Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I'm not voting for Stephen Harper

Some people think you’re not supposed to get personal in your politics. They contend that what matters most in a political leader is whether he or she can run the country, not whether you like them.
Part of me agrees with that. Government has to be able to function like a business to get things done efficiently, and having leaders with a half-decent head for such things is pretty important.
But I’d argue that there are times when judging political leaders by the way you feel about them is perfectly sensible. When it happens in other areas of our lives, we call it “a gut feeling” and go with it. Why should it be any different when picking the people who will lead our country?
It’s something of a standing joke in Canada that women don’t like Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I’m one of them.
And I admit, it started out as a feeling.  But it grew to much more than that soon enough. My reasons for disliking Harper may have been visceral initially, but so many of his actions since then have confirmed my original gut call.
That’s the thing about gut reactions - there’s usually a reason for them. It might not be obvious in the moment, but give it time. Watch the video “Canadian Women’s Favourite Pick-up Line” on YouTube and you’ll see that women have all kinds of legitimate reasons for not liking Harper.
  His handlers tend to view that as an image problem. Maybe, but I’d sure hate to think it’s as easy as putting an argyle sweater on a guy and a baby in his arms.
But what do I know? Even I had a small, sweet thought for Harper when I saw the TV clip of him singing at the piano at the National Arts Centre gala in 2009.
And now he’s in line to be our prime minister again after Monday’s election. Something must be working for him.
I got into a brief back-and-forth on this issue recently with a Facebook friend.  Something close to despair has overcome me lately at the seeming inevitability of Monday’s election outcome, and in a moment of weakness I had posted a couple of anti-Harper links.
My Facebook friend took a pragmatic view of Harper: He didn’t like some of Harper’s positions either, but figured he was the candidate most ready to lead and with the most potential to do good things for Canada.
But is that true? Given the views that Harper holds and the policies his government promotes, could Canada ever end up thriving under his leadership? He represents certain kinds of Canadians very well, but there’s a significant contingent of us who he barely hides his contempt for.
Of course, I’m from B.C. I’ve long had the sense that B.C. doesn’t matter much to Ottawa and that the feeling is mutual. Beyond the occasional foray west to destroy our fisheries, we’ve learned not to expect much from the feds or to count on our votes mattering.
But then you get a prime minister like Harper and realize that it has to matter.  You go from feeling rock-solid certain and even proud about the progressive nature of Canada, to feeling embarrassed, worried and fearful about what your government might get up to next.
If Harper’s only fault was that he focused on Canada’s short-term economic performance more than he did on the well-being of its people, that would be one thing. That seems to be a standard flaw in conservative governments.
But Harper has those Reform-Alliance roots, and it shows. That segment of the conservative movement packs a lot of moral judgment into its decision-making. You end up with governments that are willing to make genuinely stupid, harmful decisions just because they think they have the moral high ground.
The argyle sweater has never been made that could convince me to like Stephen Harper after seeing his government in action - scrapping the census, wiping out women’s services, campaigning against same-sex marriage, threatening to close Vancouver’s safe-injection site.
Harper is the kind of guy who manufactures an entire fiction around youth crime just to scare uninformed voters into his corner. He prorogued Parliament, thwarting democratic process just because he could.  
So yes, things feel pretty personal between me and Harper right now. But not without reason.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

There's some great information and Election 2011 toolkits out there on the Web sites of some of the big child/family organizations.

So if you're like me and wondering how the federal parties stack up when it comes to social and community issues, check out these sites before you head to the polls May 2.
National Alliance for Children and Youth
First Call
Canadian Association for Community Living
Canadian Association of Social Workers

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grab the chance to change B.C. politics

