Canadian Election Redux

So the election came and went, and with it, it seems, nearly all sense of civic engagement. It was amazing, walking from voting station to voting station (trying to figure out where i was supposed to vote in my disorganized state matching a notoriously disorganized province), seeing so many people on the street, talking about politics. And i was struck by this disproportion: perhaps the most energy expended by most people toward things political is directed toward this, possibly the least effectual thing one can do - as an individual - in the public sphere.

To return to the running theme of my election "coverage," that is, gender parity, here are the final numbers:

63 women were elected (20.45%)
Conservative: 14 out of 124 seats
Liberal : 21 out of 103 seats
Bloc: 16 out of 51 seats
NDP: 12 out of 29 seats

Remember, in 2004, it turned out that 65/308, or 21.1% of parliamentarians were women. So things are actually getting worse, not better, for women in the House of Commons?

Also, Alberta went totally to the conservatives this time around. A sea of blue, rising tides of desperation.

Anne McLellan, former Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

The only up-side: Anne McLellan, Liberal incumbent in Edmonton Centre, is finally out of the House -- you may remember McLellan as the intrepid Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness who callously defended the supposed constitutionality of security certificates.

Security certificates are issued by this ministry, at the advice of CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service). These certificates, under the the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) allow the State to arrest permanent residents or refugees who have committed no crime, throw them in jail, and detain them indefinitely, without charging them publicly, with the aim of deporting them. Neither the accused nor their lawyers are allowed to know the content or the basis of their charge.

Amnesty International has denounced security certificates, saying that "the security certificate process falls far short of international standards for fair trials and may result in arbitrary detention and violation of the right to liberty." In a letter to Anne McLellan, Canadian legal experts argue that the certificates violate human rights, and not only the letter of Canadian law.

Now McLellan is gone, but security certificates -- and the draconian IRPA remain. It's unlikely that the Conservative party will do anything to improve the situation, given its stated platform commitment to "quickly deporting non-citizen criminals." Which is code for "arrest and deport first, ask questions later... if ever."

Another issue pushed aside by non-debates about corruption, Québec independence, and manners in the House of Commons.



Bachelet: "A country of greater solidarity"

In Chile Michelle Bachelet has won the run-off election, to become Chile's first president who is a woman. A socialist who is widely considered to be a truly populist leader, she beat her chief opponent, billionaire Sebastián Piñera, taking 53.5% of the vote. The main issues of her winning platform were a promise to construct a national program subsidizing child care, improving labour laws and working conditions, and decreasing the gap between rich and poor. Imagine if these were elements of a winning platform in Canada!Bachelet has also pledged to create a cabinet with equal representation of men and women. Stick that to NDP tokenism.

What's amazing is that North American coverage of her election continues to emphasize the masculinist culture of Chile, with a supercilious tone. But someone like Bachelet -- even someone like Stronach! -- wouldn't stand a chance as a prime ministerial candidate in Canada, much less in the U.S. She's separated, a single mother, a feminist, and she seems to take women's political situation seriously, making it a campaign issue. But she won in Chile -- doesn't that say a little something about a slow transformation of gender politics in that culture? In Canada, the leader of the New Democrat party is still spewing rhetoric about women's virtue from the nineteenth century! How's that for social change!



Gender Parity (or lack thereof) in Canadian Electoral Politics, II

Women are vastly underrepresented in Canadian representational politics -- at all levels. The numbers are pathetic.

At the federal level, this time around, women constitute a mere 23.2% of candidates.

The raw data:

* Only 380 women (as opposed to 1,254 men) are running for parliament. Some ridings have no women candidates in any party -- you can only potentially vote for a woman in 78.2% of ridings.

* O.k., yes, that's an improvement since the days of Agnes Campbell McPhail (the first woman elected to the House of Commons, in 1921). But the number of women candidates actually fell from 2004. And the percentage of women who are actually elected has, lately, been even lower than the percentage of women who run for government -- 16.62% (in 2000 and in 2004).

