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Dear Premier Prentice;

I graduated from high school in Alberta ten years ago, and I am gay. I like to think there are more interesting things about me, but these are the relevant points right now. At my school, there was no such thing as a gay-straight alliance, but you might know that already – I went to the same private school as your daughter.

We’ve met a couple of times, not that I’d expect you to remember me – I gave you a demonstration at our school’s science night that you seemed interested enough in, given you were busy being an MP at the time. And I met you when me and two friends who are just as nerdy as I am decided to visit all the MP’s constituency offices in Calgary – you were one of two Members of Parliament that we met. You seemed … perplexed. I get that. I too would have been perplexed by the trio of youngsters who decided to spend their free time visiting politicians, had I been in your shoes.

You seem perplexed by the issue of gay-straight alliances now – and what you should do about them. You seem not to know if there’s a good enough reason to make sure that every student that wants to start a gay-straight alliance has the ability to do so.

I didn’t come out of the closet until the end of my first year of university. I didn’t feel that there was much support, or that I would have been treated fairly or with kindness, had I been open about my sexuality while I was in high school. I didn’t know what the reaction of my classmates would have been. I was scared, terrified, at being more of an outsider than someone who visits constituency offices for fun already is.

I know now that many of my classmates would have been supportive. I know them to be progressive, welcoming, and kind people. I think that had I given them the chance to accept me, they would have done so. Instead, I waited. I sat in the closet and internalized the darkness that surrounded me.

Kids do not get to choose what schools they go to. I didn’t choose to go to the school I attended. This is not to say that it was a terrible experience for me, and I still think I received an excellent education. But there was darkness. And there were times where I felt unbearably alone – that nobody I knew would ever speak to me again if I told my classmates who I was.

I’m still friends with many of them, and I know now that I was wrong then. What I wish, Premier, is that I had known then that I was wrong. I wish I had known then that I would have been accepted. I wish I had not spent so many nights in high school wishing and hoping that I wasn’t gay.

I want you to know that a gay-straight alliance would have helped me to know then what I know now. I want you know that some kid who you shook hands with a decade ago on science night would have been less afraid of everyone around him had he had that resource available. I want you to know that you have the power to help other kids that are in the same position as I was, kids who are surrounded by and afraid of people who would have accepted them, regardless of whether they go to a public school, or a Catholic school, or that private school that you chose for your daughter, and my parents chose for me.

You have the power to help. Isn’t that why people get into politics?

Sincerely yours,

Matthew Naylor

It’s been a long time
Now I’m
Coming back home
I’ve been away now…

Well, it’s been a while, again. I realized that I have been blogging, in my long form Facebook posts. They aren’t as in depth as the things I used to post here, but in the interest of keeping up the blog, I’ll be posting some of them here. To that end…

Ontario, Quebec sign deals on electricity, climate change

I’m a provincial autonomy and Section 92 kind of guy. I believe in the benefits of a decentralized federation. I think that there is much to be gained by allowing provinces to experiment with how they are going to fulfil their constitutional mandates. But things like this deal between Quebec and Ontario, and like organizations such as the New West Trade Partnership Agreement, illustrate to me a shocking lack of leadership on the federal level on things that the federal government is empowered to and best equipped to tackle.

Canada needs an honest and engaged broker at the federal level. It needs someone who can take the intentions of the provinces and coordinate them into something productive and useful: A National Grid, a national deal on Climate Change and Carbon Pricing, a deal on internal trade, proper management of water, better management of national rail networks, changes to agriculture supply management…

It’s 7:01am in Ottawa. Only 326 days to go until polls open.

To Jim Flaherty

Jim Flaherty, one of Canada’s longest serving Ministers of Finance, passed away today after a massive heart attack. He resigned just a month ago, being replaced by Joe Oliver. He had previously served in the Ontario PC government of Mike Harris. He was, by all accounts, a dedicated public servant. 

Unquestionably, he leaves a legacy that is to be lauded. He introduced the third Conservative balanced budget in Canadian history, the previous being introduced during the Borden government. After a rocky beginning in the post, during which he managed to unbalance the budget for the first time in nine years, he managed to steer the economy of a G8 country through the economic collapse of 2008. This was no small feat – Canada’s banks, which, along with our resource industry, make up a significant portion of Canada’s economy, were able to weather the storm in far better shape than any of their contemporaries. He orchestrated an economic stimulus plan that was able to stave off the worst potential impacts of the economic disaster.

