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Eric Hendry

Party On!

There seems to be a strong sentiment of scepticism among people my age towards party politics. Many see it as an outdated, frustrating, and downright boring way to be civically involved. By contrast, many tend to see alternative avenues like NGOs, service clubs, and interest groups as a more effective way to make a positive difference in their community. Even more reject civic involvement entirely. The upcoming election is a perfect time to reflect on why participating in a political party is a relevant, important, and effective component of civic participation. I should qualify that I do not mean to discount the importance of other forms of civic involvement, only to highlight the reasons why I choose party politics and why others should consider doing the same.First, party politics represents a concrete avenue through which individual citizens can influence the powers-that-be in society. In Canada, each major party has a relatively open and democratic policy process whereby party members can raise policy motions for debate and possible adoption. An example I particularly like is that of same-sex marriage and the Liberal Party: what was passed as law in 2005 actually began as a policy initiative among Young Liberals our age. Students like you and me cared about a cause and chose the avenue of participating in a party to help advance it.This raises another important point. Parties are in fact a highly effectiveway to make a difference when compared to other forms of civic involvement. Joining a party is not tantamount to buying into a rigid ideology – there is room for debate and change, and it all begins with the individual member. Parties are, like it or not, the bodies that end up ultimately making the big decisions in society. True, interest groups and other NGOs have (limited) influence over elected officials,… Read More

Defining Leadership

After the 2008 Canadian federal election (which, believe it or not, did take place), I asked a friend what he thought of the results. Given his general indifference to politics, I expected a generic response along the lines of, “Seriously, Eric, who gives a shit?” I was surprised, then, when he informed me of how thankful he was that that “clown” Stéphane Dion wouldn’t be our prime minister.“Why is that?” I enquired. “Not a fan of the carbon tax?”“Nah, I can’t imagine him as the leader of my country. He’s just not a leader,” he replied.“Why isn’t he a leader?”“I don’t know. Look at the guy. He’s just…not. Haven’t you seen those ads about him?”I had. At that moment it became clear that my friend, and likely many others, had made his choice based not on the substantive issues at stake, but on an attack ad with the tagline, “Stéphane Dion. Not a Leader.” To be fair, there were many valid, defensible reasons not to vote for Stéphane Dion’s party in that election. Him “just not looking like a leader” was not one of them.This raised an important question for me: Who defines leadership? I fear that for too many people, like my friend, the answer is political parties’ negative attack ads. Defining leadership in this way not only insults the intelligence of Canadians, it affects the health of our democracy.In the age of sound-bites, catch phrases like “Just Visiting” or “Not a Leader” stick with people. The unflattering pictures displayed along with them become an integral part of how people define what a leader is and is not “supposed” to look like. The obvious problem with defining leadership through petty attack ads is that these ads have absolutely nothing to do with what should really matter in politics: issues and how they affect citizens. At best… Read More

Official Multiculturalism Needs to Stay

What do Fairmount bagels, Boustan shawarma, and La Banquise poutine have in common? Not only are they staples of any healthy diet [debatable -- Editor], they are representative of the great cultural mosaic that is Montreal, Canada. Not only present in our cuisine, multiculturalism has been enshrined in Canadian law since the adoption of the Charter in 1982. Recently however, as fellow columnist Russell Sitrit-Leibovich’s piece illustrates, multiculturalism as an official government policy has been under attack. In a recent speech made in Germany, British PM David Cameron remarked that “multiculturalism has led minority groups in Britain — especially Muslims — to believe it is permissible to remain apart from the mainstream society and to nurture extremist views.” In a globalizing world, we need an official policy of multiculturalism now more than ever — which makes this recent backlash all the more discouraging.In order to dispel these myths, let’s first examine what an official policyactually does.Tangibly, the only thing Article 27 of the Charter really means is that cultural groups who want funding for an event can apply for it. This ensures that we can all enjoy delicious, subsidized Pierogis at a Polish bake sale. Not much more than that.Official multiculturalism’s true value however is found in the message it sends to all Canadians: “We are not a society that discriminates based on ethnicity or cultural background.” Setting norms like this allows the government to sends a clear message to bigots too. Their views will not be tolerated. We are and always have been a nation of immigrants. As such, we are by our very nature multicultural. Officially recognizing this allows us to embrace and celebrate the fact that we, as a nation, derive strength from our inherent diversity.Now for what multiculturalism doesn’t do.It does not give anyone a licence to break the… Read More

Time to End the Monarchy

I rarely get embarrassed when speaking to Americans about Canada. When exploring the subtle differences between our two countries, I revel in the fact that we have affordable tuition, speedy and efficient elections, a rational drinking age, and so on. I must admit, however, that explaining why the “Queen of England” is on the back of our money has always been something I dread.“Well, she’s actually the Queen of Canada too,” I say.I am met with the same confused look I get when I try to explain milk in bags. The truth is that I simply can’t explain why we still have the monarchy. It is an archaic and vestigial institution and it simply has to go.First things first: sustaining the monarchy in Canada is expensive. One Lieutenant-Governor for each province, the Governor General’s salary and expenses, and the maintenance of his two official residences, Rideau Hall and La Citadelle, can get pretty pricey. In 2006-2007, the total cost to the Canadian taxpayer of their monarchy was $50,147,000 and skyrocketing.Despite this cost, many Canadians reason that their monarchy is simply a powerless and benign institution. The supporters of the monarchy in Canada point to this inoperativeness as reason to embrace the monarchy as a harmless symbol of our historically strong ties with Britain. It is precisely for this reason of symbolism and history, however, that Canadians should oppose the monarchy in all its forms. What exactly does the monarchy symbolize, anyway? Proponents would argue tradition and loyalty. Upon closer consideration however, a monarchy can just as easily symbolize things like inherited class, blind obedience to authority, and, in a former colony like Canada, it can come to symbolize a subordinate world status.This matter of symbolism would be different if the demographics of Canada were homogonously British as most of the country once… Read More

The Hypocrisy of the Rural Revolution

Drivers on the quiet roads of rural Ontario are surely familiar with them. The proudly flaunted signs that dot the landscape send a clear message to passers-by: “This Land is Our Land. Back Off Government [sic].” The signs are a product of a campaign begun in 2003 by Randy Hillier called the “Rural Revolution.” The movement has since grown to be a real political force in Ontario with the Ontario Landowners Association claiming a membership of 15,000. Hillier himself now sits as a Progressive Conservative MPP in the Ontario legislature and even made a run for the party’s leadership.The Rural Revolution claims to hold libertarian values like property rights, individual liberty, and smaller government at its core. They openly oppose any and all forms of government regulation. Randy Hillier along with Conservative MP Scott Reid at the federal level are even planning to introduce bills before their respective houses of government which would amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include property rights. The opposition to government regulation and protection of property rights may sound appealing in principle, but in reality this involves the rest of society paying a high price.Consider the example of a farm on which cow traffic and manure has degraded a stream bed. In order to stop the degradation, the government might reinforce the stream bed or install a cow crossing. According to the Randy Hillier and the OLA, such government intervention is a violation of rights and freedoms if the property owner objects to it. They reason that if a landowner wishes to degrade a stream on their private property, it is their right. A stream, however, is rarelyjust a stream. What if it was a spawning bed for fish vital to the local ecosystem and economy?  What if that stream was the water source for an entire community… Read More
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