will prove interesting to many an aspiring professor in the humanities and social sciences (and many scientists too, no doubt!)

Given current political debates, Cook’s personal narrative will also resonate with many left-leaning federalists - particularly in the sections dealing with his decision to leave the NDP to support Trudeau in the late-1960s. There are numerous parallels to be drawn between the special status approach to Quebec being promoted by the NDP of the 1960s and that being promoted today under Jack Layton’s leadership. It is unfortunate that socially progressive, federalist voters find themselves on the horns of a dilemma at election time, torn between their approach to social programs and their approach to constitutional issues. Indeed, as recent debates between Liberal leadership candidates have demonstrated, that party is still deeply divided on how to respond to Quebec nationalism. The result of the November leadership convention could very well lead to more left-leaning Liberals returning to the fold. Alternatively, faced with little differentiation between Liberals and the NDP on constitutional issues, they may instead opt to vote for the party that appears more committed to social programs and a progressive agenda. Cook’s account of how he made his own choice to support the Liberals in 1968 may well be more indicative of broader trends and choices that are faced regularly in Canadian society, beyond the ivory tower.

Labels: , ,

Recommend this Post

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Age of Consent - Lessons from Hong Kong

I never thought that I'd find myself saying that Canada should be looking to Hong Kong for direction on how to reform its antiquated age of consent laws, but the world is a surprising place.

Like the Ontario courts, a court of appeal in Hong Kong recently upheld a lower court decision that the territory's law banning anal sex (or sodomy) between individuals under the age of 21 is discriminatory, given that the age of consent for heterosexual sex is 16.

In Canada, we still have similarly discriminatory laws on the books, specifically Section 159 of the Criminal Code, which establishes the age of consent for anal sex at 18, when it is 14 for other sexual acts. One can debate the merits of the Conservative plan to raise the age of consent to 16, but there is no justification for continuing to legally discriminate against gay sex in the criminal code. Justice Minister Vic Toews had an opportunity to follow the lead of lower court decisions on this issue and equalize the age of consent for all Canadians, but thus far, he is choosing not to. If the somewhat-less-than-fully-democratic Hong Kong legal system can recognize the principle of equal treatment under the law, surely Canada can as well.

Recommend this Post

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Brunswick Election - The Morning After

We have a Liberal majority, but only barely. 29-26 is hardly a crushing defeat for the Conservatives, who took more of the popular vote than the Liberals.

Can we really speak of a mandate for Shawn Graham's Liberals? His victory speech last night seemed to indicate that he thought his agenda had won major support from New Brunswickers. I don't read it that way. This election appears to have turned on a hospital closure in the Northeast, which mobilized a few ridings to vote Liberal and oust their local Conservative MLA. [UPDATE: It seems I didn't look at the riding results as closely as I should have, and instead focussed on popular vote, which has the Liberals strongest in the Northeast. Only one seat switched in that region. I still maintain that a few local issues played a bigger role in this campaign than a wholesale ideological shift in the province.]

Otherwise, this was a humdrum campaign which failed to capture the imagination of most New Brunswickers. By and large, there wasn't a wave of discontent with Bernard Lord or an overwhelming desire for change. Nor did Graham promise massive change, in my opinion. The voters have him on a very short tether, and will let him have his shot at governing, but they could return the province to the Conservative fold just as easily.

The bigger question for me is what does this mean for the leaders of the other two parties? I figure that Alison Brewer will likely step down in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully the terrible defeat suffered by the party (their worst showing since 1974) will lead to a major rethinking of the party's direction, and they will pick an effective bilingual communicator to lead the NDP through a rebuilding (or to be more accurate - building) phase.

And what of Bernard Lord, darling of the national media? In Ontario, he was long portrayed as the great centrist hope for Conservative renewal. A year in New Brunswick has me wondering what the hype was about. He's not loved here, but neither is he hated. Those who like him like that he's bilingual and a competent administrator. He's not viewed as a man of expansive vision. Outside of the province, this may not be so obvious, because so little attention is paid to New Brunswick politics. (Note that this morning, the New Brunswick election, which led to a change in government, was the number three story on the Globe's website, under Harper's announcement that Canada would stay in Afghanistan). I think that this defeat will certainly put any chance of Lord leaping into federal politics on hold - people don't like a loser. Six years from now, if he leads the Conservatives back into power, it may be a different story. But in the short term, I just don't see it happening.

I suspect that with the election over, my attentions will probably drift back to federal and Quebec politics. I'll keep an eye on what's going on here, but this blog will be less New Brunswick-focussed for the next little while.

