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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 2 October 2015

On Public Interest

Of course, making the country work isn't the point.  That's too much like committing sociology.  

The point is to win.  When you win, you can do what you want, and what you've done to win gets validated.  Everyone else is thinking the same thing, you know.  It's survival of the fittest - that's all the validation you need.

And because there's no such thing as society, there's no such thing as societal consequence.  Right?

Each to their own - that's all there is.

Why the Bloc Should Love Lynton Crosby

There's no magic in what Crosby does - it's just math.  What makes him stand out is his simple, calculated way of using wedge-politics on the "what matters to them" piece.  With political manipulators like Crosby, what matters is as much about what you fear as what you believe in.

Hence, the niqab thing.

It's blown up of late to become the latest defining issue in a campaign that's gone through several (Duffy, the Syrian Refugee crisis, etc).  It's also one of the least significant issues in Canadian politics right now - things like, I dunno, youth employment, the silver surge, mental health, our economy, etc. are kinda more crucial to the big picture.

Winning elections isn't about solving problems, though - it's about motivating people to vote for you and not vote for the other guy, with a sub-set of divide-and-conquer of the other parties and community groups.

People like Lynton Crosby aren't paid to worry about the big picture - their job is to get their people across the finish line with the most seats, period.

So, while the niqab issue is a tempest in a teapot impacting a fraction of a fraction of the population, the Harper Conservatives have managed to spin it into a fundamental test of Canadian values and whatnot.  It's demonstrably working for them.

The basic frame is this - covering one's face during a swearing-in ceremony is the moral equivalent of wrapping baby Jesus in the Canadian flag along with your passport, lighting everything on fire, putting the flaming bundle into a car with a cup of pee and driving that car into the War Memorial.

Shocking, ghastly stuff that stands against everything Canada stands for.

What people are really taking away from it, of course, is simpler and more emotional - them people that think differently and dress differently have something to hide, a secret agenda, and that's dangerous.  We need to push back.

It's firewall mentality; it's pure laine mentality.  It implies there is a set old stock Canada that people are yearning to desecrate; the only ones who can stop this tide and keep troubles from lapping at our shores are, you guessed it, Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney and the CPC.

There's clearly an appetite for this kind of message.  If the Tories can keep it up, they will effectively wash away the taint of the Senate Scandal and broader criticism of Harper's increasingly authoritarian rule.

Yay for Crosby; job well done, pay his fee and pour the Scotch.  His reputation as a campaign wizard remains intact.

The spin-off repercussions of this play aren't his problem; he collects his cheque and goes home.

Meanwhile, the pushing of ethnic/cultural issues to the fore of the election for wedge-political gain is pouring gas on already-existing xenophobic sentiment in this country.  CSIS itself has clearly stated that ISIS presents less of a threat to Canada than White Supremacists, yet pushing this button helps them to push their agenda as well.

Meanwhile, Quebec has a history of seeing itself as a culture and value-set under threat; language laws, religious garb bans, etc. have defined its relationship with Canadians as much as the separatist movement has.

By pushing the niqab issue into the limelight, Crosby and co. have reinforced the emotional narrative of values and community under threat by culture-usurping outsiders that clearly has some appeal inside Quebec.

That probably has something to do with the Bloc's bump in popularity, as they frame themselves as protectors of traditional Quebec in much the same way Harper presents himself as champion of Old Stock Canada.

If the Bloc sees this is working, they may very well double-down on Crosby's position to stir up more support for themselves.  For their part, Crosby and Team Harper should be delighted by this - a stronger Bloc in Quebec bleeds support potential from the Liberals and/or NDP, strengthening their lead.

It's a numbers game, remember.

What does a resurgent Bloc bolstered on a xenophobic message of foreign values and customs threatening traditional culture mean for Canada - especially with a wave of Syrian refugees, many who might end up in Montreal, on the way?

Who else might seize upon this carefully-constructed wedge-issue to push their own agendas which may not align with what most see as traditional Canadian-ness?

Again, none of this is Crosby's problem; he's just a hired gun.

It's the rest of us that will have to deal with the consequences of these short-sighted moves.

Thursday 1 October 2015

What Canada Should Be Ready For:

Look at this picture - what do you see?

I'll tell you what I see:

A wicked-smart, no-nonsense municipal policy advisor (and the genius mind behind CSLabs) elegantly raising points about the functioning of Westminster Parliamentary democracies and how we don't elect governments.

She's raising that point with an intelligent, informed panel put together by a remarkable think/do tank that is leading the way on two of Canada's current hot-button issues.