These are glorious days for British Columbians who enjoy politics. I’m not one of them, but I admit to being just a little excited to see some life coming back to the B.C. political scene.
Politics are a lousy way to solve the real problems of the world. But they do get citizens engaged in passionate conversations. Politics ultimately push us to define what we really care about.
I certainly don’t care about Christy Clark donning a Canucks jersey or Adrian Dix tending to be tetchy and serious. So I’ll be glad when we pass through this initial phase of politicking as B.C.’s new party leaders jostle for position.
 But it would be great to see some sparks flying over issues again. We haven’t seen enough of that in the last 10 years, under a government that was much too certain that it knew all the answers. Our new political leaders have a major opportunity to be out there with a fresh agenda.
And the rest of us have the opportunity to be discerning customers, if you will. Unless Quesnel MLA Bob Simpson lives the dream and bursts onto the scene with a party of independents - and Bob, I’m still with you on that one - our next premier will be either Clark or Dix. Let’s make them work for it.
Clark and Dix are proof that ideology is a poor gauge of competency, having both been active participants in previous bad governments. All political parties seem capable of self-serving, delusional and sneaky behaviour.
On the flip side, any party has the potential for great vision and accomplishment. Nothing about the New Democrat ideology rules out economic prosperity. Nothing about the B.C. Liberal platform rules out smart social policy.
So rather than waste time belabouring the usual left/right comparisons, how about Dix and Clark just skip the trite stuff and get down to the work of figuring out what B.C. needs most?
Dix obviously envisages a crankier style of Opposition than we’ve seen in recent years. But harassing Clark about her lack of substance is hardly the place to start. He needs to be out there right now with carefully considered plans if he’s serious about winning our hearts and minds.
We citizens owe it to ourselves to call the party leaders on the stupid stuff that gets passed off as political engagement.  We should be relentless in pushing for more substantive discussion about the things that matter to us.
This is a critical time in B.C. Everything has been thrown for a loop on the political front in recent months, and the major parties appear to be working much harder than usual to connect with us.
There’s new blood at the top, and renewed promises on all sides to be more accountable to the people of B.C. It’s been a long time since a political leader made that promise.
So it’d be crazy to let this moment end up as just more hot air from the election machine as to who loves business, unions, families or poor people more. This is the time for British Columbians to be writing the letters and asking for the meetings, and working our own spheres of influence as a reminder to the leaders that every one of us can flex political muscle when we need to.
Surely we’ve had enough of the knee-jerk cliches of Liberals as right-wing business boosters and the NDP as tax-happy union lovers. As we know after decades of up-and-down political fortunes in B.C., we need a little bit of all of it to make a happy, healthy province. Nobody’s got a lock on the One True Way.
Yes, the unions developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement under the New Democrats. But privatization under the Liberals ceded B.C. services to big multinationals at a significant price to jobs, wages and service quality.
And yes, the NDP did show disregard for the business community and the economy. But the Liberals cut social programs well past the point of smart governance. Neither can claim the moral high ground, that’s for sure.
I’d like to hear more assurances from Dix and Clark that they’ll get back to treating the province’s 85 MLAs like the community resources they are. How nutty is it for political leaders to intimidate and silence the very people who keep them in touch with the real issues facing B.C. communities?
Get real and go deep, candidates. Enough time wasted in the shallow end. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

I was inadvertently caught up in the closure of the Malahat this weekend, seeing as my two oldest kids, their five children and my ex-husband had all popped down to Victoria from Courtenay for a "quick" visit with my ex's new grandson.
The plan was to bomb to Victoria and back to Courtenay on the same day. Alas, the 22-hour closure of the Malahat nixed that one. Plans go awry in this world, of course, but watching the ridiculous situation on the Malahat unfold through their experiences really underlined for me how poorly prepared we'd be for any real disaster.
It's never going to be good when the only major route closes down. But what was worse was the inability of those doing cleanup at the scene of the diesel-truck crash to provide any kind of workable estimate of when the highway would reopen, or to quickly provide an alternate route.
For instance, skinny little Finlayson Arm Road was an alternate route, but highway crews didn't get around to allowing passenger cars on it until well over 20 hours after the Malahat crash. The long Port Renfrew-Lake Cowichan route could have been a possibility, but we all know how rough that road is due to years of stalling on fixing it - plus reports were of a three-hour delay for those trying to travel that route.
Travelling via the Mill Bay ferry (four hour delay) or Saltspring Island could also have worked - but only if travellers could have had a decent estimate that helped them gauge whether the extra distance and expense was worth it. From the very start, the updates around when the highway would reopen were way off the mark.
Right after the crash, the estimate was that the road would reopen at 1 a.m. Sunday. Then it was 6:30 a.m. Then it was 9 a.m., then 1 p.m., then 3 p.m. It was after 4 p.m. when traffic was finally allowed through. How was it that nobody had any real idea how long it was going to take to clean up after the accident?
For my kids, it was an inconvenience and a pain in the neck.
For other travellers, though, that delay might have cost them an expensive holiday flight. A long-awaited surgery date. A missed wedding or funeral or other big one-off family event. A day at work, not to mention the expense of a hotel room (in very short supply in Victoria on Saturday night) and meals.
Some would have had no access to medication they left at home, never dreaming their quick trip in or out of Victoria was going to be a long one. Others might have even left a youngish child or a pet at home for a couple hours, only to have it turn out to be an overnight odyssey.
We've got to be able to do better.Who was in charge, anyway? If I didn't know better, I'd suspect FEMA.
As for the driver of the overturned fuel truck, he was uninjured, but reports are that he's being investigated for drunk driving. Certainly you have to wonder when a truck jackknifes in a speed zone of 60-70 km/h. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grizzly-bear status under review

