Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Letters to the Editor

The first time I ever wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail it was published. I think I'm being rightfully punished for that, because they haven't printed one since. Yesterday's letter makes the score 1 for 4, but that's ok, because here are three great letters they printed instead.
The Globe defends Chapter 11 of the North American free-trade agreement by saying that only two cases were lost by the Canadian government in response to corporate lawsuits. It is not the quantity of cases but the effect of the cases that is important.

One case the government lost concerned a gasoline additive banned in California. When the Canadian government came to the same conclusion as the California Environmental Protection Agency and decided to ban the additive, a U.S. company sued Canada for loss of revenue and won.

This one case has had a chilling effect on future regulation and makes the government think twice about banning toxic substances.

"Almost 85 per cent of our merchandise exports go to our NAFTA partners," you say. If you think that's a good thing, I'd shudder to hear what you think is a bad thing.

Re Elizabeth May, Off To A Bad Start? (Aug. 29): You no sooner get elected to the leadership of a marginal political party and the leading newspaper in the country leaps to the attack. Seems like a pretty good start to me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What can Elizabeth May be thinking?

Lots of positive press today, and one negative piece from the Globe
and Mail. My letter to the editor follows.
What, you ask, can Elizabeth May be thinking? Good question. Perhaps she's thinking about the full, true cost of NAFTA (environmental, social, labour rights) and not just the cold financial numbers. Perhaps she's thinking about the fact that when a trade agreement isn't being respected, then it's not worth the dead tree it's written on. Perhaps she's thinking that no trade agreement should allow a foreign company to put its profits before the health of Canadians.

Or maybe she's thinking about taking a principled position instead of just saying what polls and focus groups tell her to. But I'm just guessing, of course.

Chris Tindal
Former Candidate, Green Party of Canada (Toronto Centre)

Monday, August 28, 2006

May, Oui!

Apologies for my absence over the last few days. Many of you have likely realized that I've been at the Green Party of Canada's National Convention in Ottawa since Wednesday. I had intended to blog live from the convention, but it turns out that (1) conventions mean you don't have a moment of free time to do things like blog, or sleep, and (2) the Ottawa Congress Centre wanted me to pay for wi-fi. Rude.

Realizing the impossibility of doing justice to the last five transformative days in one blog post, I'll tell one quick "looks like we've made it" story.

After Elizabeth May (who I'd been supporting) was announced leader and had made her victory speech, she made her way out of the convention room through the crowd. (For those of you who weren't there or didn't follow on TV, it was a great show, and Newsworld carried it live.) As Elizabeth passed where I was standing she hugged a woman in front of me. I squeezed her arm and yelled my congratulations, but she didn't hear or see me and moved on.

My phone rang immediately. It was my brother, "So, couldn't get her attention, eh?"

Same thing happened when I returned to the office today. So there we have it, I was snubbed by the new leader on national television and people noticed. Good work team.

Congratulations Elizabeth, I'm very excited for the months leading up to the next election. We're making history -- politics in Canada will never be the same.

ps. Let me know if you'd like me to comment on anything regarding the convention or Elizabeth more specifically. I've got lots more I could say, but don't know where to start. Help requested.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Against Bottled Water

The United Church of Canada's General Council is meeting in Thunder Bay this week. That meeting happens once every three years, when democratically elected commissioners vote on various policy and directive resolutions affecting the church. It is the highest governing body of the church.

I've been at the last three General Councils, so I'm a little sad to not be at this one. (I'm going to the Green Party of Canada's National Convention next weekend instead.) Three years ago, at the General Council meeting in Wolfville Nova Scotia, I met Alexa Mcdonough. We only spoke briefly, but were both able to agree that if parliament worked more like a General Council meeting it would be much more productive. For example, everyone sits at randomized round tables (instead of in the automatically adversarial arrangement of our parliament) and decisions are made by consensus (instead of does our parliament make decisions again?).

And for those of you who would say that can't work in a large group, there are around 600 people at a General Council meeting, with over 400 voting commissioners. Parliament has 308 MPs.

