Gun Control, and Why Partisan Politics Need to Die

As you have probably heard by now, during this past week President Obama has taken executive action to try to push some more gun regulation in the US. Predictably, there has been considerable backlash to this decision, particularly by the NRA and Republican Presidential candidates. However, this condemnation obviously has nothing to do with the actual content of Obama’s action, but rather partisan politics at their absolute “finest”. This is an effective demonstration on just how politicians treat us like dog shit for their political ploys, why politicians can’t have any sort of integrity and one reason why our democracies are so horrifically ineffectual. For the good of the public, this is my short diatribe on why partisan politics need to die now.

Before moving ahead, I guess I should probably clarify exactly what I mean when I say “partisan politics”. At its broadest, partisan simply refers to identification to a political party in general, but in the last few decades it has been twisted into a political strategy. Now, politicians have to solely serve their party’s interests and refuse to compromise with their opponents. In a Canadian context, this quote by Stephen Ledrew from The Globe and Mail illustrates our own partisan politics quite well:

“Party loyalty is a crutch for those with lazy minds, and stark partisanship simply makes public discourse cheap and ill-informed. For example, how often has one heard that Stephen Harper is an elitist Conservative, not reflecting Canadian values? How often has one read that Justin Trudeau is just a Liberal scion who represents a last-ditch attempt by his party to resuscitate itself to its former glory? Or that Thomas Mulcair is a tax-and-spend NDipper? Certainly often enough to persuade an outsider that party labels are a major factor in political decision-making in Canada. But will voting by party label provide good government to Canada?”

As you can probably see, this mentality is clearly where the opposition to Obama’s executive action is stemming from. Ted Cruz in particular has jumped on this and has claimed that “Obama wants your guns” and has promised to roll back this action. The way he tells it, it’s almost as if Obama has made gun ownership illegal before punching Jesus in the face. So what exactly did Obama even do? From this article on CBC, here’s a basic rundown:

  1. Make it so that private sellers have to make background checks before selling guns. Considering that licensed sellers have to do this already and that was making background checks a farce, it was a pretty ridiculous loophole to begin with. I actually read a study back when Sandy Hook occurred which recommended that this loophole be closed. Then there’s, y’know, the Cracked article about how easy it is to get private sellers to skirt the law.
  2. Crack down on illegal gun trafficking and improve crime gun databases.
  3. Improve access to medical help for people with mental health issues. This is a refreshingly unexpected step in the right direction, one which I imagine was meant to throw a bone to Republicans as well – they often blame shootings solely on mental issues, after all, rather than the guns themselves.

Those all sound like common sense stuff, right? The unlicensed seller loophole has long been considered a major issue which renders background checks useless. Filling it in is going to make private reselling more annoying, but considering that these are freaking weapons we’re talking about, I am lacking in sympathy for them. That said, if you’re a person who is concerned about extensive gun rights, then I can see why this might be a sticking point, even if I personally think that it is a reasonable restriction. As for improved police databases and better access to help for people with mental issues, these aren’t even restrictions on existing freedoms for people who are interested in gun rights. Furthermore, it is fairly well-known that the existing mental healthcare system in the US is in a deplorable state, so this is solution is extremely pragmatic in a number of areas.

So why did Ted Cruz make these bold claims about stuff that is so obvious? It would seem to me that the main reason he is doing so is because it will rile up potential voters and get them to support him. It doesn’t matter whether what he says is true or not, as long as he gets the votes. This has also earned him an endorsement from the NRA, and if he is able to leverage their support then this should help him significantly in the leadership race*. We have seen this sort of fear rhetoric put forth numerous times this year – Stephen Harper’s inexplicable focus on the niqab, Trump’s comments on Mexicans and Muslims and the numerous talking heads that have been freaking out about Syrian refugees being terrorists.

If you think I’m being hard on the Republicans though, then let me also rip into the Democrats a little bit. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both lent their support to Obama’s actions, but they could have done so much more. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Obama’s executive action is very limited in scope and will likely do very little to curb American gun violence (in the short term at the very least). Basically, it’s going to be a little harder for the wrong people to acquire a gun, and people who are mentally ill will have more access to treatment. This should help prevent some shootings, but all of the other issues with the American gun culture are still present – access to high-capacity and high-fire rate weapons, ability to open and concealed-carry weapons in public places, the existence of “stand your ground laws”, a culture which heroizes those who commit violence, etc. Sure, Clinton has beat around the bush, saying that more needs to be done from this foundation, but there isn’t a lot of dissent about how limited Obama’s executive action was. He’s patching some of the holes in the system, but unless America totally overhauls its gun culture, there won’t be a meaningful reduction in violence any time soon.

