Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Thoughts on the Marriage Debate

4 January 2017--I wrote this a while back, and decided not to post it at that time. I've made a few additions to my comments and corrected some typos, but I feel like now is the time to post.

As various jurisdictions go tripping over themselves to legalise same sex marriage [which is how I will refer to the subject from here on out; full disclosure: this was the topic of my first year law school moot, and as such, it is the terminology with which I am most comfortable], I find myself pondering the various attitudes towards the subject with the same trepidation I had in law school. I really don't like pussyfooting around such subjects and like to make my position as clear as possible. People can choose to be offended, or they can agree to disagree, which is the position I take. It is my hope that those of you who support same sex marriage will respect and appreciate my position, and those who do not may be enlightened somehow. In this post, I will outline what I consider to be the core issues, how they agree or disagree with human rights, and how I came to the conclusion I did, after careful consideration, soul-searching and yes, even prayer.

1. Marriage is a religious institution, co-opted by the state for its own ends.

No matter how much you want to argue this point, you will always be wrong. Marriage began as a religious institution, is still a religious institution, and always will be a religious institution. When marriage was adopted and regulated by the state, it was done for its own ends i.e. Taxation and regulation. By creating rules and regulations for marriage within a given state, that state could profit from its recognition within the state (marriage licences, fees for a justice of the peace to perform a wedding, taxation on the basis of marital status, etc.). Where the waters get somewhat muddied is in the realm of legal recognition of religions and their ministers to perform marriages recognised by the state. There are those among same sex marriage activists who would would have you believe that this would entitle them to be married by whatever religion they choose.  This is false, and leads to:

2. Where freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation collide, freedom of religion must always protect the religious observers from doing anything against their beliefs. 

When we talk about constitutional rights, they fall into two categories: positive liberties and negative liberties. Freedom of religion is actually both: it is the freedom to worship according to your religion of choice and freedom from religious persecution. Sexual orientation falls more into the negative liberty category: freedom from discrimination. Where a conflict arises between the two, say a gay couple wants to get married by a Catholic priest or a Mormon bishop, freedom of religion trumps sexual orientation, since to perform a same sex marriage is against the beliefs of the minister in question.

It does not mean that the couple cannot get married; merely that the options are reduced. It is akin to a physician declining to perform abortions because it goes against his religious beliefs; there are still physicians ready, willing and able to do the procedure. Another example that works is that of purchasing a car: if a certain feature is not available from a given manufacturer, much as the purchaser would prefer to buy that particular brand, the option remains to buy from another manufacturer. The actual ceremony is a service, and since that service can be provided by the government, or by a religion that supports same sex marriage, to force a religion that does not to perform the ceremony is compulsion, which deprives others of their rights. As to whether such compulsion could happen, there is currently a case making its way through the British courts where a gay couple is seeking to have their marriage performed in the Church of England. If they succeed, it will be a sad day indeed.

I know some will raise the "right to refuse service" laws that cropped up in Kansas and Arizona recently, but those laws were an abuse of process and the Arizona one was rightly vetoed. While I imagine other Bible Belt states will continue to champion such laws notwithstanding, I do not support such legislation.

3. Not supporting same sex marriage does not equal homophobia. 

"If you're not with us, you're against us." Funnily enough, those words come from a musical that was preaching tolerance: Beauty and the Beast. The context, of course, is that Gaston and the mob are planning to lay siege to the Beast's castle and kill him, because, "We don't like what we don't understand, in fact it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least." Words written by an openly gay man (Howard Ashman) using the Beast's plight as a metaphor for homosexuality. Yet, the mob mentality appears to have overtaken all intelligent debate on the issue. Not supporting same sex marriage because it goes against your religious beliefs is not homophobia. Opposition arises out of two particular schools of thought. The first was described above: no person should be compelled to perform a same sex marriage ceremony if it conflicts with his religious beliefs. The second opposition weirdly mirrors the attitude espoused by same sex marriage activists that if one person says no to us, the floodgates will open and none of us will be able to get married. It is that if same sex marriage becomes legal, other forms of marriage can't be too far behind (polygamy, etc.). We would all like to believe that cooler heads will prevail, but we can't be sure. That goes for both groups.  We need to cool the hyperbolic rhetoric here. 

