Category Archives: Creationism

Book review: Losing Control

Hot on the heels of Marci McDonald’s bestselling The Armageddon Factor, comes another expose on the religious right in Canada. I just finished Losing Control: Canada’s Social Conservatives in the Age of Rights, which was written by gay activist Tom Warner and published by Between the Lines.

Full disclosure: My review copy was provided at no charge by BTL publishing. Nevertheless, take my review as my honest opinion on this book.

Losing Control provides a good supplemental reading to the narratives provided by McDonald. While McDonald provides the detailed look into some of the cast of characters involved in the religious right, Warner adds an academic history in the events that date back to the formation of the modern rights movements in the 1960s.

Warner documents a shift in Canadian thinking from it’s Christian roots to a secular society that prizes individual and minority rights. This shift has obviously come hard for the social conservatives in the country, who have since rallied around various conservative parties, from the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform, Canadian Alliance and modern Conservative Party.

Warner breaks his treatment thematically, treating the abortion debate, repressive sexuality laws, gay rights and gay marriage in successive chapters. He finishes with some discussion about the social conservative inroads in politics.

Unfortunately, he only has passing references to the debates over evolution vs. creationism and school prayer, both of which have been hot topics for social conservatives.

In The Armageddon Factor, McDonald used mostly original research to compose her book, however the vast majority of Losing Control is based on 29 pages of third-party sources. This extensive bibliography provides a valuable resource for anyone wanting to get the dirt straight from the source.

I partially criticized McDonald for minor editorializing at points in The Armageddon Factor, and while Warner uses the mostly neutral term social conservative to refer to Canada’s vast network of religious right figures (which includes evangelical protestants, Catholics, conservative Jews, Sikhs and Muslims), he does end many of his chapters in a more of a warning style.

As an example, at the end of the chapter on regulating sexuality he states:

Sadly, there is no realistic reason to believe that members of Parliament will take the next logical step and actually decriminalize prostitution and repeal the repressive bawdy house sections of the Criminal Code. As has so often been the case in the past, the best hope for progress on those issues rests with the justices of the Supreme Court and their interpretations of the rights guaranteed by the Charter.

This is of course not to say that I disagree with anything Warner has to say, I’m with him almost the entire way through this book. He does come down firmly with the BC Civil Liberties Union and criticizes other gay activists who have used the Human Rights Tribunals to censor hate speech, to which I’m still undecided upon, but otherwise I’m in total agreement.

I think the greatest value in Losing Control is in its framing the battles with the religious right in terms of conflicting societal values. It’s secular rights (which include religious freedoms) versus theocratic ambitions to regulate morality.

One final chapter I was hoping for was for Warner to connect the dots (something McDonald attempted to do) and discuss the main organizations that have been active in the fights against progressive minority rights. Such organizations as REAL Women Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League and Focus on the Family Canada. At the very least, a brief perusal through the comprehensive index will identify the organizations that routinely come up in church-state separation debates.

Overall, Losing Control is a well-researched book that covers the history of social conservatives in Canada and the battles that have been fought and progress that has been made since the introduction of various Bills of Rights and the Charter. While not an outright replacement for The Armageddon Factor, it does make a good supplement for anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper into these issues.

Two more Peak excerpts

A great double-feature in The Peak this week. First almost two-thirds of a page was dedicated to letters defending evolution and rebutting Isaac Seo’s poor arguments for creationism. Give it a full read.

The following TXT MSGS were also submitted in response to my article last week:

Poor Ignorant Ian Bushfield

I’m a committed atheist and even I found the skeptic’s banner offensive and tacky.

I’m not totally sure if this one was pointed at me, but either way:

Go study world religions bro, christianity ain’t the only worldview with ideas about sin.

Next, I submitted the following piece defending The Peak against the upcoming GSS referendum to cut student funding to the paper. I enjoy that they listed me as an “Associate Staff Contributor” in the issue, but I’m not sure if that’s a typo or if the job requirements are merely having x number of articles published. Either way, I’ll take it.

Grads need The Peak
By Ian Bushfield

I like being published as much as the next person. Most people enjoy seeing their words in ink. Perhaps the only thing better than having your own words published is having someone else quote you or report news about your mundane life. And yet, these are the exact privileges that graduate students at SFU are now in the position to give up.

The relatively new Graduate Student Society is holding a referendum with their upcoming elections that asks their constituents if they would like to remove their per-semester funding for The Peak, and thereby lose, not only their voice at the campus level, but also any chance to promote their views to their community.

There are several reasons that some graduate students feel they should no longer support The Peak. The first is that it currently does not represent their views. Very rarely in the past year has the GSS been mentioned in the news, although this may have more to do with the lack of controversy or scandal surrounding the organization. Also, little press has been given to all the various forms of research that is being done on campus. Few graduate students publish comics or editorials, and even fewer write specifically on topics relating to graduates.

Naturally, much of the blame for this graduate neglect rests on the shoulders of graduate students themselves. It is not difficult to get an article published in The Peak. Much like those who find it to be too “right-wing” or poorly written, the best way to change the paper is to fire up your computer and send in an article. The big challenge that is facing every graduate student’s involvement in The Peak is very simple: time.

Almost every graduate student is strapped for time. Between work ing their thesis, TA-ships, courses, and other work they are committed to, finding the time to write an editorial, let alone research and write a full article, is almost inconceivable. In undergrad, it is possible to extend one’s degree from one to an infinite number of years, so as to spend a bit more time writing for a student newspaper; whereas in graduate school the pressure is on to finish one’s degree and get on with your life.

