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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 9 October 2015

Political Irony in Canada

This man is Canada's Prime Minister.  He's supposed to be Unifier in Chief, the embodiment or at least the public-facing representative of Canadian society.

He's been pushing the "troubles at Canadians shores" narrative for quite some time.  It's ISIS, not CSIS, he tells us, that we should be afraid of.

Meanwhile, CSIS has been telling us the greatest threat Canadians face isn't ISIS, it's home-grown terrorists.

Not doing so hot in the polls, Harper calls in a foreign campaign fixer, this guy:

This foreigner, invited at the behest of the Prime Minister to do work that, frankly, could be done by a Canadian, takes a hard line against Mulisms in Canada, identifying them as the boogeyman Canadians fear most.

The niqab thing.  The niqab thing escalated to the civil service.  The tip-line thing.  The shenanigans around allowing refugees in.

There have been consequences to this, including niqab-wearing women being attacked in Montreal and Toronto and most recently, my friend Farah Mawani suffered a verbal onslaught of Islamophobic remarks.

Which kinda feeds into CSIS point, doesn't it?

In response to this attack @WiTOpoli creates a hashtag, #countrywewant, as a positive counter to the negative attacks and repercussions of the Team Harper strategy.

This grassroots-led move goes viral.  Media personalities, celebritives, community members, even party leaders like Mulcair and Trudeau get on board, sharing their visions of what Canada is rather than what it needs to be defended against.

And at the end of the day, this picture emerges:

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This woman is standing proudly in front of the Canadian flag, a new Citizen able to vote for the first time in this election.  She has won the support and admiration of countless Canadians, become a cause to rally behind.

This image should be something Harper and co can use to conjur up fear.  Instead, it becomes a symbolic moment for Canadians stepping up for their individual freedoms against a government who, once upon a time, was all about individual freedoms.

Poetic justice, indeed.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Nation Building

Why are the NDP bleeding support?  They've strayed from where they were in the quest to solidify centrists votes; their base feels uprooted and everyone else sees the NDP as a policy tumble weed.

Why have the Harper Conservatives been able to grow?  For starters, they have never abandoned their base, which means their floor has never lowered.  Their roots are deep and the party ain't shifting ground.  

More than a couple positions that keep their base rock-solid, however, are anathema to voters on the other end of the spectrum.  You can't be all things to all people, but you can't win majorities off of your base alone.

So Team Harper has perfected the art of the wedge-issue, essentially side-stepping substantial policy challenges and appealing to people's baser instincts.  You can be a left-leaning, pro-separation Quebecer but hey, if the niqab/scary Muslim things makes you skittish, you might just base your vote on that alone.

That's what modern politics is about, after all - adding just the right pieces to your narrative to expand your coalition into the small percent of non-locked voters to form a majority.

While Team Harper is mighty effective at this, the consequence of their wedge-issue mentality is an increasingly divided, embittered and angry country.   Anger is better than confusion for gaining support - it's so clear, so motivational! - but it's a dangerous state to keep a nation in for long periods of time.

If not anger and wedge-issues, though, how do you add enough support to  your coalition to win? More to the point - how do you not push the short-term effective, long-term destabilizing anger-button when the other guys are doing so and clearly benefiting?

Is it possible for a party to win a big enough coalition with aspiration instead of instigation?  How could you effectively communicate such a message to the niche groups you need to win?

There is a massive difference between winning power and nation-building and increasingly, it's hard for Canada's political parties to play that role - a role they were never intended to play, anyway.

Perhaps the question needs to change.  Instead of parties asking what does it take to win, we should all be asking where do we go from here?

#countrywewant ((#MyCanadaIs A Place to Belong)) UPDATED

Diversity is strength.

It's true of genetics and it's true of society; the more variety you have, the more opportunity you have. Diversity of tools, ideas, voices and perspectives brings more options to bear in problem-solving and increases capacity to adapt and resiliency in the face of change.

