Monday, November 28, 2011

It took less than a year for Cablegate to prove it's worth

One year ago yesterday, the world was introduced to the largest-ever cache of unpublished government documents as Wikileaks began the slow release of over 250 000 US diplomatic cables. It did not take long for the media to deride the cables, widely referred to as a "dump," as a useless unimportant thing that would serve no purpose other than slight amusement. Not long after, Tom Oleson in the Winnipeg Free Press chose to echo his mainstream cohorts from around the globe, purpotrating the myth that Wikileaks was somehow out to publish every little detail of absolutely everything that ever existed. My response to this column was published two weeks later.

A year later, the cables have had a profound impact on journalism worldwide. Exactly the opposite of every op-ed pundit snickering at Wikileaks' latest.

Even in Canada things have been uncovered. This CBC story published in September 2011, about how Canadians with a history of mental illness may be denied entry into the US, for committing no crime. Or right here in Winnipeg, the details of Gail Asper expressing her interest in having President Obama come to Winnipeg to speak and raise funds for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, is detailed in this cable right here.

It should be lost on nobody in this town of the desperate gasping for more funding for the Museum, the irony in getting President Obama to come speak about human rights. Wikileaks published many cables unveiling for the first time evidence that CIA drone strikes authorized by the White House were occurring in multiple countries such as Yemen, where two US Citizens were assassinated via drone.

I have written on this website periodically about the massive oil spill and lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. Wikileaks published cables to this as well, exposing Chevron's lobbying attempts to get the US Government to help them avoid responsibility for environmental damage. Other serious environmental cover-ups have been revealed as well, including the revelation that up to 90% of Peru's Mahogany exports were illegally harvested.

This sort of information has a profound effect on people's abilities to hold their governments to account. As well as an incredible tool for journalists around the world, the Cablegate documents remain an important prime source, effectively ushering in an era of what Julian Assange called "scientific journalism." An era where you can check the source yourself, read it yourself, and decide for yourself, without filter.

For more foreign policy examples, you can view this summary here of a number of cables related to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, as well as on the recently concluded NATO-led war in Libya.

The harshest of Wikileaks critics have been silenced, by the realities of the impacts of these cables, their content, and their value as a source material. Knowledge and truth, it seems, really does win in the end.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Out of Mind/Into Creativity Symposium

The studio I currently have space in, Artbeat Studio Inc, in conjunction with the William Kurelek exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (which everyone should go see) is holding a gathering of distinguished speakers from the mental health community to speak about the relationship between mental health and the arts.

The keynote speaker is today and there are events all day tomorrow, Friday November 25.



I'll stop there...this is a message from the Studio Director at Artbeat:

In October the Winnipeg Art Gallery opened the exhibition William Kurelek: The Messenger. This major undertaking marks the first major retrospective look at the life and artwork of one of Canada’s most important visual artists. The life of William Kurelek has been well documented, but of particular significance was his intense struggle with depression for which he was twice hospitalized in London, England. Kurelek ultimately went on to become one of the most successful Canadian artists of the twentieth century and an enduring excellent example of the power and hope provided by participation in the arts.

Artbeat Studio along with the Winnipeg Art Gallery believe that the realization of the Kurelek exhibition offers a critically relevant moment at which to offer a symposium that will shed light on the relationship between mental health, the arts, and social inclusion. This landmark symposium “Out of Mind/Into Creativity” is drawing international interest and participation and presents a very important move towards the engagement of the Winnipeg community regarding issues of mental health-- issues often unknown, ignored, or misunderstood in the general public. By highlighting the vibrant creative contributions of artists living with mental illness, the event will also act as a cultural celebration and hopefully stimulate the public to become involved in mental health awareness & advocacy in our community.

Historically speaking, we can point to many artists (visual, musical, literary) that have dealt with the debilitating effects of mental illness and yet mental illness within contemporary society remains a topic of deep-seated social ignorance. Mental health consumers still face rampant social stigma and marginalization. A symposium on mental health and the creative mind will explore the relationship between individual creativity and artists’ mental health, whilst stimulating public discussions, fostering the sharing of information and working to subvert the myths, stereotypes and stigma that continue to haunt discussions of mental illness today.

We hope that you will join us for this symposium. We look forward to seeing you there.

Lucille Bart

Executive Director
Artbeat Studio Inc.
4th Floor, 62 Albert St.
Winnipeg, MB R3B 1E9
t: (204)943-5194


There will be many great ideas and speakers on Friday, which I encourage you to come out to.

Hope to see you there,

Graham

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dan Lett and the Ivory Cafe

On November 5th, Dan Lett wrote this feel-goodery piece about Kevin Chief, what a great guy he is, and his volunteers who helped him win a provincial MLA seat in Point Douglas. A commenter challenged the validity of Chief's victory. Dan responded:

Behold the wonder of citizen journalism.
Posting under a made up name, or perhaps that is your real name, a number of allegations have been presented as fact.
We did look into the allegations in Pt. Douglas. A poll worker wrongly allowed nine people who did not live in the riding to vote there. That box was sealed. However, let's keep it in perspective. If you take a look at the number of spoiled ballots (reported in official results at Elections Manitoba) and you'll see about two dozen. That's consistent with most ridings.
Then there's the allegation of poll workers telling voters who to vote for. The Tories have filed a complaint with Elections Manitoba but have not offered anyone a witness or other piece of hard evidence to support this allegation. They said there was cheating, they just haven't been able to specify what happened. EM will report back on it.
As for voters without ID, there is a huge problem in the riding with transient population not having ID and not being able to register. Chief's campaign got many of these people ID; whether or not some were turned away because the ID they had was insufficient is something that happens in every riding. And every party shuttles voters to polls on election day with the implicit message that they should vote for the candidate that provided the ride. It's called "getting out the vote." 
I'm glad your passionate about politics. Sorry you guys didn't win. I think you need to find a new hobby. The 9-11 conspiracy folks and the "Birthers" hanging around the Republican party need a researcher like you.


Wow.

First Dan chides the commenter as a citizen journalist, and then makes fun of his probably-anonymity. He goes into some allegations, and then decides to label his commenter a 9-11 conspiracy theorist, and a “birther”(someone who believes Obama is not actually American and demands to see the “real” birth certificate), ending with a career suggestion of “researcher for the Republican Party.”

I'm just a citizen journalist, so I have no idea what triggered this outrageous display of idiocy from Lett. Perhaps Dan and “teddybaxter” have had it out in previous comment threads. I searched for “teddybaxter” and he certainly is no citizen journalist, just a prolific news commenter-person.

So I left a comment for Dan. In the interest of keeping this post shorter than the Sports section of the Free Press on a Tuesday, I'll omit it. This is Dan's response:

@ Graham - so I'm not allowed to cross swords with people who write inflammatory, derogatory comments? I do that, and I'm disrespectful. You and your cohorts do that, and somehow that's a "new approach to journalism." I read your blog several times each week. I don't agree with everything you say, but I surely don't write blog posts or post on your site and call you names. My point in calling out the "citizen journalists" was to point out that many do not have to live up to any standards of reporting or attribution. It's great to float theories but don't represent them as facts. Challenge the facts, absolutely. 
Go back and read teddybaxter7's posts and tell me you think he represents "citizen journalists" well.


Nobody said you couldn't cross swords. But you did, and in doing so, you exposed yourself for being a rather dull sword in the drawer of Winnipeg jourmanalists. No, you don't leave posts on my site calling me names, but “teddybaxter” didn't call you any name other than your given one (unless it's an alias, some journos do that you know, to remain anonymous?). I alleged that the Free Press was practicing “ostritch journalism,” an allegation I stand behind. Burying your head in the sand ins't a great journalism practice, and quite frankly, it's the reason why people like me exist.

To take at face value anything that Elections Manitoba says, after what happened in 1999 and 12 years of NDP rule, probably doesn't do you any journalism standards credos. I won't get started on how Dan “Stefano Grande” Lett spins Crime Stat to perpetrate the mainstream media insistence that downtown is safe and that crime is all in our heads. Dan's colleagues Mellissa Martin and Bartley Kives both ruled out any possibility of anything actually going on during the 2010 Civic Election in which Ross Eadie claimed he “couldn't have run without the help of the NDP,” a clear violation of election laws. City Clerk Mark Lemoine refused to investigate a formal complaint filed in writing with his office.

After that incident, real citizen journalist Marty Gold was attacked for having eyewitnesses on his show to this incident. In a convoluted way, it ended up with the cancelation of The Great Canadian Talk Show on November 8th of 2010. That is, a show with the approval of local real journalists, James Turner, Kevin Engstrom and Kelly Dehn. I believe you were on that show once or twice, Dan?

TGCTS brought to public attention the string of Magnus Street murders from 2007. The Disraeli expropriations and situation with Eliminator RC were broke I believe, a full two weeks before the Free Press wrote about it. We call that in the citizen journo world “reporting history,” Dan. Marty Gold broke the Gail Glesby story, of ghastly treatment by hospital staff which the Mainstream papers picked up on after the fact, and which Theresa Oswald was forced to address in question period. Don't forget the role bike lanes played in the 2010 Civic Election, all work carried out by citizen journalists, while the Free Press especially rolled their eyes while waiting for something “exciting” to happen in the race.

More ostrich-ism. Through Freedom of Information requests it was revelaed that Dan's boss, Margo Goodhand, was entirely 100% complicit in this cancellation. A show with a 4-year track record of zero complaints filed with RRC, zero complaints filed with the CRTC. But Margo insists that TGCTS host Marty Gold had a platform for daily “attacks” on the WFP, which “escalated to defamation on more than several occasions.” That is, defamation that Margo can provide no proof of, and no examples of, despite there being a 4-year archived history of the show online.

How's that for journalism standards? Shutting down other media outlets? With no reason, no complaints, no lawsuits, no nothing. Oh there was a reason, it was “I don't like you.” It says right in our Charter of Rights that we are entitled to free speech, and a free press! Here is an independent group of journalists, breaking their own news, doing their own coverage, lining up their own interviews. It was too much for Margo Goodhand. We welcome criticism she says, but when it's by citizen journalists, it isn't criticism anymore, it's “attacks,” it has to be stopped.

