Monday, September 28, 2015

What are YOU voting for?

It's election time here in Canada - the longest campaign in 90-something years at a whopping 11 weeks (compared to 5 from 2011). The three major parties are fighting tooth and nail for your votes in what promises to be a three horse race with a photo finish. The rhetoric is as thick as pea soup and the party leaders are shopping around their policies to anyone of voting age who will listen.

But, what if I were to tell you that none of that matters?

Let me clarify. Policies matter but there are a couple other (really important) items that we should square away before we go nitpicking over taxes and spending and other such things.

Here's our friend The Policy:



The problem is that policies aren't created in a vacuum. There is 'stuff' that comes along with it. A couple layers of really important stuff. Stuff that, if you put policies first tends to get put at risk. It's a delicate balance that is difficult to maintain .

So, what we end up with is something that looks like this:

Hey, if the top layers crumble at
least we have our policies, right?

It gets worse though. What we actually end up with is something that looks like this:

Once this starts to tip, the whole
mess comes tumbling down.

Either way, it's a precarious state. So by only looking at the policy part of the picture, what are you sacrificing? What's at risk because you're focused on a different part of the triangle?

Two things:
  1. Rights & Freedoms
  2. Democracy
Rights and freedoms are found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you are Canadian you are entitled to them. Full stop. They are not up for debate or vote. The Charter is upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. In a nutshell, these fine folks make sure our lawmakers and justice system stays fair and equitable. I've represented this as a layer called "Constitution":

The U.S. has one of these too. They're pretty serious
about it, as anyone with one should be

Democracy is all the wonderful stuff that happens in a free society. In Canada at the federal level, it involves Parliament (the House of Commons) and the Senate (the Upper Chamber, a.k.a. the house of "sober second thought"). Members of Parliment (MPs) are elected and Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister. These are all the fine folks who create or change laws and draw up all those wonderful policies everyone is such a fan of. I've represented this as a layer called "Government":

Democracy happens here
(or at least it's supposed to)

These two items are the very important layers on which policies are built, not the other way around.

This is how things shape up; the playing field for the most important game you're ever going to play:

Why can't we just have a nice right-side-up
triangle? Is that too much to ask?

So before you vote you should take a long, hard look at if everyone is on level footing. If one party breaks away and starts playing by a different set of rules, then everything they do afterwards is, in my opinion, not worth a squirt of piss.

Back in 2011 I blogged a lot about the election and I tried to keep a pretty even keel about it all. This time around things are different. Why? Because I've seen Canada's Charter disrespected too many times in the last 9 years to stay quiet any longer. Because I've seen our democracy whittled down to nothing. Because our foundation is cracked and our system is broken. Not all of that is the fault of the current government, but the lion's share of it is. 

So, let's take a look at the PM and his band of merry Conservatives and see how they have treated the bottom two layers of that triangle - the important layers - the foundation of our free and democratic society.

Constitution:



Not a very rosy picture. It doesn't take long to notice that Mr. Harper and his MPs don't exactly have a healthy respect for our constitution.
Grade: FAIL

Government / Democracy:

  • The only Prime Minister to ever be found in contempt of Parliament
  • Two separate Conservative convictions for improper election spending (2006 & 2008)
  • Conservative conviction for election tampering in 2011
One has to wonder what they have in store for 2015? 

This would be a good time to pull out a quote from Stephen Harper himself. He said this of Liberal leader Jean Chr├ętien in the wake of the sponsorship scandal:
"He is the leader and a leader is responsible for the actions of the people he leads."
Wow. If we put that statement to the test against the laundry list of crimes against democracy and Charter violations Mr. Harper has some explaining to do. The Conservatives have three separate convictions for crimes against our democratic system and Harper himself was found guilty of contempt of parliament. Now that's what I call leadership! 

But it gets even better:

  • The "fair" elections act. This gem actually makes it harder for people to vote and ties the hands of Elections Canada (oh, and takes polling station volunteer selection out of their hands altogether) 
  • Lack of meaningful debate and expert testimony for Bill C-51
  • Massive omnibus bills - lumping in completely unrelated legislation in together. Two, in particular, were several hundred pages and involved over 100 different pieces of legislation 
  • Oh, let's not forget about the misuse and abuse of the Senate
All of the above, and then some are wonderfully summed up by The Tyee in these two articles: 
Grade: FAIL
Can we just call the last 9 years a momentary lapse of reason? 

Remember, all of the above should be considered before we even talk about a single policy. Quite frankly, a government that behaves this way is an insult to democracy and anyone who actually votes for it might as well look their children in the eye and say, "It's okay to be a bully so long as you get what you want in the end." 

Wake up! The ends do not justify the means. 



Is it only a dream that there'll be no more turning away?

