Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hockey Fans Should Be Hit With 5, 10 and a Game

Many people unhappy with violence and chaos

News flash.

A lot of people are excited about the Edmonton Oilers advancing to the Stanley Cup final. I'm one of them.

With a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Saturday, the Oilers will play for the Stanley Cup for the first time in 16 years. The last time they did so, in 1990, they defeated the Boston Bruins to claim hockey's highest prize. This is something that hockey fans in Edmonton have been waiting for all too long, and it is the first great triumph of the new NHL.

Unfortunately, there is something happening that is far less than a triumph -- that is the atrocious behavior of hockey fans celebrating on Whyte Avenue.

Dubbled "the Blue Mile" by national media (the Blue and Whyte Ave by fans), Edmonton's landmark Whyte Avenue has been ground zero for the raucus celebrations following each Oilers win. However, what began quite nicely during the Edmonton/Detroit series has quickly become a nightmare for many denizens of the area -- including, but not limited to, local residents and business owners.

During what can only truly be described as a riot following the key Oilers win on Saturday, up to 20,000 fans lit bonfires in the street, jumped from buildings into trees, and kicked in the doors and windows of hapless Whyte Avenue businesses.

Shamefully, the vandalism of Whyte Avenue businesses has been a common occurance during the post-game celebrations this postseason. Estimates place the clean up cost at $1,500 to $2,000 after each celebration. This is for the street alone -- it doesn't include repairs to local businesses.

The Edmonton Police Service is now responding in kind. Police Chief Mike Boyd has promised a "get-tough" strategy for dealing with these hooligans -- likely one that can't help but involve riot police.He has even noted that police do have the option of declaring martial law and calling in the army to help pacify any crowd that develops.

It's a very sad day for the city of Edmonton, and for Edmonton Oilers fandom, when the option of setting the army loose upon a post-game celebration would even be entertained by the authorities. And the authorities are not to blame for this.
It's the fans.

Certainly, not all the fans. Hopefully, it's only a minority of bandwagon-jumpers who think they've found a good excuse to tear up local streets in search of a macho thrill. Nonetheless, there is simply no where else to point the finger of blame in this matter, and sadly, the blame fits.

For their part, the Oilers themselves don't approve. " It's sad to see some of the incidents that happened," forward Georges Laraque announced. " I hope it won't come to the point that it will ruin everyone's celebration. [Hooligans] don't respect our ethics or our morals and our pride in the city."

Ryan Smyth only wants to see some sanity. " Obviously we would like everybody to be safe and have fun, but be responsible too."

The Oilers aren't alone in their concern. The Edmonton Sun letters page has been filled with angry statements about the violence. " I had better not be stopped from celebrating an Oilers [Stanley Cup win] because of you drunken vandals," wrote Dustin Bell. "Just because you're too young or too stupid to understand that drinking doesn't mean you have to bust up Whyte Avenue doesn't mean you have the right to take away my chance to celebrate with friends and strangers and cheer on the Oilers. It is as smart has having your friends burn down your house because it is your birthday."

Then again, such behavior is nothing new for Edmonton hockey fans. Following the 1990 Stanley Cup victory, the riot that occurred in Edmonton made headlines across the country.

Nor is it anything new for Albertan hockey fans in general: during 2004's legendary Red Mile celebrations in Calgary, public urination and defecation posed serious problems for law enforcement. During this year's celebrations, numerous fans were arrested for hurling objects at police officers.

But just as Oilers fans have set the bar higher inside the arena, they have done the same in the street. Following the Oilers May 12th elimination of the San Jose Sharks, two fans were stabbed in a Whyte Avenue bar. Partiers in the street blocked an ambulance from accessing the scene, forcing police to remove the victims by cruiser.

What is happening on Whyte Avenue is entirely unacceptable. Just as a line was crossed with the infamous 2001 Canada Day riot, so has it been crossed with this. Sadly, it may take an overhand right from Georges Laraque -- or maybe even Dave Semenko himself -- to smarten some of these idiots up.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ottawa Press Gallery Haunts Harper

The Prime Minister and the press must learn to get along

Any relationship between the press and a member of the Conservative party in Canada tends to be a tenuous one. With the exception of a notable few right-wing publications (Western Standard, anyone?) and a dwindling number of quality media outlets (such as the CanWest publications and CTV), the media in Canada does indeed often seem biased against the Conservatives.

In Rescuing Canada's Right, Adam Daifallah and Tasha Kheiriddin (try saying that three times fast) sum this up quite nicely: "the media in Canada is out to get the Conservatives, because they think the Conservatives are out to get them".
So, then, it may be no surprise that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Ottawa Press Gallery is having what one could consider a stormy relationship.

Yesterday, Harper threw a very public bolt of lightning during an interview with a London, Ontario television station. " Unfortunately, the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government," he said, and later added, " It's certainly unnecessary and I have trouble believing that a Liberal prime minister would have this problem. ...The press gallery, at the leadership level, has taken an anti-Conservative view."