Political rhetoric is one thing though, but let’s get into arguably my biggest beef with partisanship. In his article, Ledrew also puts forth this gem which sums up my feelings quite well:

“not only is partisanship no longer accurate, it is contrary to the very essence of democracy, because it leads people to cast their vote a certain way for the wrong reason. It negates an informed electorate.”

I alluded to this sort of political bullshitting in the dying days of the 2015 Canadian election, and this is just another example of how the partisan system fosters voter ignorance. Rather than having an educated voting public, parties have found it much more successful to focus on individuals, talking points, rhetoric and fear-mongering in order to manage their voter bases – the key word there being manage. With the proper curation, politicians can predict how to manipulate public opinion in their favour and choose to ignore entire chunks of the population as irrelevant to their interests. Look at the timing of this executive action, for example. It’s in Obama’s last year in office – he doesn’t have to worry about this affecting his election prospects. It’s likely that he has wanted to implement this program for years, but was unable to pull it off until now. Furthermore, it is being used as election-fodder. For the Democratic candidates, this becomes something to protect. By Ted Cruz, this is suddenly something that he can manipulate as something that he’ll tear down if he becomes President – he just has to convince his voter base that the executive action is something bad first, which shouldn’t be too hard if they’re on board the partisan system.

People are always whining about how politicians are a bunch of liars and that all of the parties suck. This isn’t how it has to be though – politicians lie or, if we’re being super generous, stretch the truth because it has been proven that the system benefits the ones who do so. This isn’t how it has to be though. Politics are a system which we created and which we can reshape. Start rewarding politicians with real integrity, who treat you like an intelligent individual and not just some statistic on their voter demographics spectrum**. Also be willing to look into what politicians are saying and try to keep yourself informed from other angles as well. Just because people are calling Obama an anti-gun fascist because of this executive action doesn’t mean that they’re telling you the truth. Furthermore, just because he’s being praised for this action doesn’t mean that Obama suddenly solved America’s problems either. Partisan politics need to die, and we’re the ones who need to need to put this wretched system in the ground for good.

*You also get inexplicable tough-talk, such as Cruz’s gem: “Those executive orders are not worth the paper they’re printed on, because when you live by the pen, you die by the pen, and my pen has got an eraser.” What the literal hell is that supposed to mean Cruz? You also realize that this is a reference to Matthew 26:52, in which Jesus himself warns his apostles not to commit violence and not to use their weapons. That is a terrible reference to make for someone who is trying to advocate for gun rights.
**Hopefully this is obvious, but this is not an endorsement for Donald Trump! Being a “politically incorrect” blowhard is also a political strategy, especially when attempting to stand out in a right-wing leadership race. It also doesn’t mean that you’re being honest or have a shred of integrity. Use your damn head.

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Quick Fix: Advances in Poppy-Wearing Technology

So Remembrance Day is coming up here in Canada, that transitional period between Halloween and the Christmas blitz where we honour our veterans. There’s one little squabble which seems to flare up more and more in the past few years though, and that’s in regards to the “proper” way to wear your poppy. If you aren’t familiar with Remembrance Day traditions, basically you give a donation and receive a poppy in exchange (not a real poppy though, obviously) which you pin onto your clothing to show your respect for the veterans. However, the pin which is used for the poppies is notoriously problematic and causes quite a few painful jabs every year, which prompts some people to replace the default pin with something more secure and without the exposed pin, such as a “butterfly clutch”.

In fact you will notice that the style of pin used with the poppy isn’t even offered from this custom pin website. The long pin is the closest analogue, but even then it is far more secure and safe than the traditional poppy pin.


However, Veterans Canada has stated that they do not condone replacing the pin, and this has caused many people in the public to shame those who do so. In fact, this whole post was inspired by this one Facebook picture someone had shared:

As you can probably tell, I’m totally in favour of relaxing the standards of what “acceptable” poppy-wearing should be, but the whole situation as it currently stands leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, the whole point of the poppy is to show respect for the veterans, so I feel a need to wear it as they would like us to when it comes down to actually displaying the poppy. That said, I also feel like veterans should be more open to improvements in poppy-wearing technology, since these pins are notoriously inadequate and rather unsafe.

Maybe I just hate adherence to tradition for tradition’s sake, even when there’s a better way to do things. After all, wasn’t one of the key lessons of WWI that soldiers died due to the generals’ insistence on adhering to old, outdated traditions? Or what about our modern veterans whose injury and death is kept at astonishingly low levels thanks to technological increases, innovation and efficiency over the past few decades?

Again, if the vets say that it’s disrespectful to wear the poppy any other way then we’re probably going to have to deal with that, but I do think that they should be open to the possibility of change. I’m sure that there are some people who will bristle at my position on this, perhaps justifying the poppy’s current pin by saying that the pain is nothing compared to what the veterans suffered. That’s true obviously, but it’s a pretty poor justification as far as I’m concerned and is little more than a shaming tactic to try to eliminate any questioning of potentially outdated tradition. As innovation has helped to improve the lives of soldiers, so too should innovation improve the lives of us who don’t want to get pricked every November for choosing to openly support the vets.

