Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vancouver Olympics Podcast for the "Intellectual Muscle" Series

And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion!

Back in August, I was invited to participate in a series of podcasts as part of the educational programming for the Vancouver Olympics. Entitled "Intellectual Muscle", the podcast series was developed in conjunction with VANOC, the University of British Columbia and the Globe and Mail. Over twenty universities are part of the series, which addresses themes related to sustainability, sport and culture.

My podcast - "They like us, they really like us!": Defining Canada through International Accomplishments - discusses on the the changing state of Canadian culture and national identity since World War II, with a particular focus on how Canada's governments have attempted to mobilize popular support around new conceptions of national identity, in an effort to develop national unity and pride. Of course, there are limitations to how much nuance I could incorporate into a 20 minute talk, but hopefully it will provide some interesting food for thought.

My podcast goes live today on the Globe and Mail's website, and will be up until the Olympics.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Canada Border Services - Arbitrary Censors Gone Wild

Canada Border Services is up to its old nasty tricks again, seizing gay films destined for Ottawa's gay & lesbian Inside Out film festival. All three films have been shown in Canada before, and two of them are rated PG. But CBSA is insisting that it pre-screen all three films, a process they indicate may take up to 4 days - the films were slated to be viewed this weekend.

This sort of arbitrary censorship has been going on at CBSA for decades. Years ago, when I was on the board of the Making Scenes film festival (Ottawa's previous queer film festival), we held a screening of the documentary "Little Sisters, Big Brother", which tracked the decade-long efforts of the Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver to fight against Canada Customs (now CBSA) seizure of its books. The courts sided with the bookstore. Back in the 1970s and early 80s, Canada Customs used to black out information pertaining to safe sex information because it was deemed pornographic - a thoroughly appalling practice in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Gay and lesbian bookstores and festivals face this issue all the time, and have ongoing troubles covering legal costs associated with gaining the release of their materials.

It's ridiculous that bookstores and film festivals are still having to go to court to have these materials released - and doubly so when the materials have already been shown in this country! Small, volunteer-run festivals don't have the resources for legal challenges; they can barely afford to pay for a part-time staff member. When their financial lifeblood - the films they screen - is seized, they risk financial ruin.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that sanity will prevail and that the festival pulls through. But given past experience with CBSA, I'm not counting on it.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Brunswick Sign Laws

In my various publications, I've often taken a fairly strong stance against some provisions of Quebec's language laws, particularly early versions of the Charter of the French Language which prohibited signs in languages other than French. So the announcement of a proposed new bylaw in Dieppe, the francophone suburb/co-city of Moncton, New Brunswick which would mandate that all new signs must be either bilingual or in French, is intriguing to me.

I haven't viewed the proposed wording of the new sign bylaw, and I'll be curious to see if there is any language about how prominent French must be on bilingual signs. However, my initial reaction to the bylaw is a positive one. I've never had any major difficulty with language laws that are additive - requiring that another language co-exist or be promoted. Where I object is when these laws cross over into prohibition - denying any right to use another language. The bilingual compromise being proposed by Dieppe seems to meet the bill. Essentially, the bylaw appears to require some inclusion of French on commercial signs, leaving it up to individuals to decide if they also want to include another language. For a community which has essentially become the urban centre of the Acadian community, this seems to fall in the category of positive measures to encourage the use of French, without denying the rights of other language communities to express themselves in their own language.

Of course, I'm sure that there will soon be outbursts of complaints about what the translation costs involved are going to be. I think these will be overstated. And in light of Moncton's shameful historic treatment of its Acadian community (see: Leonard Jones), some encouraging measures are needed.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Canada's Economic Action Plan: Now Creating Advertizing Jobs!

I guess this story can safely be placed in the "a braindead gopher could have foreseen that this would provoke problems" file. Not that I personally care all that much that an American company was contracted to paint signs to advertize the B.C. and Canadian governments' stimulus spending. But it's hardly the first time that this sort of issue has landed a government in trouble.

