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Occupy protests in Canada and the birth of the "nothing burger"

Mike Winter
Oct 17th, 2011

Toronto, like Vancouver and most large cities, has been undergoing an “Occupy Protest”. Things have been largely peaceful in this offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. Perhaps the most significant media event occurred not at the protest, but on CBC.  On Oct 6, Kevin O’Leary (Business journalism’s answer to Don Cherry), referred to the Occupy Wall Street protesters as “nothing burgers” and suggested that author Chris Hedges sounded like a “left-wing nutbar.” This caused a storm of complaints from viewers and a protest from Hedges.


Can the workers’ party be environmentalist?

Mike Winter
Sep 3rd, 2011

Ontario is heading for a Provincial election. So far, the campaign is a banal parade of attacks on the incumbent Liberals, with both opposition parties promising tax cuts with little or no attempt to explain how this will not worsen an already dire fiscal situation. There is one interesting development though that may have national implications. The NDP are losing their Environmentalist base. This was pointed out by Martin Cohn in the Toronto Star;

He notes that The Suzuki Foundation has endorsed the Liberal Party in the coming contest. Another group, Environmental Defence, has withdrawn support and openly attacked the NDP platform.

In defense of taxation

Mike Winter
Jul 17th, 2011

At or near the top of the headlines the last few days is the standoff between the President of the United States and the Republican led Congress. At stake, a compromise on budgets to raise the “debt ceiling” that caps the amount the United States government is permitted to borrow. While in part this is a Machiavellian game designed to win points for upcoming elections, the stated sticking point is the issue of revenue increases (a code word for taxes). In short, the Republicans insist that no revenue increases are permissible and only spending cuts can be used to reduce the budget deficit. The Democrats, led by President Obama, would like a compromise that allows a balance of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Reflections on the Vancouver riots and the fragility of civilization

Mike Winter
Jun 28th, 2011

"Sousveillance" camera from G20 riots in Toronto allows wearer to film everything occurring from under rather than over. This picture, from Wikipedia, of a necklace webcam, was taken in a stairwell in a building on St. George Street in Toronto. The sousveillance dome is a kind of Situationist critique of surveillance, in the manner of an inverse surveillance. By re-situating the everyday familiar objects of ubiquitous surveillance ("eye in the sky") down at human level, we reverse the Sur (French for "above") to Sous (French for "below").

The Stanley cup riots are safely in the past.  We have inquiries, recriminations, and requests for forgiveness.   While the fingers are pointed, and authorities wonder how to prevent it in the future, it would be wise for all of us to reflect on the core lesson:  civilization is a precious and fragile thing. 

By civilization, I mean that large set of values, behaviours, biases and social pressures that allow us to live peacefully, cheek by jowl, in an increasingly frenetic world.  Civilization is what allows me to bike calmly down the shoulder of a busy road, while hundreds of fellow citizen drivers could easily kill me through a moment of malice or inattention.  Civilization is not taking the express line at the grocery store when you have twenty five items.  It is also remaining calm when the person in front of you violates this rule.  Civilization allows people to congregate in large crowds without fear of being crushed.  Civilization is the good side of political correctness – politely editing one’s own speech to avoid unnecessary offence.

Sport and public policy

Mike Winter
Jun 1st, 2011

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The election and subsequent tearing out of hair is over, and the Hockey Playoffs are in full swing. For Vancouver, this is an exciting time. With the Olympic experience still fresh, the Vancouver Canucks have reached the Stanley Cup Final. This is the nadir of Canadian spectator sport. As a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I can only imagine the excitement, both positive and nervous, in the city right now.

I have viewed professional sports through different lenses. As a child, I watched Hockey Night in Canada with my dad, and the old theme song (rights now lost by the CBC) is a like a comforting hymn. Later, with youthful idealism, I railed against the injustice of paying professional athletes millions of dollars, more than teachers, more even than doctors. The Toronto Blue Jays World Series’ cured me of that. Watching the drama and sharing in the collective joy made me think of sport as a type of improvisational theatre on a grand scale, and of elite athletes as rare practitioners of high art who are uniquely accountable for their performance. Now I reserve my remuneration-related scorn for CEO pay.

Paging Western Canada

Mike Winter
May 9th, 2011

It has been a week since the federal election and the pundits have been working overtime discussing the result. We have a new Conservative majority government and a new Official Opposition. Canada’s “Natural Ruling Party” lies critically wounded. The Bloc Quebecois is on life-support and the prognosis is not good. The NDP has new blood that will present both challenge and opportunity.

The dominos have not all fallen. Much remains to be decided in the next years. How will the NDP be affected by their new “Quebec-wing”? Are they Canada’s new centre left party and does this lead us to a two-party system as Conrad Black suggests (and appears to approve)? Or, can the Liberal Party find a path out of the wilderness to reclaim the Canadian centre?

The Liberals' historic defeat: living in interesting times

Mike Winter
May 2nd, 2011

Video courtesy of YouTube.

I can see what used to be Michael Ignatieff’s riding from my house. I live in what was Gerard Kennedy’s riding. On election night, Kennedy lost his seat. Ignatieff lost a great deal more.

When I queued to vote at the local public school, it all seemed so serene and almost pastoral. The ritual was not meaningfully different than would have taken place when the school was built (some time in the sixties if the yellow concrete block walls are any indication). Volunteers sat behind folding tables in the school gym. There were paper rolls and ballots and cardboard ballot boxes. There were stubby pencils. We lined up quietly, politely, and cast our votes. There was not a computer or TV or radio in sight. I’m sure we all had our cell phones, but none rang or chirped. The results of the election were not so serene.

In fact, there was an undertone of violence in the electoral results. The NDP surged, the Bloc imploded, votes were spit, and the Liberal party was largely destroyed. A lot of the damage was done here in the Greater Toronto Area.

The lament of the centre

Mike Winter
Apr 26th, 2011

The other day, I sat down over nachos and wings with some old friends. We meet every month for “pub night” in Milton, a Toronto bedroom community conveniently located west of Toronto, east of Kitchener/Waterloo and north of Hamilton. It doesn’t get more “Southern Ontario” than this. 

My middle-aged, married, middle-class friends have one or two kids each (except for the token DINK) and drive in from points north, south, east and west. They are not old enough to be baby boomers and not young enough to be the latest “letter generation”. They work in industries like automotive, industrial equipment and high tech. 

And they vote. If there is a traditional centre to Ontario politics, these guys have a claim.

We talked about family, work and recreation before starting on the election. There was an initial reticence to advance an opinion, as is often the case with overly-civil Canadians. But, with time, lips loosened. 

Beyond civic literacy

Mike Winter
Apr 22nd, 2011

At some point in every election cycle, often related to discussions of voter turnout, the question of civic literacy is raised. We gnash our teeth and question our failure to educate (or be educated) on the working of our governmental institutions.

My colleague Evan Hu suggested in his Calgary Speaking blog that we should expect more of our new citizens than of our students. He’s right, we should do better. No one should disagree that a basic understanding of history, of the political system, and of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are essential to the working of a healthy democracy. But civics is not enough. The modern citizen needs to needs to know far more than the history of the constitution, path of a bill through the house and the names of those old guys in that famous painting of Charlottetown.

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