Naturally, press gallery president Yves Malo disagrees with Harper, saying, " We regret these comments [by Harper] because we think they are unfounded."
The ultimate point of contention is a move by Harper to limit press access to his Cabinet Ministers, and his insistence on deciding himself who will ask questions at press conferences. Last week, a number of reporters walked out of a Harper press conference because he refused to answer their questions.

" We can't accept that the Prime Minister's office would decide who gets to ask questions", said Malo. " Does that mean that when there'a crisis they'll only call upon journalists they expect softball questions from?"

It certainly is a fair question. Canadians rely on the press to provide them with the information they need, especially when it relates to government affairs. As a result, the Prime Minister has a responsibility to deal with the press openly and honestly. However, Harper should also be able to expect to not have to deal with an unduly hostile press, and does have the right to protect himself from some of the self-glorified hatchet-jobbers infesting the media. The press may claim it is unbiased all they want, but when a photo of Harper -- lit to appear in a sinister fashion -- appears on the front page of a publication as high-profile as the Toronto Star, it hurts the validity of these claims.

According to Charles Adler Online, the new media process has been far more open than many journalists are reporting to the public. Prime Minister's Office spokesman Dimitris Soudas has been spotted emerging from the office with clipboard in-hand, prepared to take a list of reporters who want to ask questions. Many reporters have refused to give their names for the list, as the Press Gallery wants its staff to control which reporters ask questions, and which ones don't.

In response to the Press Gallery's protest, Harper has decided to take his show on the road, and focus on addressing local media, as opposed to strictly focusing on the national media. However, a Thursday press conference on anti-Street Racing legistlation was hijacked by journalists wanting to discuss Harper's approach to the media, and add their own voices to the protest. Going abroad to address local media may be a good idea, but it won't protect him from criticism.

If Stephen Harper wants to build a better relationship with the press, he must realize that it must begin with him. While some members of the press will continue to play the role of the agitator, Harper must work toward earning the media's trust. Heavy-handedly refusing to play by the traditional rules won't win the Prime Minister any friends amongst the press.

The Press Gallery, however, must accept that openness and honesty must also apply to them. When journalists are being denied the opportunity to ask questions by Press Gallery staff, it only brings up uncomfortable questions that they may not want to answer.

This situation calls for what all similar situations call for -- a compromise. Harper could quiet his critics -- and create a more constructive press environment for everyone involved -- by offering to hear questions from a short list prepared by the Press Gallery, as well as a short list prepared by his own staff.

If things continue the way they have been, Harper is only fuelling his own critics. However, if the Press Gallery were to refuse any compromise, it would unquestionably be a sign of a deep cancer within its ranks -- one precisely of the sort that Harper has suggested.

Harper clearly has much to learn about dealing with the media. It is experiences such as this that will teach him how it is done -- but only so long as he doesn't refuse to learn its lessons.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Buzz Hargrove Loses Control

"Unauthorized strike" tells interesting story

Times are tough for Buzz Hargrove.

Following the 2006 federal election, wherein he violated NDP rules by supporting "strategic voting" (read: selling out to the Liberal party), his party membership was revoked. In retaliation, Hargrove called on all CAW members to renounce the New Democrats -- despite Jack Layton's assertion that he wouldn't have expelled Hargrove. Last month, Ontario bus driver Willie Lambert threw his hat into the ring to challenge Hargrove for the presidency of the Canadian Auto Workers union (also known as CAW).

Now, to make matters worse for Hargrove, CAW workers at a General Motor plants in Oshawa, Ontario have gone on what he refers to as an "unauthorized strike". The strike could cripple these operations, and threaten the jobs of hundreds, according to Hargrove.

The strike began in earnest on friday, more than a full day prior to a Saturday midnight deadline during which Hargrove and GM would continue to negotiate regarding wages and the quantity of future work.

Yet, somehow, Hargrove has a little rebellion on his hands. The workers that he claims to represent and work for have rejected his edict, and taken matters into their own hands. How could this be?

The answer to this question is simple: Hargrove simply may not have the trust of CAW members any longer. When he severed official ties between the CAW and the NDP, Hargrove removed the CAW from Canada's largest, most comprehensive labour coalition in Canada. All the other "big unions" (such as CUPE) remain aligned with the NDP. CAW leadership claimed they had a majority vote from CAW members, yet have never released an official vote tally to prove it.

Hargrove's hold over CAW has been reported to be tenuous for some time now. At many CAW protests, many members have been spotted wearing "Buzz Off" T-shirts that were distributed within the union by Hargrove's rivals.

The prognosis is evidently clear.

After fourteen years of holding the CAW presidency (he was first acclaimed as CAW president in 1992, and has never been defeated), it's become obvious that Hargrove has become unable to separate his own interests from that of the CAW, or the workers he represents. In March, Hargrove insisted that "the action of the Ontario NDP is a direct attack on the CAW and our members."

Combine this with the fallout from his election-time abandonment of the NDP and subsequent denunciation of them, then consider the fact that this took up much of the time that Hargrove should have been using to try to and protect his workers from Ford lay-offs, and the picture becomes clear.