For me, the bigger issue is how much taxpayer money is being spent pimping "Canada's Economic Action Plan". I suppose it's creating jobs in advertizing. Why, between those ads and the "Save Local Television"/"Keep Cable Fees Low" spending spree, something like 50 short-term jobs must have been created, right? I mean, where else are those terrible actors going to get work? [/end dripping sarcasm]

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Senate Reform Proposal - Just for Fun...

Here's a Senate reform proposal - doubtless an unworkable one for many reasons. But I'm feeling perky today. I'll make a proposal, and you, my small cohort of readers, can pick it apart and improve it, because what else are you going to do on a Friday.

The EEEP! Senate (a variant on the Reform Party's Triple-E Senate)

110 Senators total
"E"qual representation - 10 from each province, 1 per territory, 7 "floaters"
"E"lected to serve 8 year terms
"E"ffective, and can alter/send back to the House all non-financial legislation
"P"roportional representation by province. 10% of the vote in a province gets you a Senator. The 7 floating seats are allocated to make the national total of Senators more closely reflect to the national PR vote.

Tear it apart, kids!

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Senate salaries - and other trivialities that Peter Stoffer is studying

There's a lot of idiocy to comment on these days in Canadian political life, and I'm too busy with work to deal with it all. But Nova Scotia NDP MP Peter Stoffer's "revelation" of what 27 new Conservative Senate appointees will cost in salaries and expenses if they serve their full term falls firmly in the category of pot-calling-the-kettle-black on the "wasting taxpayer dollars" front. All Senators - Liberal, Conservative, NDP - are paid out of taxpayer dollars. As are MPs. As are their staffs. As is the entire freaking bureaucracy. This is not news. And until we have Senate reform that is accepted by both the federal government and the provinces, I'd rather that the upper house not sit completely vacant, unable to carry out its responsibilities or represent the provinces it is supposed to serve. Moreover, assuming that days spent sitting in the upper chamber is the only thing that Senators do as part of their jobs is a classic example of setting up a straw-man argument.

Canadian Press, which wrote the non-story, at least isn't wasting taxpayer dollars by writing it. CBC, which decided to cover this non-announcement and waste time on it, did. So did Peter Stoffer, who clearly thinks this is how his time as a Member of Parliament (and the time of his taxpayer-paid staff) should be spent, also wasted taxpayer dollars preparing this media release.

If you want Senate reform, that's fine. But let's not pretend that whatever configuration a revamped upper house assumes will not also entail the spending of taxpayer dollars on salaries and expenses.

And let's also not pretend - even among NDP voters - that until the House of Commons moves to some sort of proportional representation system, that there aren't large swaths of the population that are extremely relieved that the Senate can slow down legislation rammed through a "majority" government elected with 39-43% of the popular vote.

ETA: In other conversations, I've been having, it's been pointed out to me that the NDP isn't in favour of Senate reform, but of complete abolition of the upper house. In that case, I will retract /some/ of what I've said about hypocrisy - but only in so far as it pertains to the cost savings of complete abolition. But let me make two other points here. First, I think the Senate serves useful functions. It does initiate legislation, and it does provide an important corrective to the wording/phrasing of bills. This is particularly important because often legislation is rushed through the House to serve highly partisan aims. Without having a reformed electoral system for the House of Commons, it's also the only check that we have on the false majority governments of the day. And I, for one, would be quite concerned about eliminating the upper house without reforming the lower one.

But my bigger concern is the way that Stoffer has chosen to go after the Senate. If the NDP has principled objections to the role of the Senate or the manner of its appointment, it should tackle them directly. Using the "government is too expensive" line feeds into a very nasty discourse, usually used by the right wing, about trying to eliminate all sorts of government programs and salaries/benefits for public officials. While the NDP may take issue with how certain spending is conducted, I don't think they'd be happy to see public health care eliminated on the basis of what doctors (or even better, nurses) will earn in their lifetime. Nor would they argue in favour of its abolition on the basis of what 27 Conservative citizens of Alberta could potentially cost the health care system over their lifetimes.

Or perhaps they would. But it's a dangerous tactic to start down the path of "government officials/programs are too expensive" argument. Therein lies building massive public support for deep cuts to most of the social programs that the NDP holds dear (as they should!)

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