Thursday, December 27, 2012

#FreeAdvice for Co-op Atlantic

This giving season, I'm extending some of my creativity toward a business that helps to build strong Eastern Canadian communities. Co-op Atlantic is a multi-pronged cooperative, job creator, and community investor with members and businesses from Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Right now, Halifax is the only Atlantic Canadian city with a car sharing program (info here). The remaining Atlantic urban areas are under-saturated for similar services. I won't claim this observation is novel; the Moncton Free Press featured a post suggesting a car sharing program could flourish in the Greater Moncton Area. I agree entirely, and I have a suggestion on how create such a service.

Co-op Atlantic is ideally situated to take on such a project. Co-op Atlantic is already a membership-based organization with extensive networks across Eastern Canada. Further, the Co-op already owns and operates fuel dispensaries. Acquiring a fleet of vehicles and offering their short term use to members is an effective way to meet many social and economic goals.

Foremost, car sharing programs dramatically increase the utility of public transit. The compliment of occasional low-cost car use to public transit increases the prospect of fewer cars on the road, a move that will result in savings in road maintenance and respiratory health costs.

The complimentary relationship between public transit and car sharing services in larger Canadian cities has manifested in joint promotions and incentives for subscription to both services. As fuel costs soar and the Harper government introduces new emissions standards that will drive up new car prices, personal vehicle ownership is becoming increasingly unrealistic. Bolstering public transit and encouraging car sharing are means to ensure that quality of life in Atlantic Canada does not decline alongside the rate of personal vehicle ownership.

Perhaps Co-op Atlantic's most competitive advantage in creating a car-sharing program is their vast regional networks. If Co-op were to create an inter-provincial network of car sharing offices, retail and tourism industries would share in the benefits of a mobile population. Imagine being able to take a bus to Halifax or PEI and using a Co-op vehicle for the same rate as at home.

I hope that the Atlantic premiers and the leadership of Co-op Atlantic can agree that pairing robust public transit services and car sharing is a responsible way to develop the region.  If we hope to create an economy entrenched in equity and environmental wisdom, affordable and effective transit must be achieved.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Economy Has Gone to Pot. #NBpoli

Early this month, two US state legislatures were dragged into the present by ballot initiatives ending marijuana prohibition. I never thought that the US would beat Canada to the legalization of recreational marijuana use, but Colorado and BC’s border buddy, Washington, have voted for reefer madness.

Canada needs to accept the reality that legalized marijuana use is no longer an “if” but a “when”; nearly 2/3 of Canadians support marijuana decriminalization for small amounts. 

My foremost concern on this topic is that a sluggish legalization of marijuana will mean many lost economic opportunities. Geopolitical aspects of marijuana prohibition tend to funnel tourism dollars into economies that embrace laissez-faire drug policies; the first North American jurisdictions to realize the end of marijuana prohibition will experience a dramatic competitive advantage in tourism. Fortunately, if Canada acts quickly, we should still benefit from a boom of New England drug-tourists.

Beyond international tourism, marijuana legalization and taxation is actually great for the economy. Ending marijuana prohibition equals huge savings in policing and corrections costs and creates new revenue.

New Brunswick is especially well-suited for a marijuana economy. We make chocolate in St. Stephen and chips in Hartland. Economy stimulated.

Snack economics aside, the established pulp and paper industry and our vast agricultural lands make New Brunswick an ideal hub for industrial hemp production, which uses cannabis strains with low narcotic content and higher yields of fibre, seed, and oil production. Consider that once plant cellulose is turned into pulp, machines cannot tell the difference between it and wood pulp. In addition, hemp is the best biomass producer on planet earth: 10 tons per acre in approximately four months, and it has a higher cellulose yield than wood (77% vs. 60%). One acre of hemp (grown in a single season) yields as much paper as up to 4 acres of trees (which take many more years to grow).

Hemp paper is stronger, acid free, has a longer shelf life and costs less than half as much to process as tree paper, and  hemp paper can be recycled 5 times more than wood-based paper.

Over 25,000 different products could be made from hemp in oil, seed or fibre form. Hemp is currently being used worldwide in industries such as fabric, food, bio-diesel fuel, paper, plastics, rope, building material, molded panels, car components, wallpaper, acoustic baffling and barn bedding for farm animals.

Other amazing attributes hemp exhibits include:

  • The hemp plant is highly resistant to most insect and disease, largely eliminating the need for most (or all) pesticides and herbicides.
  • Hemp textiles are anti-microbial, anti-mildew, naturally UV resistant and readily take on eco-safe plant-based dyes.  
  • Of the 3 million plus edible plants that grow on Earth, no other plant source can compare with the nutritional value of hemp seeds. (View a detailed scientific breakdown of the hemp seed here)
  • HIA (Hemp Industries Association) estimates the total retail value of North American hemp body care sales alone to be at least $50 million.

With $356 Million in provincial deficit an sky-high unemployment weighing on our future, we cannot afford to let outdated, unscientific social policies betray New Brunswick’s economic success. While federal regulations inevitably loosen on marijuana prohibition, the provincial government needs to demonstrate leadership in agriculture and industry by laying groundwork for a prosperous hemp industry.

Our governments should also demonstrate leadership by taking proactive steps to protect citizens from any negative impacts from eventual marijuana legalization. The most legitimate criticism of legalizing marijuana is that there is no roadside test to see if someone is too high to drive. Funding this type of research is a necessary commitment to safety and prosperity during our economic difficulties.

In a time where tax increases (and apparently balanced budgets) conflict with the governing Progressive Conservative approach, we need to look for creative savings and revenue. There is no sense fighting the future; we might as well be using marijuana and hemp revenues to fund the hospitals, schools, and bilingualism New Brunswickers deserve from their government.  