For the record, I have known and do know many gay and lesbian people. They come from all walks of life, just like straight people. It is my hope that they understand that "If you're not with us, you're against us" is as stupid as it sounds. 

4. Persecution and/or bullying is never OK. 

This should be obvious, but it seems that members of both sides of the issue seem to think that whoever yells loud enough, throws their weight around and belittles the other will win the debate. I was tremendously impressed when George Takei, a gay rights and same sex marriage supporter, took the high road when noted anti-gay activist Fred Phelps passed away. Many activists were calling for pickets of his funeral, screaming things like "BURN IN HELL!" which would be the sort of thing Phelps commonly practiced in his life. By not giving in to those base, knee-jerk sentiments, Takei has earned my respect. We could all learn a lot from his handling of the situation. 

Bullying doesn't end when school does; it just changes formats. Those who are wise enough to realise this are ahead of the game. Those of us who choose to continue such behaviour are deserving of any scorn we receive as a result, but that is not a licence for the bullied to engage in such scorn. By "stooping to [their] level," the discourse is reduced to something like what we saw in the US Presidential Election of 2016; vicious, divisive and uncivilised.

5.  How about trying to be true Christians (or whatever belief you espouse)?

It's not rocket science, folks. Just because you disagree on an issue does not mean you cannot love your fellow humans. There's a lot to be said for civility and respect, but loving takes more. It takes not only looking beyond differences, but appreciating differences and what others bring to the world. It does not mean agreement; if it did, couples and family members would never fight, but if we can try to see things from another perspective, we come out the other end better for it. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

I'm done.

 I'm frustrated, and I'd like to think I'm not alone. It seems that everywhere I turn, I'm seeing an overwhelming amount of negativity on a variety of subjects. Whether it's the government, either federal or provincial, or LGBTQ rights and issues, or the upcoming US election, or gun control, the hatred on both sides is palpable. How did we get here?

Let's examine each of the above individually. First, provincial politics. Six months ago, the NDP was elected to a majority in Alberta, ending 44 years of rule by the Progressive Conservative party. In classic "squeaky wheel gets the grease" fashion, the Wildrose party has been whipping rural constituents into a frenzy, most recently with Bill 6, proposed legislation that wants to remove certain exemptions for family farms regarding workplace safety regulations and workers' compensation. I will be the first to say that Bill 6 is clumsily worded; as a lawyer working in the realm of criminal justice, I have seen my fair share of badly worded legislation, and Bill 6 needs some TLC, particularly where exemptions for family members and unpaid "Good Samaritan" neighbours are concerned. Some of those in opposition to the bill state that their current insurance is better than what WCB has to offer, which isn't hard to believe, but I think they're somewhat missing the point. They argue that there are fewer reported farm accidents in Alberta than im provinces that have similar legislation. The key word there is "reported"; if farm accident statistics are anything like sexual assault statistics, under-reporting is a problem. If anyone wants to preserve the status quo, all he has to do is fail to report a farm accident. There is also concern that farm workers are placed in a position where they have to do work they know is dangerous, but risk losing their jobs if they refuse to do them. These are the primary concerns of the government, which farmers say are unfounded, and will lead to the unionization of farm labour. If this is the case, then show us why; don't just yell and scream in protest. 

There has been a bit of a rush to get the legislation passed, which is never a good idea, but consider the following: the government is only 6 months old, and is composed of many people who have NEVER held public office before. Are they going to make mistakes? Is China the number one consumer of rice in the world? They have since indicated that they are prepared to consult with farmers and their representatives, but that doesn't appear to be good enough. The rural vote is out for blood, and wants to see recall legislation brought in, thinking it will change things. How myopic. Do they forget that nearly all the NDP MLAs were elected in urban ridings? A recall will change nothing. The majority might shrink, but not enough to change anything, and all those taxpayer dollars will be wasted on an unnecessary election foisted on an electorate that is frankly burnt out on politics right now. Has nobody considered actually trying to work WITH the government, to try and understand where they're coming from and come to a compromise? No, because we're hearing what we want to hear thanks to social media. 

