Sunday, October 30, 2005

Oui ou non? La question: il y a 10 ans.

"Mes amis, C'est raté, mais pas de beaucoup."

It was with these words 10 years ago today that Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau conceded defeat in the Quebec City sovereignty referendum. Parizeau had won the 1994 provincial election and promised to hold a referendum on Quebec sovereignty. The referendum was held on October 30, 1995, and I remember Canada being on edge wondering what a Yes vote would mean. In the end, the No side barely won. One of the first major impacts was Parizeau's concession speach, where he blamed the defeat on "money and the ethinc vote." It exposed a dark underside to Quebec nationalism and shocked many. After that, sovereignty declined as a critical issue. Even though the sovereigntist Parti Québecois had been re-elected in 1998, no referendum followed. Federalist Jean Charest defeated the sovereigntists in 2003, and the sovereigntist Bloc Quebecois lost seats consistently in federal elections following.

Yet sovereignty has become an issue. Last year allegations came to the front of unethical Liberal ad spending, much of it with the purpose of selling the federal government to Quebeckers following the referendum. Quebeckers were more angry than Canadians in other provinces; they felt they had been bought off. During last year's election, the Bloc rose to 54 seats, the most they'd ever won. The spending is now the subject of an inquiry by Justice John Gomery (the first part of which, ironically, is due to be released later this week).

I remember campaigns on the part of Canadians outside of Quebec to convince Quebeckers that they were an important part of Canada and that they should stay. I don't see that passion any more. I've talked to people who although they'd like to see Quebec stay, they believe, "if they want to go, let them go." We've had a long time now to think about and adjust to the possibility of an independent Quebec.

Back to the issue of Gomery, why did it happen? For years the federal government had played an active role in people's lives through the provision of services. In the name of cutting the deficit, Ottawa slashed funding to the provinces in the 90s, leaving them unable to fund their services essentially. Without this role in people's lives, the federal government had to resort to spending on logos that promoted federalism. That's why Quebeckers were outraged.

So what's Canada to do? On one encouraging note, the referendum was a yes/no question, but many Quebeckers don't see it that way, and the issues are more complicated than that. The federal government has a chance to take leadership on issues that affect people's lives wherever they live, leadership that is lacking at the moment. Prime Minister Martin had promised to call an election after the Gomery report is issued (the second of which is expected next year), so this election will present an opportunity to debate the future of this country and to forge a national vision with which to take Canada forward, to make it the great country it can be.

Vive le Canada!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Fairness Of Hallowe'en

Eight days from now, many will stock up on goodies to hand out to the kids as they walk up and down the streets tirck-or-treating. Some people will accompany the kids as they do this. But what if the candy you buy was made in factories that exploit kids and their parents?

If those issues concern you and your buying patterns reflect those concerns, you don't have to boycott the holiday at all. You can buy treats from companies that pay their workers fairly and treat them with respect. In addition, these products are also certified organic and do not have genetically modified organisms. Global Exchange is an American company that does work in this area and has assembled packages that people can buy. Here in Brandon, fair trade items are available at the Marquis Project (which also has an online store). You can aslo tell Nestle to stop sourcing their products from suppliers who exploit their workers.

I like these types of campaigns, because it shows that activists are for something positive and that they have goals beyond protesting the next big conference. As people become more aware of how the choices we make affect economic policies which in turn affect the people who produce these items, the Fair Trade movement will grow. It's a continuation of a current trend, as sales in Fair Trade products grew 53% in 2003 and 20% in 2004. The movement has also been supported by former American President Jimmy Carter, who has spent much of his post-presidency working towards the promotion of human rights. Earlier this month, the Fair Trade Futures Conference drew 750 people from across North America to Chicago, ans was a success. The goal was for those in the Fair Trade community to network and to encourage further growth of the Fair Trade movement. I hope that this replaces the current system which exploits workers, the environment, and consumers for the benefit of the shareholders.

Should we be made to serve the economic order, or should the economic order be made to serve us?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

End World Hunger Now

October 16 has been designated as World Food Day Day by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. This is a day designated to promote awareness of global food issues.

This is an important issue. Hunger is on the rise, both in the developed world and here in Canada. Food bank usage is growing, but there isn't always enough to meet demand. Hunger has also persisted despite advances in genetic engineering, which ironically was supposed to be an important aspect in combatting hunger. There is enough food to feed every person in the world (much less every Canadian, and Canada is one of the richest countries in the world) , so something is wrong with the distribution. This little pamphlet from Oxfam does a good job explaining why food is inacessable to poor people. It describes how entrenched institutional structures like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund allow hunger to persist and how they benefit from so doing. It also touches on the prices farmers are paid for their produce, which is particularly pertinent here, as one of the major economic issues in southwestern Manitoba is farmers struggling and in many cases being driven off their land.

