History Wars: The Royal Ontario Museum

The Monarchy is a Dangerous Relic of the Past

Thursday, January 20, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Has the idea of “The Crown” run its course in Canada? Does it reflect Canadian values? Does it weaken or strengthen the Canadian constitution or has it been the quiet reason Canada has survived as a country for nearly 150 years? Should we leave well enough alone or find a practical way to end it all?

Moderator: J.L. Granatstein

Speaking for the motion will be Michael Bliss, author and historian. Bliss, born and raised in Kingsville, Ontario, is University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, the author of numerous books in Canadian and medical history, and a prominent public intellectual. He has garnered numerous honours, including membership in the Order of Canada.

Speaking against the motion will be John Fraser, Master of Massey College. Educated at Upper Canada College and Newfoundland’s Memorial University, Fraser had an outstanding career as a prize-winning journalist and foreign correspondent with The Globe and Mail before entering academic life at the top. In 2010, he was widely-rumoured to have been one of the candidates considered for Canada’s governor-generalship. He, too, is a member of the Order of Canada.

Multiculturalism has put Canada on the Wrong Course

Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Few issues are as controversial in Canada today as Multiculturalism. But where did the concept come from? How has it changed? How did it get into the Constitution? And, in an age of terrorism, reconcilable differences, and rising immigration, what does it portend for Canada’s future?

Moderator: Michael Bliss

Speaking for the motion will be J.L. Granatstein, a historian of Canadian politics, foreign policy and defence. Born in Toronto in 1939, he taught at York University for 30 years and has published extensively. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, has a number of honorary degrees, and has won prizes for his writings.

Speaking against the motion will be Haroon Siddiqui, born in India in 1942 and came to Canada in 1968. He joined the Toronto Star in 1978, serving as news editor, national editor, and editorial page editor. Since 1998 he has been a columnist. He has published books and articles on subjects ranging from 9/11 to political cartoons. He is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

Pierre Trudeau was a Disaster for Canada

Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

He was handsome, smart, loved beautiful women, and almost always won. But was Pierre Elliott Trudeau a good Prime Minister? Did he unite Canadians or divide them? Improve the country or nearly bankrupt it? Does he haunt us still as an ideal Prime Minister, or as an arrogant failure for whom we’re still paying a fearful price?

Moderator: J.L. Granatstein

Speaking for the motion will be David Frum, one of North American’s most prominent conservative journalists and commentators. A native of Toronto, Frum was educated at Yale and Harvard, has written for The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, as well as the National Post, and was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. His books include, How We Got Here, a history of the 1970s.

Speaking against the motion will be John English, author of the highly-acclaimed two-volume official biography of Trudeau. Professor of History at the University of Waterloo and general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, English has also written the biography of Lester Pearson. He was a Liberal Member of Parliament in the 1990s and is a Member of the Order of Canada.

Louis Riel Deserved to Hang

Thursday, May 5, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pmNo figure in Canadian history is as controversial as Louis Riel. He led the 1869-70 rebellion and ordered the judicial murder of an opponent, but he also created Manitoba. Fifteen years later he sparked the rebellion in the Northwest that required the dispatch of an army to put down. The government sent him to trial and, when he was found guilty, refused to exercise the prerogative of mercy – right or wrong?

Moderator: J.L. Granatstein

Speaking for the motion will be Tom Flanagan who has taught political theory at the University of Calgary since 1968. Best known for his role as a key aide to Stephen Harper, Flanagan is one of Canada’s leading Riel scholars. He has written a number of books including the Donner Canadian Prize winning First Nations, Second Thoughts.

Speaking against the motion will be Pat Martin, the NDP MP since 1997 for Winnipeg Centre and author of a private member’s bill that calls for Riel’s conviction to be reversed and for the Metis leader’s recognition as a father of Confederation.

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What is a ten percenter?

The ten percenter is a parliamentary communications tool utilized by Members of Parliament across the country that in the fiscal year ending March 31st, 2010 cost Canadians $10,182,707.71.  Ten percenters are defined by parliament as:

“Printed or photocopied materials reproduced in quantities not exceeding 10% of the total number of households in a Member’s constituency. Members may print and mail an unlimited number of ten percenters per year however each ten percenter must have a 50% difference in textual content from other ten percenters produced that year and can only be distributed within the Member’s own constituency, which on average represents 4,500 copies per ten percenter.”

This is in addition to printed materials called ‘householders’ that an MP can send to their constituents about the goings on of parliament. Parliamentarians can send up to four householders per year. In the last fiscal year MPs collectively spent $4,591,399.40 on householders.

These two communication devices cost nearly $15 million and are not drawn from the budgets of MPs but are funded by the budget of the House of Commons itself.

Do we need ten percenters?

The ability to communicate with one’s constituents is integral to the democratic process as it aids accountability and transparency in government when the public is informed about what is going on. This explains householders which can act as quarterly communications between an MP and the voters they represent.

