Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Years Eve!

Few hours till 2012 - looking forward to it, with all the promise and risk (particularly a global second dip). I'm sure of one of one thing - there's very little chance of the world completely ending.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Wholly sporadic weather, Batman!

Sunny and relatively warm in the morning, rainy in the early afternoon which turned into hail and then turned into snow before 5:00 pm. What a weird boxing day.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Fun while it lasted

This prolific December's been a blast,  but sadly it has to end. While I'll try to continue posting daily until January, the fact of the matter is that it's very doubtful that I'll be able to sustain this level of output with the commitments I have to address in 2012. I'll probably fall back into the sporadic posting style that's characterized most of my blogging career. High frequency blogging has been fun and I nearly got 2,000 hits this month, but I have nowhere to go but down now.  

Hope you've enjoyed the ride.

Page views thus far, under 2,000 hits for the month of December.
Image Source: Google Analytics

Happy Xmas!

I've been busy with family events, but I have to wish the readership a happy Christmas. So, happy Xmas!

Are pickup truck drivers more aggressive?

Okay, each time someone's tried to drive this bicyclist off the road, by accelerating behind and honking like hell, the aggressor's been driving a pickup truck. It's happened in the Southern parts of Winnipeg and it's also happened in the North End. This is anecdotal evidence and as such is prone to a full array of biases and prejudices, but it's still surprising and warrants a look at the available research.

According to a University of Texas study, late adolescent drivers of a pickup truck are pretty dangerous.

Parents and teen drivers take note: a pickup could be the most dangerous vehicle for a 16-17 year old to drive, so much so that teens driving them are 100 percent more likely (or two times as likely) to be severely injured during a crash than a teen of the same age driving a car.


Young adults are likely to continue driving aggressively until about 20 years of age, when accompanied by other young adults. Bhat and his colleagues suggest that concerted education and awareness campaigns on aggressive driving for teens ages 18-20 could help.


Teenagers driving a pickup are more likely to drive aggressively and sustain serious injuries in a crash. While a ban on pickups during the GDL program is impractical, Bhat and his colleagues recommend that it be communicated to parents as part of the program.

"Research Warns to Think Twice About Teens Driving Pickups". Cockrell School of Engineering Press Release.
Personal experience still seems to indicate that there are quite a few twenty-something aggressive pickup truck drivers in Winnipeg.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The True Reason for the Season

Well, as we all know, Ross Romaniuk decided to brush off the ol' "War on Christmas" drum this year. The topic's really flared up in Rhode Island, framed much more in religious than cultural terms.

All the times this non-issue flares up I can't help but remember an event from my time in high school which really displays the enormous ignorance of so many "defend Christmas" culture warriors.

Pretty good analogy

Reed Solomon, over at his Matrix, has a good analogy for the restrictive Stop Online Piracy Act that the US Government could pass.

But SOPA is to anti-counterfeiting and copyright protection what the Code of Hammurabai is to family law. It's akin to dropping a nuke on a city in order to kill a terrorist. It incriminates far too many people and gives far too sweeping powers to individuals and entities that CAN'T BE TRUSTED to use them.

Cenk Uygur details the scary aspects of the bill below:

Winnipeggers Safe Drivers?

Okay - given that two pickup truck drivers tried to run me off the road within 10 minutes of one another and given that I've read this post - I'm surprised to find out that Winnipeg drivers are actually pretty safe.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg Part VI: Hydro's flooding of First Nations

Note: This is the sixth installment in a series of posts on Romeo Saganash's Dec. 16, 2011 Town Hall in Winnipeg. A list of prior installments can be found on the series section of this site under the heading "Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg".

 Romeo Saganash: Leadership contender
Image Source:

The next audience member who had the floor grew up in on a Manitoba First Nations community*. The person asking the question looked like they were somewhere in there 20s, maybe early 30s. They spoke of how Manitoba Hydro flooded their community in the process of hydroelectric development without compensation or any form of wealth-sharing. The man went on to ask how First Nations could go about ensuring their voices are heard and their rights and needs met in cases like these.

Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg Part V: Checking Corporate Power & Youth in Politics

Note: This is the fifth installment in a series of posts on Romeo Saganash's Dec. 16, 2011 town hall in Winnipeg. A list of prior installments can be found in the series section of this site under "Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg". This installment will be about the Quebec MP's plans for checking corporate power as well as detailing his thoughts on the rise of the youth in politics.     

The audience member who had the floor asked Romeo Saganash about how he'd reverse the tide of rising corporate power relative to the power of ordinary workers.

The leadership hopeful began by saying that an easy way to start would be to discontinue Harper's tax cuts for large corporations and, instead, work to help small businesses.