My news feeds are inundated with whining (calling it like I see it) about how we're all going to be destitute thanks to the policies of the NDP. Whatever happened to constructive criticism? We can accomplish so much more by not polarizing ourselves politically and falling for the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt for those unfamiliar with the acronym) being sown by opponents of the government. I'm not blaming the opposition; they're doing their job, but when we simply fall in line behind them and drink whatever Kool-Aid it is they're selling at any given time, we're not using our heads. We're treating the government like they're experienced legislators, which they clearly aren't. They have 6 months on the job and are learning on the job. Our job as constituents is to assist in educating them. Quit treating them like the PCs; they're not the PCs. This is a baby government with no experience running government, and how well do babies respond to protests, grandstanding and fear-mongering? While it's been a while since I've had young children, my memory tells me that they would react in fear and recoil, which is exactly what I see happening. While protesting seems to be the saveur du jour, I fail to see that it accomplishes any more than a well-reasoned discussion, and it seems to be accomplishing less. If anything, the current spate of protests seems to paint rural Alberta as a bunch of poorly educated, ill-informed rednecks whose only currency is to yell and scream until they get what they want. I know that's not the case, but back up and take a hard look at yourself.

Moving on to the next example, this is more of a federal/provincial mix than strictly federal, but hear me out. There has been a huge backlash against both the federal and Alberta provincial governments over their environmental policies, coupled with the US government's final refusal of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the increased resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline. As a result, we are getting the same sort of FUD, not from the oil companies, but from those who are either currently working in the oil patch, or have been laid off from their jobs there. Some people think that the NDP and the federal Liberals are trying to destroy the oil industry all by themselves. They fail to see the bigger picture. Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market with their oil and driving the price of crude oil down to the $40 per barrel range. They will have to stop at some point, but because their cost of oil production is well below $40 per barrel, they can survive on the lower prices. For now. 

Oil is a complicated business in Canada. Eastern Canada has customarily imported oil to refine for Eastern use and continues to do so, albeit below their capacity to do so, meaning that apart from Western Canada, which has limited refinement capacity, Alberta has had to export its oil, typically at a steep discount, to be able to do anything with it. That was the reasoning behind Keystone XL and Northern Gateway: easier access to the US and China respectively. At current oil prices, we would be selling at a loss, which is why many projects have shut down, and no new ones are being announced. What is buried in the platforms of Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau is agreement on a proposed Energy East pipeline, which would send crude from Alberta, East to the existing refineries in Eastern Canada, meaning that instead of importing oil from other countries (Venezuela has been a popular choice), Canada has the opportunity to become energy self-sufficient, if we can just get past our regional prejudices. It's food for thought, but the FUDdites toil away, making sure we remain as polarized as ever. Yes, there's a carbon tax coming, and yes, it will make life more difficult, but let's take a hard look in the mirror: as Albertans, we've had life fairly easy up to now, including during the recession of 2008. We bounced back fairly quickly, but we don't know how quickly recovery will happen this time, because it is so dependent on external factors. We need to face the fact that we have been sucking on the teat of the oilpatch for far too long. We can't rely on it consistently, because it is so financially volatile, and the latest reports indicate oil will not bounce back as long as the US continues to invest in shale oil production. 

I repeatedly hear comments like, "I wish Ralph was back," and I have to shake my head. My wife and I were a young couple when Klein and his Conservatives began their hack-and-slash-privatize-everything policies. It was a difficult time to be in that position, but we learned from that experience. Ralph didn't, spreading the wealth around as soon as there were surpluses above what was needed to pay down provincial debt. This was a mistake; he should have been replenishing the Heritage Fund and other measures to save for a "rainy day." I doubt Ralph was much of a Bible reader; if he was, he might have remembered the story of Joseph interpreting the Pharoah's dream about the seven fattened kine and the seven lean kine and the importance of saving for the future. Instead, we are now in a situation where our infrastructure is hurting, especially in the area of school construction. I think I've made my point. Yes, King Ralph slew the deficit, but he didn't consider the possibility of a future one. It appears Stephen Harper made the same mistake on the national stage, but that's another story.

Moving on to LGBTQ issues, I found a very constructive article online a few days ago and would necourage everyone I know to give it a read. Here's a link: it speaks specifically about Mormons, I think other friends of mine may either find common ground, or at least be better able to understand why most Mormons have such a hard time coming to terms with LGBTQ issues. Again, as above, if we stop to consider the "other side"'s point of view, the conversation can be more constructive. A lawyer friend of mine once said, "You attract more flies with honey than vinegar," which may seem contrary to an adversarial profession, but he had a point. If we approach a situation looking for a solution rather than just trying to scream the loudest to get our point across, we are more likely to reach an acceptable compromise. I know compromise tends to be a dirty word these days, but some of the best solutions have been compromises. Is any of this starting to sound familiar?