*The hemp facts presented (and many more) were compiled by Ezra Soiferman. List of facts and source materials available here*

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#PMSH & The Information Generation #Fail

The Harper Conservatives lack one fundamental understanding that will likely cost them the Durham by-election: the relationship Canadians have with information. Harper Conservatives naively and piously extrapolate a parent-child relationship throughout their approach to information politics.

This government wants to parent Canadian citizens just like children; we are monitored against our consent and often knowledge, and our input into important decisions is naught.

A radical regressive agenda is underwritten by each of Harper’s backroom bills; Harper-knows-best politics have seen hundreds of pages of omnibus legislation undermine the value of our elected parliament while advancing a neoliberal ideal. We see this trend most recently in The Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, which affords China concessions that Canadians did not consent to.

Harper-knows-best politics are the shortest distance between a social democratic Canada that attempts to create equal opportunity and ‘Merica North. In brokering the transition between these two competing visions of Canada, Harper engineers his own demise.

Harper’s razor-thin majority, won with 40% of the vote, is a precarious mandate to work with. Harper faces criticism of a wasted majority from the Conservative base if his policy direction is not ideologically motivated enough. At the same time, Harper must appear moderate to stave off Liberal and NDP gains.

That appearance of moderation is Harper’s self-destruction. Instead of taking a more centered approach, Harper pushed forth a right-wing agenda through channels that minimized debate, scrutiny, and accountability.

The more controlled and robotic the Conservative approach to information becomes, the more juxtaposed the party becomes with its claim to family values. Honesty is the most sought after trait in a Canadian politician, and shameless Conservative secrecy isn't sitting well with their supporters. 

Enter into the political sphere the information generation, with many voters who don’t remember a time before cell phones and Google. The information generation is accustomed to the immediate fact-check and multiple sources. We probably aren't getting our news from a TV or a newspaper, and many of us spend as much time reading the comments as the headlines.

Repetition rather than critical examination has characterized Harper communications, a strategy prone to backfire on social media. #TellVicEverything is definitively the most effective Canadian social media campaign to date. For the first time, a hashtag derailed a bill. #HarperHistory also saw the internet bite back over ridiculous claims of the NDP not supporting the WW II effort.

Social media’s potential to elevate a political cause into mainstream trends requires an element of humor.  Successful mobilizations have snowballed because the subject matter used humor to illustrate the Conservatives as absurd. As technology is increasingly integrated into Canadian homes, the reach of social media will grow, and Harper ‘s secrecy will be taunted by comedic echoes of illegitimacy through the annals of Twitter and Facebook.

This observation is not meant to deter from traditional means of activism and civic engagement (by all means sign this LeadNow petition to halt FIPA), but to recognize the the momentum progressive organizers have conjured across the country. Clicktivists will play a huge role in shaping the 2015 election outcome, and so far it’s not looking great for the Conservatives.

Monday, September 17, 2012

RE: Riding Redrawing in South-Eastern #NBpoli

I am writing today concerned about the electoral redistribution of South Eastern New Brunswick.  As the province’s largest urban centre, the Greater Moncton Area (GMA) identity is entrenched both French and English cultural production. In politics, we see this characteristic mandate a bilingual imperative for elected representatives. My concern is that the proposed ridings of Moncton-Riverview and Beauséjour–Dieppe do not best reflect the characteristics of the region.

The GMA has a total population of 138,644 including the cities of Moncton (69,074), Dieppe (23,310), and the town of Riverview (19,128).  The region is New Brunswick’s largest urban centre and hosts one of Canada’s largest Francophone populations outside Quebec.

The three communities of the GMA have very distinct linguistic profiles; based on 2006 census Riverview reported 91%  English as mother tongue and 97% using English as language spoken most often at home. The officially bilingual city of Moncton reported 33% French mother tongue with 26% using French as primary home language. Francophone Dieppe reported 74% French only mother tongue and 71% speaking French most at home.

New boundaries will slice off Dieppe and annex it into neighbouring Francophone riding Beausejour, held by Liberal Dominic LeBlanc. Meanwhile, the new urban Moncton-Riverview riding will have a much anglicized language profile as the francophone population in the riding falls from 31.61% to approximately 20%.

Decreasing the francophone population from 1/3 to 1/5 largely degrades the bilingual imperative of elected officials. Further, the decrease also puts the francophone population in the riding well below the provincial proportion of 33% and the GMA average just below 32%.

A better redrawing of South Eastern New Brunswick would create a Moncton-Dieppe riding and annex Riverview to the neighbouring riding of Fundy Royal. Moncton and Dieppe share city status and are more socially and physically integrated than Moncton and Riverview:  they’re both on the same side of the river, the Greater Moncton International Airport and Champlain Place Mall are in Dieppe, and they both have sizeable groups of minority language speakers. Further, a Moncton-Dieppe riding would represent the uniquely New Brunswick perspective of a truly urban French-speaking riding outside of Quebec.

Fundy Royal is simultaneously a good home for Riverview. Part of the town is already in the riding, and the inclusion of the rest of Riverview stays true to the nature of Fundy Royal as the mixed largely-rural area between the province’s three southern cities. Lastly, the language profile of the riding, 95.1% English, is essentially unchanged with the potential annexation of Quispamsis and Riverview.

If Riverview is to be annexed into the Fundy Royal riding the addition of Quispamsis would cease to require emphasis in the riding’s name. Fundy Royal would endure as an appropriate name.

I hope the concerns and ideas presented resonate with you and that their merit is reflected in the redrawing of South Eastern New Brunswick's ridings. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

RE: The Putting Students First Act. #ONpoli

Dear Yasir Naqvi, Member of Provincial Parliament, Ottawa Centre

I am writing out of concern for the “Putting Students First Act” that your government plans to pass in the provincial legislature. Two points of this legislation are very problematic:

Teachers will receive a zero per cent salary increases in 2012-13 and 2013-14. 

