Friday, April 20, 2012

The Municipal Sustainability fund and the Wild Rose Party

With all the discussion about WRP candidates who believe that gay people will burn in the fiery lakes of hell or candidates who think their racial privilege naturally makes them the default "identifiable" candidate and the pro-choice, anti-gay, conscience clause mud slinging, there's something we aren't talking about: that is how having a Wild Rose government is going to directly impact our cities and towns.

You may not even know about the Municipal Sustainability Initiative . It's a program that was instituted in Alberta in 2007 to provide funding for municipal infrastructure projects, such as transit, roadways, bridges, and storm sewer systems (to name a few). The funding source stems from provincial revenues generated by unsustainable resource extractions such as bitumen mining and natural gas and oil drilling. These projects must comply with and demonstrate at least two pillars of sustainability (economic, social or environmental).

This initiative is effective in sharing revenues with overburdened local governments while initiating sustainable projects at the local level where they have the greatest and most immediate effect. Pretty cool, right?

Not really, if the Danielle Smith becomes our next Premier. The Wild Rose wants to limit this funding to municipalities and remove oversight on what kind of projects the money will be spent on. The latter part seems to be a not unreasonable step to take, except anyone in business knows that standards for project spending exist for a reason. Money handed off without oversight is almost always wasted. However, the WRP is suggesting that the rigor of the program is nothing more than cronyism and that money is handed out based on politics and favouritism.

If that's the case, what does the WRP think the answer is? Doing away with current infrastructure programs and associated "bureaucracy" and have a single, legislated long-term funding formula. Which will somehow magically provide municipalities with even more money than they receive today - and, I assume based on the rest of the party platform, doing so without raising taxes.

So, the plan is:

2. Build a one-size fits all replacement to individualized funding programs
3. ????
4. Profit!

Call me skeptical (seriously, go for it. I revel in the label!), but that just seems like a spending cash disaster waiting to happen to anyone who knows how projects work and scrapping the MSI means getting rid of millions of dollars allocated to sustainable infrastructure development in our municipalities ($846 million dollars for the 2012-13 budget). I'm not seeing the positives lining up.

In the end, development is not a quick-fix, easy answer issue, whether it is abroad or at home (ask the Kony 2012 campaign), and we need to be rigorous in our scrutiny of how it (and the associated money) is handled in our province. That is our responsibility to ourselves and to our progeny. Spending less money while giving more money away sure sounds nice. But is it realistic, and more importantly, is it useful to Alberta?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tories look to scrap affirmative action?

Story from the Globe and Mail

Listen. I get it. I've heard all the arguments about how people should get the job they are competing for based on being the best applicant for the job (this is apparently especially true for fire fighters, but I won't get into that here). No one should get a job being the less qualified applicant because they have a vagina, brown skin, or are legally blind. Why? Because Canadians believe firmly in the idea of Meritocracy. The people who work the hardest and put in the most effort will get the most returns.

Pull yourself up by the boot straps, Canada!

But I think a nice little thing that people conveniently tend to leave out of this conversation is the role that privilege plays in this big meritocracy game. It's one thing to say "I believe in an equal playing field" and it's entirely another thing to acknowledge just what that means.

I think a person is willfully blind if they disregard the fact that they grow up with a certain amount of privilege. In a conversation with a good friend yesterday (who, on the surface, finds affirmative action unfair), he acquiesced that yes, growing up white, in a middle-class family made it easier for him to become a property owner, to go to university, and to end up in the fairly lucrative job he's currently at. He also, of his own free will, acknowledged that in the predominantly white community he's going to be working in, it was probably easier for him to get a job than someone who was "brown".