What do you think, should we finally do something to put more protection around Canada's grizzly bears? This writer thinks so.  They're magnificent animals, and it's pretty surprising that we've put so little thought into the pressures they're under, what with urban sprawl drastically shrinking their territory and gun-toting trophy hunters coming to B.C. from all over the world to hunt grizzlies.
We tend to fall back into the usual kneejerk stuff around hunting whenever we try to talk grizzly bears - an issue that's nearly as polarizing as abortion. But it's not just about hunting, seeing as the research has found that urban sprawl is a primary pressure on grizzly populations. It's really about the collective impact of the human species on the bears, and how we might mitigate that before it's too late.
It's not too late yet, thankfully. I hope we don't plan to wait until it is.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

There's something strangely fascinating about the Falun Gong stories coming out of Vancouver these days. I'm sure it's damn annoying for everyone coming to the Chinese consulate to have to deal with Falun Gong protesters every day, but it's unsettling to think that the City of Vancouver is prepared to side with China on this long-standing human-rights issue and ban the protesters. Here's what the Vancouver Sun's Pete McMartin has to say.
The issue has many similarities to the abortion debate: two polarized groups, both very certain that they are in the right, fighting for control over the piece of sidewalk out in front of some building that represents the issue (abortion clinics in one case, the Chinese consulate in another).
But B.C. manoeuvered very carefully on that issue. The "bubble zone" law prevents protesters from setting up within 50 metres of the entry of an abortion clinic.  The reason the law was able to sustain a free-speech challenge was because the courts ruled that a woman's right to medical treatment trumps freedom of speech.
How do you make that defence in the Falun Gong case? As irritating as it must be for the Chinese consulate to have to deal with protesters outside every day, I have to think it pales beside the right of the peace-loving followers of a religion to protest the killings, assaults and harassment that plague their peers in China.

Friday, April 08, 2011

I just want to respond to my "anonymous" blogger friend, who's wondering where his/her earlier comment went. I have no idea, but given the nature of what we're talking about here, I definitely don't want to look like I wiped it out or anything, so here it is again:

Why is it that when I post anonymously I'm treated as an scribing scumbag, but when some awful, nasty, ugly, vicious, ignorant, intemperate, uninformed anonymous bile is posted in a newspaper as an editorial it is treated as scripture?
Let us say - for the sake of this discussion - that you, Jody Paterson, have decided to apply for a job as an entry level position at one of the big corporations. Let us also say that you are fully qualified to do the job and the local office has approved you. The local office passes along your particulars to the corporate level for routine final approval, but corporate turns you down. Why?
 You never find out, but the truth is that corporate ran an automated background check of your online activity and found out that your views did not match theirs. Had you been writing anonymously Big Brother would not have known what you think. 

Just a couple points on that comment: First, there are many good reasons for posting anonymously, so it's not the anonymous part that I have a problem with. But when the sole reason people do it is to hide from their own vicious, ugly words, that's when it bugs me. 
As for newspapers, editorials are supposed to represent the paper's opinion, not that of the person who wrote it. In the old days, it would have been the publisher's opinion, but times have changed now that publishers are rarely the owners and editorial positions are now decided by the "editorial board," which usually consists of the publisher, the managing editor and the editorial-page editor. The person who actually does the writing is just the one who puts it all into words.  
If editorials were "signed" by the people who wrote them, they'd be more like columns rather than the opinion of the newspaper overall. That's why they don't have any name attached to them.

