Introducing PolitiCoast

There’s not much going on here these days but if you’re still following this feed, make sure to check out my new project: PolitiCoast – a Canadian politics podcast.

Our marketing’s so good we’ve already been accused of hiding our funding.

Subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc. Or just follow the blog for updates.

We’re going to be recording every Thursday night with a goal of releasing by Friday morning. Plus there will be some bonus episodes scattered throughout (like our teaser following the US presidential debate).

That said, the focus is mostly on looking at politics from a BC lens, since almost no one else is (especially now that The Strategists are reportedly calling it quits).

And like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Budget 2016: Charities, consultations and clarifications

The Trudeau Liberals first budget was released yesterday.

While most coverage was over the size of the deficits and who gets what money, my attention was on a single bullet on page 206.

  • Pertaining to rules governing charities and their political activities, the CRA, in consultation with the Department of Finance, will engage with charities through discussions with stakeholder groups and an online consultation to clarify the rules governing the political activities of charities.

The Liberals had promised changes coming for Canada’s charities. But this disappointed me.

From the Liberal Party’s platform:

We will allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and will modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors. This will include clarifying the rules governing “political activity,” with an understanding that charities make an important contribution to public debate and public policy. A new legislative framework to strengthen the sector will emerge from this process.

I work for two charities, completed a non-profit management course and worked and volunteered in the charitable sector in the UK for two years. My concern with this budget proposal is that instead of achieving even this modest goal of “modernize the rules” and “a new legislative framework,” we’re being given committees and consultations with the goal to “clarify the rules.”

Let’s be clear. Canada Revenue Agency makes it quite clear what counts as political and partisan material on its own website and in its briefings. And it’s pretty restrictive. Take this advisory that was released during the 2015 election. One part states:

When a charity invites comments on its website, blogs, or on social media, it should monitor them for partisan political statements and remove, edit, or moderate such statements within a reasonable time.

The rule is pretty clear to me: Since I work for a charity, it’s now my job to police the content of people’s comments on Facebook. Even though the organization I work for is a staunch defender of free speech and open debate.

Instead of this not-even-half-measure contained in the budget, my own personal preference would be to see Canada move toward a Charities Act, similar to what was introduced in England & Wales, first in 1993 but updated most recently in 2011. Such an act would modernize the rules for what purposes constitute a charity (Canada’s rules currently date to 19th century case law), create an arms-length body to regulate charities (one free from political interference) and empower charities to lobby for change they feel necessary to achieve their mission. Given the changing landscape, it could go even further and create space for so-called social enterprises.

I’ve written my MP arguing as much and hope you will do the same.

This is an issue that could make a world of difference for the many, many charities in Canada – none of whom have the time or resources to advocate for better charitable law (since they’re spending their time fulfilling their own mission and complying with the law as it stands). Some groups, like the Broadbent Institute, the Voices-Voix Coalition and Protecting Canadian Charities, are starting to speak out on this but they’ll need our encouragement.

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Joyce Murray on physician assisted dying

Just over a week ago, I commented on a post on Joyce Murray’s page (the Liberal MP and candidate in Vancouver Quadra) asking her position on physician assisted dying. She had just attended a panel on the issue and I was curious what her take was.

What I didn’t expect was her to call me back personally.

I’m really impressed she called back personally. Based on the caller ID, I was expecting a generic campaign message but this was nice.

It would have been nice for her to pledge a bit more and to not refer to an issue that 4 in 5 Canadians agree on as “controversial” but the efforts of the Liberals to spur government action months ago are laudable.

If you’re curious where I stand on physician assisted dying, here’s my speech (on behalf of the BC Humanist Association) at last weekend’s Dying With Dignity rally in Vancouver.

There’s links to more info on the current consultations – and the BCHA response – on physician assisted dying on the BCHA blog.

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The Big Bang Theory is ruining science

When The Big Bang Theory first premiered, I watched it with a lot of hope.

