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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

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Staying At Home

The antics of the Conservative Party faced with the same sex marriage issue are, as I have outlined below, politically self defeating. But they are also self defeating if you actually believe that families should be supported in Canada.

At the moment the arguments in favour of retaining the man/woman definition of marriage are often grounded in a family positive context. In essence, the socons are claiming that if you allow gays to marry you somehow demean the value of marriage and that this is a threat to the family.

The position those of us who would like to see same sex marriage become part of the marriage matrix in Canada (and leaving aside the libertarian nutbars such as myself who think the state should exit the entire field) is premised on the idea that all citizens have a right to all benefits offered by governments without discrimination. There is method in this madness.

As the new, and so far valuable blogger The Upper Canadian points out: the biggest issue families face is poverty or just barely enough money to make ends meet. this is particularly true of families in which one partner - almost always mum - stays at home.

Now, while the CPC is busy trying to preserve a marriage law which is almost entirely irrelevant to the day to day concerns of Canadian families, it is letting the Grits off the hook on at least two real issues where an appeal to equality rights could make a substantial cash difference to Canadian families.

The first is the current system of maternity and paternal benefits in Canada which is currently administered through the Employment Insurance system. The most basic requirement of this system is that to be eligible one must have worked a minimum of 600 insured hours prior to filing the claim. Which sounds fine, even generous, until you realize that this effectively excludes stay at home mums from any sort of maternity benefit. (Not to mention Dads who work at non-insurable business, freelancers or are on social assistance.)

Now, had the Tories and the family firsters their wits about them they would demand an end to this system on the basis that it is, de facto, discriminatory against women who are just as much mothers as working women but, for whatever reason, stay at home. (I should note that the Courts are unsympathetic to this position as the decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Kelly Lesiuk summarized at LEAF demonstrates.)

This is primarily a political argument and one which, if the Tories would quit obsessing about SSM and exotic dancers, they could make with some effect in the current discussion of equality rights.

But there is a bigger and better moment for family advocates coming up if they embrace the notion of individual equality.

The Grits are committed to introducing a National Daycare Scheme. Now, leaving aside the enormous costs and rather doubtful benefits of such a program, it is designed to only fund daycare provided by daycare centers.

Having just spent a harrowing, rainy day taking care of my four and one year olds while Susan was sick, I cannot imagine why stay at home parents are not included in this program. And, if family advocates argue from an equality perspective, there is no reason why stay at home parents would not be included.

Or, speaking politically, how they could not be included if the Liberals do not want to face a firestorm from the millions of women whose long hard days raising their children are being ignored in the Liberal proposal.

These are meaty, dollars in the voters pockets, issues. They go right to the heart of the Liberal's "hidden agenda" of valuing women's work only when it takes place outside the home. Better still, rather than the present politics of exclusion which the CPC seems intent upon in the SSM debate, here an equal rights to equal benefits approach would be inclusive.

Best of all, going after the Liberals on these two programs would almost certainly work politically. I can't see the Bloc or the NDP opposing an amendment to the Employment Insurance Act which would allow claims from stay at home parents, nor can I see much opposition to extending daycare benefits to men and women who take care of their own kids.

And, here's a hint,admitedly from Focus on the Family, in a 2002 national poll (irritating PDF file) conducted by The Strategic Counsel, 71% of Canadians believed that "the best child care was provided by a parent who does not work and stays at home to raise the children" and 82% agree that the government should change the tax laws to make it easier for a parent to stay at home.

The Tories simply have to box smarter if they have any hope of beating the Grits. This would be a good start.

Health Advice You Can Actually Use

A good deal of the diet advice put out by the media and based on assorted studies is about what not to eat. Which, it often turns out, is a moving target. Now some happy scientists have compiled a list of things you should eat for cadio vascular health...And what a list,
The menu includes wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic and almonds. All ingredients must be consumed daily in the recommended amounts, except for fish, which research suggests should be eaten four times per week.
This is, more or less, the much discussed Mediterranean diet.
Previous research has shown that drinking 150 milliliters of wine every day can reduce cardiovascular disease by 32 percent, while eating fish four times per week cuts the risk of disease by 14 percent.

Treating yourself to 100 grams of dark chocolate every day appears to reduce systolic blood pressure — the top number in a blood pressure reading — by 5 units, and the bottom blood pressure number by almost 2 units, which research suggests may reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by 20 percent.

