Monthly Archives: April 2015

Confessions of a political pedant

THIS WILL BE A  BRIEF NOTE:

I watched the leaders debate last night.

Now, I have been interested in politics as long as I can remember so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has known me for any significant amount of time that I would watch.

Nope. The surprise was on me. I have never been this excited about a political horse race. I need to confess why.

First of all, I am 46, so for all intents and purposes my lifetime has been lived under a progressive conservative government. Most of the elections I have witnessed have been easy progressive conservative wins.

I have never identified as a conservative.

I have usually labelled  myself a liberal, but when pressed to identify my values and beliefs have always been revealed as more left leaning. So, number one, I am excited because this is the first election where a party that reflects my values and beliefs has been a real contender. That makes me happy.

Now for number two, and real honesty. It makes me outrageously happy that the person leading the charge for a province that matches my values and beliefs is a woman. Politics, and in particular Alberta politics, have been a man’s game. I firmly believe that people are people regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation etc… but I still cannot help but be giddy watching a woman make a good strong run. She represents me in values and beliefs, and in gender. I cannot help but feel that on my behalf she is kicking old white guy ass for every time an old white guy though I wasn’t a contender because of my gender.

Add in Rachel Notley is my height and that we are a few years apart in age and it starts to look like I have a wee crush on her. It is an orange crush though, because my admiration starts with what she stands for.

How much more could she possible represent me? I don’t know. But I hope when she is premier I get the chance to find out.

notley

Advertisements

Pork-barrel-pie Politics

So topic of the day has to be the pie. Look at this political poster.

pie politics

B Y W P … Bring Your Wife’s Pie.

In spite of the people who claim that this is not a real issue, I am going to explain why it actually is an issue and why it actually is offensive to progressive Albertans.

I know it can be subtle, but sexism in politics is a real problem. It seems minor in the same way that low dose daily exposure to a carcinogen seems minor. Sexist stereotypes interfere with the ability of women (and the non cisgender, non heterosexual members of our communities) to fully and confidently participate in political life. I am only able to personally address how it affects heterosexual women, but I know that other communities suffer the same type of ill effects.

Let me tell me what is NOT wrong with this poster and get that out of the way. Reaching out to people and creating community is very constructive. Calling people together to participate in the democratic politic process is admirable. And in my personal opinion, pie is the ultimate dessert – nothing beats a fresh apple pie with a good homemade crust.

What’s WRONG with this poster?

It is pretty clearly an invitation to men. Which, in and of itself, is perfectly acceptable. It can be acceptable to target specific audiences if you are addressing issues and concerns specific to that audience. For instance, is acceptable to exclude teenagers from a conversation about seniors housing …

… UNLESS that info is being handed out at a political rally during an election. I will explain that later.  The acceptability of the exclusion is negated by the tone and underlying message of the information that goes along with the invitation.

It is an invitation to men married to women. It passively discourages single men and men married to other men by painting a specific picture of who should attend. Not overtly, but covertly and passively, the call to participation looks straight married men in the eye while avoiding the gaze of everyone else. If it was direct and stated that it was a meeting for straight married men to discuss some concern exclusive to straight married men then it would be better. However, politics are in no way exclusive to straight married men, nor should they be.

Then there’s the ‘Bring your wife’s pie’ part. That is truly insidious. So much is between the lines of that text. Have your wife make a pie for you to bring along, it’s OK as the man of the house you are entitled to use her labour for your own gain. Of course she makes it, women cook, you couldn’t bake your own pie as you are too busy farming and calving and doing man stuff. It also somehow manages to neglect to include the wife in the meeting, almost as if it too manly for her; this politcking is man stuff. Bring her pie with you and learn important political man stuff and then go home and share your new knowledge with the little woman. It harkens back to a dark time for gender relations that we really should not be nostalgic for.

The poster doesn’t leave open the door for anything outside the straight male marriage in which the man does man stuff (like politics) and the woman bakes pies. I admit, it doesn’t close the door on it either, but it is intimidating to see one section of our population ushered through a door while we are left to open the door for ourselves (because they legally can’t actually keep us out). The poster paints a very narrow view of society that serves to exclude people who don’t fit that mould. AND THAT is not appropriate during an election campaign.

Everything about and all the information pertaining to policy, platforms, plans and intentions should be be made as broadly available as possible during an election. During the democratic process there is no room for the politics of exclusion.

During an election  not only do people get to do what our society grants them the legal and moral right to do – choose for themselves how they live, who they love, how they work and what they believe in – they get to decide who they will vote into office to make decisions about how free they are to continue doing those very things. There can be no exclusion at any point in the democratic process.

This isn’t like not letting men in the women’s change room. This isn’t like having men only baseball teams. This is the very core of how we currently define and continue to evolve ourselves and our society.

The world has changed. The world is changing. To have open, inclusive and accountable government we must start with an open, inclusive and accountable democratic process.

gender pie chart

I hope I’ve made my point. This may be my fastest blog yet.