Saganash stated that he understands the concerns of the Occupy movement and can relate to them - noting that he was born in a tent. The goal of the NDP needs to be addressing the movement's concerns about growing inequality - which led him to say that "we have our work cut out for us". 

The Quebec MP went on to claim that many people voted for the NDP platform last election and that aboriginal Canadians recently discovered the NDP*. Mobilizing aboriginal Canadians to vote NDP would be key priority of his, as would be inspiring the youth to help the party move Canada forward. 

Saganash sees potential youth involvement as major boon for politics. He noted many of the younger MPs are determined and persistent workers on Parliament Hill. The Quebec MP described how the youngest MP ever elected to the House - the New Democrat Pierre-Lu Dusseault - was a "political animal". Bill Blaikie - a longstanding MP from this city - himself started out in politics in his late-20s, noted the leadership contender. Saganash then went on to speak of how he came into parliamentary politics later in life, at nearly 50 years of age.

After addressing the issue of corporate power - as well as connecting it to another issue (youth in politics) - the leadership candidate faced some tough questions on hydroelectric development in this province. The upcoming installment will detail how he addressed the matter.

*A claim that, if applied to Manitoba, would be inaccurate.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Inspirational message

In the midst of a nighttime awakening, I thought I'd share some truly inspiring (and realistic) stuff with my readership. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg Part IV: The CWB & Social Housing

Note: This is the fourth installment in a series of posts on Romeo Saganash's Dec. 16, 2011 visit to Winnipeg. Previous installments dealt with his overall vision, crime policy, and thoughts on Climate Change & New Democratic Party prospects in Western Canada. This post deals with his agriculture and social housing policy.    

After addressing the issue of building up the NDP in Western Canada,  Romeo Saganash faced a  question about how he would address social housing concerns and the Conservative assault on the Canadian Wheat Board.

In response, Saganash outlined what he sees as the two diametrically opposed approaches to farm policy. One approach involves catering to large Agrobusinesses while the other involves support for family farms. The leadership hopeful believes that preserving the Canadian Wheat Board is the best way to help family farmers.

He further went on to describe the way in which the Conservatives have gone about changing the law as "unacceptable". What he specifically has in mind are Conservative responses to Court rulings over whether the government can change the Wheat Board without affected farmers voting on the matter. The Conservative response, that they have a (manufactured) majority and thus should be able to change whatever laws they want, reeks of arrogance according to Saganash. Previous majority governments, the leadership hopeful contends, have passed more bills with amendments than the Harper Government has thus far*.  

The Quebec MP moved on to how Toronto is a leader in social housing and how the federal government needs to follow a similar route. He noted the terribly inadequate housing conditions in many rural aboriginal communities may be undermining education, as it's hard to study in a decrepit house.

Having addressed the two issues, the floor was opened to more questions. The next audience member asked how Saganash would reverse the tide of growing corporate power in this country. His answer will be detailed in the next installment of this series.


*That is, the Harper Government™ has passed more bills in raw, party-insider drafted, form - accepting less suggestions from other parties or concerned citizens. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Public Service Announcement to Wpg Cyclists

  1. Get off the sidewalk, it's much more dangerous than riding on the road. 
  2. Ignore those pricks who tell you to "get off the road". The law is on your side rather than on the side of those particularly militant motorists with an unjustified sense of entitlement. 
  3. Enjoy the video below. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg Part III: Climate Change & Regaining the West

Note: This is the third installment in a series of posts on Romeo Saganash's Friday Dec. 16, 2011 visit to Winnipeg. Previous installments dealt with Saganash's vision for Canada and his thoughts on how to stop the Dumb on Crime agenda. This post deals with his strategies for dealing with Climate Change and the Federal NDP's weakened position in it's Western Canadian craddle.  

After placing moral responsibility on Manitoba New Democrats for directing the provincial branch of the Party away from a Dumb on Crime agenda, the audience member who had the floor asked how Saganash would deal with the challenges of Climate Change.

To begin with, the Quebec MP noted that Canada was no longer at the forefront of the fight against climate change, thanks to Harper. He explained that the Prime Minister is obstructing key, collaborative international agreements to deal with the crisis, which is raising the ire of the international community. To fight climate change, the leadership hopeful said, means reclaiming a leading role in drafting multilateral agreements and discontinuing the government's obstruction. With his negotiation skills Saganash feels that he's up to the challenge of making Canada an environmental leader yet again.

