Thursday, November 30, 2006

Preserving equal marriage - how to contact your MP

Since Stephen Harper is apparently keeping his election promise to hold a "free" vote on re-opening the debate over same-sex marriage, I would encourage any supporters of same-sex marriage, or even those who think that it is time for the Canadian government to move on to more pressing issues, to contact their MP and let them know how you feel. As someone who has been legally married to my husband for two-and-a-half years, I personally find it abhorrent that MPs might vote to try to undo the legal rights (and obligations) that we have won.

Two useful websites that have been tracking this issue, and have handy links to your MPs email address are Canadians for Equal Marriage and MarriageVote has also been tracking the voting intentions of each MP, so you can find out whether your MP is in favour of same-sex marriage, strongly opposed, or waffling and could be convinced one way or the other. Here in my own neck of the woods, North Nova MP Bill Casey is apparently on the fence.

You can be certain that all MPs are being bombarded with anti-same-sex marriage emails from members of organizations like Focus on the Family. A quick personal email message appreciating their past support for same-sex marriage, or urging them to change their vote might be somewhat useful in changing a few minds.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

South Africa moves forward, Canada contemplates a step back

As Stephen Harper announces that there will, in fact, be a vote in the House of Commons about whether Canada should re-visit the same-sex marriage debate, with debate to start on December 6th, I thought it would be worth noting that another country is rapidly heading in the opposite direction. South Africa has now passed its same-sex marriage bill through both the lower and upper house of its Parliament, and the bill is expected to be signed into law by Thabo Mbeki by the end of the week.

To any Conservative or Liberal MPs who are waffling on whether or not to vote "yes" on this motion, I would strongly urge you not to. Short of invoking the notwithstanding clause, there is no other way to turn back the clock on this issue, and even then, there have been over 10,000 same-sex marriages in Canada since the courts handed down their first rulings in Ontario and BC in 2003 which would have to be addressed - including mine. It's time to redirect the focus of Parliament to more productive ventures, which aren't going to be slapped down by the courts at the first challenge - even without the help of the now-cancelled Court Challenges program.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Actions speak louder than resolutions

For those keeping score - and I use that term advisedly - Gerard Kennedy is set to announce his opposition to the Harper resolution recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. I say "keeping score", because our politicians still seem to be treating their treatment of Quebec (or Québécois) nationhood as a political football to be kicked around for short-term gain. It is this treatment of the issue, at least as much as its content, which has worried me.

My colleague, Andrew Nurse has beaten me to the punch with his more scholarly treatment of the nationhood debate. Although Andrew doesn't name him directly, he is referring to Benedict Anderson's seminal work on nationalism - referring to nations as "Imagined Communities" which are voluntary communities, more often than not stateless, of people who consider themselves to be a nation. Applied to the Canadian situation, the Québécois people, or Quebeckers who consider themselves to form a nation do, simply as a matter of self-identification. No resolution in Parliament will change that fact. In the realm of semantic games then, or the politics of recognition, to use a more lofty phrase of Charles Taylor, the Parliamentary resolution could be considered to be Parliament expressing its recognition of a sociological reality, and an act of self-definition. One might take the argument further and argue that this effectively changes nothing, and might even be a positive step indicating that English-speaking Canadians recognize how many Quebeckers feel about their identities.

But here's the problem. For a large number of Quebec nationalists, this type of resolution is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of their demands, and acceptance of this resolution will do almost nothing to end this debate. What most separatists, and many soft nationalists, actually want is a wholesale devolution of powers from Ottawa to the Quebec state, and an unfettered right to use the Quebec state for nationalist objectives. To wit, if we look at the Meech Lake Accord round of constitutional talks, a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) was handed down in the middle of the ratification process in 1988. The Supreme Court struck down the Charter's provisions requiring French-only signs. Premier Robert Bourassa re-passed legislation on commercial signage, invoking the notwithstanding clause to do so. It is notable that at the time that Bourasse said that if the "distinct society" clause of Meech was already in operation, there would be no need to invoke the notwithstanding clause - Quebec would have the right to pass laws restricting the use of English as part-and-parcel of being a distinct society. (And for those who are wondering, this does roughly coincide with the implosion of that Accord, at least as much as Trudeau's denunciation of it). What was sold in English Canada as being little more than a nice turn of phrase was revealed for having the real power that it might, and the popularity of the Accord plummetted.

What I am getting at here is that "nice" words of recognition like "distinct society" (which passed through Parliament in 1995) aren't enough for nationalists. Without real power/influence stemming from them, they count for nothing. And so we can count on a resurgence of demands for some form of constitutional entrenchment of this Parliamentary resolution - which is when these pretty words would begin to have some constitutional oomph (to use the technical term).

In rationalizing his acceptance of the resolution, Stephane Dion has apparently stated that he would also find resolutions acceptable which recognized First Nations as nations, or Acadians as a nation, or French Canadians as a nation, etc. There are many who like this approach of considering Canada as a country that contains many nations working together. You will, however, note, that the resolution being proposed has not been amended to include all of these other "nations" - or even a Canadian nation, which has as much sociological/historic validity as a Québécois one if we are talking about self-definition. The fact that noone is actually putting such a resolution forth concerns me. The politics of recognition should be mutual and diverse. What we have right now is a unilateral resolution recognizing only one group, which to my mind is only going to further divisions, feelings of non-recognition, and further conflict in the politics of Canadian identity. If Parliament is going to follow this fool-hardy path, I'd at least like to see other MPs put forth the other resolutions that Dion proposed, and have them pass Parliament, and maybe even have Jean Charest (one of the chief negotiators in the final days of Meech, in case anyone has forgotten) pass a resolution through the National Assembly recognizing the united Canadian nation of which Quebec is an integral part (or some wording to that effect).