Recommend this Post

Monday, September 18, 2006

Election Night in New Brunswick

So, is there going to be a sudden outcry in favour of PR in New Brunswick from the outraged Cconservatives who are currently trailing the Liberals by seven seats with the same percentage of the popular vote?

The NDP vote percentage is disastrous. 5% barely even meets the minimum threshold most policy wonks propose for PR. A new bilingual leader is in order. The local candidates haven't done very well either. I'm surprised at how poorly Virgil Hammock is faring here in Tantramar, even though I thought he would lose. Right now he's sitting at 12% of the vote, and I thought he'd squeak out a second place finish.

9:22 PM UPDATE: Brewer is currently speaking. It's a speech of delusion. You can't claim "we won" when your vote totals are so appalling. It's a gracious speech, but the provincial NDP will certainly have to ask itself some hard questions in the coming months.

Will this change anything in New Brunswick politics? Perhaps. But I'm not expecting radical change in this province.

10:23 PM UPDATE: The Liberal lead has shrunk to a mere three seats (29-26). New Brunswick voters have put Shawn Graham on a very short leash - currently he lacks even a plurality of the popular vote. We'll see if a year or two in government impresses the voters enough to give him a more sizeable mandate in the future.

Recommend this Post

Voting Day

Today is election day in New Brunswick. If you are an eligible voter in this province, then get out and vote! Polls open at 10 AM and close at 8 PM. You can register to vote at the polling stations with valid ID.

As I always tell people - if you don't vote, you don't get to complain, because you've checked out of the process. Even if it's the party that you voted for that gets into power and then disappoints you, you can still complain and claim that they haven't lived up to their promises!

From all accounts, it looks to be a nailbiter. I don't know how the election is going to turn out, or even who will be my MLA.

But, for the sake of embarassing myself, I'm going to guess that it will be a narrow Liberal win (30-32 seats), with Conservative Mike Olscamp winning my riding of Tantramar, and the NDP getting completely shut out.

This doesn't necesarilly reflect my preferred scenario, but rather my reading of the various polls and commentary, plus my gut instinct. I ignored my gut when I was in the federal election pool, and it cost me dearly.

I have figured out my vote, and I would like to thank all three candidates in my riding for their responses to my questions. I'm not very happy with any of the ideology-party-leader-local candidate combinations that I can pick between, but I'm going to go with the combination that best reflects where I stand.

Tune in tomorrow for results!

Recommend this Post

Friday, September 15, 2006

Better late than never - Conservative positions on post-secondary education

It's a little close to election day, but I did get a response from the Conservative candidate, Mike Olscamp, on post-secondary education policy today.

Overall, I'm pleased that the party took time to respond to my questions directly. I'm a little worried by the phrase "commercialization of research" that appears in his answer question #6, particularly as someone who works in the humanities. It's interesting to see that the Conservatives are supporting a continued federal role in post-secondary education, and I'm curious to see how hard they would fight for that. The comments on research funding are also encouraging. I'll let the rest of the answer speak for itself, although I will note that with the governing party, the actions of the past seven years speak more to me than the promises for the future. I am, however, pleasantly surprised at what seems to be the most well-developed and budget-crunched plan for post-secondary education.

Here are his responses to my questions:

1. What are your, and your party’s, main priorities in the sector of post-secondary education?

For my riding my main priority is ensuring that Mount Allison University maintains its status as a premier university in Canada. It is the economic engine for our region and is a social and cultural leader in our province.

The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick has recently announced the 5 in 5 with its first goal which states that within 5 years we want to have the highest increase in workers with post-secondary education. This means that we will be making significant investments in our institutions, providing greater access for students to financial assistance and working with our private sector stakeholders to show the benefits of a highly trained workforce.

2. Where does your party stand with regards to federal involvement in post-secondary education? The federal government appears to be reconsidering the extent of its involvement in this sector. Does your party have a position on this issue?

We believe that the federal government should have a role in post-secondary education. Recently, through the Council of the Federation, our Premier Bernard Lord participated in a national forum titled “Competing for Tomorrow, A Strategy for Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training in Canada.”

The COF are looking for new ways to engage the federal government in post-secondary education. Although an agreement has not yet been reached we will continue to work with the other provinces and the federal government to find a suitable solution.

3. Tuition levels at New Brunswick universities, and certainly at Mount Allison University in your riding, are among the highest in Canada (indeed my students tell me that it is the highest in the country) How do you and your party intend to make access to post secondary education more affordable?

As tuition rates rise at our institutions the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick is looking at new and innovative ways of helping to lower the debt burden to our students. The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick has introduced several measures during the past seven years in office to help keep the cost of post-secondary education affordable to all students in the province.

The tuition tax back program is one example of our commitment to helping relieve the student loan burden and since 1999 bursaries to New Brunswick students have risen 215%.