 All teachers will take a 1.5 per cent pay cut in the form of three unpaid professional development days so that younger teachers will continue to move through the grid according to their experience and additional qualifications.

Effectively, wage freezes are wage cuts as inflation raises the costs of living, in addition to the 1.5% pay cut before factoring in any potential inflation costs.

Mr. Naqvi, public sector wage freezes are unethical. Such policies insist that the working class must subsidize the incompetence of investment bankers when their actions cause economic difficulty; a recession is provoked by the concentration of capital in too few hands. During market uncertainty, capital owners guard their personal interests and stop investing when conditions for the proliferation of their wealth are compromised. A halt in investments results in a drop of private sector job creation.

Our reality is such that extreme income inequality causes recessions. Collective bargaining is a long-standing means to mitigate income inequality between workers and owners. It may not be the most efficient means to do so, but organized labour rights are entrenched in Canadian law and must not be usurped to serve a minority of wealthy investors.

Neoliberal austerity measures prescribe that a government should do whatever possible to bait capital owners to start spending money again. Governments tend to cut personal and corporate tax rates to attract investors who will ideally, but with little guarantee, create jobs. Lower tax revenue means that an even higher amount of spending will need to be cut to return to government surplus.

The Ontario government is facing an issue balancing the budget, as are many Ontarians in their personal lives. The two tools we have to reduce provincial deficit are to raise revenue and cut spending, but smart solutions are needed to remedy Ontario’s economic woes. I applaud the governing Liberals for cooperating with the New Democrats in creating a new tax bracket for Ontarians making more than $500, 000, but I am disgusted at the thought of holding school teachers to account for economic circumstances, which they did not create.

By freezing (reducing) public wages, the Ontario tax base also shrinks, further launching our books into the red. If the government of Ontario wishes to effectively reduce deficits and maintain some semblance of equity within the province, they must abandon the ideologically motivated call for teacher’s wages to be frozen (reduced). The province must investigate new streams of revenue such as carbon, luxury, or new income taxes on those Ontarians most capable of paying and what savings would be incurred if we chose to fund a singular secular public school board. I question the priorities of a government who would choose an inefficient duplication of services that insulate religious inequality, rather than offering hard-working teachers a fair settlement. We can build a better Ontario, but not by sacrificing the livelihood of our public employees.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

RE: Vertical Farms: A Solution to Northern Hunger

Dear John Duncan, Minister, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs
CC: Denis Bevington, NDP Critic for Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
CC: Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
CC: Carolyn Bennett, Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency


I am writing today out of growing concern for the food crisis Northern Canadians are presently faced with. Recent reports have shown that food prices in Canada’s isolated arctic and sub-arctic regions are having devastating impacts on low-income and aboriginal community members.

As conscientious Canadians we owe it to these citizens to alleviate any undue suffering exorbitant food costs may have created. We must work toward creative solutions that make our North more liveable, especially as the idea of a North-Eastern shipping route becomes increasingly feasible.

I am writing relevant ministers and critics to suggest an investigation into the construction of vertical farms in Canada’s North as a strategy to provide isolated citizens with food security. Essentially, vertical farms are stacked greenhouses that create ideal growing conditions for different staple crops on each floor of the building. This is a strategy already in practice on the opposite side of the world; the South Pole Food Growth Chamber provides fresh produce for the researchers living in extreme Antarctic isolation.

Vertical farming infrastructure development has many advantages if deftly applied in the North. Foremost, it can help provide the nutritional requirements of thousands of isolated and poor Canadians. Vertical farming also localizes food production meaning fewer environmental costs associated with long-distance air-cargo transportation. Finally, vertical farming means both high and low-skill job creation in the North. Engineers, botanists, as well as construction and agricultural workers will be needed to execute a strategy to feed the North.

I hope that this idea resonates with you as an effective means to alleviate poverty in some of Canada’s most vulnerable environments and communities, and that appropriate action is taken.

Who gets to define risk? The problem with #HIV activism

In response to Ottawa Citizen article: Risk assessment

As a queer-identified activist, I tend to keep my feelings about the criminal status of HIV non-disclosure more private than my thoughts on most other issues, but what kind of social issues blogger would I be if I shied away from contention? So here goes.

Firstly, I acknowledge that the legal and social models that construct HIV are often in conflict. I understand that the stigmatization of HIV creates a disincentive for both testing and disclosure. Activists struggle to reconcile the desire to include HIV+ persons equally into our society while also preventing the spread of HIV.

The legal doctrine vilifying HIV non-disclosure is fairly simple and largely accepted as the norm. A crime requires a guilty act and a guilty intent. Under these parameters a person who has tested positive for HIV has a legal requirement to inform their sexual partners because of the “significant” level of risk that partner is subjected to. To fail to do so is criminally negligent.

Some argue that the advances in medical treatments have reduced the level of risk in some sexual practices. Legally, this translates to into an argument that if there is no longer “significant” risk, then there is no victim and no crime.

Enter conundrum. Who gets to define risk? Is risk nit-picked details of viral load and which practices were performed, or do partners get to define risk as being robbed of informed consent?

I personally hold the belief that information does not exist to be censored. For the same reason I could never support a law banning sex-specific abortion, I have to support the criminal aspects of HIV non-disclosure. Depriving people of information about their bodies, or their sexual experiences, is not rational basis on which to make decisions.

To suggest that HIV has no place in a criminal court is to naively put faith in humanity; it is to suggest that HIV cannot be insidiously passed to another. This is a known fallacy; we need only look to Rwanda where HIV and rape are used as a cheap means of biological warfare to realize that the intent of some transmissions is both real and criminal.

HIV is definitively a public health issue that our governments are failing to ameliorate; our communities have real needs for support services and prevention outreach. This reality, however, does not refute the simultaneous criminal reality of HIV.