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Shirking Responsibility

The spark for this post came to me a while ago, back when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in the news with its recommendations to ensure that Canadians were aware of the awful legacies of the residential school system. However, as soon as they mentioned that the church was involved with the cultural genocide and abuse which occurred at these schools, my parents’ gut reaction was to blurt out that it was only the Catholic church which was responsible for this.

Setting aside the popular perception that it was only the Catholic church involved*, this reaction bothers me for a number of reasons. First of all, I don’t think it’s being honest – do they really give a shit about the supposed (and in this case incorrect) “facts” of the matter? If I told them that their comprehension of the facts was incorrect, would it cause them to feel real shame for the church’s involvement in the residential schooling system? Somehow I don’t think so, I think that the blame will get shifted in another direction (“oh, well our church and our family aren’t even close to a residential school!”).

This brings me to the second reason why their statement irritated me. If they aren’t really interested in the facts of the situation, then I believe that this attitude is merely a knee-jerk reaction to shift blame. After all, if we believe that the Catholics bear all of the responsibility for residential schools, then it is easy for us to say that they’re the ones who should do something about it. Consequently, this means that we end up not having to do anything – we don’t have to change our worldview, we don’t have to change our attitudes towards people, and hell, we don’t have to make any restitutions to help out people who have been getting screwed over for generations.

Let’s get theoretical though for a moment – let’s pretend for a moment that it was just the Catholics who were involved with residential schools. If this were the case, then our response still shouldn’t change. In spite of what some more fundamentalist Christians might think, Catholics are just as legitimate ambassadors of Jesus as the rest of us. As far as most people outside of the church are concerned, the differences between Catholics and Protestants are minuscule. How do you think it looks for them if we, as Christians, say “residential schools were bad and all, but we weren’t responsible, it was those other Christians who you should be mad at”?

If nothing else, we should accept the responsibility rather than trying to squirm out of it by shifting the blame. Ideally, we should seek to repair the situation as well, even if we do not necessarily believe that we bear any real responsibility to do so – especially since we are always so quick to declare ourselves the “moral” center of the country which is keeping it from slipping into evil. If we become people known for helping others and being a positive force in society, then we won’t need to try to point out that it was “someone else” who was responsible for committing evil – people will realize that they are not representative of the Christians that they know.

I can remember myself saying less than 10 years ago that I didn’t feel bad for indigenous peoples who complained about losing their land, because it happened hundreds of years ago and they should all be over it by now. I am ashamed of the ignorance my past-self. However, I was completely ignorant of the repercussions that the actions of our ancestors had. I was unlearned enough to understand that indigenous people aren’t concerned about the evils of the past, they are concerned about inequalities which affect them today as a result of the echoes from the past. Similarly, people don’t understand why people still complain about slavery, racism or the Confederate flag, but this is because they don’t understand how their effects continue to echo into the present and have resulted in massive levels of inequality for African-Americans (not to mention that basically every problem in Africa can be traced back to the evils of colonialism).

If you don’t take anything else from this post, then at least take this message to heart: next time you hear someone railing about some form of injustice, listen to what they have to say. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, but give them some respect. Then, instead of passing off the responsibility to someone else, ask how you can help and come to common ground.

*And it’s not like the Protestant Churches are all that united anyway. If they wanted to continue shifting blame they could say “Oh, well it was just the Catholics, Anglicans, United Church, Congressionalists, Presbyterians and Methodists. It wasn’t the Pentacostals though so why should we take the blame?”, or “Those were Methodists, were are Free Methodists so it doesn’t count!”

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Prime Ministorial Deathmatch: Part Two

Again, because I can see some people taking this piece about politicians battling each other to the death way too seriously, I’m going to reiterate that this is intended to be a cheeky satirical piece.

So, in order to run the actual battle-to-the-death part of this article, I unfortunately couldn’t get ahold of the real life contenders so I had to turn to the deathmatch simulator, Super Smash Bros, using the game’s Mii Fighter feature to create the combatants and letting them duke it out as 3 CPU fighters. I’ll be using the Punch Out!! stage for the match to minimize the environmental effects and to represent them duking it out in the political arena. For match rules, I’m going with a 3 stock limit to scale back the randomness a little bit. I had intended to put in Items, but I think I accidentally turned them off during the fight.

