Tag Archives: election

Redford open to looking at Bill 44

I currently work in Art Education. Bill 44 has limited my ability to have open and honest conversations about contemporary art with students in my city. I also see the impact it has had on student’s maturity about contemporary art and about human sexuality in general. The ability to look at a piece of art that has tones of sexuality suddenly disables many students (esp. those in Junior High and High School) from taking it seriously and having a discussion about it’s merits as a piece of art work. They are diminished to giggles, embarrassed glances and in some a feeling of intense discomfort.

We are not supposed to talk about sexuality in polite society, in schools or in any professional atmosphere. We are creating a disadvantage for students by sheltering them many parts of life – literature, art, spirituality and of course science.

I cannot help but be heartened to hear Redford is open to discussing the section of Bill 44 that limits topics of human sexuality from Alberta’s education system. I am even more happy to hear her recognition that this section is a policy decision that does NOT support education or healthy development. It is a policy decision that harms Alberta’s youth and future generation.

Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald:
Nancy writes:

In 2010, Bill 44 introduced a new section to the Human Rights Act that says teachers must get permission from parents to teach any subject matter that “deals primarily and explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation ” This section will make it more difficult to address issues of “sexual orientation” to all children in the classroom.
Teachers now feel like they have to avoid answering direct questions and are unable to properly support their students during classroom discussions. They are afraid of facing complaints and the consequences of them.
Given the high rates of gay teen suicide and our recognition for the need to tell them “It Gets Better” through a social media campaign, would you support scrapping that section of the Human Rights Act.

11:17

Alison Redford:
This is troublesome – and I know that there was real concern on this issue at the time – we will be taking a look at where we are – on this and on Section 3 – I wont preclude a discussion on this in the future
11:18

Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald:
What do you mean by “troublesome”?
11:19

Alison Redford:
Sorry – wrong word – it concerns me that we could have kids in school who are not gettting the info and support that they need to have to live healthy lives – we can have policies that harm kids
11:20

Regardless of the outcome of the election – whenever that may be, I hope Bill 44 will come under a microscope and our leaders will not bow to outdated ideas based on archaic and damaging values.

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Still watching…How 140 characters can inform direct political action

June 2009 the world got much smaller. Citizens of every nation worldwide watched the events unfolding in Iran and as disbelief mounted into insecurity and anger the world spoke out. The last two weeks of June saw every venue for correspondence and discussion utilized in a manner that brought people and ideas together at a rapid pace. True dissidence was achieved, and not just through the on-the-ground protests of the Iranian people. Support for the state of Iran and its citizens grew around the world through on-line media and social news aggregators. Huffington Post and The Guardian hosted live feeds of the Iranian civil unrest and up to the minute news, reactions, and actions were documented through video footage, and visual images; and direct information were received on mass via text, e-mail and tweets.

There was an immediate and totalitarian crack down on all outside media, and all approved state sponsored news coverage was censored to an obscene point. However, Iranians and people around the world refused to let the censorship inform or cease communication. Technology nerds globally united to find digital solutions to an in-enforceable act. While the Iranian government was searching IP addresses to locate individuals, servers in multiple countries had been used to route multiple users and messages coming out of Iran to look as if they originated from towns in Poland, Wisconsin, or Alberta. E-mails, tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, text messages… viral communication had reached a height yet to be documented. Critical information on targeted individuals and rally sites, on police crack downs and midnight arrests, on deaths and injuries were all spread quickly and immediately due to the incredible community that sprang up to support women and men we may never meet, in a country we may never visit.

Institutional actors, evident by their increased reliance on news aggregation, and social networking site, recognized this social outreach. Comments left on mainstream media’s coverage of the Iran unrest numbered in the thousands. Canadian coverage of the events were numerous and in-depth. Canadians were watching and they wanted the world and our government to know. While it may mean little on an individual level, upper level political actors notice, because showing that your listening to what your people care about translates into votes. Current demonstrations against Iran and the latest walkouts during the UN General Assembly meeting were likely correlated. While little was achieved in Iran during the un-rest, no one is supporting the Iranian governments actions.