Another member of the crowd then asked about strategies to get more MPs from Western Canada and to buildup membership in what was the NDP's cradle - the prairies. The leadership hopeful responded with a few points:

  • The NDP has to reconcile the urban-rural divide and urban-suburban divide a lot better than it's presently doing. This entails convincing many former Conservative voters in ridings that Dippers narrowly lost to vote NDP.
  • The NDP must convince the 40% of Canadians who didn't cast a ballot last federal election to start voting in upcoming elections to win in the West and elsewhere. The Party also has to reach out to aboriginal voters (who are increasing in number each election). There are many ridings where aboriginal voters can swing the results. 
  • To win back the West and many ridings where the NDP was a close second to the Conservatives, the Federal Party must work closely with local constituency associations. This involves funding and other types of support. 
Romeo Saganash further argued that he is the man for the challenging job of bridging the Western-Eastern and Anglophone/Franocophone divide. Anglophones, he noted, generally don't pigenhole him as a Francophone and Francophones generally don't pigenhole him as an Anglophone.

After giving some (pretty good) solutions to NDP woes in Western Canada, he went on to take yet more questions (one particularly relevant to the West). These will be the subject of upcoming installments in this series. 

Let it Snow

Got to love this sporadic winter weather here.

Photo of snow fall today.

Source: Photographer friend.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg Part II: Stopping the Dumb on Crime agenda

Note: This is the second installment in a series of posts on Romeo Saganash's visit to Winnipeg. To learn some background, see this post on his vision speech

After receiving a standing ovation from the audience, Saganash opened the floor to questions from audience members. The first questioner - a New Democrat and Mulcair supporter -  started off by courteously welcoming the MP to Winnipeg. He then added what a relief it was to have a candidate come to Winnipeg who was use to our cold winters (Romeo Saganash represents the most Northern Quebec riding). The leadership hopeful wittily replied that he felt "right at home".

After the pleasantries came a very tough question relating to Sagnash's opposition to dumb on crime policies. Noting that Manitoba NDP justice minister Andrew Swan supports dumb on crime policies,  how are provincial Dippers to push the party back onto the straight and narrow path? The questioner also noted that a disproportionate amount of people incarcerated by the imprisonment-happy NDP government of this province were aboriginal.

The Quebec MP's answer to the problem of convincing wayward provincial governments was patience - as was his answer for working in a House full of Conservatives. Saganash shared an anecdote from the Charlottetown Accord negotiation process - when it seemed like it'd be impossible to get Joe Clark support an aboriginal rights package. Yet persistent negotiation succeeded at getting the package tacked on.

To thunderous applause, Saganash reiterated why Harper's crime policy was bad, how it didn't effectively reduce crime, and how Texas conservatives were backing away from it.

The audience member wanted more specific strategies for pressuring the provincial NDP away from dumb on crime politics, to which Saganash simply reiterated persistence and negotiation.

The next audience member to ask a question began so by stating that it was Manitoba New Democrats' responsibility to talk to party officials and minsters about how unhappy they were with the government's stance. Then he proceeded to ask a question about climate change, which will be dealt with in the next installment.

Awesomest Quote of All Time

Why get Linux for free when you pay money to Apple to get a Mac? 
 Context: A response I heard in a conversation where a Mac user stated that Mac OS X was based on Linux.

Romeo Saganash in the 'Peg Part I: His Talk on his Vision

Note: Initially, I wanted to recap Romeo Saganash's visit to this fine prairie city in one post. After typing out ten paragraphs and realizing I still had plenty of material to cover, I decided that it might be a good idea to summarize the leadership candidate's visit via a series of posts. This is the first installment of an ongoing series.

Some Winnipeggers - affiliated with Quebec MP Romeo Saganash's campaign - organized a Town Hall in the Manitoba Museum Auditorium on Friday. Before the candidate arrived, I spoke to a few people about the NDP Leadership Race thus far and Romeo Saganash's campaign. Apparently, the campaign is still "discussing" when to release his full platform, but it might be sometime in January 2012.

The crowd started off small - there were less than 10 people in the auditorium eight minutes before the scheduled start of the town hall - but grew to a size of three to five dozen. It was a diverse crowd, with at least one New Democrat who backed Thomas Mulcair.

A former Conservative Party candidate-turn New Democrat* introduced him. This man used to be his boss for a short period of time, but Romeo Saganash quickly rose to be his boss. The man now lives in Winnipeg and does some teaching for Red River College. 

Saganash arrived on-stage and gave a pretty inspirational speech on his vision for Canada. Central to it was the idea of reconciliation to solve various social problems facing the nation, usually tying into the consensus-building role he's played as a diplomat. As in the campaign literature, his role as a negotiator for revenue-sharing deals between the Cree and Resource companies and for the UN Charter on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples were emphasized. He talked more generally about the need for First Nations economic development - along the lines of his Cree-Quebec deals - across Canada. Other areas he touched on were the growing economic inequalities in this country, his solidarity with the Occupy Movement, the need to reconcile the rural-urban divide, the folly of Harper's dumb on crime strategy**, and the danger of Harper's wedge-issue politics. Regaining respect for Canada on the international stage via collaborative strategies to address issues like Climate Change was another key point.

