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Another Remembrance Day has come and gone, and hundreds of thousands of people gather at cenotaphs and memorials across the country to hear the well-worn words of “In Flanders Fields” echo mournfully out across the assembled crowds.

That poem, more than any other single thing, defines my experience of Remembrance Day. This is itself easy to understand – I don’t think there’s any other single piece of Canadian literature that is so thoroughly instilled in schoolchildren. I think I may have had to recite it on no fewer than four occasions, including once in French. I know I had it memorized by the time I was ten.

The poem is not a call for peace, and I can understand how some find it jarring. It is, unequivocally, a call to war, while at the same time recognizing how terrible war is. You cannot hear the mournful words of the dead, bemoaning that they so recently ‘felt dawn, saw sunset’s glow, loved and were loved’, without feeling a profound sense of loss. They had a good life, and it’s gone now – they have sacrificed it so that the rest of us might have a chance to not only live, but live a life where we too might love and be loved under the waning rays of the Canadian sun.

In Flanders Fields is indeed nationalist. I’ve heard the poem recited in other context, including an bizarre version done by Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang in which the call to action is omitted, but it loses its meaning. The sense of loss is tied to obligations – we have ‘to take up our quarrel with the foe’, lest we betray the sacrifice they made in our service. It is a poem of collective responsibility in service of the greater collective, one that at once mourns the honoured dead, and demands the same sacrifice of each and every one of us in turn.

Americans have a similarly poetic piece of literature – The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s second best speech touches on so many of the same themes, and I personally like to see the address as a Star-Spangled expression of the same thought. They both honour the dead (or honor, if you prefer), but they both demand that those they left behind ‘take up the torch’ , as it is ‘for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced’.

The two works illustrate the differences in our national character. While the Canadian loss is of, as mentioned previously, the life they lived, the American bemoans the failure of his state to live up the ideals of their forefathers – that a nation ‘conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal’ might yet have unfinished work to do. It is the very difference between ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ and ‘peace, order and good government’. Whether its at Gettysburg or Guillemont, Petersburg or Passchendale, Vicksburg or Vimy, there was an undeniable sacrifice being made in the service of a cause and a way of life.

I like to think I live up to the words of In Flanders Fields when I wear the poppy on my breast. I do my best to remember and to consecrate the sacrifice that those who fought in muddy fields across the ocean made on my behalf. I do this with the fullest knowledge of the horrors of war that someone who has grown up in peacetime and has never seen combat could have, which is to say – not that much. I like to think that I can banish from my thoughts any sense that war is the means by which glory can be won.

William Tecumseh Sherman said that “War is hell”, and I believe him – he was there. However, were it to come to it – a true existential threat to my country – I hope I would be ready to take up the torch, to not break faith, and to let those who have fallen sleep beneath the poppies.

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I received a message* from Marc Garneau yesterday about his proposals to reform the party and the democratic processes thereof. It was headed “This isn’t working”, which I thought was a somewhat poor choice of words, because without context it seemed like he was referring to his leadership campaign. Now, while I think that it is important to improve the democratic structure of our party, I disagree with how Mr. Garneau intends to do it. In his letter, he included three points on how to return ‘decision-making to the grassroots – our local riding associations”.

The first two points are almost entirely unobjectionable, but they need further definition. In his first point, when Mr. Garneau says that he is going to hold open nominations in every riding, does he mean that the party members will be able to vote, or will he be pushing for the extension to the riding level of the supporter system adopted at the January 2012 convention? He doesn’t elaborate, and the point is so vague to be effectively meaningless. I wouldn’t disagree with the impulse to hold open nomination meetings for any supporters resident in the riding, and I supported the same at the convention. If he is serious about the proposal, he needs to clarify what exactly is meant by an open nomination meeting, and who would be entitled to vote at that meeting.

The same can be said for the second point, which effectively is “I won’t appoint someone. Unless I have to. But I’ll be sure to give you a phone call first.” I hesitate to call this point a proposal, because this is effectively the situation that we have right now. The disincentive for a leaders to appoint a candidate is currently strong – riding associations are wont to resign in they do not feel they have been consulted. So far, I haven’t been won over by Marc’s bold new vision of the status quo.

The third point is where everything goes off the rails for me. While I am aware that it can be frustrating to see the hard earned cash for your fundraising efforts be sucked up by the national party, I think we need to remember that we are indeed a national party, trying to win a national election. There are some seats (Calgary Southwest comes to mind) where there is little point in spending money, but where large amounts of money can be raised. If we are not going to redistribute our party funds to target seats where we actually have a chance of winning but are not guaranteed a blowout, we are doing very little to advance the cause of national Liberalism, and much to promote a regionalized and fractured party comprised of private fiefdoms that has no chance of winning a national election. Growing back from our string of defeats is going to be difficult, and it is going to require a national effort.

*My computer attempted to autocorrect what I had originally written to ‘massage’, which would have been notable, to say the least.

Adrian Dix recently said that if he raises taxes on personal income in the event that he becomes Premier, it’s going to be Christy Clark and the BC Liberals’ fault.

