Some very foolish, backwards people did an awful thing today. In a misguided attempt to satisfy the insane demands of their purported faith, three men stormed the offices of a satirical French magazine and shot ten people dead. They then killed two police officers, one pathetically as he pled for mercy lying prone on the ground. That man, 42 year old Merabet Ahmed, was a Muslim. I’m quite certain the faith of the dead officer was vastly different, and indeed in innumerable ways better, than whatever sick corruption manifested itself as faith in the minds of the gunmen.
The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was attacked and a dozen people massacred because three young men had committed themselves to the extreme end of a religion, and believed that the magazine’s depictions of the Muslim prophet Mohammad was a blasphemy so extreme and heinous the only appropriate reaction was to gun down the cartoonists responsible.
What sins did those people commit, to warrant their deaths?
There is no justification for such violence. And indeed the violence is so unjustifiable and sickening it reminds me why I’m convinced religious fundamentalism of any kind is a nefarious social pathology.
But worse was how we in the decadent West reacted.
It upsets me to no end that some would argue this nearly insignificant weekly satirical newsmagazine had it coming, or that they baited religious fanatics into being attacked.
Who cares how they illustrated Mohammad? Should we not live in a society free the restrictions of any one particular religious dogma? Am I not free to doodle whichever deity I should choose?
It confounded me to see people of ‘the left’ argue that the illustrations had been perceived as racist or otherwise culturally insensitive. For one, the prohibition on visual representations of the man known as Mohammad are unique to extremist Sunnis. Why should anyone give two shits about their obscure rules – neither Canada nor France is a caliphate.
And Islam is not a race.
It’s a religion that purports to be multi-racial and all-encompassing. It’s a set of values and a collection of ideas, and ideas are fair ground to be mocked, belittled, dismissed etc. If anything, the Sunni extremists who perpetrated the attack want their understanding of Islam to be the dominant form, and believe further that their racial identity as Sunnis gives them the right to dictate Mohammad’s teachings. They are the racists for pushing a Sunni Supremacist worldview. They’re fascists too. The cartoons were not ‘racist’ even though they may have been tasteless, but they sure as hell were critical of of those who want to turn back the clock on human evolution by appealing to religious fundamentalism, and severely curtail individual rights and freedoms.
It should be of primary concern to all those who want to defend free speech to acknowledge this means defending all that you personally disagree with as well.
As an example, I cannot morally support Quebec independence, pro-lifers or death penalty advocates, but in our society they have every right to express themselves. Should they, or I, choose to belittle/undercut our own positions by stooping to the level of mocking the rhetorical opponent, the onus is on the audience to consider that debasement as well, in context, and weigh it against whatever other pertinent information is available.
It shouldn’t have to be spelled out like that, least of all to those on the ‘left’ of the political spectrum.
Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and thought are the most important, fundamental freedoms in a liberal democracy.
And yet, when it came time to show some true solidarity, The Associated Press, the Daily Telegraph, CNN, New York Daily News and from what I can tell, an unfortunate number of Canadian news outlets have decided that they would rather censor Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures and cover pages in their news reports.
There’s a word for this: cowardice
The unfortunate reality is that, as damaging and despicable as today’s terrorist attack in Paris is, it’s not nearly as damaging and despicable as our own media’s self-imposed censorship.
The only thing more insane than gunning people down for ostensibly mocking a 6th century merchant who claimed divine revelation is for ostensibly secular news and media corporations to defend the outrage of religious fanatics by supporting their efforts at censorship.
Censoring the images does nothing to defend the rights, values and responsibilities of our society. It does the exact opposite.
Worse, it encourages terrorism, because it demonstrates just how quickly we’re willing to compromise our values and further demonstrates that violence can be used as an effective tool against the apparent ‘excesses’ of Western secularism, free speech and liberal democratic tradition.
It is pathetic and perverted that news organizations in Canada and the United States, organizations that have a civic responsibility to defend the public interest against censorship, have collectively decided to fold like umbrellas and censor themselves.
If I can put it simply, this is literally how the terrorists win.
State secularization and political and economic socialization are fundamental aspects of the progressive evolution of our species. Today, the wretched fist of the Middle Ages, of barbarism, struck a satirical magazine in early 21st century Paris. Twelve people dead because they dared imagine what a 6th century Arabian might look like, and dared further to criticize the beliefs and practices of that man’s most insane followers.
And in the supposedly free and learned West, the progressives blamed the victim and the media tacitly endorsed censorship.
Recently announced cuts to the CBC/Radio-Canada got me thinking: why is this particular crown corporation’s operations split between three different major Canadian cities and why is the CBC/SRC trying to rid itself of potentially lucrative real-estate?
I can’t fathom why the CBC and SRC aren’t located in the exact same place. As it currently stands, French media is consolidated in the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal, English media consolidated in the Canadian Broadcast Centre in downtown Toronto, and corporate operations located in Ottawa.
Perhaps this was necessary in the past, but is it still necessary today?
Consolidating all of the CBC/SRC’s major operations in a single location is far more efficient and, perhaps most importantly, would allow a greater degree of cooperation between the two halves of Canada’s public broadcaster.