The talk was well-received, with tremendous applause from audience members. The skill with which Saganash related every problem to the need for reconciliation was superb, as was his ability to highlight the usefulness of his diplomatic experience.

After the talk came the questions. They were varied yet connected by their relevance to key Canadian social democratic values. Inequality, the Canadian Wheat Board, social housing, corporate power and First Nations land rights were some specific issues audience members raised questions about. Romeo Saganash's detailed answers to how he'd address these issues will be the subject of upcoming posts in this series.


    *A fact Saganash much alluded to when discussing the importance of convincing former Conservatives to vote NDP is to forming government.

    **He didn't exactly use those words, but made it clear that so-called "tough on crime" legislation is ineffective.

    Friday, 16 December 2011

    Saganash in the 'Peg tonight

    Romeo Saganash will be in this city for a town hall from 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm at the Manitoba Museum Auditorium. It'll be interesting to see what he has to say and what effect this has on leadership race voting patterns in Manitoba (which houses 11% of NDP memberships). Manitoba is one location that has huge potential for Saganash, given the many First Nations rights activists that live in this province who'd be quite impressed with his negotiating  for the UN Charter on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Romeo Saganash has to build up his organization outside of Quebec to win the leadership race and this would be an important step in that direction.

    Saturday, 10 December 2011

    A brain needs to Occupy Brodbeck's head

    Winnipeg Occupiers: According to Brodbeck,
    cowardly squatters who have it so easy and are so
    hypocritical, in their high-rise tents & all!

    Image Source: Winnipeg Metro News

    Well, the Winnipeg Sun's star editorialist - Tom Brodbeck - is at it again. With thoughts slightly less deep than a puddle in the Sahara, he swipes at the Occupy Winnipeg movement:

    We all knew the Occupy Winnipeg folks wouldn’t make it a week into real winter. The camp has been devoid of “protesters” for several weeks now. They left their tents up but they were largely empty every time we went by to check out the camp.

    What we did see was a lot of junk and garbage lying around — not very environmental of them.


    The vast majority of the tents are now down. And the vows of “sticking it out through the winter” were more bravado than real courage. Everyone’s now back in their carbon-heated homes driving their greenhouse-gas emitting vehicles and punching away at their corporately-manufactured laptops and iPads.
    Upon reading this garden-variety Brodbeck style crap, I have a few comments and observations.

    • Would Tom Brodbeck trade his warmly heated office, where he spews his ill-informed opinions, for a tent in Downtown Winnipeg during chilling winter temperatures? How could these protesters be so "cowardly" and full of "false bravado" if Winnipeg Sun writers like Brodbeck are right about Winnipeg's downtown - that is to say, that their claim the core is a war-zone is right?

    • As someone who actually visited the Winnipeg Occupiers in late November, let me just say that more than a few people stayed well after snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. To reiterate point one, would Brodbeck trade his rightwing whine fest office for the sub-zero temperatures of an early Winnipeg winter?

    • I also gleaned from my visit to the camp how remarkably generous and tolerant the Occupiers were - to a fault. The crowd was diverse, with some LGTB members, and they were remarkably tolerant to a homophobic woman who harassed campers. After the fact they spoke extensively of strategies to de-escalate situations like that. I can only imagine how incredibly far from this superhuman level of patience the angry Brodbeck falls.

    • Any camp generates garbage, but for a camp with little central organization, varying inhabitants, and a completely volunteer-based staff, they did a remarkably good amount of cleaning before heavy snowfall. I personally witnessed a man doing heavy garbage removal in sub-zero temperatures purely out of his personal generosity.  

    • There were more than a few road cyclists at Occupy Winnipeg, so not all of them went back to "driving their greenhouse-gas emitting vehicles".

    • Since Brodbeck apparently thinks it's hypocritical for the Occupiers - who range from solidly anti-capitalist anarcho-syndicalists to reformist social democrats to reform liberals who just think capitalism needs the enforcement of law to work - to live within the constraints of the present system, then I guess all rightwingers who benefit from a big government R&D project via the Internet (or many pharmaceuticals), benefit from cheap hydro rates or cheap beer or cheap auto-insurance in Manitoba, cheap municipal water or subsidized agricultural products are evil hypocrites for not going ridiculously out of their way to avoid anything the product of state intervention in the marketplace. 

    Honestly, the number of times this stupid "gottcha" gimmick has been used against critics of poorly regulated corporate capitalism is amazing. I'm not an anti-capitalist, as a market economy whose underlying institutions are structured in a way to ensure more equitable outcomes is the best socioeconomic system, but this gottcha smear is just stupid and needs to stop being used if there's any hope for humanity.


