Saturday, December 24, 2011

Searching for the Christ Child

The traditional Simple Massing Priest Christmas Story.

The title isn't quite so allegorical as you think. We actually spent about ten minutes before the Christmas Eve service desperately seeking the Baby Jesus for the main creche at the parish where I serve as interim priest.  
It is actually a very interesting creche, set up inside the altar itself. A simple wooden chevron suggests the stable, while the remaining figures stand on black satin. It was already in place on Sunday last. Actually in the Sunday before last as we compromised the calendar in the interest of the children's pageant. But Sunday last the creche had only its minimalist roof, one ox and one ass.  
Mary and Joseph were not far away - standing on the altar pavement - but they hadn't arrived yet.  
The shepherds weren't there yet either, out tending their sheep on the edge of the pulpit. 
And the magi were in the middle of the aisle at the back of the church, still some ways away.  
Tonight, Mary and Joseph, and after some panicked moments, the Baby Jesus, were all installed in their places. The shepherds were "summoned to his stable" during the gradual hymn. And the magi were now half way up the aisle - accompanied by a helpful "Mind the Camels" sign prepared by my good wife.  
It was a good celebration in a community which seems increasingly hopeful and future oriented. And generally united. There is no parish on earth that doesn't have some divisions and tensions. But this little parish seem quite determined to be a family together.  
We found Jesus tonight at St. James - literally, allegorically and eucharistically. We all came to the same table, together. That is where we belong in worship - at the same table, together.

A poignant song for the season

Lest any of us foget that some will find it harder to be joyful this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An earlier - and far better - option for an Anglican Covenant

Tobias Haller, who blogs at In a Godward Direction, refers us to a far superior model for an Anglican Covenant - one which has the advantage of relative antiquity.

From the Encyclical Letter of the 1878 Lambeth Conference (Section 1.5)
There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.
1. First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.
2. Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.
3. Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.

It's worth having a boo at Fr. Haller's further commentary.  I will simply note that attempts at creating a centralized and authoritarian Anglican Communion go back a fair ways.  Several Lambeth Conferences saw attempts to create an Anglican magisterium of one sort or another.  We used to have the good sense to say a loud and clear "no."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saying "something must be done" does not prove that something must be done.

There have been a lot of developments about the Anglican Covenant since last I posted about it.  Conveniently, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has just this week issued a news release summarizing recent events.
  • In the Church of England, four diocesan synods (Wakefield; St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Truro; Birmingham) have rejected the Covenant.  Four others (Lichfield; Durham; Europe; Bristol) have approved it.  In order to return to General Synod for final approval, the Covenant needs to be passed by 23 of the 44 dioceses - meaning that 22 rejections is enough to scuttle it in the Church of England.  The Covenanters need another 19 approvals to carry the day, while the Covenantsceptics only need another 18 to stop it.
  • In the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Tikanga Maori rejected the Covenant at their biennial runanganui.  Several Paheka dioceses have also rejected it.  It is unlikely that the Covenant will be approved in New Zealand.
  • In the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, the House of Bishops have indicated an intention to reject the Covenant, making it virtually certain that it will not be approved.

One of the interesting snippets out of England is the emergence of a disturbing pattern.  Bishops and diocesan officials in several dioceses have refused to allow the distribution of material critical of the Anglican Covenant to synod members.  Of the eight dioceses  that have voted on the Covenant, four allowed the distribution of balanced material and four did not.  It will not take a rocket surgeon to figure out which four are which.  The Coalition's episcopal patrons, John Saxbee and Peter Selby are actively encouraging their former colleagues to povide for a fair and honest debate in every diocese.

In the midst of this, the Archbishop of Canterbury has published his Advent Letter to the Anglican Primates.  In an intellectual fiddle which should be an embarrassment to any current or former academic, the Archbishop's defence of his pet project makes less sense than Glenn Beck on acid.

His response to the concerns raised by the No Anglican Covenant Coalition and others is simply to declare:
"I do not see the Covenant in this light at all."

Seriously Rowan?  Who do you think you are?  John Cleese?

He eventually devolves to Margaret Thatcher's favourite justification for bad policies, the famous TINA - "There Is No Alternative."
"I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future."

TINA, of course, is predicated on the unasserted and unargued assumption that "something must be done."

There is tension within the Anglican Communion.  Some people are very angry.  Something must be done.


Well, let's consider another international Communion of churches to see how they have handled this very same presenting issue.

The Porvoo Communion recently had a consultation to discuss the theology and practice of marriage among the member churches.  Some of the Porvoo churches permit the ordination of partnered GLBTQTS and some do not.  Some of the Porvoo churches bless same-sex unions, some do not and a few actually solemnize same-sex marriages.  Technically, the range of practice in the Porvoo Communion is actually broader than in the Anglican Communion, where no member church has formally approved same-sex marriages.

So, how does the Porvoo Communion deal with this diversity of belief and practice?

Well, here's what they said in their communique at the end of their recent consultation:
"The consultation made clear that differences over the introduction of same-sex marriage remain unresolved.  It is clear that there are a variety of views and pastoral practices along a theological spectrum.  Some believe same-sex marriage to be a legitimate development in the Christian tradition, whilst others see the potential for a serious departure from the received tradition.  Nevertheless the consultation affirmed the benefits of 'belonging to one another'.  The value of honest encounter and strengthened friendship provides a platform of sustained communication in the face of issues which raise dificulties for us."

So Porvoo can manage to muddle through without mechanisms to expel the outliers.  No meaty Covenant need be introduced to discipline the dissenters.  Porvoo simply acknowledges the disagreement and affirms the commitment to continue together.

The irony, of course, is that the Porvoo Communion is nothing other than the fellowship of Anglican and Lutheran churches in northern Europe.

So the same Church of England, under the leadership of the same Rowan Williams, manages to hold two completely contradictory opinions at the same time.

Well, your Grace, if it's good enough for Porvoo, it's good enough for me.

You want an alternative to your punative and exclusionary covenant?  Well, here it is:
We, the member churches of the Anglican Communion, agree to meet together regularly and to engage each other in adult conversation.
We, the member churches of the Anglican Communion, acknowledge that we will not always agree. 
We, the member chuches of the Anglican Communion, commit oursleves, in the face of disagreements, to love each other anyway, just as Jesus calls us to do.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Whatever the service to which you call us

An eventful 24+ hours.

Last night I attended my last training night as a member of HMCS QUEEN and Canada's Naval Reserve.  I'm not quite released yet.  I still have a release medical to attend to next week.  After almost 25 years of service, it will take some adjustment.

Today marks the 27th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  Nearly half of that, of course, was spent on a sort of hiatus, but still.  Archbishop Michael Peers had wanted to mark the day as Hugh of Lincoln (who has been moved in the new calendar to tomorrow, displacing Hilda of Whitby to the day later).  I insisted on Margaret of Scotland in honour to my ancestry.

Icons by Marice:
And today, I learned that an old friend was lost to the ravages of alcoholism.  At one point, he had been sober for 13 or 14 years until he went out to do more research.  Over the past few years, he kept trying to get back through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous, but was never able to regain his footing.  He died last night.