Quite frankly, the CBC could learn a lot from Radio-Canada. The latter is far more successful than the former in terms of creating interesting, engaging, high-quality programming.
To put it another way, I’d like to watch an English version of Tout Le Monde En Parle.
Or put it this way: 19-2 is a successful police procedural/crime drama set in Montreal created by Radio-Canada that, beginning this year, will appear on the CTV-owned Bravo Canada as an English-language equivalent. An idea created by the public broadcaster succeeds in French but is then sold to private interests for English language development. Why the CBC didn’t develop the English-language version of 19-2 is beyond me; it makes absolutely no sense.
Further, there’s been a plan in place for a few years now for CBC/SRC to sell the Maison Radio-Canada for redevelopment. According to the corporation’s public documents, they’re not supposed to invest in real-estate, and this is why they’re looking to rid themselves of an absolutely massive piece of purpose-built broadcasting property. Apparently, it’s too expensive to invest in upgrading existing facilities, and so they’ll sell the land to become a tenant. Whatever money is made from the sale, if it follows an unfortunate trend established by the Federal Tories, will likely not be equal to the actual and/or potential value of the property. Moreover, whatever money is made from the transaction will ultimately disappear paying the rent.
It’s illogical, in a time of constrained budgets, to limit a crown corporation’s ability to develop long term wealth. There is no wealth, no value, in leasing.
It’s also illogical to spread out a corporation’s major operations in three locations when one could easily be expanded to accommodate the whole.
What’s worse, one of the driving forces behind this proposed sale and redevelopment is that the Maison Radio-Canada has too much space for Radio-Canada’s current needs. In a sense I agree – the parking lots are a huge waste of space begging for redevelopment. But it’s the space inside the building which is thought to be superfluous. If that’s actually the case, why not sell off the corporate HQ in Ottawa and the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto and put the whole operation in the Maison Radio-Canada? Proceeds from the sale of those properties (particularly the latter) could finance the modernization of the MRC for just such a purpose. If they were to go a step further, they would use their real-estate holdings for the purposes of generating revenue to fund a public broadcasting trust, much in the same manner as the BBC has. I’m in favour of the plan to redevelop the expansive Montreal property with residential buildings, commercial and green spaces, but I think a far greater value could be derived over the long term by maintaining ownership of the Montreal site. There’s more money in the long term owning several condos, apartment blocks and commercial spaces than simply selling off the property. The undeveloped property is less valuable than a developed property.
Concentration and consolidation make a lot of sense to me, mostly because I firmly believe it will lead directly to greater cooperation and operational efficiency. I think it would accomplish the task of making our public broadcaster ‘leaner’ due to resource sharing, not to mention the fundamentally lower operating costs and greater quality of life offered in Montreal (as an example, and quite unlike Toronto’s Canadian Broadcasting Centre, properties within walking distance of Maison Radio-Canada are still affordable and there’s an established community of people who work in media located nearby, not to mention a concentration of competition). But to top it all off, if the CBC were to consolidate here with Radio-Canada, maintain ownership of their property and redevelop it, they could potentially get themselves back in the green sooner as opposed to later.
A closing thought. Shame on Heritage Minister and Tory cheerleader Shelley Glover for doing fuck all to help the CBC.
It’s a line anyone interested in Canadian politics is likely to hear time and again as Tory ministers dodge any and all kinds of responsibility for their own portfolios: ‘the (insert vital national interest here) operates as an arms-length government agency and thus we’re not responsible for it’.
Well what the fuck are you good for then?
The whole idea behind crown corporations is that they serve the interests of the people, either by providing a necessary service or by generating revenue for the federal government to lessen the tax burden. In some cases they can do both, but the key is that, if the crown corp is in the red or otherwise not accomplishing its goals, the peoples’ recourse is to elect individuals with plans to make these organizations succeed.
The Tory political playbook goes in the other direction, distancing government from crown corps in an effort to both deny any responsibility (breaking the public’s indirect involvement in the direction of the corporation) in an effort to prime it for privatization. Both the Harper and Mulroney administrations have a bad record of selling off major assets for next to nothing. The end result has almost always been the same: worse service, higher costs to the consumer, less competition. I have no doubt at all the Tories would like nothing more than to privatize the CBC, though for the moment they recognize the negative consequences.
Thus, their policy is that the CBC should die a death from a thousand cuts, a ‘creeping normality’ strategy that makes it impossible for the CBC to compete at all but would ultimately serve to facilitate its dismantling and privatization. If the problem, as a spokeswoman for Ms. Glover puts it, is that “the CBC (needs) to provide programming that Canadians actually want to watch” then why did the Fed not step in to protect the CBC’s lucrative monopoly on sports broadcasting rights? Why isn’t the Fed encouraging the CBC to develop a trust whose value is derived from the corporation’s real estate and infrastructure assets as a means to generate revenue?
And why is the minister responsible for our nation’s cultural heritage blaming the CBC for its shortcomings rather than coming up with a plan to make the CBC a focal point of our cultural identity?