      Now, this isn't the end of Brodbeck's staggering ignorance.

      It was funny actually. This was a Seinfeld occupation, a protest about nothing.
      The only way one could view Occupy Winnipeg as a "protest about nothing" is if the amount of time one spent researching the protests approaches "nothing". Very little research goes a very long way in determining exactly what the Occupy protests are about (socioeconomic equality, limiting the influence of money in politics, and holding the perpetrators of the financial crisis accountable). Something covered here before.

      Tom Brodbeck continues this epic failure of a piece with more arrogant claims that bite him in the back if one thinks for a moment.

      Even when they were trying to protest against something specific like jails, they didn’t even have a rudimentary understanding of how the criminal justice system works.

      They couldn’t even protest at the right cabinet minister’s office. They were “occupying” the office of Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan over a federal crime bill.

      News flash guys: The provincial justice minister has no control whatsoever over federal legislation. Try a federal office next time.
      Newsflash, Brodbeck, Manitoba's justice minister has influence and sway over provincial crime policy and how smoothly federal legislation is implemented in this province, even if said legislation is ultimately passed in Ottawa. Andrew Swan actually took a pretty solid stand in favour of the Harper Conservative dumb on crime bill, so bringing public protest to him makes sense. Besides, Brodbeck, do you really expect Occupy Winnipeg to be Occupying Ottawa?

      The Selinger government said they didn’t interfere with the protest because they believe in freedom of expression. This had nothing to do with freedom of expression. This had to do with a bunch of people illegally occupying a public park and having open fires in contravention of fire bylaws.


      Here’s my advice to the province:

      At the first sign of someone trying to set up a tent at Memorial Park in the spring, move in and take it down. Don’t give them time to set up their little village. The park is under camera surveillance from the Legislature and is monitored 24/7 by provincial security staff.


      Don’t let these guys ruin an entire summer for families, kids and soccer players who want to use Memorial Park next year.
      Time to get a backbone.

       Apparently, Selinger not making Manitoba an international embarrassment like Melbourne - which used disproportionate measures against peaceful if civilly disobedient protesters - makes him spineless. Quite frankly, Tom Brodbeck is a provincial disgrace.

      Incidentally, at least according to some of the Occupiers I've spoken to, the government hasn't been super-lenient on them. In November I was informed that they were denied access to the legislature (with legislative staff saying they could tell who the Occupiers were via surveillance video) and were denied any service by legislative security in the event of trouble. Since the Winnipeg Sun frequently likes to elaborate on the dangers of downtown Winnipeg, this surely must be a pretty strong measure.

      While I obviously got half the story from the protesters (obviously, the legislature has its own concerns with rule integrity concerning the park) that's more of the story than Brodbeck got.

      Once again, the status of the Winnipeg Sun as the trashiest tabloid of this city is reaffirmed.

      Wednesday, 7 December 2011

      Re: Holiday Post

      Last post, I insinuated that Kai Madsen was a religious proselytizer given his desire to raise the amount of Canadians who celebrate Christmas up from 92% to 99%. On second thought, I realize that this is an uncharitable interpretation, as there's a chance that he thinks most people who don't celebrate Christmas are in that position because of financial issues, so he hopes his charitable Christmas Cheer board can alleviate matters. The Abacus Data Survey doesn't provide details on why 8% of Canadians don't celebrate Christmas, so I guess I'll have to leave it at there.   

      Madsen certainly seemed like he was being probed by Romaniuk for evidence of an evil Seligner plot to destroy Christmas and when any evidence whatsoever failed to materialize for said plot it must have really bummed out folks at the Winnipeg Sun. Hence, we got Romaniuk's irrelevant piece of work. Regardless, Madsen's indignation over naming a decorated Saturnalia Tree a "holiday tree" is still patently ridiculous.

      Winnipeg Sun takes page from Bill O'Reilly

      Well, I'm sure some of you fine readers of The Winnipeg RAG Review follow the tragic farce known as US politics. If you do, then you'll probably know of one man - Bill O'Reilly - who wheels and deals in moral panic and false outrage. That man is a shameless opportunist who works for the United State's greatest TV RAG Machine - Fox "News".

      One of Bill O'Reilly's many temper tantrums was over some big department stores choosing to greet their customers "happy holidays" rather than "merry Christmas". HOW OUTRAGEOUS!  OH THE HUMANITY! I mean, I know some people are starving to death, but that pales in comparison to the indignity of being greeted "happy holidays" and having to use your imagination to fill in which holiday applies to you.

      In the end, as with many shameless peddlers in moral outrage, it turned out that O'Reilly was less than true to his "principles".