Unfortunately, the most effective means of HIV prevention is still fear, even if the condition is no longer a death sentence. I know that the sanctity of my bodily integrity is why I employ safer sex practices and get tested.

To conclude, I assert that the complexities of HIV are not best delineated by the Supreme Court of Canada. A small group of legal experts cannot asses the full social impact of HIV on our country; elected MPs need to make this decision on behalf of Canadians and democratically clarify the legal status of HIV non-disclosure.

Friday, August 3, 2012

RE: Pre-NB Day Thoughts on #Moncton & #NBpoli

Dear George LeBlanc, Mayor of Moncton
CC:  Robert Berry, Mayor of Sackville 
       Claude Williams, New Brunswick Minster of Transport
       Martine Coulombe, New Brunswick Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour

New Brunswickers are a creative people. In trying economic times, this creativity is paramount; we need to address our social and economic challenges in a way that meets present and future needs of the province

The difficulties of the Greater Moncton Area are exemplary of social and economic tension. Currently, the only English degree granting institution in the GMA is Crandall. I refrain from calling them a university because of their compromised concepts of academic freedom. They operate under Christian fundamentalist ideas requiring that faculty have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, that one hold personal and professional views that are consistent with the Bible and the university’s Statement of Faith.[1] The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) concluded that Crandall’s concept of academic freedom is “significantly inconsistent with that of the CAUT and the majority of universities across the western world, and assurances that free enquiry is still possible within its constraints are unconvincing.”[2]

Further, they have a written policy prohibiting the hiring of queer faculty. Crandall is in no way a public institution and should not receive public funding to inculcate hate in our society.

Moncton has also experienced the failure of Highfield Square. The once bustling mall is crumbling and taking up space. Highfield’s redevelopment will be integral to the definition of the GMA as a modern world-class small city.  

All of the redevelopment concepts presented by city council emphasized how the proximity to the Moncton Central Train Station will be a driver for the complex’ continued success. That notion took a blow as Via announced a reduction in “The Ocean” route between Montreal and Halifax. Present concern has many Monctonians crying foul as they lose their weekend connection to Halifax.

We can do this New Brunswick; take these 3 bad things and make an awesome thing. We can organize our resources effectively to make Moncton an international example of small city living. Many things make the GMA a great place to live, study, and do business. Moncton boasts: a bilingual labour force, an accomplished French university, access to transportation, affordable rents, and both career and community colleges. The GMA has one obvious deficit: an English university. As noted, Crandall has an unflattering academic reputation, which prohibits it from fulfilling the economic and cultural potential of a university.  

The development of South-Eastern New Brunswick must include an emphasis on Sackville’s Mount Alison University. One of the most respected undergraduate institutions in Canada, MTA is only 50 km from Moncton. Further, Moncton and Sackville are connected directly by rail. While the Via Rail service cut may be an inconvenience, it frees up a lot of rail time.

I’m suggesting the development of a commuter train system in South Eastern New Brunswick extending from the Greater Moncton International Airport to the Central Station near Highfield Square, and to Sackville. This route has many strategic advantages; foremost, connecting the airport to the downtown core is great for tourism. It will also become increasingly valuable as a means of public transit as Dieppe continues to grow.

Connecting Sackville means integrating MTA’s world class English education into the urban amenities of the GMA. This blend of urban and rural-academic lifestyles will attract innovators and investors to the area. Further, the airport connection to the downtown core and Sackville makes both Université de Moncton and Mount Allison more accessible to international and out of province students studying in either of our official languages.

I admit this sounds expensive, but it’s not infeasible. Consider that the redevelopment of Highfield is inevitable, and not connecting our air travellers to that development would be regrettable. The rail to Sackville is not only built, it’s becoming more available. Lastly, it would be entirely appropriate to reallocate funds once earmarked for Crandall to Mount Allison and the development of a South East railway. Seeing that since 1996 Crandall has regrettably received over $24 million[3] in public money, we can make this happen.

[1] Fleming, Berkely, and Jennie Hornosty. Report of an Inquiry Regarding Academic Freedom at Crandall University (formerly Atlantic Baptist University). Moncton, New Brunswick: Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2010. P. 20
[2] Ibid. P. 20
[3] Global Maritimes. Calls to cut funding for Moncton university that prohibits hiring of gays. May 28, 2012. (accessed August 3, 2012).

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RE: #NBPoli, It's time to stop playing for third.

New Brunswick’s political scene has been drably adorned in Liberal red and Tory blue since the departure of the NDP’s Elizabeth Weir. Subsequent NDP leaders Roger Duguay and Dominic Cardy failed to capture seats in the NB legislature. Duguay’s second place finish was much less a blow to progressive New Brunswickers than Cardy’s dismal third place Rothesay by-election performance.

By-elections are the best means to harness the electorate’s discontent for any number of government decisions enacted since the previous election. Opposition parties tend to do well in by-elections. The NDP’s poor performance in Rothesay indicates that something needs to change within the NB NDP if they have hopes of electing members, let alone forming official opposition or government.

The trend of alternating between PC and Liberal majority governments wastes untold public resources as each government undoes the work of that which came before. (Remember the toll highways Lord tossed?) Third party representation and the possibility of minority government forces politicians to work across party lines to tweak policies until they meet the needs of a multitude of stakeholders.
The elephant in the room whenever politicos discuss flailing left-wing parties is merger, ideas that we’re stronger together and that the province would benefit from our cooperation. In 2010 the NDP got about 10% of the provincial vote and Jack MacDougall’s Greens nabbed 5%; neither elected members to the legislature.  I don’t see the logic in these parties fighting it out for third place when they share so many goals of environmental, social, and economic success.