What are we paying her for? To find fault or find solutions?
This article was originally published on Forget the Box and can be read here.
Toronto-based criminal lawyer David Butt makes a profoundly solid argument, in a way one might expect from a seasoned legal expert, for why Vince Li deserves our compassion (and more importantly, why the judicial system isn’t broken), and that can be read here.
And keep this in mind too: since the story broke that Vince Li would be granted an unsupervised half-hour walk outside the grounds of the psychiatric hospital where he is currently incarcerated, former public safety minister Vic Toews (the everyone on the Internet is a child-pornographer until proven innocent guy) has been named to the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench – the supreme court of the province. It’s no secret that Stephen Harper would like to appoint him to the Supreme Court of Canada, where he might really do some damage. Toews is the kind of legal troglodyte who believes, like nearly all Tories, that the only solution to crime is to lock-up all criminals in Dickensian prisons and hope to high heaven they all shiv each other to death. Rehabilitation is as foreign a concept to Vic Toews as sound economic planning is to the Parti Québécois.
Toews, like shrill Tory cheerleader Shelley Glover (who, in her role as Heritage Minister, recently sounded the alarm that the Manitoba Review Board made a mistake) are precisely the kinds of people who should have absolutely nothing to do with criminal justice. Yes, Mr. Toews was once a Crown Attorney. Yes, Ms. Glover was a police officer for nearly twenty years.
That should make you cringe, not trust their judgement. I can only hope that they were more rational, reasonable individuals prior to joining the Tories and losing all sense of reality.
As politicians they have proven themselves hysterical and myopic in terms of how they address the people’s concerns as it pertains to crime. Insinuating anyone who doesn’t think the government should have the right to request search history information without a warrant is ‘siding with child pornographers’ is perhaps one of the most contemptible statements in our nation’s political history and demonstrates Mr. Toews has little to no interest in preserving our fundamental legal rights as Canadians.
Are we not innocent until proven guilty?
For her part, Ms. Glover decided to promote the public’s ignorance of case reviews and legal ‘checks and balances’ by going on a public disinformation campaign to disparage the hard work of all the people involved in the Li case and make it seem as though the people of Selkirk Manitoba now have to contend with a bloodthirsty psycho-killer prowling their streets. You’d think a cabinet minister would have the sense not to add fuel to the fire, but no – Ms. Glover demonstrated exceptionally poor judgement by questioning a review process and rehabilitation regimen that has proven itself – conclusively – successful.
Makes my blood boil.
Anyways – here’s my peace:
Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the debate on Vince Li specifically and the issue of Not Criminally Responsible murderers (and what to do with them) more broadly, I feel it is necessary to preface this article with a statement of both heartfelt sincerity and incredulity. I shouldn’t have to say this, but advocating for the sensible rehabilitation of criminals – both insane and otherwise, deference to expert authority and common sense thinking is not the same thing as advocating for a murderer over the rights of the victim and his family.
Vince Li is being granted the right to go on an unsupervised half hour walk outside the grounds of his psychiatric hospital and a number of politicians, notably heritage minister and Manitoba MP Shelley Glover, have decided to feed the public’s fear of psycho killers by announcing their belief that this constitutes an egregious threat to public security. Common sense says otherwise, but ‘smart’ politics says it’s always best for a politician to stoke the public’s misplaced concern and present themselves as both community protector and advocate for ‘real justice’. At a press conference to announce federal stimulus spending for the city’s 375th anniversary, the heritage minister and former police officer stated, emphatically, that her government will pass legislation that would incarcerate Vince Li and people like him for the rest of their natural lives. As one might expect, she presented her argument almost as a kind of vengeance for Tim Mclean and his family, whom she further emphatically sympathized with.
I too have nothing but sympathy for the family of Tim McLean. I’m willing to bet what happened to him, what Vince Li did to him, was perhaps the single worst thing to ever happen to a human being on Canadian soil. It sickens me. I feel awful; for Tim’s family and for everyone on that bus that tragic night.
But therein lies the crux of the matter. This is a tragedy. Vince Li did not murder Tim McLean per se. Vince Li was in a deep psychotic state and completely disconnected from reality. He may have been like this for days, perhaps even weeks prior. Criminal psychiatrists concluded that he acknowledges he killed Tim McLean, but – and this is crucial – that he was unable to form the necessary mens rea. In essence, court experts determined he is not criminally responsible because he lacks a guilty mind, and in common law establishing the case of a guilty mind is fundamental in a murder case.
A traditional first or second degree murder charge would be impossible to prosecute because Vince Li believed he was commanded by god to kill an assassin who planned to kill him. In Mr. Li’s convoluted, sick mind he believed he had been chosen by his creator to save humanity from an imminent alien invasion. He had been hearing ‘the voice of god’ for four years prior to the killing of Tim McLean.
The simple fact is Vince Li was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who killed an innocent person while in a deep psychotic state. The presiding judge accepted the diagnosis and remanded Mr. Li to a maximum security mental health facility where, for a while, he was in 24-hour lock-down, sedated, medicated and on suicide watch.
