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.