Donald Trump is an idiot. There; I said it. As polarised as politics are in Canada, it's far worse in the US, and has been for much longer. I really hate the US brand of smearing one's opponent with ad hominem attacks and the like, and what I hate more is how much it has seeped into Canadian politics. Sadly, conservatives are to blame, as they have co-opted attack ads and the like, and conservative no longer means conservative. It now appears to mean libertarian, which is properly described as the classical liberal school of politics. Conservative now means less than nothing, which I find to be rather sad. Conservatives would all rather model themselves on the Republican party, which is heavily controlled by the Tea Party, a classical liberal movement. I think I may have lost those of you who never studied political science. I used to describe myself as a conservative, but now I don't know what I am. I'm not a social democrat, I'm not a socialist, I'm not a libertarian, I'm not a liberal. I just am.

And now, to my last bugaboo: gun control. If you were to ask me what my position is on gun control, I would say that I am in favour of responsible gun ownership. In Canada, gun ownership is not a right; it is a privilege. It is enshrined as a right in the US. I don't honestly know which is the better approach, but I do know this: in my experience, I have known responsible gun owners and irresponsible gun owners. My anectdotal evidence is that there are far more responsible gun owners than irresponsible gun owners, and I am proud to call these people my friends. They know that improperly secured firearms and ammunition are a recipe for disaster, especially with children in the house. The answer, in my humble, non-gun-owning opinion, is education and licencing. We educate people and regulate them in the operation of motor vehicles, which can also be lethal weapons in the wrong hands. They have to be tested and licenced, and there are serious penalties, some of them criminal, for failing to comply. Should we apply a lesser standard to firearms, which are intended as weapons? Will there be unlicenced uses of firearms? If people driving without valid licences, insurance or registration are any indication, yes, but you can't fix stupid. Are we ever going to be able to completely stop murders, suicides and mass shootings? Probably not. Can we mitigate them or reduce their occurrence? I think it's possible. 

Before you go off about the Second Amendment to the US constitution, consider that I am not calling for an outright prohibition on owning firearms, nor am I calling for a firearms registry to return; I am calling for firearm ownership to be a regulated activity, like driving. I am not calling for a ban on so-called assault weapons; if you are properly trained on such devices, you should be allowed to own and use them. Again, think of this like the different classes of operators' licences. If you want to ride a motorcycle, that requires a different licence and training; same with a tractor-trailer unit, or a bus. So what I'm really saying is, the current status quo in Canada works just fine, but could use some tweaking. The US gun regulation is a mess amd is not helped by the Second Amendment, the NRA, or any of the interested parties, as there is no middle ground.

Before you write me off as some left-leaning hippie or having my head in the clouds, consider this: All I'm asking people to do is stop, listen and think. Hear out the other side. I'm not saying it will absolutely change your mind; it probably won't. At the very least, you'll be better informed and better able to articulate your point of view. At best, you might gain respect for another point of view. As an example, I don't like the Wildrose party, and I'm not a fan of the NDP [If you are thinking I voted for the PCs in the last provincial election, you would be mistaken]. However, I understand where they're coming from, and I respect their right to hold the positions they do. I just don't agree with either of them, but know that deliberately attempting to frustrate their political will (especially when one has formed a majority government) is a fool's errand. Power is such that even if a party has proposed election reform, once in power, it is unlikely to occur. Proportional representation sounds like a great idea on paper, but it's terrible if you want to get anything done, because it is dependent on coalitions, since no party will ever form a clear majority. The same with recall legislation, for the reasons explained above.

In short, I'm done. I am sick and tired of listening to everyone scream and shout on social media about their own little fiefdom. I'm on a break.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts on a homicide

I wrote this at the conclusion of my first homicide trial in October 2013, but wanted to give myself ample time to consider the wording and thoughts before publishing. Here goes. 