Somehow, the collect for the commemoration of St. Margaret of Scotland, Helper of the Poor seems to apply:
O God,
you gave to your servant Margaret
such faithfulness as Queen of Scotland
that she cared for the poor
and relieved the needs of those who lay in prison.
Grant us a like devotion,
whatever the service to which you call us,
that we may be agents of your justice
and true servants of your mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"I'll lay me down and bleed a while"

It was that sort of a night.

I've been in and around politics in this province for about 35 years.  I've worked on winning campaigns and losing campaigns.  But I've only been involved on the losing end of four routs - including the rout on Monday of this week.

This week's massive drubbing in Saskatchewan, however, was different from the other three.  By the end of the 1982 campaign, we had concluded we might lose, but the scale of the loss was a complete surprise.  The same with the Manitoba election of 1988 and the federal election of 1993.  We knew there were problems, but no one expected a nine-member caucus in 1982, a fall to third place in Manitoba in 1988 or the loss of official party status federally in 1993.

On Monday, the Saskatchewan NDP actually exceeded my expectations.  That gives me some solace that it could actually have been worse.

My other reaction is that this provides Saskatchewan New Democrats with a golden opportunity - if we are brave enough and smart enough to take it.
First, we need to have some understanding of what happened.

Monday night, Dwain Lingenfelter showed as much class as I have ever seen him show.  He pointed to some of the party's failings in the lead up to and during the campaign.  The he said, "It was my fault, not yours."  Very classy.

Very classy, but not entirely accurate.

I won't deny that Dwain brought his own baggage to the race and that was no help.  But the malaise affecting the Saskatchewan NDP runs far deeper than mere leadership.  Indeed, one might argue that it was that very malaise that led us to choose the supposedly safe Link rather than the exciting but untested Ryan Meili or the passionate but less dynamic Yens Pedersen.

You see, the Saskatchewan NDP hasn't really renewed itself since the mid 1980s. 

Sure, there was a party renewal process initiated in 2000, but that was effectively derailed by the resignation of Premier Roy Romanow as party leader and the race which elected Lorne Calvert.  Leadership races, while they touch on ideas and ideology, are about organization, relationships, paying debts, currying favours and occasionally acting on ancient resentments and grievances.  Leadership races renew the face of the party, but not its heart and soul.

The lack of real intellectual renewal meant that the NDP had no clear agenda.  Having accomplished their first priority - the imposed priority of restoring fiscal stability to the government's books - the Romanow-Calvert ministry never figured out what to do next.  They wandered aimlessly for a decade.  Columnist Murray Mandryk claimed that the Calvert NDP lurched from crisis to crisis.  He had it wrong - they lurched from panic to panic - until the voters finally put that government out of its misery.

The upshot of it all was that, by 1997, the Saskatchewan NDP no longer knew what it stood for - apart from winning elections and providing more or less competent government. Desirable though such may be, it is hardly a clarion call to a new generation of activists.

Similarly there was a policy renewal process launched after Dwain Lingenfelter's election as leader, chaired by MLA Cam Broten, but there was little intellectual vigour in the process.  Essentially, it was a grand and semi-public platform committee.

The failure to renew - a failure more properly laid at the feet of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert than Dwain Lingenfelter - was only part of the problem however.  The other part was a complete failure to recognize that anything was wrong.

When the Blakeney government was defeated in 1982, no one could miss that there was a problem.  Reduced to their lowest popular vote in more than 40 years and to a caucus of nine (which became eight after a controvert and a lost byelection), no one could deny the party needed more than just minor repairs.  By comparison, the 2007 loss was never seen to be as severe as it actually was.  The popular vote was even lower than 1982 - now the lowest in almost 70 years.  But the seat count was deceptively high at 20 MLAs.

The result was an almost delusional belief that the party's problems really weren't that severe.  Root and branch renewal wasn't really necessary.  A new leader and some organizational rejigging would be suficient.  Dwain Lingenfelter seemed to have just the resume and just the personality to accomplish the tinkering that was needed - without that scary soul-searching that both Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen seemed to be calling for.  Link was safe - especially for the party apparatchiks who wanted their ministerial office jobs back.

In essense, the Saskatchewan NDP seemed to modelling itself after the federal Liberals.  And not the successful federal Liberals of Laurier, King, St. Laurent and Trudeau, but the fossilized and feckless federal Liberals of Martin, Dion and Ignatieff.

So there is great opportunity in the results of Monday's election.  With our lowest popular vote now in almost 75 years, no New Democrat can possibly deny that the party has a problem.  The electorate, while costing the party some bright lights like Len Tayor and Frank Quennell, have also helped the party unload some underperforming placeholders.  The apparatchiks who preferred the aimless status quo must now either adapt or depart.  In the words of that old Scots ballad quoted by our iconic leader, Tommy Douglas, as he faced personal defeat:
"I am hurt, but I am not slain;
I'll lay me down and bleed a while;
and then I'll rise to fight again."

But if the NDP really wants to rise again, the next 12 to 24 months are critical.

First, the party council, in consultation with the caucus, needs to select an interim leader to serve for the next 18 to 24 months. It would be sheer madness for the party to start immediately on the process of electing a new permanent leader.  I've discussed above why leadership races are not conducive to renewal.  We've seen the evidence in our own experience over the last decade.  We need a time of serious self-examination.  A quick leadership campaign would be the party's death warrant.

Of the nine members of caucus, four are potential candidates for the permanent leadership (Broten, Chartier, McCall, Wotherspoon).  Of the rest, one is a veteran MLA with no Cabinet experience (Vermette) and one has no legislative experience at all (Sproule).

That leaves three potential interim leaders: Buckley Belanger, David Forbes and John Nilson.  Of these three, David Forbes seems to me the obvious choice.  He is a stronger retail politician than John Nilson and unlike Buckley Belanger, he was not part of the misguided campaign to bring Dwain Lingenfelter home to lead the party.

Second, the council should appoint a small task force to run a series of consultations around the province.  The task force should seek out members and former members, as well as civil society organizations, social movements, trade unionists, farm organizations - basically anyone who would be prepared to participate in the process.  The idea is to have a wide ranging, serious and challenging conversation about what it means to be a social democrat in Saskatchewan in the 21st century.

Third, based on that process, the committee should produce a statement of principles for the party to adopt at a provincial convention in the latter part of 2012 - a sort of modern Regina Manifesto.

Finally, the campaign to elect a new leader should begin no sooner than the spring of 2013.

There's life in the old party yet, but the wrong decisions over the next few weeks will decide how viable the Saskatchewan NDP will be moving forward.  My one request to the party executive and council:  Don't screw it up.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sing we a song of high revolt!

