January 27, 2019

Perspective

Today I'm going to write about perspective. Not in the artistic sense, nor even in the sense that on any given topic we each have our own, but in the cosmic sense. You see, there's a condition that afflicts all life as we know of and that has ever been. That condition is called existence, and as the only known species with the intelligence to comprehend what that means it can be easy to get full of ourselves and lose sight of the big picture.

As with any good conversation on this topic, it's probably a good idea to lead with a little Carl Sagan. Many of you have seen this picture before.

NASA - Image in the public domain

It was taken in 1990 by the Voyager I probe on February 14 at the request of Carl Sagan. It took a decade for the request to come to fruition, but after it did here's what he had to say about it.

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
— Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994

To give you an idea of exactly how far away Voyager I was when it took that photograph, here's a picture, though it's not to scale. As we'll see in a bit the scale of the Solar System, and indeed the Universe, is staggeringly massive.

Joe Haythornthwaite and Tom Ruen [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

How far away is that? It's far. I mean, really far. The Pale Blue Dot photograph was taken 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away. If you zoom in on the above photo you will see a date beside the white line near earth. In September 1977 Voyager I was launched, and traveling at an average speed of roughly 60,000 km/h ( mph) took thirteen years to get that far away. Space is big.

Someone put together a fascinating GIF of the solar system and all the "stuff" in it. Here we see one Earth year of movement compressed into five seconds.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/5a/a4/4c/5aa44c326b9d7e83f3c0b77852544612.gif

Take a look at Neptune (blue circle, top left). In one Earth year, it has barely moved. In fact, it takes Neptune 165 years to make a single trip around the Sun. When Neptunians say "winter is coming" and have a look of concern on their faces, it's for good reason.

But let's start a bit closer to home, shall we? The Earth in of itself is a pretty big chunk of rock and it's configured in the Solar System in such a way that at any given point in time half of it is in darkness. There's a neat map from our friends at Solar System Scope that shows you night and day across the planet: http://www.solarsystemscope.com/daylightmap/

If you want to be truly mesmerized then the International Space Station has a live feed from one of its cameras that you can watch. Flat Earthers beware, from these cameras alone there's sufficient evidence to put a hefty dent in your little "theory": http://www.ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload

Humans have also spent a great deal of time, energy, and money putting satellites and cameras and telescopes into space to help us understand not just our home, but our surroundings, and our place in the Solar System (and indeed the Universe). One of the coolest series of pictures I've seen is a solar eclipse as seen from beyond the Moon and the ultimate photobomb of the Moon getting in between a weather satellite and the Earth:

Image Courtesy NASA (via Tumblr)
Image Courtesy NASA
That last GIF makes the moon look pretty small. As it was, it took the Apollo space missions about three days to get there. Did I mention that space was big? Well, what if the moon were the size of a single pixel on your screen right now? It's a cool exercise to ponder and it gives us a real sense of the vastness of our surroundings. In fact, someone thought it was so cool that they created a model for it. Spend a few minutes scrolling (and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling) through it. It'll blow your mind.

If the Moon Were 1-Pixel: http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html

The folks over at Khan Academy have done this awesome video which also provides a bit of scale to our celestial neck of the woods:




This is all well and good, but what about beyond our Solar System? We orbit but one star out of hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone and our galaxy is but one of trillions in the observable Universe. To get a sense of what lies immediately beyond our Sun there are a couple of really cool, interactive sites you can visit:

Our Stellar Neighborhood, http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/, allows you to zoom and pan and view 100,000 of the nearest stars. Solar System Model, https://www.solarsystemscope.com/, is a similar tool, but this one has more features and also includes options to show spacecraft, constellations, dwarf planets, comets, and a lot more. Still, nothing we've seen so far gets us out of our galaxy, the Milky Way, at the center of which is a black hole.

Black holes sit at the center of just about every galaxy and if you thought things were big before, check out this video on just how massive some of these things get:



And there are more than a trillion of them. Most people don't have much of a sense of how big a trillion of something is. Let's put that number into context. I think everyone will agree that one second is pretty quick. If you string enough of them together though, you start to see how they add up. For example, a thousand seconds is roughly 16.67 minutes. A hundred thousand seconds is a little over a day (1.157 and change). A million seconds is ten times that or about eleven and half days. A billion seconds is 31.69 years. A trillion seconds? 31,688 years. So yeah, big.