Social media was effective for sharing information and news updates. Especially the social network so often cast aside as “the new Facebook”, which was “the new MySpace”, which was “the new Friendster.” So many do not recognize the inherent difference of these tools. The demographics that participate in these Internet based communities are significantly different from one another, leading to significantly different outputs.

Twitter engagement was high during the unrest and while superficial tokens of support were offered – the green wash over avatars and a green ribbon on the bottom right hand corner – there was also support to many people in Iran through server sharing and information repeated to cast a wider net upon the community. In Edmonton alone, saw an increase of twitter use for the week of June 12th – 16th, averaging 6800 tweets a day. Key search tags were quickly settled on to create a stream for the conversation. By searching #iranelection a person can get millions of posts made by hundreds of thousands of Twitter users, giving a board and direct picture of an event or that days highlights. Twitter and other sites became depended on for spreading information and relaying human rights abuses. So much so, the United States government asked the host of Twitter to reschedule a regular severe maintenance that would have resulted in a blackout of Twitter use for a period of several hours. While this would not be the end of the unrest nor would it cease Iranians from protesting, it could have lead to a breakdown in information and painstakingly set up viral networks.

This change in accessing information became a personal exploration, nay, an obsession for myself during the weeks after June 12th. Twitter, Huffington Post and The Guardian were open on my laptop twenty four hours a day and my data use from my PDA was higher that I though I could get it. This is likely atypical, I know a few people as current event obsessed as myself and I prefer to think there are more people than not who chose sanity over constant torment. The interaction available through web 2.0 programming was incredible. Being able to reach out and to know minute-to-minute updates of rallies or police crackdowns was an experience I find hard to put into tangible values. I was so involved, a virtual participant in a situation I had no physical stake in and for a cause I could do little to influence other than lending my voice to the cry. I felt impotent and disillusioned. Hoping that I could influence my government, who would in turn use international pressure to influence the state of Iran, it felt like I was trying to build a house with a toothpick. No tools for chance, I continually questioned what my role could be.

That did not stop my interactions though, if anything it fueled them. At the very least, I felt a responsibility to remain informed and not shield myself from these all too important events. The video clips and radio updates from journalists that chose to remain in Iran under cover were all pieces of information I relied upon to understand the great picture. Iran’s unrest did not end at its borders, it split into the streets of Ottawa and London.

Citizens worldwide are still using these technologies to continue documenting the history of what is happening. The arrests are continuing in Iran, people are still under a totalitarian government and while the international community imposes sanctions, it is not the elite that are starving it is the small rural villages that go without. Maybe social media cannot fix the world, but it has changed it.

Originally published: October 1st, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 04.

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Revolutions are like bicycles: If they are not in motion, they will stop working

June 12th, 2009: another shameful page in Iranian history.

On June 12th, 2009 the world watched as the powers that be in Iran legitimized clearly fraudulent election results, announcing incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be returned leader of the Iranian state – leader being used loosely in this context. Despite the spirited protests that occurred almost immediately after the results were announced, it should be understood that the president of Iran is an elected puppet with limited capability to enact any real change or wield any political power. The Iranian constitution mandates that the unelected Guardian Council can veto any law or legislation they do not support, regardless of the support received by any elected government. The elected government is little more than a highly contested puppet show, with the strings being pulled by the Guardian Council itself. The presidential election amounts to little more than competitive politicking for the right to lead a useless and superficially democratic government that acts as little more than a mouthpiece for the Islamic fundamentalist minority.

Twice previously Iran has elected a reformist government, in 1997 and again in 2001, as well as a reformist Majilis (the branch most alike Canada’s House of Commons) in 2000. Mohammad Khatami had stayed in power under large popular support, but was unable to enact any change or fulfill his elected mandate. Bills promoting democratic change and human rights were passed under the Majilis and signed by President Khatami but went un-legislated because of the veto power held by Ayatollah Khamenei.