With so little time on their hands, it is somewhat ironic that some have suggested that graduate students could instead publish their own newsletter in place of funding The Peak. It makes little sense that if students are unable to commit the time to write for The Peak that they would instead write for a newsletter with a much smaller audience. Every paper needs a minimal readership to stay interesting and viable; The Peak has those numbers, and I highly doubt that graduate students would be able to achieve anything similar.

Many graduate students, regardless of the upcoming referendum, will continue to read The Peak week after week. Rather than essentially stealing the paper, the honourable thing for graduate students to do is to vote to continue supporting the independent voice on campus, so that we can continue to have our issues discussed and represented.

The Peak may not be the greatest newspaper ever written, but it remains a strong link between all the constituents of the greater Simon Fraser community. We should vote to keep it that way.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to submit a piece on humanist ethics, homeopathy and anti-vaxxers or something else for next week. Any preferences?

Update:

I almost forgot that SFU Skeptic member Chris Lonergan got a photo of our banner published in the Community Photos section, with the title “Conflicting perspectives.”

conflicting_perspectives

Update-2:

I just noticed that The Peak also reposted the above article on their “Since 1965” blog. This blog has lots of links challenging the GSS referendum.

The Peak – Keep creationism out of science classroom

I submitted another article, and this one got published with a neat little picture. I feel better about my grammar in this one, and I only noticed one mistake that slipped passed the editor (see if you can spot it).

Keep creationism out of the science classroom
By Ian Bushfield

In a story that sounds like it came straight from the Bible belt of the USA, a newly formed group, the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought, has announced that the Kamloops Christian School is teaching Biblical creationism in their science class, on equal footing with evolution. On the matter of private school, I mostly believe that schools can teach whatever they want. While I disagree with indoctrinating children in one’s personal religious beliefs, people are generally free to raise their children responsibly. My support for this right, however, ends when public funding is extended to such indoctrination, as is the case with Kamloops Christian School.

Don’t get me wrong, pluralism is a commendable goal. Greater school choice sounds great on paper, and increased knowledge of the various religions and beliefs of the world can only help serve to ease many of the religious tensions across the world.

However, this narrow-minded propaganda serves to reinforce an us-versus-them mentality and closes minds. There is a reason Richard Dawkins considers indoctrinating children with religion to be a form of child abuse.

Even worse is the conflation between religion and science that occurs when students are taught pseudo- and anti-scientific beliefs as fact alongside the well-established laws of nature. Science class is the place to develop the tools to view the world methodically and skeptically. Science asserts that evidence is required before we can decide whether an idea has any merit to it.

Meanwhile, creationism starts with the premise that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and then argues that the facts of the world are wrong if they conflict with a narrow interpretation of scripture. Declaring that evolution and creationism are on equal scientific footing is akin to considering astrology to be as accurate as astronomy.

Even if we could accept the Bible is as credible a source of knowledge as the systematic accumulation of evidence to confirm hypotheses, then there are countless other beliefs we ought to be including in science classes across the province. These include the various aboriginal stories of creation, the Hindu story, those of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and even the tale of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Each of these stories has its believers who see it as divinely inspired, and each story has as much evidence for its validity as the Christian Bible.

But mainly, I object to a secular, democratic government, which is supposed to represent all people, religions, creeds, and races, to not push any one religion, belief, or non-belief over any other. Were Christians in the minority and atheists in the majority, Christians would equally be crying foul were publicly funded teachers declaring in science class that science has disproven God, or at the very least, that students ought to take a “critical look” at the evidence of the Bible.

There are countless Christians and theists who have no difficulty with evolution. In fact, they are likely in the majority. A small minority, however, remains committed that the only way they can reconcile their belief in a vengeful Old Testament God is to deny the fundamental basis of all modern biology. Yet the fact that many of them hold influential positions of power, like Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear, or Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, is something that ought to scare all secularists, religious or otherwise.

Religious beliefs and discussions have their place. However, when the state sponsors one religious belief to the exclusion of others, we enter a case of discrimination and forced indoctrination. As the anti-religious adage goes, don’t pray in my school and I won’t think in your church.

I think my next one will focus on the anti-vaccination and naturopathy movements. I still need to check a bunch of facts, so hopefully I can get it pounded out for Wednesday.

In the news

A few quick stories of note recently:

  • A whooping cough outbreak is occurring in the BC West Kootenay region because woo-woo parents think vaccines are evil and now their children are at risk of dying. And some people ask what’s the harm in letting people believe in alternative medicine.
  • Speaking of unfounded woo, NDP MP Denise Savoie has claimed that evil “toxins” are to blame for NDP Leader Jack Layton’s recently diagnosed prostate cancer. Throw out the fact she doesn’t state what specific toxins cause cancer and implies all chemicals are evil. Perhaps cancer is more frequent now because we’re living longer and are better at detecting it.
  • Further to the Jack Layton story, it’s commendable to see everyone setting aside partisanship to wish him the best for a speedy recovery.
  • The BC Civil Liberties Association is rightly backing the right of University of Victoria’s Your Protecting Youth pro-life student group. While I disagree with the groups stance, they do have a right to exist and organize and pushing them aside is the wrong thing to do. If the group crosses the lines of civil discourse and propagates falsehoods, then there may be a case for disbanding them, but the same ought to apply to any and all campus groups.
  • The Kamloops Atheists report that the local “Daily News” paper refused to publish any atheist material in their religion page since “the rest of the paper was for atheist material.” They subsequently didn’t publish the request article anywhere in the paper. Further they note that the Kamloops Christian School is teaching Biblical Creationism with equal time to the “theory” of evolution.
  • Finally, to end on a positive note, the Centre for Inquiry Vancouver has just hired Radio Freethinker co-host Ethan Clow as their new Executive Director, making him the third paid CFI employee in Canada. I look forward to see continued success for CFI and wish Ethan the best of luck. Further to that, I’ve accepted a position as CFI Canada’s Campus Outreach Director, and hope to continue the success of the dozens of student groups across the country.