* The party with the highest percentage of candidates who are women in this election? The one-woman-party Animal Alliance Environment Voters, at 100%, followed, at a long distance, by the New Democrats at 35.1%, also the party with the highest number of women candidates, 108 (as opposed to 200 men -- no transgender candidates are listed by any party).

* The Progressive Canadian and Marijuana parties are nearly tied for last place in terms of gender parity, at around 4% -- or, one woman candidate. But the other three major national parties aren't lagging too far behind:

* The Conservative Party boasts 38 women (versus 270 men), or 12.4%. No big surprises there.

* The Liberal Party is running 79 women (as opposed to 229 chubby-jowled white men), i.e., 25.6%. Well, that's easily explained: not many shipping magnates are women.

* And the Bloc Québécois 23 women (and 52 men), or 30.7%. Tabernacle.

As for aspiring national parties, the Green Party is hovering at the standard set by the Liberals - 72 women or 25.3%. But then, voting for any Green, man or woman, is voting for Mother Nature. Uh, right. And the Communist Party is running 7 women, or 33.3% -- don't worry, they're for the elimination of gender oppression...after the revolution.

So, in the 2004 election, 65/308, or 21.1% of parliamentarians were women. How does this compare to other nation-states? No nation has perfect parliamentary parity. But some states -- especially those engaged in post-war and post-colonial reconstruction -- have quotas that aim for parity; Canada does not. Since 2003, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in its parliament, at 48.8%, or 39/80 seats. This is the closest any national government in the world has come to equal representation of women. Yet women have only had the right to vote in Rwanda since 1961.

Source: UNFPA

The current heads of government who are women (all nine of them) could fit around my dinner table (if we squished a little). Not that I'd very much like to invite many of them... Listing past women heads of government would take about 1 minute (there are thirty). If invited to a dinner party, Thatcher's first move would be to slash appetizers (the main course would soon be similarly imperiled). Bhutto and Macapagal-Arroyo would exchange stories of corruption ad nausaeum. Throughout, I'd be worried that Meir would decide to set up house in my apartment. And Campbell would leave no sooner than she walked through the door, to many exclamations of "good riddance."

What explains this global state of affairs? Why are women in this overdeveloped country underrepresented? Maybe Jack Layton has it the wrong way around: electing more women to government might not change things, but we need to change things in order to elect more women to government. And then, we need to elect women who change things.



Gender Parity (or lack thereof) in Canadian Electoral Politics, I

Women's issues - or, for that matter, gender oppression - have hardly registered on the election campaign radar, report Andrea D'Sylva and Linda Christiansen-Ruffman of rabble.ca:

"In the most recent House of Commons, women comprised only 21 per cent of the elected total. Currently, women make up 25 per cent of all party candidates, which does not augur well for change. This disparity in representation affects the way women's voices are heard and creates a serious imbalance in a theoretically equal society. Thus, candidates in this election must be made aware of concerns that matter to women: livable incomes, affordable housing, absence of violence, and the presence of quality, public services. These concerns not only matter, but they affect women's access to their basic human rights."

During Monday's debate, New Democrat leader Jack Layton argued that the election of more women to parliament will change both the style and the substance of Canadian politics. In a rather self-congratulatory tone (mitigated only by the recognition that "we still have some way to go"), Layton reported that 37% of the NDP's candidates are women, and strongly intimated that if we want to "clean up" Canadian politics (get rid of the scrappy culture of question period, and teach those MPs some decorum) we'd better elect some of 'em. I'm all for gender parity in government (and, duh, universal suffrage) -- but the argument that electing women will somehow infuse politics with moral virtue is as old as Christabel Pankhurst.