Here is my online friend Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, talking (for himself and unofficially) about recent events at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

The basic story is that the #OccupyLSX (London Stock Exchange) were prevented from occupying Paternoster Square (where the LSX actually is) and so ended up at St. Paul's Cathedral. When the police were about to run them off, the Canon Chancellor of the Cathedral, Giles Fraser, shooed the police instead. In response, the Dean and Chapter (ie, Giles's boss and colleagues) proceeded to have a week or more of hissy fits. Giles has resigned and the Dean and Chapter have managed to embarrass the bejeezly crap out of the Church of England. Or, as the Guardian tellingly put it:
This rather messy and absurd situation has handed the dean and chapter of St Paul's a truly historic opportunity to discredit Christianity in this country. They seem determined to take it.
In any event, here's Bishop Alan.

I am reminded of an old hymn, sometimes sung to the tune of The Red Flag. (Unable to find a YouTube.)

Sing we a song of high revolt!
Make great the Lord, his name exult!
Sing we the song that Mary sang
of God at war with human wrong.
Sing we of him who deeply cares
and still with us our burden bears.
He who with strength the proud disowns;
brings down the mighty from their thrones.

By him the poor are lifted up.
He satisfies with bread and cup
the hungry folk of many lands.
The rich are left with empty hands.
He calls us to revolt and fight
with him for what is just and right;
to sing and live Magnificat
in crowded street or council flat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seriously? Racism isn't that hard to spot.

So, on Friday, the Saskatchewan Party candidate in Yorkton issued an apology for remarks made at an all candidates meeting some days previously.  According to his own account:

"I don't remember my exact words, but I said something like, 'What I have been told by some of my First Nations friends is that sometimes when there are handouts or the money comes free and easy, it can be used for alcohol and drugs'."

Now, to his credit, it was actually Greg Ottenbreit's apology that broke the story.  In other words, it wasn't a media storm that sparked the apology.  Ottenbreit (perhaps with some help) managed to conclude on his own that his comments were mind-numbingly stupid and had no place in the public discourse.

He shouldn't have said them in the first place, of course.  But in the end, he did the right thing without having the media force him into it.
Conservative MP David Anderson, however, not so much.  The anti-Canadian Wheat Board hardliner produced one of those "do it yourself" videos of a supposed encounter between a Saskatchewan grain farmer and a CWB official.  Unlike the majority of prairie grain farmers (ie, those who hold permit books, unlike the CWB's would be executioner Gerry Ritz) both Anderson and his fictional farmer want to rid themselves of the benefits of orderly marketing.  In the course of the video, the fictional farmer / Anderson stand-in uses the phrase "talking Eskimo" to suggest that the Wheat Board official is not making sense.

Now, I've never heard the phrase "talking Eskimo" used in this way in all of my 50 years.  It isn't one of those dated but offensive phrases one might go back to without thinking.  Other than references to my least favourite professional football team, the word "Eskimo" has long since fallen out of use.  The people it referred to prefer to be known as Inuit - a word from their own language.

But even if the word "Eskimo" weren't offensive in itself, the way it is used in the video is simply offensive - implying that "Eskimos" are incapable of sensible thought.

Instead of apologizing for spewing racist tripe, David Anderson has simply taken down the offending video and, apparently, gone into hiding from the Ottawa press gallery.

Neither Ottenbreit nor Anderson have covered themselves in glory, but Ottenbreit, at least, has manned up.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bishop of Qu'Appelle visits #OccupyReginaSk

This evening, I had the privilege of accompanying Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson when he visited the site of #OccupyReginaSk.  There are about 50 people actually living onsite in Regina's Victoria Park.  One of the saddest commentries on the state of things is that sleeping on an air matress in a tent on a brisk October evening is actually a step up for the 10 - 15 homeless people that are part of the occupation.

We had planned the Bishop's arrival to coincide with the 8:00 pm assembly, where business is usually conducted and where occupiers and visitors are able to speak to the whole group.  However, with the organic logic of anarchic process, it had been decided the assembly would be pushed back so tents could be moved while the greatest number of people were there.  And yes, the Bishop and I helped move tents.  (The tents were being moved in order to have better shelter from the wind and so the grass in one part of the park would have a chance to recover.)

While the corporate media have tended to depict the #Occupy protests as little more than inchoate rage against the financial system, the Bishop and I spoke to several people who clearly understood not only that the system isn't working, but could also articulate why the system isn't working.  One of the most interesting bits of analysis came from an ex-Saskatchewan Party MLA.  (For my non-Canadian readers, that would be like an ex-Republican State Assemblymen in the US.)  He spoke about how the movement of capital and the accumulation of profit is no longer related to any productive activity.

Bishop Greg spoke only briefly - in part to indicate that his agenda this evening was primarily to listen to the people occupying the park.  Several people spoke to us afterwards about the need for religious leaders to speak about the moral dimension of the economic crisis.  I expect we'll hear more from our Bishop in due course.

We live in a strange time when the Governor of the Bank of Canada, a former US Treasury Secretary, some of the richest men on the planet and even the Conference Board of Canada can acknowlede that the system is broken and that income inequality is breaking the system even further, yet the political system is seemingly unaware of the problem.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Something for both my political and my religious readers

Today's Toronto Star carries a sad yet far from unusual story about Dan and Alice Heap

Dan Heap was an Anglican priest who chose to work in a box factory as a better means of engaging ordinary people both about the gospel and about social justice.  In time, he was elected to Toronto City Council.  In 1981, he stunned the pundits by winning a federal byelection in Spadina, which had previously been a Liberal stronghold.  His municipal ward was later represented by the late NDP leader Jack Layton, and his federal seat is now held by his former constituency assistant, Olivia Chow.

Compared to many people in today's economy, Dan and Alice are relatively well off financially, including the MP pension that the Canadian right used to rail about.  They did make the "mistake" of selling their former home at less than market value to a community based organization, but they likely still have an overall retirement income that would be the envy of many Canadians of their generation.

Yet Dan and Alice couldn't get long term care in their community.  Their needs (especially Dan's) are now well beyond what their former retirement home could manage.  They've been on a waiting list for several years.  In the mean time, members of their extended family have been staying with Dan and Alice 24/7, sleeping on the floor of thier very tiny suite.  (Oddly, just as the story came out, a space became available for Dan.  What a coincidence.)

The story is perhaps a little more poignant because of who Dan is (former Councillor and former MP) and because of who Dan and Alice are (longterm community activists).  Unfortnately, their story is not exceptional.  In Canada today, it's a travesty.

I remember Dan from when I was a divinity student at Trinity.  He had just won the Spadina byelection a few weeks before the beginning of my first term.  (The byelection was called when Pierre Trudeau gave the sitting MP, Peter Stollery, the taskless thanks of an appointment to the Canadian Senate.  Trudeau flunky Jim Coutts was expected to win in a walk.  Ah well, "the best laid schemes," as they say.)  He was my MP throughout my time at Trinity, and he was a great support in my time as Chair of the University of Toronto New Democrats.  I last saw him several years ago, on a trip to Toronto, when I attended the service at Holy Trinity, Eaton's Centre.

Because of Dan's dementia and Alice's own issues, they need full time care.  Yet ironically, there are many people in care homes (usually at lower levels of care) who, with the proper supports, could still be living in the community - and at less cost to the health system.