For fun, watch this video of the much respected Peter Lougheed if no other reason that looking back at it is creepy and feels wrong for reasons that are difficult to put a finger on exactly. That is how our kids are going to look at the above poster.

WATCHhttp://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/peter-lougheeds-go-go-campaign

It’s subtle, but watch the men greet him at the door and the women stay inside the threshhold. At 1:15 he meets ‘Martha and Henry’. After the greeting Martha immediately goes back into the home and leaves the politics to the men  …  I don’t even know where to start on the go-go dancers at the end…

Liars and tories and White Elephants OHMY!

So, I got a little reprieve today* because some social media driven public outrage forced my employer to back away from a really, really bad policy. My wings are slightly less clipped.

With in 30 minutes of the writ being dropped here in Alberta I received an email reminding me of the code of conduct for Alberta Government employees and outlining restrictions to my political involvement.

I first noted that I am not allowed to solicit donations. Which, to be honest, I am not sure is 100% justifiable. I see no reason why as a low/mid level public servant I could not fundraise for a cause I support. Ostensibly I am sure the reason is potential conflict of interest. However for the record I feel that the potential for perceived conflict of interest for the average government employee on their personal time and not acting on behalf of government doesn’t stand up to the reasonable person test. Unless I wore a badge declaring myself to be a public servant no one has any way of knowing who I work for. Even if they did know who I worked for, they know its election time and I think most people understand that public servants are enfranchised. What the conflict is in a public servant having an independent political opinion during an election I do not know. Certainly there is less possibility of conflict of interest in the public servant scenario than there is for a politician/elected member of government accepting or soliciting donations. Afterall, I don’t influence government policy, but they do. No one who donated to me would be currying favour, the same can not be said of those who donate in the other scenario.

ANYWAY…I was OK with no soliciting donations because it doesn’t impair my ability to volunteer based on my personal conscience.

I then noted in the email (but no where in the actual code of conduct) that I was advised that I should inform my supervisor if I am volunteering with an election campaign. This gave me pause. Before I elaborate on why I paused, I will further add that a few days later I was advised that not only should I inform my supervisor of any volunteer involvement on my personal time, but that I should also inform my deputy minister.

I immediately saw three problems:

  1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants me freedom of conscience
  2. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants me freedom of association
  3. There is both federal and provincial legislation giving me individual right to privacy

Now, I am not going to say I am in any way an expert, but I am capable of reasoning things through. I know that 1 & 2 are fundamental rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set outlined in it subject only to reasonable limits under law that can be justified.

Freedom of conscience is the freedom to have, hold and act upon beliefs. That covers political beliefs. [1]

Freedom of association also incorporates opinion, thought, belief, expression, conscience, religion, communication and peaceful assembly. That covers political party membership and activity.

I have the Charter right, regardless of who my employer is, to hold and act upon my own beliefs, to associate myself with others who hold similar beliefs, to have my own opinions, and to communicate and act upon those personal opinions. If it is my fundamental right, then what justification is there for having me report on matters of conscience and association? Most importantly, what justification is there for having me report to people in a position of authority over me who I have actual and real reason to perceive as having actual and real conflict of interest with regard to my personal beliefs?

Given that there is no possibility any member of upper management in the Alberta public service right now did become management during the reign of the PC government, I would not be unreasonable to suspect my boss may be a PC supporter. It would be reasonable for me to wonder if he/she would bear my non-PC association in mind when I apply for my next promotion. That is a real potential conflict of interest.

That’s 1 & 2 in brief. What about 3?

Again, I am no expert but I am interested in privacy as a legal concept and I have a year of course work on privacy legislation informing my opinions. The main point I took away from my course work was that the key to privacy is balance. Members of a group should give up privacy only in return for a tangible benefit to society, and the two competing interests (individual and social) must be weighed carefully.

I will leave it to you to look through Canada and Alberta’s privacy legislation, but I assure you that your employers right to infringe upon your privacy ends where your personal life begins unless they can prove a significant social benefit to eroding your privacy. [2] [3] [4]

There is a white elephant in the room. I will lay odds this policy was drafted by some upper level bureaucrat, but that still shines a light on a systemic problem. One party has been in place for four and a half decades. The entire bureaucracy has risen through the ranks under their thumb, and this inane policy just shows how horribly acclimated the bureaucracy is to the way the PC party has chosen to govern. The PC party has chosen to govern by repressing dissent, by portraying dissenting voices as ‘left-wing nut’s’ and ‘extremists’… by making sure everyone knows they are either with them or against them.

My reprieve came as knights in shining armour.  My beloved CBC, my beloved social media. It took only a couple hours of outrage for the errant policy to be rescinded. This was a victory. However, this arrogant sense of entitlement to the erosion of freedom to express dissenting opinion or support accountability was only a drop in the bucket, Alberta. Don’t leave the protection of progressive values to the media and twitter.