UBC Okanagan Chemistry prof can’t do science

Apparently Ed Neeland at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna has started a “Creation Club” and has written a big-old-bag of crazy for the local newspaper.

First, he misunderstands philosophy of science in that falsifiability is not the only way we actually do science and much of our knowledge is learned inductively.

He then decides that evolution is the same as the Big Bang and abiogenisis, neither of which Charles Darwin or subsequent evolutionary biologists have written about since neither of which deal with evolution by natural selection. Furthermore, both are wildly supported by facts and data, including experiments that demonstrate the basis for life. He seems to think that since it’s unobservable in a single lifetime that therefore the Bible is more right.

Finally, he obsesses about information again, with no definition of what it is that he’s talking about or demonstration that he even understands how biological evolution work.

Somehow, UBC decided to give this man a PhD in Chemistry and then hired him as an Associate Professor. I think they need to refund his money.

At least almost all of the comments on his article are trying to actually teach him science.

If you thought the Georgia Straight was credulous…

Don’t even pick up The Epoch Times.

The Georgia Straight has raised the Skeptic North ire a few times now with credulous anti-vax and homeopathic articles, but the average edition of the Straight contains one credulous article and a bunch of left-wing bias, all buried after about 5 pages of pure ads.

The Epoch Times meanwhile, which is available nationwide for free, online, and for paid subscribers, takes the credulity cake with their latest edition.

2012, LHC destroying the Earth, evolution and global warming are myths.

That’s right, over half of their “science and environment” page is dedicated to anti- or pseudoscientific rubbish.

And this from a paper that looks and feels like a real newspaper. Of course CanWest has a history of anti-evolution and anti-global warming stances, so perhaps The Times is just trying to catch up through mimicry.

So let’s do quick dissections of the crap that prompted me to write this piece:

From the LHC article:

After a year’s delay, scientists at the world’s biggest accelerator have restarted an experiment to recreate "Big Bang" conditions that had sparked suggestions the Earth would be sucked in by millions of black holes.

Yes, there are “suggestions,” but not by any real scientists. The rest of the article also totally ignored this fact. Nothing like using juicy lies to hook readers into your article.

The entire 2012 article mentions how the movie loosely mentions a few prophecies then delves into them without a single interview or fact check:

On the winter solstice of 2012, the sun will align with the dark rift of the Milky Way …Only in the last five years have scientists discovered that there is indeed a black hole in the center of our galaxy. [“…” in original]

Black holes again! Those things are scary! Too bad that one is a whopping 25,000 light years from the centre. Given Newton’s handy discovery of gravity being proportional to 1 over the square of the distance, that means that we’re not going to start plummeting to the centre of the galaxy regardless of how the galaxy turns. In fact, if you read that “dark rift” horseshit right, you could assume that we’d see slightly less mass between us and the big, bad black hole, and the gravitational force would actually be less in 2012 (to a crude approximation). Earth has been in the Milky Way for 4.5 billion years, and will continue to sit here for another 5 billion or so until the sun eats us up (or ejects us from the solar system).

Einstein affirmed Charles Hapgood’s theory of Earth crust displacement, that the Earth’s shifting crust will cause the north south poles to shift toward the equator. Recent research by geologists Adam Maloof and Galen Halverson proves that a polar shift has happened before, at least twice in the distant past.
Is this just a coincidence or are these prophetically accurate warnings?

Yes, it is a coincidence. I like how Einstein is trotted out for no reason other than to make the “polar shift” idea sound credible. Einstein corresponded with lots of people and he was “electrified” by Hapgood’s ideas of polar shifts, which has since been replaced by the widely accepted plate tectonic theory. “Pole” shifts still

It’s nice that they trot out the geologists, since Maloof wrote an explanation for National Geographic of how polar shifts will not result in 2012 like catastophes:

it would take 1-100 million years to accomplish a 50 degree pole shift. In other words, although pole shifting may seem rapid to a geologist, it would still be imperceptible to human generations and even to whole civilizations.

Pole shifting is a fascinating and important process in geological history, but will have nothing to do with the Mayans or with 2012.

Great research their Epoch Times. They end with this dire warning though:

But one fact remains certain—if indeed the poles were to shift and worldwide havoc were to ensue, the sight of tsunamis ripping apart cities, earthquakes splitting through supermarkets, meteors spewing from volcanic eruptions, and massive floods … will not be entertaining at all. This is, after all, a story about humans trying to survive what simply cannot be survived.

That fact is not certain. That is a distortion, a lie, and bad reporting.

Next they challenge the notion that CO2 is causing global warming, implying that no research has been done in climatology in 53 years!

While looking at some old copies of Life magazine in an antique store in the spring of 2008, I came across a very interesting article from August 1956 about the fear of global warming. It reviewed many possible causes for the phenomenon, including increased levels of CO2. There seems to be nothing new today that goes beyond this 1956 article.

Perhaps don’t read Life magazine for science then? The “journalist” then trots some discredited crap about sun cycles, the belief the world has been cooling for 4 years (not exactly the definition of climate…), this lie:

During the late 1960s and 70s, the press, the public and many “scientists” were worried about global cooling and the return of an ice age.

Well, perhaps not a lie, since he did put scare quote around scientists, a review of the literature proves that this was more a public misperception than what real scientists (note the lack of quotes) believed.