There is good news, though. If enough people vote together we can at least start rebuilding our democracy from a solid foundation. Elect a government that supports and encourages a strong, hard working democracy and it will implement policies that benefit Canada as a whole. Targeted policies implemented on top of a false democracy only benefit a privileged few. Maybe you're okay with that? I am not. I care too much about my neighbour to spit on his shoes and then lie right to his face and tell him it's raining. 

Don't spit on your neighbours shoes. It's a really shitty thing to do and it's very un-Canadian. 

This time around, make better choices. Me? I'm voting for the candidate in my riding with the best chance of beating the Conservative. Many others are doing this as well and there's a great organization out there that can help you make the right choice. Together we can change Canada for the better.

Most of all, be careful. It's dangerous out there:


Helpful links:

~ Andrew 

(Note: the views expressed here are my own and are in no way affiliated with any other individual or organisation)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Miss You, Miss You

As you may have seen in my last post (re-post, actually) I recently lost a friend. He was probably the second or third guy I met when I arrived at the University of Waterloo and it was in his dorm room on North A in Village 2 that my wife and I were first properly introduced. That was pretty darn close to 22 years ago to the day that a heart attack took him from this world for whatever is beyond.

Riaz, our daughter, and me. Breakfast at a diner in Toronto - 2005(?)

Obviously, this came as a total shock to my wife and I and everyone who knew him. I'm still kind of dumbfounded and in a daze over it. Someone I've known since first or second grade sent me a message of condolence and asked me to tell her a story about him. One, she said, that would make me smile. So, I did, and it made me feel a little less depressed about his passing and a little more focused on the good times we had together - and there were quite a few. I shared the story with his brother and a few coworkers, and in one of my writers' groups, and every time I did I managed a smile instead of a tear.

So now I'm sharing it with you.

***

Riaz and I spent a lot of time together in our first year of university. We were both a couple of physics geeks with impeccable musical taste (the principal difference being he could actually play and I even suck at air guitar). Now, just a few minutes from our dorm was the upper year dorm, Village 1, and within it a glorious variety store / food place called "The Village Grill". Staffed by upper year kids it was the go-to place for starving students and guys like Riaz and I looking for a snack. There was this one girl that worked there that Riaz was in love with. All I remember is that she was ridiculously cute and Ri was infatuated with her. I swear he burned through more of his meal plan at The Grill over everywhere else combined just because she worked there.

Riaz (center) jamming with Scott (right) and some other dude, 1993.
A rare shot without his "P-Man" sweatshirt on. His Canucks jersey was a close second 

One snowy night Riaz and I finished our homework (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) and a bunch of us were going cafeteria tray sledding at the hill across the road. It was then (after we finished our homework), that I got this brilliant idea to saw a cafeteria tray in half and crazy glue the pieces to the bottom of my boots. After tray-boggoning, or tray-skiing in my case, the plan was to have Riaz pull me around the parking lot as I held on to the back bumper of his car (genius, I know).

Right about when we were all ready to go we got a hankering for some chips and we decided to head to The Grill to take care of the craving. The only problem was I had these damn pieces of fibreglass stuck to my feet. Screw it, we wanted chips, nay, we needed chips. So, off we went. We had no coats, no hats, and no gloves. We were just two guys in blue jeans and flannel shirts (this was 1993 after all) walking to the store to get some food - one of them with two halves of a lunch tray glued to his boots.

Everything was fine until I slipped off the path.

It wasn't a big slope, but when all you've got is the smooth underside of a tray to walk on, any slope at all sends you in a downward direction. I slid off the path and down a small hill. No word of a lie it was only 12 feet down and had a maximum grade of about 5 degrees. Still, down I went. I tried to walk "herringbone" style up the hill but could not.

I was trapped.

Meanwhile, Riaz was giggling uncontrollably at the top of this "hill". After letting me flounder for a few minutes while he regained his composure, he came down to give me a hand. The only problem was he couldn't get me up the hill either. Being the physics geniuses that we were we tried quite a few things with the successful approach being I would lie on my side and he would roll me uphill like a log. To this day, I have no explanation as to why I didn't just get on my hands and knees and crawl up the stupid hill. For certain, at the time the idea never crossed either of our minds. What should have been a 4 or 5-minute stroll ended up taking around half an hour.

We get to The Grill and we're laughing so hard tears are running down our cheeks and freezing in the cold air. My hair (I used to have long floppy bangs) was frozen up in this crazy spike, we were soaked head to toe from all the rolling around in the snow, our eyes were red and swollen from all the laugh-crying, and I still had two halves of a cafeteria tray crazy glued to my boots.