And all of this happening in a well-recognized Canadian institution - note the Sears name on the wall.

Smart people who understand how the system works and how the game is played dedicating themselves to positive solutions, and with the support of "old stock" Canada.

This election has largely been about emotions and emotional story-telling.  This picture mobilized the country (for a time) over an issue that has been going on for ages and shows no signs of stopping.

Scratch the surface, though, and a different picture emerges - the war room folk are no longer the only ones framing the narrative using data and behavioural economics.

The face of Canadian politics is changing; the power is shifting.

It is a revolution, of sorts, happening right out in the open.

So have hope, folks - winter is around the corner, but spring isn't far off either.

Canadian Winter

If Harper wins a Majority

Under our First Past the Post electoral system, a majority win for an incumbent party serves as both validation of everything they've done before and dismissal of any past sins.  As there's no way (other than polls, ahem) to know exactly what the electorate voted for or against, the incumbents can claim that Canadians like everything they have done, don't care about the scandals they have perpetrated and have flatly rejected the other parties and everything they stand for as dangerously risky.

Stifled Members of Parliament and Oppressing science?  Canadians are cool with that!

Partisan ads using public dollars?  Canada doesn't mind!

Senate scandals, PMO cover-ups?  Nobody cares!

Dangerously inexperienced young voices like Justin Trudeau's?  Gotta remind them where there place is.

Having a firm grip on power and validation for all the things they've done to stay in power, the Harper Conservatives will be justified in doing more of the same (because it worked); by the same token, the other parties will take a serious second look at the tactics used by Team Harper to win (because in politics, winning trumps values).

Meanwhile, barring some massive shake-up at the top, Team Harper will continue to look at the courts as an opponent to their agenda/straw man to use in getting their low- to middle-income base to place more of their hard-earned cash in the Tory coffers.

Picture less public and media access to a government increasingly comfortable in reducing transparency and doing what they feel they need to do without scrutiny.  Imagine even less useful data being collected for policy-crafting purposes, more Minister's Office pressure on the public service to tell only those stories that favour the Conservative narrative yet more monitoring of so-called foes of the public interest, including social justice advocates, First Nations groups, environmental activists, scientists, etc.

That would clearly be what Canadians want, right?

How might those Canadians who feel Harper's style of governance is increasingly anti-democratic and dangerous to Canada's public interest respond to this?  Ads in the media?  Those can be spun as union-backed attempts to undermine Harper's Canada's Government.  Critical pieces in the press? That damned media party again.  Protests?  Dangerous attempts to undermine the elected governing party at best, foreign-backed or infiltrated opportunities for civic unrest and cover for terrorist acts at worst.

Even if the government uses those lines strictly as pokes for fundraising campaigns, their loyal base will accept the emotional truth of these attacks and internalize them.  

I'd point out that CSIS feels that ISIS is less of a threat to Canadian security than domestic anti-immigrant groups, but hey - it's just the lefty media talking.

How about the political staffers weaned on the tactics and attitudes of the current crop of Harper cronies?  What entitlements will they feel are theirs for the taking?  What lengths beyond the norm may they go to so as to impress the boss and climb the ladder?  What of a caucus with little to do and, therefore, little sense of personal accountability?

The picture painted is a pretty grim one, but it's one we're rather likely to encounter.

It's not all bad, though.  

As we've seen already, an oppressive government with reduced capacity loses the ability to back its bluster with substantial action beyond turning off the taps.  Despite protestations that ignoring federal laws is not an option for the provinces, they're increasingly doing so anyway - and filling in where the feds have backed off on everything from healthcare to pension plans to boot.

Government can take money and charitable status away from advocacy groups, but they have a harder time impacting collective impact funding and grassroots-based initiatives that require only dedicated time and the use of free digital platforms to mobilize.  Beyond this, there's the growing movement of Virtuous Schemers working for the public, even if it means working against the government.

And all these groups are increasingly working together in coordinated fashion.

Despite the closing of Canadian government (and, to an extent, the Canadian mind), there is hope emerging from beneath the veil of Harpernian control. 

Harper promised us we wouldn't recognize Canada after he was done with it.  I agree - but I don't think the end product is going to be at all like he expected.

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Trudeau, Mental Health and the Public Service

Good for Trudeau (text from his letter below).

