Thursday, August 31, 2006

New Brunswick Election - Contacting the candidates

[UPDATED: 8:19 AM]
In an effort to grapple with some of the issues that matter to me in this election campaign, particularly post-secondary education, I have decided to try to contact the three candidates in my riding directly. Being the electronic age creature that I am, I figured that it would not be difficult to find email addresses for the three candidates' campaigns. I set about doing this early yesterday morning.

It would seem that I was overly optimistic. I managed to find a webpage for the Conservative candidate, complete with email address. Emailing both the head of the provincial Liberal riding association and the main campaign office, for which I could find addresses, produced a reply from main office. Unfortunately, the email address I was given produced an "Invalid recipient" response from the server. [UPDATE: I now have a functioning email address for the Liberal candidate.] I have yet to get a reply from the NDP campaign office.

I am being somewhat lazy, I will admit. I know where all three campaign offices are located in town (and I have a phone number for the Liberal one). But I did want to pose my questions in written form. It is not encouraging that the some of the campaigns don't seem to view electronic forms of communication with the voters as essential. I'll keep trying to get these addresses, and more importantly, some answers on where the parties stand on post-secondary education.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And then there were three - Tantramar candidates in the New Brunswick election

We now appear to have a full slate of major party candidates in Tantramar for the 2006 provincial election in New Brunswick.

The Liberals have nominated John Higham, former director of the Rural and Small Towns Program at Mount Allison University. So it would seem that all three candidates have a Mount A. connection of some form or another. None of the candidates seem to have their own webpage so far, outlining their particular issues for the election, but I'll be sure to put up a link if one does appear.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

New Brunswick Election - Day One

And we're off! On my way back home from the Hopewell Rocks with my in-laws yesterday, I noticed that the incumbent Conservative MPs from the Moncton-Riverview area already had some campaign signs up. Not a big surprise there.

And what about my home riding of Tantramar? Well, the NDP is the only party to have nominated its candidate so far, Virgil Hammock, professor emeritus of Fine Arts at Mount Allison. At the Bridge Street Cafe this morning, his supporters were wearing pieces of orange ribbon with "VIRG" on them. Hopefully something a little slicker is on the way. (ETA: As of Saturday afternoon, Hammock's campaign signs are up around town.)

No candidate has been named for the Liberals, although a nomination meeting has been slated for next week. To replace Peter Mesheau, the Progressive Conservatives are running Mike Olscamp, although there is as yet no biography for him on the official party website. A Google search on his name turned up the assistant coach of Mount Allison's basketball team - I will check up on that once the university is open again next week. The Conservative website is still rather spare in terms of its content - most pages are mere placeholders.

For the time being, I'm an undecided voter. It's pretty much a given that my vote will go to the Liberals or the NDP, but until I know more about the candidates, party platforms, and likelihood that strategic voting could matter in this election, my final decision is far from being made. I rather suspect that there will be an all-candidates meeting in town, and I'll try to provide some insights after that.

For now, it seems like gas prices are the big provincial issue, with much discussion over whether the province should be regulating prices, and what levels gas should be taxed at. While I think this will remain a key issue throughout the campaign, it's getting additional buzz right now because of the recent ten cent price drop at the pumps. I'm hoping that other issues like education funding, health care and car insurance prices aren't completely overshadowed by this issue which, frankly, the New Brunswick government has a very limited capacity to control. I'd like to hear what the various parties have to say about university funding, especially since the Harper government appears to be toying with reducing the federal role in this sector.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Margaret Wente is bad for my blood pressure

I think that the Globe and Mail might need to rethink its "give old editors a column" retirement policy. Like a rubbernecker at a car accident, I can't help myself from reading her column from time to time, and it seems to be getting worse. Perhaps she's choking on the fumes being emitted by her gas-guzzling SUV as she tools around Toronto thinking up ways to further deride public transit? That might explain her increasingly erratic columns (hidden behind the subscriber wall, but accessible through Google's news server).

This week, she's decided to beat up on the victims of AIDS, and come to the defence of groups like the Catholic Church (which she thinks doesn't get enough credit for running AIDS clinics in Africa. Clinics which, I might point out, wouldn't be nearly so necessary if the church hierarchy wasn't so virulently opposed to condom use), and the Bush administration (Quoting from today's column: I sometimes wonder why the protesters don't denounce South African President Thabo Mbeki the way they denounce George W. Bush. Sure, Mr. Bush is wrong about condoms. But it's Mr. Mbeki who's effectively killing people off.). This follows on Tuesday's column slamming the gay community, Canada's immigration policy and AIDS activist groups.

It's bad enough when she is essentializing how boys and girls learn in schools, and a "feminine" approach to education or attacking aboriginal studies programs, but her recent vitriol at the AIDS conference, and implicit defence of the opponents of condom usage is truly abhorrent.

[August 22 - ETA: Apparently, I'm not the only person who got upset by this column. Visit Wente Watch for a more thorough debunking of her column, and those that followed.

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Post-secondary education - consultations and evaluations

The state of postsecondary education is always of keen interest to me - it's my livelihood, after all. As we get ready to head back to the classroom, there are a number of interesting tidbits and conundrums floating about the news cycle.