Smash Bros has three archetypes to choose your fighter from. Stephen Harper is a gunner for a couple obvious reasons. First of all, as a Conservative he has helped repeal some national gun control laws, so it seems like a natural fit. Secondly, if he is truly a robot, then having weapons built into his limbs is a reasonable extrapolation. I also gave him some high-power weaponry, such as a grenade launcher and rockets since he’s more willing to exercise military might on an international scale than his rivals. As for his outfit, I outfitted him in the cowboy gear, of course. He’s a good all-round fighter, but I emphasized his defence over attack slightly. Since he’s clearly the most dangerous fighter of the lot, I gave him a CPU level of 8.

For Mulcair, I chose the brawler archetype of course. His attacks are basically all short-ranged, head-on attacks, meaning he has to get in your face and tear you apart with his bare hands. I emphasized his attack power at the expense of his defence and made his attacks slow in general. This represents his duality – he’s patient, but a pit bull. If he can land an attack, then he’ll do severe damage to whoever ends up on the other end of it. If he closes the gap and times his attacks right then Muclair can be a force to be reckoned with. Mulcair has potential but isn’t quite at the level of Harper himself yet, so I’m setting his CPU level to 7.

Since Trudeau is A New Hope for the Liberals, I made him a sword fighter. Fitting with this theme, I gave him Jedi-like attacks, such as an attack called “hero’s strike” and a reversal slash which launches projectiles back at his opponents (like Trudeau turning his opponents’ attacks into platform features). Due to his youthful vitality and swift rise to prominence, I made him a very fast attacker, although his lack of experience and less-than-imposing posture make his attack power pretty low. I think he’s definitely the dark horse of this battle, and so I have set his CPU level to 5 accordingly – he can still pull off a win, but it’s going to be tough and he’s going to have to make use of his speed and be opportunistic to emerge victorious.

If you want to watch the fight in its entirely, you can do so here (sorry for the low quality, I wish you could save replays to Youtube on 3DS). If not, here’s a quick highlights reel:

Harper and Muclair go at it with each other almost exclusively in the first couple minutes. Trudeau, true to life, basically refuses to join with Muclair, and as a result he and Harper damage each other quite severely while taking a few pot shots at Trudeau every once in a while. In fact, Trudeau barely gets any hits in in the first couple minutes, and spends most of this time dancing around the others while getting nailed every once in a while. Without any support and with his emphasis on attack over defence, Mulcair takes heavy damage early on, losing his first life long before his rivals to a well-placed shot from Harper. With the first blood drawn, Mulcair and Trudeau both go after Harper, but the embattled champion fights them both off effortlessly as they come at him one at a time. Mulcair then gets a cheeky upper cut in on Trudeau, sending him flying into the air and taking Trudeau’s first life in the process. Soon after, all three candidates get into a chaotic tussle, which sees Harper finding an opening on Muclair and sending him off the map for Muclair’s second lost life. Muclair then misses a huge opportunity to take out Harper, who just stands in front of him for a split second. Harper takes advantage of this opening and punishes Mulcair for his laxity. The three then scrap with each other for a good thirty seconds before a heavily-damaged Harper knocks out Trudeau for a second time. Muclair and Trudeau, realizing their mortal peril, both gang up on Harper, but he gets some really good hits in on Muclair before the NDP leader finally lands a heavy smash attack, taking Harper’s first life. Unfortunately, at this point Muclair is too badly damaged and doesn’t stand a chance against the comparatively fresh Harper. Muclair goes down first, and Trudeau quickly finds himself completely outmatched, going down to Harper very quickly.

The winner: reigning champion Steven Harper!

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you’re following the real election and discerning who deserves your vote come this October. And if not… then for the love of God don’t vote!

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Prime Ministorial Deathmatch: Part One

Note: I would hope that it goes without saying, but just in case, everything in this post is meant to be taken as satire.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s election period here in Canada. If you live here, then by now you have no doubt been bombarded with campaign rhetoric, attack ads and are no doubt sick of it already. However, I am well aware of what the real question on all of your minds is: which of these potential prime ministers would emerge victorious in a no-holds-barred death match? Luckily you have me, a self-accredited expert on theoretical gladiator showdowns, to help solve this question! So without further ado, let’s check up on our candidates…

Name: Stephen “Dream Crusher” Harper
Age: 56
Party: Conservatives
Fighting Style: Patient, Dirty
Notes: Current national champion, possibly a robot

First up is the current reigning champion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Notorious for being a bit of a boring and unemotional prime minister, Stephen Harper is simply hyper-aware of his image and branding. As a result, he has displayed basically no weakness through his career as a prime-minister-by-day, death-battler-by-night. However, the same cannot be said for his support staff, which have plagued Harper’s reign with scandal after scandal. Thus far, Harper himself has always come through with clean hands, but this shows a few aspects of his personality in battle: he has poor choice in friends and so is basically going to be fighting solo and he is devious enough to set up fall guys to make himself appear flawless.