It had science script checkers and sought to bring the nerdy culture of physics into the mainstream. My wife (then girlfriend) and I started watching it while we were both undergrads – me in engineering physics and she in physics. While it’s predominantly male cast and token ditzy blonde was problematic from the start, it was relatable for us and our friends. Even if none of us were a Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, or Howard, we saw bits of each of those characters in each of us. Even Penny started to develop into a rounded character and slowly they introduced a couple female scientists. Overall, it was good.

But it’s moved so far from that. Many of our friends gave up on it years ago as the show drifted toward the lowest common denominator. The physics jokes are almost entirely gone and the humour is more about laughing at the gang for being nerdy and socially awkward than the humour in the situations they get into.

This latest episode – the ninth season premier at that – reached an incredible new low though. Amy’s escape from her joyless relationship with Sheldon was seen by Sheldon as an indictment on half the population. The script writers then chose to run with that “gag” through the entire episode. In one scene Sheldon is creeping in a window because he wanted to pressure Amy into getting back together with him. By the end he’s saying that the only good woman is scientist Marie Curie but she was “an honorary man because she had a penis made of science.”

Not to be outdone on the creep-factor, comic book store owner Stuart’s gag was to instantly prey on every female character as soon as he had a hint that she might be single. Meanwhile Leonard follows up his elopement to Penny by revealing that he works with a woman he cheated on Penny with and then offers sex as a means to distract her.

Given the deep systemic issues faced by women in science, there’s no forgiveness for this show to stoop to this level. What could be a way to make science cool, fun, and engaging has instead just become offensive for its misogyny, its disservice to the incredible women in science, and for perpetuating cruel stereotypes about men in science.

I feel betrayed.

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A full response to Humanist Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation statement

Two weeks ago I began Tweeting my reactions to Humanist Canada’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report. I heavily criticized the organization for it’s response, which in my view used the opportunity to make an easy attack on religion while doing nothing on promoting reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginal peoples. I expanded upon my Tweets in a Storify, which I posted here, on Twitter and Facebook, tagging Humanist Canada.

To his credit, Eric Thomas, President of Humanist Canada thanked me for my comments and promised to circulate them with the Board. My hope was that Humanist Canada would engage with my critique and together we could work toward a stronger and more constructive statement. I have belonged to Humanist Canada in the past (I mostly don’t right now as I’m living in the UK) and, while Twitter is a glib medium, did hope my public criticisms would prompt action.

Continue reading A full response to Humanist Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation statement

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Libertarian activist puts politics before reality to argue the left puts politics before reality

On the libertarian blog Reason, John Stossel trots out the tired cliche that the left are just as anti-science as the right, and in this case potentially even more damaging. Because non-evidence based views about climate change have no real world consequences right?

He cites the usual tropes as the left-wing anti-science positions, yet fails to actually show any political divide for any of the claims. In fact, public opinion research debunks his two main examples: vaccines and GM. In the US, at least, there is a divide on support for nuclear power and animal research* – but a majority of Democrats still support nuclear power and the question of animal research is far more about values than evidence.

Compare this to the gap between science and reality on the right on evolution, stem cell research, global warming and corporal punishment (to name but a few)

Stossel’s final argument is that the left is styming research into IQ differences between men and women and between different races. Even though he only cites his own anecdote, given history, I’m okay with some pretty critical lenses being applied to anyone starting down this path.

So no, the evidence doesn’t support the claim the left is anti-evidence.
*I’m being charitable and assuming his rant about SeaWorld – an entertainment facility first, research second – is about animal research.

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“I’m glad it’s over”

Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass emailed me a couple days ago to say:

More than three years ago, I wrote a post on Canadian Atheist about prayer in Peterborough municipal council meetings.  In the comments you suggested I contact CFI Canada. I did and CFI connected me with Dan Mayo and Secular Ontario. Thank you for that advice. My case against the City of Peterborough for saying the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of its council meetings has been successfully resolved in my favour.

Continue reading “I’m glad it’s over”

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