First is the federal government's post-secondary education and training consultation which Paul Wells recently tracked down. To add my two cents to his, the complete lack of direction to the feedback form is rather disconcerting. Perhaps a question or two to guide the discussion would be useful? Maybe something along the lines of "Should the Canadian government continue to fund international Canadian Studies centres and scholarships?" or "Should the Canadian government reinvest in the Millenium scholarships?" or "What do you think the Canadian government should do to improve the pathetic per capita amount it spends on postsecondary education?"

Of course, this is more likely a code consultation for "Do you think that the Canadian government should abandon its involvement in post-secondary education, and return to a pre-Massey commission interpretation of federalism?" But let's hope I'm wrong.

Alternatively, we could look at this as the Canadian government's tribute to Mike Myers' old SNL character Linda Richman from Coffee Talk: I'm getting all verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. The Canadian federal government is neither committed to first-rate post-secondary education nor to consultation. Discuss.

There has also been a good amount of hubbub over the decision of eleven university presidents to boycott the annual Maclean's rankings of universities. Having attended or taught at universities ranked both high (Toronto, Mount Allison) and low (Ottawa) on past surveys, I think that the administrators are right to critique the methodology that has been used. It's remarable how even criteria like average class sizes or size of library holdings can be skewed to create a false portrait of a university. Past Macleans' surveys were interesting if you delved into the individual criteria and the raw data used to generate them, and I found the reputation categories to be quite informative. But as an agregate rating, there were major problems.

And with that, gentle readers, I should really get back to preparing my courses for this fall.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Renewing downtown Sackville

Well, it's taken them three days, but the CBC finally has an online story about the fire that destroyed several businesses and apartments in downtown Sackville.

Another building was torn down this morning - #8 York Street, which used to house the Wine Rack and a number of apartments. There is a gaping hole in the centre of Sackville right now, which is rather disconcerting.

I'm extremely curious to know what is going to be done with this lot. For the past year of living in Sackville, I have found it a rather depressing building. The Pirate's Cove restaurant, which was right on the corner, has been vacant for the past year - hardly the sign of a vibrant downtown business community. Indeed, downtown Sackville has been in need of some serious renewal. One of the other business premises that was destroyed was also vacant, having most recently been a tattoo parlor, and occasional art-show space. Three doors down, Remy's Bistro hasn't been open in the past year, and only had a bit of life recently as Domenic Leblanc's campaign headquarters. I have not heard ringing endorsements of the quality of the apartments that used to be in the destroyed Dixon Block either.

This could be a major opportunity for town renewal. There has been a drift of business out of the town core towards the highway, and it would be nice to see a town plan emerge to revitalize the town core, possibly with that lot as an anchor. Frankly, even a town square (for Christmas trees, etc.) would be a nice start. But there is a crying need for some improvements to the town core, and I am eager to see the town leaders try to make the best of a bad situation here.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Sackville Fire

Our little town was stunned by a massive fire last night, which destroyed several businesses and apartments at the main intersection in Sackville, on the corner of Main and Bridge streets. I expect that this will make the news on CBC and CTV shortly (their crews were milling about the intersection this morning), but in the meantime, there is good initial coverage and photos of the aftermath at the blog of William Wolfe-Wylie, editor of the Argosy, Mount Allison's student paper.

No people were killed in the fire, but a number of pets died, and the businesses at that intersection are destroyed.

UPDATE - AUGUST 14: I've noted a lot of traffic to this page from around the world from people who are seeking to find out more about the fire. Unfortunately, while this story has received television coverage on CTV and CBC, there is still nothing on their websites, nor on the Sackville town webpage. Your best bet for the most recent details on what is happening is to go to the series of posts from August 11th onward at William Wolfe-Wylie's blog. A site for relief efforts has also been established at Project Rebuild.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Where's a Scopes Monkey when you need one?

Because there isn't enough in the news to depress me, the Globe and Mail has this "fun" tidbit in their online edition today. Apparently, 39% of Americans believe that the theory of evolution is "absolutely false", and only 40% firmly believe in it. This compares to over 80% of people in France, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark who believe in evolution, and 78% of Japanese people.

Unfortunately, Canada was not included in the survey, conducted for the journal Science.

I don't understand how the scientific community in the United States can have so little influence. I suppose it makes the deference of wide swaths of the population to political leaders who wilfully ignore facts easier to comprehend, if scientists aren't even believed.

Honestly, 39%?! The mind boggles.

But then again, as Antonia Zerbisias recently pointed out, 30% of a sample of 1000 Americans polled by the Washington Post couldn't remember in what year the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre had taken place.

Someone please explain to me why education funding isn't at the top of every political agenda (especially in the United States) right now?

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A Big Blackberry Photo challenge!

Lawrence Martin caused a bit of a furore in the progressive blogosphere the other day with his column claiming that a pilot lost his job for insisting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper stop using his BlackBerry. For details, see POGGE, or Dr. Dawg, among others.