The past two General Councils have generated media attention for the United Church's support of same sex marriage. I was proud to be a part of that. This year's meeting is getting attention for a vote scheduled for tomorrow, where the GC will vote on a resolution opposing the commodification and privatization of water, including bottled water. I'm proud again (this time in absentia).

There are a number of reasons. For one, I do believe that water should be public, and that access to clean water is a human right (even though the government of Canada disagrees). That on its own may not be enough to avoid bottled water, but there's more. The bottling process drains aquifers and reduces the flow of streams and lakes, which causes stress on ecosystems. And of course, the bottle itself is an unnecessary piece of waste.

What do we get for those sacrifices? Not much. Bottled water isn't even regulated under Ontario's Safe Drinking Water Act, is regulated less strictly than tap water, and is often just treated tap water anyway (as is the case with Coke's Dasani and Pepsi's Aquafina, which I've read is mostly tap water from Detroit -- yum).

Check out Now magazine for more details about bottled water and water politics in general. We can't take this stuff for granted. We're even more addicted to it than oil, and we've seen what those wars are like.

ps. What will those wars have to do with us? Well, we've got the world's largest fresh water reserves, and we're right in-between the US and China. Might be hard to stay out of this one.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Priorities and Leadership

I saw Stephen Lewis speak last night, and was not disappointed. One of the things that really impressed me was his ability to juggle despair with hope, death with life, dire statistics with practical solutions.

Stephen was of course speaking on the topic of HIV/AIDS, along with Mary Ash, filmmaker Norman Jewison, and others at an event organized by ICA Canada.

I won't attempt to summarize the content of the evening. For one, as Stephen said, the issue is so huge and complex that it's impossible to hold in your mind all at once, let alone to hold in a blog post. For another, the statistics are difficult to understand in any real way. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like if one in three Torontonians had AIDS, as is the case in too many parts of Africa.

In his closing remarks, Norman Jewison called AIDS the greatest crisis facing humanity, with the possible exception of (or second only to?) nuclear warfare. I would have said global warming in place of nuclear warfare, but either way his comment got me thinking about priorities. Specifically, those of Stephen Harper, who reiterated today that AIDS is not a priority for him.

Instead, his top five priorities upon getting elected were:
  1. An accountability act that does little for accountability.
  2. A GST cut (along with an income tax raise) that most economists think is a bad idea.
  3. "Cracking down" on crime. (Definition of "cracking down" is pending.)
  4. A child care plan that doesn't create child care.
  5. A health plan that wont keep Canadians healthy.
Notably absent are the three crises above, at least one of which (the climate crisis) is being increasingly cited as a top concern of Canadians. To say nothing of democratic reform, water security, food security, or the inequality of Canada's aboriginal population (which, by the way, has a higher rate of HIV/AIDS than the rest of Canada), to name but a few. But hey, at least now a can of Coke costs one cent less. (Oh wait, Coke still costs the same. How'd they get away with that?)

When Harper announced his list back in January, he said that "you can't lead if you can't focus and determine what really matters."

I'll give him that.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hey. Play Nice.

Liberal MP Maria Minna (what a name, that) and Liberal leadership contestant Hedy Fry are upset that Harper has asked Liberal MP Wajid Khan to be his special adviser on the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Said Maria, "This is, pure and simple, a partisan effort aimed at halting the Conservatives' slide in the polls. We should not be aiding and abetting their efforts in that regard." Added Hedy, this is "a clear conflict of interest and of trust."

Wow. And I was worried I was getting too cynical.

Listen folks, we need more cross-party cooperation and dialogue, not less -- especially in a minority government situation. Harper could make a monkey his special adviser on banana affairs for all I care, so long as said monkey was qualified for the job.

I'm with Bill on this one. Give Wajid a chance.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

An Even Shorter History of Progress

It's easy to be aware of all the environmental problems facing us today (climate disruption, toxic waste, new pathogens, genetic engineering, antibiotic resistance, peak oil, peak air) without understanding what's at the root of all these seemingly unrelated crises.

