Monthly Archives: December 2006

My First Press Release

Well, actually, this was my first press release, but this morning’s release (on the wire here) is my first as Democratic Reform Advocate. See below.

Harper Can’t Dictate Democracy, Green Party Says
Senate reform must be decided by people, not politicians

OTTAWA, Dec. 14 /CNW Telbec/ – The Conservative government is overstepping its bounds by attempting to unilaterally change this country’s democratic systems, Green Party of Canada democratic reform advocate Chris Tindal said today.

“Democracy isn’t just another political issue,” said Tindal. “Our democratic systems need, by definition, to be determined by citizens, not just politicians. They especially shouldn’t be dictated by a Prime Minister whose party received just a little more than a third of the vote in the last general election.”

The Canadian Senate, while in need of reform, has traditionally played an important role in Canadian politics as a place of sober second thought and long-term planning. Any good ideas that the government’s proposal may include, such as a move towards proportional representation, lack legitimacy unless they come directly from citizens.

“The Senate is just one piece of the very complicated web that makes up our democracy,” added Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “To tinker with it in isolation from other democratic systems, and without an appreciation for the many functions and long history of the Senate, is dangerous to say the least.”

The Green Party of Canada recognizes the need for democratic reform, including Senate reform. Greens support the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly to determine what Senate reform is necessary, similar to the Citizens’ Assembly dealing with proportional representation that is currently under way in Ontario.


What’s Behind Stockwell’s Skepticism?

By now you’ve probably heard about Stockwell Day’s embarrassing column that got him negative media attention for mocking Al Gore and climate change. Aside from drawing attention to Stockwell’s poor spelling, grammar, and sense of narrative flow, this highlighted an inconvenient truth that the Conservative government has been trying their best to downplay: namely, they don’t believe the science of climate change.

What’s interesting about that is that scientific consensus on the issue of the climate crisis (that it’s real, being influenced by human action, and threatens life on Earth) is about as tight as scientific consensus can get. Those of you who have watched Al Gore’s film or read the book know that in recent years there have been absolutely no peer-reviewed studies in recognized scientific journals that question the science of climate change, while at the same time 53% of media stories have done so (demonstrating the effectiveness of the tobacco-turned-oil lobby).

We have to conclude, therefore, that the debate that Stockwell and the Conservative government insist on having has nothing to do with science. So, then, what’s this all about?

I’m currently reading Alanna Mitchell’s Dancing at the Dead Sea, and I think she has some answers. Alanna compares the science of climate change with Darwin’s theory of evolution, in that it fundamentally challenges what we thought we knew about the world and our place in it — the “legends” and myths that give us meaning.

As evidence, she presents this quotation from the Roman Catholic Dublin Review, printed shortly after (and in response to) the publishing of The Origin of Species.

The salvation of man is a far higher object than the progress of science: and we have no hesitation in maintaining that if in the judgement of the Church the promulgation of any scientific truth was more likely to hinder man’s salvation than to promote it, she would not only be justified in her efforts to suppress it, but it would be her bounden duty to do her utmost to suppress it.

Even if the science is right about evolution, the Church said, preserving the religious status quo was more important.

There may be a direct correlation with Stockwell’s thinking here. It’s well known that, unlike most Christians I know, he subscribes to the belief that the world was literally created in seven days. He may also believe, therefore, in the “immutability” of creation. Perhaps he’s concluded that climate change can’t be real, or, at least, that we can’t be responsible, because only God could alter creation in such a profound way.

Or maybe that’s a bit of a leap; I can’t be sure. What I do know, however, and what Alanna points out, is that if you replace “evolution” with “climate change,” and “the salvation of man” with “the strength of the economy,” you get the reaction of today’s conservatives to the climate crisis. Witness this March 28, 2001 statement by Ari Fleischer, then press secretary for President Bush:

The president has been unequivocal. He does not support the Kyoto treaty. It…is not in the United States’ economic best interest.