Harper’s career has demonstrated that, no matter how bad the situation looks for him, he should never be counted out. In 2008, when it appeared that the Conservatives would be defeated by a Liberal-NDP coalition government, Harper managed to prorogue parliament to prevent this from happening. This also shows that he likes to play the long game: as a result of the prorogation, the Liberals and NDP began to squabble and the opposition was soon fractured, putting Harper into an even stronger position. He has also destroyed opponent after opponent from the Liberal party, annihilating Paul Martin, Stephan Dion and Michael Ignatief with little effort, which goes so way to showing how dangerous a death battler Harper is. Oh, and all of this in spite of his support staff’s scandals which were occurring at the time.

Of the three combatants, Harper is the only with any experience as a champion, and he knows exactly what it takes to stay on top. Despite one of his opponents being both a politician AND a lawyer, Harper is definitely the dirtiest fighter of our three combatants, hurling verbal attacks at his opponents long before the campaign even started and retaining power through underhanded means. As we’ve seen though, this is his way of prodding his opponents to seek out weakness. Harper is more of a turtling combatant who usually waits until his opponents destroy each other before going on the offensive. As soon as he sniffs out a weakness he’ll attack mercilessly. However, he also is a solo fighter: he can’t rely on his support staff at all because they constantly undermine him, so expect no help from this quarter. Oh and also, if those accusations about him being a robot are true, then that will no doubt be a boon in the arena.

Name: Thomas “Raging Bull” Mulcair
Age: 60
Party: New Democratic Party
Fighting Style: Aggressive
Notes: Epic beard powers

Secondly, we have the official opposition leader, Thomas Mulcair. With his barrel chest, epic beard and “explosive, spittle-specked rages”, Thomas Mulcair comes across as the most physically imposing deathmatch candidate – and this is also in spite of being the oldest as well. From what I have found, he also seems to have the most “humble” origin of the three candidates, being born into a huge middle-class family and having to work construction to pay his way through law school. While there’s some conjecture involved to figure out how the other candidates will overcome their opponents, Mulcair’s clear physical superiority should mean that he can always just overpower them. He has also been described as a “pit bull” in politics – a descriptor which I can only assume also applies to his jaw strength (or perhaps they think he’s a very lovely family companion who would never hurt anyone).

Mulcair was the spearpoint in the current NDP take-over of Quebec, which was the main reason why the NDP has managed to become the official opposition in the last few years. More impressively, Mulcair managed to do so by usurping a riding which was considered a Liberal party stronghold. This descriptor of him taking down a Liberal stronghold against all odds suggests to me that Muclair is basically Solid Snake. However, Mulcair happens to be a bit of a wildcard. While he is the leader of the NDP, he achieved this position after the death of Jack Layton shortly following the last election. He has had quite a successful political career thus far and has demonstrated confident leadership in his short time in the federal spotlight, which sets him up as a far better bet than Justin Trudeau, but still has yet to prove himself in the more competitive arena against Stephen Harper. On the other hand, the death of Jack Layton means that Muclair will want to avenge his mentor, giving him some powerful motivation.

Despite his temperament and being relatively untested at such a high level, Muclair’s leadership over the last few years has assuaged some doubt about whether he can truly make it to the top. He is poised to be a real challenger to the current reigning champion, and there’s little he’d love more than to slay his opponents with his bare hands. If there’s one thing that Mulcair has demonstrated, it’s that if you punch a brick wall and it hasn’t broken, then you just haven’t punched it enough yet.

Name: Justin Trudeau
Age: 43
Party: Liberals
Fighting Style: Unpredictable
Notes: Youthful enthusiasm, not beyond using performance enhancers

Lastly, we have the political rock star, Justin Trudeau. After nearly a decade of being destroyed by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, the Liberals looked for a chosen one. Sooth-sayers whispered of a prophecy of a young man who would lead their party to glory once again. They thought back to the “good old days”, when they were political gods led by the divisive Pierre Trudeau. But then, lo and behold! A man came to them and soon people were promising a Second Coming. Party leadership bowed down to advance the one they had decided was their prophesied hero, the Son of Trudeau.

The Liberals have a lot riding on Justin Trudeau. While he is their most popular leader in the court of public opinion in quite some time, he is still a major darkhorse in the political arena… and not to mention the deathmatch arena. His primary competitor during the Liberal leadership race was Marc Garneau – a freaking astronaut who would very likely defeat both Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair in a deathmatch by himself. However, Justin Trudeau is more of a wildcard. At 43, he is the youngest candidate by a very wide margin, which gives him a slight advantage for vitality, but also hurts him in terms of his limited experience. He is also a teacher by profession and an art student, which unfortunately doesn’t really help when you’re battling for your life in a blood-stained pit (unless he picked up some great survival tips from The Hunger Games).