A few years ago, while pondering the vastness of the Universe, some smart person at NASA decided that they would take the Hubble Telescope and point it at a small square of nothingness to see, well, what they could see. Suffice it to say they were not disappointed.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/xdf.html
Every bit of light you see in that picture is a galaxy. In each galaxy are hundreds of billions of stars. This picture represents only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the sphere of our night sky. To photograph the rest of it you would need to take another 12,913,983 pictures. What would that look like? Something like this:

Wikipedia Commons

Note that the above image isn't to scale. Not even remotely close, to be honest. So exactly how big is the Universe?




Which is all fine and dandy, but again, people have a hard time comprehending the scale. All of our reference points are too small and too slow. Fortunately, someone at NASA put together something that shows that even if you travel at the upper limit for speed - the speed of light - it takes a really long time to get anywhere. One could say that the speed of light in that respect is rather slow. Put another way, space is huge.

How long it takes for light to travel between the Earth and Moon

How long it takes for light to travel between the Earth and Mars

Finally, for anyone wondering where God and religion fit in, I will leave you with this (enlarge the photo when it loads and scroll):

http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/19eyi7t3h9ocnjpg/ku-xlarge.jpg

~ Andrew



Other Important and Interesting Links


December 16, 2018

Happy Little Accidents

I used to question the theory that every moment in a person's life has led them to the moment they are experiencing right now. I mean, how many throwaway moments have there been? Certainly a lot. We're not living a fictitious life within the pages of a best-selling novel. Not everything that happens moves the plot forward or develops our character. Sometimes the tip of your pencil breaking is inconsequential, and then sometimes a sequence of events gets strung together over twenty-five years to culminate in an experience never to be forgotten.

Like this one.

Back in my first year of university, I met a few people that, even at that early stage, I knew were special. My buddy Riaz, my friend-girlfriend-not friend-friend-girlfriend-fiancee-wife, Jodi, and my friend-lab partner-roommate-colleague-boss-friend, Jason.

Riaz introduced me to Jodi. I met her properly in his room across the hall from mine. She was playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and he and I were listening to music, playing Ultima Underworld on his computer, and burning incense. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Jodi and Riaz introduced me to this band called The Watchmen. Jodi pushing their first album, Maclaren Furnace Room, and Riaz in love with their second one, In The Trees. Ri and I would take in as many of their shows as we could over the years and have more than a few stories to tell about those times.



Jay was a friend of some friends and lived on a rival floor in residence, and later became my lab partner and my go-to friend for a game or ten of pool, often played at the on-campus bar where this one album with the strange name, Shakespeare My Butt, by this obscure band called Lowest of the Low seemed to play on an endless loop.



Life was grand. Responsibilities were minimal. Parental supervision was non-existent. Our relationships were rooted in amazing Canadian music; the less mainstream stuff like Watchmen and Lowest of the Low, as well as the national heroes The Tragically Hip. Then, things started to change. Not overnight, though looking back it does feel like it was, but in slow motion over the span of years and decades.

Jodi and I married and a year later Jay married this wonderful woman, Tamara. Riaz moved back out West. Jay and Jodi stopped going to Watchmen concerts with me, but Tam was a big fan and stepped up and started being my "date" for shows. There was this one concert that all four of us went to one day. I think it was before kids were in the picture and we could all be out on a Friday night in Toronto (about an hour away from where we lived) without feeling guilty or tired. We saw Lowest of the Low open for Billy Bragg. Jodi's a huge Billy Bragg fan and we were all in love with Lowest of the Low from our days hanging out in the on-campus bar.

For me, though, it was The Watchmen that held my attention. In the early days of me falling in love with Jodi, they were there. We'd argue over which of their first two albums was better. I could pull a lyric from any song and relate it to something about us. Strangely enough, on a couple occasions Danny, the lead singer from the band, would sing a Billy Bragg song as his signature a cappella song during their concerts.