So, in all fairness, people who believe in meritocracy should be firm supporters of affirmative action in the workplace; they should support special scholarships that are targeted at women, Native Canadians, or young people who grew up in poverty. As these are the attempts to address legitimate and systemic inequalities in our proverbial playing field. I mean, I grew up dirt poor and struggled my way through school, but I also had an easier go of it than an Indigenous girl from the West side of Saskatoon, or a young middle-class trans woman who's in the process of transitioning, or the immigrant teenager who's still learning the nuances of english, but dreams one day of being a biologist, or even the young adult who's been keeping up with their peers despite having cerebral palsy. Don't they deserve to play on this mythical level playing field too? Don't you think they've worked extra hard in getting to the same place as you? The same goes for jobs. Maybe you think you have better qualifications, but it's not all that unrealistic to acknowledge that the woman who got hired instead of you is only missing the year of experience you hold over her head because she was sexually harassed at her last three jobs and had to leave (It's happened to me at almost every single one of my jobs, so let's not bury our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't happen anymore). Or that society made it clear that she was expected to stay home and have a baby while her husband did the bread-winning?

Maybe that's not the case, but it's statistically likely. Let's not forget: this is the business world, and no one has time to coddle your personal feelings. Affirmative action is the cold-hearted method of creating a semblance of equality.

People who believe in meritocracy who, at the same time, eschew the logic behind affirmative action are being disingenuous. But that's the true definition of privilege: the ability to acknowledge you have it, while simultaneously ignoring its implications.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oh, What's in a Name? A Quick Lesson in Branding

The defection of former Liberal Dave Taylor to a party of one has gotten me thinking about a lot of things. Will this weaken or strengthen the AB libs? Will Taylor manage to hold onto his seat? But, most importantly, did the Liberals do the right thing in holding on to their name?

Maybe the connection between this move and my last question isn't all that obvious, and I'll admit that I have no where near a degree in marketing, but I think we can make a few assumptions about the development of "Brand".

A brand is an emotional aftertaste that's conjured up by, but not necessarily dependent on, a series of experiences. For Albertans, the Brand "Liberal" conjurs up some nasty flavours such as "National Energy Program" and "Trudeau". Even people who are my age, that weren't even alive to know exactly what those things taste like, still manage to evince a collective cringe upon the mention of the party.

The Brand "Liberal" is successful insofar as everyone has an emotional aftertaste associated with it. However, the negative associations just won't go away. Is that such a big deal, though? The Brand I'm talking about has little to do with the policy the Liberals actually have. To answer that, I would pose that same question to the rural voter who would "... never vote for the money-wasting Liberal party".. the same voter who, when shown "party independent" (Liberal) policies as the platform for an unamed party, is suddenly interested in changing their vote.

The thing about Brand, though, is that its shared emotional aftertaste is platform-independent. Continuing to tell people that the Provincial Liberals are a different entity than the Federal Liberals; that thier policies are different, that they care about Alberta, etc is only going to get the party so far. The Brand is already established, and nothing short of a miracle is going to change that.

Is it a good idea for the Liberals to shake their Brand in favour of something new and untested? In my opinion, absolutely. If the emotional aftertaste of Trudeau or urban-centric policy or the NEP was going to go away on its own, it would have by now. The Liberals need to be proactive in being a good opposition (or, dare I dream, forming a government): resting on the laurels of a bad - though successful - Brand isn't doing them or Albertans any good. I think somewhere inside, Dave Taylor thought so too.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Maternal and Child Health Initiative is a bunch of hot air.

What a warm and fuzzy sentiment from our federal government: "We care about child and maternal health in developing nations. We're going to make it an initiative!"

As a development student, heavily interested in how monetary investments into the lives of women affect economies, I was super excited to hear about this. Maybe the first time I've ever been super excited about anything the Harper government has announced. Welcome to my own, personal topsy-turvy world!

Things were quickly returned to the natural order of things, however, when one of the first in-depth pieces I read about this initiative suggested that it would not include funding for family planning, contraception or abortion services. I couldn't really believe it! If those three things weren't being included, then what exactly was included in this warm-fuzzy initiative? Well, as of now, it goes something like this:

“clean water, inoculations and better nutrition, as well as the training of health workers to care for women and deliver babies.”

But... that's pretty sparse. This is supposed to save lives? How is this an improvement on what we've already been providing to impoverished nations with regards to maternal and child health? For those of us who study development theory and practice, investment into communities without reproductive health services is just bad policy. When a woman can plan and space her pregnancies (via condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, abortions, et al), she's more likely to live long enough to provide for her children; she's more likely to be able to fully invest time and money into the children she already has; her girl-children are more likely to get an education; she is less likely to contract diseases; she is more likely to be able to contribute to family finances. This is just the short-list of benefits.