One of the best people to turn to for an explanation is Ronald Wright, bestselling author of A Short History of Progress. Last weekend The Toronto Star printed what was going to be the keynote address at tomorrow night's Couchiching Conference, which Ronald had to withdraw from for personal reasons:
A span of five millennia may seem long enough to declare the experiment of civilization an unqualified success. But its entire run is barely one-fifth of one per cent of the human career on Earth. Even our modern subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens -- people with the same physical and mental abilities as us -- has existed between 10 and 20 times longer than its oldest civilization. The settled, urban life we regard today as normal is not the life that made us; not the life by which we evolved.

For me, the greatest mystery of what we call the "ancient world" is how recent it really is. No city or monument is much more than 5,000 years old. Only 70 lifetimes of 70 years have been lived end-to-end since civilization began. Yet civilization has displaced almost all other ways of living, often forcibly. There is now no viable alternative, no blank on the map, no going back without catastrophe. As we climbed the ladder of progress, we kicked out the rungs below...
The whole thing will probably take you about 22 minutes, and is a good primer on why unlimited economic growth is a myth that we need to get over as soon as possible. Or, you could watch a Simpsons rerun instead. I don't want to tell you how to manage your time.

Centralized Power and the Conductor

Yesterday the Globe and Mail revealed that the Conservatives have "used an extraordinary 'national security' clause to take control of $8-billion in recently announced military spending," contravening the 1994 Agreement on Internal Trade with the provinces. I was going to make one of my famous "so much for real transparency and accountability" and "do these guys even know what these words mean?" and "didn't Harper used to oppose the centralization of power?" posts, but last night I instead went to see the National Youth Orchestra of Canada perform at Roy Thompson Hall and I ran out of time.

I'm sort of glad I did, because now I can instead report that today the Globe's editorial staff were much more scathing than I was going to be. Instead of "national security," they've called this "national pork-barrelling...the most startling example of Tory beneficence lately...wrongheaded...How the righteous have fallen...the Tories are making themselves at home in the coffers...part of a widening pork-barrel pattern...and the pattern is called hypocrisy."

So I think I'll just back away slowly and let them have the last word on that one.

Oh, the National Youth Orchestra was great by the way. Apparently alumni from the NYOC make up a full third of all orchestras in Canada. It's a great opportunity for young artists and it deserves our support.

One thing nagged at me though, and you may have noticed this as well. As I watched and listened to the orchestra play, I couldn't help but think, "you know, if the conductor were to suddenly take a seat, I'm pretty sure the music would go on..."

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Silliness of Suing A Wiki

I don't know if any of you have ever been in this position, but two of my friends are currently being sued by a man who I once saw in his underwear. Stranger still, they're being sued for libel, not because of anything either of them wrote, but rather for something that someone else wrote.

No? That's never happened to you? Well then, do read on. But first, some basic understanding of both libel law and wiki technology is required. This post is way longer than anyone should be subjected to, but please bear with me. This is important stuff, and I'll try to insert jokes whenever I think you might be getting bored.

What The Heck Is Libel?

Libel is the written or published version of defamation of character (as opposed to slander, which is verbal and unpublished). Canadian libel law is very old, having evolved from British common law (meaning law that evolves based on the rulings of judges over time, forming legal precedent). One of the most interesting things about libel in Canada is that it reverses the burden of proof, such that the defendant is actually guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent. In other words, the plaintiff does not have to prove that what was said about them was false; instead, the defendant must prove what they said was true.

One of the other interesting things about libel law in Canada is that, according to lawyer Michael Geist, it's actually treated more seriously in some ways than hate speech, or the undeniably horrendous crime of child pornography. While child pornography and hate speech both require a court order to be removed, websites can be forced to remove allegedly libelous content based on the allegations alone, before anything has been proven.