We may also come to the point where it is felt necessary to re-open the constitution, and re-allocate jurisdictions between Ottawa and the provinces. If this is to happen though, this must be part of an open process. Significant constitutional reforms should not slide in through the back door as the result of parliamentary gamesmanship.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

A misguided slippery slope of a resolution

Sigh. Federal politicians, it would seem, are a gang of short-sighted tools, with little regard or understanding of our country's constitution and history.

First off, I'd like to point you to the following post from Calgary Grit which notes, as I always find that I must, that all this talk of the "Quebecois nation" conveniently forgets the pan-Canadian French-Canadian and Acadian francophone populations. And try as many might to obscure this fact, demands for recognition of the "Quebec nation" are not coming from those who are not ethnically francophone. The Harper/Bloc resolution is about recognition of ethnic nationalism, despite the intellectual convolutions that misguided federalists might be putting themselves through to make this into a recognition of a civic nationalism.

Calgary Grit goes on in an earlier post, slamming the various party leaders, and rightly so. I'd also point you to Paul Wells' denunciation of the resolution as short-sighted, and the first step towards another constitutional fiasco.

If anyone thinks this is resolution will put an end to the discussion, they're sorely deluded. The Liberals passed a resolution through the House of Commons a decade ago recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. Why should anyone believe that this will close the constitutional Pandora's Box any more firmly?

Frankly, this entire debacle leaves me scratching my head about my future voting intentions. I've never liked the NDP's constitutional positions - Jack Layton is far too eager to suck up to nationalists. But now all of the Liberals are willing to go along with this misguided resolution, which is little more than an exercise in smoke and mirrors, more likely to further inflame passions than to cool heads? It boggles the mind, and depresses the voter. The Bloc has played the three federalist parties for suckers, and they deserve a collective slap in the head for having been drawn in to these shenanigans.

I'm not saying that our federal leaders should hide their heads in the sand and hope that this issue will go away. But I will say that constitutional issues should not be debated on the fly. They require serious consideration, and consultation with both experts and Canadians who would be affected by any significant changes. Neither Stephen Harper nor Michael Ignatieff was elected with a mandate to rework the constitution, and so I would humbly suggest that a bit more thought and consultation is in order before recklessly committing Canada to a particular course of action.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The burbs versus the core

This is a rather delayed post, but I've been on the road for the past little while, and haven't had much time to write on here.

Last week, the voters of suburban Ottawa, the city where I spent many of my formative years as a grad student, engaged in an act of collective stupidity and opted for unilingual, political experience-free, right-wing nutbar Larry O'Brien over former city councillor and gay rights advocate Alex Munter for their mayor. I rather suspect, as have many other commentators, that voters were seduced by O'Brien's promise of no tax increases for the next four years. From everything I've heard, the city is in for an unpleasant time with him in office. He'll make Mel Lastman (who was my mayor for the entire 21 years that I lived in Toronto - cradle to graduation) look like a pleasant dream.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

So much for the "dead ducks" approach! Quebec decides to support Canada's francophone minorities

This could potentially be a huge deal. The Quebec government has apparently decided to reassert its pre-1970s role of supporting the development of Canada's francophone minorities.

This role was abandonded by Quebec and assumed by the federal government under Trudeau's watch. I'm fascinated to see whether this commitment lasts, and how it plays out in the long run. I'm racing off soon to catch a flight to Montreal, but will put up a much more detailed post on this later. This is incredibly exciting news for a scholar of francophone Canada, and I'll be watching this story closely in the weeks to come.

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Arizona stands alone

Permit me a moment, in a hubbub of American election analysis, to draw your attention to the voters of Arizona, who stood against the tide, and rejected a ballot proposition to ban same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, it looks like the other seven states where this proposal was on the ballot have opted for the politics of exclusion - most notably in Tennessee, with 80% support for this measure.

I was hoping for something better out of Wisconsin, Colorado, or Virginia. But it's not to be, as a majority of American states have now passed this sort of measure.

Thank-you, Arizonans!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wanted: Bilingual New Brunswick Socialist. Must be willing to work for free.

The CBC website is still glitchy today, so I can't provide the link, but the New Brunswick provincial NDP leader, Alison Brewer, has stepped down as head of the party, citing her inability to keep working in an unpaid position.

Her successor faces a huge task. The party was decimated in the September election, and is facing a massive uphill battle to rebuild. The new leader, in my opinion, must be fluently bilingual and an excellent communicator. The party needs to get its message out, and this should be its top priority.

Mind you, the fact that this is an unpaid position is going to make the job less attractive. I don't know how many champagne socialists we have in this province, who are willing to work hard for no financial return. It would seem that fundraising is also going to be a key element of the new leader's job responsibilities.

Any takers?

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Election Day Jitters

I can be awfully superstitious at times. For example, when I was younger (that is to say, in my teens), I often thought that if I wasn't actually watching them on TV, Brasseur and Eisler would be able to skate flawlessly, whereas paying attention would cause them to choke.

I've been applying the same principle so far to the Democrats in the midterm elections. I've been hearing a lot about their prospects to take back the House of Representatives, and maybe even squeak out enough wins to control the Senate. But I've almost been avoiding reading too much coverage of the races, for fear of jinxing them. I'm convinced that if I watch the returns tonight, it will facilitate the same sort of choking (or electoral fraud success) that we saw in 2004.

So if the Republicans maintain control of both houses tonight, you'll know that I tuned into CNN this evening.

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