Then there’s this:

What about greenhouse gases? As noted in the Scientific American of July 2004, atmospheric methane gas remains in minuscule concentrations of only about 1.7 ppm, CO2 is roughly 220 times as concentrated at the planet’s surface (although, still at a very low 0.038 percent), while water vapour is a whopping 6,000 times as plentiful. Surely, the sun’s effect on atmospheric water vapour plays a much stronger role in global temperature variation than does CO2.

Just 1.7 ppm for methane, 374 ppm for CO2 but 10000 ppm water! Wow those are crazy numbers! Too bad they’re fucking meaningless to climate change.

Yes, water does affect global temperatures, but it’s really hard to change atmospheric concentrations of water, whereas to change CO2 and methane requires simply burning crap constantly since the middle of the nineteenth century. In fact, in the past 5 years, CO2 concentration has increased by 3% alone, and by 25% in the past century. The fact is we do not live in the same climate as we did 100 years ago.

Unfortunately this was only Part 1, with the second part promising to discuss “melting glaciers and ice sheets, long-term weather forecasting, and political support for CO2 reduction.” I somehow doubt real science will be reported.

Finally, the evolution article follows Carl Wener (no, not the German watercolourist, this one has a doctorate in medicine), the seemingly sole winner of the Norman D Jones Science Award, who later went on to preach biblical creationism (not mentioned in the “science” article).

Werner doubts evolution because the “laws of chemistry would preclude life from forming by itself.” After a fun “life-long adventure” (it obviously didn’t last a lifetime since he’s still around to talk about it, maybe he needs to keep searching), he decided there was no evidence for evolution and now makes up lies against science.

The entire article is an advertisement for the creationists book “The Grand Experiment” and finishes with these quotes from Werner,

“Basically what I read in the college textbook was in contradiction to what I was finding out in the field when we did the interviews with the scientists. So there was great disparity between what was written and what the reality was,” Werner said.
“There’s a lack of candor in the universities on this one topic. It is kind of a closed topic. Scientists are unwilling to discuss it openly because of fear of repercussion.”

Scientists are always investigating evolution. How about read a real book on evolution, learn that we know a lot more than just fossils (which we have lots), and stop shouting persecution when you’re just wrong.

Usually when a newspaper tries to present creationism, it’s usually a point-counterpoint that results in a draw, with a real scientist at least getting interviewed. Epoch Times, you fail even the basic test.

I’ll end with this note: The main readership of The Epoch Times are Chinese populations (seeing as how the paper was founded by Falun Gong members and routinely attacks the atrocious human rights record of the Chinese Communist Party), meanwhile, nearly all North American skeptics groups are predominantly white, middle-class males(even in Vancouver where nearly 20% of the population is Chinese). While some attention has been paid to the gender discrepancy, race has been an even greater taboo.

If we want to grow as a movement, we need to take action to diversify beyond our limited appeal. Clearly there’s credulity in other cultures, but there’s also skeptics. We’re more alike than we are different and we only limit our potential by not reaching out to skeptics of other cultures.

If it smells like a cult…

I sat myself through another Christian presentation today for some reason (boredom?), not having learned my lesson after Friday’s yawner. Today’s lunch hour event was titled “Reasons to Believe” and featured Every Nation International’s founding pastor Rice Broocks presenting his sermon.

I’ll jump to the end for you, the reasons were mostly emotional and despite the promise of a more dialogue-centred event, he ended up talking up until almost the end of the time we had (I had to run out at the end of this one to TA).

He’s “skeptical” of evolution, which mainly comes from his necessity to have an original sin, but he mentioned something about finding astronomical findings intriguing. I took him to be an Old-Earth Creationist (may be wrong). He did seem to think that evolution led to Hitler (touched on this very briefly) and that the information in one DNA molecule could fill books which would fill the Grand Canyon (the human genome is estimated at 750 MB in raw information which translates to roughly 100,000 pages or 200 copies of the Origin of Species, not quite a Grand Canyon full).

I did ask him if evolution was antithetical to his faith, to which he responded that while there are many Christians who accept evolution he thought the evidence was lacking for evolution (he expects every animal in history to have fossilized) and it seemed that evolution just didn’t jive right in his mind with Christianity.

The biggest stun I got out of him (there were only about 10 people there, 4-6 of whom seemed associated with his ministry already), was when he was talking about his encounter with a skeptic who he offered the deal that if after he responded to every one of the skeptic’s questions adequately (by the skeptic’s standards), if the skeptic would “serve God.” The skeptic replied that he wouldn’t serve God, so the Pastor didn’t spend his time arguing if the skeptic wouldn’t believe in the end. I challenged him and said that perhaps the skeptic would believe in God, but would refuse to serve.

It caught the otherwise well-spoken and thought out pastor for a second (he’s obviously spread the word a lot – and discussed his travels across the globe), and he finally decided that belief in the Bible means to serve, which is a bit of a cop-out. I don’t know if it’s ever crossed his mind that someone could read the Bible, believe what it says, but then still reject Jesus.

I’ve stated as much that if the Christian God were proved to me, I’d reject his authoritarianism over my soul.

Now, let’s look at where this creationist was coming from: Wikipedia informs me that the Every Nation ministry has 400 churches around the world, likes to focus on campuses, and is awkwardly associated with the Maranatha Cult of the late 1970s and 80s. While this cult didn’t “drink the Kool-Aid” (Broocks did make reference to what he called “Comet Cults” which would do that to land on the comet and then return), it was known for authoritarian ways and its pressure on campuses.

Of course this isn’t helped by the fact the key members who organized this event approached every single person who entered, gave a “hi, what’s your name” speech and generally exuded a slightly-over-zealous-but-not-quite-creepy quality.