This has lead to what's known as "libel chill" or a "chilling effect." If you happen to be someone who can afford to throw around lawsuits, you can get content about yourself removed simply by threatening legal action. You don't even need to worry about being right or having evidence. The "chill" is the resulting chill on free speech. If I know someone might sue me for libel, even if I'm telling the truth, I'm less likely to say anything at all. (Especially if I'm not wealthy, and the person threatening to sue is.)

What The Heck's A Wiki?

I suspect many of you already know this, so let's just do a quick primer. A wiki is a type of website that lets visitors edit the content of that site, making it particularly useful for collaborative authoring. The most famous wiki is Wikipeida, a free encyclopedia written entirely by volunteers that in just five years has generated over a million articles with an accuracy rating that rivals that of Encyclopedia Britannica. I mention this to demonstrate what a powerful tool wiki is, and how valuable it is for our society.

One feature critical to the success of wiki technology is that each article on a wiki has a "history," which records every edit ever made, and allows visitors to view every version of the page that has ever existed, as well as the current version. (For example, here's what my Wikipedia entry looked like on December 13, 2005, here's what it looked like on December 27th 2005, and here's what it looks like now, having been merged with another article.) This feature is essential in order for a consensus viewpoint to evolve, as well as to ensure that vandalism can be easily reverted.

It's not an exaggeration to say that a wiki is unlike any other communications tool we've ever known. And that, as we will see, is part of the problem.

Ok, so What About the Dude in the Underwear?

Fair question. Let me back up a few steps.

A friend of mine, Michael Pilling, runs a wiki website called It grew out of the Green Party of Canada's Living Platform, and is a non-partisan forum for Canadians to discuss political issues. Michael was actually the Head of Platform and Research for the Green Party of Canada in 2004, and canvassed for me in 2006. He has a one-year-old daughter.

My other defendant friend is Hayley Easto, who has only a loose affiliation to (in that, when it was first created a year ago, she was named as one of the chief editors of the site).

They're both being sued not for anything they wrote, but rather for something that an anonymous person wrote on

The man suing them is Wayne Crookes, who was my roommate at the 2004 Bragg Creak Green Party of Canada convention (thus the underwear thing). We didn't talk much, but he seemed like a nice enough guy, and we had breakfast together on the last morning of the convention. It's very strange to know that on both sides of this suit are real, regular people. Until now, lawsuits have always been more abstract than that.

What the Suit's About, and Why it's so Strange

As mentioned above, Wayne is suing over comments that were made about him on a page on I won't repeat what was said, because then he could sue me too. Suffice it to say that Wayne felt that the comments could lead a reader to form a negative opinion of him.

By now you should be asking yourself, if these comments were made on a wiki, and a wiki is so easy for anyone to edit, why weren't they just edited out? Well, they were. Michael moderated the page and also offered to explain to Wayne how to do so himself, and/or to post his side of the story for him. Wayne was uninterested, but Michael changed the page to reflect a more neutral point of view anyway.

So, that should be the end of the story, right? The offending content was removed, and everyone can go home happy. Except for one little problem: the version of the page that Wayne objects to is preserved in that page's history, just like all edits on a wiki. So there is, and will always be, a version of it that exists. As I understand it, Wayne is actually suing over the content of the history page, not the main article. That's part of what's led Michael to observe that "there is currently no legal way to operate Open Politics in Canada."

So What Do We Do?

You'll remember that thanks to British common law we have two kinds of defamation, libel and slander (written and spoken). Slander is generally treated more leniently, and evolved back before so many of our conversations took place over wires. As people increasingly communicate with each other over instant message, email, message boards, blogs, and wikis, those conversations (which used to take place in person or over the phone) become the domain of libel law instead of slander. One possible solution suggested by Michael is to make these new forms of electronic discussion subject to slander law instead of libel.

Whether that happens nor not, it seems obvious to me that we need to update our laws to acknowledge the fact that an anonymous (or even attributed) defamation on a wiki today is very different from an attributed defamation in a newspaper a few decades or centuries ago when our laws were formed.