Now we see the Winnipeg Free Press wants to control the practice of citizen journalism, with their own citizen journalism training program, in conjunction with Margo Goodhand's favourite censors, RRC's CreComm department no less. A program I have been thus far kept entirely out of, despite assurances from some at the Free Press. Not one citizen journalist has been asked to partake in this project that has been given a $400 000 grant, to my knowledge.

Perhaps the Free Press sees it as their job, to “educate” their plentiful “citizen journalist” commenters, by people like Dan Lett. Citizen Journalism exists to fill a vacuum created by mainstream news outlets. They are incapable of criticizing themselves, and interests of the editor and the paper's advertisers ensure some stories get buried, others don't get any coverage at all. That is why citizen journalism can exist and does exist.

But Dan's incredulity didn't stop there. In a response to commenter "sherlock" on his Kevin Chief story he says:

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own version of the facts."

Oh but people are entitled to their own version of the facts. Especially if you're the editor of a major newspaper and you want to get rid of some pesky citizen journalists. Margo Goodhand is apparently entitled to this, isn't it a great stalwart of journalism ethics to be entitled to your own version of the facts? Margo invented her own facts, crippling citizen journalism in Winnipeg in the process. She knocked down the station manager, and then went and lied to the National Post, and lied about lying to the National Post. I mean really, she never listened to the show, but there she is whining about how her newspaper gets "attacked" every day of the week?

For the Free Press to attempt to control this community by cranking out their own virgin citizen journo reporters via the Free Press News Cafe as trained by the already-existing journalists at the Free press, they are undermining the entire purpose of blogging and citizen journalism. It is purely self serving. They'll probably get an award out of it somehow.

The track record of existing citizen journalists and bloggers proves exactly why the Free Press has no place “developing” their own vision of it.

Trained by the people at the Ivory Cafe. The ones who take Elections Manitoba at face value, and Crime Stat at face value. The ones who mock their own commenters for asking questions. The ones who take editorial control of the news to spin an Upper Fort Garry apartment into an evil menace. The ones who think they are a cut above and a cut beyond, that they're better than you because they are “trained.” The ones who won't risk their careers to get the truth out, no matter in what highly regard they delude themselves for believing they do so.

The ones who are entitled to make up facts.

So, Dan. What are you going to write about your boss Margo?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Money makes the world go 'round

Are you a charitable organization that wants to support Palestine's statehood bid? Say goodbye to your biggest funder, the US. Oh, and Canada will keep giving UNESCO money until 2014, but John Baird doesn't like it. 'Cause everyone knows the Palestinians aren't real people and, therefore, have no real heritage sites.

Is your name Greece? Is your country about to be saved by a giant international plan and by agreeing to all the austerity measures dictated by the iron-fist IMF, who have saved other fine countries like Russia in the 90s, South Africa in the 90s, and all those South American Junta countries decades ago? Wanna let your country decide the country's fate? The world economy really hates it when democracy gets involved. And these guys wonder what all this "Occupy" stuff is about?

Are you a whistleblower organization? Are you publishing secret documents that probably should be in people's hands, but aren't? Have you broken no laws, operating under the idea of Freedom of the Press, your material sourced and used by newspapers all over the world, uncountable numbers of times? That's too bad, because the biggest financial institutions can decide you are blacklisted and stop over 95% of your funding from ever, ever reaching you. Thereby proving that banks are indeed the most powerful unfettered corporations in the world.

If it interests you, you can donate via Visa to alleged rapist Julian Assange's Defense Fund, however you cannot donate via Visa to Wikileaks. Funding alleged rapists? Go ahead! Funding publishing, participating in democracy and journalism? Oh, hey now, boy.

Assange's extradition verdict is due in 6 hours. If extradition to Sweden is approved, it leaves open the possibility for him to be re-routed to the United States, where he will probably never see the light of day again, though he has committed no (publishing) crime. Known serial rapists are out in the world, their locations are known, yet they remain free. The international arrest warrant for Assange in December 2010 is insulting to the purpose of Sweden's rape laws, as well as the European Arrest Warrant system.

It's all about the money.

It's all about political power.

Events like these contribute to the Occupy movement. This is the age of the internet, the age of information, and the age where people and governments are as close as they've ever been to equal.

191 Days Without Charge from WikiLeaks on Vimeo.


Assange has now been under house arrest without charge for 339 days.

In other Wikileaks-related news, Bradley Manning, alleged source of the Collateral Murder video from the Iraq war, has been detained for 526 days without trial in the US.

(Pssst...pay attention to those UNESCO folks. They're the ones who, with the NDP Government here in Manitoba, want to make a huge chunk of forest on the East side of Lake Winnipeg a heritage site)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How CEOs think homeless people sleep in downtown Winnipeg



Fail.

And what was all that extra security and whatnot for? The CEOs and Stefano Grande too afraid to sleep a few blocks away from that hotel the Air Canada people don't want their pilots and attendants sleeping at?

Where is this information coming from? Why, The Great Canadian Talk Show podcast of course. Paving the citizen journalism road single handedly in Winnipeg.

If you believed Stefano Grande and Dan Lett, you'd swear that coming downtown is like an outdoor version of polo park. BIZ patrols are like mall cops, dontcha know?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Major problems with the CEO Sleepout

Three observations, one question.

1. Real homeless people cannot sleep at 201 Portage. It is well lit and has security. Homeless people would be removed from this area. You also cannot panhandle in this plaza area for the same reason.

Perhaps the CEOs would like to call this one a mulligan and go sleep on Jarvis somewhere instead.

2. As I walked by 201 Portage moments ago I noticed a few red shirt Downtown BIZ patrols, and a police officer. It is too bad homeless people are not granted the same kind of security. Ironically, this beefed security is probably to prevent homeless people from panhandling. Those aggressive panhandlers everyone is scared of are probably the same people that these CEOs supposedly want to help.

3. Are homeless people allowed to come and "sleepout" with the CEOs? Or would they get removed by security?

4. Both publisher Bob Cox and Margo "Free Speech" Goodhand will be sleeping out. Given that the Winnipeg Free Press had an article or two on homelessness awareness activist Mark Horvath's visit to Winnipeg and CDI College, neither of them attended Mark's presentation. But they will sleep out in a well lit, secure outdoor environment. Kind of like camping in your back yard.

Gotta hand props to the Downtown BIZ though. This event is as slick, polished and matte gloss as any Downtown BIZ pamphlet you can pick up.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years of Revenge

All of the reflection on today's events ten years ago will be about America, about remembering a grim day, about stories of mothers and fathers and brothers lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings. What will not be told is the unfathomable loss of innocent life overseas, or the stories of Afghan mothers and fathers and Iraqi brothers and sisters lost at the hands of Western forces exacting revenge under the guise of a global war on terror.

"It is forbidden to kill. Therefore all murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." Voltaire



I'd say that counts as "trumpets."

While the US triumphantly celebrated the death of one man, Osama bin Laden, the hundreds of thousands of graves that were dug along the way were not in those people's minds, and nor are they in the minds of people today.

9/11 as an anniversary is not like our Remembrance Day, where we are mindful of the large loss of life inflicted in the World Wars. 9/11 rather, is a day to remember the deaths of 2996 people in New York City. A day to take everyone back to their feelings of shock and awe, of sitting in front of their TVs, of where they were when it happened, and to remember the moment that the US would vow to hunt down the sick fuckers that did this.

It is the day "terrorism" entered our daily vocabulary and a term that over the last ten years, has been used to inflict all sorts of interruptions on our daily lives, X-Ray machines in airports, multi-billion dollar corporate businesses, the invasion of Iraq, and dropping bombs on Pakistan and Yemen via unmanned aircraft. Bombs that have also been responsible for the deaths of innocent people, and children.

Still lost on the part of our minds that should be devoted to common sense, is the fact that bombs are indiscriminate. They can be dropped on places that were not intended to be dropped. They kill women and children without decision. These bombs are no different than the indiscriminate attacks on the World Trade Center buildings, yet dropping them is celebrated.

A little more than a year ago in 2010, Wikileaks published documents that had a profound impact on the way loss of life in the "war on terror" is viewed. They showed the gross misconducts of military officials to cover up civilian deaths as "terrorist deaths." They showed the backlash in Afghan villages when innocent people are killed, by US or NATO troops barging into houses in night raids. Small sums of money are offered to the enraged families, as if the deaths of their loved ones can be bought and sold as some sort of commodity.

On this ten year anniversary, we should remember that;



2996 civilians died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The civilian death toll in Afghanistan is nearly impossible to even estimate.

Over 90, 000 civilians have died in Iraq since 2003.




And lastly, I think that it is important to remember that this mass carnage is not over. And that perhaps it should be. And that maybe it is about high time to consider that we have been waging a war of "justice and peace" when it has brought none.

"Justice will bring peace. Not intelligence wars against 'world terror.' But our leaders will not admit this." Robert Fisk

Friday, September 9, 2011

Our Federal Government sold out the mentally ill to US Homeland Security

If you aren't outraged at what our government is doing, you soon will be.

Thanks to Wikileaks and their dump of diplomatic cables (released early because of actions by The Guardian) we find out that if you have a mental illness, the US Department of Homeland Security might know, because our government had no problem with sharing something that might be considered private records.

The CBC story focuses on a woman who attempted suicide 4 years ago, and was not allowed to cross the border, because US Homeland Security knew about it. She couldn't enter the country, because, well, you know, she might pose a risk. A terrorist risk.

The part of interest is summed up very well by the CBC:

"...any information entered into the national Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database is accessible to American authorities."

Which means if you had a mental health-related episode, and the police responded, the United States probably knows about it.

Fuckin' disgraceful.

I'm not sure what scares me more. That the US requested this information, or that the Canadian Government handed everything over, clearly without regard for cases like this, attempted suicide. Or other petty issues relating to other personal things.

In December of 2010, when the diplomatic cables started to be released by Wikileaks, media around the world exploded in a wave of intense criticism, over the "damage" that would be caused, over the uselessness of the information, that it is stuff we don't need to know about. How misguided and short-sighted. In December 2010, I had my first op-ed published in the Winnipeg Free Press, in response to one of their opinion writers who thought maybe Assange would publish his phone conversations and emails.

My digging around turned up this piece by the Globe and Mail, condemning releasing the cables as "irresponsible" and chiding Wikileaks for all the clearly non-terrorist-related material.