Well, here's the rub: Canada, through the CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency/My dream employer), has been funding groups like International Planned Parenthood for well over 30 years. Groups that provide access to - gasp - contraception, family planning and abortion services in developing nations. Since December, that funding has stopped flowing (it hasn't been cancelled or anything yet... the money just stopped). So the reality here is that the Federal government has actually cut funding and services and wrapped it up in a warm-fuzzy name hoping the Canadian public would be proud of such a pro-active development program.

As it turns out, though, Canadians are not as stupid as Harper and his crew hoped for. Cries of malcontent began to ring out nationwide. We knew right away there was no improvement happening here, and people started demanding answers. Some, as to how anyone could believe that maternal health programs with no contraception could even be considered; some, as to why their tax dollars should even fund something like that while we still have (homeless people/children in poverty/welfare moms) right here in our own backyard?! Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stood up in public and stated that a Maternal and Child Health initiative needed to include access to abortion services, upon noting its absence from this initiative.

My questions went straight to my MP (who, as of the time of publication*, has to yet respond) who had accused the Libs on his Twitter account of bringing up a wedge issue where there was no need for one. I wondered why anyone would consider abortion provision a "wedge issue" in a country where barely 5% of the population thinks it should be banned. To be fair, only half of Canadians think we've got it right by having no restrictions on the procedure at all. Just half, so it's definitely a wedge issue [insert eye-roll here] (Angus Reid Strategies poll, 2008). But beyond just Canadian opinion, I wondered how we could justify interfering with the sovereignty of other nations to make law in regards to abortion access. I might catch some flack for this one, but the fact of the matter is that social services in developing nations aren't often on the high-priority list. When provided grants by IMF or the World Bank, countries are often encouraged (read: forced to, otherwise no money) to cut funding to things like education, health care and other social programs. Without international aid, many of these services simply don't get provided. By removing funding for reproductive health care services, the Federal government is well aware that it means those services probably just won't be provided. I don't like Harper, but he's not stupid: the feds know what kind of impact this will have and are going ahead with it anyway.

Which leads to me to wonder, is all of this - this putting statistically proven methods of reducing Maternal death rates and increasing investment in children on the back burner - is simply a way of pandering to the far-right wing base of the Conservative party? Harper knows Canadians are done talking about this issue. It looks to me like he's "taking it out" on developing nations by proxy. This way, he's not challenging dominant Canadian pro-choice ideology, but still managing to keep the big "C" conservatives happy. It wouldn't be the first time he's done it. I have a very interesting paper I wrote on the political chess-move that "bringing up the gay marriage issue" was back in his first term in office. If this is the case, we're playing political games at the expense of REAL HUMAN lives. Stay classy, Harper.

I guess, at the end of this all, I'm wondering why Harper feels the need to mess with the Status-quo on Maternal and Child Health provisions Canada already supports? It’s fiscally and morally irresponsible and completely ignores the fact that sometimes being a good provider and mother means not dying in childbirth. And you know what helps that problem? Condoms. And spacing pregnancies. And not supporting 12 kids on a miniscule income.

*Tee-hee. How exciting is it that I just got to say that? Okay, I'm done being 14.

Just a note, I'm not willing to entertain comments that contain statements like "women shouldn't use abortion as birth control" because they are factually inaccurate (the majority of women in fact, do not use abortion as birth control) and purposefully inflammatory.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Making Reboot Alberta more accessible

Things cost money. Period. Which pretty generally sucks when you're not making very much.

Being the champion of accessibility that I am, this has been one of my biggest hang-ups about #rebootab. While the first reboot in Red Deer wasn't too far of a trip, and registration cost was pretty low and I got to split the trip in my relatively easier-on-gas mobile, Kananaskis broke my bank. Even though I split the cost of a hotel room at the beautiful Delta lodge and had someone with me for at least half of the road trip, I still spent over $500 attending. Frankly, I wasn't even coming from that far away.