The real attention must be paid to the progression within the Guardian Council and the inner conflict that has been bubbling to the surface since the June 12th election. Despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s call for a partial recount, little has been done to betray any real dissent within the all-powerful Guardian Council, and why would there be? They literally hold Iran by its neck and have little intention of letting it go from the looks of things. The loosening of that grip is the most the leaders of world can hope for and as for the people of Iran; the presence of those fingers is rarely forgotten.

The Iranian protests of this past summer are noteworthy for many reasons, although the sheer number of citizens who took to the streets is not one. Despite reports of hundreds of thousands, 1999 saw an estimated 750 000 Iranians march in a peaceful protest. Of course the 1979 Iranian Revolution will be held in the worldwide memory for its enormous and overwhelming example of human potential. The regime that came into place in the late seventies not only upset the macro political power within Iran and throughout the Middle East but also, and more horrifically, upset the micro family balance of power.

Thirty years ago, the Islamic Revolution, amongst other legislative changes, suspended the Family Protection Law.  This law had been in place only a short while before it was abolished by the Islamic fundamentalist regime that took power in the mid seventies. Enacted in 1967 under Reza Shah, the Family Protection law abolished extra – judicial divorce and required polygamist relationships to have judicially granted permission, and only under special circumstances. While this was only a small restriction on the Shiria Law most Iranians abide by, it was still a restriction placed by a religious governing body which recognized rights of women under the law and the rights of women after they are married, a considerable gain in a region where human rights are rarely recognized for any persons. Journalist and Academic Haleh Esfandiari was one of the many women who immediately joined the countless causes to protest this loss of recognition and her actions have led to state suspicion and even jail time in 2007, at sixty seven years of age. One such cause, The One Million Signatures Campaign is a small example of the tactics used by women in Iran to protest and raise their voices under a system that goes far out of its way to restrict dissent.

As the world watched in 1979, human rights were eroded by the fundamentalist regime change, a regime change that created a new country out of Iran, a new country very few of its citizens understood or supported. In the last decade several notable, mainstream media releases have the caught the attention of many throughout the world. Texts such as “Reading Lolita in Tehran” depict the culture shifts experienced in the Middle East and bring to light personal and humanistic consequences as well as personifying the extreme lifestyle changes that were forced upon every member of those respective societies. “Persepolis”, a graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi depicted her personal story of growing up as a young child previous to and during the 1979 revolution and the Iraq vs. Iran war, her experiences abroad and her return to Iran as a young woman in a land suddenly foreign to her. Adapted to film in 2007, widespread attention to the personal story of this ordinary young woman was suddenly paid and her life became a mirror of the many who felt trapped and betrayed by their nation.

A powerful symbol of this summer’s protests is a young woman who was idolized under the name “Neda”. Demonstrating the individualistic quality and fight for human rights, the death of “Neda” was captured in a thirty seven second video and immediately posted virally, spreading like wildfire through social mediums such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Instantly, millions of people worldwide were able to watch as the life was taken from a young woman by political authorities, authorities whose legitimacy is questioned by many. Regardless of the charade that Iranian elections are, citizens still vote and they vote to elect a political leader to convey their wishes, desires and needs to whichever governing body it needs too. The people of Iran deserve better than a suppressed and illegitimate election to elect a hand chosen political leader with dictatorial aspirations who does little to ensure the safety and prosperity of his people and more to push through and represent legislation based on religious fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, the protests did little within Iran. There was no regime shift and the Guardian Council remained supportive of Ahmadinejad as the Iranian president. Those who did speak up were quickly exiled or silenced. The most vocal and closest opponent of Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi was rumored to be dead soon after the June protests gained momentum. The motivation for Ahmadinejad’s side to start this rumor couldn’t be any more transparent. The most notable member of the Guardian Council who spoke out against the illegitimate election results, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was slated to be Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor but was cast aside in 1989, just a few months before Khomeini’s death in 1989. Despite continuing harassment of his aides and a six-year period of house arrest, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has continually spoken out against the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Iranian government. After the June 12th election results were released, he spoke out, saying: “A government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy.” His dissidence has not boded well for his family. Three of his grandsons were arrested this week for taking part in outlawed political rallies, along with several reformist clerics and a handful of other influential individuals who have vocally criticized the reigning president.