In 2011 I decided I would do something special for my anniversary. I took some singing lessons and got a band together, with Jay on guitar, and I surprised her with an a cappella Billy Bragg song (sadly, not a romantic one but the one Danny sang at his shows) and a rendition of The Watchmen song, All Uncovered, the chords and lyrics for which were really hard to come by. Enter in Facebook and the super talented and one hell of a nice guy bassist for The Watchmen and solo artist, Ken Tizzard. I sent Ken a message asking for help with the song and he sent me back, within a couple hours I might add, some photos of their songbook that was no longer in print. It was an awesome gesture and was the reason the performance went off without a hitch (or well enough, all things considered).

While this was going on I was working on my writing and meeting a lot of really cool creative types on the internet. One of them was this fellow by the name of Alex Kimmell. He writes creepy, mind-bending horror now but he used to be a musician until MS decided to send him a swift kick to the nards and take that away. Back in the day, he was a drummer for this grunge outfit Out Vile Jelly.  Korn opened for them at one point. It was then, through a connection at a record label that he was introduced and got into the music of The Watchmen. Alas, when I met him the MS prohibited extended travel and they weren't touring anymore, only playing gigs in Toronto and occasional other Canadian cities. That's when I got the idea that whenever I would go to a show, I would record his favourite Watchmen song for him so he'd get to experience the experience a little bit.

In the middle of all of that, like a gut punch from out of nowhere, we lost Riaz. It was sudden, it hurt like a sonofabitch, and it left a big hole. In the intro to my video tribute to him, there was Watchmen playing in the background. Hearing their music would never be the same. Every song would be bittersweet and carry a deeper meaning than I ever thought possible (more on Riaz in this blog post).

You might be thinking that this is all fine and dandy but what does it have to do with my opening paragraph? Well, that's where Friday night comes in. All of what I just described (though it happened in much greater detail in real life) came together to give me the greatest concert experience I will likely ever have.

It actually started Thursday night when I got the last-minute idea to message Ken once again asking for a favour. I thought it would be cool if, before they played Alex's favourite song, they tossed out a dedication to him. So, I asked. Ken got back to me in rapid fashion again and had some bad news. They were swapping out that song for something else for this show. He did say he'd discuss it with the guys though. I thanked him for even considering it and wished them a good show.

Friday comes and Tam agrees to drive into the city and we arrive at the venue ten minutes before the opener hits the stage. Because we're old we got seats up in the balcony this time and were able to sit down for the show. It felt weird at first, having never seen the band from a chair before, but my aching bones would thank me later. The opening act? A fella by the name of Ron Hawkins. No, not the one from Arkansas currently in the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Someone better. The Ron Hawkins who happens to play guitar and sing for the Lowest of the Low.

Ron opened the night with a close-to-45-minute set that included some solo stuff, some Lowest of the Low, some Rusty Nails, and a few snippets of some cover tunes just for shits and giggles. He even brought the LotL guitarist, Steve, on stage to do a couple of their classic tunes. It was a lot of fun, and the place was already close to capacity. The mood was set for more good times, and oh boy, were they delivered - in spades.



Due to curfew rules for the venue, The Watchmen came on at 9:02. Early by concert standards but to come on stage so soon after such a good opener turned out to be a great idea. Everyone was excited and feeling good, including the band, and from the very first chord, it showed.

Now, because I wasn't sure if they'd play Alex's song or not, at the end of each song I'd get my phone ready to record. It wasn't a big deal because I was sitting down. I just put my phone in my lap with my camera app open and clapped and cheered like everyone else while we waited for the next tune. Then, the band did something different. The bassist grabbed an acoustic guitar and the drummer grabbed some bongos. Sensing something special coming I started recording, and Danny gave a little intro and they kicked into a cover of a Tragically Hip song. It was emotional as hell.



For those who don't know, The Hip (as they are affectionately known) lost their lead singer, Gord Downie, a couple years ago (about a year after I lost Riaz). The nation mourned (I wrote about that, too), but Friday night when The Watchmen played one of their tunes, it was a celebration. I, along with every other person in the joint, was close to tears, but it was a celebration and a damn fine tribute.