Students, parents and our society must all share in the responsibility for providing opportunities for students to pursue post-secondary education. Collectively we must look for solutions to assist the students while helping them keep their debts to a manageable level. The balance between loans and bursaries and other forms of non-repayable funding are ways to assist funding to students that the Progressive Conservative Party will continue to explore.

4. What is your party’s plan for reinvesting in NB universities so that they can remain competitive and attract top faculty and students from across Canada and around the world?

A recent study by the Atlantic Association of Universities flagged faculty recruitment and retention as an important issue in our region. Attracting highly qualified people in our region has always been a challenge due to the relatively small size of our institutions.

Over the past seven years the Progressive Conservative Government of New Brunswick has made significant investments in promoting the research agenda of the universities. Investments such as the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and the Research Assistance Initiative have helped launch many research projects. We recognize that access to research funding is an important factor in attracting and retaining highly qualified personnel.

We are also committed to working with our partners through the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET) to find regional solutions to this area of concern.

The PC Party also is developing an International Immigration Strategy and an International Education Strategy. We have identified a target of 10% for international enrollment at our universities and will look at new ways of supporting our universities in international recruitment.

5. How much is your party planning to invest in student loans, student bursaries or scholarships.

The global budget for student financial services is approximately 23M. Since taking office in 1999 we have increased bursaries by 215% and have introduced the tuition tax back credit. We will continue to work with the students and institutions to look at new ideas to reduce the burden of student debt.

6. How do you think the relationship between education and economic development plays out? Where does post-secondary education fit in your party’s economic development plans?

There is a direct link between education and economic development. The value of a post-secondary education and earning potential has been identified in many studies. In our region of Tantramar, Mount Allison University provides many direct and indirect jobs that help drive the local and provincial economy. We must also consider commercialization of research as potential areas of return.

As stated earlier, the PC party is investing in research though the NBIF and the RAI’s, we believe that investing in research will help attract HQP and has potential for huge returns on investments. You can never loose when you invest in people.

7. Is there anything else that you would want an undecided voter to know about your positions on post-secondary education?

I am a strong proponent of Mount Allison University and post-secondary education. I am open to discussing any options and ideas that can help us strengthen us as a region or the province as a whole.

Premier Bernard Lord is also a strong proponent of post-secondary education and Mount Allison University. He has provided increased and stable funding to our universities, he has introduced the tuition tax back credit and has made significant investments in university infrastructure.

We have accomplished much and are on the right track but there is still much more we need to accomplish. On September 18th I hope that I can count on your support.

Since this is likely the last post in this series, click on the links for the Liberal and NDP responses.

Recommend this Post

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages

I just got the news from Paul Wells.

Congratulations Graham! I'm sure that you'll do a great job.

And for those who are interested, my comments from back in March on his book, Sorry, I Don't Speak French can be found here.

Recommend this Post

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ask a direct question, get a stock (and useless) answer

To his credit, Liberal candidate John Higham sent me a response to the questions that I had emailed him. However, in treating me like an illiterate boob, failing to read my email thoroughly, and not answering my specific questions, he has lost any chance of getting my vote.

Here is the text of my message to him:

Good afternoon,

I teach in the Canadian studies program at Mount Allison University, and have been keenly following the election race. Last night, I attended the all-candidates debate, but there was relatively little discussion of post-secondary education funding. I read through the sections of the Charter for Change, and still have a question or two that I was hoping you could answer.

Your opponent, Mike Olscamp, refers in his campaign literature to a commitment by the Lord government to provide more core funding to Mount Allison over the next several years. Does the Liberal party have a plan to reinvest in core university funding, and if so, are there financial targets set for this?

The Liberal platform also speaks of increased bursaries and grants to New Brunswick students to enable them to attend post-secondary education. Is the party also considering additional funding for merit-based scholarships to attract top students to our universities?

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. Your answers will be of interest to both me and my students.

Higham's response to me this morning:

Mr. Hayday,
The New Brunswick Liberal Party is committed to making post-secondary accesible and affordable to all New Brunswickers. To that end we are committed to working with the federal government to establish a dedicated transfer for psot-secondary education.

Also to this end, the New Brunswick Liberal party will establish the NB Hopes Scholarship, as well as a grant of $2,000 to every full-time first year New Brunswick University student, as well as removing the assessment of parental and spousal income from student loans all in an effort to make post-secondary education more affordable to New Brunswickers.

The Liberal party will also act to insure that post-secondary education issues are continually examined by appointing a Commission on Post-Secondary Education.

Every single point in his email is specifically mentioned (almost verbatim) on page 10 of the Charter for Change, which I indicated to him that I had read. Nowhere in his response does he address my questions about a) direct core funding to the university, or b) merit-based scholarships.