There is much more to the Iranian political unrest this past summer, and although I mentioned briefly the crucial role social media played in disseminating information to disenfranchised groups and individuals throughout Iran. This was truly a phenomenon that forecasts the important role social media can and will play in future political and cultural change.  Next week, Features will run part two, an in-depth look at the use of social media and world wide support for information sharing that characterized and shaped the 2009 Iranian protests.

Original published:September 24th, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 03.

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Uniting the right: Paul Hinman, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party wins Calgary – Glenmore by-election

In the 2008 provincial election, 41% of Albertans came out to vote, electing 72 Progressive Conservative members to form the government of Alberta, 9 Liberal members and 2 New Democratic Party members to form the official opposition. In Monday’s Calgary-Glenmore by-election, 27 212 votes were cast, 40.5% of everyone eligible, and Calgary-Glenmore chose to replace former legislative member Ron Stevens with the leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party (WAP), Paul Hinman to represent them at the Legislature. Winning the by-election with 37% of the vote, the Liberal candidate, Dr. Avalon Roberts and the PC candidate, Diane Colley – Urquhart received 34% and 26% of the vote respectively. The New Democratic Party, Social Credit and an Independent all ran as well and together received 3% of the total vote.

The most interesting breakdown is the vote spread between Hinman and Roberts, and Hinman and Colley-Urquhart. While only 276 votes separate Hinman from Roberts, 1189 votes separate Hinman from Colley-Urqhart, astonishing considering both the 2004 and 2008 election this riding was won by the PC candidate with 51% of votes cast. This may be one of the few times in Alberta’s history where the split happened between the right and not the left. Even if the NDP candidate received no votes, Hinman still would have taken the riding by 128 votes over Dr. Roberts. As the Liberals conceded defeat last night to Hinman, it is my opinion that the Alberta Liberals should still carry a sense of pride that out of 27 212 eligible, they were able to capture 3 776 of those, and place second with a 3% point spread separating them from the WAP win. Furthermore, they were able to capture the left vote while the right votes floated further right to the WAP.

Political pundits throughout Alberta had been busy in the twenty four hours after the results were announced Monday evening. As many Albertan political junkies crowded around the live feed of election results and Twitter, a growing ripple of shock echoed through the comments posted. As the polls opened, so did the floodgates of speculation, the most common prediction across the province gave it to Colley-Urquhart with the ten point spread between her, Dr. Roberts and Hinman. Telling; Albertan’s couldn’t dare to hope that a PC candidate would be unable to win and that there truly was an alternative. As the results came in, political pundits such as Dave Cournoyer (daveberta.ca) and Trish Audette (Edmonton Journal) tweeted live updates of the polling results as many others offered commentary and increasingly emotionally motivated shock.

While many in Alberta are desperately anxious to see political change, I feel confident that very few were able to predict the outcome of Monday’s by-election although Hinman was a strong candidate and did pose a genuine threat to the PC’s. He previously represented Cardston – Taber – Warner for the Wildrose Alliance Party from 2004-2008, has been a vocal right-wing leader in the Southern Albertan community, and has worked his way into several right-wing groups and boards throughout the bottom half of this province. However, despite his strong track record, just how Colley-Urquhart didn’t take this seat is puzzling. The last time a PC candidate lost a secure riding in such a devastating manner was Calgary-Buffalo in 1992. A riding that has been held by a PC member for the last 40 years, Hinman did more that upset a solid voting block, he also proved very pointedly that the PC’s giant tent may not be big enough for Alberta any longer. WAP’s campaign of “Send Ed a Message” clearly resonated more strongly with voters that anyone originally thought.