Reboot from it's very beginning has been about increasing participation... but how do you make the Reboot more accessible in order to engender that increase in participation? Many different attempts have been made: the Reboot website has a car pool section, for 'booters who want to split the cost of gas. People have paired up time and time again to split the costs of hotel rooms, but still I hear in the twitter sphere the sad laments of wannabe 'booters who just can't get all the cash together; the cries of those who stretched the budget just to make it (I'm one of them, to be clear). We've been called elitist - which made me giggle aloud that I'm an "elite" - so how do we go about showing Hugh MacDonald how far he shoved his foot down his throat?
We're smart. We can figure it out!

Proposition #1:
Sponsored essay contests. This idea came up over a bottle (or two, or three) of wine. We could find organizations to sponsor an essay writing contest, with the winner (or winners) having their trip to 3.0 (and possibly beyond) covered. Sweet. For all the uni students who want to come, this is just another day at the office!

Proposition #2:
Staggered registration fees. I won't say I came up with this idea on my own. As a matter of fact, I stole it from the PowerWedge conference invite I received a few days ago. Basically, a few tiers are set up to encourage those least likely to go by charging them less, while those most able to afford it, pay the difference. Reboot has been very Urban-centric, while trying to draw in more Rural participants (who generally, are paying more in transportation fees than anyone else to begin with). Additionally, Reboot has had a severe lack of First Nations voices at the table. My suggestion would be a tier system that charges Rural and First Nations participants the least (maybe single parents? I'm just tossing out ideas, here). Small-medium business owners - like myself - students, and maybe the poor, underpaid bloggers get a mid-tier fee, while those joining us from corporations or government pay the higher tier. This might get some hackles up for being too damn socialist, but I think if we really want a diversity of voices at the table, we need to make a realistic effort to get those voices to the table.

Proposition #3:
Corporate Sponsorship. I don't think it would be that difficult to get some big names behind Reboot. It makes me gag thinking about corporate sponsorship, and some might be turned off by the fact that the "think-tank" that is Reboot is tied - even if only in name - to this or that company. And banners can get ugly (I mean, did you see the crap up on the ice sculptures at Edmonton's ice festival? Ew). But really... it's effective. And could lower costs. And is kinda icky still. Ew, ew, ew, ew. I'm sorry I even brought it up.

These are just a few ideas, and they are absolutely open to criticism. That being said, if you don't like these solutions, I expect to hear your ideas in the comments. I whined about #rebootab 2.0 not being solutions-based enough, so I might as well just start running my mouth and see what happens. ;)

- Apathetic

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A thought on the "Conscience Clause"

After reading this post by Alberta Altruist, I scrapped my work on "The Perils of Online Voting" (which was a whole mess of chaos, best saved for another time), and decided to tackle one of the subjects I am most passionate about: reproductive health. Only because I had no desire to clog up the comments section with my never-ending diatribe on the issue.

This need to discuss what is essentially a dead dog in Canada arises out of the New Wild Rose Alliance party's policy that, if elected, they would: “Implement legislation protecting the ‘conscience rights’ of health care professionals”

Basically, this means that if a doctor finds the procedure you are hoping to get (I'm assuming this only applies to elective procedures) to be irreconcilable with their personal morals, they are not obligated to provide the patient with that medical service. This is all a lot of flourish to essentially give doctors the out on providing abortions or prescriptions for birth control. I mean, what are the chances that my GP is going to find my tonsillectomy morally repugnant? Pr-e-tt-y slim. These clauses always clamp down on JUST reproductive health. 

I am going to step away from the issue of abortion that I brought up originally for 2 reasons:

1. Abortion provision is basically a specialized procedure anyway, and is only provided in hospitals (6 of 100) and reproductive health clinics. You don't go to your GP for a D&C.

2. Abortion can be a divisive issue, and other non policy-related arguments tend to derail the conversation.

So lets talk about contraception and sterilization. Conscience clauses would give my doctor the right to refuse me birth control if they believed that my pre-marital sexual activity was against their beliefs (slattern! It's for your own good!) Or, if they thought any form of birth control is contrary to God's plan for my body. These thoughts make me prickle on their very own (what's with your sense of entitlement? jeez), but even so, I live in Edmonton and I have a car. I can find another doctor who is not so insane antiquated and bigoted - no offense.