Anyway, prior to this event, some of the SFU Skeptics and I were postering for tomorrow’s Evolution Day event on campus (a showing of Judgement Day, to which I won’t be making it due to TAing), which attracted the attention of several of the ministry people. Broocks did allude to the “Skeptics” on campus in his talk and I think his crew may be planning to crash the party tomorrow.

And there’s still the potential of the Banana Man’s cronies to be distributing their desecrated Origin editions too.

Update: A little more digging into Every Nation reveals quite a bit.

What does the Wildrose Alliance promise?

With news from Daveberta (the National Post link is dead at the moment) that the Wildrose Alliance has surged to 28% to the Stelmach PC’s 34% support (just over half of what they had less then a year ago), let’s look at the Wildrose Alliance Party platform looks like (note to federal Liberals, want to look like a government in waiting? Get a platform):

  • All Policies are preceded by:  “A Wildrose Government will….”

DEMOCRATIC REFORM

Federalism

  • defend Alberta against intrusions by the federal government by protecting the property, legal, constitutional and democratic rights of Albertans.

Well they start off quick with the anti-Ottawa stance. It’s big in rural Alberta, and remember that one of Danielle Smith’s early opponents for leadership called for referendums on seperation every time a federal Liberal government was elected.

  • work to remove inter-provincial trade and professional certification barriers by the expansion of the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement to other Provinces.

Electoral Reform

  • institute fixed election dates for Provincial Election every 4 years. The Legislative Assembly will be able to call a vote of non-confidence at any time.
  • be accountable to the people of Alberta by having free votes with the exception of the budget and votes of non-confidence.
  • institute the right of recall of elected officials if 20% of the electorate sign a petition calling for such an action and 25% if the electorate is less than 1000.
  • hold elections for Alberta Senators at the same time as Provincial Elections.

Government Reform

  • establish an independent agency to determine the compensation, pension, and severance packages of elected governmental officials.
  • limit the Provincial Cabinet to 16 members.
  • institute strict conflict of interest guidelines facilitated through the Provincial Ethics Commissioner’s office.
  • establish set dates for Throne Speeches, Budget Announcements, and Legislative Sessions.
  • institute an open and comprehensive Freedom of Information Act.

Municipal Government

  • follow any downloading of services from the province to municipalities with the appropriate amount of funding.
  • extend greater autonomy and better planning tools to local governments to reduce pressure on property taxes.
  • ensure that crown corporations are subject to local zoning and land-use by-laws.

Just about all of these points I agree with, I’d go farther and push for electoral reform, but remember that the federal Conservatives promised many changes too. A big one they missed is banning corporate and union donations, but there’s only one party in Alberta that really wants to do that. Of course any party/election financing reform would be a huge step.

Property Rights

  • entrench individual property rights within an Alberta Bill of Rights.

Human Rights

  • strike section 3 of the Human Rights and Multiculturalism Act.

Of course section 11 is just fine…

Referenda

  • institute legislation allowing the citizens of Alberta to call for a binding referendum on a matter of significant public concern upon the presentation of a petition signed by at least 10% of the total voters of the last Provincial election in Alberta.
  • only use Section 33 (the Notwithstanding Clause) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the consent of the Alberta people in a referendum.

Again, both reasonable.

ECONOMY

Agriculture

  • support the elimination of all indirect taxes and tariffs on farm inputs and the reduction of provincially controlled input costs.
  • support marketing programs for Alberta agricultural products, nationally and internationally.
  • support research and education into enhancing agricultural productivity and value added production for agriculture.
  • oppose international agriculture subsides.
  • develop an effective and financially viable long-term agriculture safety-net program.
  • encourage private sector value added opportunities for Alberta’s agriculture sector.
  • support Alberta producer market choice to sell grain independent of the Canadian Wheat Board or to sell through the Canadian Wheat Board voluntarily.
  • take on the responsibility to negotiate commercially competitive access to international markets with respect to beef marketing.
  • base government regulations of the beef industry on appropriate management of real risks and an accurate analysis of the costs and benefits of these regulations.
  • leave investment in business and the development of beef marketing as the responsibility of the industry, not government and must be based on market signals rather than government programs.
  • will allow government support for the beef industry to come from national programs that minimize the risk of adverse impacts on international and interprovincial trade, and do not distort free market behavior.

My only comment here is that the Wheat Board maintains a competitive advantage by having a monopoly, I’m not sure whether we should castrate it. Most of the rest seems reasonable enough. Of course that last point is completely contradictory.

Budget

  • institute a zero based budgeting program in all government departments. The program will require justification of all new funds spent each year.
  • I have no clue what “zero based budgeting” is.

    • pass legislation that ensures all provincial finances are fully, accurately and honestly reported under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
    • limit growth in program spending to the rate of inflation and population growth of Alberta.
    • support the Auditor General’s Office to help identify and prevent wasteful spending in order to ensure value for money.
    • use budget surpluses to pay debts owed by the Alberta Government first and secondarily deposits to the Heritage Fund.

    Seeing as Danielle Smith has a business background, these seem like they’re straight out of accounting school. Of course I could see the need for funding to exceed inflation to make up for infrastructure deficits.

    Energy

    • support a stable and price sensitive approach to energy production.
    • ensure an internationally competitive fiscal regime that attracts investment capital and makes reinvestment attractive.
    • support education and research into energy-efficient homes, businesses and government offices.
    • require building and land use-planning codes to have high-energy conservation standards.
    • recognize the importance of the energy sector to the province and strive to reduce the cost of doing business.
    • support the diversification of Alberta’s energy supply.
    • support the development of value added facilities through tax incentives.

    Some sounds like code words for not charging anything to big oil to steal our oil, others are reasonable (diversification and energy-efficiency).

    Financial Responsibility

  • cut red tape and the regulatory burden by 1/3 from 2009 levels.
  • Does this mean drop 1/3 of the laws we have on book arbitrarily? This is really random to me.