Buzz Hargrove is not as in charge as he would like a lot of people to believe. But then again, this may not be a very recent development. On www.westernstandard.ca (on January 26), a CAW member identifying himsefl as "Chazz", wrote: " As a CAW member in Ontario, I can tell you that Buzz is absolutely despised by many union people at the local level and the national level. He should have stepped aside before the last CAW elections, but he hung on."

It could be considered in terms of the butterfly effect. Hargrove got a little too comfortable in his position, and a ripple started. As years progressed, and he became bolder and bolder, he eventually alienated much of his party membership, and these waves are now climbing ever higher. A 2005 settlement between GM and CAW that many workers were disatisfied with (but Hargrove considered satisfactory) may turn out to be the tsunami that erradicates Hargrove's CAW presidency.

In the end, Hargrove may simply have forgotten where he came from. A ROB Magazine salary survey reports that Hargrove earns $131,110.00 per year... probably much more than the rank-and-file CAW members whom he "represents". It isn't terribly likely that the average CAW worker earns that kind of scratch.

As a result, Hargrove's complacency began to shine through in spectacular ways. In 2005, Hargrove announced, " It's inevitable that we'll face some downsizing at GM, as we do at the other two companies. That's the pack of cards we're playing with."
Yet somehow, Hargrove's own job was secure enough that he could spend precious time climbing into bed with Paul Martin and the Liberal party -- time that should have been spent trying to save CAW jobs.

In the end, Chazz himself may describe Hargrove's trouble's best: " ...Like the federal government, change is needed right now at the CAW. Buzz's days are numbered. Not a minute too soon."

The time for CAW to have a president who will actually stand up for workers -- and not pursue his own ill-concieved political career -- has long passed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Huge Announcement -- Nexus of Assholery Expands!

NEW! Nexus of Assholery Message Board

These are exciting times for us... er, me... here at the Nexus.
Ever since the creation of this shitty, self-absorbed little weblog, I've been wracking my brain coming up with new ways to make it more accessible to prospective readers.
An extended four-month hiatus didn't exactly help (apparently, I've been declared "dead or missing in action" within the blogging community). A number of days ago, while reading Joe Trippi's The Revolution Will Not be Televised, the idea hit me like Triple H with a sledgehammer to the face. A couple of days work on this revelation later, and this self-professed shitty, self-absorbed little weblog is ready to turn the corner. It's ready to become something newer, something better.
The change in question is, quite simply, the creation of a Nexus of Assholery message board.
But it's much more than simply a message board. It's also a hub for internet communities: something of a crossroads on the information superhighway for people to post links to their own weblogs and message boards, talk about just about anything they want to.
You can discuss the media. Debate the issues -- right down to an actual "Debate Club" area in which winners and losers will be declared by the site's actual users. There is also a section in which people who feel so inclined can discuss Nexus of Assholery Book Club selections.
The site is http://assholenexus.proboards101.com/index.cgi. You can also get there by clicking the header under the headline on this particular article).
Go there, register, log in, and post. Communities like this have to be built one person at a time, but in the end the payoff could be colossal. Please tell your friends as well. The more, the merrier.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Tale of Two Traitors

Emerson and Stronach are no different -- and both should have faced by-elections

It's no great secret that since his post-election defection to the Conservative party, David Emerson has become one of the most controversial figures in Canadian politics.

When he was elected in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway, Emerson promised he would be Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "worst nightmare". Instead, he secretly crossed the floor from the opposition Liberals to sit as the Conservative Minister of Trade and the Pacific Gateway. His duplicity was entirely unknown to Canadians of all political stripes until he was caught by news cameras emerging from the inaugural Conservative cabinet meeting -- he had just been sworn in.

Now, Canadians of all political stripes are calling for Emerson's resignation. Leading this campaign is Vancouver Kingsway constituent Manuel Pereda. Along with Kevin Chalmers, a key fundraiser for the Emerson campaign, Pereda has organized his own little protest movement. At one point he even paid for an airplane to fly over Ottawa with a trail instrucing Emerson to "call home".

An online petition demanding the recall of Emerson (found at www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?RDE) currently has 20810 signatures -- more than enough to inspire some sober second thought from Emerson. However, it is obvious this has yet to come. Emerson has developed a habit of denouncing his critics as "partisan zealots".

Resultingly, Pereda is getting little response from Emerson. Pereda reports, " He responds to all my questiosn with one single sentence: his sentence is he's only accountable to constituents at election time."

Naturally, Emerson has tried to shy away from this attitude in public statements, saying, " the reality is I was elected. Once the election was over, I was faced with a decision on how to best serve the people of the riding, and that's all the people of the riding... I concluded I could better serve them , I could get more done, I could get more results for British Columbia if I was in the cabinet than if I was not."

Translation: " I'm bettering my own career, while claiming I'm doing so for my constituents. Meanwhile, as I claim that I am, in fact, doing this for them, I will disrespect them entirely."

Pereda's frustration with Emerson's arrogance and contempt for the electorate is familiar to many Canadians -- many felt the same way after the equally shameful defection of Belinda Stronach.