For example, let's say I jumped in a De Lorean and traveled back in time to 1885. While I'm there, a newspaper publisher prints a bunch of lies about me, namely, say, that I'm "yellow" and "a chicken." I'd be relatively powerless to respond, given the power and reach of the newspaper. Also, the fact that those lies were being made by someone with perceived authority and reliability would make them even more difficult to refute.

Today, however, if an anonymous person lies about me on a wiki or a blog, I'm able to easily respond with the same reach as that person. Further, I can likely respond with even more authority, since the fact that that person is anonymous (and not backed-up by a professional journalist, as is the case with "anonymous sources") should lead any reasonable person to question their reliability. Therefore, libel on a wiki or (to a lesser extent) a blog shouldn't be treated with the same degree of severity as libel in an older type of publication. Not only does the target of the alleged libel have a "right of reply," they have an impressive and unprecedented ability to do so.

Finally! A Conclusion!

Wayne, of course, still has a right to have his reputation protected from unfounded accusations (if that is in fact what's happened). But if he were to win this lawsuit, that could mean, at a minimum, that it would be very difficult to legally and safely operate a wiki in Canada. Even if the lawsuit fails, the chill will remain, inhibiting free speech. Another lawsuit threatens the free speech rights of bloggers. (In that suit, is being sued in part because of something that was posted as a comment to a blog post. So watch what you say when commenting on this post, I don't have any interest in a lawsuit right now.)

I've called this situation "silly" (because it is), but it's also very serious. I could devote another even longer post (oh yeah, speaking of that, thanks for making it this far) to the priceless value that wikis and blogs contribute to the level of discourse in this country, and therefore to the strength of our democracy. A balance needs to be struck to preserve these tools, and to preserve free speech, while still protecting people like my ex-roomie Wayne from libel. Otherwise, we will have moved backwards on what is a very exciting path towards the democratization of decision making, and of the web itself.

ps. I attended an event on this very topic this past Saturday, at which a lawyer lamented the fact that people now feel the need to preface their online comments with "I'm not a lawyer, but...," since everyone should feel entitled to express their opinion regardless of their profession or education, and without fear of legal action that could apparently result from their failure to disclose their non-lawyer status. That being said, just in case you were wondering, I'm totally not a lawyer. In fact, it's only recently that I've even learned to spell the word, so there.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lick Global Warming vs. Cow Farts

Around noon today I sauntered over to the TD Centre courtyard in downtown Toronto to witness the launch of the Lick Global Warming campaign, a partnership of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The event featured people in cow costumes carrying picket signs, and (even more strangely) a 20-minute line full of Bay Street workers waiting for a free small scoop of ice cream in a cup.

I had a fun time trying to imagine what the Ben & Jerry's boardroom brainstorm would have sounded like.

Ben: Ok, we need to do some sort of good-will PR thing.
Jerry: Let's cream....
Ben: ...cools you down...
Jerry: ...when it's hot...
Ben: Global Warming!
Jerry: That's it! That's so hot!
Ben: You mean cool.
Jerry: Is that what the kids are saying these days?

Or maybe Jerry really cares. The point isn't to pick on my friends at the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, nor do I want to criticize anyone who makes delicious ice cream, but there's one thing I find particularly bizarre about this campaign.

Can you spot it? No, it's not the illustration of Earth in an ice cream cone (though I'm not quite sure what that's about). And no, it's not the fact that on the Ben & Jerry's homepage there's a flash animation (if you wait a few seconds) of a cow licking an ice cream cone (weird).

What really doesn't make sense to me -- and what I can't believe wasn't spotted or addressed by anyone at either organization -- is the use of cows as an anti-global warming mascot. Why? Because cow farts cause global warming.

There. I said it.

Cows, though their farts and otherwise, produce large amounts of methane gas, which is the second greatest contributor to global warming after CO2. Some studies have even suggested that in some regions cows contribute more to global warming than cars, while others have concluded that eating meat is just as bad for the climate as driving an SUV.

According to this blog's first-ever anonymous source, the OCAA has already received several complaints about their partnership with B&J, including the observation that B&J's products aren't locally produced, meaning the involvement of long refrigerated-truck trips.