This, of course, is the potential problem with encouraging voters to contact you directly with questions. You should be able to provide them with answers. John Higham did not, although he seems to be able to parrot the party line. That's not enough for me.

Recommend this Post

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tantramar Candidates' Debate - Detailed Report

On Thursday night, I attended the all-candidates debate for the riding of Tantramar, and then watched the leaders debate on television (the only leaders' debate that I'm going to get to see, it turns out, since cable television in Sackville is provided by Nova Scotia-based Eastlink, rather than Rogers Cable, which is organizing tonight's debate). I posted a few initial comments that evening. Here are some more observations from my notes.

The format was not well suited to detailed discussion of policy or spirited debate. Each candidate was given 5 minutes for their initial presentation. This was followed by three pre-set questions, one for each candidate. The candidate to whom the question was posed was given two minutes to respond, then each opponent was given a minute to rebut, followed by a final minute for the original responder. The floor was then opened to questions for a period of 40 minutes, with each candidate allowed one minute to respond to each question. The last segment was a set of concluding statements of two minutes per candidate.

I'm going to break this down into general policy priorities outlined by each candidate in their statements, including my impressions of each, and then some policy-specific commentary inspired by the questions from the floor.


Virgil Hammock, NDP

Lest someone accuse me of a pro-NDP bias, I'm starting with Hammock because he drew the first speaking position. His initial statement was somewhat scattered and free-form. His top priority is health care, citing the importance of the Sackville Memorial Hospital as the second-biggest employer in the riding. He is particularly concerned with preserving the local autonomy of the hospital and its capacity to determine which services it can and will provide. His opening statement also stressed improving the seniors' drug plan.

Throughout the night, Hammock stressed his potential role as an independent voice for the riding of Tantramar, and appears to be positioning himself as a swing vote in a deadlocked legislature. His policy positions seem to be personal ones, although generally inspired by NDP positions. His constant refrain was that while the other candidates propose solutions to various problems, it was their past policies that created these problems in the first place.

Mike Olscamp, Progressive Conservative

Olscamp outlined a wide array of priorities in his opening statement. These included 1) Defence of the hospital, its acute care facilities and transportation links to the Moncton hosptial; 2) Seniors - particularly the affordability of nursing homes and the assessment of seniors' incomes for the cost of care; 3) Education - smaller class sizes for elementary and secondary education, the tuition rebate for post-secondary education and continued financial support for Mount Allison; 4) Energy - a tax rebate for fuel heating costs, gasoline price regulation, and gasoline tax reductions; 5) Economic development - low business taxes, road improvements, and a water tower for Sackville.

Olscamp is running on the party's record in office, but also attempting to portray himself as a defender of education priorities, after thirty years of teaching. His closing statement stressed the theme of revitalizing economic opporuntities for young people in a riding and province disadvantaged by geography and resources.

John Higham, Liberal

Higham began his statement with a listing of five key values - Local Accountability, Participation, Fairness, Efficiency and Effectiveness. He might easily have added that he also is in favour of motherhood, puppies and kissing babies - this was a statement which was overly jargon-laden and filled with warm squishy concepts.

He then turned to six key priority areas: 1) Rural Development - developing coastal and fishery resources, rural roads, health networks and education in rural parts of the riding. This priority stressed the theme of bringing families back to the rural parts of the riding. 2) Tourism development - including Cape Jourmain, the Trans-Canada Trail, and possibly a Mi'kmaq village; 3) Knowledge development - improving high-speed wireless access and information technology to replace aging infrastructure; 4) Seniors - a specific cabinet minister responsible for seniors' issues; 5) Education and Health - stressing the need for more local control of these sectors; 6) Energy - removing regulatory barriers.

Higham's closing statement stressed the theme of a need for innovations and experimentation. I got the strong impression that he is trying to position himself as the candidate for rural Tantramar and seniors, as he said little about priorities that would affect Sackville or the university.


Economic Development and Infrastructure

One of the most interesting questions from the floor concerned the paving of Walker Road, to make that direct route accessible for trucks heading in and out of Dorchester, and divert them off the provincial highway that runs down Sackville's Main Street. All of the candidates endorsed this - as do I, since the rumble of trucks past our house in the wee hours is a pain.

There were a number of other questions generally about how the candidates would spur development. Hammock stressed the role of entrepreneurship and trying to spin micro-businesses out of Mount Allison. He also stressed local thinking and encouraging people to buy locally in terms of products and food. Olscamp stressed trades teaching, infrastructure improvements and the value of low taxes for attracting businesses such as Moneris. Higham echoed the low tax mantra, and coupled this with improving literacy in the region. Hammock's rejoinder to both candidates was that further lowering taxes would make it difficult to spend on all of their priorities.