Now, see what Bush himself said the next day:

I will explain as clearly as I can, today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy. Because first things first are the people who live in America. That’s my priority. I’m worried about the economy…And the idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America.

The parallel is striking. “Never mind the science or the threat,” they say, “the economic status quo is more important than all of that.” As if there could be an economy without life. As if there could be salvation without knowledge.

This makes a lot of sense. In many ways, as former United Church moderator Bill Phipps is fond of pointing out, the market economy is a new god. We worship economic indicators as if they’re profits (pun only slightly intended), never questioning if they’re actually making our lives better, or if maybe there’s another way.

Meeting the challenge of the climate crisis requires that we discard the myth that our economy can grow forever as it has for only the past millisecond of our species’ existence; the myth that we can continue to take what’s good from the Earth and return only what’s bad without consequence.

That’s a tall order, and should humble anyone who thinks that we can turn this ship around simply by changing a few light-bulbs and installing a few solar panels. Those things help, but a more fundamental shift must take place. Ironically, fundamentalists like Stockwell aren’t up for it.

On the Radio Tonight

I will be a guest on tonight’s episode of “Catch Da Flava,” a project of Regent Park Focus aired on Ryerson University’s CKLN in Toronto. Listen live (from 7:30-8pm) in Toronto at 88.1 FM, or online (hi-bandwidth lo-bandwidth).

The topic is that nebulous thing we call “the environment,” what it has to do with Regent Park (hint: Regent park is in the environment), and what people, particularly youth, in Regent Park and Toronto can be doing about this mess we seem to have gotten ourselves into. Should be good times.

Who Kidnapped My Crosswalk?

Last week I started a new job in Liberty Village, Toronto — a series of converted office lofts (my office used to be the Toronto Carpet Factory), new condos, cafes, and restaurants. When I don’t bike to work (read: when it’s cold or raining) I take the King Streetcar west from downtown, get off at the intersection of Fraser and King West, and cross south at the crosswalk.

That is, until this morning, when, instead of a crosswalk, I found a yellow sign that read “Caution: Crosswalk Removed,” and had arrows pointing left and right, towards the closest intersections, a few hundred meters away each.

Google searches of words like “fraser, king, crosswalk” fail to turn up any evidence of warning or consultation regarding this apparent crosswalk kidnapping. In fact, most of the search results were Due South fan pages. (Fraser. Benton Fraser.)

This sort of thing is allowed to happen because pedestrians have not had an advocate at city hall, which collectively seems to believe that cars have more rights than people. (I’m talking about the crosswalk here, not the proliferation of Due South fan pages. That’s allowed to happen because Due South is awesome.) It’s the same reason why bike lanes and even whole sidewalks can disappear during road construction, as was the case last month on the busy south-east corner of University and Queen.

Pedestrian deaths and injuries in this city are already too high; the last thing we should be doing is killing crosswalks. I’m going to write Gord Perks, the councillor of this ward. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

This morning some cars were still stopping where the crosswalk used to be — in part out of habit, but also because there’s still a steady stream of people who cross the street there. Let’s hope that as memories of the crosswalk fade no one gets hurt.

UPDATE (December 12th, 6pm): Got a reply from Perks’ office. Turns out the crosswalk was removed because a new intersection was installed about 100m east to accommodate a new development, and there are rules that say you can’t have a crosswalk that close to an intersection. (How surprised are we that that rule didn’t work backwards, “you can’t put that intersection there, it’s too close to the crosswalk!”)

As of this morning people were still crossing at the phantom crosswalk in large numbers, while confused drivers slowed to a halt and tried to figure out why we were in their way. Perks’ office has asked the TTC to move the stop back to the new intersection, further from where those of us who use(d) the crosswalk are trying to get to. Not the world’s biggest deal in the grand scheme of things, but still an unfortunate example of the systemic bias that favours cars against transit users and pedestrians. (Just so we’re clear, I’m not blaming Perks for this. Not only is he new, but apparently the last councillor, Sylvia Watson, didn’t give them any files at all.)