This is your power, Alberta, your infrequently exercised power. If you speak out, if you let it be known that your vote is not guaranteed, you can hold government accountable for what they do. If anyone tells you that you have no power to make progress a reality they are liars. Remember that on May 5. You decide how you will be ruled, which means in the end you make the rules. Unless, of course, you don’t vote.

[1]  http://rmcla.ca/blog/?p=252

[2] https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/index_e.asp

[3] https://www.priv.gc.ca/leg_c/r_o_a_e.asp

[4] https://www.priv.gc.ca/resource/fs-fi/02_05_d_15_e.asp

[5] http://www.servicealberta.ca/foip/legislation/foip-act.cfm

 * Written Tuesday night, scheduled for publication Wednesday morning…I write too slow…mostly because every 20 minutes or so one of my boys wanders into my office to ask what I am doing and I end up on my soapbox spewing political homilies…my poor boys

On Co-opted Conservatism and Responsibility Redistribution

Giddy-up Alberta. The writ has been dropped and the politicians are now (openly) wooing us, running six ways from Sunday.

AB all

Sadly, too much of of the wooing involves attempts to portray the alternative as ‘extremists‘.

Part of the way this slander works is by shifting the parameters of discussion in one party’s favour.

For instance, shifting terms of reference so that they appear to align with one group and then pairing that shifted definition with a term not tampered with to lend the shifted term extra credibility. Like linking the word conservative to the word responsible.

Prentice says

Conservative and responsible are not synonyms, and responsible governance is not the exclusive domain of conservative ideology (how we have not figured this out I don’t know). Alberta, you have been duped. You have been inundated with a 43 year feedback loop of tenuous credibility, and it has pasted a paper thin connotative veneer of responsibility and trustworthiness over all things conservative.

Here’s another much maligned phrase: tax and spend. Tax and spend is ACTUALLY what the government is supposed to do. Government collects your tax dollars, then spends that money on health and education and infrastructure. Your taxes are how government pays to keep your province running. Taxes themselves are neither good nor bad. What can be either good or bad is how your tax dollars are spent.

If you pay $100 in taxes and get $100 worth of services in return you have good government. If you pay $100 in taxes and get $50 worth of services in return you have bad government. If you pay $50 in taxes so the government can only afford to pay to provide you with $50 worth of services but you actually want/require $100 worth of services you also have bad government. It’s about value for the money, not about the (shocking) fact that stuff costs money.

Canada is a social democracy. We overwhelmingly support government redistributing wealth to provide universal services. Stop pretending that wanting government to pay for our health care and a good public education system is conservatism at work. It is social democracy at work. Social democracy is, by definition, is the way our government redistributes wealth to provide more equity between have and have not. Stop saying ‘socialism’ and sucking your teeth. You are a socialist. And that’s OK.

Let’s take back the concept of responsible government and divorce it from conservatism.

The real, actual, factual definition of conservative is resistant to change, and that is not a virtue. History is rife with examples of those rough patches when radical change was the best option. Look back through that history and see how awful conservatives look in hindsight. Sometimes the status quo is more a barrier to progress than a banner of pride.

If you keep telling yourself conservatism is prudent and socialism is an extremist idea that can come to no good, you haven’t thought it through. That lack of thought is keeping you from making constructive, progressive changes to how you are governed.

Change

Think Alberta…who is telling you that the conservatives are the only choice and the other options are ‘extremists’? Do they have a vested interest in preventing change? Change is usually opposed by those who have the most to gain from preserving the status quo. You only have to take a quick glance at the big supporters of the PCAA to see that illustrated – their big funders are the ones who weren’t asked to contribute a few more tax dollars to help keep things running smoothly. The status quo is them benefitting from what your tax dollars provide, with them not pay their share. Thats’ conservatism in a  nutshell. If that doesn’t sound right to you, you might not be a conservative. This conservative party maintains the status quo for the benefit of specific parts of society that have the money to fund this conservative government and thereby protect their interests with no regard for the greater good.

Redistributing wealth and power make our society more fair and to allow everyone the chance to participate fully in our society. That broader participation brings with it the benefit of new ideas and the adaptability that makes a nation strong in good times and in bad. Socialism advocates for the redistribution of wealth for the benefit of the entire society because democratic socialism is founded on the principle that progress depends on everyone contributing and being equally able to participate.

I am not arguing against conservatism as an idea. I am arguing against this conservative government and against Alberta’s stubborn and foolish refusal to admit that there are options and that the time has come to consider them.

Let’s take our social democratic values to the polls with us on May 5, leave behind our misconceptions about what is responsible and what is extremist, and redistribute responsibility to a new party with new ideas to help us deal with new global realities. If we want to move forward we need to elect the leaders that put us on the be on the road that takes us there.

cw4_1al_thru_traffic_merge_left

 

Oh, and Martha and Henry voted Social Credit. Can we drop that hokey crap already? Pet peeve.