As my brain winds down from conducting a 2-week homicide trial, multiple thoughts run through it. The prosecution was successful, the accused was convicted, my colleague and I presented the best case we could to the jury in the circumstances, and yet I cannot help but feel partly responsible for the human carnage that results.  By presenting a solid case to the jury, I am responsible for that jury having the necessary evidence to convict the accused of second degree murder. I am also responsible for that convicted person being sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 10 years. By the time she becomes eligible, her eldest children will likely have children of their own, and her youngest will be teenagers. The mind reels.

However, I also felt a responsibility to the deceased. Have you ever seen the musical Chicago, or heard any of its music? The song that immediately springs to mind is "He Had It Comin'", in which a group of women, either convicted or awaiting trial, regale the audience with their stories of being wronged by their men and the revenge they took. This is the stereotype that prevails in our society: that when domestic violence occurs, women are the usual victims, but when it happens to a man, somehow he deserves whatever happens. This is where Kander & Ebb's aforementioned song becomes wittily subversive: the tales the women tell in the song are mostly of infidelity, either alleged or "caught in the act." However, the first story is an inconsequential misdeed: a man who "pops" his gum, so his lover "pops" him with a shotgun. The point being made in the song is that nobody deserves to die, no matter how wronged the offended party may feel. 

It was a similar situation with this homicide. Wife gets angry at husband for coming home drunk and high. They promised (or "gave each other a pledge"; again with the musical theatre references, this time Fiddler on the Roof) each other that they would stop drinking and doing drugs, and had done very well for a year and a half. This, however, was New Year's Eve, and in a moment of weakness, the deceased went out with some family members whom the wife considered to be bad influences. When Husband comes home, Wife starts nagging, and the fight is on in their bedroom, with some children being present initially, but leaving within a short period of time. Names are called, some viciously offensive. Husband gets angry, but rather than take it out on Wife, he tears down posters on the wall; he throws a TV on the floor, and destroys his gaming console and stereo. He punches holes in the walls. 

Wife claims she is afraid and runs up to the kitchen and grabs a knife. She goes back downstairs and tells Husband she's going to stab him. The accounts (all from the wife, since "dead men tell no tales") vary, with Husband in all versions telling her to go ahead. She takes the knife, which she describes as being used to cut tough meat, and slides it across the left side of his neck with no effect. Husband turns around to leave, and she stabs him twice in the back, one wound penetrating several centimetres. Husband, who has a bum leg and a bad back, walks over to a couch and leans over, obviously hurt. Then leaves the room.

Wife comes out of room, holding the knife up. She says she should have dropped it, but she didn't. Husband, seeing her with the knife, throws a plastic block, approximately 45 cm cubed and hollow, at her, striking her in the shoulder, clearly a "leave me alone" response. Wife is on the warpath and attacks Husband who, being 6'4" and about 185 lbs, throws her into a wall, knocking her glasses off and the knife out of her hand. Some would expect him to pick up the knife at this point and kill her, but he doesn't. Instead, he retreats up the stairs. Wife grabs her glasses and the knife and follows Husband up the stairs, stabbing him in the back 10 more times, but yielding only superficial cuts. Husband turns around and she stabs him two more times. The fatal wound is to the chest, almost in the armpit, but it passes between two ribs, puncturing the middle lobe of the right lung and cutting the lower lobe. Husband is internally bleeding, but Wife continues the fight, yelling at him to get up. When Husband does get up, he shoves Wife into a stove, telling her, "Leave me alone; can't you see I'm bleeding internally?"

He then exits the house and sits on the back stairs. Wife cleans up the blood with a mop, changes her clothes, then takes a blanket outside to her dying Husband. Then, and only then, does she call the local ambulance, asking them not to get the police involved. The ambulance arrives, along with the police, and numerous life saving measures are taken on Husband, but he eventually dies, due to massive blood loss.

Second degree murder? Yes. How could it not be? Yet the finding of the jury brings me no joy. Sometimes, when I run a trial, I get profound satisfaction from the judge's decision. Even my last jury trial brought more joy and that was a child sexual assault. This is different. I have pored over the material several times, most of it very graphic, and I will never look at a Victorinox kitchen knife the same way, nor will I look at camo pants without thinking of the facts of this case. When I looked over at the convicted Wife sitting in the prisoner box, the look on her face was one of relief, not of sorrow or of feeling wronged. I truly believe that at that point in time, she was glad this gruelling experience was over, though she sat stone-faced through most of the trial, only becoming talkative and even smiling at some points when court was adjourned once the jury had come back from its deliberations and rendered the verdict. 