Over the course of the last few years he has responded exceptionally well to treatment. Heavily medicated, he has been brought out of the psychotic state and returned to normalcy. As part of his rehabilitation process his file is reviewed annually by the Manitoba review board, a body whose purpose is to determine whether or not he’s responding well to rehabilitation and treatment, and whether he poses a threat to himself or others. Year after year they find that he is not a threat and grant him privileges. First it was escorted walks on the grounds of the hospital. Then supervised walks into the town of Selkirk. Then supervised visits in other small towns. At each step of his rehabilitation a chorus arose over social media accusing the provincial government, the correctional and mental health services and many others of everything from incompetence to advocating for a murderer (a preposterous, if not insane notion). It has demonstrated both the public’s contempt of expert opinion and their belief our criminal justice system is deeply flawed, and politicians, ever vigilant, have jumped on the bandwagon.
It’s expedient for a government that has shown nothing but contempt for government scientists, climatologists, environmentalists, academics of all variety, subject matter experts, jurists, the honourable opposition (etc.) to so inappropriately question the thinking and decisions of the Manitoba review board. Ms. Glover is a heritage minister, a Tory cheerleader, not a criminal psychiatrist. By what right does she have to question the integrity and competence of the dozens of people most directly involved in this case?
Let common sense reign.
Vince Li has no money and no bus or taxi driver in Selkirk is going to come pick him up. He has a half hour to walk outside the hospital. That’s fifteen minutes in one direction before he has to turn around and go right back.
If he decides to use this new privilege, he does so knowing he lacks protection. Up to now he’s been escorted everywhere by a peace officer and a nurse. If he goes for a walk off the grounds he does so knowing he risks being attacked if not killed. We can feel safe knowing he knows this, because he is no longer psychotic, his schizophrenia is under control. He exists in our world and knows the public is absolutely terrified of him.
If he decides to use this privilege the hospital, as part of its due diligence, would have to alert local police. Ergo it’s highly unlikely Vince Li would be completely unsupervised. He wouldn’t have a police escort right next to him, but I think it’s safe to assume either the Selkirk police or the RCMP would have two armed officers follow him from a short distance. I don’t think he’ll be able to spontaneously demand he go for a walk, there’s likely a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to go through.
At the press conference Minister Glover indicated that, because of her time as a police officer in Manitoba, she ‘knew how hard it was to keep track of dangerous offenders’. Perhaps. But not in Vince Li’s case. He is still incarcerated. He sleeps at the psychiatric hospital. As a consequence of his infamy he will only ever sleep in institutions or halfway houses for the rest of his days. The fear that Vince Li will one day be released into the general populace, to get a job and an apartment, is completely ludicrous. He’s unemployable. He’ll never be able to rent his own apartment, he has no family to support him – so it begs the question, what are we really afraid of? He is a ward of state forevermore. He is thoroughly supervised. There’s no way he could ever go off his medication as long as he remains institutionalized, and as long as he’s medicated and lives in a controlled environment (which as I already mention is his only option) he’s no threat, not to himself nor anyone else.
Some people are nonetheless incensed. They believe that Vince Li either should’ve been killed on the scene by responding police officers or spend the rest of his days under total lockdown in a maximum-security prison. I think these people believe mental illness is a kind of trick used by the truly guilty to escape harsh punishment. I don’t know which is crazier – killing and cannibalizing a man you believe to be an alien assassin because god told you, or thinking that a human being could be in their right mind and do such a thing.
Suffice it to say there are a lot of people who would lose their careers if they’re wrong about Vince Li. Literally dozens of people would immediately find themselves without the jobs they worked so hard to become experts at. I don’t think anyone in his or her right mind would risk so much on a whim.
None of the experts advocating for this new privilege would risk their careers unless they were absolutely certain Vince Li is no longer a threat to the public. They’re all aware of what needs to be done to ensure public safety, they have all the controls in place to ensure he stays medicated and that public security forces are aware of where he is at all time.
As a society, we can’t allow ourselves to be commanded by fear and ignorance. We must approach the unknown and the tragic with a desire to understand and to learn. We only do Tim McLean a disservice if our approach to mental illness is to simply incarcerate those who are indeed not criminally responsible for their actions. If we want to ensure he didn’t die in vain, then we must do all we can to treat mental illness seriously and develop the mechanisms by which treatment is rendered affordable and illnesses of the mind are de-stigmatized.
We only make the problem worse when we allow politicians to disregard expert opinion and basic, open, transparent common sense. We do ourselves harm when we allow common sense to be trampled by the fear mongering of politicians who exploit tragedy for personal gain.
I’m patient, and I wouldn’t expect such gifts any time too soon either. But if somehow these wishes come true in 2014, perhaps my faith in humanity will be restored. But like I said, I’m not holding my breath…
I’d like the mayor of Montreal, Mr. Denis Coderre, to fight corruption and waste and leave Montreal far better than how he found it. Talking tough about fighting corruption is one thing, but I’m fairly certain me and my co-citizens want to see real action this year. We want to see heads roll, we want to go to sleep knowing we have a mayor who is working tirelessly to break the bonds of collusion and organized crime. Am I asking too much? No, I don’t think so. I think all we really want is for our mayor to do the one job we need him to succeed at.