Then, the band played my favourite Watchmen tune acoustic-style. It's the one I learned to play for my anniversary.



That was followed up by Danny's a cappella. It wasn't Billy Bragg this time, but it sounded like gold. His voice was like butter and while no live performance will ever be executed perfectly, it was perfect.



The whole show was fantastic. Every song was tight, the sound was clean, the audience was into it, and the band looked like they were having a blast. Toward the end of the show, they called out Ron to do a song: Billy Bragg's A New England. It was off the charts fantastic and because I was at-the-ready with my phone I captured it.



I didn't record every emotional moment I had, though. I started recording one of my favourite songs toward the end of the show but it was too much. It was one of Riaz's favourite songs as well and he would often quote the opening lyric to me randomly on facebook or via email. As soon as they played it I put the phone down and just sat and watched, and listened, and immersed myself in the moment. Even now, the emotions are overwhelming.


With the show coming to a close and one encore set already done it was clear that I had just experienced something truly special. Then, the guys go and outdo themselves yet again. There was a bit of a discussion on stage amongst the band and then Danny informs us that they're "calling an audible" and instead of only getting one more song to end the night that we're going to get two. Camera at the ready, I started recording and then I heard the telltale opening drums of Alex's favourite song, Say Something.



They played the last song after that, just Danny and the guitarist Joey, and the lights came up. Tam and I looked at each other and agreed that it was probably the best show of theirs we'd ever seen. We bypassed the main stairwell and headed down the side steps that led directly outside. Two paces to the right outside on the sidewalk I see a friend from high school that I interact with regularly on Facebook. I haven't seen him face-to-face in probably twenty-five years. He hadn't been at the show. He had been out with friends and was waiting for an Uber. He's a hell of a guy and a wonderful blogger, and it was the perfect random encounter to cap off the perfect evening, all made possible by a quarter of a century of seemingly random and inconsequential events. Bob Ross would have called them happy little accidents, and after Friday night I'd be inclined to agree.



~ Andrew

September 27, 2018

Cover Reveal: Hard Truth

On November 27 you will be able to purchase my first fiction novel at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Indigo. In fact, you can pre-order it right now (links below)! In the meantime, I present to you the cover for this book created by none other than Casey Cowan at Oghma Creative Media. You should check out their website and see some of the other amazing work he's done (and who knows, maybe you can pick up another book or two after you pre-order this one, because more books!)


To the outsider, Thomas Van Steen seems to have everything—a successful business, beautiful, sexy wife, loyal best friend, expensive cars, and custom-tailored suits. But on the inside, his life is not as perfect as it seems. His aging mother is experiencing rapidly declining health. To see her through her last days, he has set her up in his New York City penthouse, with the best care money can buy. The second flaw in this perfect life? Thomas is oblivious to the fact that he’s a misogynistic, narcissistic hypocrite who treats everyone except his mother with contempt and disdain. 

Celebrating a huge win at a poker game, and on the verge of closing an incredible business deal, Thomas and his idyllic existence come to a screeching halt. Exiting his apartment in a rush, he finds himself trapped in the elevator when the power goes out. Feeds from the building’s security cameras are still live, though, keeping him from being completely cut off from the exterior world. Unfortunately, these only provide grainy pictures and sounds echoing off the building’s stairwells, corridors, and lobby to give him clues to what’s happening outside. Nothing he sees or hears is reassuring. 

Trapped inside, powerless in every way, he feels the cracks forming in the carefully-laid foundations of his world—exposing a cold, hard truth he is unprepared to face.

"Deeply unsettling, kept me up late into the night. A writer to watch."
AJ Aalto, Bestselling Author of The Marnie Baranuik Files

Preorder it now!


September 13, 2018

The Culture of Me

There's a disturbing trend that's seemingly reaching every corner of the globe. A veritable tidal wave of populism, nationalism (particularly of the white variety), and protectionism is crashing down on the United States, the United Kingdom, and yes, even here in Canada.