    • work to eliminate the duplication of government authorities and services.
    • institute complete financial disclosure of all provincial finances including the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, Crown corporations and government investments. The disclosures will be made in the Legislature with a complete accounting available to Alberta citizens.
    • establish a “Waste Buster” website to help report and stamp out government waste.

    I wonder how much the “Waste Buster” website will cost, and how many people will complain about it through it. Great blog fodder to come with that.

    • grant the Provincial Auditor full access to all Government funded companies, Crown corporations and subsidiaries of Crown corporations.
    • have open tendering on government contracts that allow fair competition for businesses and to provide
      better value to taxpayers.

    If these are contracts that are going to be given out anyways, then I agree. But don’t outsource for the sake of it.

    • make sure the role of government is not to own and operate businesses when a competitive business market exists.

    Does this include police competing with local security companies, or medical services, or charter schools?

    Forestry

    • permit only ecologically sound and economically sustainable forestry management methods.
    • invest in research to promote good forest stewardship.
    • encourage other value-added uses of Alberta’s forestry resources.

    Agree.

    Heritage Fund

    • institute a policy of providing from the Heritage Savings Trust Fund when anticipated or prior annual Real Gross Domestic Product growth of Alberta is less than 2%.
    • institute a policy of depositing a set percentage of government natural resource income each year into the Heritage Savings and Trust Fund.

    These both are generally good ideas. Tough economic times are nevertheless tough.

    Labour

    • allow individual workers the choice to determine their membership in labour organizations.
    • allow competition to the Workers Compensation Board.
    • extend to workers the democratic right to a secret ballot vote on labour organization certification under the Labour Code and ensure that the same rule apply for de-certification as for certification.
    • restore education as an essential service under the Labour Code ensuring that no child’s right to an education is denied by school strikes or lockouts.

    Up until this point I was thinking, they’re not doing that bad. Maybe they’d be an okay clean-up the leg in a minority situation. Then we get the attack on unions. WCB competition – what the hell is that about? And that last point exists to ensure that they can force those damn liberal teacher’s unions back to work rather than giving them any recognition for their work.

    Pension Plan

    • withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and create an Alberta Pension Plan. The Alberta plan will offer at minimum the same benefits while giving Albertans control over the investment fund.

    Why do this unless you want to destroy it? Is there precedence in other provinces?

    Taxation

    • oppose unfair and industry specific taxation from the federal government.

    Aka “carbon taxes”

    • fight for Alberta’s deserved share of federal tax dollars through a more equitable distribution of federal transfer payments and contracts.
    • establish a per child income tax deduction for parents or guardians.
    • collect the Alberta personal income tax.

    Is the current government not collecting personal income taxes?

    • increase the basic personal exemption to benefit the lowest income earners.
    • provide greater tax deductions for charitable contributions.

    These aren’t bad.

    Tourism

    • encourage tourism as a major growth area of the Alberta economy.
    • will stimulate tourism with international marketing  in cooperation with tourism operators.

    Transportation

    • develop new transportation corridors to relieve the pressure on current routes.
    • develop a comprehensive transportation strategy that recognizes the interdependence of Alberta’s economy with its neighbours.

    Fluff in these two categories.

    EDUCATION

    Courses

    • ensure that the arts, music and physical education curriculums are fully funded and encourage entrepreneurial courses in Alberta’s public schools.
    • enhance online educational initiatives for students.

    Education Standards

    • set high standards for education. These measured standards will include academic testing, teacher quality, and high school graduation rates including public reporting.
    • eliminate the policy of social promotion in Alberta’s schools. Students will be expected to meet standards in order to be promoted to the next grade.
    • institute methods to hold educators accountable for performance.

    Again, they start out not that bad, then some odder ones. I don’t know what “methods” they’re referring to, but I will say that almost all of my grade school teachers were above average in quality compared to university professors (although I have had some great university professors, I had very few poor grade school teachers), so I’m not sure that we have a crisis in teaching quality. But we don’t need to care if the teacher’s don’t want these changes, they won’t be allowed to strike.

    Post-Secondary Education

    • increase research and development funding for colleges, universities and institutes and encourage private sector partnerships.

    Because Alberta universities aren’t sold out enough (see: Schulich School of Engineering) let’s just sell them out more. Remind me where the data is that p3s are a cost effective solution to infrastructure deficits?

    • give priority for admission and funding to Alberta students to post-secondary institutions.
    • work with employers, post-secondary institutions and the Alberta Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission to increase training and apprenticeships in the trades and technical sectors.
    • reduce student loans by 10% per year to students in the educational and health care sectors attending accredited schools of education provided they work in underserved communities.
    • strengthen the network of colleges, institutes and on-line learning opportunities throughout the province.

    School Choice

    • support “School Choice” Legislation.

    Aka more Christian Fundamentalist schools, as well as opening the gates to any other religion that wants public money to indoctrinate their students. I could foresee a WRA government in Alberta to be the first to give money to a school for Scientology.

    • institute a student based funding system for financing education which will allow funding via Alberta Opportunity Scholarships to follow the student to the accredited education facility of parental choice.

    Basically, trying to legitimize the fact they’re funding fundamentalist creationism.

    • mandate that Alberta Opportunity Scholarships include all funding for student education for instruction, support and capital.

    School Safety

    • invest in school safety to ensure a safe secure leaning environment for students.
    • establish a school violence and crime electronic data reporting system.
    • work to reduce absenteeism and truancy.

    ENVIRONMENT

    Clean Water

    • encourage conservation of water taken from lakes or rivers for agricultural, industrial and domestic purposes.
    • impose strict regulations on effluent producing industries.
    • Develop and implement an on and off-stream fresh water storage plan.