Dix says B.C. high-income earners can blame Liberals for possible tax increase

I honestly don’t know what to say. It’d be hilarious, if it weren’t so damn aggravating. Sometimes statements are so far out there that the obvious intent becomes difficult to grasp.

Governments make choices. If Mr. Dix, in his hypothetical Premiership, wants to spend more than he’s taking in, he is the one who is responsible. It’s really quite remarkable to see someone try to blame their predecessors before they’ve even been elected.

The Liberal Party of Canada, that venerable institution, is at a crossroads. It has to not only select a new leader, but also rebuild a shattered organization that leaves it with little institutional heft outside of the traditional Toronto stronghold.

I believe that the purpose of a party is more than a collection of policies. It is a way of thinking about the challenges that confront a country. No party can turn back time; our ever-forward trek presents us with new obstacles and challenges to overcome. The purpose of a party is to chart a course over, under or around these obstacles using the particular tools that it has in its ideological tool kit. It is in the overcoming of these obstacles that we can achieve greatness.

The purpose of the leader is to build a team that can deploy these tools with skill and guile, and to make convince Canadians that our strategy is one that will benefit them, their families, and their communities both now and into the future. I have faith in the ideological underpinnings of the Liberal Party of Canada. I think that an open, generous, responsible and intelligent party that bases its decisions on evidence rather than ideology is exactly what the country needs. I want a leader that can apply these principles to maximum effect.

I believe that leader is Martha Hall Findlay.

Martha is a politician with guts. She has the courage to take positions that are right even when they are unpopular, and the skill to engage Canadians in such a way as to convince them of the merits of those positions. Canadians admire principle and respect conviction, two traits which Martha has in spades. She has experience running large and unwieldy groups of people, and if large and unwieldy doesn’t describe the Liberal Party, I don’t know what does. She has the talent to combine the aspirational and the educational roles of a party in a way that will make Liberals a force to be reckoned with.

There is always the elephant in the room – why not support the frontrunner? Frankly, I do not want to see a coronation of Justin Trudeau. While I am of the opinion that Justin has the potential to be a competent and even inspiring leader of the Liberals, he has significant challenges to overcome. He needs to be tested in this race, and he needs to win the respect and trust of both Liberal stalwarts and Canadians in general. I am not supporting another candidate because of some vehement desire to block Trudeau – indeed, I respect him, and in the event that he wins, I’ll be behind him 100%. I, however, am supporting the candidate I think is best equipped to lead our party.

In 2008, during the election, I drove Martha around the Lower Mainland in Matilda, my beater of a Volvo. We had a couple of hours to chat as we drove from the Tri-Cities to Chilliwack and back to UBC. I had a chance to get to know her during that time, and my impression of a principled and gutsy politician has stuck with me to this day. She’s exactly the type of politician my party and my country needs.

In 2006, after Martha and Stephane Dion bounded out of her bus on the last day of voting, they needed someone to guard the bus.

I shot a handgun for the first time in my life earlier this month.

I was visiting some friends in America for one of their birthdays, and as one of the weekend’s activities we headed over to the Washington State Shooting Range just south of Bellingham.

I’m going to pause now to reflect upon the fact that the State of Washington (motto: We are a State, not a District of Columbia) has a public shooting range. Alright.

I do not hesitate to say that I had a blast. Propelling small chunks of metal across the room with only the squeeze of a finger was exhilarating, and incredibly easy. The experience was made all the more exciting for me because the book I was reading was about to reveal to me the chemical reasons why the gunpowder explosion inside the gun was able to propel bullets target-ward at life-ending speeds.

For all the fun I had, my pre-existing support of strict gun control was hardened by this experience. Sure, firing a Glock into a paper target was fun, and I don’t deny that I’m going to make it happen again at some point in the future, but the sheer ease of use of the weapon (a weapon the helpful and cheerful staff at the gun range described as ‘a small cannon’) confirms my belief that these should not be made available for common distribution.

I am not against people having long guns for sport. I believe that regulating the ownership and use of these weapons is important, and I am disappointed to see the long gun registry meet an untimely end, especially with statistics like “88% of women killed by guns in Canada are killed by long guns”. That battle, however, appears to be lost for the moment.

Handguns are a different story. They are small, relatively easy to hide, and easy to use. Easy enough to fire, in fact, that my concern is not so much that a murderer will use it to kill someone (people who are intent on murdering someone will probably find a way to either get a handgun or invent some other way), but that some person, using it in self defence or some equally noble purpose, will squeeze the trigger a tad too soon, too late, or with insufficient aim, and hit and kill a bystander. It is not an irrational fear – every day in the United States, five children are injured or killed by accidental fire. It seems to me that the more handguns we have in Canada, the more accidents we invite.

I bring this up for a number of reasons. Barack Obama was asked about gun control in last night’s debate, and he gave a rather pathetic answer that was along the lines of “we need to enforce the laws we already have”, leaving aside the plethora of laws that have weakened gun control during his first term.