The family of the deceased is understandably still bitter, but philosophical. They know this is the best result we could get, but they are bound and determined to keep Wife away from her 3 youngest kids for the foreseeable future. They have a right to feel that way; all 6 kids have been irrevocably scarred by these events, and the older 2 have attempted suicide. This is a truly broken family. 

I keep coming back to the question: Am I allowed to be happy about the outcome of the trial? I don't mean happy in the sense of, "Oh yeah! She's going to gaol! Let's do the happy dance!" I want more of a sense of satisfaction; the feeling that I did a good job, and that the outcome is the right one. Maybe that will come with time, as I distance myself from the case and can view it objectively. Here's hoping. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Wildrose Nightmare, or why I'm glad these clowns didn't form government

The local news has been inundated in recent months with stories from the legislature about comments and questions raised by the Wildrose party with respect to the governing Progressive Conservative party. The most recent allegations have been directed specifically at Alison Redford, the Premier of Alberta and leader of the PC party, but other allegations have included the improper raising of a criminal sexual assault case in the Airdrie area, by that area's MLA, Rob Anderson of the Wildrose party, where the charges were stayed by the Crown. It was improper because (1) Mr. Anderson is the party's finance critic, not its Justice critic; and (2) it was raised in a manner contrary to the rules of the Legislature. I am not in a position to comment on the merits of the case, so I will not do so, (in the interest of full disclosure, I do work as a prosecutor, so I do know a few things about the file in question, as well as the inner workings of justice) but when Mr. Anderson raises the issue under the auspices of claiming that the reason for staying the charges had to do with underfunding the Justice portfolio, when at the same time his party ran on a platform of rolling back government salaries to save costs, it sounds an awful lot like he's talking out of both sides of his face at the same time.

Returning specifically to the allegations that address Ms. Redford directly, there have been several allegations about extravagant spending expensed to the government, the most recent involving Ms. Redford's sister, who was working for the Calgary Health Region at the time the expenses were incurred, and who now works for Alberta Health Services. The Wildrose makes the suggestion that the spending occurred on Ms. Redford's watch and that she is somehow responsible for it. Ms. Redford is the one who called for the inquiry into government expenses, but apparently because she went to breakfast with her sister shortly after being elected to the legislature, Wildrose takes the position that she is now complicit and has to answer for all the expenses referenced in the investigation. As Ms. Redford has quite rightly pointed out, she as no direct knowledge of what was expensed, nor is she aware of what the expense policy was at the time. While some might say this is analogous to Cain and Abel and the whole "Am I my brother's keeper?" argument raised by Cain following his murder of Abel, the real questions should be directed to the persons who approved and authorized payment of these expenses.

The analogy would be more properly drawn to a situation where my brother and I work in different divisions of the same company. I join the company after my brother has been working for it for several years. My position is temporary and graded on performance. Shortly after joining, my brother takes me to breakfast and pays for it using his company credit card. The years pass and I am upwardly mobile, eventually making my way to CEO of the whole company. An investigation into the finances of the company occurs, as the debt level has increased beyond normal levels. That investigation uncovers the fact that my brother has expensed some items, that while not illegal and not contrary to policy, may have influenced the company and possibly been indirectly responsible for my rise through the ranks. Some shareholders are calling for me to take responsibility for my brother's actions. In what universe is that even logical? How does one breakfast, which I may or may not have known was paid for by the company, put me on the hook for the whole of my brother's actions? It's absurd, but so is political life most of the time.

The most recent allegations against Ms. Redford are of conflict of interest; specifically, that when Ms. Redford was Justice minister, she approved the appointment of a consortium of lawyers for the purpose of recovering health expenses from tobacco companies. The appointment itself is innocuous, but what is being alleged as a conflict is that Ms. Redford's ex-husband is a partner in one of the firms. Let me preface my comments on this issue by saying that conflict of interest is a far more complicated issue than has been portrayed in the media, whom I consider fully complicit in this "smear" campaign, particularly the CBC. They were the ones who requested the documents that paint Ms. Redford in an unfavourable light, and they continue to pursue the story in an effort to generate controversy, even after having interviewed experts in the field of conflict of interest, some tied to the Wildrose party who take the position that, while the optics of Ms. Redford's involvement in the decision-making process don't look great, ultimately she did nothing wrong. Yet the Wildrose continues to waste time in the legislature by smearing the ruling party.