Sandra Buckler, Harper's communications director, replies to these charges in Martin's column today, claiming not only that it was a laptop rather than a BlackBerry involved in the incident, but that "For the record, the Prime Minister does not own a BlackBerry. He and his staff fully respect all of the rules of Transport Canada and all electronic equipment, including laptops being turned off before takeoff. I know of no dispute. I cannot speak to the motivations of the pilot."

So... everyone else in governmental Ottawa with a pulse uses a BlackBerry, but not the Prime Minister? Or is it that he doesn't "own" one himself, but uses a government-issued one?

Does anyone have a picture, say from the election campaign, of our PM using a BlackBerry? If you do, it's time to dig it out and post it for all to see!

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

And we're off! September 18th election in New Brunswick

Ending months of "will-he-or-won't-he", Bernard Lord has announced that he will ask the lieutenant-governor to call an election for September 18th.

Let the campaigning, fiddlehead-slinging and other such excitement begin!

If anyone with good (and free) online sources for campaign news can point me to them, I would be greatly appreciative. Most of the local dailies in this province are subscriber-only.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A New Brunswick election? An initial post on local politics

I have not, you might say, taken to my new province of residence like a duck to water - unlike the hordes of ducks, geese and other water-loving birds that are camped out in the Sackville Waterfowl Park less than 500 metres from my office. So you have been more likely to read my comments on what Dalton McGuinty, Jean Charest or Stephen Harper have been up to, rather than about the actions of my own Premier, media darling and shameless flirt with the federal Conservative party, the one-and-only Bernard Lord.

To be honest, I haven't paid much attention to provincial politics here, and I don't like watching the local news. The last time I did, the lead story was about how the government wanted local aboriginal bands to register their moose kills. The number two story was a Fredericton man who had gone walking in the woods behind his house and got lost overnight, but survived thanks to his faith in God. I have limits to how much of this I can take.

But lo and behold, it looks like we're heading for a fall election. We've heard this before, of course, since the government majority hangs on one seat, and the NDP are no longer a presence in the Legislative Assembly. But it appears that a Conservative MLA is about to step down because of a return to the private sector. Which one, you might ask, as I (to my great embarassment) did? Peter Mesheau, who happens to be the MLA for my own provincial district of Tantramar - a fact I had to look up this morning. So there is a local component to this race. Mesheau has been the MLA since 1997, but this is hardly a true-blue riding. It was Liberal for the period from 1987-97, and NDP in the 1982 election! A by-election is not necessarily a sure thing for the Conservatives, hence the talk of a general election, even though one is not due until next year.

So over the next couple of months, assuming we get the election call, I'm going to try to provide some coverage of what is happening in the New Brunswick election. Energy is sure to be a huge issue - our gasoline prices haven't been less than $1.00 per litre since I moved here a year ago, and they are currently much closer to $1.20. Heating costs are astronomical, which prompted the government to create a rebate plan over the winter. Another issue that has been dormant, but could easily be revived, is automobile insurance, which continues to be cripplingly expensive (as I discovered to my chagrin when I moved here from Quebec). Add in a mix of local issues, plus the usual bugbears of health and education, and this could be a very heated election. At least so I hope. We may end up waiting another year for the call.

Stay tuned!

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Vive le Montréal gai!

Two weeks ago, I posted about my experiences with Halifax Pride - an enjoyable, but still very small and community-oriented event. After the twenty-minute parade, the spectators quickly dispersed, and the city returned to its overwhelmingly heterosexual profile. To quote Seinfeld: Not that there's anything (necessarily) wrong with that. But it did serve to reinforce the fact that in almost all cities in the world, the gay population is a rather small fraction of the total. Outside of science-fiction films and novels, it's extremely rare to encounter a society where this is not the case; a "gay majority" never really exists beyond the gaybourhood/gay ghetto.

For the past two weekends in Montreal, however, it was almost possible to imagine a society where gays and straights were split 50/50 in the population. Host to both the annual DiversCité celebrations and the first ever OutGames (which included sporting events, cultural events and an international conference on human rights), the city was overflowing with gays and lesbians, and not only in the traditional Village along rue Ste.-Catherine, but also into the metro system and various other neighbourhoods. The number of people walking around the city sporting delegate badges (which entitled them to free transit use) was truly astonishing. For a few days, I felt like I had the tiniest sense of what it might be like to not be in the minority.

It felt good, and yet also reinforced the concerns and fears that come with daily life as an out gay man. Every time I engage in the slightest display of public affection with my husband - a quick peck on the cheek good-bye, for example - I am once again "coming out" to people, and reasserting my sexuality. Alone, I can "pass" for heterosexual if I choose to, but as a couple, even a casual walk down the street together can feel like an unofficial pride march, potentially (although rarely, thank goodness) subject to random negative catcalls from drunken teenagers in passing cars (and that's without holding hands). Even though I don't want it to be an issue, it is. We are far from living in a society where being gay is a non-issue. A few days in downtown Montreal gave me the briefest taste of what it might be like to not have my gayness be the first defining feature that another person would notice about me. I doubt that I will ever experience a society where that is in fact the case, but it certainly was nice to have a taste of it over the past week.

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