Despite his seemingly weak credentials though, Justin Trudeau has proven that he can take a blow. Stephen Harper has been slinging accusations of incompetence at Justin Trudeau since before the election campaign began, and Trudeau has shrugged them off with class. This suggests that Trudeau is level-headed and more intelligent than we give him credit for. It also demonstrates that our current reigning champion is most afraid of Trudeau, which is an interesting power assessment. Harper has also tried to bring him down by letting the public know that Trudeau smoked pot in the past, but Trudeau shrugged this one off with ease. In fact, his public opinion actually went up after this came to light. This shows that Trudeau is the realistic “people’s fighter”, who doesn’t concern himself with the dirty world of political battles. Plus it also demonstrates to me that Trudeau isn’t beyond using performance enhancing drugs to his advantage, like a super-powered Tony Montana.

If nothing else, Trudeau is an unpredictable element which will shake up the deathmatch significantly. He could be a dark horse victory, or he could fizzle out very quickly. Harper seems to be gunning for him most of all, which puts his chances in jeopardy, but Trudeau has also gone on record saying that he won’t cooperate with Mulcair, which makes things even more difficult for him. Furthermore, he is also likely going to focus his attention on bringing down Mulcair, which could give Harper the chance to take them both out. Trudeau is definitely the unpredictable element in this battle – the Brad Wong or Dampierre of the match, if you will.

So now that you’re familiar with the combatants, be sure to tune in for Part 2 early next week when I pit them against one another in a no-holds-barred fight to the death! Who will claim the real prize this election period, the elusive title of deathmatch champion of Canada? Only one can claim the crown!

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Voter Ignorance

Election period is coming around in Canada once again, and I’m not sure which irritates me more: the shady politicking or the whining of the uninformed. Recently, I was analyzing Stephen Harper’s campaigning speech in Vancouver, when the lady sitting next to me helpfully informed us all that “they never keep any of their promises, so why bother?” Ah, the old standby of the uninformed and uninterested person who chooses not to vote, and yet has to throw their opinion in anyway because they feel like they need to justify their ignorance (and using “prevailing wisdom” no less)!

Of course, studies have shown that politicians actually do keep the majority of their promises (typically 65-85% of them, depending on their term length, partisanship, etc), so it goes further towards damning their opinion. I mean, this should be pretty obvious – if a politician gets a reputation for lying through their teeth, then they aren’t likely to get reelected.

Unfortunately, it is the uninformed, like my co-worker, who are just the sort of person that politicians need to game the democratic system. Politicians are aware that those who are already politically engaged have made up their minds on who to vote for long before the election ever comes, so they have to find other sources to swing the election in their favour. The undecided and uninformed voters are the people that politicians are campaigning towards… and that’s pretty damn frightening to me. I mean, I can respect the undecided (and I think that we should all keep our voting options open and not fall into the habit of voting for the same party every time simply because we always vote for them), but the amount of uninformed voters who vote is scary. Think about it – every time there’s an election, the fate of our country is potentially hinging on the whims of people who don’t really understand what they’re doing. Perhaps they felt pressured into voting by someone else (there are always big “VOTE NOW!!!” campaigns come election time and people always whine about 40% voter turnout, but I’d rather that than 60% of voters not knowing what the hell they’re doing), or their neighbour has convinced them that a particular party is the way to go because all the others are liars, or maybe the politicians’ own extremely deceptive tactics managed to sway them (this is why we have attack ads galore and why everyone is dog-piling on Harper for “causing a recession” – it doesn’t have to be true, you just have to get people to think it is). For example, my youngest brother has a learning disability and doesn’t understand politics in the slightest. However, he votes for the Conservative party consistently, simply because that is who my parents vote for and they have basically prodded him into voting with them.

Is there a good solution to prevent the whims of the uninformed from affecting elections? Or is this just how democracy should work? While I’m sure there are a diversity of opinions on the matter, I personally see this as one of the failings of our democratic system, which allows the “gaming of the system” which politicians are so notorious for. My own proposed solution is one that I have waffled on for a while. It is the idea of a voter compitency test, where voters actually have to know what the hell they’re doing to gain the right to vote. This might actually make more people interested in being politically active, because people are always most interested in the rights that they don’t get without earning them. This would shift things more towards an oligarchy of the educated, but this also opens up additional concerns. Foremost amongst these is how the test could be conducted without opening up a bias towards a political party, and to prevent it from being gamed in the future (which is how dictatorships are created). Also, I’m aware this whole idea of an educated oligarchy might just be a political bias of my own – while studies are inconclusive on the idea, there is another bit of “prevailing wisdom” which claims that educated people tend to be more liberal. If this prevailing wisdom was actually true, and only the educated were allowed to vote, then this could effectively wipe out conservatism (or at least make it significantly more liberal than it currently is). Even if this wouldn’t happen, I still can’t shake the sense that I lean towards this solution just because it fits into my political leanings well.