I don't make a whole tonne of money, but I do have a certain amount of privilege in that I live in a large urban center and have a personal mode of transportation. Switching doctors = not really a problem. However, I personally just spent nearly a year trying to find a GP who takes new patients, and is knowledgeable about my needs. A year. I live downtown, and this doctor's office is west of Collingwood (on the west side of the Anthony Henday, for those out-of-towners). Finding a physician in this city is not easy. Were I a working-poor, mother of 3 who takes the bus everywhere, finding another doctor would be approaching impossible. 

"But Chelsa!" you say, "There are walk-in clinics scattered all across this great land!" And to you I say, I know. I've sat in them. For 3-4 hours (I also say to you, don't start sentences with conjunctions). 3-4 hours for someone working minimum wage to support a family is a lifetime. And maybe a power bill or groceries.

Additionally, most physicians will NOT give out birth control to someone who has not had their annual fun time, known as the "Pap Smear". Getting a pap at the walk-in: not really ideal. 

So even in the city, conscience clauses would have ramifications. Rural areas? Multiply that. Like, a lot.

Add to that, that free markets do not always function as theory suggests, especially in rural/remote areas. While I think it's patently optimistic to hope that the doctor or pharmacist that refuses to write or fill contraception scripts would eventually be run out of business by another, more savvy opportunist, that's not the way it works in reality. In reality, a small town may have one clinic and one pharmacy that serves a fairly large municipal district. In this case, a clinic or pharmacy cannot realistically be "protested", because these services are all but mandatory and the closest alternative is an hour away. No matter how mad one is about lack of access to contraception, there's not really a way for them to be a good consumer and "vote with their dollar" elsewhere.

You can see the fallout in cases such as the tubal ligation ban in Humbodlt, Saskatchewan. In this case, getting to an urban center that would perform the procedure means a 230km round-trip plus accommodations. For some women, that's a mountain. Or perhaps the woman who was denied birth control in the US (let's not fool ourselves... the WRA is taking this policy straight from the pages of our conservative neighbours to the south), because her physician felt it would cause emotional trauma due to multiple partners. Which, will inevitably be the result of contraceptive use. Can you hear my eyes rolling from where you're sitting?

I don't need to mince words, here: These situations WILL happen, and lack of access to contraception leads to increases in abortion rates... which are publicly funded, fyi.

To sum it all up, conscience clauses undermine equitable access to healthcare in this province, and frankly, we're having enough trouble with that as it is. If people would stop thinking about reproductive health as just a "women's issue" and consider it a community issue (which it is. 'nother post, 'nother time), maybe we would be less likely to throw this aspect of healthcare under the bus for some empty accolades and the "moral high ground".

Do I think doctors should be obligated to provide services they are morally offended by? I refer you to the parable of the vegetarian server working at a steak house. Or more realistically, the story of the Justice of the Peace who was fired (only a few months ago!) after refusing to marry an interracial couple - you know, for the potential kids' sake.

Do your job and keep your morality away from my uterus.

*"insane" removed for its ableist connotations.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Just a brief introduction

Being dragged along with a friend of mine to the very first Reboot Alberta did more than just remind me that there are Albertans who actually do care about the political future of this province, but also made me realize I need to shake off the cobwebs and take my passion and opinions (and I do have quite a few) out of wine-infused conversations, and ranty emails and into the public sphere. Because approaching politics the way I did is likely the exact reason why Alberta is seen as such a politically apathetic province.

So this is my "nice to meet you".

Leading up to Reboot 2.0 in Kananaskis, I will be writing a series of posts on what I took from the first RB. They will range from introspective jaunts through my head, like: "Why are young people the equivalent of unicorns in the political scene", to "Why Social Media cannot be ignored", and maybe even the practicalites of instituting online voting.

After that, I'm expecting 2.0 will only feed the firestorm. Everyone needs a catalyst.