Seniors' care and seniors' issues were central to both the opening and closing statements of each candidate. Additional questions were asked about reducing the cost of retirement homes and increasing funding for nurse practitioners and nursing home assistants. There was little to differentiate the three candidates on this issue. All were keenly trying to win votes from this constituency. However, each proposed a slightly different approach to reducing seniors' fees for nursing homes. Olscamp spoke of a new formula for the assesment of seniors' assets in judging their ability to pay for care. Higham spoke of a reduction of the daily rate for nursing home care, and an increased number of hours of nurse care per resident. Hammock indicated a desire to incorporate nursing home care into the overall hosptial care and health plan sytem. All supported efforts to increase the number of hours of nurse care per nursing home resident. The room was dominated by senior citizens and near-retirees, and cheers greeted contrete promises, particularly Hammock's proposal to incorporate nursing homes into the health insurance system.

Energy & Environment

With gas and energy prices in the forefront, this was a hot topic for the night. Olscamp spoke of a new water tower and treatment system, more research on climate change and environmental system infrastructure. He also pointed to specific grants made to energy cost relief, and reductions on HST for energy. Higham questioned the logic of reducing the cost of energy as we use more of it and it becomes more scarce. He also spoke of the need to change the regulatory environment in the province. Hammock wants maintain taxes on energy to fix roads and other infrastructure, while blaming the international oil companies for high energy costs.

Over the course of the evening, the theme of wind power generation, which would possibly be based in the Tantramar Marsh, emerged as an idea supported by all three candidates. This has great potential for economic development in Tantramar, and it is a pity it wasn't discussed in more detail.


Higham stressed the need to improve the overall literacy and numeracy rates in New Brunswick, pointing to the McKay report as a model for improvements. He also stressed the need to increase college spaces and distance education, and further integrate schools into communities. Hammock spoke of the high costs of post-secondary education as being a substantial barrier, echoing the call for more community college spaces, smaller class sizes and more teachers. Olscamp spoke of the Lord government's record on reducing K-3 class sizes, and the new investment in additional teachers. I've posted additional detail on the post-secondary education issue here.


No candidate clearly had an overwhelming lead in terms of support from the crowd. The dominant issue of the night was nursing home care and seniors' issues, and both Hammock's proposal for incorporating nursing homes into the health care insurance system and Higham's talk of Liberal promises to increase the number of nurse hours per nursing home resident were warmly greeted by the room. I suspect that the election will likely be won by the candidate who does best with this cohort.

The low number of students in the room might indicate that voter turnout from Mount Allison's students might not be the major factor in this riding that it could be. Certainly none of the candidates were talking directly to the concerns of the Mount Allison community among their major priorities, which may indicate that they don't think the university community is going to be a major factor. The town-and-gown dynamic in this riding is certainly affecting how the candidates craft their messages, and it is being aimed at the town, and indeed, perhaps more towards the rural areas around the town.

Recommend this Post

Friday, September 08, 2006

New Brunswick Election - Post-secondary education policy

A week ago, I wrote to the campaign offices of the three candidates running in the New Brunswick provincial election in my riding of Tantramar. I was concerned that there was little information about the various parties' positions on post-secondary education, and so sent each of them a set of seven questions, as follows:

1) What are your, and your party's, main priorities in the sector of post-secondary education?

2) Where does your party stand with regards to federal involvement in post-secondary education? The federal government appears to be reconsidering the extent of its involvement in this sector. Does your party have a position on this issue?

3) Tuition levels at New Brunswick universities, and certainly at Mount Allison University in your riding, are among the highest in Canada (indeed, my students tell me that it is _the_ highest in the country). How do you and your party intend to make access to post-secondary education affordable?

4) What is your party's plan for reinvesting in NB universities so that they can remain competitive and attract top faculty and students from across Canada and around the world?

5) How much is your party planning to invest in student loans, student bursaries or scholarships?

6) How do you think the relationship between education and economic development plays out? Where does post-secondary education fit in your party's economic development plans?

7) Is there anything else that you would want an undecided voter to know about your positions on post-secondary education?

As I write this, I have only received a response from the NDP, which I followed up with a phone call to the candidate to clarify a few details. I have received no response from the Liberal or the Conservative candidate. But, their respective campaign literature and party platforms have since been released.

What follows is my best interpretation of where the parties stand on the issue of post-secondary education. This is probably the longest post that I've put up here to date, but I think this topic warrants the attention.

NDP - Virgil Hammock

Hammock, like the two previous provincial NDP nominees in this riding, is a Mount Allison professor (emeritus, in his case). I got responses both from Hammock himself and his official agent, former candidate Berkeley Fleming.