And this would seem to prove all those op-eds wrong, wouldn't it? All the people who said it was irresponsible, that the cables had nothing to do with terrorism. Except that what people miss from this...is that the point of releasing these cables is not because of terrorism, but to release information that maybe, just maybe, the public should know.

Because for shit like this, the Canadian people, have a right to know. This is not the kind of thing that should be kept inside diplomatic doors.

Democratic countries just like our own all over the world are having similar revelations about their governments. The information age needs Wikileaks.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gary Lawless' college of not-so-medical knowledge

Basking in his own ignorance about mental illness and depression, Gary Lawless continues to swing punches, pun intended, at Don Cherry, and the "undeniable link" between enforcers' concussion history and their suicides.

I live with major depression and have for years. Gary's columns make me fucking sick.

So what is it Gary, talk about depression (ie the cause of suicide), or throw the punches?

This is beyond lazy journalism. Using these players' deaths to launch onto his own soapbox about fighting in the NHL and his obvious love affair with Don Cherry? Unbelievable.

Could have researched depression. Could have used his position as a major sports journalist in this town to actually educate people. But no, he writes one column about it and it's back to the fictitious medical knowledge of Dr Gary Lawless. He has irrefutable evidence that fighting in hockey, getting less than 12 minutes of game time, and Don Cherry (who only gets 7 minutes a week), cause suicide.

Lawless' has been upstaged. By statistics, by the truth, and by his own colleagues in sports journalism. First and most embarrassingly, by his cohort at the Free Press, Ed Tait, who should be given a medal for this column and effective immediately, replace Lawless on the sports journo hierarchy. An op-ed last week communicated some basics about mental illness. I suppose Lawless doesn't read the newspaper he's published in, might've learned something. Elliotte Friedman, part of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada personalities, is leaps and bounds, and centuries, ahead of Lawless with his article published on the CBC today.

Lastly, Gary might have been astute to check the comments of Wade Belak's mother:

"...he never had any bad concussions that we know of — he had bumps and bruises of course — but no noticeable concussions that we know of," she added.

Undeniable link, eh?

What was that Gary, you had something to add?

Please, let's stop listening to the macho bullying of Don Cherry and his acolytes. They don't know what they are talking about on this subject.

No.

The only person who doesn't know what they're talking about, is you, Gary. You're making a joke out of the mental health community. You're making a joke about depression. You're making a joke out of suicide victims. You're using evidence that isn't there, and you're using these deaths to further your own views on fighting in the NHL, and Don Cherry. Not only are you completely clueless on the subject of depression, your conduct on writing about these incidents is despicable.

In my blog post the other day, I did some very simple and highly conservative math to find that:

1. At least 54 NHL players are living with depression.
2. We should expect 1.6 suicides per year.
3. Not a single NHL player with depression has come forward to speak about it.

I might add, in addition to my last post, the reference to Hannover goalkeeper Robert Enke, who committed suicide. Did he take too many soccer balls to the head? Too rough a sport?

Lawless needs to go to a library ASAP and get a book on depression. Hell, screw the library, Wikipedia will do. Or phone up a doctor who deals with depressed people all day long. Or maybe drop by a Mood Disorders session.

Oh and, Dr Gary? You're welcome to come with me to Selkirk. That is, if you don't think that they show Coach's Corner 24/7 on the TVs there.



Monday, August 29, 2011

Rypien's death in vain, the media and the league support the stigma

The surprising and rather shocking, unsuspected death of 27 year-old Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien took the city off-guard. This wasn't just another hockey player to us, we saw him play with the Manitoba Moose, we saw him grind it out trying to make it as a full-time NHL player with the Vancouver Canucks. And then we saw him return to play for our brand new team. A Cinderella story in the making, it can't get much more romantic than that.

Much of the talk in the media surrounding his death is about his “dark emotions,” and about how we have to “end the stigma” regarding mental illness. Except nothing has been done about it, and the media, particularly local media, has done nothing but support the current culture of “stigma” as people like to call it. I call it ignorance.

I am in a unique position to comment on this as I am intimately knowledgeable about the mental health community, what goes on, what people's reactions to illnesses are, and the once-in-a-while heavy heart that arises when someone commits suicide, only to turn back to their old ways after exiting our very short-term memories. My favourite saying goes something like “everyone has a mental illness these days.”

After initial shock, media raced around to obtain quotes and statements from players that knew or roomed with Rypien. All were the same. That he “seemed like he was in a good place” and that he “seemed happy” and etcetera, etcetera. Winnipeg Jets GM stated he felt that they were “making progress.”

No media outlet even dared breathe the word “depression” initially, it was like a rumour. Even though his agent, and at least two GM's were fully aware of Rypien's problems.

The CBC reported that Rypien battled personal issues, with an abominabally irresponsible statement from his agent deflecting the question, saying “sometimes we forget everyone has their own issues to deal with on a daily basis.” What makes this irresponsible, is making the connection between everyone's daily problems, and someone with major depression on the brink of ending their own life. See how gravely ignorant “everyone has a mental illness these days” can be?

A Metro headline read, incredulously, Rypien seemed happy in weeks before death, which is strait out of the “how a depressed person portrays themselves 101” handbook. Gary Lawless in the Winnipeg Free Press headline read “Ultimate teammate hid his dark emotions” and only in the subheadline mentions depression. Hiding emotions and seeming happy go hand in hand.

Two days after his death, Gary Lawless, playing the part of an ignorant stigma-purpotrater to a T, pens a column linking Rypien's death to his on-ice fisticuffs. They go “hand in hand,” he says, the link is “undeniable,” Lawless tells us.** Without class, Lawless uses this baseless asumption that fighting in all cases leads to depression, to opportunistically lambaste Don Cherry. Ludicrous. Disgusting, from my point of view. What Lawless, or Rypien's agent, or anybody won't confirm, is what we really need to know, the first step to – really – ending the “stigma,” that Rypien committed suicide.

A 27-year old professional athlete does not drop dead for no reason. Had it been a heart condition or medical problem, it would have surfaced right away. Had it been an overdose, as in Derek Boogard's case, it would have also come out. But the real reason is too much of a hard truth, and the “stigma” remains just that. It is intentional to keep this hidden, nobody wants to talk about it. Five days after his death, it is still reported as “not suspicious.” Nobody wants to confront it. And the truth is, hard truths are difficult to tackle.

Rypien had depression for at least a decade.

You aren't cured from depression or any mental illness in a handful of weeks or months. It is ongoing. There are regressions. Setbacks. Medication. Therapy, change in therapist, change in doctors, change in medication. And that is if everything is going just fine, in a safe, secure environment. Rypien's was far from safe and secure.

Bouncing around the NHL, AHL, between cities, away from any support networks he might have, would have only exacerbated his situation, inhibiting any possibility of a solid recovery. The lack of a real friend, not just a roomate. But at ten years, it can easily be said that this kind of depression, is not the kind that ever gets cured. This was no doubt a lifelong illness.

Rick's best bet was to take time off, visit and stay at a mental health facility, such as Selkirk. The very same one that houses Vince Li, the very same facility that many an outraged Manitoban insisted a permanent wall or fence be built to keep the mentally ill imprisoned inside, circa 19th century Russia.

The horror. As the CBC reported in June 2010, “Currently, there is not even a fence around the grounds.” Not even a fence!

Here's a hard truth-ism for everyone. There is little in this world that is more horrifying or personally tragic than personally knowing somebody who has comitted suicide. It is unexpected, and many won't even be aware of a mental illness-related infliction. One day you're a 27 year-old professional athlete. The next day, you aren't around. The weight of how horrifying and tragic this is can be “measured” almost in a qunatitative fashion if you will, by the extent of the media coverage on the incident. Especially here, in Winnipeg. It was as if we lost a member of our own family.

So what can be done? Aside from Winnipeg Jets GM insisting he will take steps to adress these issues, whatever that means. What can really be done? There are a few things that need to happen, and when these things do (and they most likely will never) happen, the media and even maybe Gary Lawless in particular, can do their part as journalists and redirect the public perception of mental illness and alter the direction of “stigma” talk in professional sport.

The first step, is to admit that Rypien committed suicide. His family, his agent, need to communicate the end result of his battle with major depression.

From that, the media and journalists can communicate how serious of an issue this can be, and that the consequences are more than serious. It could result in a hockey player never realizing his full potential. Or ending his career. Or worse, ending his own life. The focus cannot be on “how happy he seemed” and other such things from casual observers. All the stereotypical responses can start to be deconstructed and taken apart. “Everyone has a mental illness these days” is simply a joke. Say that to Rypien. Say that to Hannover goalkeeper Robert Enke, who committed suicide in 2009.

To help the media, some basic numbers might be of assistance to highlight just how thick a rug these things are being swept under. Not the “undeniable” medical opinions of sports journos. Conservatively, depression affects 9% of the population of the US. Of that, 3% of those people commit suicide. Let us translate these numbers to the NHL, using just the number of players a team can dress, at 20. That would mean the pool of NHL players we're talking about is 600. Nine percent of that means that approximately 54 players are living with depression as per the US National average. And of those 54...1.6 are at risk of committing suicide. In other words, almost two players per team are “hiding their dark emotions,” and at least one player at any one time in the NHL, could be on the brink.

Lastly, the most important step. Someone in the NHL, a player, an alumni, a GM, a coach, needs to come forward, enter the spotlight, and disclose their personal story of how mental illness has affected them as a person and as a player.

Not a single NHL player has come out and said that they themselves also live with depression, or any other mental illness that affects their day-to-day lives.

Not. A single. Person.

You'd think with all the players running charities for kids with cancer and poverty and the like, somebody might step up for the mental health comunity in a big way.

Nothing would be more impactful than to have an NHL player talk about their condition. Not only to other players with similar stories, but to a nation that follows hockey more closely than we follow our country's politics. This would do more than any, ANY sports journalist claiming to want to end the stigma, to address the problems, then move on to lists of quotes from teammates about how happy someone seemed to be. And, it would do more to put a huamn face on the plight of mental illness, to break down the barriers between people with more serious mental disabilities. Nobody would dare suggest Rick Rypien be housed in Selkirk for treatment...if only it had a barbed wire fence around it.

See how far just one person from the NHL acting as a spokesperson could be...