The only way to change the political climate in Fredericton is to launch a legitimate partisan challenge to the old parties and the old ways of patronage. Neither the NDP or Green Party are suited to do this on their own, and their ardent assertions of difference just divide the attention of New Brunswickers who crave a politic that puts people before corporations.  An amalgamated Green Democratic Party (GDP) of New Brunswick could be the effective opposition that keeps Fredericton in touch with the real concerns of the province: health care, the impacts of resource extraction, flood prevention, infrastructure redevelopment, poverty relief, post-secondary education affordability, and making sure rural citizens have access to services. It is our duty to pass to our children a liveable world, and our best means to secure one is through cooperation.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RE: A National Cycling Strategy

Dear Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport and Steven Fletcher, Minister of State (Transport),
CC: Olivia Chow, NDP Transport critic
CC: Denis Coderre, Liberal Transport Critic
CC: Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada

I am writing today out of concern for Canada's lacking transit infrastructure. Too many years have passed without an appropriate strategy to ameliorate the anachronism that is Canada’s transit reality. We are decades behind our international competitors, and we are beginning to see associated inefficiencies in our economy. To create an equitable and efficient economy, Canadians regardless of place and socio-economic status need access to transportation for their meaningful participation in the labour market and skills development initiatives. I use this letter as a mean's to develop one of the most valuable tenants of a sustainable transit strategy: cycling.

Cycling is a preferred means of transport for two principal reasons; firstly, as a zero emissions means of transit, exchanging car use for cycling will dramatically help Canada reduce our green house gas emissions and mitigate the devastating effects of a climate crisis. Further, encouraging cycling is a pivotal tool in the fight against obesity and inactivity-related health issues.

Many complex barriers impede the adoption of cycling as Canada’s preferred means of transit, namely making streets across Canada safer for cyclists. That task, I leave to city planners while I employ my own training in social sciences to offer two policy recommendations that could advance cycling in Canada.

To begin, cost is the obvious first barrier to cycling. I argue that it is within the nation’s best interest to create a low-income bike grant that would provide, either through tax credit or voucher, support for low-income children and adults to acquire bicycles, safety equipment, and required maintenance. With obesity and sedentary lifestyles correlated to low income levels, a low-income bike grant would be a lifeline to many who want to embrace lifestyle changes but had previously been unable to. Further, many children, markedly those of single parent homes, students, and homeless Canadians would be eligible for such a grant. This grant would provide financial relief, a means of transportation, and a boost toward active lives for those most in need. This policy will also pay for itself; as cultural shift toward healthy lifestyles is incited, preventative health implications will save taxpayers billions.

My second policy recommendation is a tax credit for pro-cycling businesses. Recently, Atlantic Cities published that one of the most discouraging factors keeping professionals from cycling to and from work is the lack of showering facilities available to them. In response, the government should be providing a tax credit to businesses that install showers for employee use.

The free market cannot solve the complex socio-economic issues that Canada faces. Our government needs to be both creative and concerned as we craft a just and prosperous economy. The suggestions I have put forth are effective ways to help Canada become a cycling-friendly country. I hope these ideas resonate with you and that you use your parliamentary prerogative to turn them into a reality for Canadians by amending Olivia Chow's BILL C-305 to include a national cycling strategy before supporting it in the house of Commons.



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

RE: It's time for a carbon tax

Dear Thomas Mulcair, Leader, and Rebecca Blakie, President, New Democratic Party of Canada


I am writing you as a proud but concerned New Democrat. Your leaderships have advocated for environmental policies that are unbecoming of a government in waiting. Specifically, I speak to the party’s commitment to cap and trade strategies as a means to control Canadian green house gas emissions.  Cap and trade policies are economically inefficient and seriously compromise the ability for governments to reduce emissions.

Cap and trade means the creation of an illegitimate market for carbon credits. How do you value a fake commodity?  And are they given to polluters for free, which would reward current big polluters rather than innovators, or are they sold as one-time tax on business during our economic recovery? Further, the reduction aspect of cap and trade is that the cap will be gradually lowered; essentially, the government will be forced to buy back the carbon credits at market price. The political will of a government to negotiate the lowering of a cap must also be considered. In times of economic duress would plans to reduce caps fall wayward to economic issues?

Carbon offsets are also very difficult to quantify. The competitive market nature of the carbon offsets creates the incentive to produce carbon credits for the lowest possible cost, which in many cases won’t translate into a reduction in atmospheric carbon.

A carbon tax is a step toward a smart economy. Whereas the intermediate transactions of a carbon market would line the pockets of big bankers, a carbon tax means government revenue. This shift in revenue source would allow the Canadian economy to be reorganized so that personal income taxes would be reduced and public services, transit, and sustainable infrastructure could be funded.

The NDP cannot afford to find itself at odds with Canadian environmentalists during the next federal election. With the Liberal and Green Parties of Canada advocating carbon taxation, the NDP are defining themselves in opposition to a good policy. 2015 will be the NDP’s first chance at forming a federal government; we cannot afford to run on a platform of cap-and trade that will drive environmentalists into Green and Liberal camps. As well, consensus among progressive parties on green house gas emissions all-but guarantees action

As an environmentalist and New Democrat, I feel compelled to raise these concerns; I plan to sponsor a policy resolution at an upcoming NDP policy convention that would see the party embrace the ecological and economic benefits of carbon taxation. We can win in 2015, but I’d much rather hit the ground campaigning for an environmental strategy I can get behind. I hope you agree with the observations I’ve brought to your attention, and will collaborate on the creation of a pro carbon-tax policy for Canada’s New Democrats.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RE: The Quiet Truth From #GGI: Lower the Voting Age.