Slam-dunked by the anonymous posters

A note to those who post anonymously on my blog - this column isn't about you. The people who post here have been very respectful in their comments, even when they hate everything about something I've written. Thanks for that. 

Once upon a time, people who felt strongly about something I wrote would send me little notes and cards in the mail that either thanked me or put me in my place.
Then email came along, and soon that was how I got all my feedback. Now, it’s mostly through on-line comments.
The era of handwritten notes was lovely. I think I still have a file folder of the kindest ones somewhere, saved for the bleak days. But the shift to email was nice for its sense of immediacy.
On-line comments, on the other hand - well, that’s a whole other matter.
I love the concept. There’s potential for great public conversations through on-line comments. In the early days of the technology, I envisaged a wealth of opinions posted by smart, thoughtful people sharing informed and diverse experiences.
Not quite. On-line comment sections have in fact turned out to be the place where people feel free to hide their identities while saying the most awful things. It’s a rare day that I can even summon the courage to read the ugly stuff that gets posted under some of my columns.
As an opinion writer, I get that I have to be able to “take it.” I support free speech, including the right to make vicious and ignorant comments anonymously. I’ve got the skin of a rhino after many years of reader cruelties. I can handle it.
But really, a little on-line civility wouldn’t kill us. I talked to a couple of candidates in the Victoria civic election who were stunned and even a little scared by the horrible comments made about them on-line  during the campaign. Unfortunately, such experiences are now just part of being in the public eye.
Who are these intemperate commentators? What do they get out of posting nasty, uninformed statements and not even attaching their names to them?
They must recognize their comment makes them look bad, because otherwise they wouldn’t hide behind anonymity. But if they know that what they’re saying is embarrassing enough that they don’t want their names on it, why would they post it in the first place?
I love it when readers genuinely engage with me. True, I like it best when they say nice things, but I also appreciate people who disagree with me in intelligent ways and challenge me to see an issue from another perspective.  
Sometimes my detractors and I will even have a series of respectful exchanges via email, at the end of which we usually understand each other’s positions more clearly or have politely agreed to disagree. But when the comments are nothing but mindless, anonymous bile, that’s not going to happen.
Web sites like the Times Colonist at least filter out the worst of it. If you really want to see ugly, check out YouTube, where moderation of so-called “trolls” is non-existent unless the person uploading the video chooses it at the outset.
Salon television writer Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an intriguing piece on the subject in the August 2010 edition of the on-line U.S. magazine, where he argued the societal benefits of uncensored comment on media sites.
“It shows us the American id in all its snaggletoothed, pustulent glory, with a transparency that didn’t exist before the Internet,” writes Seitz. “And in its rather twisted way, that’s a public service.”
Anonymous comments remind us that racism and sexism are alive and well, contends Seitz. That literacy skills are in decline. That it’s misguided to presume that “deep down, most people are good at heart.”
Yup, that pretty much sums up the experience for me, too. Nothing slaps the Pollyanna out of a columnist quicker than a browse through the on-line comments. I guess I owe the nameless cowards thanks for that.
Great event coming up April 30, when Coalition Connect for Families makes its debut at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.
 It’s a first for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which has taken its highly successful Project Connect concept and turned it into a new service fair for low-income families. All kinds of items - diapers, grooming products, small toys - are needed for the hundreds of “family packs” organizers will hand out at the all-day event, which features haircuts, ID replacement, health care, a BBQ lunch and many other services and connections.
Want to donate or volunteer? Contact co-ordinator Mary Gidney at for more information, including a list of items needed for the packs. Donations can be dropped off April 14-16 at Burnside-Gorge Community Association.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Good news over at Our Place, the Pandora Avenue drop-in and community centre for people living in poverty. The money for their 7 a.m. openings ran out March 31, but the non-profit has launched a direct-donation campaign and is now going to be able to keep funding it for at least another three months. Here's more on that. 
Obviously, a breakfast every morning doesn't mean you've solved homelessness, but it made a big difference on downtown streets when Our Place began opening at 7 a.m. again (once upon a time, they had some other funding that made that early start possible) and gave people someplace to go in those hours before other services have opened.
It also ended the ludicrous practice of sending police into the downtown at 6 or 7 a.m. every day to rouse the homeless from the doorways and such even though there was absolutely nowhere to go.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Man, the intensity of the on-line commentary under my column last Friday made me realize that sexual assault is still a sizzling, completely misunderstood issue out there. I think there's a solid contingent of people who seriously believe that rape is in the nature of men, and that women "ask for it" when they dress or act a certain way. Really? That's a pretty discouraging realization for me. 
Turns out April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so here's more fuel to the fire: A piece in Salon laying out some frightening statistics around the incidence of rape on U.S. campuses. 