In any case, this election is shaping up to be one of the more interesting ones in quite a long time. The Conservative pary hasn’t had any real competition since the early 2000s, so with a shockingly competitive-looking NDP and a young maverick leading the Liberals, the election is looking like it will be very tense. However, I implore you this: if you don’t know or care about politics, and don’t want to get educated on it, then for the sake of our country don’t feel compelled to vote. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT FEEL COMPELLED.

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Opinion: Stop Harper’s “Crimes Against Humanity”

Preface: I am not a conservatively-biased person. I tend to swing towards far left of the political spectrum, but that doesn’t stop me from agreeing/disagreeing with issues on either side. I would also like to say that while I would not vote Conservative, I think that Harper is probably our best candidate for Prime Minister – he is a very shrewd politician and hasn’t had any major personal gaffes in his term in office (pretty amazing, especially considering the socially networked world we live in now). I’d prefer a Conservative-led minority government over one of the alternative parties taking power.

As a Canadian university student, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that I frequently hear people espousing their denouncement of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies. Most recently, a campaign has been going around campus called “Stop Harper’s Crimes Against Humanity”, and it’s hard to find someplace on campus where someone hasn’t plastered one of those stickers on the wall. Like I said in the preface, I don’t really like or support the Conservative party all that much, but the campaign left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from the start – what supposed “crimes” has Harper committed? Of the small bullet-points listed on the sticker, none of them were “crimes” at all. Of course, this prompted me to actually check out their website and investigate for myself… and I’ve gotta say, my initial reaction wasn’t really challenged very much by the result.

The page lists the “Top 10 crimes against humanity” which Harper has committed, so I’ll go through each of these briefly. The first is the blocking of climate change bills and environmental destruction, which I actually find the hardest to refute. It seems as if the Conservative government does not care about climate change (probably because it’s a prisoner’s gambit), and doesn’t really give much ground on the issue. I won’t try to defend them on that issue. That said, this is clearly not a crime against humanity, unless you’re an environmentalist.

The second “crime” is probably the one I take the most offense to, that Harper is promoting “endless war”. This pretty much betrays a pacifist bias on the part of the campaign creator, Yves Engler. First, he complains that the Conservative budget increased military spending… which is kind of ridiculous to me, because it’s pretty much public fact that the Canadian army is poorly equipped and in dire need of the money. Unfortunately I can’t find a source to back this up, but when Canada deployed to Afghanistan, we didn’t even have desert camouflage to outfit out troops in. Our troops’ equipment has been a joke for decades as well, because of our role as a “peace keeping nation” throughout the Cold War era. Even if you are against war, I think it’s reasonable to not want our troops to get killed because we have poor equipment standards (not to mention that national defense is an ever-present, although not exactly pressing, concern). In addition, Canada really is historically a “warrior nation”: we participated in many major global conflicts since Confederation, so denying that history and branding the Prime Minister a criminal is just blatantly pushing a pacifist agenda. So no, Mr. Engler, as a Canadian I do not support your position on this “crime”.

The third point is similar to the first, that mining companies are destroying the environment. I don’t have an issue with the concern either, aside from the fact that it seems to me that this should be largely against the mining corporations themselves, rather than against Harper. I mean, sure he could legislate against them, but ideally this should be directed towards the corporations first. Again… not a crime.

The fourth point is that the government has lied about the War in Afghanistan. Again, this is a political issue more than anything else. Yes, the government said they would pull out of Afghanistan by 2011, but if they have not accomplished their mission, is there any sense in leaving until it was accomplished? Afghanistan was under the Taliban simply because the West pulled out of the country when it stopped being in our best interests (kicking out the Soviets), rather than educating the people and helping them. I think that leaving before we have actually helped them is a mistake, and will lead to similar problems in the future. Engler also mentions elements like Canadians killing surrendering Taliban and Afghan police raping children. To this, I say it’s the horrors of war… when you have a war, there’s so much bureaucracy that sometimes you can’t prevent police from raping people because it’s out of your jurisdiction. And when you and your buddies have been shot at by the Taliban for months, sometimes you shoot one that surrendered. Not to mention that PTSD and just plain insanity settle in as well, at which point I find it difficult to call Harper a criminal because, quite simply, war is hell. Clearly, Engler wants a transparent, pacifistic, open government, but I’m not entirely convinced that he represents nearly as much of Canada as he thinks.