Certainly, there is one key difference: namely, that Emerson has made himself useful since crossing the floor, helping to settle Canada's softwood lumber dispute with the United States. Although the settlement didn't pull as many American teeth as critics of the settlement would have liked, it did resolve the matter faster than any Liberal government would have (then again, how much faster than "never" would he have had to be?). Stronach, on the other hand, took to a new cabinet position as the Minister for "Democratic Renewal", and proceeded to rest on her non-existent laurels. There is one other inexplicable difference -- Stronach was somehow able to get reelected after her betrayal. Now, one wonders if Emerson could accomplish the same feat.

Like any Member of Parliament who crosses the floor after election, Emerson owes it to his constituents to resign and run in a by-election.

It seems like the only party advancing in the interest in democracy is the NDP. On March 10, it was the NDP that requested that the ethics investigation into Emerson's defection also investigate the defection of Stronach. It is the NDP that is currently proposing legislation that would require any defecting Member of Parliament to immediately submit to a by-election in their riding in order to ascertain the will of their constituents.

In the wake of the last year, neither the Conservative party nor the Liberal party have any credibility on this particular matter. It may indeed be up to the NDP to address this very serious culture of duplicity, because anything the Liberals or Conservatives have to say on the subject will certainly be nothing more than partisan grand standing.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bob Rae: Bush is Hitler, Harper Bad

Three cheers for the Munich Pact!

I told myself I was going to back off the Liberals for a little while.

I reminded myself I am trying to be non-partisan, for better or worse, and that the Liberals are suffering enough without my "help".

Then Bob Rae compared Stephen Harper's softwood lumber deal with the United States to the Munich Pact.

Fuck. And here I go:

Yes, you probably read that correctly. On May 10, Bob Rae -- yet another lousy candidate for the leadership of the federal Liberal party -- compared the Canada/U.S. softwood lumber agreement (under which the American government accepted Canada's most important conditions) to the Munich pact (under which Adolph Hitler and then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed that Germany would be allowed to annex Czechoslovakia), not only comparing Harper to one of the weakest political leaders in history, but also compared U.S. President George W. Bush to Adolph Hilter.

Coming from a former leader of the NDP, that's about as subtle as blitzkrieg.
Naturally, many Liberal party members have wanted to distance themselves from these comments. A phonecall made by Warren Kinsella, howver, was able to confirm that Rae did in fact make these comments.

On his website, www.warrenkinsella.com (yes, Warren named his website after himself -- subtle!), Kinsella wrote: " I am told: 1. [Rae] did, in fact, compare Harper to Chamberlain"; 2. He did, in fact, mention "Munic" but not the word "pact". Those are what some of us call a distinction without a difference. Do you think the analogy is appropriate? I sure don't."

Kinsella went on to suggest -- stop the presses! -- Rae owes Harper an apology: " Do you think Bob Rae should apologize? I sure do. Do you think he will? Don't hold your breath."

Even Warren Kinsella thinks Rae fucked up. Mister Rae, this is the best indication that you have, in fact, fucked up.

However, Rae has yet to take responsibility for his comments. On his website, www.BobRae.ca (he also named his website after himself), Rae makes no mention whatsoever of what he and his supporters would probably call a "minor blunder".
Many observers would speculate that what the Liberal party currently needs in a leader, more than anything else, is an individual who can look back at all the mistakes the party made over the past 15 years and learn from them. Evidently, Bob Rae is one of many who are incapable of doing this. After the embarrassment the party suffered with their infamous "a Harper election will make Bush happy" commercial (although not nearly as humiliating as their "troops with guns in our cities" ad), and the adverse effect it had on the party's ability to be elected, one would have thought that all Liberals -- even one as inept as Bob Rae -- would have been smarter than this.

Considering their reputation for being rampantly anti-American, the Liberal party may have wanted to show they can pursue a more productive relationship with Canada's largest trading partner -- then again, maybe not.

With a statements like this, Bob Rae may as well be telling people to vote for Osama bin Laden for the federal Liberal leadership.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Canada Needs Belinda Stronach Like Jean Chretien Needs Another Stroke

When rabid Liberals attack

What would you say if someone told you that Canada needs Belinda Stronach?
I know what I'd say -- but (believe it or not), it isn't fit for print here. Scary, huh?

And, yet, a group of pro-Belinda Liberals have insisted that Belinda Stronach is just the man... er, woman... for the job of federal Liberal leader.

Never mind the fact that she ran for (and failed to secure) the leadership of the federal Conservative party. Never mind the fact that she jumped ship to the competing Liberal party strictly to further her own career. AND, not to mention the fact that she has tried to steal a job out from under any man with whom she's spend as much as three minutes in the back of a grody taxi cab...

But I digress. Mostly because some of that is borderline slanderous. And while I do love my slander, I feel it is better spent on Jack Thompson (by the way, Jack, I'm still waiting for you to sue me).