Like Clara Hughes. Almost un-arguably Canada's most decorated athlete.

More relevant to hockey however, let's remember one of the greatest players of the game. Another Winnipegger. None other than the legendary Terry Sawchuk. These people's struggles shouldn't be in vain. But they are. And it will take the community of sports journalists across the country, Rypien's family, his agent, the management of the Winnipeg Jets, and at least one current player stepping up, to reverse course.

I'll end this piece with a quote from Vancouver GM Mark Gillis, which puts so many things into so succinct a statement.

“ For everything he had accomplished in his life, it's remarkable that that's how powerful his illness was."



**Lawless, in his short-sightedness, conveniently forgot to talk about another recent enforcer death, Bobby Probert. Probert did not die of depression-related or fighting-related conditions. And Probert, one of the most legendary fighters in the game, probably threw and took more punches than Rypien and Boogard combined. Guess that “undeniable link” has some holes in it. Back to med school, Gary.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Winnipeg Sun promotes dehumanizing perceptions

Mark Horvath, the homeless awareness activist travelling the continent (and currently Canada) has just been bitchslapped by the Winnipeg Sun for all his hard, humanitarian work.

The Winnipeg Sun is running two stories on "bums" and "aggressive panhandlers" with the front-page headline "BUM RUSH." Which is exactly the kind of bullshit that Mark is fighting to change. Perception of homeless people.

Everything the Winnipeg Sun published today is put to shame by this video, shot not ten minutes before my first meeting with Mark, in Winnipeg.



Yeah. This guy is a fuckin' menace to society.

Enforce them bylaws. Tom Brodbeck is scared.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Winnipeg Free Press buries Cathy Rushton firing

Buried? Ignored? Or maybe editor Margo Goodhand decided that Rushton's firing for some reason, wasn't news worthy?

The Free Press decided to say something about it today even though Rushton, largely responsible for the silencing of The Great Canadian Talk Show, was fired....

...At the end of May.

Almost 3 months ago.

Suspiciously concordant with this well-timed breaking-news story about Rushton getting sacked, is a story about how Stephanie Forsyth wants to build sports complexes as part of Red River College.

I might have conceded the conspiracy argument had the firing been, say, last week, and Forsyth's ambitions came out today. But this isn't the case, Rushton was fired nearly THREE months ago.

Forsyth also comments on the Union Bank Tower building, and how some of it is behind schedule. According to my sources, Rushton was terminated because of gross mismanagement, lack of oversight and major delays on the Union Bank project. No comment about this is in Nick Martin's piece, just in the "Rushton was fired 3 months ago" blurb.

Once again, the Free Press reports history.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Farewell to Aqua Books; a message from Kelly Hughes

Aqua Books and Eat! have reached a sad end.

This letter is from owner Kelly Hughes, which he sent out a couple of days ago. It is something that was written honestly and you can tell this was not an easy decision, or one that Kelly even wanted to make.

Kelly and Candace are two examples of true heroes in Winnipeg. With their hard work, investing not just their money but insane amounts of time and energy, they helped make downtown a place that a lot of us want to spend a lot of time in. Without people like this, local trailblazers, local entrepreneurs, our urban core would be as rotten as it was in decades past. "A tasteless donut" as I described it in my bio, for when Kelly invited me to be a guest on his live talk show, Kelly Hughes Live.

Aqua will be missed. There's just nothing else like it. It wasn't just a book store and a little restaurant. It really was the cultural city hall of Winnipeg, with all the events and promotion that was done for the arts community, it was a magnet for like-minds. There simply is no replacement.

Winnipeg is slightly less rich now without this institution. People with vision and the determination to create something out of nothing are few and far between, and Kelly and Candace succeeded in cementing themselves as part of the fabric that makes up our little prairie community.

Thanks Kelly, thanks Candace.


* * * * *
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Anyone who's had a crack at Grade 11 English will be familiar with the first line of A Tale of Two Cities. It also fits as an opener for what I have to tell you, with apologies to Mr. Dickens, and apologies to You.

Candace and I are, quite honestly, pretty devastated to announce that the doors of Aqua Books and EAT! bistro will be closing forever. We 've had a great ride, but unfortunately the financial burden has become too much.

I started dreaming about doing what I'm doing now almost two decades ago. What Candace and I and our team have been able to realize here at 274 Garry Street is exactly what I envisioned. Great books, great food, creative people coming together and sharing their passion, their art and their knowledge. It's the kind of place I would want to go (if I ever had time to go anywhere).

But this dream was a big swing. 8400 square feet in the heart of Downtown Winnipeg (in a rundown old Chinese restaurant) with a bookstore, a restaurant, event spaces, a bar, writers' studios....And if I'm going to continue to work the baseball metaphor, let me also misquote Kinsella: "If you build it, they will come." We built Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall, and they came. You came.

You came, and you made it what it is. And for my part, I've done whatever I had to do to keep the dream alive. And finally, under the weight of too many bills, we've come to the end of the road. (And I'm willing to take responsibility for that. I hate it when a business closes, and it's everyone's fault but their own.) It's good to finally fill you in on the situation. I owe you that much.

It's certainly always been tough to be in the book business, and things have only become more difficult with time. When McNally Robinson closed half of their stores, they named e-books as the big culprit. True, you can't sell e-books unless you're Amazon or Chapters. But folks that are e-reading are still readers reading. They are likely to buy a book now and then.

The real problem with bookselling is something I have alluded to in the last couple of months. It's a cultural shift away from reading. Smart phones, Facebook, and The Internet are all part of what has replaced reading time. I won't beat it to death, but it's an irreversible change in people's habits. You may still read and love books as much as you always have, but you are now in the minority. Book sales here have dropped 30% in the last year. (That's why McNally seems like it's all saltshakers and aprons these days.)

Making the decision to pull the plug has been a tough place for me to get to. Putting Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall together was the biggest, most difficult thing I've ever done in my whole life. I've spent 56,000 hours trying to create and maintain what you see here. It's been tiring at times, even for me. But I feel like Candace and I have created something bigger than ourselves. We've created an artists' village in the heart of Winnipeg that doesn't belong to just us anymore.

Unfortunately, the ultimate responsibility and fiscal load does belong to us alone. But unlike Sysyphus, I can't keep pushing this giant rock up the hill for all eternity. The beige-ification of our communities by corporate money is a steep hill indeed. We have won awards, and mentions in MacLean's and Quill & Quire, and even a few hearts and minds, but turning all of this goodwill into enough cash to support such an ambitious project has in the end eluded me.

I think I've fought the good fight, but we may be heading into a brave new world (look at me and all my book metaphors) where bookstores don't really a have a place. As we go dark, please continue to support the few remaining small ventures and community-based businesses that are holding the tide back. Pollock's Hardware Co-op, Tallest Poppy and Neechi Foods Co-op are just a couple that leap to mind.

Thanks so much to all of you who have supported us over the years. We look forward to seeing you in the next few weeks as we wind down. (More words will follow. Until I tell you different, we will be on regular hours, and all scheduled events will go forward as planned. We want to have more of a wake than a funeral.)

Candace has been pleased to make so many regulars happy, and to help so many people with allergies and food issues feel normal about doing one of the most social things - eating. I think that she would still like to do some catering after this if she has the opportunity.

As for me, I can't express how grateful I am to have met and worked with so many wonderful people. (In truth, even though I seem to be losing my mayoral seat, I'd love it if Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall could outlive Sam Katz's Hall of Horrors. Any ideas?).  Although I'm headed into an uncertain future, I've had a great run - all the way around the bases and back to home.  Not sure what waits behind the plate, but I've had the chance to do, for a moment, what I wanted to do. Not everyone gets to do that.

And I'm happy that what I've wanted to do has also been what so many of you wanted to come and do, too. Thanks for that.

Cheers
K

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Interview and Downtown walking tour with Mark Horvath from invisiblepeople.tv

Continuing my three-day blogging blitz for CDI College's event tonight at 6:30 honoring Mark Horvath's work on homeless awareness/activism, I spent a couple hours today giving Mark a walking tour of downtown. Mark is a great conversationalist. With his 8 years of personal homelessness and struggles, his two @invisiblepeople tours across America, and now halfway through a Canadian tour, he has a lot of experience and knowledge to draw from.

Mark is a one-man show. He's his own crew, his own camera man, his own video editor, website updater, and his own tweeter-er, at his own account @hardlynormal as well as the @invisiblepeople account.

Meeting at Twist Cafe downtown, as a blogger, I didn't want to ask him the easy loft questions like "how'd you get started" and "why are you doing this" and these sorts of things. Decided to go right for the jugular, and described the situation in Winnipeg. The urban situation. The negative way in which the 740 000 or so people who don't live downtown view downtown. The irrational, strange fear that people have of panhandlers, poverty, and homelessness.

Mark took to the more conversational "interview" well and immediately took up the offer to talk more in depth about perception and perspective.

"If I have to look at homeless, I have to take responsibility. And if I have to take responsibility, that means I have to solve it."

Why take on all that work if you can just drive back to your suburban home and pretend you didn't see anything? Or continue silly just-get-a-job diatribes? Mark opined further on that.

"Urban living isn't for everybody. It isn't for a lot of people," referring to how living in an urban environment appeals to few. Most people, especially here, embrace the suburban home. People gravitate to areas where they are comfortable, where there are other people like themselves. "In any city, any downtown I'm in - I love being downtown, in urban places. Any downtown I'm in, the thing that jumps out to me the most, the first thing I look for, are the lofts. Like how cool would it be to live in the penthouse in that building?"

It sure is unusual to hear something like that around these parts. A small contingent of people aspire to or look forward to moving downtown. The hip, chic, young professional type crowd. What draws Mark to these areas? The mix and diversity of people who live there. That on the same block, live the person in the loft, the person in the apartment, the shop owner, and street people.

I told about what I think is the most fascinating place in Winnipeg: the Portage Place food court. The diversity, the mix. Then he said something no 'Pegger would ever say. "You tell me about this mall, and the kind of people that are there, and I want to go see it. That's a place I would feel comfortable."

Strange hearing an outsider's perspective eh? As I'm working on this piece, blogger colleague Rob Galston happens to be squatting at the same non-crappy-hotspot wifi cafe I am, and figures at best, 30%, maybe 35% of Winnipeggers might say they feel comfortable at the Portage Place food court.