By contrast I’d like the disgraced mayor of Toronto to disappear into the Canadian wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again. He’s done enough damage to this country’s brand, let alone the City of Toronto, for several lifetimes. This trash doesn’t belong in the halls of power, any hall of power for that matter, but I can’t help but think Rob Ford’s remaining support comes from those still irked by the ‘Toronto-the-Good’ image. Get over it, Mr. Ford has given the entire world a poor impression of a once great city.
All elected politicians in Canada, regardless of whether they serve municipally, provincially or federally, need to understand this key point:
Getting elected does not grant you the honorific of ‘leader’.
Getting elected doesn’t even mean you have leadership skills.
There is a profound dearth of quality leaders in this country, especially among the ranks of various ‘province-first’ parties and the whole mess of Conservatives, be they former reformers or previously progressive.
It would be nice to see some politicians this year actually using their apparent leadership skills to get work done, rather than simply throw mud back and forth.
And I’d especially like to see the Tories realize the immense difference between leadership and bullying. They have no idea concerning the former and only seem to know the latter, and much like Toronto trying to escape their former identity, the Tories want to sell you on a tough guy image, like they’re not taking anybody’s crap and we should all be grateful.
Government by bullying is what we have, and the Tories have been slowly eroding away at the foundation of our nation’s democratic tradition for seven long years, making their style of governance (or lack thereof) somehow de rigeur. I’d like to see the Tories pull back from the brink and at least try to build consensus with opposition parties.
I’d like us to reject American-style politics.
More on the Tories; I want them to stop insinuating the Federal Liberals are trying to turn my kids into drug-addicts when they’re proposing sensible, cost-effective and above all else ethical solutions to the drug problem. Similarly, I’d like them to stop telling me how great the economy is doing when it’s very, very clear the economy is so far from being in good shape. I suppose I’d like them to stop treating me like an idiot. Me and every single other Canadian. And I’d really appreciate it if the Prime Minister came clean about the Wright-Duffy Affair. And for the whole party to stop insinuating the NDP is a closet separatist organization. Or that Jean Chretien actively tried to destroy the Canadian Forces.
In sum, I wish our politicians would stop lying to the people so blatantly, so constantly. I can’t ask for politicians to be honest – that would be asking too much. So perhaps I’m just begging for a bit of subtlety and decorum.
On the provincial side of things, I’d like Ms. Marois to shit or get off the pot.
Almost weekly we hear the ministers of her cabinet disparage Canada and the Canadian ideal, and further insist support for Québec’s independence is growing. Is it? Well if it is, do something about it. I half-wish Ms. Marois calls a referendum because I don’t expect the Tories to be terribly well-positioned to succeed in advocating for federalism. I half expect the Tories wouldn’t do much of anything at all – no overtures, no rallies, no media-blitzes etc. Rather, I think Mr. Harper and his merry band of fools would take the tough guy approach as if to dare the province into seceding.
And this concerns me greatly; not so much that I can anticipate the Tories doing nothing to keep the country together, but what they might do if Québec splits.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I think the péquistes are aware of Québec’s reality, and despite their rhetoric they know damn well separation isn’t going to fly – not now, likely not ten years from now. So if only they could drop the whole charade and focus on what really matters, like developing a sustainable economy, increasing our quality of life and eliminating waste and corruption, yeah, that really would be great…
I wish the PQ would realize there is no threat to Québec’s language, culture or identity. I wish they’d realize the damage they’re going to create with the ill-conceived and inappropriately named ‘charter of values’.
I wish the PQ wouldn’t waste their time on useless propaganda, such as guide to avoiding arguments in living rooms and around dining room tables concerning the proposed charter.
And perhaps most of all I’d like the PQ to cease uniquely representing the interests of the Franco-Québécois majority, and treating anyone who disagrees with PQ policy as though they are not ‘real Québécois’ or worse, that anyone who disagrees with the party is a traitor who is holding Québec back and thus should leave the province.
This is the government of Canada’s second largest province; this is how they treat their own people, this is the government looking to institutionalize racism with Bill 60. remember what I said about wanting us to turn our backs from American-style politics? I mean this more with regards to the PQ than I do to the Tories.
Perhaps I’m wishing for an end to blind political idolatry.
Perhaps I’m wishing for far too much.
But most of all I wish that the people begin to demand real, tangible solutions to a bevy of problems we all have to deal with. Poverty, homelessness, hunger… during this bonanza of conspicuous consumerism (which, year after year, fosters the development of new generations of obsessive consumers) these social problems seem that much more apparent, more glaring, striking to me. The downtown is littered with human beings sleeping on vents, piled together for warmth, while the middle class empties its pockets buying garbage it doesn’t need in a vain effort to make itself feel wealthy, to maintain the illusion of status and luxury. A holiday ostensibly about family and charity, forgotten about the very next day as crowds will invariably trample each other for bargains on more junk.