Priorities: The top priority for Hammock is a reworking of how students pay for their post-secondary education. He is very concerned at how tuition has been rising, and that responsibility for student loans has been off-loaded onto private banks. He would like to see more attention paid to expanding student bursaries. The NDP has not released a major plank on post-secondary education, although Hammock appears to be committed to stabilizing core funding for the universities, which are now having to rely very heavily on student tuition for their funding.

Federal Involvement: The NDP opposes any federal withdrawal from involvement in post-secondary education, whether in terms of student support or research support.

Accessibility: The NDP position on tuition increases recognizes that tuition fees now account for over 50% of the revenue for universities in the Maritimes, and argues that tuition levels would be stabilized or at least tuition increases minimized if a more generous government granting formula were introduced. Doing this would likely require retreating from the current orthodoxy concerning the need to cut taxes.

Reinvestment: The NDP generally supports the idea of more substantial government grants to post-secondary institutions like Mount Allison to recruit new, highly-trained personnel, and allow them to maintain and enhance the teaching and research that they are currently able to provide under rather strained circumstances. The party has not, however, released a specific plan for how much money it would devote to this.

Education and Economic Development: The NDP sees these issues as being bound up together, and the party argues that post-secondary education's critical significance for economic development alone justifies significantly more financial support from government to universities and community colleges. This is nowhere more important than in the Francophone areas of the province, which is one reason why the Universite de Moncton warrants special consideration in government grants.

Liberal - John Higham

On John Higham's personal campaign page, I was only able to find one mention of a campaign position on post-secondary education:

- We need to take advantage of Mount Allison University to help improve lifelong learning.

This is somewhat surprising for a man who used to work in the Rural and Small Town Programme at Mount Allison. A bit of poring over the Liberal "Charter for Change" and Press Releases yielded the following additional information:

- A $2000 grant for every first-year university student.
- Creation of the NB Hopes scholarship program that will cover a portion of continuing students’ tuition based financial need. This will provide 1000 scholarships of $2500 each year.
- A tax rebate for students who complete post-secondary education and choose to stay in, or return to, New Brunswick.
- The removal of the assessment of parental and spousal income from student loans.
- The creation of a Commission on Post-Secondary Education that will examine the higher education needs of New Brunswickers.
- Inviting university representatives to the Standing Committee on Education to outline their plans, priorities and financial needs to the Legislature on an annual basis.
- Working with the federal government to establish a dedicated transfer for funding post-secondary education that is adequate, stable and predictable.

There is nothing that I could see in the Liberal platform about providing additional core funding to the universities of New Brunswick. The main priority seems to be easing the tuition burden for New Brunswick students, and encouraging students to stay in the province for their studies, or return here afterwards. There is little here to suggest that attracting out-of-province students to come here for university, or stay afterwards is a priority. I recognize that this is not a sexy election platform plank, but it is a part of what enriches university programs.

Progressive Conservative - Mike Olscamp

Bernard Lord's government seems to largely be running on its record, and promising more of the same. I was able to gather some information on new promises from the PC webpage of Press Releases, Olscamp's campaign literature, and statements made at the candidates debate:

- Over the next 5 years, $8.6 million will be invested in Mount Allison University, a key player in the local economy
- The New Brunswick Tuition Rebate Program will allow students who stay in New Brunswick to live and work to recover up to $10,000 in tuition costs.
- The government created the New Brunswick Opportunities Fund to create scholarships and bursaries for students in financial need.

To their credit, the Conservatives are the only party to indicate a specific financial contribution to Mount Allison. However, the party in power also has the onus of bearing some responsibility for the current state of affairs. And right now, that isn't pretty, with our library budget operating at less than bare-bones capacity. (Indeed, I found out today that the one of the recent rounds of library cuts in the spring included the daily newspaper subscription to the Saint John Telegraph-Journal (we still get the microfilms as they come out) and the online subscriptions to a number of New Brunswick papers (because of subscription fee hikes), which will make it somewhat more difficult to teach media analysis to my students.) It's nice to see more money being promised, but part of the problem is that adequate funding wasn't forthcoming in the past.

So there you have it - the candidate and party platforms on post-secondary education, such as I could find them out for you. I'm disappointed at the lack of attention to core funding for universities. I also think that the student grant/bursary programs being proposed by the various parties, while an important step, don't go nearly far enough. New Brunswick needs to be attracting students from across the country to its universities, and then providing opportunities to encourage them to stay, and invest in the economy. International students and immigrants should also be more central to a development agenda.

In the short term, some of the parties' planks will likely resonate with the immediate self-interest of voters. Unfortunately, I don't think they go far enough in terms of long-term planning.