I've had parishioners who've been "warehoused" in hospitals or other facilities while they wait for appropriate placements.  I'm well aware that a space opening up unsually depends (directly or indirectly) on some other person dying.  In the process, our "golden years" become a nightmare.  And while some facilities are lovely environments, others are horribly run down and positively depressing.

The people who live in these facilities deserve better - both better facilities and better allocation processes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jesus? You've GOT to be kidding!

My friend Lesley Crawley (formerly Lesley Fellows) has a provocative post at her blog that speculates on how Jesus would do if he were to be put though the selection process for ordination.
He is just too challenging. Yes, he got all those followers but then lost them again… the miracles were good but the teaching was too hard and inscrutable…. Plus he didn’t get on with his religious colleagues etc.
While What Would Jesus Do? has become a bit of a cliché in some circles, perhaps a better question would be How Would We Respond To Jesus? 

Much of modern piety - especially on the religious right - has turned Jesus into a grand irrelevance.  Yes, yes, follow him by all means - but pay no mind to that silly stuff in Matthew 25 about giving food to the hungry or visiting the prisoner.  The Gospel is about your personal prosperity.

As Lesley says in her close:
I feel I wish to make more space for Jesus in the church. I wonder whether we all do.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


From my online friend Tobias Haller, a poem he wrote in 2008:

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness quietly.
The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.

Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.

It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.

Unfortunately, few will take the time to remember that other September 11 - September 11, 1973, when the Chilean military, with the backing of the CIA, overthrew the democratically elected government of the oldest constitutional democracy in Latin America.

Perhaps as we consider both catastrophes, we would do well to ponder this:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Anglican Covenant Developments

First off, the good news.

Two New Zealand dioceses, Aukland and Waiapu, have rejected the so-called Anglican Covenant. Both dioceses passed motions explicitly rejecting the Covenant (which is a stronger action than merely defeating a pro-Covenant resolution).

The Waiapu resolution, while affirming the desire to remain a part of the Anglican Communion, goes on to say that:

We do not believe that the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant will enhance the life of the Communion and request that the General Synod / Te Hinota Whanui declines to sign the Covenant.

The Aukland resolution is even stronger, expressly stating that:

Clause 4.2 of the proposed Covenant contains provisions which are contrary to our understanding of Anglican ecclesiology, to our understanding of the way of Christ, and to justice, and is unacceptable to this Synod.

To date, two Maori dioceses and two Paheka dioceses have rejected the proposed Covenant. I believe that is every New Zealand diocese that has considered the Covenant to date. Along with a defeat in the Diocese of Wakefeild synod and the statement from the Philippines House of Bishops that efectively ensures the Covenant's defeat in that Province, it seems the No Anglican Covenant Coalition is actually having some success.

A few days earlier, the Coalition issued a statement decrying the superficial background material on the Covenant issued by the Diocese of Oxford. While tritely acknowledging that those who oppose the Covenant oppose the Covenant while those who support it support it (seriously), the paper by Canon John Rees sticks to the Lambeth Palace / Anglican Communion Office babbling points that the Covenant will never really affect anything, but the entire Communion will collapse in a heap if it isn't passed. Oddly, some English folk have already noticed the inherent contradiction of something being simultaneously insignificant and vital.

Finally, in a move that will strike some as counterintutive, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has posted a list of pro-Covenant articles from The Living Church. While Coalition members are by no means persuaded by the arguments, the authors of these articles are doing a service by mking a coherent case for the proposed Covenant, while doing Covenant critics the courtesy of taking our concerns seriously.

This contrasts well with the babbling points (they are too juvenile to be called talking points) from Lambeth and the Anglican Communion Office which are a disgraceful amalgam of disingenuous contradiction (the Covenant won't affect anything but is vital to the survival of the Communion), slander (anyone wo questions the Covenant either hasn't read it or is a fascist) and emotional blackmail (if you don't support the Covenant, you are being disloyal to poor Rowan.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Apparently Brad Wall has been replaced by some guy in Winnipeg

Between 2007 and 2010, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Corrections and Public Safety spent the princely sum of $1,616.97 (or less than $404.25 per year) to buy some video games for the recreational use of young offenders in custody.

It's not like the young offenders were sitting around playing video games 24/7, mind. Use of the games was a privilege earned through good behaviour and attention to educational / vocational programs. And the video games were screened for appropriate content.

Of course, the fact that imprisoned young offenders might actually have any leisure time at all offends the hard right "lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd, whose insight into corrections policy is consistently and mind-numbingly counterproductive. The fact that these kids (and whatever they've done, they are still kids) might be allowed to play the odd video game was just too much.

So the regional pooh-bah of a hard right pressure group, Colin Craig of the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation, made a phone call to the Government of Saskatchewan. By the end of the afternoon, government policy had been changed and public funds will no longer be used to buy video games for youth correctional facilities.

Whether or not giving limited use of video games as a removable privilege is or is not good corrections policy is, perhaps, a legitimate discussion point. So far, for what it's worth, the only person with any actual expertise on the subject has defended the purchase of the games.

But here's the bigger issue for me.

Who the heck voted for Colin Craig?

And why does the Saskatchewan Government take orders from some far right activist in another province?

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, despite its grandiose sounding name, is not a federation of Canadian taxpayers. It is a far right pressure group with secretive funding and no public or member accountability. Anyone can join the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, but unlike a real public group, its policies are set and its leadership are chosen by a small, self-selecting and self-perpetuating elite. You and I can join the CTF, but we can't have any say in who runs it or how, or in what policy positions it may take.

In otherwords, it is a Potemkin Village for the far right, much like the American Tea Party but with less showmanship and better dress sense.

In case you have no idea what the real Premier of Saskatchewan looks like, here's a picture:

His CTF bio indicates that he is from Winnipeg and attended the University of Manitoba. He's worked as a political operative in the offices of Conservative ministers in Manitoba and Ontario. There is no evidence he has ever lived in Saskatchewan. (There's actually no evidence he has ever been to Saskatchewan, for that matter, but I would expect he's been here for the odd meeting with his minions at the Saskatchewan Legislature.) Circumstantial evidence suggests he cheers for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

And nobody in Saskatchewan has voted to have him to decide government policy.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints . . .

I'm a week late in posting any reflection on what has been the biggest news story in Canada over the past seven days. For my non-Canadian readers, last Monday morning we learned of the death of the Honourable Jack Layton, Leader of the Official Opposition, Member of Parliament for Toronto Danforth and Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.

In the Canadian system (like other Commonwealth countries but unlike the United States), the Leader of the Opposition is effectively the Prime Minister in waiting. Indeed, in Westminster style democracies, the Leader of the Opposition and his/her leading Parliamentary colleagues are referred to as the Shadow Cabinet.

Jack had just led the New Democratic Party to a major electoral breakthrough when Canadians went to the polls less than four months ago. For the first time, his party (my party) would be the second largest party in our federal Parliament - and hence the presumptive government in waiting.

The New Democrats - like the UK Labour Party, the Spanish Socialists or the German Social Democrats - are part of the Socialist International. For my American readers, this means there really is no party quite like this one in your electoral experience.