The Quebec student strike has made evident the underpinning crisis of intergenerational inequality that characterizes the contemporary Canadian economic paradigm. Concerning this tension, the media too often and largely inaccurately invokes ideas of entitlement. (Great response to said claims here.) To this I say: that by definition the nature of a right is such that no shame can be associated with its demands. If we are a society who values the equality of opportunity, we need to diligently re-orient our political and economic priorities toward a model of robust public service that is effectively matches talent to appropriate work. Quebec students have a reasonable request: to live in a society organized by merit rather than wealth, where talent is the only barrier to success.

Among the lessons we need to take from the so-called “Maple Spring” is that intergenerational inequality needs to be bridged as to craft a politic entrenched in respect and justice. One of the fundamental disconnects between youth and older generations are that there is no onus on the provincial governments to empower youth political participation.  

So long as youth are disenfranchised by their inability to vote, self-serving politics will continue to repress youth voter turnout and create campaigns that will be palatable to the largest voting blocks. Once majority is attained (or consent is manufactured if you prefer more jaded language) politicians get to tune out the public for 4 years and govern as they see fit.

There is a way out of the seemingly perpetual dance between ignorance and apathy. Much like the mantra of the striking students, accessible education is the answer. In fact, it’s why I believe that Quebec activism is more spirited and accepted than in the rest of Canada. That Quebec students are privy to CEGEP and lower university fees compared with other Canadian provinces; this has meant that a larger portion of their population has become capable of articulately engaging conversations of economic and social priority.

We have silenced the voices of millions of Canadians, and feigned ignorance of why youth don’t vote. If the voting age in Canada was lowered to 16 year of age, school-aged children would become a pocket of votes for prospective governing parties and candidates. New initiatives to engage youth in political conversations would penetrate school programming, and the general political knowledge of the population would greatly increase. Ideally, our nation should be producing, rather than just workers, high school graduates who are capable of critically evaluating public decisions.

Largely, activism is a project in consensus building. Habermas’ famous sociological inquiry into the public sphere noted that the public sphere was in perpetual flux balancing of the number or contributors to and the quality of public discourse.  This realization foregrounded the nefarious intent motivating voter suppression; the notion that power is better than justice plagues every inch of Canadian politics. No better example of this exists than the acceptance/encouragement of youth voter apathy.

Education in Quebec is more understood as a right than anywhere else in Canada. Students there are not burdened with tuition fees so high as to create the belief that the service they are buying is too valuable to boycott class in the name of equal opportunity.

I am truly inspired by what the Quebec student strike has accomplished. The Maple Spring is everything Occupy Wall Street wasn't. They have democratically elected (and effective) leadership, they have reasonable demands, and they have the moral high ground.

If the Canadian voting age was 16, the Maple Spring would have seeded outside Quebec much more effectively. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

RE: Sex, Gender, and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Courtesy of a recent Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling, trans persons in Ontario will soon be able to have the sex on their birth certificate without an irreversible “transsexual” surgery. Ten minutes after first reading and processing this news, I lost all faith in society. The means by which this "game changing" decision was made was by completely ignoring the wisdom sociologists and gender scholars have been writing for decades. The decision was a result of a complete conflation of sex and gender. The tribunal constructed a botched definition of discrimination founded on essentialist ideals of gender.

Sex is the physical presentation of your body as it functions in reproduction. In humans we have 3 sexes, male, female, and intersexed. Gender is a set of characteristics which are cultivated and repeated, often unknowingly, that mark a social identity. Sex is limited to 3 biological expressions; gender is unlimited in expressions. Masculinity and femininity have changed through culture, space, and time, while sex has remained static.

One of the principle arguments behind the ruling is that a transgendered person’s gender identity isn’t reflected by the sex on their birth certificate. Obviously, a baby doesn't have the cognitive power to claim a social identity, so one is imposed upon them according to their sex. The point of the sex on a birth certificate should not be to forge your social relations, but to give the government enough information to make sure Canadian society will reproduce itself.

I personally believe the ruling to be a step backward in the fight for equality. The male/female dichotomy was upheld at the expense of all those brave enough to resist it. The ruling normalizes that there are two socially acceptable gender identities and that you may identify as either, regardless of the body you were born into. The outcome insufficiently challenges that society is organized around flawed and unjust ideas of identity.

A gender (social) struggle doesn’t inherently reclassify the (biological) body you were born into. Transsexual surgery is an accurate name: a surgery that transitions a body to another sex. Additionally, surgically transitioned bodies are in fact intersexed at completion. Genetically, a post-op person’s DNA will still code for their birth sex; modern surgery can only create interesexed bodies that are more palatable to socially understood gender identities.

Accepting the shortcomings of conflating gender and sex, I propose a way forward. It’s time to release the terms male and female to the property of the social. Science needs new words to describe bodies that aren’t laden with ideas of social identity.

Sex, as a vital statistic, needs to be completely divorced from gender. I propose that medical and government documentation reclassify bodies as per their reproductive functions, and rename the 3 sexes as bearer, donor, and interesexed bodies. What is understood as female would become bearer to describe the child bearing capabilities of those bodies; meanwhile, the role as a genetic donor would be reflected on what is understood as the male body.

Intersex would remain as a body classification, but we as a society cannot police these bodies as we have in the past. If a baby is born intersexed, it should not be subjected to undue surgery and hormone therapy to fit into a gender idea they may grow up to reject. A body-positive approach would celebrate that intesexed bodies happen both naturally and surgically and hold the capacity to express any chosen gender.

If the letter options of B/D/I were presented on identification, medical professionals would have the information they needed about your sex to best proceed with any needed treatment, and gender expectations could finally be devolved to the level of personal choice. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling will help a few Ontarians reconcile their gender struggles, but tweaking an oppressive regime is like oiling an enemy tank.