So away we went. As we passed a group of African immigrants in the food court, he quickly identified them as Sudanese, the reason he was able to do so is because before he was homeless, he filmed in Sudan during a period when he wasn't even legally allowed to be there for political reasons between the Sudan-American governments (as I said, his depth of experience has given him a lot of knowledge and perspective on all walks of life). I explained the history behind the creation of the mall, among other factoids about downtown. From there we ventured to Central park.

As we stood in Central Park, I remarked how many people I know including my mother, would be concerned for me if they knew where I was standing at the moment. Mark was perplexed. Children were in the fanciest splash pad in the city, and not 30 metres away was a homeless man sleeping on a bench.

We walked down to the Exchange, to show him the area of downtown I was most familiar with. Sure enough we ran into some of the homeless regulars I recognized. Mark walks right up and introduces himself, asks if they would like to share their story on video. A native man showed us his heavily bruised collar bone and shoulder, telling us that he had panhandled all day yesterday, and was only able to buy a single king can. He was jumped and beaten for it.

All declined to share their stories on video, but that didn't stop Mark's generosity. To every homeless person he offers a new pair of socks, which are never turned down.

On the way back to the Delta, Mark explained that these are the - visible - street people. They can be found in any city, in any urban area. This is the face of homelessness that people recognize, but it isn't necessarily what he's searching for. He tours to find the homeless mothers trying to raise a family, homeless in the LGBT community, the - invisible - homeless population.

But his documentation and social media-driven awareness and activism project doesn't necessarily leave the visible out. Everyone is given the offer to share their story, and a clean pair of socks.

Before parting our downtown tour for his next appointment, Mark said that he wishes he could walk around all downtowns, in all cities, but rarely gets the chance to. He shared with me one more piece of information Winnipeggers should all be aware of. That all across Canada, through the rest of the West, he has heard rumours and grumblings about coming here.

Apparently we aren't just known as the murder capital or the car theft capital of Canada, but we also have a reputation for having a dangerous downtown where you are likely to get mugged. But on his walk with me to Central Park, down Ellice, to the Exchange, up Fort back to Graham avenue and to the Delta, he didn't see anything that concerned him or made him think that our downtown is any different from any other average downtown, despite all the warnings given to him.

CDI College has been streaming videos from Mark's invisiblepeople.tv site for the last couple days. Executive Director of the college Tahl East, says response has been amazing, that students and passers by through the lobby stop to watch and end up glued to the screen.

By watching and listening to the stories, one at a time, Mark Horvath is helping to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty. Giving these people a voice and the opportunity to be heard and listened to, is what it is all about.

And in that spirit, CDI College has created a new scholarship honouring Mark's humanitarian efforts. The "We Are Visible" scholarship will be announced tonight, at CDI College at Main and Graham, in the parking lot at 6:30pm.

Everyone is welcome. Come down and listen to Mark's presentation.

Monday, August 8, 2011

CDI College: "We Are Visible" scholarship

CDI's mission is to change lives through education.

They will do precisely that with a new scholarship in honour of Mark Horvath's inspiring activism bringing awareness to It will officially be announced tomorrow at CDI College on Main Street, outside in the parking lot, during a presentation by Mark. The event starts at 6:30pm and all are welcome.

The scholarship is aimed at people who have financial need and may not have access to education, and who demonstrate that they are using social media to change the world. Reflective of Mark Horvath's work, the award will highlight the importance overcoming misconceptions about social issues.

"We Are Visible" offers full tuition including books and materials for any of CDI's programs.

A special committee chosen by non-profit and NGO sponsors of Mark Horvath's "We Are Visible Tour of Canada" will review the applications and go through the selection process.



Again, the event tomorrow is at CDI College on Main Street at 6:30pm in the parking lot (...they DO have a purpose!) Everyone is welcome.

You can follow Mark on the Twitter, @hardlynormal and the Invisible People project here, @invisiblepeople

Sunday, August 7, 2011

CDI College sponsors new scholarship, raising awareness about homelessness

Progressive, good news.

CDI College on Main Street is teaming up with an activist for homeless people, Mark Horvath. Mark is currently on a long journey, travelling all across North America, to film and interview homeless people across the continent, to give them a voice, to let their stories be heard.



Mark's story is quite extraordinary. At one time, he had a great paying job in the film industry in LA. A few bad decisions and addictions later, he was homeless himself. He has since picked himself back up, and is using his experience to do humanitarian work.

The goal is education. All of us are only a step or two away from being homeless ourselves. It is easy to forget that.

"Invisible People" is the name of the documentary project. On the site, you can view videos of homeless people's stories.

I am hoping this rather remarkable project can have an impact in Winnipeg. Even if it is just a tiny little dent. People's attitudes towards people on the streets here is abysmal and more depressing than the issue of homelessness itself. These invisible people are often looked down upon and when discussing issues related to homelessness in our inner city and downtown, and to hear or read people discussing these things, often makes me think that somewhere amongst suburban-generated fear of street people, it is forgotten that they aren't actually people.

Which makes the title of the project incredibly fitting. And Mark's campaign an important, respectable, and noble one. To show the human side of a part of society that is all but ignored.

CDI College has decided to step up to the plate and create a new scholarship in Mark Horvath's honour. I'll be posting some details on the scholarship tomorrow.

Mark is on the Twitter @hardlynormal and the Invisible People project also has a Twitter account, here.

Come down to CDI College on Main at 6:30PM Tuesday to hear Mark's message and presentation.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Open Letter to Mayor Sam Katz

There's lots to say about cycling, cyclists, and bike paths and the like these days. If it is coming from me, chances are it will be pretty critical. I was made aware of this open letter via Twitter, and after reading it couldn't help but shake my head. I'll stand with the cyclists on this one.

To make perfectly clear, this was not written by me, and was also not written as any kind of "guest contribution" for my site.


* * * * *


Mr. Mayor,

My name is Jean-Francois Ravenelle, and I am the President and General Manager of Gord's Ski and Bike.

Excuse me if I feel the need to bring this recent situation to your attention:

First off, I'd like to preface this letter with the following: For the record, I fully support the men and women of the Winnipeg Police Service. I think they are doing a phenomenal job and should be commended more often. This is not an issue with the WPS, this is an issue with people like this officer who decided, for whatever reason, that biking on 12 feet of sidewalk is deserving of threats and intimidation tactics.

We have been hosting Nightly group rides in the city for the past 10 years under my leadership. Our bike club has a membership of over 300 members and these members include members of Winnipeg's Police and Firefighting services as well as people of all walks of life who simply wish to ride our extensive network of paved and unpaved trails... respectfully using roadways to connect said trails... Sometimes using short portions of sidewalk to access these trails.

The "cyclists" on these rides are not zealots, we wear very little spandex, we are responsible citizens that practice safe, COURTEOUS, off-road biking along the rivers and pathways of Winnipeg. Our groups vary in size between 10 and 40 riders and we enforce the use of helmets, safety gear as well as the respect of property and laws. We promote safe, responsible and sustained cycling as well as maintain trails and offer education to cyclists throughout the city.

Our latest experience with a member of the Winnipeg Police Service was at about 7:30pm July 20th near the Maryland bridge at Miserecordia. There an officer was doing laser speed enforcement on the north side of the bridge (pointing his 'gun' towards the northbound oncoming traffic, we rolled by (coming up Cornish avenue) going down to the trail that begins under the Mariland bridge... We rode on 12 feet of sidewalk and because of that, this officer took exception, told everyone to get off their bikes and walk towards him (at that point we were on the lawn of the Cornish Library, waiting for other riders to join us and making sure that the path ahead was clear of pedestrians, as we always do).

He then pointed out that if he so chose to, he could very well issue citations for all 28 of us ... He asked who the 'group leader' was and I stepped up. I listened to him calmly as he was clearly upset and agitated with us. Probably because someone in the group had humorously yelled "sneaky" a few minutes earlier as they rode by (presumably because he was crouched behind a recycle bin with his laser gun 30 yards away from his car that was parked in the Miserecordia BFI bin parking lot).

When we asked several questions in order to make certain that we could ride away without breaking any more laws, we were clearly informed of his by-the-letter interpretation of the HSA. But to be informed that bike tires "killed grass" and thus we would not be allowed ride our off-road mountain bikes off-road was a shocker... almost as much as to be told that no bikes are allowed to ride on city property (in this case next to the Cornish public library) as this would constitute trespassing. This Officer clearly implied that bikes should only be ridden on asphalt and more particularly on roadways.

The officer was wearing his WPS uniform with a safety vest over it, we could not see his number but he had blond hair clean-cut hair, about 5'8", told us he was a bike patrol officer who was putting in overtime doing traffic control that particular night... Reminding us, once again that it was illegal to ride on grass, that we should only ride our bikes on the road with cars (he added that paved trails are for pedestrians only)... we mentioned kindly and politely that we were simply just trying to link bike trails. To that he added "these are not bike trails, if you ride on property, even if it's city property you are trespassing".

He kept on saying "I'm exercising restraint, I could write every single one of you for $111 for riding on the sidewalk".... Then, as he was giving his speech to everyone, a drunk individual on a bike rode by on his bike, cursing us for blocking the sidewalk (something that we were ordered to do as we were on the grass in front of the library before that officer decided to separate us from our bikes)... Mid-sentence the officer then chose to run after this cyclist, grabbed him by his backpack and wrestled him off his bike... talked to him for a few seconds and then walked back towards our stunned group to resume his lecture.

The officer was clearly agitated by this entire episode.

I remained calm, shook his hand at the end of our "chat". We had 27 witnesses that were present during this exchange ... Many have come forward offering to voice their concerns that this kind of behaviour does nothing but further fuel the growing issue that is Bike vs WPG.

This issue could have been handled MUCH differently and with a much more positive result. Instead this officer chose confrontation and intimidation as a tool to enforce a law that is clearly flexible.

As a business owner, bike rider and concerned citizen, I am worried that this is just a small indicator of what is turning into a contentious and dangerous issue... one that is on the cusp of reaching a boiling point... One that makes people think twice before hopping on a bike, one where zealots are taking control of the issue, one where the simple joy of riding a bike in this city is dismantled by people like this officer, who's ill temper and zeal to enforce questionable laws to the letter will turn this city into the opposite of a bike friendly municipality.