This does not explain the purpose of ten percenters. As far as I can tell, they serve no purpose other than partisan propaganda from all parties in the House. Originally ten percenters could be sent beyond one’s own riding and therefore did not have to inform one’s constituents about anything as they could be sent into opposition ridings (meaning those not held by a fellow member of the party) to influence the voters in that area. As of April 1st, 2010, the Board of Internal Economy revoked the right to send ten percenters to opposition ridings and allowed for them only to be sent to an MPs actual constituents. While this ended the onslaught of propaganda from all parties it did not require ten percenters to be about anything in particular from the party who already held the seat.

In the year surrounding the 2008 Federal election, I received well over thirty ten percenters from the Conservative Party of Canada alone. I live in what was a hotly contested riding and received ten percenters from the governing party and its official opposition. It was somewhere from 30-40 from Conservatives to 2 or so from Liberal MPs. This was of course before the rule change about outside ten percenters.

What’s in a ten percenter?

The list of ten percenters I received (at least the ones after I started collecting them due to the insane volume) are as follows:

  • What does Stephane Dion’s permanent new tax on EVERYTHING mean for you? – Sponsored by Stephen Harper, MP
  • The Conservative Government is protecting children from unsafe products by proposing: – Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP
  • What are Canadians saying about Stephane Dion’s tax on EVERYTHING? – Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP
  • After nearly 2 years of Liberal delay, the Conservative Government’s tough new anti-crime laws have passed – Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP
  • OUR CHILDREN SHOULD BE SAFE – Compliments of Helena Guergis, MP
  • Will you be TRICKED into paying Stephane Dion’s tax on EVERYTHING? – Compliments of Helena Guergis, MP
  • Junkies and drug pushers don’t belong near children and families – Compliments of Helena Guergis, MP
  • Just imagine how much Stephane Dion’s carbon tax will raise the price of gas, electricity and everything else – Compliments of Peter Van Loan, MP
  • Not on our watch – Compliments of Rod Bruinooge, MP
  • Age is no excuse – Compliments of Maurice Vellacott, MP
  • Breathe a little easier – Compliments of Joe Preston, MP
  • Why should thugs, drug dealers and sexual offenders serve their sentences at home watching TV, playing video games, and surfing “websites” on the internet? – Compliments of James Bezan, MP
  • During these challenging times, we must all work together to ensure Canada’s success – Stephen Harper, MP
  • During these challenging times, we must all work together to ensure Canada’s success – Stephen Harper, MP (repeated)
  • We prepared in good times by: – Lois Brown, MP
  • In these times of global economic uncertainty – Lois Brown, MP
  • Universal Child Care Benefit – Lois Brown, MP
  • Canada’s Economic Action Plan – Lois Brown, MP
  • Reducing taxes is part of the Conservative government’s plan to stimulate the economy and deliver for Canadians – Lois Brown, MP
  • He’s too dangerous for bail – Lois Brown, MP
  • The Conservative government is creating jobs and improving rail service for Canadian families, tourists and commuters by: – Lois Brown, MP
  • Conservatives help you pay less tax – Lois Brown, MP (this was a full booklet and not just a sheet of paper)
  • This economic crisis is about real people – John McKay, MP (this was the only Liberal ten percenter)

It is quite an impressive list. I remember reading up on the policy for ten percenters at the time of the 2008 election because my riding was being blanketed by these things, primarily by conservative MPs. MPs of all stripes were allowed to send out ten percenters to other ridings provided they did not exceed the 10% rule and did not send to the same riding (if it was not theirs) more than three times in one year. As shown in the list above, it was clear careful attention was paid to the no more than three times rule. The exception being Lois Brown’s mailings, however those only occurred after the election in 2008 when she became the MP for my riding.

Regardless of the sender or the party the sender represents, ten percenters provide no real information to constituents. They make broad statements that are frequently untrue and almost always slam the other parties instead of talking about the real efforts MPs are (hopefully) making to serve the public.

One of the most outrageously pointless of the ten percenters I received was one supposedly from Helena Guergis that provided two check boxes for constituents to check and mail back to the Member on the dime of the parliamentary budget. The two options were ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the statement ‘yes, it is about time we put in protections for our children against predators’. Is such a ten percenter really necessary?

The cost of ten percenters

In the last fiscal year, MPs received a base budget for their Member’s Office of $284,700 plus an additional $25,468 for accommodation and per diem expenses. Additional funds are supplied for issues like MPs covering geographically larger ridings (Geographic Supplement, worth from $4,810 to $52,900).  The Member’s Office Budget is used to pay employees, fund advertising, pay for office leases, operating costs, etc. It may seem like a lot of money but there are a lot of reasonable and necessary areas it is used for. Ten percenters are not included in this budget.