During his later years at the helm of the Ministry of Finance, he started to put into place a plan that would, eventually (but has not yet, despite some perplexing media reports), lead Canada back to a balanced budget. He was a man that had many tough decisions to make, and he should be admired for the courage and strength that it took to make them.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr Flaherty. 

Quebec goes to the polls today.

The question I always have when thinking about the Quebec election is whether or not the province is going to be able to break out of the perpetual federalist-sovereigntist cleavage that it has been mired in for the past seemingly-forever.

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this election, though the untenablility of the current political system is becoming clear. The PQ are not an exclusively left wing party (and I present no further proof than the candidacy of PKP), nor are the Liberals an exclusively right wing party (as demonstrated by the continued loyalty of PLQ caucus alumnus Thomas Mulcair). This leads to a rather incoherent election campaign where parties do not have to present a unified or coherent strategy to the population without being first tested against their sovereigntist or federalist credentials. It, in effect, means that people have far less of an idea of what type of government they are electing than they by rights should.

I wonder if the only way that the province will be able to move forward politically is if some type of consensus is able to emerge that is able to protect and promote the distinct and different culture of Quebec as a part of a broader Canadian confederation. The party that seemed like it was closest to doing this in recent years was the CAQ, but it appears as if they, like the ADQ before them, will not be able to make the electoral breakthroughs that would be required to produce a durable shift in the electoral landscape.

As it stands, the most politically inept campaign that the PQ has run in recent memory appears to have doomed their government. A Liberal majority seems likely, and Philippe Couillard appears to be poised to become Premier. Then again, this is based on the interpolations of polling, and I have grown skeptical of the ability of Canadian pollsters to deliver the goods. Their recent failures in the BC, Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and Federal elections has made me wary. The nine point error in the BC election stands out – a similar error would transform a Liberal landslide into a PQ minority. Then again, they did get Nova Scotia right.

Best of luck to the Liberals and all federalist candidates tonight. Bonne chance!

This is probably not going to be the most popular of positions to take, so I want to make clear that I am stating this position independently of any employment or volunteer connections I have to anyone, in any way, for any reason. I’m basically yelling this from the vacuum of space.

There has been a minor kerfuffle about the Speaker and Deputy Speaker’s trip to attend a parliamentary conference in South Africa, to which they bought their spouses (spice?) along with them. Some member of the Press Gallery asked about the appropriateness of bringing a spouse along at the taxpayers’ expense. I would have much preferred the speaker to stick to her original response, and say that the expense was in line with regulations, and that she would be happy to bring the policy to Legislative Assembly Management Committee for review.

I don’t just think this policy is about people being “entitled to their entitlements” as Mr Dingwall so pithily and unhelpfully put. There should be a suite of policies in place to help foster a healthy marital life amongst our elected legislators.  There have already been some reforms. Night sittings have been abolished, and part of the justification for why question period has been moved to Thursday mornings was to allow MLAs to depart if travel times were significant.

Being an MLA, or anyone in elected office, entails sacrifices. Constant public scrutiny is only the beginning (though I suspect, for some more media friendly politicians, this is part of the draw). MLAs have low job security – they have to submit themselves to the will of the people every four years. They often make a salary that is lower than potential earnings in the private sector – I’m not saying that MLAs are not paid comfortably, but that they are sacrificing potential earning out of a desire to serve the public. They work long hours – in addition to the standard bevy of meetings and sittings of the House, there are receptions and events that must be attended, and even when out in the community, people will come up and speak about the province. They spend a significant amount of time away from home – as one Tory Cabinet Minister stated, “Perhaps being away during the week made it easier to not deal with problems. Before you know it the marriage seemed unsavable.”

“Perhaps being away during the week made it easier to not deal with problems. Before you know it the marriage seemed unsavable.”

All of these factors can put a significant strain on marriages. The problem is significant. Federally, the rate of divorced members of the house has risen to 85% in 2013. This has increased from 70% prior to the last federal election in 2011. This is several times higher than the divorce rate for the population in general.  I have been unable to find statistics for the provincial legislature, but I would imagine that similar percentages hold. Also interesting to know would be the number of politicians who have divorced during their term of office.