    Conservation

    • recognize the value of parks to society and protect these areas from intrusive activities.
    • require governments to meet responsible environmental standards in their procurement, recycling and construction operations.
    • conserve Alberta’s environment and monitor environmental impacts with enforcement provisions while balancing economic development opportunities in the province’s future.

    Energy

    • invest in research for clean coal technology and provide tax incentives for capital investment.

    Protection

    • establish an environmental ombudsman for Alberta.
    • require Ecological Impact Reports for all large projects. Projects in sensitive areas that use unproven technologies, or generate significant public concern will be a priority.

    All I have to say about this section is they convieniently neglected the words “climate change,” “global warming,” and even “carbon emissions.” At least Stelmach reluctantly admits carbon dioxide ought to be buried (along with $2 billion we don’t really have lying around).

    HEALTH CARE

    Care of Patients

    • enforce the five basic principles of the Canada Health Act which are: Public Administration,
      Comprehensiveness, Universality, Portability and Accessibility.
    • provide coverage for authorized out of province medical treatment that is unavailable in Alberta.

    Why do health care here when BC is selling spots in line?

    • ensure the care of persons with a disability to ongoing access of medical benefits.
    • develop a Medical Machinery and Equipment Plan that ensures existing medical diagnostic and care equipment is adequately staffed, fully utilized and properly maintained and that provides for future investments in new equipment and technology.
    • establish and fund a fully independent Health Ombudsman in Alberta.
    • fully fund and implement a mental health initiative.
    • focus funding on patient care and reduce wasteful spending in the system.
    • provide expanded home care and palliative care services to assist chronically and terminally ill patients with supportive home environments as an option to institutional care.

    Delivery

    • performance measures that are annually audited and publicly reported.
    • build a unified, universal and cost-effective health services information network that will improve care and reduce long-term costs.
    • give all citizens better access to their medical records and treatment histories.
    • institute a Health Management System that rewards cost effective cost-saving administration by providing incentives to doctors, nurses and health care professionals.
    • encourage and support innovations in the delivery of health care.

    Do “innovations” include private/for-profit delivery?

    • alleviate pressure on emergency room services by expanding the funding for and the number of multi disciplinary 24-hour-a-day community based health care centres.

    “Community based” often means private clinics.

    • work with non-profit societies to develop an Intermediate and Long-Term Care Facilities Plan which will address the needs of our aging population including increasing capacity.
    • establish a rural and remote health initiative to ensure Albertans get the care they need.
    • implement legislation protecting the “conscience rights” of healthcare professionals.

    This last line is so doctors no longer have to do the job they signed up for – in providing services like contraceptives, legal abortions, or anything else they deem to be part of their religion. Could a Jehovah’s Witness or Christian Scientist doctor basically refuse to do anything for anyone but still collect a paycheque? This opt-out of work is similar to the failed attempt by a bigoted marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan to attempt to get out of performing gay marriages. Sorry bub, but that’s your job (note that he held a different position then religious officiants).

    Funding

    • provide health care funding that will follow the service to the health care provider and approved facility of choice.

    This helps set up a competitive network within our existing health care system. I think some countries with universal health care have implemented this successfully, but call me skeptical if I doubt the WRA’s sincerity.

    • increase funding for home care, supported housing, assisted living, long-term care facilities and palliative care hospices to provide less expensive and more patient-friendly alternatives to hospital care.

    Again, good in theory, but looks like code for moving patients to private, for-profit facilities. If this stays on the taxpayers bill, then the extra overhead of for-profit facilities will cost us much more than properly investing in medicare.

    • reduce transportation and lodging costs for rural patients who receive treatment that is not locally available by developing a rural medical travel assistance program.
    • ensure that patients living at home in palliative or long term care are entitled to the same pharmaceutical benefits they would have received as in a hospital.
    • deliver an annual individual statement of benefits to each resident of Alberta.

    What the hell’s the point in the last line? Why not just put in online and make it publicly available via MLAs offices? This seems like unnecessary postage.

    Training

    • expand training and post-secondary programs to graduate more Health Care professionals.
    • develop and implement a retention and recruitment plan in full consultation with health care service providers.

    Wellness

    • institute a preventative health care and wellness program.
    • increase funding for physical fitness and amateur sports.
    • enhance efforts and funding to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

    JUSTICE

    Courts

    • institute a program where all sentences given in provincial court will be subject to a truth in sentencing provision..

    I have no clue what “truth in sentencing” is or why they trail off…

    • support the right of compensation from convicted persons to the victims of their crimes.

    So someone who’s in poverty and commits a crime out of desperation, and then serves their time, can then be sued by the victim? An eye for an eye is not the appropriate path to rehabilitation.

    • introduce initiatives for Maintenance Enforcement to bring about improved compliance with maintenance and visitation orders.
    • support legally enforceable arbitration between all parties in a legal dispute to settle non-criminal actions.
    • all Albertans have access to legal representation and justice.

    Policing

    • expand the role of sheriffs to handle Provincial justice issues.
    • ensure sufficient funding for municipal policing to allow for effective policing and protection of Alberta people.
    • require young offenders to participate in crime prevention courses and other measures.

    System Confidence

    • work to ensure that the rights of crime victims take precedence over those found guilty of committing crimes.

    Every human being has rights, even the evil criminals.

    SOCIAL

    Equality

    • recognize that all Albertans have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.

    Especially corporations, but not unions (neither of which are people).

    Arts and Culture

    • encourage and support through funding community projects and school programs for arts and cultural activities as an essential enrichment of life and integral part of Alberta’s communities and cultural diversity.