Consuming 400 grams of fruits and vegetables does as good a job of reducing blood pressure as dark chocolate, while research shows that both garlic and almonds lower cholesterol, an important factor in protecting people from cardiovascular problems.

Based on calculations using mathematical models, Franco and his colleagues estimate that people who combine these ingredients into Polymeals may have a 76 percent lower risk of cardiovascular problems, and spend many extra years of life with healthy hearts and blood vessels.
Combine this with a reasonable amount of exercise (and if I could just finally quit smoking) and you add quality to your life as well as years. And what's not to like about wine and chocolate?


Life after TrollTM

The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has thrown his weight behind Tony Blair's plans for a London-based Middle East conference early next year, sending him a letter of support.
the guardian
Could this have happened if Arafat was still alive. I doubt it. In fact, the entire situation as between the Palestinians and the Israelis seems to be calming a bit. Yes, there are still incidents; but without the Troll at the controls the Palestinians are realizing that they have far more to gain from peace than war.

I wonder what the ISM thinks of it all.

Democracy in Action

Iraq's defense minister, an ally of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, blasted the leading Shiite Muslim slate as "an Iranian list." He was referring to a slate of candidates backed by Iraq's most revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and expected to dominate the Jan. 30 parliamentary election. The Shiite slate is likely to pose the most serious challenge to the list assembled by Allawi.

"They (Iranians) are fighting us because we want to build freedom and democracy and they want to build an Islamic dictatorship and have turbaned clerics rule in Iraq," the defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, said at a news conference in Baghdad. He went on to repeat accusations that Iran and Syria are financing and training Iraqi insurgents.
seattle times
The Seattle Times heads this item "Mud flies as Iraqis kick off campaign". Well, yes. Democracy works when one party feels free to attack another. the cult of the "nice" does not suggest a healthy democracy or a safe process.

I wonder, by the way, what would happen if a Canadian politician referred to "turbaned clerics"...

Wells on Martin

The good news for Liberals is that at this point in our history, Canadians can absolutely afford the luxury of thudding mediocrity at the centre of power. Our government stacks up surpluses so phenomenal even Liberals can't spend their way into deficit....

If I had to bet, I'd bet a tiny amount — precisely commensurate with the stakes — on Martin winning the next election and sticking around for another five years. Each of those years will look like the one we've been through. Making history? Fixing health care for a generation? Why even bother rebutting any of it? History's entry for Paul Martin will resemble the entry for Earth in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Mostly Harmless."
inkless wells
What keeps Martin in power is the absolutely lackluster performance of the Conservative opposition. They are behaving as if Martin has a majority government and they already have four years to fritter away before they can get another shot at the Liberals.

Dumb. had they followed up on their ammendments to the Speech from the Throne they might have kept the Grits on the hop. Instead they have wasted weeks arguing about exotic dancers.

Right now the Tories should have at least one and probably three or four privatemembers bills addressing real issues. They should be working closely with the Bloc to have those bills debated. Instead they are coming up with lamer ammendments on SSM which they know are almost certain to be defeated and will provide fodder for the Grits in the next election.



Hopping into the Pot

The answer--and it is one which I think Harper has identified--is that the CPC must appear as minimally ideological as possible. It means we have to find the centre, and position ourselves just to the right of it. Unprincipled? Hardly. It has to do with accepting the need for incremental change. Consider the "advances" which the left have managed in the last 50 years: the installation of a rigid medical socialism; the evisceration of the military; the institution of a blind anti-American foreign policy; etc etc. If any one of those things had been put on the ballot in 1950, as a stark choice, it would have been rejected. But by heating the water slowly, the Liberal/NDP/media coalition has proven very successful in boiling the Canadian frog.

Harper has to turn the temperature down slowly, so slowly, because when he shows up with a tray of ice cubes the voters say No Thanks.
the monger
The ever readable doctor seems to want the Tories to hide their agenda for just one more election and then, when the time is right, spring the trap.

The problem with this is not its intellectual dishonesty - though that is obvious - but rather the fact the Liberals will beat the "hidden agenda" theme to death and the Tories will have no comeback because they will know the accusation is true. The Monger's analysis that the Ontario and Atlantic voters are wedded to the status quo is right so far as it goes; but the fact is that they have never been presented with an articulated choice.

The real tragedy is that the Tories seem intent, at least on the matter of SSM, on providing the Grits with lots of ammunition. Harper's desire to present ammendments to the bill will simply re-enforce the perception that the Tories are incapable of supporting equal rights.