Sad reality is that a growing number of Canada's public servants don't have job stability or benefits (renewed contracts replacing permanent positions) and for those who do, the culture, accommodations and design of government work is sorely lacking.  The stress, uncertainty, low morale, unclear direction, conflict of what they're supposed to do and what partisan staff pressure them to do is taking a toll.  Presenteeism is rampant, as are prescriptions (and claims) for depression and anxiety medication.  

It's a problem the private sector is twigging on to and, in fits and spurts, taking steps to address. They have realized that saying "get over it" and punishing people with the cognitive equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome doesn't solve the problem, it only exacerbates it.  If the bottom line dictates better employee support, so be it.

Does it not make sense for government to do the same?  Should government not be leading by example?

Were I team Trudeau, I would talk about this a lot more in the coming weeks (and to a certain Trudeau advisor: I told you this was coming!); it's an issue that impacts Canadians at all levels deeply, ties into the values Trudeau speaks to and highlights the cognitive dissonance in Harper's stance on mental health vs. occupational mental health.

Sad part is, this could and should have been a win for Harper.  That's what happens when you're functionally fixed and unable to adapt though.

If the Niqab Ban is about Nothing to Hide...

Why?  Something about Canadian values, showing your face, nothing to hide, etc.

So the Conservative Party of Canada feels it is wrong for new citizens to hide their face while taking the public citizenship oath, yet have no problem hiding their candidates for political office from debates, the media and their constituents.

There's a word for that...

If I Was a Political Party...

... numbers like this could assure me a majority government!

I'm just happy to make a difference doing what I do well - public affairs with social purpose.

If you feel the same way, maybe we could make that difference together.

Craig Carter-Edwards
You rank in the top 36% for profile views among your connections.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Harper Shrugged

Better to batten down the hatches than try to impact the landscape, eh?

Harper is as close as Canada has ever been to a truly Objectivist Prime Minister (except for his crass partisan opportunism).  He's a tactician - but he's not so hot at seeing or understanding the big picture.

In multiple sectors, from foreign trade to international terrorism to climate change to the health of our democracy, he's selling out the future to serve the interests of the present.

He'll be long gone by the time the full impact reaches us, but that will be his legacy.

The Truth About Science

Love this.

Today’s announcement reminds us that we should make a choice to become more dedicated searchers, laying aside some other expenses to fund the exploration of the planets. The costs are considerable but the potential rewards are tremendous. We all have tools for raising awareness and promoting grassroots advocacy. Every retweet of a legitimate, interesting space science story potentially helps a little. Letters to representatives and government officials about the importance of national science and space program funding may help more, and votes for candidates who advocate peaceful space research are even more powerful. For the teachers, siblings, and parents among us, educating children on the history and wonder of space exploration paves the way for a society more appreciate of science’s benefits. A career in astronomy, research, space advocacy, or even exploration is the ultimate investment, a chance to become a pioneer in humanity’s first steps from this tiny planet into the vast, great unknown of a boundless galaxy. Whatever your contribution, I hope we bump into each other on the way to building a better tomorrow.

Behavioural Insights and the Niqab ban

Let's be clear - Harper did not tacitly say that he would tell his young daughter that women don't have the right to cover their faces, if that's what they so choose.  What he did say was this: 

In this, he makes a fair point.  Women should not have to cover their faces.  Women should be free to wear what they want, without forced impositions.  No man has the right to tell a woman that she cannot show her face.  No man has the right to tell a woman she cannot show a bit of flesh, if that's what she chooses.

Like this woman, for instance:

Trudeau had the right to take his picture with this woman, just as Harper did not.  Although Harper is running for public office to represent all Canadians, he's under no obligation to have his picture taken with anyone he doesn't want to. 

If Harper is uncomfortable being around topless women, he's under no obligation to do so.  Lucky for him, there aren't that many topless women kicking around, or he might end up being in their presence whether he chooses to or not.  Heck, if all women went around topless - as is their right - Harper might have pictures of himself taken with bouncing breasts everywhere he went, unless he decided to cloister himself in his office more than he already does.

It's okay that nudity makes Harper uncomfortable, just as it's okay and even understandable that some women aren't comfortable going topless in public, or showing their d├ęcolletage in general. 

Although he has the right to go around topless, if he so desired, Harper is under no obligation to, just because he can.  He's under no obligation to prove a point about his masculinity in the way, say, Vladimir Putin does.

Harper has the right to go topless, but not the responsibility to go topless.  It's not just about freedom of expression, it's about personal comfort and safety as well.

And we all know Harper's big on safety and security, right?

