Friday, July 29, 2011

Shaken Faith, Part II: Elizabeth May’s Recent Mis-steps on Green Party Democratic Processes and WiFi

(...continued from Part I)

Coming hot on the heels of the July 25th endorsement blog issue, we have what has been a much more public mis-step by May. On Wednesday, July 27th, May touched off a national firestorm with a couple of tweets about the health perils of WiFi. In the first tweet, May exclaims that she’s glad that she doesn’t have wireless internet access in her home. In the second, she expresses concerns for the health of children attending schools with WiFi.

Oh my. When I saw those tweets appear in my own twitterfeed, I took off my glasses and held my head in my hands. I knew that this was going to be explosive. The only saving grace was that she was tweeting about this in July, and not in September. I hoped that people would not confuse May’s stance on WiFi with the Green Party of Canada’s position on WiFi, but as the Leader and spokesperson of the Party, I had little doubt that there would be some confusion.

Well, maybe a press release would straighten things out. After all, Twitter isn’t the best venue for nuanced discussions.

Later in the day, there was a press release issued by the Party. But it wasn’t the mea culpa I had been expecting. No. Instead, it was a joint press release issued by the Green Party of Canada and the Green Party of British Columbia, attacking smart meters because they use WiFi technology ("BC Greens say Smart Meter health concerns demand action")

First off, it’s very unusual for the Party to issue a joint press release. It’s been my observation that the Party goes to great efforts to not involve itself in discussions pertaining to matters within provincial jurisdictions. As a national party, we must respect the division of authorities as laid out in Canada's Constitution, and that’s why the Party has typically left provincial matters in the hands of Green provincial parties, such as the Green Party of B.C., led by Jane Sterk. Most of the other parties operate in the same way, with some notable exceptions where lines have been blurred in the past.

So a joint press release is a pretty big deal. The issue being discussed must be one of both provincial and national importance. The press release itself starts off by suggesting that’s just the case, referencing “all jurisdictions”, and the way in which some of these jurisdictions have placed moratoriums on smart meters, or cancelled programs altogether. Ok, this must be pretty serious stuff. I just had a smart meter installed on my home a few months ago, in anticipation of time of use billing being implemented in Sudbury later this summer. Yikes. This must effect ME, my family, neighbours and just about everyone in Ontario who has either received or will receive a smart meter!

Ok, so it is a big deal. The national Green Party is doing more than lending its good name to the cause of the B.C. Greens here. It’s trotted out Elizabeth May to make a statement in support of the B.C. Green’s position. It’s issuing a joint press release with the B.C. Greens. It’s promoting the release on the front page of the GPC website. Ok, it’s really got my attention now. So what for goodness sake is the national party taking a position on? And why are we attacking smart meters?

To my horror, it appears that the national party has aligned itself with the B.C. Green’s call to allow consumers to opt out of having smart meters installed on their homes. Let’s take a look at some of the statements made in the release, which the national Party appears to be in support of:

“The smart meter program is another example of unsupportable assumptions based on industry lobbying rather than best practices,” says Jane Sterk, leader of the Green Party of BC. “Greens believe all public policy should be evidence based and founded on the Precautionary Principle.

“BC Hydro’s wireless smart meter program violates that principle. There are environmental, privacy and security concerns as well as the potential for adverse health risks. This is an issue that hits at the heart of democratic rights. Individuals have no ability to opt out of a program that may impact the health of those with electro-magnetic sensitivity,” says Sterk.

So, because the B.C. Greens believe that the scientific verdict is still out on the health-related effects of WiFi, BC Hydro should cancel the installation of smart meters? Sterk appears to be suggesting that this is the case, based on the application of the Precautionary Principle.

Look, I’m all for the use of the Precautionary Principle in guiding public policy. I’d even go so far as to agree with Sterk that the jury is still out on the health-related impacts of WiFi. I know that there aren’t all that many studies out there on this subject, and some of the ones that are available suggest that there may be some connections between electromagnet radiation and human health, although cell phones are usually tagged as the culprit. It even makes sense to me on an emotional level that the more humans are exposed to human-made radiation, that there’s probably a greater health risk. So, sure, maybe I do buy into the notion that there’s a risk.

But you know what? I cycle to work as often as I can, despite the statistics which show that I’m much more likely to sustain a significant injury doing so than if I were to take the car or ride the bus. But I bike to work because I want to do my part to reduce emissions. I realize that when it comes to the health-related risks of cycling, the choice is mine to make, whereas B.C. residents appear to have no choice but to accept a smart meter attached to their homes.