Party in Riaz's Room - 1993 (that's me on top)

We opened the door and the only person in the place is the cute girl behind the counter. We just stood there scratching our heads and staring at our feet while she took a good long look at us. After a few seconds, we look up and she's shaking her head. "Chips are over there," she said pointing to a rack in the corner. Then, she turned around to pretend to clean something. I could see her shoulders bobbing up and down as she laughed into her dish towel. We stepped up to the counter to pay and she's still stifling laughter. "Have a nice night, boys," she said as we exited the store. I can still hear her laughter as the door shut.

Riaz in one of his pensive moments, 1993

After a minute, Riaz looks to me and, with his face full of Cool Ranch Doritos says, "Well, shit. What do you think my chances are now?" Without hesitation I replied, "Pretty bad, man, but I have a feeling they are way better than mine." Riaz just nodded and we both started to laugh uncontrollably for the second time in half an hour. We walked back to our dorm without speaking, but the laughter didn't stop for several hours.

Epilogue:
Tray-skiing was a complete failure. I spent an hour falling down a hill for real and never managed so much as one decent run. Cafeteria tray parking lot bumper hitching, on the other hand, was an incredible success (except for having to saw off a layer of my boot soles to get the cafeteria trays off).

Rest in peace, brother.


http://riaz.ca/musicvideo.html

Me, Sven, and Riaz at a Kegger he threw back in 1994

Riaz completely done-in at EdgeFest, 1996

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Sound of Music - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the thing where I share my Top 5 albums of all time. Think of this as a "desert island" list. You know, "If you could only have one CD with you while you're stranded on a desert island which one would it be?" - only instead of one, I'm taking five (if you can only pick one then you need to listen to more music. Hopefully, my list will guide you toward a future Top 5 choice for yourself.

As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)

Last time, I shared some thoughts about the Irish pop/rock megaband U2's fifth (and breakthrough) album The Joshua Tree. This week we're going in the complete opposite direction and talking about a little-known Canadian indie/folk/rock band whose debut album is the only one worth mentioning in their entire four-album* catalog.

Shakespeare My Butt by The Lowest of the Low



Released 1991
Track Listing:

  1. "4 O'Clock Stop" (7/10)
  2. "So Long Bernie" (7/10)
  3. "Just About 'The Only' Blues" (7/10)
  4. "Salesmen, Cheats and Liars" (7/10)
  5. "Rosy and Grey" (9/10)
  6. "Kinda the Lonely One" (8/10)
  7. "Eternal Fatalist" (8/10)
  8. "For the Hand of Magdalena" (8/10)
  9. "Subversives" (9/10)
  10. "Bleed a Little While Tonight" (8/10)
  11. "Bloodline" (8/10)
  12. "St. Brendan's Way" (8/10)
  13. "Letter from Bilbao" (8/10)
  14. "Under the Carlaw Bridge" (7/10)
  15. "The Taming of Carolyn" (8/10)
  16. "Gossip Talkin' Blues" (6/10)
  17. "Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes" (8/10)
The songs are put together quite well with most of the album upbeat folksy stuff. It's really hard to listen to that album end-to-end and not be in a good mood. As for the number of songs on the album that I like? Well, if you look at the ratings I gave them (in parenthesis above) I pretty mich like all of them and a few are home to some lyrics that I just love to sing out loud: 
  • "Her mother's worst fears are confirmed / She's taken off with some musician / (Holy shit!)" (from Taming of Carolyn)
  • "Well, I've kissed you in France and I've kissed you in Spain / And I've kissed you in places I'd better not name / And I've seen the sun go down on Sacre Coeur / But I like it much better goin' down on you / Ah, you know that's true" (from Rosey and Grey)
  • "And if they had genitalia they'd have frozen their nuts off" (from Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes)
There a so many memories involving so many of these songs it's hard to corral them into a single paragraph. For starters, it seemed like this album was on repeat for all of 1994 when I spent a considerable portion of my time at the local on-campus pub, The Bombshelter (or, as it is better known, The Bomber), at the University of Waterloo. I hung out with the folks that would become friends I still see today, and one particular girl who would go on to be my wife. Funny story, she and I would go on to see LotL on my birthday in 2002 and gave our soon-to-be first born child her first taste of good live music. In 2004 while white water rafting just outside of Ottawa a guitarist at the hostel we were camping at played "Rosey and Grey" as part of his set. A bunch of us Bomber alum sang along, giving the bar quite a show and garnering applause from the dude with the guitar. An even funnier story, one of our daughter's first live concerts (out of the womb this time) came just a few years ago. We took the kids to the Toronto Urban Roots Festival and LotL played a short set on the main stage.   

Quite simply, this album makes me feel happy, and whenever one of the tracks comes on my iPod I turn it up and sing along as loud as I can (and as best as I can considering I'm terrible at remembering lyrics). 

~ Andrew

* Hallucegenia (1994), Nothing Short of a Bullet (live w/ 3 studio tracks, 2001), Sordid Fiction (2004) - an album I didn't even remember existed until today