I'm glad to see the climate crisis getting people's attention, I do think global warming campaigns can and should be fun, and I know I shouldn't really be criticizing any company that wants to do their part. At the same time, global warming is a complex issue that cannot be easily solved. I don't think we do ourselves any favours by reducing the whole issue to one paragraph, and then pretending to solve it with one sentence.

People are smarter than that, and deserve to be given more credit.

Ok, I'm done my party-pooping for the day. (And yes, after watching the protesting cows I did grab a delicious ice cream cone. It cheered me up a bit.)

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Two-Time Losers Allowed

This is kinda funny. From now on, if you want to be a federal Conservative candidate, you only get two tries. Anyone who's lost two elections will have to get special permission from the Conservative Party's executive before running again (even if they're the democratically nominated candidate).

Of course, upon hearing this, I immediately thought of my previous Conservative opponent Lewis Reford. "Poor Lewis," I thought, "he'll only get one more kick at the can."

And yet, there are at least two reasons this might not actually matter to him. First, he would almost certainly be granted an exception, mostly because he's running in a Liberal stronghold, and only slightly because his wife sits on the Conservative Party's executive.

Secondly, Lewis, who had quit his job to focus on family, politics, and volunteering, just took a new job today.

Isn't that interesting?

ps. Yes, I know, applying this rule to the Green Party would be hilarious. Har har har.
pps. No, I'm not actually suggesting that Susan McArthur would act in conflict, or that today's announcement of Lewis' new job is anything but coincidence. I'm just suggesting that coincidences are fun. And aren't they?
ppps. Oh great. Now I've got MacArthur Park stuck in my head.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Warm Out Today. Warm Out Yesterday. Gonna Be Warm Out Tomorrow.

I've been experimenting with different ways of getting to work. I've tried driving (took me 35 minutes), walking (30 minutes), taking the subway (20 minutes) and biking (15 minutes).

This morning I wanted to try something new, so I swam to work. You know, through this soup we Torontonians sometimes refer to as "air."

Southwestern Ontario is seeing some of its highest temperatures ever recorded today, and last night was Toronto's warmest evening on record. Add to that the deadly pollutants that make up smog, and we've got one thick, sticky, stinky situation on our hands. (Stephen Colbert has started referring to environmentalists as "airhuggers." As in, crazy hippies who are so out of touch with reality that they think breathing air is important.)

Unfortunately, all this heat doesn't appear to be a coincidence. The Earth is warmer than it's been in 400 years or longer, and the science suggests that human activity is the cause.

One of the best ways we know of to heat this planet up as fast as possible is by using lots of energy on things like air conditioners. So, when it got hot today, of course the natural thing to do was crank the AC. People in my office building have been shivering all day, and during one meeting I noticed pronounced goose bumps on my arms -- it's genuinely cold. (That might have something to do with what the people who make the decisions are wearing.)

The result is, we've burned too much fuel, which is making it too hot in here, so we're going to turn up our air conditioners, which necessitates burning even more fuel, which in turn will make it even hotter. And the circle of life goes on. (Never mind that a recent 40-year study showed air pollution deaths in Toronto outnumber deaths caused by extreme heat 8 to 1.)

Heat was the number one story on the radio this morning, with the IESO predicting we'd break another energy consumption record by 5pm today.

They were wrong -- it only took us until noon. Ontario's demand for power reached 26,331 megawatts, topping last July's record 26,161 megawatts. Power consumption has continued to break records every hour since. The IESO is now predicting that we'll hit 27,225 megawatts any minute now. Brownouts and blackouts are a serious possibility, though not as serious as the increased numbers of people who will show up at emergency rooms and/or die prematurely today because of smog-related respiratory problems.

What should the government do? For one, make energy prices reflect their real cost. The fact that my office is still too cold for comfort, even in the face of all this, is a pretty good indicator that energy prices are too low.

What can you do (besides turn stuff off)? I recommend making use of this handy vacation planning calendar.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go change into my swimsuit for the long swim home.

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