At the root of the problem seems to be this notion that it's every person for themselves That somehow if only everyone else would just get their shit together that everything would be okay. There are myriad problems with this attitude, but the first thing I notice it is that it does a wonderful job of highlighting a person's privilege. There's this attitude of, I'm okay, so why aren't you okay? I got what I wanted, sorry about your luck, with an implied or sometimes even whisper-spoken "sucker" tacked onto the end.

Is this what we've become?

There's a hole blown in the middle and everyone seems to have been forced to one side or the other, ready and primed to vote for the candidate who promises the loudest and with the most fervor that not only will you get dinner before sex but you'll get a cigarette after as well. One thing is certain, someone is getting screwed and you don't have to be a member of the party "for the people" or a very stable genius to figure out who.

True to my prediction in my last post, Doug Ford (a.k.a. Trump North, Trump Lite) took power in the province of Ontario and true to form he and his supporters have been wreaking havoc and showing their true colours. For the uninitiated, Doug Ford is the equivalent of a state governor (though how he got there is a little different and how the government behaves is a little different as well). Presently, he's invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document in which there is a bevy of rights bestowed to all the citizens of the Great White North. 

By Marc Lostracci [CC BY 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
via Wikimedia Commons

However, in order to get the damn thing ratified back in 1982, there was a notwithstanding clause added. This allows a federal or provincial government to essentially override the Charter for some (but not all) of its guarantees. If invoked, it only applies for five years (during which time there will be an election) but it can be re-invoked after that indefinitely. Qu├ębec has invoked it a whack of times, but they were never on board with the Charter in the first place. 

In Ford's case, a judge ruled that he violated a section of the Charter and that his legislation was therefore unconstitutional. He's invoking the notwithstanding clause to get around the ruling he doesn't like for legislation that no one voted on and he never even mentioned once on his campaign. You would think that if a citizen's rights were being stripped it would be over something pretty egregious. You would think it would only be used in extraordinary circumstances. In #DoFo's case, you would be wrong. He wants to reduce the city council in Toronto by almost half - weeks before an election. Say what you want about the judge that ruled that by doing this he is violating a section of the Charter, using the notwithstanding clause to override this decision is akin to using a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack into a sponge. 

In other words, he's being a colossal ass hat. 

On top of that, he has promised to use the clause at every opportunity in the future. The clause shouldn't even be a thing and should never be used. But, since it is and since it does, it should be used in the rarest of occasions. Is the size of Toronto's city counsel extraordinary? Not even close. Do Ford or any of his lackey members of parliament care? Nope. They're getting what they want and t'hell with the rest of you. If you are part of the 60% of those who voted (and the 75% of the total electorate) who didn't want anything to do with them, I have a newsflash. They don't care about you, and they sure as shit don't care about your rights and freedoms.

As everyone knows, down in the U.S. it's worse. You can't even go 48-hours without hearing about how some level of government is abusing their power and giving a large portion of the population the shaft. For cryin' in the sink, the Senate is all set to confirm a Supreme Court judge FOR LIFE who likely perjured himself during the confirmation hearings! For the love of God, I can't figure out how anyone is okay with any of this, let alone millions of people.

Kevin McCoy [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of God, religion always seems to make its way into these conversations at some point, with those using The Good Book as a defense all trigger happy and ready to whip out a selection of examples that "prove" their point. 

Well, I can do that, too:

  • "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Matthew 7:1
  • "So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." John 8:7
  • "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Matthew 7:5
  • "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Galatians 5:14

Funny how you can tell a lot about a person's character by the bible verses they cherry pick. And people wonder why atheism is growing at such a fast rate? When did caring about your neighbours become a bad thing? When did experiencing happiness over another person's success give way to resentment? When did selfishness become the norm? When did we start allowing ourselves to be governed by such ineffectual, petty swindlers?
Shealah Craighead [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
By Andre Forget - Andrew Scheer
[CC0] via Wikimedia Commons
I've recently joined several Facebook groups dedicated to my immediate community. It's a small village of a few thousand that sits within a bigger city of over a hundred thousand that sits within a bigger region of close to half a million people. These groups provide links to garage sales, buy or trade opportunities, local businesses, share success stories of the people that live within a few kilometers of me, give alerts to petty crime and other activities of concern, and are generally used as a forum to connect people who already share a small geographic space.