What the Wildrose fails to consider is, by wasting legislature time by continuing in this vein and not establishing how Wildrose would avoid such controversy if it was the ruling party, it comes across to the public as mudslinging for mudslinging's sake. It does nothing to build on the Wildrose's voter base and may actually erode it. We have just endured what may be one of the nastiest US elections in history, which burned me out politically. in provincial politics, I am to the point that every time I hear the name Danielle Smith, I turn off the radio, switch channels or turn on my iPod. I can't stand the sound of her voice; it sounds like a shrieking harpy or wailing banshee to my ears. That's not how to get the body politic interested. I knew Rob Anderson in law school. He's a bright guy, and while I don't understand why he crossed the floor in 2010, I know it's not a decision he would have made lightly. The Rob Anderson I knew in law school doesn't come across in the sound bites of the media, which is a shame. I honestly hope he hasn't changed too much, because the image given to me by the media is a narrow-minded person who wants to party like it's 1994; who refuses to follow proper legislative process because it doesn't get the knee-jerk reaction the party wants. I sincerely hope that the media is distorting the message (which they are wont to do), although I cannot rule out the other possibility.

So any of my friends who are Wildrose supporters, consider this: a new party in the legislature always has potential, but that potential is being squandered right now in destructive, media-baiting mudslinging. If this continues, you will never form government.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Election Season and Debates

I just finished watching the Alberta Leaders' Debate about 90 minutes ago, and several thoughts came to mind. The first was that our debates are far more civil than the U.S. leadership and presidential debates; the second was that the CBC has done a great job of fine tuning it's Vote Compass since the last Federal election; whereas the Federal tool seemed to steer you to the Liberal party regardless of answers, the new Vote Compass not only plots your position on an x-y axis based on your stance on economic and social issues, but plots the parties as well, and it's never a perfect match. Just like real life. The side effect is that each party's platform can be summed up in relatively few words.

In the case of the Wildrose party, their platform is probably the easiest: remember the halcyon days of the 1990s and the Klein Tories? We're gonna bring those back and go further by hacking and slashing away at spending, and giving you Dani dollars, which are just like Ralph bucks, but more current. We're also going to enshrine "conscience rights," which are really a solution in search of a problem, but the general public doesn't know that, so we'll feed their paranoia. Oh, and our party is 90% old white men, who will pat you on the head and patronise you, because we know what's best (OK, the patronising bit I made up, but it's not far off the mark).

As you can tell, I have no love for the Wildrose, mostly because they are Tea Party poseurs, and I don't care much for the Tea Party either, but that's the subject of another blog.

Moving on to the Progressive Conservatives, or PCs as they are more commonly known, they can be summed up as "not your father's PC party." They are coming across as more Progressive than Conservative in this election, but as the reigning party for 40+ years, party leader Alison Redford has been saddled with the baggage of those years, which is ironic considering that she has only been an MLA for one term. Even so, she is being held responsible (unfairly, IMHO) for every gaffe the government has made during that period. She is making an earnest effort to be an instrument of change, but the baggage keeps pulling her back. She has an interesting vision for the future of health care and education which is a balance of moving forward, but doing so with a careful eye on the purse strings, but I fear it is falling on deaf ears in some parts of the province.

Raj Sherman comes across as the crazy old uncle of this election, which seems fitting, since his focus has been on seniors' care, health care and eliminating tuition. In how many elections can you say that the Liberals are actually further left than the NDP? None? Well, in this one you can safely say exactly that. Raj's performance in the debate consisted almost entirely of addressing the camera, and I doubt if he even won it over.

Which brings us to Brian Mason and the NDP, who have presented a platform almost as centrist as the PCs. Brian is in the rare position of being the elder statesman this election, and it showed in the debate. Although he would raise his voice, he was never overly rude to his fellow leaders, and made some very strong points, one of which was on the current royalty framework in the oil patch. If the unthinkable occurs and the Wildrose ends up forming government, I hope that the NDP forms a powerful opposition to keep those greyhairs in check, much like what is going on federally. I wouldn't object if the same result occurred with the PCs formed government. There needs to be true opposition. As for the Liberals, if we ignore them for long enough, maybe they'll go away, or become irrelevant like the Federal Liberals.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Modern Bully

Welcome to my new blog, where I will try to comment rationally on issues which have caught my attention as of late. Unlike my other blog The 'Dark Room, this blog will concern itself with issues connected to current events, general rants about others' ignorance, and the like. Hence the title.