The other impetus for posting was a group of images I saw on the Sociological Images blog I read regularly. These images use pro-woman, pro-gay and anti-racist rhetoric to promote gun ownership among women, gays, and minorities. I don’t really know what to think of these ads, aside from the fact that I found them very strange. I’ve never felt physically threatened by someone who was harassing me because I am gay, so I can’t say how I would react, or whether I would appreciate having a gun. My inclination is that I wouldn’t, but, as I say, I haven’t been there.

What do you think of these images? Would you appreciate having a gun to defend yourself? Do you think Canada’s gun laws are too strict, or not strict enough?

Afterthoughts:

  • The motto of the State of Washington is actually Alki, a Chinook Wawa word for ‘eventually’. Splendor sine occasu it ain’t.
  • I know I haven’t been posting nearly as often as I should. It’s been nearly half a year. For that I apologize. I’m not going to promise anything, but I’m going to try and get something up more often.

There has been a modicum of public outcry over the working of bill 37, the Animal Health Act, over whether people will be restricted from speaking publicly about threats to the food supply. To hear some folks, this is merely the first step on the road to a totalitarian thought police state. This ‘hair-on-fire’ mentality is, in my humble opinion, akin to running into someone wearing a fur coat in a dark room and assuming that you’re being attacked by a bear – that is to say, both foolish and logically inconsistent.

To understand what the purpose of this bill is, we have to look at the incentive structure build up around reporting problems in the food system. Any kind of reportable illness is going to present a financial liability for the farmer, in terms of lost stock, lost time invested and lost reputation. Inherent also in reporting a risk is the potential that there was not an illness to begin with, and so the farmer loses reputational capital without any concrete benefit to the public.

It should also be noted that there are no restrictions placed on the media, or on everyday persons. The only people covered by the the reporting restriction are those that are directly involved in the testing process through the Ministry of Agriculture and contracted entities, like the lab performing the test. This is a perfectly reasonable protection to put in place, both for the farmer, for reasons explained below, and because announcing a potential danger to the food supply tends to create a degree of public panic, and should only be done when people are sure that something is indeed wrong.

Farmers are good people. They take pride in the animals they raise, and they don’t want their products to be sick, or get anyone else sick. The system that we have right now, where confidentiality is not guaranteed, is an active disincentive to be forthright about potential risks. The best way to ensure that farmers are going to be forthright and fully disclose every potential threat to the food supply is to protect them from unnecessary damage to their reputation for over-caution.

After the discovery of an Alberta cow with BSE, then-Premier Ralph Klein said that any self-respecting farmer would ‘shoot, shovel, and shut up’. This insult to the integrity of our farming folk notwithstanding, the incentive structure does promote hiding when your animals get sick. The least we can do to help out honest farmers is to protect them from unnecessary damages that result if the rumour of a sickness on their farm gets out.

I personally do not believe that government philosophy to information release should be one of total disclosure at every step of the process. This does not work in negotiations, in trials, and I do not think it can be called to work when the most likely outcome will be public panic and the ruination of one or more members of the agricultural industry.

The legislation will actually make it easier for farmers to report sickness in the food chain. It will make making the right decision easier, and make all of us safer as a result.

I alluded to my excitement in a previous post, but today was the big day when the Legislative Assembly officially recieived it’s Black Rod. The new Usher of the Black Rod knocked three times on the door of the House, and the Black Rod entered the chamber for the first time. This actually answered one of the questions I had had about the House doors (because I am the kind of person who has questions about the House doors), namely, what are the small wooden squares that are placed around shoulder height above the handles?

It turns out that these are knocking spots. The Usher of the Black Rod slams the door with considerable force, enough that a metal lock inside the chamber actually fell off the door, and if this force were applied to the chamber doors on a regular basis, I would expect their deterioration to be significant. Instead, when the wooden knocking spots are worn out, they can be swapped out for new knocking spots. You can check out the video of the knocking here.

I think the creation of the Black Rod of BC is a wonderful way to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. The existence of the black rod symbolizes the responsibility that the Crown has to the Legislature, and by extension, the people. It is with the Black Rod that the sovereign’s representative is announced for the Throne Speech, and Royal Assent.

The Black Rod of BC has a uniquely Cascadian flavour. The provincial stone of BC has been incorporated into the rod – a small jade carving by a relation of the Lieutenant Governor sits with three rings and a gold coin of the sovereign. The rings, engraved with the mottos of Canada and British Columbia, when placed with the carving and the coin, represent the bond that ties the sovereign of our province with our citizenry.  Now they are together on the Black Rod.

The assembly of the Black Rod was appropriate as well. Our history as a colony and our growth into a mature self-governing province with an improving relationship with the First Nations was mirrored by the affixing of rings in the British House of Lords, the Canadian Senate, and in our very own Legislative Assembly.

It is not to be only a traditional icon, but looks to the future. Within the rod is a time capsule of messages not to be seen again for sixty years. Hopefully, when these messages are again seen, we will be able to look back on what is to be, for us now, the next sixty years, with a sense that the promise symbolized by the Black Rod of British Columbia has been realized.