What a holiday.
What, a holy day?
It’s not just poverty, homelessness and hunger I wish we were better at fighting. I wish we were aware that year after year our economic situation, nationally and personally, doesn’t get better, it gets worse. More of us will be poor tomorrow than yesterday, and yet we continue to destroy the social safety net that once supported all of us and held us high. We turn our backs on mutual, government-mandated charity so that we can have a few extra hundred dollars to spend on little comforts, little luxuries, that only ever leave us feeling hollow, empty, and desperately needing more.
Last night I walked past two payday loan operations on Atwater. I was coming home from the market, loaded up with good food and wine, and here I was passing all these people submitting to the personal-finance equivalent of rape. Each payday loan place was open late and both were crowded with people milling about outside, waiting to get it.
It was tragic. Even when you’re down the system always finds a way to make you just a little bit poorer, especially if you’re close to edge as is.
And all this occurring on the supposed anniversary of a philosopher’s birth, a philosopher who advocated against mindless consumption, against wealth, and proposed instead that the well-lived life was one of charity, humility and selflessness.
What Christian charges his fellow man 30% interest on a loan, especially when the lender knows he doesn’t really have the means to pay for it in the first place?
A friend asked me what salutation was appropriate for an atheist on Christmas.
I thought it over. I was once a Catholic, and this day had a special meaning for me. Today I’m a man, and it seems to me that Christmas may be the least Christian holiday on the calendar.
I responded it’s best to wish me a happy new year.
The Trans Pacific Partnership has been described as ‘NAFTA on steroids’. While I don’t generally care for such pop metaphors this one may be quite apt.
It’s also been described as a multi-national agreement on enforced monopolies, one that would infringe on a wide spectrum of consumer, labour and environmental concerns.
And it’s by far the most secret trade agreement ever, so secret in fact that there’s a cash reward of $72,000 for a copy of its contents. So far only the negotiating parties have been allowed to look at the content, though in the way that the agreement has been designed, individual nations may only get to see the parts that directly apply to them in particular. The full scope of the agreement remains hidden, especially from the global public.
It’s being touted as a free trade agreement, when in reality it’s actually the complete and total opposite of one in some respects.
But even if it were like NAFTA, we here in Canada stand to gain nothing at all.
Don’t forget, it hasn’t been twenty years since we ratified NAFTA. Since then, we, much like the people of the United States, have seen millions of jobs flow out of our respective countries.
The best way for capital to rid itself of the ‘labour problem’ is to simply eliminate labour positions. In the last twenty years Canada’s manufacturing base has all but been destroyed by ruthless multi-national corporations. Our dollar, while currently at parity with the American greenback, actually doesn’t even come close to its value (everything costs more up here, from food to books to internet access and airfare). Factory jobs have been replaced with call centre jobs throughout much of the industrialized eastern portion of the country, while we’re patted about the head and told by our hapless (and thoroughly out-of-control politicians) not to worry, that this is all normal.
There’s nothing normal about selling out your economic sovereignty.
And let’s get something straight, we’re not the best performing economy in the G7.
We’re the least fucked-up economy in a group of nations that are all undergoing the same process to one degree or another. Free trade isn’t fair, least of all for the working classes.
And these days, there’s no middle class. It’s not that the middle class may disappear, or could face problems in the future. It’s that the middle class hasn’t existed in over a decade and we haven’t yet caught wind of the development.
The TPP deal is only going to exacerbate all of this.
And as you might expect, those in power are doing just about all they can to keep us distracted, looking the other way.
All those Bay Street types who spent last week watching Rob Ford’s crack-sponsored meltdown weren’t paying attention to the TPP.
Or perhaps they don’t care. Those who gamble money on the stock markets don’t have much of a vested interest in keeping industrial jobs in Canada, protecting the Canadian environment, or enforcing consumer regulations. All of that removes the potential for profit.
The rich are not ‘national’, their concerns are global and they have the means by which to enjoy a global life. The rest of us can barely balance our chequing accounts, and are drowning in higher levels of debt than ever recorded in our country – including the Depression.
And yet, we are distracted and pushed aside. Even though we have the right to vote, we choose not to, and so these decisions that will impoverish and cripple us are made without the slightest murmur from the toiling classes.
Oh, and if you don’t know why NAFTA’s a bad thing, this should sum it up fairly well. An American company based in Delaware, Lone Pine Resources, as suing the Canadian government for $250 million because the province of Quebec has a fracking ban in place that would prevent the company from operating anywhere in the Saint Lawrence River Valley.
Fracking, for the uneducated, is a process wherein water is blasted into rock deep underground as a means of extracting natural gas.
It’s one primary drawback is that it destroys natural aquifers, makes your tap water flammable, and would, forceeably, force millions of North Americans, if not tens of millions, to rely 100% on bottled water.
Again, none of this bothers your run of the mill capitalist or any of the pigs who caused the economy to collapse (and so far haven’t been prosecuted); they just discovered a new business opportunity.
By my count he’s number 43 in a list that stretches back to our city’s first mayor, Jacques Viger, in 1832, the year the city was incorporated.