I will be sending this email to as many councilors and media outlets as I can, to whoever can help spread the word... with the hopes that cooler heads will prevail and that something good can come of this.

Not all "cyclists" are activists, not all "cyclists" even like that descriptor as we don't own safety vests or anything made of hemp, in fact many of us own nice cars, we practice "cycling" as a recreational sport, not a lifestyle, we are business owners, physicians, police officers, firefighters, government employees, students and parents, we just like to ride bikes in a respectful fashion and most of us don't commute to work simply because it's not safe to do so yet in this city. We'd like our voice heard.

Oh, one last thing, and forgive me if I conclude this email tongue in cheek... I don't know if anyone at city hall or at the WPS knows this interesting fact: The sport of biking is not limited to asphalt.

Thank you for your time.

_____________________________________________________
Jean-Fran├žois Ravenelle | JF@Gords.com
President, General Manager

Gord's Ski and Bike | www.Gords.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Super Grandpa: cycling across Canada in less than 14 days

A Winnipegger hailing from East Kildonan is trying to break a world record. Cycling across Canada in 13 days and 9 hours.

Arvid Loewen has been grinding it out on the bike as an ultramarathonist for over 15 years. He boasts a resume that boarders on the insane. And he does it all for charity, good causes, for orphanages in third world countries, and for fun. If you're spending this much time in the saddle, there must be something you're enjoying about it.

Arvid Loewen is currently being sponsored by the fine folks from Bikes and Beyond in Elmwood, where he has taken his business for years. One of Arvid's more humourus endeavors involved racing the employees of B&B as they took turns for 24 hours...Arvid vs the store.

Bikes and Beyond has also pledged towards Arvid's cause. If the record is broken, B&B will buy the bike back and mount the world record-breaking machine in the store.

This time it's not just for a good cause, its for the record books too. The current record stands at 13 days, 9 hours. As I sit on the steps of the Legislature typing my draft of this piece, he will roll into Winnipeg about 18h ahead of the calculated average (though this is a bit deceptive...) He's cranking over 500km a day down the Trans Canada Highway.

The charity we're talking about here is Mully Children's Family. Arvid has been cycling in support of MCF for 5 years now, founding the non profit Spoke Impact. In 2005, Arvid cycled across Canada on a tandem bike with an orphanage child, one of three, from MCF with him.

I chatted with Arvid about the orphanage and his humanitarian work using his cycling craziness as a fundraising platform.

For Arvid, the Guinness Record is a secondary goal and a tool to promote his fundraising drive, which he describes as "aggressive." At $400 000 so far, he's putting they money where his mouth, and heart, are. Since 2005, over $1.5 million dollars have been raised for MCF by Arvid, Spoke Impact, and Grandpas Can.

Arvid actually quit his job a few years ago to concentrate full time on Spoke Impact and fundraising for NGOs like MCF. He has visited MCF in Kenya twice now, and remarked on the incredible change between his first and second visits. They now harbour 2000 orphans, they have a giant greenhouse, fish farms, and water dams. More impressively, 7000 kids have "graduated" from the shelter and are equipped with the tools and knowledge to be independent people.

If you can even imagine doing 500km a day on a bike, a cycling ultramarathonist has big mental challenges. For inspiration, Arvid carries a few pictures with him. Of Lilian, a girl from the orphanage, 8 years old weighing 16 pounds, a hauntingly skeletal figure staring hopelessly at nothing while sitting on the ground. On the flip side of Arivd's little photo carrier is Lilian again, healthy, with bright eyes and a beaming smile.

It would be hard not to be inspired by that, knowing that your efforts and work have made such an incredible difference in an impoverished country.

Though the project is still under Spoke Impact, the name for this venture is "Grandpas Can." He says this to show that grandpas can be leaders and can help make the world better. Arvid's grandchildren will sure have something to be proud of. They're even on his custom-made cycling shirts, which look pretty sharp with the Spoke Impact logo, the grandpascan.com website name, and on the back, a group photo of Mully Children's Family.



The good work done by MCF doesn't stop at kids, but it ventures into being stewards of the environment as well. Director Charles Mully's has been planting trees, a lot of trees, to help recover forests that have been destroyed by deforestation or logging. Remember that in Canada, we take these sorts of things for granted. Not everywhere in the world requires logging companies to re-plant forests. There are similar stories of such tree planters throughout the world.

You can follow Arvid Loewen's journey at grandpascan.com. If you want to donate and help the fundraising drive, follow the appropriate links on his site.

His crew is on the Twitter, who have been essentially live-tweeting the journey with a bit of humor, too.


* * * *

A brief career retrospective of some of Arvid Loewen's ultra marathon cycling events. He had a hard time at first as anyone does with long-distance events, but with perseverance and experience, he's become a veteran pro.

* * * *

1995: Furnace Creek 508. A 508 mile trek through Death Valley. Arvid would not finish.

1995: Paris-Brest-Paris 1200. Dropped out.

1998: 24 hour race in Alaska. Dropped out after 480km.

1999: Paris-Brest-Paris 1200. Finished. The event now draws over 3000 riders.

2000: Furnace Creek 509 finished.

2001: Iowa Firecracker 500. Finished, which qualified Arvid for the Race Across America.

2005: Across Canada on a tandem bicycle, carrying a Keynan orphan from MCF.

2008: Race Across America. Arvid would finish 1st in his age category, in 11 days, 3 hours and 19 minutes.

2009: Tour for Life. Arvid began on the same day as the Tour de France, and his goal was to ride triple the distance. For 23 days he rode around Birds Hill Park, Highway 59, North Henderson Highway and the Perimeter. He compiled nearly 8000km and came just short of his goal of tripling the Tour de France.

Has completed the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km twice.


Show your support for Arvid, his cause, and MCF, by following his journey via his website, on Twitter, or by making a donation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Abominably Preposterous

After just declaring I would only post stuff like this on Friday, I've already broken my publishing schedule. However this was so repulsive it couldn't wait.

A Republican Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, visited Iraq last Friday as part of a "congressional delegation." He suggested that Iraq eventually pay the US Government back for the cost of their 2003 invasion. More preposterously and the subject of this short post, after a meeting with the Iraqi PM who informed the delegation of an ongoing investigation into the killing of 35 Iranians, Rohrabacher told reporters that the massacre was probably a crime against humanity.

Iraq told them to leave and later that day, the delegation was on their way out of the country.

What does it say about the American view of the war in Iraq, these two statements? That America is always right, that America "saved" Iraq from itself and that the Iraqi people should be forever indebted to them? After eight years of a clusterfucking mess and the deaths of over 100 000 people?

What is more gut wrenching is this statement from the congressman:

"We did say that the massacre of so many civilians was a crime, and we needed to make sure that those responsible for it were held accountable."

That makes me sick.

Wikileaks, through the Afghan War Diaries and the Iraq War Logs, uncovered numerous "crimes against humanity" committed by the US Military. To make the accusation to the Iraqi government of committing a war crime, after 8 years of occupying that country and committing numerous violations of human rights and international law, leaves me speechless.

Perhaps the congressman would like to hold his former boss, George Bush Jr, for the proliferation of Guantanamo Bay and the arrests and torture of innocent people. Or perhaps he would like to explain why the Pentagon covered up the deaths of 15 000 Iraqi civilians as uncovered by Wikileaks. Or perhaps he would like to investigate President Obama for the treatment of Private Bradley Manning. Or perhaps he should think about the legalities and international implications of assassination.

This congressman is holding his head far too piously high.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Last Puck

I came across this yesterday. I wrote it about two years ago. It is strangely fitting today.

A century of suns fold
over the facades of old
Hiding beauty so long forgot,
remembering a journey
impossible to plot

You're laughing but
Death by Popcorn made us all fans
by the time the curtains closed
We gave a standing-o,
chanting those three words everyone knows

After the last puck dropped
the Wings took off
the Queen came down and
we got a little teary-eyed
every time someone said
it couldn't be done,
they'd never be back and,
maybe Stanley would never be won

When we meet in the street
you'll know why
the heart of this city
will never die

Monday, June 6, 2011

Greg Selinger to the poor: you're not poor, we have the NHL

Last Thursday during question period at the Leg something happened. Something significant. But it went unreported. I suppose every journalist in this town was busy writing Jets stories upon Jets stories. After all, news is a business and it is indisputably the hottest item in town.

That said I'm not sure one news outlet even sent an intern to the Leg on Thursday.

What happened was nothing short of insulting. A sad and incredible slap in the face to all Manitobans.

It is of no surprise to anybody that this government or any other, would take advantage of the NHL coming back to town, using the opportunity to say "we did it" and add it to their resume for the campaign trail. But Thursday, and I cannot stress this enough, was incredible. There is only so much political credit one can take, and the Premier of Manitoba Greg Selinger crossed the line.

What he said should send a major signal to Manitobans about this government. This post is for all the low income families in Manitoba, and the people of Elmwood, the North End, and the West End. You're all orange now, but think carefully who you're voting for in October.

I'm adding comedic relief to the transcript of Thursday afternoon such that I don't end up throwing my iPad across the room.


* * * * *

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Mr. Speaker, wasteful spending is plaguing this NDP government. While a hard-working family of four in Elmwood struggles to make ends meet, the NDP government will be taking roughly $3,000 a year from their pockets in income taxes to pay for things like a $38,000–a barbecue for senior bureaucrats at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Meanwhile, that family earning the same amount in Saskatchewan would only be paying $725 in income taxes while their government cut wasteful spending and put more dollars into health care.

I ask, Mr. Speaker, to the Premier: Why is he taking so much money from families in places like Elmwood to spate–to spend on their executive bureaucrat friends?

A low income family has to pay 3 grand a year in taxes for rich people?! The same family in Saskatchewan has to pay just $725?!?!?

Oh, say it ain't so, Mr Premier!!


Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier): Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from River Heights for the question.

The government of Saskatchewan, when they do their affordability index for all the provinces in Canada, have ranked Manitoba No. 1 for affordability. We always position ourselves to ensure that families of all types and sizes and income levels remain in the top three.

But this makes no sense, Greg! How can we be number 1 in affordability, but have poor families pay more than 3 times the taxes that those strange people next door pay?