Recommend this Post

Benedict the troll

Oh wonderful. Pope Benedict is romping around attacking Canadian social policy on gay marriage and abortion.

A choice quote from Benedict: "In the name of tolerance, your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse," and according to the CBC report, he was quoted as "lament[ing] that Catholic politicians had yielded to 'ephemeral social trends and the spurious demands of opinion polls.'"

I certainly hope that tolerance and understanding aren't ephemeral! Maybe we should follow the path of vindictiveness and hate instead, and Benedict could return to happily rotting away in the Vatican.

Incidentally, one of the best pieces of papal kitsch that I found in Rome is a beer bottle opener with the pope's effigy on it. There's something delightfully subversive about using Benedict to open my beers.

Recommend this Post

New Brunswick Leaders' Debate - Observations on the English-language Debate

An hour and a half of live local debate just wasn't enough for me last night, so I hauled out my recorded tape of the English-language debate (I may try to watch the online version of the French version, but I have to say that I'm rather upset that the two were aired at overlapping times on CBC and Radio-Canada).

Overall, it was a very dry format, and the opportunities for candidate "debate" were poorly structured. Whoever got to speak first in the "debate" section essentially got to ramble on until he or she was forcibly interrupted by another candidate. I won't declare a winner on the night, but will give my overall impressions.

Allison Brewer (NDP): She was probably the candidate who needed to do best this evening, since the NDP is not running a high profile campaign in many ridings, and doesn't have a real internet presence. In terms of content, she raised a number of key issues, and seemed to be speaking about concrete policy options, including Northern New Brunswick development, wind power generation and pay equity. It made me want to learn more about the party platform, but there is nothing available yet. Her stage presence was, unfortunately, poor, and she would benefit from media training, as she was not looking at the camera enough, and was reading too many of her statements. The opening and closing statements, in particular, should have been memorized.

Shawn Graham (Liberal): He came across as poised and comfortable in front of the camera. The Liberals are clearly scripting their buzzwords, as there were several that appeared in the local debate as well: "Worst to First" comes to mind. The "Charter for Change" was his version of the 1993 "Red Book", and I'm not sure if that strategy will convince the voters. He did, however, come across as the attack dog candidate trying to highlight the problems with the province, and risked accusing New Brunswickers' of lacking a "can-do" attitude, which Lord tried to capitalize on. He does have to make voters upset with the current government if he's going to win. I don't think that Orimulsion is going to be the issue, whatever the waste associated with it - I'm not sure how many voters even know what he is talking about (although a google search will tell you). Car insurance might be revivable, and education performance is worth running with.

Bernard Lord (PC): Lord was relaxed and confident - perhaps a little bit smug. He is trying to run as the "good news" candidate, trumpeting his accomplishments to date. He trotted out figures and examples of his government's policies with ease, and also tried to position himself as the candidate of the "hard-working, can-do, people of New Brunswick." He certainly never seemed rattled, but he almost came across as overly complacent, and if Graham and Brewer can raise voters' concerns with the administration of the province, this image could backfire. Innovation did not seem to be a big issue for him.

It was very striking that all three leaders are younger than their respective party's candidates in my riding. It was refreshing to see younger faces in politics. I didn't come away from watching the debate thinking that any candidate had won me over completely, but neither was I alienated by anyone.

On a purely local level, I was intrigued to hear all three candidates talking about wind-power generation. The Tantramar Marsh is a likely venue for such a project, and the economic development that could result from a major initiative of this sort could completely transform this riding. I'd like to hear a lot more about how far along proposals for this have come.

Recommend this Post

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tantramar Candidates' Debate - Quick First Impressions

We just got back from the all-candidates debate for the riding of Tantramar. It was very well attended. I'd estimate that there were about 200 people in the audience - it was standing-room only. I took down some detailed notes, and will put together a longer post tomorrow. Permit me a few initial thoughts though:

1) I was more impressed by the Progressive Conservative candidate, Mike Olscamp, than I thought I would be. A former teacher, he had clearly prepared himself on most of the issues, had a good delivery, and a casual style that made him seem very genuine and approachable. I think he will do well door-to-door. He was also the only candidate to speak directly to the issue of funding for Mount Allison University as an institution.

2) The Liberal candidate, John Higham, seems very much a party man. He spoke regularly about the recently-released Liberal platform, and kept referring back to the party's policies. He seems to view most issues in terms of complex integrated systems, which is probably a good way to look at them, but may have trouble translating into immediate resonance with voters. What did go over very well were his promises regarding senior care, and the Liberal promise to have a minister responsible for seniors at the Cabinet table.