While it is true that the race for the federal Liberal leadership has yielded few quality candidates (go Bob Rae! After all, Ontarians won't remember that whole "incompetent premier" thing), the absolute last thing that the Liberal party needs is for Belinda Stronach to enter the race and provide Liberals with yet another bad candidate for the job.

After all, there is a reason why Stronach withdrew from the race, even after having done some preliminary informal organizing for a run at the leadership.
When bowing out of the race (before even formally entering), Stronach cited a "flawed selection process" as the reason for her change of heart. She claimed that the process was too closed, despite having praised it as "open accessible and accountable" in March. At the time she said, "the rules... demonstrate the party is vibrant and is ready to take the next steps to renew and rejuvinate itself."
This particular flip-flop comes less than a year after she criticized the Liberal budget in the house of commons before jumping to the Liberals to help them pass it in May 2005. For Belinda Stronach, that's just how the world turns. It's how she rolls, if you will.

Liberal officials had warned that they would stringently enforce limits on large campaign donations, nixing what would have been a massive advantage for the Auto Parts heiress (Stronach's father owns Magda International, a company for which Belinda served as both president and CEO -- despite dropping out of business school).
There is another reason for Stronach's withdrawal that she certainly won't publicly admit to -- Elle nes pas parles francais. Translation: she evidently doesn't speak french well enough to order fries from a Burger King in Quebec.

This was exactly the opinion of a commentator for CTV, who reported that after asking her a question in French, she asked him to repeat it -- in English. Certainly, a party that wants to believe itself the flag-bearer for federalism in Quebec can't have that. So, Belinda was done before she ever started.

Aside from all this, the simple fact of the matter is that Stronach is entirely unqualified. Once one becomes familiar with her life story, it becomes plainly obvious that he has gotten where she is in life not by hard work, but by back stabbing anyone she could get close to. When it became apparent the same tactic would not yield results within the Conservative party, she jumped to one where the practice is more commonplace, only to find her blade dulled by her own untrustworthiness and incompetence.

From business school drop out to Liberal party leadership race drop out, one thing is certain: even an embattled organization like the Liberal party can do much better in choosing a leader -- although all the remaining candidates have their own issues to deal with.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Adscam Lawsuit is Treading on Precarious Territory

Liberals' Day of Judgement May be Nigh

Since losing the federal election to the upstart Conservative party in January, things have been looking rather bleak for the Liberals. The Conservatives have been surging in the polls to the point that surveys have indicated -- on a regular basis -- that if a federal election were held now, the Conservatives would be likely to win a majority government.

What ultimately led to the defeat of the Liberals is not great secret -- the multi-million (possibly multi-billion, according to forensic accountants) adscam that funnelled taxpayer dollars into Liberal party coffers in order to "save the country". Since their January 23 defeat, the Liberal party has been waiting for the other foot to drop.

Now, the proverbial shit has hit the fan.

During the election, Stephen Harper suggested that under his reign, the government of Canada may sue the Liberal party in order to recover up to $40 million in stolen taxpayer dollars that remain unnaccounted for. To date, the Liberal party has paid back a scant $1.4 million.

Naturally, a move like this has all sorts of implications. First off, it would demonstrate to the Canadian public that the Liberal party and the Government of Canada are indeed separate political entities. The lawsuit would seek to recover "all the dirty money", returning it back to government coffers -- where it should have remained to begin with. Finally, it would also set a legal precedent with severe implications for any governments in future that engaged in such activity -- or, at least those that got caught.

However, $40 million is a steep price for any organization -- especially a political party -- to pay. In a December 24, 2005 Sun Media column, former Liberal debuty leader Sheila Copps reported that the party was "$34,818,257.32 in debt by way of 13 bank loans". If not for Elections Canada rules (insituted in 2004) requiring all political parties to report their financial status, few in the public probably would have ever known this.

Imagine that this particular case goes to court tomorrow, and the Liberals lose -- this would put the Liberal party $74,818,257.32 in debt -- firmly at risk of complete bankruptcy.

Certainly bankruptcy wouldn't be the end of an organization like the Liberal party. However, it would put the party at a severe disadvantage for a considerable period of time. Under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the Liberal party would see their payments on their outstanding bank loans, as well as their newfound debt to the government of Canada restructured over a three to five year period -- more than enough time to place them at a considerable disadvantage during a federal election. Under a chapter 7 bankruptcy, some of these debts could be wiped clean, but the Liberal party would have to divulge itself of many of its assets in order to do this. Also, the $40 million figure won by the government under a lawsuit would not be discharged. Furthermore, a chapter 7 bankruptcy would be disastrous to the party's already-tattered credit rating.

This only adds to the political benefit the Conservative party could derive from such a lawsuit. Not only would it keep adscam fresh in voters' minds through the next federal election, it could also devestate the Liberal party and impede its operations (both day-to-day and election-time) well into the foreseeable future.
A question could be asked about how this bodes for the country. And while the relinquishing of the Liberal party's strangle-hold on federal politics has and will continue to be a positive thing, replacing that with a Conservative party garrote is not exactly what one should consider a positive alternative.