In Canada, the Leader of the Opposition has an official residence called Stornoway. It's actually nicer than the Prime Minister's digs at 24 Sussex Drive. Jack and his wife (and fellow MP), Olivia Chow, moved into Stornoway several weeks after the election. In the end, Jack spent only one night there.

In July, he announced that he was temporarily stepping down from his leadership responsibilities, having been diagnosed with cancer. He declared he'd be back for the fall session next month. But the honest observer had to wonder. Unlike his previous bout with prostate cancer, this new cancer had left Jack looking thin and pale. I actually heard the announcement before I saw the footage, and what struck me more than anything was his voice. The strong voice of the passionate leader had been replaced by the voice of a very old man, even though Jack was only a decade older than me.

The morning Jack died, his family released a letter he had written in the previous few days. A multi-layered epistle to the people of Canada, it held out a hope for a new style of politics that is pure Jack Layton:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Apart from a few crackpots on the hard right, the country has been in mourning. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a decent pianist regretted never having had that oft-discussed jam session with Jack, a decent guitarist. Tens of thousands paid their respects in Ottawa and Toronto and on the route between - including where it passed out of its way into Quebec.

The state funeral tomorrow, officiated by Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church, will include a blessing from the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, a eulogy by former UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis and music by former Parachute Club lead singer Lorraine Segato and former Barenaked Lady Stephen Page.

I worked on Jack's first campaign for city council in Toronto - where the media kept declaring his opponent elected, even though Jack was in the lead throughout, only changing their tune once all the polls were reported. I supported Jack's transformation of the federal party's culture from one which saw defeat as noble and electoral success as morally suspect to one which understood that moral victories are neither. But my best memory of Jack is one time last year when we spent time after a public event comparing Blackberry pictures of our grandchildren.

Almost lost in the Layton coverage was news of the death of former NDP MP Simon De Jong. Simon had been an influential mentor in my early days in and around politics. In addition to things political, he taught me how to use chopsticks, as well as some other thing involving cigarette papers.

Simon spent the first three years of his life in a Japanese concentration camp, his father being a Dutch colonial official in Indonesia. Simon once confided to me that he weighed less when he left the camp at age three than when he entered the camp as an infant. It is almost certain that, had the war lasted just a few weeks longer, Simon would have died of malnutrition. Ironically, he was an anti-nuclear activist whose life was probably saved by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Only twice did I ever heard him make public reference to his experience of the camps: once in his convention speech when he ran for the party leadership in 1989 (at the insistence of his campaign manager) and once when speaking to a military parade marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

Simon also has the distinction of having won re-election in Regina Qu'Appelle in 1993 despite having lost every poll. He lost all the urban polls to the Liberals and all the rural polls to the Reform Party - but finishing second in every poll gave him enough votes to win.

Following a video tribute to Jack from This Hour has 22 Minutes (a satirical comedy show roughly comparable to The Daily Show) I'll close with another excerpt from Jack's letter. I ask that you remember these public servants - these friends of mine - and their families in your prayers in the coming days.

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together.

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Terrorism is terrorism - no matter the terrorist

Last week, Anders Behring Breivik set off an explosion in downtown Oslo near the offices of the governing Norwegian Labour Party. He then went to nearby Utøya Island, where he opened fire on participants in a Norwegian Labour Party youth event using automatic weapons. In all, he ruthlessly murdered 76 people. One of the few pieces of good news in all of this is that the death toll is about 15 fewer than originally believed. The dead include the step-brother of Norway's Crown Princess and, according to reports, the children of several senior Labour Party figures.

It was interesting, as the story developed, to see the rush to judgement by the mainstream corporate media, who proclaimed it an al Qaeda attack based on nothing but speculation. Of course, Ander Behring Breivik isn't an Islamic terrorist. In fact, it appears he hates Muslims almost as much as he hates Norwegian children who don't share his odious political views.

Let's be really clear about this. A rightwing extremist orchestrated a series of violent attacks on people based on their political views.

What was even more interesting was to watch the corporate media reaction when it turned out their preferred narrative wasn't operative. Almost immediately, the perpetrator was no longer a "terrorist," but rather a "gunman" or an "assailant." I say "almost immediately" because Faux News continued to say it was al Quaeda for several hours after Norwegian police had indicated otherwise.

Now, the Oxford English Dictionary defines "terrorism" as:

the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

"Terrorist" is defined as:

a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims.

So, by any sort of logical standard, last week's acts of mass murder constituted terrorism and Anders Behring Breivik is a terrorist, even if he isn't an Arab and a Muslim.

Next came that rather curious sight of assorted rightwing blowhards trying to pretend that the toxic rhetoric they spew had nothing to do with what happened in Oslo. Of course, these are the same rightwing blowhards who call for legal sanctions against any Arab or Muslim who has ever said anything that might even tangentially be tied to Islamic terrorism. The sauce, it seems, is only for the goose.

Then there was the curious "it was really the Muslims' fault anyway" meme, which blamed the attack on the mere existence of Arab and Muslim immigrants in Norway - even though the rates of Arab and Muslim immigration to Norway are among the lowest in Europe.

Finally came the most disgusting aspect of all. Two of the most odious and most disgusting of all the rightwing blowhards, Glenn Beck and Michael Coren, actually launched online narratives to justify the murder of dozens of children.

No, seriously.

I'm not going to link you. This blog has a firm policy of not linking to hatemongering and extremist filth.

With the bodies of dozens of dead children barely cold, Michael Coren was accusing the dead of anti-semitism because (apparently) the youth camp had held a discussion session where Israel's policy towards Palestinians was criticized. In the hate-addled dystopia of the North American far right, no one is ever allowed to criticize any Israeli policy. And now, it seems, if you do, you deserve to die.

It seems, however, that the wingnut right were having a contest to see who could be the most disgusting. And the winner is the hatemonger's hatemonger Glenn Beck who went all Godwin and compared the youth wing of Norway's social democratic governing party to - you guessed it - the Hitler Youth. The little bastards deserved to die because they were Nazis, don't you see.

Terrorism is terrorism, no matter the terrorist.

And the friends of terrorism - including Glenn Beck and Michael Coren - are every bit as odious as the terrorist who plants the bomb and pulls the trigger.

Despite the nearly complete failure of the corporate media, and despite the revolting behaviour of the usual suspects of the extreme right, there have been moments of grace in all this. I leave you with the words of Norwegian Labour Party Leader and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg:

“We are still horrified over what happened. But we will never give up our values. Our answer is more democracy, more openness and more humanity but never naivety.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

In solidarity with the people of Norway

The official English translation of the lyrics:

Yes, we love with fond devotion,
This our land that looms.
Rugged, storm-scarred o'er the ocean,
With her thousand homes.
Love her, in our love recalling,
Those who gave us birth.
And old tales which night, in falling,
Brings as dreams to earth.

This country Harald united
with his army of heroes,
this country Håkon protected
whilst Øyvind sung;
upon the country Olav painted
with his blood the cross,
from its heights Sverre spoke
up against Rome.