Christabel Pankhurst

It may have been a strategically effective argument for suffragists to make in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it is just a plain old anachronism coming from the 'stachioed lips of Jack. Will electing more women to federal government change conditions for women? Maybe, if these women are feminists. Will it civilize the house of commons? Maybe, if these women are civil (but even then, probably not). In this day and age, is there a more wishy-washy liberal way to argue that women are under-represented in Canadian parliament than this? Hardly. This under-representation needs to be analyzed as forming part of a system of oppression, in which women are exploited, violated, and, by insidious as well as overt means, destroyed. Try: still earning 71 cents to the man's dollar; lack of access to abortion and basic health care in rural Canada; second-class, heteronormative immigration and residency laws that trap women in abusive domestic relationships; sexual assault rates showing no sign of diminishment; the rise in homelessness, poverty, and the corresponding deterioration of women's mental and physical health; eighty women missing from Vancouver's Downtown East Side; five hundred aboriginal women murdered or missing in the last thirty years... What might it mean to make these election issues? What would this take? Probably more than a few more good, upright women teaching manners to politicians -- and maybe manners are overrated, anyway.

P.S. If you haven't already, you have to head over to and your little dog too to see the implicit logic of campaign signs teased out (with a little help from Illustrator) by Victor Serge! Worth a laugh.



Redefining Generosity

The rich-as-shit step up to the plate of global poverty...And TIME Magazine gobbles it up.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are TIME's Persons of the Year" -- TIME Magazine, December 2005.

What is wrong with charity? What, more precisely, is wrong with celebrity charity? Am i just being cynical if i condemn it as being fatuous, mere hot air that does nothing to change the status quo and even can be said to preserve the very social structures that make charity possible in the first place?

"This was already a year that redefined generosity. Americans gave more money to tsunami relief, more than $1.6 billion, than to any overseas mission ever before. The Hurricane Season from Hell brought another outpouring of money and time and water bottles and socks and coats and offers of refuge, some $2.7 billion so far. The public failure of government to manage disaster became the political story of the year. But the private response of individuals, from every last lemonade stand to every mitten drive, is the human story of 2005." -- TIME Magazine

But can private responses resolve public problems, or are they structurally-necessary safety valves in an inhuman, dehumanizing political system? Can transnational responses to global poverty -- along the lines of what Bono et al advocate -- on the charity model be anything more than a refusal of historical responsibility: a twenty-first century version of the white man's burden, which seeks to bury the history of colonialism and imperialism that conditions the dismal present under a mythology of the "generosity" of western civilisation? Plus ça change, my friends: this is the real human story, that the charity-mania of media and pop mediocrities renders invisible.

Hey, look, i like to dance in my kitchen to "where the streets have no name," too. I've also pondered the sweet contradictions of "with or without you." I've got nothing against the constantly bespectacled Irish king of pop. As such. But Good Samaritans, no matter how cool, no matter how jazzy, no matter how rich, can't eradicate cruel systems: only the people can do that, together, for each other. And this means that people like Bono, actually, need to give up -- not gain -- power. "Apart from his music stardom, Bono is a busy capitalist (he's a named partner in a $2 billion private equity firm)..." reports the adulatory TIME article -- so he "spends several thousand dollars at a restaurant for a nice Pinot Noir" once in a while; so what? Doesn't he deserve a little break from redefining generosity?


Weeell, he might fancy himself a man of the people, but that nice Pinot Noir makes for a dark stain against Bono's prole cred. As does his bizarre on-again, off-again friendship with Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. But that's a sordid story for another day. The point is, TIME's Persons of the Year work their shit on the backs of the People of the World, even as they make self-congratulatory efforts to "rescue" us. Who is going blind soldering those circuit boards to run your buggy programs, Billy boy? Who is losing fingers -- and squandering their human possibility -- making those wrap-around shades for your mass-marketed-charity-king-cool, Bono baby? Those making poverty history bracelets produced by structurally empoverished, hyper-exploited Shenzhen workers -- what's the deal, Geldof? The point is, to be brief, that engaging in revolutionary politics requires making actual choices. One of them, if your gig is making poverty history, might be giving up the Pinot Noir... or at least giving it away. Now that's redefining generosity. Or at least putting your money where your mouth is.