Healthy democracies require differing (and most importantly, fully-functioning) political parties in order to maintain a rich marketplace of ideas. Crippling the Liberal party may well mean allowing not only the Conservative party, but also the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to sieze a greater "market share", as it were. With the exception of an ulikely emergence of the Green Party, the marketplace of ideas would become a significantly smaller one, offering less variety.

Suing the Liberal party to recover stolen public funds may be the right thing to do, but it may have unforeseen consequences for the country as a whole. Prime Minister Harper had best tread carefully to ensure that no damage is done that can never be undone.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NEW: Nexus of Assholery Book Club!

Irshad Manji, Risking Utopia: On the Edge of a New Democracy

Oprah Winfrey sure does hate James Fry, doesn't she?
Yeah, we all know the story. Oprah's embarrassed, she feels "decieved", and there will be "consequences" for James Fry.

So, naturally, the topic is: book clubs!

And lately I've been thinking to myself: why would anyone start a book club. It's really just one person dictating to any number of other people what they'll read, pretty much arbitrarily. Then I thought to myself: why? Fuck, why not?

So, yes, before you even ask it, I'll answer that burning question in the back of your cortex: yes, I'm going to start a book club. Once a month, I'm going to tell you what to read -- certainly I don't expect you to read it. Hell, I won't even sell you the book.

Most of the books for this particular book club should be available at your local library -- if you happen to attend a College or University, or even have access to one, I damn near guarantee you you'll find the book in question there. The books in question will cover a wide variety of topics, and I'll do my best to ensure they include many different -- perhaps often conflicting -- points of view.

Perhaps then it is fitting that I announce the first book for the Nexus of Assholery book club: Risking Utopia: On the Edge of a New Democracy by Irshad Manji.
Irshad Manji is known by many as one of the foremost critics of Islam today. The New York Times dubbed her "Osama bin Laden's Worst Nightmare". Right now, she's making all kinds of noise with her book The Trouble With Islam Today. She's also facing her fair share of critics, many of whom refute her claims to a desire for "dialogue with Islam", saying she is more interested in a monologue.

Long before making such a big splash with her current book, Manji tackled the contentious issue of identity politics in Risking Utopia. Risking Utopia is largely a collection of the life stories of various people who have been labelled as belonging to certain racial, ethnic, sexual or ability-related groups. The book is largely two fold: first, about the struggle of these people to define their own identities despite the stigmatization that accompanied the aforementioned labelling, and their determination to take the bull by the horns and solve their own problems.

Risking Utopia is a book that is first and foremost about building a more inclusive -- but, more importantly, less divisive -- society in which people are encouraged to be not only more indepedent, but more cooperative with one another. In a sense, Manji envisions a society that is in many levels interdependant, but within which no one is a burden on anyone else. Furthermore, everyone is welcome.

Sadly, if you're like me, you may find it frustrating that Manji herself may not be ready for the utopia she envisions. Like many writers of leftist stripes she singles out those dreaded "neo-conservatives" for special criticism, and makes it clear there is no place for them in the society she claims to envision.

Nonetheless, the book enshrines a glorious idea, and is a true winner from a gifted writer.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On the Joys of Not Being "Mainstream"

So, today I'm told, " Your political views place you at the margins of the mainstream whereas the CBC is somewhere smack in the middle of it, for better or worse."
Ooooh. Break out the party hats, kids! I've been "marginalized".
Isn't that the story of my life: too conservative to be liberal, too liberal to be conservative.
It reminds me of something that happened to me late last year at The Gateway: With a federal election looming, an assignment came up to review Rescuing Canada's Right by Tasha Kheirridin and Adam Daifallah. The editor in question put out the call for a "conservative" to review the book, not wanting the assignment to fall into the hands of someone who would simply use it to bash the Conservative party on the eve of a key federal election. I volunteered to accept the responsibility as someone sympathetic to their cause, but added "I wouldn't say I'm a conservative."
At that point, the writer sitting next to me says, "no, you're a conservative," in a rather accusatory tone.
Which naturally came as a shock to me. Traditionally, conservatives aren't supposed to support such things as immigration or same-sex marriage -- both of which I do support, and have done so on this very site. Conservatives aren't supposed to support "new deal"-style social safety nets, as I've been known to do. In other words, if there is any such thing as a conservative's manual, I clearly haven't read it.
Then there's the other side of the coin. During the course of debates of bilingualism and U.S. President George W. Bush I've been labelled "a hopeless lefty." It seems that I am free to support some of the more common sense conservative causes, but the minute I step out of line, once again I become "the enemy".
So what is a man to do? I suppose I could try to wax poetically about the precarious position occupied by any society that is polarized along such ideological boundaries. I've even been known to do so on occasion -- although doing to in the presence of extremists from either "side" quickly makes one an outcast.
Then again, this is the problem with extremism -- as soon as a person doesn't sufficiently meet one particular extreme, they are shoved straight over to the other. If they don't fit in there, they can be left in a sort of limbo -- too liberal to be a conservative, too conservative to be a liberal. Naturally, I'll never be able to work within a Liberal (not liberal)-biased media outlet like the CBC. Nor could I ever write for a publication like the Western Standard. I am firmly stuck in the middle.
But more than anything I am certain of this: I cannot possibly be alone.
Somewhere in the void that is Canadian society there must be more like myself. In fact, there must be a great many of us. People so fed up with the bickering between those of different ideological alignments that they simply want to hear something different for a change. People so tired of being fed slanted garbage by the mass media -- regardless of whichever "side" it is slanted in favor of -- that they would change the channel, if only they felt there was somewhere to change the channel to.
If that describes you, then here we are: stuck in the middle together. Here in that indefensible no-man's-land that the extremists don't even want to admit exists. And I suppose we also have a choice: we can huddle here in obscurity, or we can strike out, and push the margins further outward until no extremist can claim they are "part of the mainstream".
Certainly, the day we allow a biased media outlet like the CBC to pretend that it is "the mainstream", we take one more step toward the day when honest and open political debate in this country die.
So here we are, on the raggedy edge of the mainstream: what say we do a little pushing?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Stephen Harper and John Tory to Shake in Boots