The Canada I know is not one that fears troubles at our shores, but embraces our ability to make a positive difference in the world.  Whether it's fighting for the rights of people to be different against Nazi Germany or in the Bosinan War, or providing medical and political solutions through groups like CISEPO, we're always ready to dive in and help as we can.

The Canada I know never shies away from a fight, but excels at crafting alternatives.  Whether we're nudging for the end of land mines or crafting new ways to keep the peace so that dialogue can occur with Peacekeeping, Canadians are a creative lot that prioritizes solving problems over ending people.

Why are we so ready to make sacrifices and share our resources and ideas with people who live across the world?

Canada is an idea, a vision of what the world can be.  

We are a nation of communities based not on an ancestral lineage or a culture carved in stone but on the idea that diversity is strength.  And when dream and share and build together, even the sky doesn't limit us.

What makes Canadians different is that their differences are celebrated as opportunities for understanding, not rejected as threats to a mythic stereotype.

Canadians recognize with pride and humility that ours is truly one of the best places to live in a world where far too many of our fellow human beings live in poverty, bereft of opportunity, bereft of security, bereft of hope.  We choose to help others out of a sense of human responsibility to help others achieve what we can too easily take for granted.

Canada is a country that is proud of its role as a safe-haven, whether to refugees from war-torn countries or to planes thrust into the chaos of 9/11.  I'll say this again - Canada is proud to open its doors and provide shelter, even a home to those in need.

Why?  Why are we not afraid of the wily schemes of Machiavellian foreigners?

Because we are so confident in what Canada stands for and how we, as Canadians, embody that belief in our daily lives that fear is unnecessary.  Canada was made by people of different cultures, languages, customs and world-views, and that diversity is what makes Canada great.  Canada is a celebration of the possible.

How can you be every day in a place like this and keep maliciousness in your heart?

Canada is a place of refuge.  It's a celebration of humanity at its best.

Canada is more than a place to live - it's a place to belong.

UPDATED 9/10/15

Illustration by Terra Loire GillespieBased on our growing concern, and spurred by my experience with Islamophobia on Tuesday, Women in Toronto Politics released this statement today, and launched a #countrywewant campaign. 

Please read and share our statement and graphics (one included below), and join our discussion on Twitter and Facebook to share YOUR vision for our country!

Farah is a friend from the Centre for Social Innovation and someone that works actively for the betterment of our country and all people in it.

Her #countrywewant campaign with @WiTOpoli has taken off, and for good reason - Canadians are tired of division and a focus on the past and want to work together right now to ensure a brighter future for all.

Please support her campaign and share your thoughts on what the #countrywewant looks like now and down the road.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


What bothered me the most when I read this today wasn't what you might expect.

Yes, the racist tone was troubling.  Of course, the very notion of diversity making someone feel uncomfortable.  Above all that, though, the darkened view of Canada it presented doesn't reflect the reality I know, at all.

That impression - a country full of fear and bitterness and closed doors - it's boring.  No one can be curious, or experimental, or innovative in that world.  There's no fusion of art and ideas and culture and genes in that world, which doesn't give it much room to grow.

That's not the Canada I know.

From my years growing up in Cornwall, Ontario through trips across the country and experiences living in places like Peterborough, Ottawa and Toronto, the Canada I know has always been one that embraces, celebrates and benefits from the sheer variety that Canada represents.

Everyone has their own unique take, and those takes are sometimes at odds, but fundamentally Canada is a place of the possible.

My Canada is richer in colour and texture than narrow biases and closed doors.  My Canada is a celebration of collaboration, fusion, diversity and play.

Which is why my Canada is so creative, so innovative, so world-leading on ways few notice, but everyone feels.

In taking with a couple folk (Derek Alton and Joanna Reynolds in particular) I felt that, as there was no real narrative to counter the emergent bigotry surfacing this election, it was important that someone do something to represent the view of Canada I know and so many Canadians celebrate with me.