The fifth point is a little murkier – the Conservative government’s support of Israel. Put simply, the entire situation in Israel’s a clusterf–k with no real perfect solution anywhere. That said, ever since becoming a nation, Israel has been constantly under threat of military attack. I fully support the right for Israel to defend itself, even if it is partly to blame for the attacks in the first place. With that in mind, I also fully support Palestinian statehood, and don’t understand why we can’t all come to a compromise on it. I’m sure there are more political issues behind the Israel-Canada relationship, but we are generally not privy to that information. This is one of those points that is murkier and, due to the nature of the very issue, there isn’t really a right answer. Harper’s inflexibility on the issue is troubling, but he is basically just supporting his ally. If anyone can be pegged with crimes here, it’d be Israel, not Harper.

The sixth point is another environmentalist one, relating to “dirty oil”, the tar sands. The obvious reason for the Conservatives to back this is money. If they can harness these resources, then Canada stands to make a ton of money and create a phenomenal amount of jobs (in fact, quite a few members of my own family have moved out west to work on the oil rigs – it’s big business). Yes, it’s going to hurt the environment, but I really cannot blame the Conservatives for not throwing away a cash cow, especially with oil reserves slowly drying up.

The seventh point regards supporting Middle Eastern dictators, something which also tends to be supported by the USA (to be fair, Harper tends to align quite well with American interests). This one’s tricky because, on one hand, ideally we should be promoting democracy (or something which is in the interest of the people anyway). On the other, democracies are typically dysfunctional, and the fear is that the people will vote in extremist parties which will be against the best interests of our governments (hence the fact that we support them in the first place). I don’t make a habit of it myself, but my parents were watching Sun News Network, and one of the Conservative pundits was lamenting this very thing as a consequence of the Arab Spring movement, saying that our interests in the region have now been lost. I think I’d prefer if a better solution could be brought about, but this point is more against conservative self-interest than anything else. This is another point I’m a tad murky about, because there isn’t exactly a good solution.

For point eight, indifference to Haitian suffering, I can’t really say much. I’m not sure why the Conservatives would want to prevent a Haitian peoples’ uprising, or would keep aid money away from them (in the news recently, they actually cut funding because they want to see the Haitian government distribute it to the people efficiently… or that’s what the official release says anyway). Since Engler’s page isn’t exactly the most unbiased source, I will refrain from making a judgement call on this issue. However, if he is actually giving the facts here transparently, then that’s pretty screwed up (but based on the nature of the information, something tells me that we aren’t getting the whole picture).

The ninth point is basically the same as the seventh, supporting Latin American coups. Although I’m less knowledgeable on the issue than I am with the Middle East situation, I’ll just say that my points in regards to the seventh “crime” stand.

The tenth point is once again in opposition to Engler’s pacifistic side, the Conservatives’ dislike for arms controls. In regards to the cluster bombs issue, Canada generally goes to war alongside the USA. If we didn’t put the condition into the treaty then we’d basically break it every time we supported them (because like hell the USA will ever stop using cluster bombs). In the end, the Conservatives just want weapons to defend their country with (or enforce their interests, let’s be honest), it’s not like they’re legalizing cluster bombs for domestic use. That is something I would oppose with flaming vitriol. So again, Harper is not committing a crime against humanity here, he’s not suggesting that we cluster bomb puppies personally or anything like that. In the end, he just wants less regulation on weapons in order to retain the Western status quo.

The page ends with a final “potential crime”, stating simply “War with Iran?” I think you know where I’m going with this: Israel and the USA are our allies, and it’s sensible for us to back them. I’m not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, but I can understand why we would support them in it.

In closing, calling these points “Harper’s Crimes Against Humanity” is just plain wrong for quite a few reasons. First, it’s hyperbolic, and really just makes you sound like a sign-waving lunatic, rather than someone with legitimate concerns about the way that Harper manages his foreign policy. Second, it places all the responsibility on Harper, a figure, rather than his party. If we went to the literal conclusion of this campaign, we’d throw Harper out of office. Of course, that wouldn’t solve anything – he acts based on the policies of his party, rather than dictating everything for himself. The campaign should simply come out and say as much. Finally, the campaign moralizes political values in most of its “crimes”. Engler is basically saying that unless you’re a left-wing, environmentalist, pacifistic and/or pro-Palestine thinker, then you’re morally objectionable and don’t represent Canadian values. It also is dangerously close to demonizing the opposition, a definite faux pas in a truly reasonable debate, and which doesn’t make Engler appear any better than, say, Sun News Network.While I have a lot of problems with the form of the government and democracy in general (which we can get into later), Engler espouses a pro-democracy ideology. However, the Harper’s Crimes campaign comes across as anti-democratic, like the losing party is just whining about how the one which was voted in came to power (the old “I support democracy, except when I don’t win” issue). By all means, this sort of page is a part of freedom of speech and is therefore encouraged, but I think they’re also a great danger when they contain misinformation and become one-sided and masked political grandstands like this one.

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