At first, the only posts I noticed were the ones that made me feel good about the community I choose to call home. After a while, however, it became clear that there will always be those who either don't care, are ignorant (willfully or otherwise), or are generally insensitive and unempathetic toward anyone that doesn't fit their specific definition of a model citizen. The bad news is those people tend to be loud. The good news is they also appear to be in the minority.

So, I'll be doing my part in these groups to hopefully return the notion of being neighbourly to the mainstream consciousness, at least locally, but if you want an example of a community doing this on a larger scale, look no further than the Bangor Maine Police Department on Facebook. They are a shining example of community and compassion and if even a few people from all our neighbourhoods took a page out of their book we'd all be better off.

~ Andrew

May 13, 2018

Trump North Strong and Free

Ontario is having a provincial election on June 7. For my American readers, this is much like a state election where you would vote for your Representatives in the state legislature and Governor―only a little different. We elect Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and the leader of the party with the most MPPs in parliament becomes the province's Premier (we also split our province up into what we call ridings, not districts).

Those who have read my blog around the time of previous election cycles know that I am not shy about voicing my opinion but I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this post. Listen, I am no fan of any of the choices that I have in this election. I'm actually finding it hard to decide on what to do. So, rather than focus on what I don't like about Doug Ford, Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath, or the system in general, I'm going to explain how I think it's going to play out, and why. Are you ready for it? Here goes:

Premier Doug Ford


You best get used to hearing that on the radio, watching it on the news, and reading it in print. The tell-it-like-it-is brother to the disgraced (and now deceased due to a losing battle with cancer) former mayor of Toronto is the leader of the "Progressive" Conservative (PC) party. A party that is poised to take back the reigns of Ontario and ride us into the sunset on a wave of populism, then over a cliff and into an abyss from which it will take decades to escape.

(Okay, fine. I threw in a little editorializing and hyperbole, but I couldn't resist. There's more where that came from, too. So keep reading.)

You heard it here first. Well, maybe not first, but from what I can tell the liberal, #FakeNews media sure aren't raising much of a stink. Not one that's going to matter anyway. That makes me wonder if they've resided to the fact that the Donald Trump of the North is going to win and there's not too much that can be done about it.

"How? Why?" you may ask. Well, it's really the culmination of a few things. A perfect storm, if you will.
  1. Electorate Fatigue and Long Memories
  2. Populism, Wedge Issues, and Donald Trump
  3. An Antiquated (Broken) Electoral System
Let's look at each one in turn.

Electorate Fatigue and Long Memories


Canadian voters are an odd bunch. Because of the way our system is set-up, we can have minority governments. This forces the parties to cooperate and elected officials to actually compromise from time-to-time. As a byproduct of a minority government, the longevity of the government is shortened, and we're usually back at the polls in less than two years. Instead of being excited for the opportunity to actively participate in our democracy, people tend to assume an, "Oh no, another election?" attitude. Voter turnout plummets and we ultimately end up with a false majority government that in no way represents the views of the people they represent.

More specific to this election cycle and why Doug Ford and the "Progressive" Conservatives are going to win, the governing Liberals have been in power, either with a minority or "majority" government for almost fifteen years. That's a long time to be holding the reigns. Even if their track record were pristine, they would have a giant target on their backs, and their track record is FAR from pristine. So far from pristine. Corroded and crumbling is probably a more accurate description.

The leader of the Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne, is almost universally disliked, if not hated. Strong words, indeed, but with approval ratings hovering below 20% and showing no signs of improving anytime soon, to say that she's in trouble would be a gross understatement.

There are a lot of reasons for Ms. Wynne and the Liberals being in this position, most of them self-imposed, but at the root of it is fatigue. If you keep doing what you're doing you'll keep getting what you get, and a lot of folks aren't thrilled with that they're getting.

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”― Mark Twain

An observant person would look at the above and wonder why the scales would tip toward Doug Ford as opposed to Andrea Horwath and the third major party in the race, the New Democratic Party. Well, this is where the long memories of Ontarians come in.