It was important not to feed into the existing narrative - there's too much "stand against" out there and I didn't want to feed into it.  What I wanted was an opportunity for people to share what they love, what inspires them, not what they fear or are frustrated with.

Hence, #MyCanadaIs.

It's just a hashtag; there's no carefully-researched and focus group-tested narrative behind it, no organized team of promoters selling the concept or pushing people to jump on it.  There's nothing stopping people from twisting the intent into something more like the article linked to above.

A risk, maybe, but one I'm willing to take - because I believe that Canada at its best is the best of everywhere else, and because I believe in Canadians.

So have at it, folks.  Tell us what makes Canada special to you - a place, a face, a story, a community, a tree, even cat photos.  Canada is the story we tell together, and there's no pre-ordained formula for what the bigger narrative looks like.

Canada is what we build together.

With that, here's a tweet for you: 

#MyCanadaIs what we build together, which is why it's awesome.

There's room in that Canada for everyone - spend some time with us and I know you'll want to be part of that action.

When did the Right stop standing for freedom?

Understanding is the path to enlightenment:

Fear leads to the opposite.

The New Canada: Free to be, Just Like Me

Either Karen Selick didn't get the memo that the CPC is focusing in TTP, or this is actually something that's been eating at her - demonstrating just how effective a wedge-issue Lynton Crosby found with the niqab.

Let's unpack what she has to say a bit, shall we?

"Employers may be forced to hire niqab-wearers... even though our natural inclinations might be to avoid such applicants."

This is perfectly logical and rational, right?  If you're going to be working with someone, you want to be comfortable with them, right?  You need to know that they think like you do, that there's no chance of any awkwardness that detracts from the bottom line?  It's not enough to weed out the people who's names you don't like on CVs, you need to freedom to exercise the same discretion in person.

Whether it's a woman wearing a niqab, a man with black skin, someone who's got a tattoo, or is in a wheelchair, or is gay... if they make you feel uncomfortable, you don't have to give them your money. Or let them in your store, for that matter - it's yours, right?

If we are landlords, we can be forced to rent premises to niqab-wearers, even though we'd rather shun them.

Consistency of language here - natural inclination... would rather shun... we're talking about emotional reactions.  Like feeling anxious at Pride parade, or worried the black boy on the subway probably wants to rob you or is carrying a gun.  Our feelings are our instincts and, rational actors that we are, our instincts are what matter most - right?

They can hold their employers, their landlords, their storekeepers and their garage mechanics in contempt for not sharing their religion, while nevertheless forcing all those people to deal with them and conceal their own antipathy towards face coverings.

Indeed.  By simply being themselves in public, they are expressing contempt for everyone else.  It's the same thing with those gay people holding hands, mocking the natural order of things, or groups of young coloured kids, clearly relishing the discomfort they cause the Karen Selwicks of the world.

And if a store keeper feels that the South Asian kid coming to buy a guitar from them is just scaring away real customers, it's okay for them to kick those people out, n'est ce pas?  Or if it's a man with cerebral palsy - he just makes everyone feel uncomfortable, and clearly someone like him can't be buying anything, so out the door he goes.  Heck, you could even extend the argument to people with positions you don't like - if you don't like what they have to say, you should have the right to exclude them, too.

(Sidebar: Of course smoke breaks are okay - it's not the same at all as alleged Muslims allegedly praying during the work day; it doesn't feel like the same kind of productivity loss as a costumed freak bowing to the floor.

The point here is that employers should have the right not to hire people they find undesirable. Business owners and landlords have the right to reject people that "make them uncomfortable".  Really, people on the street (the majority, obviously) who don't like to see women wearing niqabs, or men wearing thawbs, or girls or boys holding hands and kissing on the street, or groups of brown kids together, or black boys in general - it's their right not to be exposed to any of that, right?

That whole "judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" thing is just one of those socialist impositions to the free will of rational actors, eh?

