Friday, January 21, 2005

Harper's Wedge

Like George Bush before him, Stephen Harper has decided that gay marriage is the wedge issue he can use to pry ethnic communities away from the Liberal party. This week, he joins Catholic and Sikh leaders in decrying the impending gay marriage legislation, which should appear before Parliament next month. He's still frightened of the words "notwithstanding clause", of course, which he full-well knows is the only way of blocking these changes. So instead he speaks in vague terms about defending the traditional family, without outlining how, legally, he can do this.

It's an interesting ploy, to be certain. Recent immigrants to Canada are less likely to be supportive of gay marriage, according to recent polling data. But the question is whether this issue is important enough to them to make it the issue that they consider in the polling booth. I have my doubts. My anecdotal experience with friends (and their families) from ethnic minorities (specifically Asian ones) in Toronto is that they believe that homosexuality is a Western phenomenon, and one which does not affect their families. As such, they don't tend to view it, or gay marriage, as a threat to themselves. If asked point-blank about the issue, they might say that they oppose gay marriage, but it doesn't occupy their thinking most of the time. Harper will have to come up with other economic and social policies to make himself more appealing in the ballot box.

Going a bit further, if the Liberals, NDP and Bloc are able to spin this as being an issue of the Charter and the notwithstanding clause, the Conservatives are in trouble. It will not be difficult to paint an Western-centred party as one willing to override Charter rights - perhaps including a return to mandating school prayer, or to banning Sikh religious symbols from public areas. I'm certain that some juicy quotes could be dug up from their MPs from the not-too-distant past (or indeed, they could be instigated in the future).

Beyond these dynamics, I'm also not convinced that this is a seat-winner. If his aim is to appeal to Catholics, he's barking up the wrong tree. Most Canadian Catholics already disagree with the Church leadership on a number of key social issues, including abortion, homosexuality, women priests, etc. Harper is preaching to the converted. As for ethnic minorities, they tend to be concentrated in the cities, where support for gay marriage is at its highest levels. Liberal (or NDP, or Bloc) majorities in these areas tend to be so strong as to offset any voters he convinces with this scare tactic. I suspect that he stands to lose more voters than he gains on this, particularly in British Columbia and Quebec.

Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part. But if Parliament does indeed block the legislation, the fact remains that all but three provinces and two territories have legal gay marriage. It would be a nightmare for any government to try to overrule that. And that's even before you get into the question of federalism, if a Harper-led Conservative government tried to tell lovely-lefty Quebec that it's gay marriages had to be annulled. Now that would be a battle for the ages!

Recommend this Post

Monday, January 17, 2005

Tsu-tsu-tsunami and the Deserving Poor

Confession: I have to admit that for the past few weeks, I have had Canadian animated-pop band Prozzak's song "Tsunami" playing constantly in my head.

Disclaimer: The tsunami was a disaster, and international aid is needed to help its victims.

Historical Rant: I've been disgusted by the manner in which normally tight-fisted Canadians and other countries have been tripping over themselves to send money to cope with the tsunami. Every time in the past month that some megastar donated $1M, or $5M, or the proceeds of her Mother's Day concert, it makes the news. The last figure I saw from the Canadian government was $425M. Where are these people, governments, and their money when it comes to fighting AIDS in Africa or at home (not just to find a cure, but to deal with public education campaigns, to pay for drug treatment, etc.), to fight urban poverty here at home, or to deal with any number of other crises in need of funds.

Here's your history lesson. It comes down to the concept of the "deserving poor". When the Canadian welfare state (and that of other nations), was in its infancy - and we're talking pre-WW2 here - there were two categories of those in poverty, those deemed deserving of assistance and those who were not. The deserving poor included those with severe disabilities such as blindness, widows, young children. Eventually the elderly managed to get classified as "deserving". What this concept basically means is that one was in dire circumstances through no fault of their own, and that they could not be expected to pull themselves out of poverty without the aid of others. If you were an able-bodied man or woman, had contracted a disease through licentious sexual activity, etc. it was considered to be your own fault that you were poor.