    Families

    • implement educational activities to help the abused overcome the effects of abuse and to stop further abuse from abusers. Access to therapy will be provided where required.
    • work with foster parents to help them improve the care and placements of foster children.
    • enhance and increase the training, resources and authority of social service providers to properly protect children at risk and improve services to families.
    • earmark a significant portion of the revenues generated from gambling for the rehabilitation of
      gambling addicts and for educational programs aimed at reducing gambling.
    • collaborate with non-profit societies and commit funding for emergency residences for victims of
      violence.
    • ensure people fleeing violent situations are provided with sufficient time and support including
      increased stays in transition houses as necessary.

    First Nations

    • create a permanent First Nations Forum to provide aboriginal citizens living on and off reserves direct communication with government about their priorities and ideas to materially improve their quality of life.
    • devote special attention and resources to addressing the challenges and needs of aboriginal women and youth.

    Again, a couple sections I generally agree with.

    Responsibility

    • support social responsibility within the framework of a free enterprise economic system and promote compassionate service, volunteerism, individual responsibility and care for those unable to care for themselves.

    Aka the “get off your ass and do it yourself” mentality. Known under King Ralph as “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

    Social Assistance

    • implement a timely and effective Social Assistance to work program.

    I’m not sure what they’re getting at here.

    In general, I think I’d agree with 60-70% of every parties platform, since it’s mostly puff words meant to be appealing to everyone, but even in this fluffy web platform that exists far from any general election, there’s some very concerning positions that would cause me never to vote for this party.

    From omitting climate change in your environmental platform (because she’s apparently “skeptical of climate change”) to promising greater “school choice” to attacking unions and teachers, I have to say that while the Wildrose Alliance has gotten polished up with their new leader, they are definitely not the modern centrist party that Danielle Smith claims to be.

    (and forgive any formatting snafu’s since it’s late and this has way too many blockquotes)

    Karen Armstrong: Rewriting the history of religion

    I like The Tyee. It generally offers a non-MSM view of current events and is very grassroots oriented (since its funding comes directly from its readers who want to see better news coverage). But sometimes they let their writers go off the deepend.

    This is the case in the latest review of Karen Armstrong’s new book, The Case for God.

    The following is my favourite bit of apologetics from the piece:

    Despite her determination to steer clear of religion, Armstrong argues in her new book for the existence of a highly misunderstood God; a God who has been pitted against science and extreme Western rationalism for hundreds of years, and has come out on the losing end. What most New Atheists are missing, claims Armstrong, is that this literal interpretation of scripture they so revile (which has led in part to modern-day Creationism and Intelligent Design theories), is actually quite rare, and their dismissal of religion on this basis ignores the basic foundations of most of the world’s religious traditions. In one stroke, she manages to show how both religious extremists and fervent atheists are seriously missing the point.

    Previously, the great theologians had said that the natural world can tell us nothing about God — you can’t even say that God exists, because our notion of existence is too limited.

    Maybe Ms. Armstrong doesn’t meet many evangelicals, or the fact almost 1 in 4 Canadians thinks God made the world 10,000 years ago. That’s not exactly “rare” to me. The USA is even worse with upwards of 40% thinking goddunnit is the fundamental basis that all biology should rest upon.

    Similarly, it doesn’t really matter if “great theologians” believe Adam and Eve didn’t exist (hint: they don’t), policy makers and the general public who rest their beliefs on religion do think our “notion of existence” is good enough to know that God wants us to kill for Him.

    The “great theologians” didn’t seem to have any issues with all the witch burnings over the years.

    Karen Armostrong: You FAIL for not knowing any real religious people and muddying up the waters with apologetic liberal theology.

    The Tyee: You FAIL for reprinting her completely uncritically.

    Creationism at YVR

    I’m heading from Vancouver to Calgary this weekend to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday with my fiancée’s family, and I thought it would be a little tongue-in-cheek if I wore my Royal Tyrrell Museum Evolve t-shirt (with the classic misguided evolution picture):

    But I’m not even in Calgary yet and I’ve already been confronted over my t-shirt.

    Walking through security the guard who waved me through the scanner said she liked my shirt, then the guy scanning my bags looked at me and asked where I got it.

    I replied the Tyrrell Museum and then he asked if I “believed” it.

    Now, the average creationist is annoying enough to deal with, but you tend not to want to argue with people with guns who have the ability to order full cavity searches on anyone randomly.

    But he felt like continuing, blathering something about the comparative anatomy of human skin cells being more like cats then monkeys and that disproved evolution (wouldn’t that really just demonstrate we’re more related to cats then monkeys and not disprove anything?). He finally finished scanning my stuff, which I grabbed and walked off as he said that I could even “ask any doctor” or pre-med about what they study (I imagine comparative anatomy is done more on cats and smaller mammals because of numerous reasons which boil down to we value them less than the “higher” apes – including valuable reasons like growth rates, etc.)

    I can’t find any references to his absurd claims on TalkOrgins.org, but that’s more likely that he’s mixing numerous stories and I wasn’t willing to sit around and be preached at by a security guard.

    Beyond the annoyance of being preached at in one of the most awkward situations possible, I think we ought to have a few concerns here:

    1. A creationist is using his position to push his beliefs – atheists wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be allowed to mock people who walk through wearing crosses or other religious symbols. (Note I’m not calling evolution a religious position, but it’s not something we need to debate when you’re trying to determine if I’m a threat to air travel).
    2. Someone anti-science is running x-ray machines and granting access to airplanes – two of physics crowning achievements of the 20th century.
    3. If you like conspiracies, perhaps you could ask how many creationists are running airport security (and other government jobs) since Harper became prime minister? I doubt it’s higher than the general public.