       Fox "News", incidentally,  serves as a role model* for Canada's network of daily RAGs - the Sun Media dailies, which the Winnipeg Sun is a part of. The stuff Fox "News" spews, generally, is too toxic for Canada, so Sun Media has to tone it down a bit - focusing more on economic policy and less on culture war BS quite alien to the relatively reasonable country of Canada.

      But it looks like the Winnipeg Sun's gone beyond the point of no return this year. They've imported panic over "happy holidays" to the True North!   

      Browsing the Winnipeg Sun website, a video heading that caught my eye:

      Poll says most Manitobans celebrate Christmas (there's a print version here).

      Wow, just wow. The Sun hack who did that "journalism" was Ross Romaniuk. 

      This pressing social issue that Romaniuk just absolutely had to comment on was how, while some organizations use "happy holidays" to be more inclusive, that's somehow refuted because 92% of Canadians celebrate Christmas and 76% say "merry Christmas" rather than "happy holidays", regardless of what those nefariously "politically correct" folks say.

      On the surface, that's a pretty dumb (insinuated) refutation, as there's still an 8% of Canadians who you're potentially being inclusive to by saying "happy holidays" and, because people celebrate Christmas doesn't mean that's the only winter holiday they celebrate.

      To add some bulk to his insubstantial report, Romaniuk then interviews Tom Hay (whose at the Christmas Cheer Board during the interview), who agrees with the Sun's (heavily implied) position.

      Winnipeg resident Tom Hay, however, said Christmas is a lot more “than just a holiday” that might fall on other dates of the year.

      “If they want it just as a holiday,” Hay said of those who want to diminish Christmas, “they should just put it on the calendar as a civic holiday, other than as a special day — which it is.”
       I really have no idea what the hell the relevance of this quote is to anything, but I'll just let 'er go.

      Then Romaniuk interviews Kai Madsen, the executive director of the Winnipeg Christmas Cheer Board (a charity that works at making Christmas a reality for poorer families -started by Winnipeg Churches in 1919, the same year as Winnipeg's General Strike): 

      Madsen recalls former Manitoba premier Gary Doer, while in office several years ago, renaming a legislature Christmas tree as a so-called “holiday” tree.

      “I had an opportunity one time to discuss it with him and chastised him severely,” he said. “And since then, to my understanding, it’s been called a Christmas tree — just like it should be.”

      Madsen suggested he’s not surprised at the results of the online survey, which polled more than 1,000 people from Dec. 2 to Dec. 4. He said that though political correctness had obstructed Christmas greetings, decorations and celebrations to a greater extent about a decade ago, that sort of thing has not been nearly as common since Canada returned to common sense.

      You know, for someone who runs a Christmas-focused charity, Madsen certainly displays quite a bit of pettiness and not enough generosity here. I mean, who f*cking cares if they call it a holiday tree? Is it really such a bloody indignity for you to mentally fill in the blanks for your preferred holiday (Christmas, Yule, or the Solstice being the three I can think of that'd be applicable - although there probably aren't that many Germanic Neo-Pagans in Manitoba who'd celebrate Yule).

      It's amazing, personally, how the article also seems to ignore the fact that a lot of generic"holiday" references occur earlier than the exact time or exact week of Christmas. You know, at the time when there's other holidays that some people are plausibly celebrating instead of (or in addition to) Christmas.

      Honestly, if you were a charitable director and had access to the Premier of Manitoba, would whining about the name given to a decorated tree on government property really be high on that list? I mean, what kind of person does that?!

      According to a new Abacus Data survey, 92% of Canadians celebrate Christmas. And in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 93% of the citizenry celebrates the Dec. 25 holiday.

      Ninety-three is a wonderful number. Now all we have to do is work for 99,” Kai Madsen, executive director of Winnipeg’s Christmas Cheer Board, said Tuesday of the poll’s findings. “I’d like to say thank you to all the people in Winnipeg, of course, and merry Christmas — and I mean merry Christmas.”

      Oh. That kind of person.

      Well, 'tis the season to be generous. So, I'd just like to show my best wishes to Romaniuk and Madsen with this lovely button.

      *The other role model being, of course, the UK Sun paper, which is owned by the same man who owns Fox "News" (Rupert Murdoch).

      Postscript: The Toronto Sun has proven that not all Sun dailies stoop to the same level all the time. It's coverage of the poll is a lot more thoughtful, substantiative, and meaningful - talking both about the relatively secular history and secular present of Christmas, as well as the effects of the global financial crisis on giving this time of year. It certainly is a "civic holiday" rather than something of "special observance".