The response to the tsunami disaster reflects the fact that these attitudes are still prevalent today. The victims of it were hit by a natural disaster, and thus no "blame" can be attached to them for their circumstances. That makes them the perfect recipients for the benevolence of governments and private citizens alike. Others in need, such as those I mentioned above, suffer from being not nearly "pure" enough in their misery, nor trendy enough, and get left behind. The worst excesses and downsides of the Protestant work ethic persist today, and judgement abounds. Welcome to charity in the 21st century.

Recommend this Post

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Waving the (Red &) White Flag

The flag controversy in Newfoundland appears to have blown over, as Danny Williams re-hoisted the Canadian flag over provincial institutions in the province yesterday.

There was a heated debate in the Globe & Mail last week between Premier Williams, Margaret Wente, and various readers over this issue of oil revenues and equalization payments. A host of different figures were thrown about, most of which pointed to the fact that Newfoundland has long been a recipient of equalization payments and other grants from Ottawa. The gist of the messages containing these figures was that it is not fair for Newfoundland to want to have its cake and eat it too, by receiving equalization payments after becoming a "have province". There is certainly room for debate on this point. This concept could be defended as being a means of helping Newfoundland truly recover from years of economic devastation, much along the lines of letting welfare recipients still receive some payments while they are getting started in new jobs. It could also be depicted as being pointedly unfair to the other provinces, which are getting no such special treatment.

An issue which is generally being overlooked here, apart from a few lonely voices on the letters to the editor page, is that Paul Martin promised this deal to Newfoundland in the heat of an election campaign, in an effort to protect Liberal seats there. To attempt to weasel out of this promise by arguing the logic/justice of his new position is disingenuous. He made the promise, and should in fact be held to account for it. I don't think he should have made the deal, and personally feel that some form of limitations should be imposed on it. But the fact remains that he did make this promise, and deserves to be flayed alive in the media for it. It is just very unfortunate that the manner in which Danny Williams chose to express his anger was to lower the Canadian flag. It might have been a gesture that went over well in St. John's, but it diverted Canadians' attention from the central issue of Martin's doublespeak. I think it is unlikely that this focus can be redirected back onto Martin now. More's the pity.

Recommend this Post

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

So, So, So What?

Welcome to January 5th, Day 48 of the SAQ strike. That's an awfully long time to go without quality wine and spirits. Well, if would be if this household had not arranged for four separate rounds of wine imports from Ontario. But I digress...

The workers of the Société des Alcools du Québec have lost whatever clout they did have over management, now that the Christmas season is over. There has not been an upsurge of the Québécois chanting "So, So, So... Solidarité". And it would seem that they overestimated what clout they did have, as the SAQ profits were apparently not hit nearly as badly as they feared. At this point, the workers would be lucky to get the same deal offered two weeks before Christmas, and extremely lucky to be offered another shot at binding arbitration.

For those not in the know - which is most of the population of this province, given the union's pathetic public information campaign - the key issue in this strike appears to have been hours and job seniority for part-time workers. Specifically, it seems as if SAQ workers can currently work in multiple outlets to accumulate their hours (and seniority, and presumably benefits). Management wants to move to a single-outlet system. A less contentious issue is that the union wants its full-time workers to be guaranteed at least one weekend day off. I can get behind this latter point, and I suspect that management could as well.

On the issue of multiple-outlet work though, I fail to see how the union thought they could rally public support behind this one. They are not complaining about wages - which is not surprising, as they are far better paid than their LCBO counterparts in Ontario, and earn much more than other retail workers in Quebec. So I don't understand how the union has managed to convince itself that these essentially unskilled-workers have any clout, let alone enough clout to tell the SAQ that they should not be allowed to follow standard retail practices.

The union is not going to win this one, and management knows it. I just hope that the union blinks before we get to Valentine's Day.

Recommend this Post