Back in 1990, Bob Rae oversaw one of the most surprising electoral victories in Ontario's history. He led the NDP of that time to a majority government with a whopping 37.6% of the popular vote. The NDP increased their seats in parliament from 19 to 74. It was amazing and no one predicted it and Bob Rae and the NDP cocked it up in a big way.

With a vague economic plan and a bunch of promises that went unfulfilled, Bob & Friends lost the next election to the Mike Harris "Progressive" Conservatives in a landslide, losing all 55 seats they gained five years earlier plus two more. Their popular vote numbers dropped 17%. Even though those days are almost thirty years behind us, still many a person can be heard muttering, "Not again."

Populism, Wedge Issues, and Donald Trump


Ever since Donald Trump ran for and was "elected" president there has been a rise in populism in America. It has spilled over into the Great White North as well but been somewhat tempered by the fact that we have a leader in Justin Trudeau that is pretty much the exact opposite of Trump. Still, the seeds of hate have been sown, partially because they've always been there and partly because Stephen Harper left behind a legacy of divisive politics, anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-equality, anti-democracy supporters that are a little more than pissed that Trudeau unseated the mighty King Steve.

This mentality is more pronounced at the provincial level since the politics are more localized. Those little pockets of deplorable alt-righters are enough to swing a riding. Anyone who doesn't think that's a winning tactic hasn't been paying attention to what happened in the United States. Donald Trump redefined the word "elite" using divisive politics, wedge issues, and "dog whistle" sound bites. In doing so he did one better than convincing the world the Devil didn't exist by convincing them that he came in the form of Hilary Clinton.

Doug Ford already has the Devil we all know in Kathleen Wynne so he's hard at work with the next phase. Lying and misinformation. Doug Ford says things that are verifiably false and his supporters don't care.  As an example, little Douggie likes to claim that parents were not consulted about the new sex ed curriculum that Kathleen Wynne imposed on the province to "push her liberal agenda". The fact is that more than 2,000 parents were consulted. He'll say things like he won't personally open up the abortion debate again but is open to one of his MPs doing it (an argument that's been settled in Canada for a number of years). He makes disparaging comments about people with autism, no doubt playing to the anti-vax, Dr. Google crowd at the heart of the measles outbreak in Toronto a few years ago.

It's all just sound bite after sound bite. Sound bites with no bite, no substance, and nothing relevant or factual to offer. But that's okay because there are people who don't care that it's not factual and those people are going to vote for him just like millions did for Donald Trump. Kathleen Wynne is evil. He is not Kathleen Wynne. Anything to the contrary is #FakeNews. Did I mention he's not Kathleen Wynne? He's not. She is a bad, evil, elitist liberal who will "tax anything that's not nailed down". He won't. No really, he won't. Everything will be perfect under Doug Ford. No one will suffer. No services will be cut. Drain the swamp. Lock her up.

"But her emails!"  Trumpists

Doug Ford has openly supported Donald Trump. He's made excuses for his repugnant behaviour toward women. He even went as far as to suggest that Trump was taking a page out of the Ford NationTM political handbook. You have to pull off some impressive mental gymnastics not to see the similarities. Still, he tries to evade the comparison. He likes the tactics because they are the ticket to the big time, but he knows when push comes to shove, Ontarians don't want a guy like Trump in charge. We may be bigoted, racist, sexist, ableist, and every other kind of "-ist" you can imagine, we just don't want it out on display for the rest of the country to see.

Just like with Donald Trump and the ass-backward Electoral College, Doug Ford knows this isn't a popularity contest. His party's candidates need to just win one more vote than everyone else in half of the ridings plus one. That's 63 ridings if anyone wants to do the math. What's great is he can do it with a tiny fraction more than a third of the popular vote.

Which brings us to the final reason (on my list, anyway) that we're going to be hearing (ad nauseam, no doubt) "Premier Doug Ford" on June 8.

An Antiquated (Broken) Electoral System


This comes up a lot in Canadian elections, both provincial and federal. It was actually a key campaign promise that Justin Trudeau made in 2015 when he defeated Stephen Harper (don't get me started on how pissed I am at JT for breaking that promise).