(Bisexual should actually be pansexual, but I didn't make this image)

Monday, April 9, 2012

RE: Community Access Programs

Dear Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry
CC: Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance
CC: Paul Dewar, MP for Ottawa-Centre

I am writing as a citizen concerned by the cancellation of The Community Access Program. As a youth who grew up in rural New Brunswick, I have used these services since their creation in the mid 1990’s. Programming offered at community access centers largely formed my computer skill set. Just last summer, I visited the Sussex Regional Library extensively to gain internet access that facilitated academic research and job searches.

Closing community access centers is an ideologically motivated austerity cut. While those who can afford personal internet access barely notice a change in their daily routines, poor, rural, and otherwise disadvantaged Canadians will have their ability to connect to the internet severed. Internet-based job search and skills development initiatives will be deprived from those who most need them.

The Harper governments’ neoliberal ideology is attempting to grind the lower classes into a cheap pool of labour open the predation of multi-national corporations. Let me reiterate, wealth creation is not the same as job creation. A low-tax, low-skill country will not deliver equal opportunity and betrays Canadian values.

The internet is a place of possibility for Canadians. This year we have learned from Vic Toews that the Conservative Party of Canada wants to monitor Canadian internet use without a warrant from a judge, and now we learn that Harper doesn’t believe Canadians should have equal and public access to the vast resources on the internet.

Community access programs are the latest attempt for the Harper Conservatives to reconcile a fiscal deficit with a democratic deficit; the Harper government has been systematically removing public mechanisms that ensure government accountability and citizen advancement. The Court Challenges Program was stripped bare of all work other than claims of official language discrimination (and that had to be fought for). Parliament was prorogued to detract from the Afghan detainee scandal. The per-vote subsidy for national political parties was removed. And right now, the Harper Conservatives refuse to call a public inquiry into the Robo-call scandal, while they close the doors to Rights and Democracy and Katimavik. All the while, Harper, who was initially elected on a pledge of senate reform, is filling the unelected and undemocratic senate with Conservative faithfuls. Harper has even offered a revolving door to senators who resign in attempt to gain a seat in the House of Commons.

The direction Harper Conservatives are dragging this country must be fought with every ounce of Canadian determination and decency that exists. Canadians will not bow down as our way and quality of life are compromised along a Conservative ideology. The recent attacks on internet freedom and access illustrate the vast disconnect from the Canadian people and the majority Conservative government. As part of a larger process to remedy this discord, I demand that the budget be amended to reflect the real public service needs of Canadians including Community Access Programs. I implore you to examine the feedback from the #notourbudget campaign and incorporate the needs of working Canadians more meaningfully into the federal budget.


Friday, April 6, 2012

RE: Student Vote 2014

CC: Jody Carr, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development

I am writing as an expatriate of Sussex, NB. Following my K-12 education in New Brunswick, I moved to Ottawa to study at Carleton University in 2005. I understand moving into the most politically charged arena in the country from a small town would be somewhat a culture shock for many, but I soon noticed that students educated from other provinces had much more political education than I had.
That was discrepancy I acted quickly to mend, and I became involved in partisan and non-partisan political organizations. Through my studies and activism, I came across the Student Vote program that parallels real elections with a high school voter imperative.  Therein, high schools organize information sessions about the actual parties and candidates and students cast their votes on Election Day. The Student Vote program engages youth in our democratic tradition of learning, sharing, and debating.  At a time when youth voter apathy stains Canadian politics, programs encouraging youth voter engagement must be offered.

While New Brunswick students have participated in the federal parallel elections, the province has never incorporated this program into their curriculum during a provincial election. As New Brunswickers are hit with austerity budgets on the federal and provincial levels, I want to reiterate the importance of education in creating good citizens and the thinkers of tomorrow.
In short, I am writing to encourage that the NBTA and the Ministry of Education work together to ensure that necessary resources will be available for New Brunswick high schools to run a Student Vote election parallel to the 2014 provincial election. New Brunswickers value their democratic tradition, and a fiscal deficit cannot be repaid with a democratic deficit. I hope that my thoughts have been presented as amicable and that a public commitment to a 2014 Student Vote initiative is issued.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

RE: The Problem With PR

Electoral reform, a buzz-phrase from the NDP leadership contest that’s trickling down to conversations between growing numbers of Canadians. While all candidates support electoral reform and the implementation of a proportional representation (PR), it’s important to be critical of any public decision.

Proportional representation is an electoral system that uses party ballots; citizens vote for a party, not a candidate. Prior to the election, parties create a ranked list of prospective MPs and elect the percentage of MPs equal to their vote-share. 

PR defines itself in opposition to our current first-past-the-post system in that it privileges ideology rather than geography. Under PR Canadian votes would represent ideas behind parties rather than the region they vote in.

I argue that Canada may just be too big and too diverse for PR to work. The success of the Bloc Québécois is that it fully exploited the geographic nature of our current electoral system. National PR elections would largely dilute regional concerns, including sovereignty, on the national stage.

Further, if MPs were elected by lists, partisan elites would populate the House of Commons. A national PR model would reinforce a class barrier to the participation in electoral politics. The switch would also require that the government find new and meaningful ways to interface with the pubic; Canadians would be losing their long standing institution of a constituency representative.

In an attempt to incorporate geographic representation into a PR electoral model, Mixed-member-proportionality (MMP) has been proposed. Therein, Canadians would be given 2 votes for both a local MP and the party of their choosing. Two types of MP would be elected, constituency representatives, and a predetermined number of list MPs in addition.

While MMP would mean our parliaments would more closely reflect parties’ vote-share, it would create a dichotomy of elected officials. To whom are the list MPs accountable if not a constituency? And are the duties of the list MPs less or less valuable, than those of representing Canada’s diverse regions?

Two models stand out as more palatable to Canadians. The first is Alternative Vote (AV) or Instant Run-off Voting (IRV), an electoral system is used by every major Canadian political party for their leadership contests. Therein, voters rank candidates, making the electoral process a more comprehensive reflection of public opinion. Effectively, it would benefit non-Conservative parties in the many races that centre-left vote splitting saw Conservative candidates elected with well under 50% of the vote. AV/IRV also maintains the mechanism of geographic representation, which has underscored most of Canadian political culture. 