In this budget that the member opposite voted against, we increased the property tax credit for families in Manitoba, the education property tax credit. We increased the property tax credit for seniors to an unprecedented level in this province, the first step of three that we've put in place. We've increased the personal exemption for families inside of Manitoba, and, you know what, Mr. Speaker? We're growing the economy like we've never seen before in this province.

Uh huh...but what about the low income families?

It's grown by over 50 per spent–50 per cent. People have more disposable income. People can afford to buy tickets to support the NHL in Manitoba. The members opposite would not build the MTS Centre. They wouldn't build the Hydro building. They wouldn't build Red River College. They will–won't build water treatment facilities that will protect the water in Manitoba.

...uh huh...wait...WHAT?!

...WHAT?

Poor people are fine because people in Manitoba have disposable income and we can afford NHL tickets! And the MTS Centre!


We will build those things, and we will keep Manitoba families employed, including in Elmwood.

Keep the people of Elmwood employed as what, 50/50 sellers at the arena?

**(snip)**
I've cut one question/answer here, if you want to see it and Greg Selinger say the Conservatives will privatize Hydro, it is in the hansard.
**(end snip)**

Mr. Gerrard: Mr. Speaker, enough is enough. The working poor in Manitoba are sick of being overtaxed when the NDP is just wasting so much of their money, and families in rural Manitoba are sick of being overtaxed when the government doesn't even provide an adequate water management system that works.

When will the Premier apologize for overtaxing Manitobans and wasting the money that's being spent?

Waste, waste, waste! The poor are wasting away by being overtaxed and the Premier gives money away for stadiums and professional sports teams!

Mr. Selinger: Mr. Speaker, we will keep Manitoba families among the affordable in the country. We will make sure Manitoba is one of the most affordable places to live in the country and, at the same time as we keep Manitoba affordable, we will invest in better hospitals,

Brian Sinclair, where are you?

better personal care homes, better schools, better universities. We'll even support the MTS Centre downtown when the members opposite vote against

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH POOR FAMILIES?!

it so that we can now have the NHL back in Manitoba after 15 dark years of them doing everything they can to thwart it.

Hey poor people, we're taxing you a lot and wasting the money, but who cares! WE GOT THE NHL BACK!

They have done everything they can in the last 15 years–[interjection] You know, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate them applauding getting the NHL back

Hey Greg!

THE QUESTION IS ABOUT POVERTY!


by this government in Manitoba when, for the last 15 years, they've done everything they can to stop this province improving, to stop making improvements to quality of life. They've opposed every tax reduction we've done. They've imposed every investment we've made in education, culture, health and in sport in this province.

Investing, he says! We can afford the NHL!

Manitoba is moving forward. It's on a roll. Let's keep it going that way and not let the members opposite into government.

Are we done yet? Can we drop the puck now?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Time for oral questions has expired.



* * *
Done
* * *

What the hell is this?

Poverty! What poverty, we got the NHL back!

This is shameful, it is a slap in the face, and it was unbelievably low to duck a question about low income families and tax policies and shift to professional hockey. Which no low income family could possibly afford and has absolutely nothing to do with the well being of marginalized communities.

That our economy is "strong" also has nothing to do with low income families. It does not affect them and they see little benefits. Just last week an ex-pat claimed Saskatchewan was spanking us. Whatever low blow that might be to our ego, it has nothing to do with the Riders vs Bombers, or the Wheat Kings vs The Pats.

That poor families have to pay more than 3 times what the same family has to pay in Sask, is lost on Premier Greg Selinger, because....we got the NHL back.

And this is the party of the people? These are the people they claim to represent! These are the people who now have to put up with the NDP Government ignoring their problems because they are too busy helping their buddies, paying out for the Asper siblings' projects, and taking credit for something they had nearly no involvement in.

Nobody wrote about this? Nobody can say they truly expected the government to embarrass themselves to this level. Taking credit is one thing...shaking off criticism of low income tax policies by cheering the NHL?

Insulting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wait, you forgot to add this to the list of leadership achievements...

It appears Margo Goodhand will receive a "distinguished alumni" award from the U of Winnipeg.

At the bottom of this piece, Nick Martin of course forgot Goodhand's biggest and most noble journalism achievement to date: her role in suppressing free speech and freedom of expression by other media outlets right here in Winnipeg, effectively cementing her role as master gatekeeper.

But don't go criticizing the gatekeeper for the quality of her work, now that's just mean.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CPR rebranding in 21st century: "CentrePort"

Congratulations to all people involved with CentrePort as they have officially figured out how to get Manitoba agriculture products to China.

Using nothing but state-of-the-art technologies and leading-edge logistics methods, CentrePort officials should be patted on the back for their ingenious solution to use the Canadian Pacific Railway to ship Manitoban soybeans, green peas, and canola to BC., which will then be shipped to China.

"The concept calls for locally grown soybeans, green peas and canola meal to be loaded into containers, taken by rail to B.C. ports and shipped to China, specifically to an inland port in the city of Chongqing."

Though the CPR was completed in 1885, and the first train to Vancouver arrived in 1887, only now with the incredible guile of CentrePort, has it been possible to ship Manitoban crops to BC for export.

Sir John A MacDonald and The Honourable Alexander Mackenzie could not be reached for comment.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Proportionally fair: Debunking electoral reform bunk

As you can probably tell by my headline, I am not in favour of electoral reform in Canada. Or at the very least, it makes me uncomfortable when people tout statistics like "60% of people didn't vote for Harper!" Statements like that one make my blogger-red-flags go up.

Hopefully with this post (essay) I can convince you that no, our system is not broken or in need of reform. It works the way it was intended to and it works very well, and the election on May 2nd 2011 proves it.

I don't shy away from math, and I can recognize bad math and bad statistical analysis from a mile away. Being a numbers-inclined person and studying sciences for a number of years tends to do that to you. Without looking anything up, this magical "60%" number makes me think three things: 1) 40% did vote for Harper, 2) the 60% is divided into 4 other parties so lumping them all in one is circumspect and 3) this seems to be based on a fantasy that you need more than 50% to "win."

I need to preface the next bit of this post with an observation about pro-reform people. This is all anecdotal and I have no evidence to support my speculations. Almost all electoral reform people are lefties. They vote NDP, Green, or Liberal. The loudest cheerleaders are the people asking you to join "Anyone but Harper!" Facebook Groups and spam up your social media inboxes asking you to sign various petitions saying that you think because the Conservatives only got 39.6 percent of the vote, the system is "broken" and "unfair."

These folks also seem to have a massive hate-on for Stephen Harper (see "Anyone but Harper!" groups). He's an evil man, they tell you. He has a secret agenda, and if he gets a majority Canada will be ruined. Worst of all, he hates the arts and you should fear 24/7 for your baby's safety. You should be shaking in your little space boots at the mere thought of Stephen Harper getting a 4 year majority. I'm shaking in mine, but only because the mere thought of 4 years of Francis Russell columns is like a bad nightmare coming true.

Dippers and Greenies of course have been wanting "electoral reform" for awhile now. NDP and Green parties have been fringe parties for their entire existences. Electoral reform or proportional representation benefits these fringe parties the most.

In 2008, the NDP got 37 seats but 18.2% of the vote. But 18% of the House of Commons is 56 seats, not 37. The Green Party by contrast, did not win a single seat in the 2008 election but got 6.9% of the vote. I don't need to tell you that there is a big, big difference between zero seats and 6.9% of the House which equates to 21 seats.

Conversely, this works against the big parties. In 2008, instead of Harper's 143 seat minority, he would have had just a 116 seat minority by virtue of his 37.7% of the popular vote.

Seems like a cause to whine about unfairness to me. Especially, if you really don't like Stephen Harper and you voted for one of these lesser parties. You want to give more power to "your guys" and are trying to build a sound argument for doing just that.

Now I know what you're thinking, but Graham it isn't just about proportional representation, actually, "electoral reform" might not even mean this is how we move forward. And I say, true that.

During the first couple days of the 2011 campaign, on March 30th, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff was in Winnipeg for a town hall meeting. He fielded questions on the fly from the audience about Liberal policies and the general concerns of people who spoke up. One question was about electoral reform, and the person asked if the Liberals would pursue this. In my opinion, the young lady asking the question was obviously a pro-reformer and Ignatieff naturally wanted to answer without committing to anything.

But what Ignatieff said about the issue was completely true. His answer was that (paraphrasing) before we do anything on the subject, we first have to ask ourselves, what are we talking about here, exactly? What is it that we want to solve? Questions such as what is it about or electoral system we don't like? The basic premise here is simple and I am in total agreement with it; we can't just say we want electoral reform because of a perception that the current system is unfair.

With that in mind, let's revisit the "60% of people voted against Harper" statement. This is, on the surface, a true statement. There are many things you can do with this number and many different ways you can spin it. So let's do just that.

If 60.4% of people in the 2011 Election voted against Stephen Harper, it is also true that...

69.4% of Canadians voted against the NDP.
81.8% of Canadians voted against the Liberals.
96.1% of Canadians voted against the Greens.

This might make it incredibly hard to ask questions about electoral reform or whether or not our electoral system is fair. It would seem that if you apply the same line of thought to the other parties, a very large majority of people really, really, really don't want anybody to govern.

So what does all this mean? Well, when you look at popular vote percentages, essentially what we are looking at here is what proportion of the country wanted which party to govern. Then, are these compiled percentages of who voted for or against so and so even worth the referendum ballots election reformists want? This is why I said at the beginning of this essay that the "60%" number makes me uncomfortable. 60% of people didn't really vote against one specific party. If you are using this 60% logic then it obviously falls flat that when someone votes, they are not necessarily voting against one party, they may be voting against two or three parties. There is no way to tell, and it is unfair to lump sum everyone on one side, just to further your argument.

Vote splitting works.

If you don't like it...perhaps everyone and their dog on the left shouldn't have their own party. The left, in Canada, is almost like some form of quad-partisanship, and none of them want to help the other three. Jack doesn't want to work with Iggy, and Iggy doesn't want to work with Jack. Neither of them want to work with Gilles. And all 3 of those people see themselves as the one and only official alternative to the Conservatives.