Friday, April 01, 2011

Women still wearing the blame for rape

A young Saanich woman was allegedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted last week. Police were in the media soon after warning women to take more care.
Yes, 40 years after “women’s liberation,” sexual assault is still our fault.
Women’s issues were a bit of a darling in the media industry when I first got into journalism in the early ‘80s as a “women’s page” reporter. So I wrote a lot about the kinds of things that were considered women’s issues at that time.
They ran the gamut, from jam-making and wedding dresses to abortion, rape and sexual harassment. There were some pretty heavy issues on the table at the time, and I’m glad to say that several are history now.
When I started out reporting, a husband in Canada couldn’t even be charged with raping his wife, because there was no such offence. Sexual harassment had barely even been conceptualized. Hospital boards were being ripped apart by the abortion issue.  All of that has changed.
But the way we talk about rape and sexual assault hasn’t changed a bit. It’s still all about victim-blaming and shame.
Don’t women know better than to walk home alone at night?  Why aren’t we catching cabs and going everywhere in big groups? Could it be that we’re dressing just a bit too skimpily? Or getting sloppy about monitoring our drinks constantly at the bar so nobody can slip drugs into them?
A friend of mine used to work as an aide in a local elementary-school classroom. He once told me the story of a little girl who was getting her pants pulled down by a group of boys every lunch hour. The principal addressed the issue by ordering the girl to quit wearing elastic-waist pants.
I love that story for how perfectly it sums up the way it has always been for girls and women around rape and sexual assault. Honey, it’s all up to you.
We like to think we’ve gotten past blaming women for their own rapes. But I don’t think we’ve ever internalized the message. Good on UVic’s Patty Pitts for stating the obvious to local media after the Saanich incident - that warning women to stay safe is not nearly as meaningful as challenging “the core beliefs that allow sexualized violence to occur.”
Want to avoid being raped? Don’t dress provocatively. Or drink too much. Or leave your drink unattended, or pick the wrong date. Don’t go around doing wild things like walking home in Saanich alone.
 It’s like rape is an unstoppable force waiting to happen to all women unless they learn to keep themselves out of danger.  
I don’t mean any of this as an insult to men. The majority are good people who are not rapists, and not the reason why women continue to be blamed for their own sexual assaults.
Nor do I mean to absolve women. They’re half the population, after all, and really do have the ability to affect major change if they’d ever just pull together to get it done.
But let’s get beyond the gender issues and just agree that it’s ridiculous to respond to any terrible crime solely by exhorting future victims to be more careful. We need to be talking about rape and sexual assault in meaningful ways, and not just piling more responsibility and shame onto the victims.
I guess we’re supposed to consider it progress that rape now figures so prominently in TV and movies. The Law and Order franchise has for many years had a “special victims” series that provides a handy reason for starting virtually every episode with a graphic rape or equally disturbing sex crime. As an issue, rape is seriously out of the closet.
Or is it? In real life, victims still go unnamed in court proceedings - understandable on one hand, deeply shaming on the other for the way it stigmatizes the person. Women still frequently keep their rapes and assaults secret, fearing the traumatic things that can happen to sexual-assault victims once they’re in the justice system.
Sexual assault is still not a subject we raise with our sons, despite having normalized it as a form of home entertainment. Nor have we come up with any more creative ways of preventing it than to send police out after each new rape to warn women everywhere to mind their skirt lengths and stay home after dark.
What a sad, slow ride to nowhere. Ladies, lock your doors.