Divorce is not a pleasant experience to go through (he said, demonstrating the insight and ingenuity for which he has become known). There are real costs associated with divorce and marital strife to the employer of the divorcee. Seeing how we, as the people of the province, are the employers of our representatives, this should concern us. We will get less engaged representation and less effective government if the people who are filling these posts are not able to perform at their peak. Anyone who has known someone going through a divorce can see first-hand the impact it has.

The strain politics puts on a marriage is not an insignificant problem, and has been covered not only in Canada, but also the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Studies for the private sector indicate that for every dollar invested in marital health on the part of the employer, between $1.50 and $6.85 will be seen as a Return on Investment. This is money well spent.

This is why I find it so infuriating when the media gets its knickers in a twist about the expenses incurred by Speaker Reid and Deputy Speaker Chouhan. The spousal flight allowance is a perk, yes, but it is a perk that I personally believe helps make a difficult situation for a marriage to endure slightly more bearable. Assistant Speaker Chouhan alluded to this when “he said he wanted his wife to travel with him because they had been apart in the spring, during the provincial election campaign.”

MLAs do an incredibly important, incredibly demanding job. The level of expense scrutiny is not the same as it would be for a publically traded organization. I wonder if any of the people who wrote in to the editorial pages of the paper are invested in any publically traded company, say, through their pension plan. I wonder if they are similarly up in arms about company executives travel expenses. While the situations are not entirely analogous, I feel that the expense rage that has been whipped up is largely a spillover from the somewhat more reasonable but moreso badly handled Albertan scandal that toppled Alison Redford recently.

Reid and Chouhan have done nothing wrong in this case. It is entirely reasonable that spouses be allowed to accompany Members when they are travelling. The question is where to draw the line. Is $5,000 per year too much? Ten thousand? This is for the Legislative Assembly Management Committee to decide, and I fervently hope they err on the side of preserving a job benefit that makes one of the most difficult challenges of the job – the struggle of maintaining a marriage – just a little bit easier. MLAs make sacrifices to serve, and time with their families is one of those sacrifices. Their marriages shouldn’t have to be.

During the first half of the 20th century, any American in the South who wished to register to vote would have to come before the Board of Registrars. They would have to submit to the rules that were established by the local county electoral board, pass a literacy or civics test if the board deemed it necessary, and submit to a vote of the Registrars to approve their registration.

It seems like a simple enough process. However, this process was used to systematically disenfranchise black voters.

The purpose of the electoral board was not one of ensuring that as many eligible people were registered to vote as possible, ensuring maximum participation in the democratic process. Instead, the mandate was one of preventing the wrong kind of people from registering to vote. Byzantine and often capricious rules would be applied, inconsistently, and in clear denial of the constitutional protections that guarantee equal protection and application of the law.

Tragically, shockingly, depressingly, the same tactics are now being used in Quebec.

The leadership of Elections Quebec attempts to absolve itself of any responsibility by saying that the responsibility to pass judgement on the petitions for registration lies with the boards in the ridings, without entertaining the possibility that the boards in the ridings might collectively be engaged in actions that, when taken together, amount to voter suppression. A conspiracy to suppress the vote does not have to come from the top – indeed, it didn’t in the Southern United States. Corruption does not have to begin at the trunk and spread to the branches – the blight can begin at the extremities too.

The voter suppression in Quebec largely seems to hinge on the concept of ‘domicile’. This concept, which is outlined on the Elections Quebec website, seeks to ensure that only those who have their civil life within the province are able to participate in the election. While I have a problem with any restrictions beyond a residency requirement, the way the concept is defined, and the way it can be applied, can be incredibly dangerous. The concept is subjective – the idea that your civil life could be somewhere other than where you live is dubious at best – and if the Board of Revisors deems you to not be domiciled in Quebec, you have no recourse, no avenue for appeal. This is analogous to the literacy tests used in the South to disenfranchise black voters.

This parallel becomes all the more striking when you examine the capricious way in which the regulation is being applied. In an anonymous recording of an interaction with Quebec poll staff, one man who was trying to register to vote was denied because the elections staffer told him that if he had any doubt that the applicant was domiciled in Quebec, he did not have to register the applicant, without suggesting what additional documentation might be provided to prove his domicile. In a document issued by Elections Quebec, the subjective nature of domicile is clear. The document states “The more proof is provided, the clearer the person’s intention to establish domicile becomes.” There is no absolute way to establish domicile – no definite document that will concretely prove that a person is domiciled in Quebec, rather than merely residing there.