Farmers their axes sharpened
wherever an army advanced,
Tordenskiold along the coastline thundered
so that we could see it back home.
Even women stood up and fought
as if they were men;
others could only cry
but that soon would end!

Sure, we were not many
but we were enough,
when we were tested sometimes,
and it was at stake;
we would rather burn our land
than to declare defeat;
just remember what happened
down at Fredrikshald!

Hard times we have coped with,
were at last disowned;
but in the worst distress, blue-eyed
freedom was to us born.
It gave (us) father's strength to carry
famine and war,
it gave death itself its honour -
and it gave reconciliation.

The enemy threw away his weapon,
up the visor went,
we, in wonder, to him hastened,
because he was our brother.
Driven forth to a stand by shame
we went to the south;
now we three brothers stand united,
and shall stand like that!

Norseman in house and cabin,
thank your great God!
The country he wanted to protect,
although things looked dark.
All the fights fathers have fought,
and the mothers have wept,
the Lord has quietly moved
so we won our rights.

Yes, we love this country
as it rises forth,
rugged, weathered, above the sea,
with those thousand homes.
And as the fathers' struggle has raised
it from need to victory,
even we, when it is demanded,
for its peace will encamp (for defence).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No Anglican Covenant Coalition - Developments

There have been a few developments in the campaign to defeat the so-called Anglican Covenant.

This morning, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition formally released A Short Introduction to the Anglican Covenant. This one-page intro takes an unequivocal anti-Covenant position. But unlike the pro-Covenant propaganda from the Anglican Communion Office, the Coalition has made an effort to present the issues in a manner that is fair and not prejudicial. A Short Introduction is available in both letter sized and A4 formats.

It's actually quite disheartening to me that the Anglican Communion Office has refused to be an honest broker in the Covenant debate. Instead, Communion bureaucrats have become advocates for a proposal which would (although they won't admit it) centralize power in the Communion in their own hands.

A couple of weeks ago, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition also announced the appointment of two Episcopal Patrons. Retired Church of England Bishops John Saxbee (Lincoln) and Peter Selby (Worcester) are the first bishops who have been prepared to take an unequivocal anti-Covenant line. We are given to understand that there are several serving CofE bishops who are opposed to the Covenant, but to date, none of them are prepared to come out publicly.

I've noted previously and in other places that the bulk of the pro-Covenant argument of late has been based on three ethically, logically and factually dubious propositions:

  • Anyone opposed to the Covenant hasn't read it.

  • Anyone opposed to the Covenant is a fascist.

  • Anyone opposed to the Covenant is disloyal to Rowan Williams.

In a light-hearted response to this, Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog has issued a challenge for people to present credible arguments in favour of the Covenant. The winner will be given the opportunity to guestblog a post either for or against the Covenant as they see fit. It would be refreshing to see a pro-Covenant argument that isn't slanderous tripe, Godwinesque stupidity or emotional blackmail.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Only in Canada you say? Pity . . .

It's been nearly a month since last I blogged, but recent Anglican developments right here in Canada give me the perfect opportunity to get back in the proverbial saddle.

First, the excellent news that the Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear an appeal from Anglican dissidents in British Columbia. The dissidents had purported to remove their parishes from the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Canada. In doing so, they continued to occupy the parish property. The courts at every level ruled against them, and with the Supreme Court's decision to dismiss the appeal unheard, their legal options have run their course. The Diocese of New Westminster responds here, and the dissidents here.

I'm struck by the dissidents' special pleading that the outcome "should be of great concern to all Christian denominations." It would seem to me that Christian denominations should be happy to know that the Canadian courts are not going to redefine a denomination's polity and ecclesiology. The dissidents had been demanding that the courts force the Anglican Church of Canada to replace its heirarchical ecclesiology with a congregational polity. The courts have, quite properly, declined to turn Anglicans into Baptists.

Second, we've had a series of documents produced by the Anglican Church of Canada dealing with the proposed Anglican Covenant. The Anglican Covenant Working Group has issued a study and consultation guide (.pdf) supported by a website. Unlike the biased and intellectually dishonest propaganda pieces from the Anglican Communion Office, the Canadian materials present a balanced view and allow for an open discussion of the proposed Covenant on its merits. Of course, if the Anglican Covenant was supportable on its merits, the ACO wouldn't have to be afraid of a balanced debate.

In addition, the Governance Working Group has produced its own legal analysis (.pdf)of the proposed Covenant, with an executive summary (.pdf). Virtually the entire analysis points out the various weaknesses of the proposed Covenant, including the multiple and overlapping roles and ill-defined authority of the Standing Committee, the deficiencies in procedural fairness and the virtual exclusion of lay people from any meaningful participation in any part of the process.

Canon Alan Perry of Montreal provides his usual excellent analysis of the study materials and the legal analysis. Much of the other online coverage I've seen has focussed on the balanced approach the Canadian church has taken - in stark contrast to the Orwellian approach of the ACO or the passive aggressive stitch-up currently underway in the Church of England. One commenter even suggested that the very balance of the Canadian materials was "devastating" to the Covenant.

When I was young, Red Rose Tea used to advertise their product by suggesting that this particular Canadian tea (a different blend than in the United States) was the envy of even the tea-loving English. Each ad ended with a variation on the tagline, "Only in Canada you say? Pity . . ."

It appears that the same is true for an honest analysis of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eleven years ago today

It was only part way through the morning that I realized what day it was. Eleven years ago, I was a little more focussed.

Even if there were some sort of Rapture* tomorrow, I won't regret this for a minute.


* The Rapture is a wee heresy completely unknown in the history of the Church prior to at least the 18th century.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Liberals, Media declare Class War on single mom

Two days ago, the Liberal Party had a near death experience.

The party which has always been either the government or the official opposition at the federal level were suddenly neither.

With their lowest percentage of the popular vote ever, suddenly the electoral train wreck which was Stéphane Dion now seems the very model of stability and growth.

Displaced by a surging New Democratic Party under Jack Layton, the Liberals have been handed their worst electoral humiliation in history.

Despite a 2.4 increase in voter turnout, the actual number of Liberal votes dropped by 850,010 - almost a 25 percent erosion.

Now, some parties might come away from such an experience feeling chastened.

Not the Liberals.

Like a bitter alcoholic who hasn't yet hit bottom, the Liberal Party and their media mouthpieces are railing about how it is somebody else's fault. It's those nasty Conservatives who criticized Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. It's those ungrateful New Democrats who insisted on trying to win seats. And, although never quite so clearly communicated, it's those stupid Quebec voters who elected unqualified MPs.

Now, the qualifications to be a Member of the Canadian Parliament are pretty simple. You must:
  • be a Canadian citizen

  • be 18 years of age or older

  • not be in jail

  • get more votes than the other candidates

Ruth Ellen Brosseau meets all of those requirements. She defeated Bloc Quebecois incumbent Guy André by nearly 6,000 votes, more than 10 percentage points. The Liberal candidate finished a distant third.

This offends Canadian Liberals at a number of levels - as does the fact that Ruth Ellen is one of almost 60 Quebec New Democrats who rode an unexpected electoral tide to victory on Monday night.