Equal rights should not be a left issue. If anything, an articulate position about personal rights, including property rights, should form the intellectual basis of the Conservative appeal to voters. But that would mean actually confronting the socons and telling them to reserve their religious positions for Church and the conduct of their personal rather than political lives.

Fat chance.


Clash of Civilizations

Well, not quite; but the conservative Party's antics regarding gay marriage suggest there is a completely unresolved tension in that strange ammalgamation of PC and old time Reforrrrrm party ideas. I've been writing about this over at the Politics Canada e-Blog. Here is a cleaned up version of a couple of comments.

Sadly, I don't think the PC's are imitating Bush on gay marriage - I fear that the nutbar socons are getting themselves in a lather all on their own and without regard for the largely indifferent electorate.

I think Harper could lose seats on this issue. Largely because it hands the Liberals the ability to portray the Tories as a bunch of bigoted fundamentalists. This is heartbreaking for those of us who want to see the Liberals defeated.

Harper has been entirely unable to present a genuinely conservative vision grounded in the paramountcy of individual rights. Instead, he has been tacking and trimming to try and keep the socons in the tent.

On an entirely bogus issue like gay marriage the absence of a rights based platform leaves the Tories at the mercy of their socon wing and the assorted fundamentalist pressure groups which see gay marriage as a useful wedge issue.

Because no coherent philosophical response has been given to the socons for fear of driving them from the CPC, Harper is now in danger of having to run on a platform of supporting Americans and hating gays....this is not going to win any extra seats.

Such intellectual horsepower as the CPC does have seems deathly afraid of confronting the socons in a real battle of ideas. The fiscal conservatives are convinced that they need the fundys to win power; but, in private, they would like the fundy's support without having to implement any of their ideas. This is the Mulroney strategy and, while it worked the one time, it requires a leader of the Conservative party who could just as easily have been the leader of the Liberal party: Harper is not that leader.

The alternative is to meet and beat the socons on their own ground by extending the free market fiscal positions of the party into the arena of personal rights. There is plenty of room to do this but it would mean risking the alienation of the fundys.

Personally I don't think the Conservatives really have a choice: Canada's own Taliban has grown far too sophisticated to be soft soaped as it was in the Mulroney years. So they are going to have to be defeated on the field of intellectual battle.

Harper is stuck with the question of whether to embrace the Charter and put a Conservative, individual rights spin on it, or attempting to turn back the clock. After all, it is not called the Conservative Party for nothing.

Where conservatives have been successful - think Regan or Thatcher - it has been by building new coalitions with new visions rather than trying to provide, "A better yesterday tomorrow."

But to do that means actually coming to grips with philosophy and policy before going off to do political battle. The Mulroney option, essentially cutting a deal with whichever bunch of Quebec nationalists are available and then promising the ROC to do exactly the same thing as the Liberals, but better reduces the Conservative Party to the role of a Liberal government B-team.

If that is what it takes to win power then that power is not really worth having because, fundamentally, nothing would actually change.

To succeed the Conservatives need to propose a radical, individualist antidote to what is coming on 40 years of Trudeaupia. And they have to embark on a massive education and political campaign to sell a vision of Canada in which Ottawa is rendered insignificant in all but a few areas. They have to provide a vision and a set of policies to implement that vision which returns power to individual citizens.

So long as they are obsessing about gay marriage or exotic dancers or specific boondoggles rather than the culture of boondoggle they are not going to create or articulate such a vision. Which will mean the Tories will lose, or, worse, win without any commitment to root and branch reform of the nation

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four...

One of the sillier concerns which the SCC's decision has raised in the minds of some otherwise sensible commentators is the possibility of polygamy traipsing in through the door opened by gay marriage,
Again, my basic question is, if there's nothing exceptional about the conjugal relationship between a man and a woman, then what's so damn special about the number "two"?
colby cosh
There is, of course, nothing at all special about the number two. Indeed, there is no reason why marriage law cannot embrace the multitude. Because marriage law is an entirely arbitrary notion.

The real issue in this entire debate is what the devil the government is doing involved in the solemnization of marriage in the first place. If the socons had their wits about them they would be pushing for the abolition of all legal recognition of marriage in whatever form. Get the State out of the bedrooms of the nation and let individuals, in consultation with their God, priest, imam or the guy down the street set up whatever arrangements they happen to want to.