The Progressive Conservatives are as close to facing a crisis amongst their ranks as a governing party can get in Alberta. This is by no means spelling the end, and the loss of one seat is not going to sink Stelmach, although this is not the greatest news for a man facing an upcoming leadership review that hasn’t look too positive for a while. However, it does say after a summer of upset, miscommunication, and substantial deficit announcements the PC’s are not immune to everything.

The remaining question though is that while the Wildrose Alliance Party is uniting the right, what will happen to the left? It is not clear that the left and center voters must move forward, not just in Calgary-Glenmore but Alberta wide. A strong and effective opposition is always desired over the 72 seat stronghold the PC party had for so long. One lone candidate may not be able to shake the buttresses, but it does prove that voters are looking for a strong alternative. Alberta’s left could learn from this. Wildrose Alliance Party is a product of the right-wing parties, the Wildrose Party and Alberta Alliance, recognizing they are stronger together than apart. When will the Liberal’s and the NDP’s see this? It is not effective to have 9 members sit in one grouping and 2 members sit in another and bicker amongst each other in between hurling insults at the PC’s in Question Period.

Currently, the votes cast stand as counted and the Liberal and PC parties have made their respective results known internally. Notably though, Hinman may be facing an reprimand from Elections Alberta as the Liberal party has filed a complaint against Hinman for campaigning outside of polling stations. The Liberal party sent out a rather uplifting video clip of Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr informing Paul Hinman of his wrong doing and breach of section 135 of the Elections Act.

Calgary-Glenmore byelection results

Total eligible voters: 27,212

Total votes cast: 11,028

Turnout: 40.5 per cent

-Wildrose Alliance: Paul Hinman -4,052 (37%)

-Liberal -Avalon Roberts -3,776 (34%)

-Progressive Conservative -Diane Colley-Urquhart -2,863 (26%)

-NDP -Eric Carpendale -148 (1%)

-Social Credit -Len Skowronski -118 (1%)

-Independent -Tony Grochowski -71 (1%)

All 66 polls reporting

Source: Elections Alberta

Originally published September 17th, 2009. Features section, The Meliorist, Lethbridge Alberta. Volume 43, Issue 02.

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Let the voters decide…

The old saying “We got the Government we deserve” has been bandied around so often these last few weeks that seeing this underground movement has me believing more strongly in democratic change in Alberta. Never too early to start a pro-voter campaign.

* As informed by @michaeljanz and @brycedudley

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Anne Murray box sets?! Oh, yes please!

Slate mag asks “What’s the matter with Canada?” and offers a interesting south of the border perspective of our lovely, large and complex country.

“You might think of Canada as the un-America, where the only debate ought to be whether to spend the country’s growing oil wealth on faster snowmobiles, bigger hockey rinks, or Anne Murray box sets.”

A pretty well written article worth the read (and by no means was I knocking Anne Murray, she was my first concert experience! Yah, that’s right. Jealous?).

In other but very related news, this Canadian federal election is looming larger and larger will soon over take even the Macy Thanksgiving Parade. May getting in the leader debates but still battling here own legitimacy within the party and in her riding, cracks in Harper’s propaganda/campaign machine and Dion’s Green Plan parade.

Whew! This is only the first week?!

Kinda reminds me of that X-Men issue where they have to battle that evil dude in a fun house of death. No feasible escape and a myriad of rooms all designed to spell out your doom. Only in this case, the evil dude is represented in each and every party and the rooms of doom are those that our political leaders walk into every day. Maybe thats a little too negative, but with the Conservatives slander campaign and three our of four leaders initially refusing Elizabeth May’s inclusion in the debates my faith in those who operate in our political system is a little shaky.

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