Liberal boys making big noise -- but over what?

One almost has to feel sorry for the federal Liberal party. With the business of governing the country firmly out of their hands, they've largely turned their attentions to provincial politics in order to keep themselves amused.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (the federal leader of the Conservative party) endorsed Ontario Conservative leader John Tory as " the next premier of Ontario. A strong Canada needs a strong Ontario... John Tory is a nation-builder."
This sparked a litany of complaints from all levels of the Liberal party. A ballroom full of Liberal party members at a fundraiser for incumbent Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty chanted "shame, shame" (though to whom, it cannot be said -- Harper was not present). Even Liberal party leadership candidate Bob Rae added his two cents, noting " What Mr. Harper and his entourage are doing is injecting a totally partisan approach to the entire enterprise of being prime minister."

It should be noted that just as McGuinty hopes to hold his ground against John Tory, Bob Rae hopes to be the man to attempt to unseat Stephen Harper in the next federal election.

Despite Harper and McGuinty having had what the Ontario premier described as "a good get-together" less than an hour previous, Rae said of the prime minister: " Clearly, he's insulting the premier of the province and it's not an accident. It's intended to give the back of the hand to [the] province."

Naturally, as many Liberals often do (if one can honestly consider Rae a Liberal -- he is a failed NDP premier of Ontario, who was lambasted in James Laxer's In Search of a New Left -- a book considered by many to be the unofficial NDP membership handbook -- for betraying New Democratic Party ideals) Rae has forgotten that the Ontario Liberal party is not Ontario, and Stephen Harper doing his job as Conservative party leader is not an insult to Ontario. Underscoring this is the fact that in January's federal election, 40 of Ontario's seats went to the Conservatives, 54 went to the Liberal party, while 10 Ontario ridings elected NDP Members of Parliament -- the Liberal party is hardly synonymous with Ontario.

Embittered Jean Chretienite Warren Kinsella has tackled this subject with no small amount of glee, stating: "As one young partisan said to me, 'John Tory has put his party's interests ahead of Ontario's. He's finished.'" ...Uh, yeah, Warren. They're called "partisans" for a reason. Furthermore, when one considers Harper's promise to address the fiscal imbalance that McGuinty has complained about for years, one that Liberal prime ministers Chretien and Paul Martin wouldn't even acknowledge...
Back to the whining and grandstanding. " Is it appropriate for the prime minister of this country to hide his meeting with Ontario's premier, the elected representative of our province, while publicly courting [Quebec premier] Jean Charest and playing politics with John Tory?" asked current federal Liberal stand-in John Graham.

Somehow, making complaints regarding the unjust partisanship of Harper's move in this context falls flat on its face. Graham may want to confer with his handlers, who would doubtlessly remind him that Charest is also a Liberal, before saying such things.

Enough dilly-dallying. It's time to get to the point. Is Harper's move partisan? You bet it is. It's also his job.

As the leader of the federal Conservative party, it is Harper's right to endorse any provincial Conservative leader as fit to lead. It's also his responsibility to do so. It's also his responsibility to ensure that anyone he gives his endorsement to is befitting of it. If John Tory is fit to govern, then it is Harper's right to endorse him as such.

It's no question that the Liberals are feeling vulnerable. They currently find themselves out of power for the first time in fourteen years. Their Ontario stronghold is not only under siege from two parties, but it appears to be slipping out of their grasp. And the great duplicitous David Emerson has defected, proving that they are not the only ones capable of poaching MPs from opposition parties (at least the Conservatives are capable of poaching MPs with some degree of competence).

Suggesting that trifling with the Liberal party of Ontario will have grave political consequences for Harper (potentially even graver than trifling with the fedeal Liberal party) only reveals this party's position of utter weakness. The Liberals currently resemble that kid on the schoolyard who mouths off at their nemesis from behind the biggest kid in school -- only they're too blind to notice that the support of their traditional muscle is far from absolute.