To date Montreal’s mayors have been predominantly of the (at least publicly heterosexual) French Canadian male variety, though we once had a tradition of switching the lingua franca of our mayors with each election (i.e. from 1832 to 1908 mayors here alternated from Francophone to Anglophone).
The last ‘traditionally Anglophone’ mayor of Montreal, from 1906-1908, was Henry Archer Ekers, one of the founders of The National Brewery (also known as the Dow Brewery), which brewed Dawes, Dow, Ekers, Boswell and Fox Head ales, and whose siege sociale still stands at 990 Notre-Dame Ouest, a prime example of Northern Art Deco industrial architecture).
Rounding out the necessary nod to diversity in the workplace, we’ve had several Irish and Scottish mayors, at least one born in Massachusetts (John Easton Mills) and more recently both our first woman mayor (Mairesse? Mayoratrix? Mayoress?) Jane Cowell-Poitras and our first ‘minority’ mayor, the effortlessly bilingual and arguably multi-cultural Michael Applebaum, culturally exotic only by the standards of the most militant variety of separatist Québécois supremacists.
Monsieur Blanchard is third in our year of four mayors, replacing the disgraced Michael Applebaum for a four month period until the next regularly scheduled election. I really hope he manages to somehow last that long without fucking up by getting named at the Charbonneau Commission, in which case it would be as a result of stuff he did several years ago but either way, yet another black eye for our fair city and further proof that the political establishment here is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
So there’s your défi Monsieur Blanchard – don’t fuck up. Keep your head down, kill people with kindness (but don’t lay it on too thick) and for the love of God – stay away from Italian restaurants.
Some assorted thoughts for our new mayor:
Point number one, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Blanchard should not propose to ‘clean up city hall’ or state, dramatically as had his predecessor, that a new leaf had been turned. Applebaum is up on 14 counts of fraud, conspiracy, accepting bribes etc. He’s retained former Tory MP Marcel Danis as legal counsel, and resigned the mayoralty ‘to focus on the case’.
Innocent people don’t typically tend to have a case to focus on. They’re innocent, after all. If the allegations against him are as spurious as he claims, why hire a top-shelf lawyer?
Put it this way – he might believe he’s innocent and that there’s a vast conspiracy against him. Word from the grapevine is that Applebaum was a jumpy character back when he was the borough mayor for Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, several times indicating he thought various concerned citizens trying to jump-start the Empress Theatre as a community cultural centre were his ‘political enemies’.
I must have forgotten about all the political intrigue and conspiracy coursing through the halls of power in Cote-des-Neiges.
Point two would be to resist the awesome temptation of being bribed or otherwise caught up in shady real estate transactions, something I think is genetically programmed into nearly all politicians – criminals in sheep’s clothing for the most part, and this city, province and rather obviously the federal government have provided so many fantastic examples of late its difficult to imagine any other reason to get into politics in the first place.
It’s good to know all these ‘pillars’ of various communities are so concerned about the message they send to the ‘most precious resource’ they all seem to work into their photo-ops. Children? they could give a damn – kids don’t vote after all.
So there’s point three – no photo ops with old people, minorities, children or the handicapped. In fact, try not to have any photo ops at all – we want you to sit at your desk and do your job, and we don’t need a photograph to prove this point. A small video camera with a live feed is what I want, so all citizens could tune in and watch the mayor working.
Because we’ll no doubt need to keep our eyes on him.
I don’t know much about Mayor Blanchard other than that he’s a career local politician, was formerly of the former Vision Montreal (Louise Harel stepped aside so that a coalition government could be formed, though it looks like that just means supporting Marcel Coté as leader of something called cityhallmtl but I’ll talk more about this later), had worked as a political attaché in the latter years of the Doré administration, and had previously worked in publishing. More recently he’s been the head of the city’s executive council, part of Applebaum’s ‘coalition government’ initiative.
Personally, he’s old guard, but I won’t judge him too harshly. If he makes it through four months and I enjoy living here while he’s in power, I guess I’ll have little to complain about.
Mr. Applebaum and his predecessor’s story are already well-known. Applebaum has been implicated by the SQ and CEIC in shady real-estate deals while he was borough mayor of Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace. You’ll be delighted to know he’s allowed to vacation abroad despite the 14 charges hanging over his head.
Our last elected mayor is Gerald Tremblay (who received a whopping 159,000 votes in 2009, with less than 40% of citizens participating), who as you may remember stepped aside in November of last year after the heat from so much damning testimony from the Charbonneau Commission became unbearable. Keep in mind that Tremblay hasn’t been charged, just named. Perhaps he was truly not implicated, but just turned a blind eye. Maybe he had been threatened, or really naive. Who knows. The Commish has recessed for summer break.
I love the dedication and their ability to flat out do the opposite of what they earlier said they wouldn’t do, without any attempt to justify their switch. They don’t think they owe us an explanation. They never do.
Personally I don’t get it – an escort is just someone you pay to have sex with, hardly scandalous especially given it was the mayor’s money, and not that of the taxpayers of Laval.