Several of those 60 victorious New Democrats might best be described as "accidental MPs." When the election was called, the New Democratic Party had high hopes of winning maybe five to seven seats in Quebec. In the entire 80 year history of the CCF-NDP, only two New Democrats had ever been elected to Parliament from Quebec - and only once had a New Democrat been successful during a general election.

But credibility in a Canadian election requires running a full slate of candidates. As a result, all parties have, from time to time, nominated "placeholder" candidates - "sacrifical lambs," or, as they are sometimes called in Quebec, "pylons." Placeholder candidates may or may not run a campaign. They virtually never win.

Except . . .

Every now and then, the unexpected happens. Every now and then, there is a surge for a party and they end up electing placeholder candidates - and when it happens, it usually happens in large numbers.

Such was the case last Monday. Of the nearly 60 New Democrat MPs elected in Quebec, at least a couple of dozen were never anything more than placeholder candidates.

Other parties have had this experience. Saskatchewan Conservatives may recall Joanne Zazalenchuk - the 18 year old gas station attendant who defeated Deputy Premier Roy Romanow in the Tory sweep of 1982. Zazalenchuk spent more than four years as a hardworking if obscure MLA before turning the seat back to Romanow in 1986. When the Créditistes unexpectedly swept rural Quebec in the early 60s, it is said that several of the surprised new MPs turned up at the Quebec National Assembly instead of the Canadian Parliament.

The Liberals, of course, want to make some hay about all of these "unqualified" MPs - and the mainstream media likes the meme. Several of the new MPs have been held up for varying degrees of ridicule.

But the Liberals and the media have singled out Ruth Ellen Brosseau for special attention. Indeed, they've declared class war.

Ruth Ellen Brosseau is a 27 year old single mother (earlier reports said 30-something). Until this week, she worked at a couple of modest paying jobs in the service industry, including as assistant manager of a campus bar in Ottawa. During the election campaign she never expected to win, Ruth Ellen went away on a week long Vegas vacation that had been booked in advance of the election call and which could not be rescheduled or refunded. She doesn't actually live in - or anywhere near - the constituency of Berthier - Maskinongé. She spent little if any time there prior to election night.

Now, none of this was a secret. Ruth Ellen had become the poster child of the NDP's placeholder candidates in the week prior to the election. Her Vegas vacation had been all over the national media. If a single voter in Berthier - Maskinongé was not aware prior to election day that their NDP candidate was a sacrifical lamb who hadn't campaigned and who had taken a holiday during the election, then they simply hadn't been paying attention.

But the voters of Berthier - Maskinongé, like nearly 43 percent of Quebec voters, liked the change that Jack Layton was offering. Fully 22,484 (39.63 percent) of them decided to cast their ballot for Ruth Ellen Brosseau, vacances ou non.

But according to the central Canadian elite that run both the Liberal Party and the national media, this is some sort of embarrassing scandal.

Oh, I grant you the story is absurd at a number of different levels. But that isn't the meme the Liberals and their media allies are offering up.

No. According to them, this "cocktail waitress" should not be a Member of Parliament. They have engaged in a relentless public assault on this woman for the past several days.

Now, let's look at the real situation here.

  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau is a 27 year old single mother.

  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau has worked very hard at modest paying jobs to support her family.

  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau put herself through school.

  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau cares enough about the democratic process to allow her name to go on the ballot in a supposedly hopeless riding because even the voters of Berthier - Maskinongé should have the opportunity to vote for an NDP candidate.

  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau clearly harbours no ambition to be a career politican.

So I ask my Liberal friends and their media mouthpieces, what exactly is it that disqualifies Ruth Ellen Brosseau as a Member of Parliament.

  • Is it that she is 27?

  • Is it that she is a woman?

  • Is it that she is a single mom?

  • Is it that she has worked in modest paying jobs in the service sector?

  • Is it that she put herself through school?

  • Is it that she cares about the democratic process?

  • Is it because she isn't looking to be a career politican?

Of course, it's entirely clear what the problem is.

Ruth Ellen Brosseau is the target of this sustained media assault because the idea of a working class woman as a Member of Parliament offends their bourgeois sensibilities.

I have no idea if Ruth Ellen Brosseau will be an effective Member of Parliament or not. God knows, there is an awful lot of dead wood stacked up on the backbenches of the two establishment parties. (Less so, perhaps, for the Liberals right now, since the electoral winnowing of last Monday means that most of the surviving Liberals are still there despite their party label.)

But right now, every sane and sensible Canadian should be cheering for Ruth Ellen Brosseau - a proud single mom who does not deserve this print and electronic lynching.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


It's election day in Canada, and I encourage every Canadian citizen to get out and vote. If you aren't sure where or when, the Elections Canada website is your one stop information shop.

My partisan inclinations are well known, but my point here is to encourage every Canadian citizen to exercise their franchise. It is a civic duty, and it is a right that was hard won.

In other parts of the world, people are dying on the streets wishing that they had a say in the composition and conduct of their government. We who have been blessed with that opportunity should not take it lightly.

Besides, voting is fun. Although perhaps not quite so much fun as this young woman is having.

Lord, keep this nation under your care.

Bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.

Help us elect trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and thus serve you faithfully in our generation to the honour of your holy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In the Garden

Apparently the author of this hymn insisted it only be used in conjunction with the reading of John 20: 1-18 - so we'd remember what garden we were singing about.


Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them,

They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her,

Woman, why are you weeping?

She said to them,

They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.

When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,

Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,

Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

Jesus said to her,


She turned and said to him in Hebrew,

Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her,

Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,

I have seen the Lord;
and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Yet cheerful he to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free"

Here's a blogpost well worth the read. And here's an excerpt:

If we don’t believe that love triumphs over all, we have no hope. The evil forces arrayed against our lives are overwhelming otherwise. But it’s not enough to cling to a belief in some vague fairy tale, which might or might not come true. We need to see the proof for hope to be real, a fact Jesus completely understood. The story of Doubting Thomas, who had to touch Christ’s wounds himself, shows that Jesus knew that only proof would do.

The miracles throughout the Gospels are all about the proof. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, he can and will raise us from the deaths we suffer by injustice and war and homophobia and patriarchy and apartheid, as well as mere disease and old age. In the case of his pal Lazarus, Jesus even waited to intervene till after he expired, old and moldy in the grave (“Lord, he stinketh”) before giving him life again.

But Jesus isn’t here today, we can’t see him, so where’s this proof?

The proof is in my friend Peter, diabetic and morbidly obese when I met him, barely able to walk; he’s lost a couple hundred pounds since lap-band surgery.

The proof is in my friend Leonardo, who should have been dead by now, but got saved by Higher Power.

The proof is in my own body – in all my friends; Helen and Marc in Crawfordsville, who lost their genius son at age 19; in Stephanie, my weeping correspondent today; in all the 1.3 million visitors to my Daily Office websites since 2004. The proof is in Desmond Tutu, in Mother Teresa, in Ryan White. The proof is in the plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a bunch of ordinary Lesbian and Gay couples suing for the right to marry, when 40 years ago – the same era when I first heard “Love Unknown” – Gay people were the most stigmatized and hated folks on the planet. (There, I said it, it’s true, and no amount of bitching about racism can change the fact.)