      Inequality's back in the economic conversation

      Via Progressive Economics Forum

      Following concern expressed by the IMF, the Conference Board and of course thousands of protesters around the world, the OECD has just released an extensive 400 page report on the problem of growing inequality: Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps on Rising.


      here are some of the conclusions for Canada:
      • inequality in Canada is above the OECD average, but still below levels in the US
      • the rise in inequality is largely due to increased disparities in labor earnings, but also due to less redistribution
      • taxes and benefits play a smaller role in reducing inequality in Canada than in most OECD countries: prior to the mid-1990s, they offset more than 70% of the rise in market income inequality, now it’s less than 40%
      • the richest 1% saw their share of income rise from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007
      It calls for a focus on
      • more and better jobs,
      • investing in human capital, starting at early childhood level and with more life-long learning
      • reforming tax and benefit systems with an increase in the share paid by wealthier individuals
      • providing free and high quality public services

      (Sanger, Toby (Dec. 5, 2011). "OECD on Inequality". Progressive Economics Forum.)

       Now, of course, I know that one should always be careful when trying to figure out the what causes what,  but I have a pretty strong hunch that we wouldn't be hearing about socioeconomic inequality in the news and from major international economic institutions so much had it not been for the Occupy Movement. Seems like the best explanation for why economic talking heads suddenly have started caring about the gross inequality and high joblessness in Anglo-American countries and eased down on shouting about how disastrous a recession-induced cyclical deficit is and how important the daily ups/downs on the stock market are.

      Job well done, Occupy folks.

      More Winnipeg Winter; Downtown

      Some photos from the weekend, taken around 4:00 near Portage Place.

      Image Source: Own personal Camera Phone
       Rather quiet, empty place behind Portage Place.
      Image Source: Own personal
      camera phone.
       Few cars behind Portage Place.
      Image Source: Own personal camera

      Busy Portage Avenue.

      Image Source: Own personal camera phone.

      More than a few people tough enough to brave it out cycling in the world's coldest city with more than 500,000 people.

      Monday, 5 December 2011

      Corrections to the Manitoba & NDP Leadership Post

      Last post, I offered some comments about the role of Manitoba in the Federal NDP Leadership race. There are a few things I'd like to add or correct.

      In the last post, I spoke of Paul Dewar's connection to the Manitoba NDP via his brother Bob Dewar, who worked as Chief of Staff for former Premier Gary Doer. I added that whether this translates into substantial support remains to be seen. Paul Dewar has, as a matter of fact, been endorsed by ten Manitoba NDP MLAs, some of them high-ranking cabinet ministers.

      I also spoke of Pat Martin's status as an "unknown" in the race, given the chance he might run to carry the merger gauntlet. Martin said he would run if nobody else brought up the issue of merger. While no candidate has endorsed formal merger yet, Nathan Cullen is pushing the "cooperation" gauntlet, so the chances of Martin throwing his hat in the race have declined.

       Steve Ashton has, indeed, endorsed Niki Ashton. The Manitoba NDP endorsements are quite fragmented - with different sets of MLAs endorsing different candidates. What effect this will have on the ten and a half thousand NDP members in this Province remains to be seen.

      So goes the race.  

      Sunday, 4 December 2011

      Manitoba in the Federal NDP Leadership Race

      Sometime in Feburary of next year they'll be an NDP Leadership debate held in this fine prairie city.

      Image Source: Wikipedia (both logos)
      It'll be lovely to see how the candidates endure their brief moments outside in the world's coldest city with more 500,000 people. It'll certainly be nice, if ever so briefly, to see Winnipeg in the national spotlight (or, at least as the background for an event in the national spotlight).

      I wonder how prominently Manitoba NDP members will factor into the leadership race. Unlike the Liberals or Conservatives, provincial branches of the NDP are integrated within the Federal NDP. All one has to do to become a member of the Federal Party is to take out a membership with the provincial one.

      NDP Memberships by Province: Data current as of Nov. 17, 2011 -
      based on figures from
      Cohen, T. "NDP membership soaring as leadership race kicks into high gear".
      Vancouver Sun, Nov. 17, 2011. Data from the territories or New
      Brunswick was unavailable.

      Image Source: Constructed by "The Analyst" using
      LibreOffice Calc.

      Electoral gains in the House are dependent, to a substantial degree, on Quebec (which is why Quebec candidates like Thomas Mulcair and, to a lesser extent, Romeo Sagnash feature so prominently in the race), but winning the leadership race depends on winning current party members. There are few current party members in Quebec, a third are huddled in British Columbia, with the next greatest concentration in Ontario, while Manitoba is a distant third.

      Brian Topp, the first candidate in the race, has used this fact to his advantage by getting endorsements from prominent BC NDP officials and campaigning in the Province. Former provincial BC NDP leader Carol James (whose exit from the top job was less than graceful) and Federal NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies have endorsed Topp.     