2B) Higham was playing to the right audience. As one of the people posing questions from the floor pointed out, the majority of the audience in the room were seniors. I saw some university faculty, my vet, the bookstore owner, and a few students who are involved in student government. But the Mount Allison students were by-and-large not present.

2C) As university students were absent, so too was much discussion of the future of university funding. The Liberal candidate spoke about the party's platform for student grants, and the Conservative candidate mentioned the 5-year commitment of the Lord government to Mount A., but otherwise, the concerns of the town's largest employer were not front-and-centre. Seniors' issues definitely were.

3) The NDP candidate, Virgil Hammock, seemed to be running more as an independent than as an NDP man. He did not make any reference to an overall NDP strategy, and I don't recall him even referencing the party leader, Allison Brewer. He was less prepared than the other two in terms of scripted introductory and concluding remarks, and on a number of other policy points. His main point was that he intended to be the voice of Tantramar, and would put the riding's interests ahead of party lines, but he did not advance many major policy proposals.

I left the evening with mixed feelings, and still undecided about my eventual vote. I was surprised that I did not immediately find myself dismissive of the Conservative candidate. I could find pros and cons with the other two parties that I have historically voted for. I have the leaders' debate on tape, and will likely watch that and go over the party platforms before making up my mind.

Tomorrow, I hope to put up another post with more details on the Q&A and candidate priorities.

Recommend this Post

Leaders or Candidates? A test of Tantramar's VCR programming skills

Putting two-and-two together, now that I have my morning coffee, I realized that voters in Sackville have the choice of attending their local candidates' debate tonight at the Live Bait Theatre or watching the provincial leaders debate each other on CBC. Both start at 7 PM.

I'm programming my VCR. But this is really quite egregious!

Recommend this Post

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tantramar debate / Post-secondary education

Well, it's been almost a full week since I emailed a series of questions to all three candidates about their positions on post-secondary education. So far, there has been no response. Let's hope they are all busy preparing for tomorrow's (September 7) debate at the Live Bait Theatre at 7 PM. Perhaps some answers will be forthcoming then.

The Liberals do seem to be busy rolling out their post-secondary education package. I'm not convinced that the $2000 grant to each first year university student is a great idea, for reasons I'll develop more in a further post. The tax rebates for university graduates who choose to return to or stay in the province strikes me as having some potential for slowing the tide of young people leaving the region. If I could see some programs designed to improve funding for the universities themselves, which would attract more foreign and out-of-province students, then I'd be more impressed.

UPDATE 10:53 PM: I'm heading off to bed, but just got my first set of replies, from the NDP. I'll post more on this tomorrow, with additions from the debate.

Recommend this Post

Monday, September 04, 2006

Unilingual leadership in New Brunswick is unacceptable

New Brunswick NDP leader Alison Brewer has announced that she is pulling out of the French-language leadership debate for the upcoming provincial election. Apparently Radio-Canada wasn't willing to provide interpretation for her.

Tough. I am a firm believer that anyone who aspires to become Prime Minister of Canada should be functionally bilingual, and that is even more true for an aspiring Premier my new province of residence, where a full third of the population is francophone. I honestly don't know what possessed the local NDP to choose a leader that cannot speak French - particularly since the only federal NDP MP from this province, Yvon Godin, was elected from a primarily francophone district. Some might think it was worth building on existing strengths, but apparently not so here.

I fully recognize that the NDP is a marginal party in New Brunswick. But that doesn't excuse defeatist organizational behaviour. If you want to be taken seriously as a credible alternative, you have to act that way. In New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province under the constitution, this includes selecting a leader who can make themselves understood in French.

The federal Conservatives (in their various incarnations) figured this out when they made a point of making sure that Stephen Harper was competent to participate in the French-language leadership debates. The provincial NDP here should be capable of coming to the same set of conclusions.

Recommend this Post

The passing of a homophobic crusader

I usually don't read the obituaries section of the paper, but today I happened to be leafing through the Globe, and came across an obituary for a Dr. Kenneth Livingstone Campbell. In print it ran with a picture that looked awfully familiar. A quick check found out that yes, this was the same Ken Campbell who was an evangelical minister who used to run full-page ads in Canadian newspapers likening all homosexuals to pedophiles, crusading against marriage and adoption rights for gays and lesbians, and protesting Pride Day at Canada's Wonderland.

I was an undergraduate university student, just coming out of the closet, when I first ran into Campbell's full-page ads of hate in the Globe & Mail. I found it greatly disturbing at the time that the Globe would run such a disturbing, homophobic page of slurs. Since then, the Globe and other papers have revised their advertizing policies, and thank goodness.

While I am sure that his family will mourn his passing, I certainly will not.

Recommend this Post