Harper probably would tell his daughter to respect her body; he may even opine that dressing suggestively could draw untoward attention that could put her at risk, or at the very least emotional discomfort.

What happens, though, if she goes out in public wearing regular, non-revealing clothes and gets cat-called anyway?

If he hasn't seen this video, I would recommend Harper give it a gander.

As a man known for avoiding situations that provide uncomfortable attention (like public meet-and-greets or media scrums), I'm sure Harper can empathize with this woman and, by correlation, all women.

Because this kind of untoward attention happens all the time.  Just because they are women.

Unlike Harper, women can't simply avoid public life to escape this kind of untoward attention. Ideally cat-calling, staring, etc, would simply stop happening, but that is unfortunately not realistic. 

So what can they do?

Do women have the right to cover their bodies - to dress conservatively, as it were - to avoid undesirable attention?

Of course, the woman above didn't go out of her way to dress provocatively; she did quite the opposite just to prove a point.  Some men are going to seize on what they can get to oggle; some will purposefully poke at women they feel are "teasing" them by covering up.

As the picture to the right demonstrates, you can dress conservatively and still show beauty to the world.  That shouldn't be a bad thing, but if it garners you undesired attention, you might opt to cover up further.

By the same token, it's not uncommon for people who don't want untoward attention to wear hoods that bury their faces; this provides the advantage of shutting the world out as well as keeping your face from being stared at.

It's a sad truth that young black males face an uncomfortable level of scrutiny just for being black and in public.  They can have done nothing wrong; they don't even need to be walking with "swagger" - they can simply be going about their lives and still get suspicious looks based on nothing other than the colour of their skin.

Is there much difference between choosing to wear a hoodie to block out unwanted and undeserved stares and wearing a niqab for the same purpose?

If so - where is it?

When you are constantly agitating on fears and threats and security of the state, it's easy to lose track of what safety and security means at the individual level.  In his personal and political narrative about troubles at shores, Harper is neglecting the personal freedoms and personal security of "those people" in Canadian society who are still marginalized by old stock Canadians for their ethnicity or gender.

Covering one's face isn't automatically a sign that someone has something to hide, any more than being a woman means you want to be cat-called or being a black man means you're about to steal something.

That's one side of the coin.

Veils can also be used to titillating effect; they can be a demonstration of power.  The woman behind the veil has the power to show what she wants, and force others to earn or wait to see more.  In the dance of the seven veils, the slow tease removal of the veils is erotic by design; instead of being a symbol of male suppression of women, the veil becomes a tool by which women impose their power on men.

Whether a woman chooses to bare her breasts because she can or as an expression of personal power, or if a woman chooses to cover her face for the same reasons, is it not  masculine oppression to deny her the right to dress and express as she pleases?

Let's give Harper the benefit of the doubt and assume that the whole niqab-thing isn't just a distraction from Canada's faltering economy/dwindling reputation on the global stage/Duffy scandals/etc.  Let's assume this is something he actually feels strongly about.

If that's the case, it stands to reason that Harper has let his personal feelings, personal values and personal fears dictate what constitutes freedom for women.  It's a bit of government forcing its way into the garments of the individual.

Which is the kind of oppression our freedom and personal choice-loving PM should stand against.

After all, if it's not a man's place to tell a woman she must cover her face, it would stand to reason it isn't a man's place to tell her she can't cover her face, either.

The day may come where Harper's young daughter makes clothing choices that he does not approve of - to wear a veil, or to show a little bit of skin.

The real test of his values will be what he says in that moment.  

Let's hope he remembers which Canada he lives in.

Monday 28 September 2015

O3 - the Red Pill for Canadian Democracy

Take the blue smartie and this life continues forever and ever.
Take the red smartie, and I show you what progress really looks like.

If you've been frustrated with the current federal election, take heart - you aren't alone.  More and more people feel like Canadian politics is a closed box, and that citizens are little more than human resources whose purpose is seen as feeding the machine.

What if I were to tell you that this paradigm is changing?  

That the traditional hierarchy of government is being disrupted from without and from within?

That right now, in this very election, citizens have the power to shape the future of our country in ways never before imagined?

We've been living in a dream world, under the enforced illusion that only they have the power to keep our country from capsizing on troubled shores or sinking from a thousand leaks.

If you want to stay frustrated with the system and remain comfortably cynical, tune out.  Walk away.
                                                    There are many that want you to walk away.

If, on the other hand, you want to know what O3 is, click here.

Remember, though - we're only messengers.

Where we go from here... well, that choice has always been ours to make.

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