At this rate John Graham, Dalton McGuinty and Bob Rae may all be in for a shock in Ontario's upcoming election. The change of Conservative party fortunes in Ontario was considered by many to be key in delivering the Conservative party to victory in the federal election, all this sabre-rattling over such a minor matter will certainly send Ontario voters the wrong message.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Labour Unions Have Lost Their Way

Today is May Day. Among other things, it is International Workers' Day.

Though many socialists and anti-capitalists have claimed the day as their own, the day is celebrated mainly by labour unions. The holiday is used to commemorate the struggles associated with establishing the right of labourers to organize in order to improve their working conditions.

It is the formation of labour unions that helped to wipe out sweatshop labour in the western world. The most unscrupulous employers were soon forced to pay their employees fair wages and improve workplace safety. Largely because of the efforts of labour unions, the average worker does not risk his life and well-being at work for slave wages.

This was not a struggle won easily. In many places, such as the United States and Nazi Germany, trade unionists were often brutally oppressed. Some, such as John Tubman, who was immortalized in Woody Guthrie's "Ballad of Harriet Tubman", even died for the right to unionize. This struggle and these sacrifices are something that must not be taken lightly.

Yet somehow, over time, they have. Not merely by the many employers who routinely oppose the ability of their employees to organize themselves into unions -- one case that comes to mind is the closure of a McDonald's restaurant that had recently unionized -- but also by the unions themselves.

The trade union movement has taken ill recently. It has contracted a disease that may well kill it more efficiently than McDonald's or Wal-Mart could ever hope to.

The disease I speak of is protectionistitis. I'm not referring to the opposition trade unions offer to free trade. Rather, I speak of the way unions are organized, and how those within a union are able to use the way this in order to fend off younger, hungrier, harder-working new employees who would challenge their positions within a particular company.

The idea of any organization where membership is voluntary (at least in theory) is to attract new members. In the case of labour unions, these new members come nearly exclusively from one segment of people: entry-level employees. However, it is precisely the way trade unions treat their entry-level "members" that will eventually be the death of this entire movement.

The majority of unions admit members through a vesting process. Much like many businesses put their employees through a four-month probationary period, many unions subject their members to a period of time when they are required to pay union dues, pay into union-organized benefit programs and are not allowed "privileges" such as participating in the decision-making process of the union. In the event of an undue or unjust termination by the employer in question, many unions will refuse to stand up for the employee, despite having taken their money for periods that often exceed four months -- sometimes, even consisting of periods of years. In short, many of these unions spend significant periods of time taking the money of an employee while remitting no service whatsoever.

Often, when engaging in business such as negotiating wages, the interests of entry-level employees are ignored entirely. Because the union leadership is established based mostly on seniority (even when these positions are elected), those who have accrued the necessary senority are often able to place their own personal interests high above those of other employees. In essence, the interests of entry-level employees are sacrificed so that these individuals may better conditions for themselves.

These are only two reasons why working in a union often makes little or no sense for entry-level employees. The structure of union workplaces -- often based entirely on senority and union politiking, as opposed to hard work and initiative -- can make unionized workplaces an inhospitable environment for younger, hungrier, harder-working individuals looking to earn their way ahead.

Part of the problem with the labor union movement is the rigidity of these unions. Once joining a union, an employee is trapped within an inflexible system within which they are expected to sacrifice their individual needs and interests in order to strengthen a collective that doesn't necessarily reflect those needs, interests, or the individual's values. Wages are then set strictly according to the number of hours an employee has worked, with no room for individual achievement.

One may argue that these workers have the right to not join the union. However, most unions force anyone wishing to be employed in their workplace to join the union. No union "membership", no job. This is very convenient for labour unions -- it saves their employees the difficulty of having to compete against someone who is not part of the union and may be outworking them.

The adage "live better, work union" truly doesn't apply to those with a desire to be duly recognized for working harder -- this may be the most significant way that unions fall short.

There is a way to negotiate these pitfalls. It's even one that most labour unions approve of -- until it applies to them. Government regulation.

Frankly, the typical union practice of collecting any fees from non-members should be illegal. Unions that want to collect fees from an employee should admit them to the union -- without condition or exception.

The law should hold labour unions to a simple legal concept -- one may not force an individual to pay fees for services unrendered. Also, no employee should be compelled or coerced into joining a union in order to secure employment. It is illegal for any business to interfere with an employee's right to work as part of a union. It should also be illegal for any union to interfere with a worker's right to work non-union. Fair is fair, after all.

There is one important caveat to be raised. Any regulation of labour unions must be done solely for the benefit of those working in the unions -- not for the benefit of employers. To this end, the law should also address the issue of "employer unions" -- unions that knowingly and willingly sacrifice the interests of their members in order to benefit the employer. All labor unions should be required to appear before a regulatory board and demonstrate that they are defending the interests of their members, not merely their own.

Of course, labour unions could save themselves the trouble of being regulated by addressing these issues themselves. In fact, if the union movement is to survive, it ought to take this May Day as an opportunity to do something new. An opportunity to do something different.

An opportunity to do something right.