The second option is a regionalized PR election; wherein, citizens would vote for a party that fields candidates in their region, and a given number of MPs representing that area would be elected from regional party lists. By holding separate regional run-offs, Canadians can elect a group of multi-partisan MPs that understand the needs of their constituents. Canadians then have multiple MPs to contact regarding local issues, and the election results would better reflect the real vote-share.

Incorporating regionalism into PR also inhibits partisan elites from dominating public discussion and reduces the impact frivolous single issue parties can have PR election outcomes. The regional dimension would allow a geographically based party, such as the Bloc Québécois, to be represented on the Parliament Hill.

Canada needs electoral reform, but it can’t be a decision made in haste; Canadians should demand a system that balances ideological and geographic representation.

Friday, March 2, 2012

RE: Minister of LGBTTQ Affairs

Dear Brian Topp,

I am writing in response to your March 2nd policy release in which you pledge to create a Minister of LGBTTQ Affairs. As a New Democrat who identifies as gender-queer, I am offended at the tokenization this represents, and as a taxpayer, I am skeptical of your ability to spend public dollars appropriately.

The action points of your press release are as follows:

·         Create a strategy to address bullying, homophobia and transphobia;
·         Review legislation and regulations to ensure they are inclusive of LGBTTQ people; including marriages of non-Canadians that took place in Canada;
·         Reverse the criminalization of people with HIV/AIDS;
·         Enhance the rights of transsexual and transgender Canadians; and,
·         Re-establish our good name abroad and speak out for LGBTTQ rights in other countries.

These ideas are vague goals untied to policy proposals, which during a leadership campaign is not uncommon; however, this release has the audacity to argue that these vague points merit the creation of a new ministry. Your approach would institutionalize the social relations (and divisions) between queer and non-queer Canadians. Just like the Status of Women Canada serves to define the experience of Canadian women in opposition to Canadian men, a Ministry of LGBTTQ Affairs would do the same to queer Canadians.

Further Mr. Topp, the essentialist way you have approached queer issues is problematic in the same way second-wave feminism was. You are mobilizing a series of identity politics on the assertion that some identity groups are more oppressed than others. To be clear, there is no hierarchy of oppression, no two Canadians experience oppression in the same way, and Canadians live though and with compounding and conflicting oppressions. Racism is no less a problem than homophobia or sexism or any other axis of oppression. To cater to such an essentialist ideology is a disservice to the Canadian public.

Mr. Topp, do you believe racism has been solved in Canada? If not, do you propose we create a ministry to address racism in Canada? What I’m facetiously getting at is that it’s impractical to approach social equity through a mobilization of identity politics entrenched in expensive bureaucracy.

A better way forward would be to reform present resources into a workable model that can program toward the inclusion of all Canadians. Replace the Status of Women Canada offices with an empowered Ministry of Social Equity that seeks social justice for all Canadians. This ministry would address structural sexism, homophobia, ableism, racism, xenophobia, and other oppressions, without singling any group out. 

A Ministry of Social Equity would serve all Canadians, and this service would be paralleled by budget support. The debate on budget allocations for identity-based service offices is reductive and detrimental to public discourse. Questions of “haven’t we solved sexism in Canada?” have seen the programs at the Status of Women Canada emaciated. I fear the same fate for an ill-conceived Ministry of LGBTTQ Affairs.  

Within my lifetime, I do not expect any Canadian politician will have the audacity to assert that inequity no longer exists. Consequently, the arguments that a Ministry of Social Equity should be de-funded or destroyed are infinitely weaker than those targeted at any single identity-based bureaucracy.

This policy release is a clear attempt to isolate and curry votes, rather than innovate and advance our nation. I hope you agree with my criticisms and rethink your approach to queer politics in Canada.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

RE: If you hate Conservatives, you should love Nathan Cullen

Dear Progressive Canadians,

I’d like to take this blog post to fully explain to Canadians (and hopefully open-minded New Democrats) that NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen is the best situated to end the Harper government. His co-nomination plan is an almost guaranteed method of ousting the tyranny the Harper Conservatives have inflicted upon the nation.

In his proposed plan, EDAs (electoral district associations) would be given the (democratic) option of co-nominating candidates with the Green Party and Liberals in Conservative-held ridings. To be clear, no EDA would be forced into this arrangement, and this plan also requires consent from the other parties’ EDAs.

The charge that this plan is anti-democratic in any way is ridiculous. Canadians do not have a right to vote for the party of their choosing as insinuated by other leadership candidates (for example here). If you don’t believe me, then why are there no Bloc Quebecois candidates outside Quebec, especially in Francophone New Brunswick? Canadians have the right to vote for their choice of duly nominated candidates. A New Democrat (or any other Canadian) has every right to run as an independent; we saw this materialize in the 2006 Churchill race that saw Niki Ashton run against disgraced former NDP MP Bev Desjarlais, who was removed from the caucus for opposing same-sex marriage. The Cullen plan is not strategic voting; it’s strategic nominating.

To decide who the co-nominated candidate would be, a joint Liberal-NDP-Green EDA meeting would be held, and a candidate would be democratically selected from the conglomerate pool. If local New Democrats believe the best candidate is within their ranks and that New Democratic ideals and ideas are the most salient to Canadians, they should have no problem recruiting the most members to vote at the joint-EDA meeting. This new process would create a major incentive for membership recruitment at the riding level, meaning more resources for the NDP available in 2015.

I’m a proud New Democrat, but I’m a Canadian first. The Cullen plan is the best chance we have at forming an NDP government that will end the misguided policies Harper continues to implement.