In actual fact, the state of the law in Canada is such that this is de facto the case in any event. Here's why: there is no particular reason that I cannot live with two (or ten) women if I want to. It is not as if the State is going to arrest me. (Unless I, er, marry both of them.) However, if I do so for a couple of years or have children with both of them, if the menage breaks up I am going to be hit with claims arising in common law and in equity.

I am not aware of a case in which a claim for a common law relationship has been made simultanously by two women who had been living with the same man at the same time; but there are certainly some where the same man is alledged to have lived with two women in series. (And, while I don't remember the details, didn't Mel Lastman's mistress seek the Court's help in prying a few bucks out? Palimony is really nothing more than an equitable claim grounded in a marriage like relationship.)

Similarily, if a man was living with two women at the same time and left them both, I suspect an action would lie for a constructive trust with respect to each of those women.

Similarily, married or not, the parents of a child have responsibilites towards that child which are enforceable at law.

Now all this occurs without the state's sanction. A person is liable in common law or in equity regardless of whether or not they have registered the relationship(s)or been formally married. So, in effect, on the disolution of the relationship, the same rules as apply at the end of a marriage can be made to apply where there is no marriage.

Which makes the entire question of number of partners incidental. (Though it is rather entertaining to imagine the situation where Bob is legally married to Ted, Carol legally married to Alice and they have four children whose actual father, absent a DNA test, is unknown.)

The problem here is that the State and the Courts have gradually refused to deny un-married couples the same consequences on the break-up of the relationship as would follow on the disolution of a legal marriage. This has occured for a variety of reasons but its effects have been to negate any advantage a person might derive from being legally married.

So why bother? Or, more exactly, why should the State involve itself in the ever complex question of who can get married and how, if, in the end, its own actions ensure that the real standards are duration and children.

And, here's a thought, just for fun, if the State does feel it necessary to register unions of whatever sort, let's save some time and say none can be registered which have not passed the three year mark or produced children? Churches and the guy down the street can marry anyone they like.....but maybe the State should set a higher standard before all of the cranky mechanisms of family law are brought to bear on the end of B,T,C&A.

Santa arrives on the Island

I spent a cold, clear Saturday afternoon greeting Santa Claus in the company of Sam, my just turned four year old. For over fifty years, Santa has been coming to Galiano by boat for an quick good will stop before the big night. Back in the day, kids on this island rarely left. Ferry service was sporatic and the roads were none too good. So, the Lions Club brought Santa to the kids. They still do.

Hot chocoate, all the marshmellows you could want, cookies and a great huge driftwood bonfire lighted with a propane flame thrower. The man in red arrived - on time which is, apparently a first - accompanied by balloon dog wielding clowns and, wonderfully, a Christmas carol playing pipe and drum band. (Truly surreal to hear Jingle Bells on bagpipes.)

There is a small mob of 4 year olds on the island and Sam quickly got lost in the melee. Parents would cast the occassional eye towards a makeshift see saw built with a log and a two by four. But the kids were pretty much on their own as we watched the Santa boat come to dock.

The big guy walked up the float waving and looking rather regal with his attending clowns and pipers. He hit the massed kids like a candidate winning a nomination. A word for each of his supporters - and there was no opposition. Seated, Santa recieved the kids by age....babes in arms at the front, just past it teens to the back. There were at least seventy and likely a hundred kids which is not bad for an island with a population of 800.

Each of the children got a real gift - a hand puppet - a bit of candy and the chance to ask for whatever they wanted. (Sam asked for a nail gun, a compressor and a circular saw - Santa ho, ho, ho'ed and said, "Do you think I'm crazy?". Sam was delighted, he'd planted the seed.) Pictures were taken (my camera was out of batteries...grrr but the island's photographer got every kid.)

It could not have been more different from the department store Santas with the cute elves and the ten dollar snapshots. For one thing, there was no department store. The closest thing to commerce were a couple of tins for donations to the Galiano food bank. You could not buy anything in the middle of the field. You could not even look at things you might want to buy.

Christmas on the island seems to be low key. While there are, tragically, some canned carols in one of the stores, even the decorations are muted. The sea of Christmas lights and tinsle which innudate the city the day after Thanksgiving is utterly absent. So is the sense of Christmas anxiety.

Christmas is coming to Galiano. It is only 12 sleeps til Santa comes back for Christmas. But it will be a Christmas with a community which is a gift Santa does not bring.