Friday, November 21, 2008

When helicopter parents become politicians

Ask around any Canadian university and you'll quickly find out what a helicopter parent is. If you ask a faculty member, they'll probably let you know that a helicopter parent is a recent nuisance that has descended on campus - normally an affluent baby boomer parent who is incapable of letting their adult child make decisions on their own, and certainly not allow them to face the consequences. They are likened to helicopters because they constantly hover over their children, swooping in with dreadful regularity. At their worst, they contact professors directly to ask how their children are faring in university (at which point they are firmly and politely informed that the university treats its students as adults, and if they want to know how their child is faring, they should ask them directly). At best, they harass their university-aged children to find out when they are going to bed. I am greatly alarmed at this overprotective approach that the current generation of parents is all too often taking towards their children - who are now young adults. It is infantalizing, and I strongly suspect that when it occurs, it delays the maturing process.

It gets even worse when these parents try to make their hyper-concern a matter of government policy. We see this at the federal level with a government which would like to criminalize teen sexuality - or at least deny any sexual agency on the part of teenagers. And now we are seeing it in Ontario, with Premier Dalton McGuinty's latest ill-thought out policy which would create a special class of drivers up to the age of 21 who are required to have zero blood-alcohol when behind the wheel, and are not allowed to have more than one additional teenager in the car with them. As more than one person has observed, this policy will likely hurt efforts to have young people act as designated drivers, and certainly undermine carpooling efforts. It would also set a new, much higher threshold for adulthood than is currently in effect in Canada for voting, consensual sex, and the consumption of alcohol.

This isn't the first time that McGuinty - author of Ontario's bullying law - has attempted to use his power as premier to act in loco parentis to young adults. Last time it was an effort to deny driver's licences to students who dropped out of high school at age 16 - a decision which the law allows them to make.

At a certain point, teenagers and young adults need to be able to make their own decisions, and to face those consequences. That's how they grow up. The longer they are protected, sheltered or prevented from making those decisions, they longer they will act like oversized children. If we want our young adults to act responsibly, our politicians and parents need to entrust some responsibility to them, and allow them to face the consequences of their decisions. Sheltering them for longer and longer periods is simply going to increase the age at which they are forced - or perhaps it's more accurate to say "allowed" - to grow up. I shudder to think that if McGuinty's ill-thought out law had been in effect when I was younger, I would have been a 21-year old with my university degree in hand, but prevented by law from having two teenagers as passengers in my car. Heck, I couldn't have driven my two sisters to the mall!

It's time to ground the helicopters - for the good and maturity of the next generation.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Liberal Leadership Race: The deep ambivalence of a non-partisan blogger

I recognize that political historians are perhaps not a key demographic for the Liberal party of Canada. We pay too much attention to what has happened in the past, and are less likely to forget speeches or comments made two to three years ago. However, I'm also a sometimes-Liberal voter who leans to the left. And so, I feel like I do have some stake in the federal Liberal leadership race. I'm not firmly wedded to the federal NDP - facial hair aside, Jack Layton doesn't really appeal that much to me. I'm looking for a leader who can put forth a vision of federal policies that I can get behind, preferably one without enough baggage to make her/him unelectable.

Here's my dilemma. None of the three leadership candidates come close to that for me. I still see Michael Ignatieff as the candidate who endorsed the Iraq war and was willing to contemplate torture. Domenic Leblanc has done nothing to develop a national profile - and as my MP for two years, he did little to grab my attention at the local level. Bob Rae is by far my preferred candidate on most policy grounds - he seems like the most thoughtful, pragmatic and left-leaning of the three. But he is political kryptonite in Ontario - it's been 15 years since the famed "Rae Days" and I still hear union members and teachers speak his name with venom - and they are his supposed constituency in this province. The man is unelectable as head of the party - particularly if the economy stays in a slump.

If I were a card-carrying Liberal, I'd be beating the bushes for a wild card candidate. Rae and Ignatieff might be the preferred candidates for Liberal party insiders, but I think the party will be in for a tremendous shock when either one faces the electorate. I wonder what Lloyd Axworthy, Glen Murray or Peter Mansbridge are up to these days...

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

US Election - An Imperfect Night

I'm pleased that Barack Obama defeated John McCain and put Sarah Palin safely out of the line of succession. I'm pleased that there is a Democratic Congress and that Joe Lieberman can be shown the door thanks to a healthy margin in the Senate. I think that history was made last night when Americans voted for an African-American man for president. But amidst all this celebration, let's not forget that four states, including two that gave their electoral college votes to Obama, decided to express their viceral prejudice by attacking gay men and lesbians. Last night, Arkansas voters opted to ban gay couples from adopting children. Florida and Arizona voters decided to expressly amend their constitutions to ban gay marriage. But worst of all, Californians voted (by a margin of 52-48) to undo the marriages of thousands of gay and lesbians in the state who had got married in the last several months, after the state supreme court decided that excluding them from the institution of marriage was discrimination, pure and simple. I have friends who yesterday were considered married under California law - their marriage is no longer recognized by the state thanks to Proposition 8.

Civil rights are still an issue in the United States. While last night was a major victory, these results show that it is still considered acceptable by many to write prejudice into the constitution. Can Americans change this? I hope they can.

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