Oh, wait… I think I see the problem now.
Back to the shit show in Montreal.
It seems that nearly all of our mayors in recent memory started with high hopes and ended their careers in one kind of scandal or another. Tremblay advocated an end to forced mergers and promised local small government and commonsense solutions. Prior to him, Pierre Bourque promised to actually deliver on civic improvement initiatives his predecessor didn’t deliver on and cut ‘big government’ waste. He committed political suicide by pushing through forced mergers with the help of the PQ, a measure which literally blew up in his face and sunk his political career. Bourque’s predecessor, Jean Doré, won in a landslide against Jean Drapeau in 1986 (along with the Montreal Citizen’s Movement) by promising to be a more people-focused and less dictatorial mayor than the former Grand Chief Drapeau.
He further promised not to get mixed up in the costly mega-projects characteristic of the Drapeau Era, instead preferring to cut waste at City Hall while developing grassroots initiatives to improve city living. He ended his two terms in office caught up in a failed real-estate mega-project (the Overdale Debacle) and was deemed an unfit leader because of an apparently lax attitude to running a tight ship. It didn’t help that he had a $300,000 window installed in his office, nor that he razed a low-rent but viable neighbourhood for condo projects that were never built and had a police force running wild beating up gays and viciously murdering minorities while turning a blind eye to the biker gangs.
Prior to Doré we have Jean Drapeau, a comparatively ‘good’ mayor in that he presided over the city’s last prolonged period of sustained development and growth. Drapeau began his thirty year career as mayor first in the mid-1950s, when he was a crusading urban reformer who won on a platform of eliminating corruption and vice (sound familiar?), largely by tearing down slums. Drapeau greenlighted expropriations for mega projects throughout his tenure, leading to the elimination of the Quartier de Mélasses (where Radio-Canada is today), Griffintown, Goose Village, a sizeable chunk of what was once Chinatown’s northern extension (where Complexe Guy-Favreau and Complexe Desjardins stand today) and what would eventually be converted into an arguably still working 1950s social housiong project, the Habitations Jeanne-Mance. He’d be defeated by Sarto Fournier in 1957 (Fournier was very well connected to Union Nationale boss and Banana Republic dictator Maurice Duplessis, the super-villain who ruled Québec before the Quiet Revolution) but would be returned to power three years later as part of the well-tempered societal modernization of Quebec and Montreal in the 1960s. Drapeau changed his campaign tone too – from now on it would be about putting Montreal on the map. He’d be greatly assisted by Liberal premier Jean Lesage and later premiers Bourassa and Lévesque, in addition to Prime Ministers Pearson and Trudeau, all of whom were very, shall we say, Montreal-focused. It’s good to have friends in high places – makes me wonder what goodies might float our way with a Montrealer as Prime Minister in less than two years…
From 1960 to 1986 Jean Drapeau was mayor and not universally liked (though, somehow, he managed to cultivate over 80% of the popular vote and faced no serious opposition during his time in office). Under his tenure the city grew and changed dramatically. Drapeau was instrumental in delivering the Métro, the modern city centre we enjoy today, Expo 67, Place des Arts, the Olympics and even the Montreal Expos baseball club. No mayor has done as much for our city before or since his reign (and at thirty years, what a reign it was).
But for all the good he did it is weighed down by his own corrupt practices. Mafia involvement in the construction of Olympic facilities and corruption within the unions were primary factors contributing to the massive cost overruns associated with the games. There are a number of apartment towers throughout this city built with concrete originally intended and ‘delivered’ to the Olympic park construction site, yet re-directed by those in the know. Drapeau was responsible for the nearly-criminal act of destroying Corrid’Art and his slash and burn style of urban redevelopment was not only inelegant but often antagonistic to the people’s interest.
Drapeau may have even ‘cooked the books’ during an election in which his opposition was eliminated after being infiltrated and broken up by the Montreal Police, rendering votes for his opponents ineligible and giving Drapeau a victory with over 90% popular support. Those were the days…
As a city, we need to decide what we want in a mayor, so that we don’t get sucked up into a pointless popularity contest that delivers nothing but more of the same. We need to establish our own metrics for judging a mayoral candidate’s chances of winning, and not fall prey to sophisticated marketing techniques that sell us yet another hands-off mayor. Perhaps most importantly, we need a mayor who fundamentally understands this city, its people, and what makes it great. We need to decide what kind of mayor our city needs, now and for the next ten years. Do we want a builder? Do we want a reformer? Do we want an architect? Do we want someone who’s politically well-connected? Do we want a renovator, a renewer or a redeveloper?
I think we all should spend a moment a think about what we want in a mayor – not just the qualities of the person but most importantly their plan for this city, whether it be growth or renewal – before we head to the polls in November. Otherwise the best we can hope for is another Drapeau, and his breed are rare these days.
But if we ask ourselves first what we want in a mayoral candidate, and define the context of the election before the candidates or media has a chance, the people ultimately manage to wrestle a bit of control over the rhetoric and could maybe make this election about something, rather than simply being the inconvenient selection of our next underwhelming mayor.