This is all in spite of the Quebec Civil Code itself, which states that “A person whose domicile cannot be determined with certainty is deemed to be domiciled at the place of his residence.” While this would suggest that the burden of proof would rest with the Board of Revisors to prove that the individual does not domicile where they live, the aforementioned document from Elections Quebec states that “It is up to the elector to prove change in domicile”, before going on to say that the board may deny to enter a person on the voter rolls if they do not fulfill whatever requirements the board feels like setting for them.

This situation is all the more infuriating because Elections Quebec seems to shrug off the actions of its agents as individuals each acting within their purview, without acknowledging that the sum total of these actions amounts to widespread voter suppression. It’s ironic that an organization charged with the administration of a process (voting) that only works by the cumulative individual actions of many disparate persons denies that the cumulative individual actions of Boards of Revisors in the ridings are adding up to a systematic disenfranchisement of voters to the distinct political advantage of the government.

To deny that there is a political motivation for the voter suppression is either incredibly naïve or disingenuous. These actions are being made to the clear benefit of the governing party. The Parti Quebecois made (anonymously) allegations that students from the rest of Canada were stealing the vote. They brazenly stated that there was a surge in Anglophone and allophone voter registration in certain ridings (as if this was some kind of problem in the first place), despite the obvious evidence to the contrary – indeed, in some of these ridings, the voter registration numbers are lower than they had been in 2012. The action was a cynical political ploy to stir up xenophobic fears while simultaneously affecting the disenfranchisement of a segment of the population unlikely to support the PQ.

Maddeningly, none of the articles that form the litany of voter suppression suggest there is any recourse. I would imagine that this could be resolved through the courts, but expect that the time remaining before election day and the legal costs involved would put this beyond the reach of many of the disenfranchised.

This absurd situation is undemocratic. It is unbecoming of Quebec and of Canada. It is an affront to our shared civil rights, and is a relic of history that should have stayed in the past.

For the last midterm elections, I had the very good fortune of being in Washington DC, for the Rally to Restore Sanity. After looking at the American thoughtscape over the intervening years, I can pretty decisively say that the Rally’s objective has not been realized, and sanity is all too rare a commodity in America. We now approach another midterm election, with the projected results looking rather bleak for Democrats.

In one of his first looks at the Senate races ahead, Nate Silver says that there is a reasonable chance that the Republicans could pick up six seats (plus or minus five), and the Democrats have reacted by simultaneously disagreeing with their chances, and asking people to donate in part because of the analysis as posted. As such, Nate Silver is shocked, SHOCKED, that there is hypocrisy in politics.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com says that it’s hypocritical to criticize his analysis that says that the Dems may lose control of the Senate, while asking people to donate because of what the analysis shows right now. I don’t really begrudge the DSCC that they are raising money off of the statistical analysis and simultaneously raising money off of it. Showing someone some numbers and asking for money is not a complete endorsement of those numbers – indeed, the Dems are right in saying that 538 got several Senatorial calls wrong last election, most notably Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Neither is Mr Silver’s analysis an end all and be all of the election – there is still a campaign to run, remember. They have candidates to recruit, they have money to raise, and there still have yet to dig through everything the Republican candidates have ever said (or wait for them to say something) that may swing the vote. The statistical analysis is based on the best information available at the time, with models that build in historical trends, but does not anticipate such things as the “legitimate rape” comments of the last cycle.

As a Canadian, I’ve watched the polls in the last several of our elections, and I have been flabbergasted as to the ability of polling numbers to move by staggering proportions during the active campaign period. In British Columbia, Liberals came back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to win a majority. In Alberta, the Wildrose rose and fell in spectacular fashion. Federally, the province of Quebec underwent an orange-flavoured sea-change within the course of a week. And in Quebec, (my now growing skepticism of polling in Canada notwithstanding) the Liberals appear to have made massive strides towards a majority government against their separatist opponents. In Canada, this short, active campaign is clearly delineated by the writ period. In America the period is somewhat more nebulous, but the fall campaigning season, after Labour Day, is a reasonable analogue. Within it, large and somewhat unexpected shifts can happen.

It makes the fundraising appeals by the Democratic Party all the more essential, and understandable. A week is an eternity in politics. There are a number of eternities to go until November.

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