* * * *



For this section some personal background might help set things up. I've had a lot of voting experience for someone who has only been able to vote for 7 years, completely attributed to our minority government. Three Federal elections, one Provincial and two Civic elections. I've voted NDP, Green, Liberal, and Conservative. I'm hardly biased or partisan in any way. I hold no cards for any party affiliation. I have also worked/volunteered on several election campaigns, and the only party platform I haven't worked on in that regard is the NDP.

Aside from vague memories of my mother bringing my brother and I to voting stations, the first real exposure to politics I had was in junior high during social studies. I distinctly remember doing a project in Grade 8 in which I watched the federal debate (there was one going on at the time) and organized my thoughts on each leader's performance. In retrospect, I'm sure the teacher got a kick out of reading a 14 year old's opinions on political leaders.

I'm 25. I'm single and looking for women who have read up to this point of my post and are still interested in the subject matter...Okay. Enough with that. My institutional memory of elections and political happenings is pretty limited. Often I pick you "old people's" brains for insightful perspectives on events I didn't witness. But otherwise there is the internet, and a wonderfully accurate record of elections past.

One of any analyst's many tools is history. Political topics in general are very easy to find historical information on. Elections even more so, because elections define us, and the entire history of our country since Confederation.

I think to myself, if electoral reformists want to think that Stephen Harper is somehow undeserving of his majority government, what about past majorities? Especially past majorities with popular leaders...leaders I am not familiar with other than knowing they were popular. Jean Chretien was popular, yes? Was he "as deserving" of his majorities in the 90s as Stephen Harper is today? I'll frame this using their language:

2000: 59.2% of people voted against the Chretien government.
1997: 61.5% of people voted against the Chretien government.
1993: 58.7% of people voted against the Chretien government.

(Note: That Chretien sure was an unpopular man to be voted a majority 3 consecutive times! Let's keep going...)

1988: 57% of people voted against the Mulroney government
1984: 50% of people voted against the Mulroney government.
1980: 55.7% of people voted against the Trudeau government.

History tells us that the majority governments in the past have a pretty decent chance of getting around or close to 60% "rejection" by Canadians. I'm willing to bet that most people calling for electoral reform today wouldn't be nearly as vocal as they are if say, Ignatieff won a 167 seat majority with 39.6% of the popular vote.

In the last 100 years, there have been 30 elections, and only in 7 of those have there been majority governments that won with 50.0% of the popular vote or more.

Does this mean our electoral system is broken?

Hardly. The idea of Parliament and a House of Commons is a very locally-based one. To make up a Federal Government, each community of people selects one person to represent their interests. Every community (riding) has it's own set of problems and issues. An inner city riding obviously has different priorities than a rural farming riding, or a northern riding. An Eastern riding in BC has different pressures affecting it's local politics than a Maritime riding.

This is an important aspect of our electoral system. Local politics would be done away with or certainly marginalized to a large extent, in the different ideas people supporting electoral reform bounce around. Currently, a community has the ability to decide if an incumbent is doing a good job representing his or her people, by voting them back in or voting them out.

National election discourse does not usually focus on the super-local level. Some races are run on local issues, and only a small number of voters really examine their candidates. Fewer still criticize their elected representative's record in government, by following parliamentary or legislative debates, or by researching a politician's voting record. A large part of any federal candidate's success depends on the national tide of public opinion. This is perhaps best shown in the close race between Kevin Lamoreaux and Rebecca Blaikie.

Three things happened nationally this week: the Conservatives held an advantage because many people are in favour of a stable government, the NDP enjoyed a strong leadership presence, and the Liberals were the recipients of nation-wide rejection. Did all of these things happen in the Winnipeg North race? Absolutely, yes.

1) Almost 10 000 additional votes were cast in the 2011 election as compared to the November by-election, but Kevin Lamoureaux only increased his vote by about 1700. Of the 10 000 additional votes that were cast, 8300 people chose not to vote for the Liberal Party.

2) The NDP vote increased by about 2600. A marginal increase, considering the so-called NDP surge (which was really only in Quebec).

3) The Conservative candidate collected over 5000 votes more than last November. People really really don't like the Liberal Party right now.

So what did it come down to for Kevin Lamoureaux? It came down to local issues and vote splitting. If the Green Party didn't exist, Rebecca Blaikie may have won. But locally, Lamoureaux's presence and recognition for his work in the community is so strong, that he was able to hold onto his seat despite the unpopularity of the Liberal Party and Michael Ignatieff. That recognition is so strong that it is why he was able to wrestle the longtime NDP seat away in last November's by-election.

This kind of community support isn't often that strong, and you cannot fault people for not paying attention to politics, or for not knowing what each of their elected politicians at each level of government is doing. If anything, the onus is on you, to get your neighbours and friends involved in the process, and being more vocal as a citizen in your riding. Blaming the system and calling for "reform" because of the perception that your vote did not count, because your guy/gal didn't win, or because the person who you want to lead the country is not, is kind of silly. Blaming the practice of democracy in Canada because you lost is quite the oxymoron.

Moving away from a locally-based system means either proportional representation (which raises the question: who gets to choose who represents who locally? Or, who gets to dictate who gets to represent who? Not the voters) or a preference system which means each voter numbers in preference who they would like to represent them.

The preferential voting system actually existed here in Manitoba. Provincially, between 1920 and 1955 (Thanks, Sam!). The "riding" of Winnipeg was awarded 10 seats, chosen by the citizens of the "riding" in preferential order. During my research on this I discovered a politician by the name of Lewis St George Stubbs whose Wikipedia states:

"[Stubbs] served in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba from 1936 to 1949 as an Independent, and was known for promoting left-wing and socially progressive causes."

Ah! A lefty. But most interestingly, his article also states:

"Stubbs made frequent calls for electoral reform in Manitoba, noting that the riding's urban centres were grossly under-represented in comparison to the rural areas."

A lefty clamouring for electoral reform...before 1950. Except it was the opposite of what people are saying now. His reasoning if we are to believe his Wikipedia page, is that communities do not have direct control over who represents a specific neighbourhood. This is an important aspect of our politics today not only Federally but Provincially and at the Municipal level as well.

If the system is broken Federally, then it would follow that it is also broken Provincially and Municipally. However only at the Provincial and more so the Municipal level do we recognize the value of a community electing the person whom they want to represent them.

Electoral reform won't change voter turnout either. You can't force anybody to pay attention to politics any more than you can force someone to read a newspaper. Electoral reform won't change activities in the House of Commons and it won't change party policy. All it would change, is how you cast your vote, and how much value you perceive your vote to have.

Many who do not vote claim that they don't see how it matters...but clearly this election showed that it does in fact matter. The close races right here in Manitoba could have been won by other people had just a couple hundred more people showed up to vote, out of the thousands in each riding that did not.

If Stephen Harper and a majority Conservative government was really as hated and unpopular as pro-electoral reformists would lead me to believe, he wouldn't have won as many seats as he did, simple as that. There are three seats here right in Manitoba, Joyce Batemen in Winnipeg South Centre, and Lawrence Toet in Elmwood-Transcona, two seats that could easily have gone to a Liberal and NDP candidate respectively. But that anti-Harper vote just did not materialize. Plain and simple.



* * * *



What did materialize? A very interesting trend, which in my eyes, validates the current government in their majority rule. The trend I speak of started in 2000. What has gone on in the past 11 years? Three major parties have made three major moves up and down the popular vote chart.

The Conservative popular vote since 2000:

2000: 12.2% (See: vote splitting, PCs/CA)
2004: 29.6%
2006: 36.3%
2008: 37.7%
2011: 39.6%

Yikes. The Conservative Party has tripled their popular vote in the past eleven years. What happened to the Liberal Party in the past 11 years is almost a mirror inverse, and probably directly correlated with Conservative gains.

The Liberal popular vote since 2000:

2000: 40.8%
2004: 36%
2006: 30.2%
2008: 26.3%
2011: 18.9%

While the Conservatives were busy tripling their popular vote, in the same timespan which included 7 years of Minority Governments, the Liberals more than halved their popular support.

The NDP popular vote since 2000:

2000: 8.5%
2004: 15.7%
2006: 17.5%
2008: 18.2%
2011: 30.6%

The jump between 2008 and 2011 can of course be explained by the complete decimation of the Bloc Quebecois. Which was bound to happen eventually. The elimination, or near-elimination, of a Quebec separatist party will have a major impact on national politics.

I have a hard time supporting the notion that a majority of Canadians "didn't support Harper," while technically true, their support has risen greatly in the last decade while support for the official opposition party has all but lost it's legs. If we eliminate Quebec from the picture for a moment, Conservatives absolutely do have a stronghold majority on the country.

The Bloc Quebecois for almost two decades was a factor in whether or not a majority government was elected. This was the case in 2008, where the country watched Quebec closely as it was possible the Conservatives could swing enough Bloc seats to capture a slim majority.

The political landscape in Canada is a big factor here. Quebec has been a major point of contention since the Bloc formed. Is it worth reforming our system which accounts for and allows parties like the Bloc to exist? Though their causes are irrelevant to the rest of the country, they are very relevant to the people of Quebec (see: local issues).

If anything, the elimination of the Bloc Quebecois should count as significant electoral system reform. That's 75 seats automatically returned and restored to the Canadian collective right there.

Between the clear, steady, indisputable climb in support of the Conservative Party since 2000, and the election this week that reduced the Bloc to de facto Independent status, nobody should be contesting Harper's majority. He won it fair and square, by steadily increasing his popular vote every election, and he even won it without Quebec or a Bloc Quebecois to speak of.

Why are we even talking about electoral reform, again?



* * * *



Our election system hasn't changed for my entire lifetime. Yet there is nothing to suggest that our system is "broken," it works as well as it did when I was born as it did on May 2nd 2011. Majority governments have come and gone, often flipping poles by alternating between Liberal and Conservative majorities.

Maybe there is something to be said about 7 years of minority rule and how it has affected our opinion. If it hasn't, it certainly has affected our politics. The past 7 years of minority government and weak Liberal Party leaders have been a large part why the NDP was able to produce a historic and unbeleiveable 2011 election result of 102 seats.

If there is any reason for me to doubt that our electoral system is broken, I cannot find it. All we can do for the moment, is sit and watch how well the Conservative Party that has been seeking majority since 2006 governs the country. Maybe he does well in the eyes of Canadians and is rewarded with a second majority, which if it happens, I can look forward to a much more vocal crowd of electoral reformers in 2015.