The first thing supporters of this system usually do is point out the flaws of any other proposed system. My system may have flaws, but yours does too, and since they're both flawed it's best if we just keep the current system because of... reasons or something. Rather than go into all that here I'll just simplify how it currently "works" (Yes, I'm using lots of sarcastic air quotes in this piece. I have no choice.)

First-past-the-post was adopted by a bunch of high-on-themselves white colonist men back in the day. It has received virtually zero updates since then and is quite easy to explain:

  • Split the region of interest, in this case, Ontario, into roughly equally populated parcels or districts. Call each one a "riding".

  • Allow provincial parties to run candidates in the riding. There are rules for this but they're pretty lax, which is why we end up with three for four major parties (PC, Liberal, NDP, and a distant fourth, Green) running alongside the Go Vegan party and the None of the Above Direct Democracy Party.

  • Hold a vote. If you're 18 years of age or older, a Canadian citizen, and a verifiable resident of Ontario you're good to go. 

  • Declare winners in each riding. This one is simple. Count the votes for each person. Whoever gets the most, wins. There are recount rules and blah blah blah, but determining the winner is the same. Get more votes, even by one, than the other people and you're now a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP).

  • Count up the winners of all the ridings for each party. Whichever leader of the party that won the most ridings is asked the question of whether or not they think they can form a government. This is where it gets a little flaky. 

    • IF the party who wins the most ridings wins 50% + 1 of them (=63 in Ontario's case), then that is considered a majority government. Any vote along party lines will result in a pass if the party in charge votes for it. They have 100% of the power for the next four years even though they are usually only mathematically represented by a little more than a third of the popular vote. 

    • HOWEVER, since we have more than two parties, and more than two heavily favoured parties, this creates a situation where oft times the government formed will be a minority government (i.e. fewer than 50% + 1 of the ridings but more than any other party). 

    • When this happens, the party forming government has to weigh whether or not they think they can actually get legislation passed. If after discussions with other party leaders they think they can cobble together enough other party support to get stuff done, then they go ahead and govern. 

    • This usually has a shelf life of about two years before one or more of the opposing parties can't take it anymore and everyone but the party in charge votes against something big (like a budget). This is called a vote of non-confidence and if the ruling party doesn't get 50% + 1 of the votes, then the government is kaput and we head to the polls again.

    • BUT WAIT, what happens if the parties that lose the minority government scenario team up and form a coalition? Well, this has happened in Ontario before and it was a moderate success. There are a couple of ways it can be done, but typically one party (the third place finisher) agrees to provide voting support for another party (the second place finisher). However, if the gap between second and third is reasonably narrow, it's possible that cabinet members from both parties will be chosen (think of this as more of a more "pure" coalition). 

Confused yet? Don't worry, most voters in Ontario are as well. How does this favour Doug Ford? Well, he just needs to game the system to get 63 of the 124 ridings to swing in his favour. Between the ones that "always vote Conservative" and the ones where the Liberals are on the outs (most of the others) all he needs to do is ensure one more person in each of those ridings votes PC instead of someone else. Entirely possible given all the reasons I've explained above.

How Will it Play Out?


If you believe me, as well as literally every poll that's out there, you will see that the chances of a majority government for Doug Ford are amazingly good. It's not quite a statistical certainty, but it's close. So, my first prediction is four years of Doug Ford. After that, the chances of him winning a minority government are virtually guaranteed. This is where it gets fun though, because of the aforementioned coalition government possibility. However, given that the way the Liberals and the NDP have treated each other over the past few years I see that as being a remote likelihood at best.

"Make Ontario great again, eh?"  Ford NationTM

When it's all said and done, whether it's a misread on Mr. Ford, the other candidates, the other party leaders, or the electorate, no one would be more pleased than me if I were to be proven wrong. So, if you've got thoughts on this please don't hesitate to share. Most importantly, if you're an Ontarian who is eligible to vote (or think you are), check your registration status at www.elections.on.ca and get out there on June 7 and mark an "X". If you could help prove my prediction wrong while you're at it that would be fantastic.

~ Andrew