Heck, if I as a man feel that women are too emotional to make good executives, or politicians, or columnists, that's my call too.

Selick's bottom line is this: 

It's a pity I'm not legally free to act upon my conviction and show niqab wearers by my conduct towards them what I expect them to do in order to gain my acceptance.

Gain her acceptance.  Not add value to society, not be good citizens, good neighbours or any of that - gain her acceptance.  Be accepted into the club by the Old Stock members.

Except does Selick qualify as an Old Stock Canadian?  Almost as justification for her position, she tells us about her immigrant Jewish grandfather:

There were no phony human rights laws back then, so he did what most Jewish (and other) immigrants did in order to become accepted in society: he assimilated and conformed to Canadian customs.  He adopted an anglicized surname for a while.  He worked on a farm and even went to church with the farm family to avoid being conspicuous.

Take note, immigrants - don't come here expecting to apply your degrees and ideas to new tech, economic development or social solutions.  Especially if you aren't willing to adopt standards Canadian dress, values, religious practices, etc.  If you won't be like us - if you can't be like us - you're not welcome.

And if you're from Canada?

See, Desmond Cole and his family are black.  It matters not what their education, social contribution or whatever is - the pressure is on them, as black people, not to draw negative attention to themselves from the people who's natural inclination is to dislike black people.

This isn't systematic racism or oppression, of course - it's freedom of expression.  For real Canadians, anyway.  The ones with proprietary ownership of what it means to be and sound and think and look like a Canadian.

Not First Nations - they're the minority, they have to get over the whole colonization thing.  The residential schools were probably the best thing that happened to them, because the goal was forced conformation.  

Not "minority" Canadians like Chinese, or Somali, or Jews - it doesn't matter how long their families and communities have roots in Canada, if they make the garage owners and landlords and lawyers like Karen Selick feel uncomfortable by speaking a language "the majority" can't understand or wearing clothes that don't conform or heaven forbid, aggregate in imposing groups, they are actually impeding the freedom of comfort of the "majority."

What else?  What other people, or perspectives, make Selick feel uncomfortable?  Poor people on the street?  Environmentalists?  Tree-huggers?

And if you can't gain the acceptance of people like Karen Selick... well, there should be protections for their freedoms from stuff like that, right?  

If she's a legit lawyer, Karen Selick has some education.  One would hope she has some inclination as to why we have certain laws and the context in which those laws were created.  She makes it clear, however, that her feelings - her discomforts and antipathies and natural inclinations - are her compass, not her training nor logic.

The sad truth is that Karen is a moderate voice for a seething underbelly of hatred in this country.  

Racism became a prominent, ugly feature of Toronto's last election, in no small part due to the legitimacy then-Mayor Rob Ford gave to being openly bigoted.  We're seeing more and more manifestations of this in places like Montreal and Toronto.

There's an uncertain economy, legitimate foreign conflicts fought by groups claiming ethnic and religious legitimacy (though it's the White Supremacists CSIS says we should be worried about, until a political staffer starts telling them to change the emphasis of their reports).  There are lots of reasons for people to be scared, to be angry, to be uncomfortable - and to look for someone to blame.

Instead of calling out some of the comments coming from his supporters as unacceptable, Team Harper has actively fanned the flames of hatred - the niqab, "barbaric practices" tip lines, etc.

When it's all about winning, you go with what works, right?

Karen Selick is, by her own definition, a bigot.  She focused on the niqab but, through the course of her piece, she emphasizes that which makes her feel uncomfortable as bad and conformity as desired.  She can justify to the ends of the earth why she's right, though much of her arguments would focus on proving you wrong rather than discussing context.

Finding solutions, adapting to change - these aren't her priorities.  Being right and being comfortable are.

There's an increasingly high level of cortisol in Canada, and it's not being addressed.  Instead, political opportunities are pouring gas on the problem with wedge-issues they know will serve them well.

This, sadly, is how it begins.