Christ is there in all of them; Christ is here in all of us. You are yourself the proof.
But the best single line in the piece?

So what’s so good about Good Friday? Well, three days later Jesus walks out of the tomb, much to the consternation of Wall Street and the Republicans.

Anyway, here's the hymn:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

RIP - The Honourable Allan Emrys Blakeney, PC, OC, SOM, QC, FRSC, MA, DCL

Former Saskatchewan Premier Allan Blakeney has died today after what is described as a "short battle with cancer."

He served this province for nearly 40 years, having come west from Nova Scotia in 1950 to work in the Saskatchewan public service. Elected to the provincial Legislature in 1960, he was Minister of Health during the implementation of the first universal single-payor health plan in North America. (I once said, in his hearing, that he had been Health Minister during the doctors strike. He was quick to correct me.) He was CCF-NDP leader from 1970 to 1988, and Premier of Saskatchewan from 1971 - 1982. He subsequently taught law at the University of Saskatchewan.

My favourite memory of AEB came several years after he had left active politics. The cabinet minister I was writing speeches for those days like to quote Blakeney's predecessor as CCF-NDP leader, Woodrow Lloyd, but for a particular speech, we had decided she should quote Allan Blakeney instead.

Having searched high and low (biographies, old speeches, Hansard, consults with former speechwriters), I finally did what any sensible speechwriter would do. I called him. It happened to be March 25, 1998.

The first part of the conversation was amazing enough. After indicating he couldn't think of a single thing he'd said that would fit what I needed, it only took a vague reference to a comment from a former speechwriter to set him off on an extended riff from his "speech to the party council after the 1978 election." I had what I needed.

Then I asked the Bridgewater, Nova Scotia native what he thought of the previous day's election results in Nova Scotia. (The NDP came from a mere four seats at dissolution to winning 19 seats in the provinccial legislature. This left the Liberals and NDP tied for the largest number of seats with the Liberals, as the incumbent government, with the right to seek the confidence of the House first.)

He told me that, "had the NDP gotten one more seat or the Liberals one fewer," I wouldn't have reached him because he had committed to the NSNDP that he would come out to manage their transition to power should they form a government.

This was a brilliant move on the part of then NSNDP leader Robert Chisolm (now running federally in Dartmouth - Cole Harbour, NS) to take advantage of AEB's 38 years as a provincial public servant, MLA, cabinet minister and premier in Saskatchewan.

"Yes," he said. "It's particularly gratifying, particularly gratifying."

(Every one who ever heard AEB speak is hearing is unique, clipped pronunciation of "particularly.")

"If only Bob Rae had been so wise."

If indeed.

As a public speaker, he was no Tommy Douglas. But he was a brilliant and incisive thinker who made both Saskatchewan and Canada a better place.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wannabe Lawyerism

Many years ago, I was an "inside" scrutineer at a polling place during a federal election. The job of a scrutineer is to watch the process and to ensure that all things are done according to the rules.

In addition, most parties have their scrutineers track who has voted, and that information is passed back to a zone house as part of the party's GOTV (Get Out The Vote) operation. Essentially, the canvassing parties do during the election is not to persuade people to support the party, but to identify which voters are supporting the party. By tracking who has voted, the parties can then identify supporters who have not yet voted and take action to ensure that they do.

Different jurisdictions have different rules about who can act as a scrutineer on behalf of a candidate. At the time, Saskatchewan's election law required a scrutineer to be an eligible voter in the constituency. The federal legislation, however, had no such restriction.

Part way through the afternoon, a newly arrived Conservative scrutineer started complaining that one of the Liberal scrutineers was ineligible since she was too young to vote. Thus began a two hour tempest as the Conservative scrutineer loudly demanded that "the law" be enforced - even though the law existed only in his delusions. After much shouting and raving, the Conservative scrutineer was told to behave himself or he would be ejected from the polling place. As he wound up for another go, the Conservative scrutineer at my poll, having had enough, went over and told the man to "sit the &%@& down and shut the &%@& up."

During a federal byelection some years later, I was acting as an "outside" scrutineer - meaning that I also had to be sworn in as a scrutineer, but my job was simply to collect the updated lists from the inside scrutineer. Then I'd go back to our zone house, update our sheets and determine who we needed to be calling.

As I went into the poll - carefully removing my Lynn McDonald campaign button - I noticed a woman sporting a Peter Worthington campaign button. I asked the Elections Canada staff to have her remove it. While there was no federal law against underaged scrutineers, there was - and is - a federal law about campaign materials in a polling place. Again, much raving and carrying on, based on her own interpretation of non-existent laws.

Apparently this is quite a pattern with right wingers. Make up imaginary legal precedents and fanciful though non-existent constitutional conventions to justify whatever outrageous behaviour you like. So far in this campaign, we've seen at least two examples.

First, there are the Prime Minister's speaking points about how only the party with the largest number of seats is allowed to form a government. It isn't true, of course. And the Prime Minister knows it isn't true. There is a technical term in moral theology to cover this kind of thing. We call it lying. I am curious how Harper explains the fact that, from October 1925 to June 1926, William Lyon Mackenzie King was Prime Minister, even though his Liberals had fewer seats than Arthur Meighen's Conservatives.

And now, to round it all out, we have the Communications Director of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke, one Michael Sona, apparently attempting to steal ballot boxes because a special poll properly established under the Canada Elections Act was "illegal." It was illegal, you see, because Michael Sona imagined it was illegal, and therefore he was entitled to try and seize the ballot boxes.

Several University of Guelph students claim Michael Sona, the communications director for Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke, attempted to put a stop to voting at the special ballot held Wednesday.

The students say Sona approached the Elections Canada balloting site claiming that the process unfolding at the location was illegal and at one point reached for but never took possession of a container with ballots.

“He tried to grab for the ballot box. I’m not sure he got his hand on the box, but he definitely grabbed for it,” said Brenna Anstett, a student, who at the time of the reported incident was sealing her second of two envelopes containing her vote.

Student Claire Whalen was just about to receive her ballot just before 5 p.m. when the episode unfolded. “That’s when a guy came up and said it was an illegal polling station and that he was confiscating the ballots. And then he tried to take (the ballot box),” Whalen said.

I should mention the other consistent pattern among Canadian right wingers. Whenever they get close to being successful, they can always be counted on to screw it up with an idiot eruption like this.

Arthur Meighen is surely rolling over in his grave.


UPDATE: The Conservatives tried to appeal the matter to Elections Canada with their claim that the special poll was illegal. Elections Canada appears to have told them to pound sand. The Conservatives have thanked Elections Canada for dismissing their "concerns."

While the Elections Canada statement confirms that what happened in Guelph lacked proper authorization, we applaud the decision not to disenfranchise University of Guelph students because of errors by the local returning officer.

In the CBC story, it is noted that the Liberals tried a similar tactic at the University of Toronto during the 2008 election.