MPs spent almost $99 million in their Member’s Budgets last year while the House provided resources to MPs to the tune of nearly $44 million. Householders cost just over $4.5 million in the latter category of expenditures while ten percenters were responsible for just over $10 million of House resources. Ten percenters alone made up over 23% of the total House resources provided to MPs. If you include the householders which serve the same purpose, the share of resources climbs to 34%.

At a cost of over $10 million, ten percenters sent over the last year average out to around $33,061 per Member of Parliament. Ms. Brown spent $62,728.09 alone on them.

MPs require budgets that reflect the needs of their jobs and their jurisdictions. The reality of a country as large as Canada is that most MPs will require two offices, two homes and a variety of other things in order to do their jobs. They should not have to pay out of their own pockets. But they should also not rack up massive amounts of money on things that do nothing for the electorate. Ten percenters are such an item. All parties are guilty of using them, though some more than others. Ten percenters are essentially to the political process what spam is to the internet. They clutter everything up without being of any real use.

Contact your MP and let them know that while transparency and accountability are nice concepts and detailing expenses serves both, spending the money properly and in the interest of the public is just as important.

To check out your MP’s spending habits, follow this link:


The Reverberations of Voting

“Voting is and always should be an act of conscience. But our consciences must weigh many things: which candidate best represents our views, yes, but also the overall political landscape and the potential effects of each candidate’s victory or defeat. It is naive and simplistic to say that the only thing that matters, the only thing that should matter, is getting to vote for the person you like best, as though your relationship to the election ended as soon as your ballot was cast. It doesn’t. We live with the results of our voting for years.” – Torontoist, October 22nd, 2010

I haven’t been able to address this quote yet on this blog until now. The quote is pulled from a half-hearted endorsement by the Torontoist of Toronto Mayoral candidate George Smitherman who was defeated this evening by Mayor-elect Rob Ford. While the arguments for support were interesting and valuable, the thing that struck me most about the post was this quote.

I long ago decided (although I am only twenty-four years old so perhaps not that long ago) the framework I would use each time I cast a ballot. Elections provide voters with a lot of options. Not just between parties and candidates but also between abstract ideas and concrete promises. Some of these issues will address my own concerns and interests while others will not. This does not sway my vote.

The reason my vote is cast without thought to personal issues is because I believe in a concept of government where it and the people in it are there to bring good to society. I feel that the job of government is to bring about positive change in society, to help those in need, and to do what individuals and other groups alone cannot accomplish on behalf of the citizenry.

what does this have to do with my vote? Because of the type of government I believe in, I cannot ethically cast my ballot with my personal interests as my guide. Society is too big and government’s real purpose too noble for me to attempt to influence it for my own gain. I feel that my vote is put to better use if I cast it with the interests of all of society as my guide. Thus when I fill out a ballot, I think of what would be best for Canada, Ontario, or my home city as a whole and not just what would benefit me most.

It can be argued that if everyone bases their vote on their own concerns then everyone is taken care of. This does not reflect the government I believe in and in my opinion, goes against the very nature of societal organization. We formed societies in the first place because of the benefits we gained by splitting up tasks and responsibilities. Government formed for the very same reasons. To vote with concern for only my own interests goes against both of these facts of human nature. We need one another and because of that we need to look out for one another and our collective needs.

I am all for supporting your beliefs and sticking to your principles, especially when filling out a ballot. But when the values you feel would best serve society at large are put in jeopardy by a strong candidate who opposes everything you believe is right in your city, province, country or the world… sometimes it is best to see what you can salvage.

I do not advocate strategic voting as there are far too many variables in play to really know who your vote will help. I do believe in finding a candidate you can reasonably support, that you can approve of if not outright get excited about. Some of the most progressive and needed changes we have enjoyed as a country came incrementally by those who had the foresight to see the big picture instead of dwelling on ideas society could not yet stomach.

So while I support people having convictions, I also support those who have the courage to see that their convictions will not be granted immediate gratification. That they must work harder and longer to achieve the change they really want. Change is not carried in by those who are left on the sidelines because they could not understand theirs was just one voice of many. It arrives with those patient few who are willing to wait for society to gradually catch up.

I like to call this approach social incrementalism because social change is not an event but a process and the people who bring it about are those who gently push society along with them instead of leaving the majority bitterly in their dust. It is the welcoming of evolution in social thought and the rejection of revolutions that would lead to half-formed ideas forced on an ill-prepared citizenry.

While radicals and fringe candidates have their place, it is centrists and moderates that govern with the most fairness. They do not swing too far in either direction and while they can’t please every voter, they can appeal to the needs and interests of most voters to some degree. In a system where we all have a right to our opinions and get to have our say at the ballot box, the moderates are the ones that best address our societal needs at a communal level.

I want to encourage voters in future elections to think about society as a whole when they cast their ballots. I want voters to remember that in the aftermath of an election the issues we personally care about may change or drop off the radar entirely, but the general direction of our collective vote, the reverberations of our collective decision, will shape our entire society for years to come.