So, should we just give food go hungry people? No. The problem doesn't revolve around whether or not people have food, it's about their means to either produce or acquire it. Sure, you can give money to people or donate to foodbanks, but neither action changes the fact that whoever benefits from your generosity will still need help tomorrow. The entrenched systems need to be changed to allow small communities more direct influence over their own affairs as it comes to food. More on how that's done can be found here.

What this issue boils down to is values. As a global community, do we value the right of a few people to be well off while many are not, or do we value the right of everyone to have the basic essentials of life?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Canada Unlocked

In the past few days, issues surrounding lockouts have been receiving much atention in Canada. The NHL, having lost a whole season because of a lockout, started its regular season last week. CBC workes go to work in a few days after having voted to end a lockout that began last August.

Hockey Night in Canada on CBC is a decades-old tradition here in Canada, long predating our current multi-channel universe. People from across the country would tune in to watch the likes of Richard, Orr, and Gretzky. There was something distinctly Canadian about this tradition.

Yet the NHL and the CBC are in an unfortunate state of affaris today. Gary Bettman has been NHL commissioner for 12 years. He's credited with expanding the number of teams in the league in this time and for the expanded coverage the league now receives in the US. While this took place, fans in traditional hockey cities like Winnipeg, Hartford, Quebec, and Minneapolis/Saint Paul had to watch their teams leave for financial reasons and head for cities in the southern US where hockey isn't so much a tradition. Most of the franchises are now posting losses. The direction the NHL took under Bettman was major marketing. In ventruing into new markets, the league turned its back on those places were hockey trives naturally, and it may not have worked. While the lockout was a major topic of choice in Canada, Americans outside of those areas where hockey is a strong tradition by and large didn't miss the game. And the NHL is the only professional sports league in North America to lose an entire season due to a labour stoppage. For what? Bring the game back to people who appreciate it. Winnipeg never overcame the loss of the Jets, and anxiously awaits their return, although it's impossible to say what will happen at this point.

As for the CBC? It has been under attack for at least a decade. The right wing in Canada would like to see the CBC privatised, even though this would make Canada the only industrialised country without a public broadcaster. CBC's funding has been cut, and although it still produces valuable programming not available in any other major Canadian media outlet, it has been managed as a commercial network as opposed to a public boradcaster. During the NHL lockout, when the CBC would have broadcast NHL games it instead broadcast movies. Nothing wrong with that, except that the movies broadcast were already known American movies that aren't that hard to find if one wants to. Why didn't the CBC during that time do more to actively promote Canadian films and productions, especially given that most commercial movie theatres in Canada don't show Canadian movies? The CBC is not a commercial broadcaster, so intsead of trying to "compete" it should focus on telling Canadians about the world and each other, and it has the capability to do a wonderful job at it given that it shouldn't have to worry about how profitable its programming is.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

University Blues

There's tension in the air at Brandon University. The Faculty Association has been without a collective agreement since March of this year, and has been attempting to negotiate a new contract with the University. Over the weekend, conciliation talks failed and both parties agreed to move towards mediation. The sticking ponits are wages (wow, that really surprises me), workloads, and "academic freedom." It's too early to predict how this one ends up, but BUFA has been openly talking about holding a strike vote sometime soon.

The University claims to be running short of money. They blamed the tution freeze imposed on Manitoba universities since the NDP was elected in 1999. They insist that the only way to meet their financial obligations is to charge students more, even though the University is continuing to see the increasing enrollment that has been happening for the past few years. I don't really follow that line of logic: more students paying tuition fees equals less money for the University. And of course there will be those who try to pit the students and the faculty against one another. Students have to accept high tuition in order to attract good profs, and profs have to be "reasonable" in their requests so students can afford to eat. Fortunately the faculty and the students union have long resisted that trap.

What is really missing from this issue is discussion over the role the Administration plays in this. Earlier this spring, BUSU sponsored a motion that would have seen the Administration take a 15% pay cut (and I'm sure I don't have to tell you how that went over). Yet this is what irritates me. The Administration claims to be short of money. They have asked students to chip in by paying more in tuition or ancilliary fees, they have asked the faculty to chip in by having allowed the negotiations to get to the point where a strike vote could still be on the table, and they have asked the taxpayers to chip in with direct funding to the University. Yet, what has the Administration done to chip in? Why do they insist on asking everyone else to make sacrifices when there is little to suggest they have done so personally? This, while staff positions go unfilled and courses go unoffered. I've met students who are willing to pay higher tuition if it means they get a better quality education, and many do believe "you get what you pay for." Yet, I'm sceptical of that logic. As mentioned earlier, more students are going to school, so that should be making the University more money. Furthermore, if tuition actually rose, is there any guarantee that it would actually go towards solving the problems, or would the problems be used as a means to justify increasing tuition?

Is there even a financial problem at the University? When was the last time Brandon University had its books audited? I think that's a question we should be asking our MLAs. If we know what the true financial picture of the University is, that makes it easier for BUFA to negotiate a fair deal for its members.

(I will edit this page to privide more links ASAP. I am unable to do so right now because certain essential websites are down.)