      BC NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who's also in the leadership race, has stated that party establishment endorsements might not be that helpful for a party whose members are sceptical of establishments, as NDP members supposedly are. While that's probably true for the NDP in BC, where the rank and file have a strong critical and nonconformist streak, that's less true in Manitoba.

      The political culture of Manitoba is remarkably conciliatory, modest in expectations*, and probably more trusting of party leaders. It's not unreasonable to expect that party leaders will have a bigger sway on members decisions in the upcoming election. Having a more unified voting bloc may increase Manitobans' sway in the upcoming leadership election, but other factors complicate the picture.

      Manitoba's NDP memberships are inflated by the fact that there's many people interested in the provincial party who take out memberships yet probably don't care (or vote for a different party) at the Federal level. Federal Liberals,  Provincial New Democrats partially explain how a city which is provincially "Orangepeg" can be "Bluepeg" federally. That's the irony of having provincial branches fully integrated with the Federal party. 

      In the 2009 Manitoba NDP leadership race, which was a tight contest between Greg Selinger and Steve Ashton, lots of memberships were sold. During the provincial leadership race, Manitoba NDP memberships rose from 5,000 to 11,000. Some of those memberships have lapsed, as NDP memberships in this province dipped to 10,307 before the Federal Leadership race (but rose by 207 to 10,514 memberships during this leadership race).

      Graph of NDP Memberships in Each Province: Based on
      same data as chart above.

      Image Source: Constructed by The Analyst using
      LibreOffice Calc.

      How many 2009 recruits will vote in the Federal race is an open question. The best provincial NDP leadership candidate at gaining new members was Steve Ashton and, assuming that a sizable chunk of his recruits still follow his word, they'll probably go to Niki Ashton - his daughter and a candidate for Federal NDP leader. The Ashton family has a record of helping one another out electorally.

      Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin is still an unknown. He might launch a candidacy to spearhead the merger mantra further, but his influence on rank and file members will probably wane outside of Winnipeg Centre.

      Former Winnipeg North MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis has hosted a gathering - which included many prominent Manitoba New Democrats - for Brian Topp. So it seems that, in addition to having the support of much of BC's New Democratic establishment, Topp has generated some (noncommittal) interest from Manitoba NDP insiders. 

      Paul Dewar, another candidate, has a family connection to the Manitoba NDP. His brother, Bob Dewar, was chief of staff for former Premier Gary Doer. This may or may not translate into meaningful support for his candidacy among Manitoba New Democrats.

      Martin Singh - a rather unknown businessman and pharmacist whose entered the leadership race -  attended a Manitoba Premier's dinner where he met numerous Manitoba NDP insiders. Whether that's translated into any lasting connections outside of some nice photo-ops remains to be seen.

      Finally, Romeo Saganash has some interesting credentials - negotiating deals with resource companies for Cree communities and helping negotiate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People - that New Democratic aboriginal rights activists in Manitoba would be interested in. Last election, while the NDP won (largely on the back of Layton's personal popularity), a lot of social equality issues were conspicuously absent - the conditions of aboriginal communities among them. The deplorable conditions at the Attawapiskat First Nation have served to bring some of the issues into the national spotlight and there's a chance that aboriginal issues will have seeped into the national consciousness by the time of the next federal election, issues Saganash has had first hand experience with. It doesn't appear that Saganash has much of ground organization outside Quebec nor has he received much Manitoba New Democrat attention, so his chances at snagging a chunk of this province's membership seems slim.

      2012 NDP Leadership candidates: Current as of Dec. 4, 2011.
      Top (left-right): Robert Chisholm, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar,
      Thomas Mulcair, & Niki Ashton
      Bottom (left-right): Peggy Nash, Romeo Saganash, Martin Singh & Brian Topp

      Image Sources: Wikipedia (Chisholm,  Dewar,
      Nash, and Saganash).

      Maclean's (Cullen)

      Hill Times (Topp)

      CBC (Mulcair)

      The Huffington Post (Martin Singh)

      The National Post (Ashton)

      All in all, how influential will Manitoba NDP members be in this race? Eleven percent of all NDP memberships are from Manitoba and a few percentage points could tip a candidate into victory zone. If Manitoba New Democrats act as a semi-unified bloc, supporting one candidate in a great concentration, this provinces' support would mean a lot. The Manitoba NDP machine hasn't rallied around a candidate yet, so how strong the influence will be is an open question.


      *See Thomas & Brown (2010, p. 46-50) for an in-depth description of this Province's political culture.

      Thomas, P., & Brown, C. (2010). Manitoba politics and government: Issues, institutions, traditions . Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press.