Bullying has been on my mind a lot as of late for many reasons, the least of which is that bullying seems to be all over the media. It seems that every week or so, either some poor soul ends his or her own life because of bullying, or some foundation is formed by a celebrity to combat bullying. As a person who has experienced bullying firsthand in many forms (though thankfully not cyber-bullying; I would hope that I'm way too old for that now), I have taken some serious thought as to the causes of bullying and whether or not they have changed over the years, and whether it is possible to "outgrow" bullying, either for the victim or the perpetrator.

One theory of bullying that dates back to shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth, is that bullies are quite frequently bullied themselves, either by abusive parents, siblings, or other bullies. I am not a big fan of this particular theory, as it suggests two things: (1) bullying is cyclical in nature, much like alcoholism and sexual abuse; and (2) the far more frightening prospect: there is no real cure for bullying. From my own experience, bullies tended to belong to one of several social cliques, most of which were related to sports, and bullying was seen as rite of passage; a hazing ritual if you will. You simply did not belong to the clique unless you took the opportunity to pick on a particular person, most frequently outside of the sporting group. This puts the lie to this particular theory of bullying, which I believe was formed to create Christian empathy for the bully. Bluntly put, some kids are just plain evil, and there is no underlying reason for their behaviour, however reassuring this may be for some. Granted, self-hatred figured into Hitler's reasoning, but most bullies sleep just fine at night and don't wrestle with their feelings.

The second theory of bullying is that bullying is caused either by a failure or unwillingness to understand those who are different. This is one I consider to be closer to the truth. It seems that as soon as someone is labeled as "different" that any difference becomes a lightning rod for persecution. Most of the bullying stories we see as of late relate to sexual orientation. Whether or not this is simply because GLBT rights are dominating the media does not really matter; what matters is that bullied children are "different", and are tormented for their differences. It may be because of religious beliefs, a disability, colour of skin, an accent, anything. While the media focus may be on gay teens committing suicide because of bullying, this is but one face of the bullying behemoth; equal attention should be paid to those bullied for other reasons, and they should be able to benefit from the attention given to bullying.

By subscribing to the second theory of bullying, am I suggesting that the causes of bullying have changed? No; the causes have not changed, but the avenues available to bullies have. Where the realms of bullying were once (and may still be) the schoolyard, the school washroom and the locker room, technology has expanded bullying into realms both more intimate and more public: text messaging and social networking. I can't imagine anything being more painful than either a supposed "friend" sending a threatening or belittling text message, or doing the same on Facebook for all your friends to see. It would almost be preferable to get beaten up after school, because at least those wounds would heal. Emotional scars are reflected in our personalities and are far more difficult to hide from the world at large, hence the suicides motivated by Facebook posts and the like. How do you face your friends and enemies, not knowing how many of them may have read what was said about you? Granted, cyber-bullying has its antecedents in scrawlings on public washroom walls, but even those were limited to one gender or the other, and what is said now on public websites is often more brutal and explicit than what was once scribbled in Sharpie in a bathroom stall. How do you combat it?

The fortunate thing about the advance of technology is that the same tools that are available to bullies to perpetrate their hatred and ignorance can also work in favour of the bullied. Even the least web-savvy youngster can delete posts on his or her Facebook wall that are deemed offensive. The same youth can report such posts to Facebook and get the bully kicked off, but as parents, it is up to us to support our children in taking such actions.

And now, the rant: do we ever outgrow bullying? I don't know if we do. We hear about workplace bullying, but we don't know enough about it to answer the question, but one example gives me food for thought: the current Republican primaries and debates. Don't get me wrong; I think debating is a useful tool, but when it degenerates into catcalls on religious belief and other topics, where is the use? It just turns into a spitting match. I've never wanted to be involved in politics, and after several years watching the political arena, I finally know why, but I'm not going to tell you. My blog. My rules.