Lunney unleashed

Citing media “intolerance and bigotry”, anti-science Canadian MP James Lunney has quit the government caucus to sit as an independent. Among Lunney’s claim to the crown as Canada’s least scientifically literate MP are:

  • He doesn’t believe in evolution
  • He’s a chiropractor
  • He’s claimed there’s a link between vaccines and autism
  • He doesn’t believe the climate is changing

In his surreal press release (dated March 31, not April 1), he states that he will address his religious beliefs in Parliament at his next opportunity, which sounds like it will be a hoot. Lunney claims that Christians are being persecuted in Canada, a claim that is thoroughly debunked by the excellent Ottawa Citizen editorial:

Add MP James Lunney to the list of people who somehow have come to believe they’re being persecuted — that indeed, their fundamental human rights are under threat — when people disagree with them on Twitter.

Lunney is standing down before the election in October so we’ll only have a few more of his public gems of wisdom.

Good riddance.

E-petitions come to Canada

Congrats to Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart on getting enough support to make his dream of e-peitions in Parliament a reality. After the next election, Canadians will be able to submit petitions online, forcing a response to every petition over 500 signatures.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably a small change, but it’s one that makes democracy easier, not harder. In an age of restrictive voting ID laws and robocall fraud, it’s good to see a positive tool for democratic engagement win support.

Currently, petitions in Canada have to be signed on paper and the originals sent to an MP to sponsor it.

Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s prostitution laws

A few weeks ago I did a “mini-cruise” to Amsterdam. We spent two nights on a ferry (which was really a small cruise ship) and had about 6 hours to explore the infamous capital of The Netherlands.

During that time, we walked through De Wallen, Amsterdam’s red light district where prostitutes stand in windows in their undergarments, advertising to potential clients. The entire practice is fully legal, regulated, and generally safe (though perpetually controversial).

It may now be a glimpse of Canada’s future as the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, has ruled that the governments laws against prostitution do not stand up against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Specifically, the exchange of money for sex is not illegal in Canada, but (1) living off the profits, (2) advertising, and (3) running a brothel were. This combination of rules made it effectively illegal as one could be arrested for soliciting sex on the street, could not operate out of their own or a shared premise, and could not hire security or bodyguards.

Because of the dangers created by working the streets, a number of sex workers and their supporters from various civil liberties and legal defence groups in Ontario challenged the laws in the Ontario Supreme Court. That court overturned the laws but the government won appeal at the Court of Appeal.

This lead to the showdown in the Supreme Court of Canada today, which has the final say on the issue. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, who tends to write brilliant decisions, wrote for the unanimous majority:

The appeals should be dismissed and the cross?appeal allowed.  Sections 210, 212(1)(j) and 213(1)(c) of the Criminal Code are declared to be inconsistent with the Charter.  The declaration of invalidity should be suspended for one year.

This verdict is very similar to the Morgentaler decision, which ruled that Canada’s abortion laws infringed upon a woman’s right to security of the person but granted Parliament a year to draft new legislation.

Brian Mulroney’s government actually did pass a bill through the House of Commons but it died in the Senate (our unelected chamber) in a tie vote. Since then, Canada has had no legal restriction on abortions (instead it is now treated as the medical procedure that it is).

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are now in the awkward position of having to draft a law on a highly controversial topic – something they have opted not to do at every turn for the entirety of their time in power.

Not that I like to be in the position of giving advice to the government, but one potential option might be to criminalize prostitution itself. The entire ruling dealt with Canada’s way of making a legal activity incredibly dangerous. I suspect that this is the direction that will likely come about (although I haven’t read the full background to the decision) and would also probably be supported by the Liberal Party and maybe even Mulcair’s NDP (because unfortunately no one really wants to be seen as on the side of the prostitutes).

Despite the progress Canada made in the 1990s and early 2000s, I don’t think it’s quite reached the permissive attitude of The Netherlands.

Same old politics or revolution?

Progressives are buzzing after British comedian-turned-revolutionary Russell Brand released his revolutionary manifesto as guest editor of the latest issue of New Statesman and went on an anti-capitalist rant when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight.

The editorial is worth reading in its entirety. It wanders quite a bit but combined with the interview identify the core complaint that galvanized the support behind the 2011 London Riots, the Quebec protests, and the Occupy Movement: The system is broken and it won’t be fixed from within.

Continue reading Same old politics or revolution?

Give everyone money

Following a successful petition initiative, Switzerland is set to be the first Western nation to vote on whether to implement a basic income program.

The idea has various names: Basic Income, Negative Income Tax, or Guaranteed Annual Income, which have the same basic premise of giving everyone money. Rather than rely on complex welfare or unemployment systems that require the un(der)-employed to jump through various hoops in order to collect benefits, the state simply provides a cheque every month to top people’s income up to a living wage, regardless of how much work is done.

Perhaps most interesting was that this policy was actually tested experimentally in Manitoba, Canada during the Liberal 1970s. The Mincome Program ran for five years and measured a number of social outcomes. Unfortunately, when the Liberal government fell in 1979, the following Progressive Conservative government shut down the experiment and locked away the results were locked away for 30 years until researchers managed to gain access.

Their findings were quite impressive.

Continue reading Give everyone money

Seizing Canada’s Moment: The Speech from the Throne

The big news yesterday is of course that the Tea Party finally caved and allowed the United States government to reopen amidst its continued partisan deadlock (between the corporatist and the crazy corporatist right-wing). They’ve kicked the can for the next faceoff to January, when we’ll potentially get to do the whole thing over again.

In other news, my biased Canadian-politics Twitter was ablaze over the pomp and circumstance that was Stephen Harper’s (or I guess it was David Johnston’s) latest Speech from the Throne. Look, it even got it’s own domain: http://www.speech.gc.ca/

That website contains the full text, which I’ll analyze below, and numerous ads dedicated to  the never-ending Canada’s Economic Action Plan and “Seizing Canada’s Moment.” As far as I can tell, a speech from the throne has never gotten it’s own marketing material (beyond a press release or early leak), let alone branding. Such is Canada’s current political climate that routine procedures are marketable moments.

Continue reading Seizing Canada’s Moment: The Speech from the Throne