But I don’t have a choice when I walk through the downtown of my hometown, and pass by people using cell phones. Or when I walk through the entrance of a store in the mall which scans me with an invisible something or other to ensure that I’ve not removed any articles without first having paid for them. At work, I sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day. I guess I could refuse the paycheck and find employment elsewhere, so maybe that’s a choice. Should I be better informed of the health risks associated with all of these activities? Probably. And maybe the government could be doing more to ensure that its citizens, like me, are able to lead safer lives, by somehow influencing the amount of exposure to radiological radiation we all experience.

Interestingly, the Green Party of Canada has a policy which calls for just that. Elizabeth May even references this policy in the joint press release:

“The Green Party of Canada, through a resolution of our entire membership, has called for the current inadequate Health Canada regulations to be upgraded to the equivalent of the EMF regulations in Germany,” says Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. “We are entirely too complacent about the growing evidence of health effects from wireless technology.”

Ok, that statement on its own appears to me to be fair and balanced, and representative of the Green Party of Canada’s position and member-approved policy as it pertains to WiFi. We want more regulation from Health Canada, in keeping with an approach currently being used in Germany. Sounds...sensible.

My question remains, though: what the hell is it doing in a joint press release which attacks the installation of smart meters?

In a blog post appearing on Thursday, July 28th, titled “The Twitter firestorm and why I said what I said about Wi-Fi”, May attempts to clarify what she was thinking, and broaden the discussion. Thankfully, the national mainstream media seem to have largely ignored the smart meter attack angle at this time, and have focussed largely on May’s tweets pertaining to WiFi in general use.

May claims that while WiFi is something which Canadians should be concerned about, but the issue isn’t the top priority of the Party and is far from it. That's good, but she says nothing at all about smart meters. Which continues to leave me wondering: are we for 'em, or are we 'agin 'em?

For what it’s worth, I don’t disagree with much of what May has written in her blog. In fact, she’s convinced me that we probably should be looking into the health impacts of EMF to a more significant degree than we have to this point.

Her blog references the exact policy resolution adopted by Green Party of Canada Members. In the policy, there is a reference to a “precautionary limit” of 0.1 uW/cm2 (or 0.164 V/m) for cumulative outdoor exposure to radio frequency radiation, which appears to be the limit called for in something called the “Bioinitiative Report” of 2007.

I have no idea what this precautionary limit means. I don’t even know what all of the little letters after the numbers actually stand for. But apparently, whatever it is that a WiFi emitter emits, it’s far less than this precautionary limit. At least according to Gary Murphy, the Chief Project Officer in B.C., who shared his thoughts with the Victoria Times-Colonist in the article "Greens want smart meter plug pulled".

“I wish they would have reached out to us to get some information,” he said, noting that he was particularly struck by May’s insistence that Health Canada EMF regulations be upgraded to the equivalent of those in Germany.

“Our (smart) meters are not only below that level, they are also below the most stringent standard in the world – Switzerland’s precautionary principle standard.”

Of course, Murphy is looking at the policy in isolation, saying that smart meters are below the precautionary limit, whereas the policy actually speaks to an aggregate level of exposure, to which WiFi would add its own little bit of radiation to the total that we're all exposed to. But apparently WiFi's addition isn't much more than the contributions made by baby monitors, and a lot less than cell phones.

The Times-Colonist also has also run a nice picture of May, Sterk and Trent University Professor Magda Havas, who has recently published a scientific paper which confirms that there are health-related impacts from EMF. All three appear to be at some sort of press conference.

Oh my. So not only was there a joint press release on this smart-meter attack between the two parties, but our Leader appeared in a press conference too?

In how many different ways is this problematic?

First, May appears to be associating herself, and by extension as Leader of the Green Party of Canada, the national party, with a call by the B.C. Greens for a provincial agency, BC Hydro, to stop its smart meter installation program, due largely to health concerns (although security was also mentioned, seemingly as an afterthought). So the national party appears to be getting itself involved in a matter of provincial jurisdiction. I guess if the matter was of national importance, that would make sense.

But WiFi isn’t that kind of matter, by May's own admission in her blog, where she clarifies that WiFi is well down the list of the Green Party of Canada's priorities.

Look, health risks or no health risks, people love WiFi. Very few Canadians appear to be talking about curbing WiFi use. While I understand that there are some Canadians who are deeply troubled by this issue, it’s simply not on the mainstream political radar. Given that the specific issue here is related to a provincial agency in B.C., the national party really should not have stuck its nose into that business. Especially when it's not our priority.

Second, the Green Party of Canada does not have any member-approved policy which calls for anything like a moratorium on the installation of smart meters. The only policy we have is one which calls for more regulation from Health Canada over aggregate outdoor exposure, and a better precautionary limit. Taking this member-approved policy and suggesting that it is somehow supportive of Sterk’s call for BC Hydro to stop installing smart meters is an extreme stretch. I doubt that many Green Party of Canada members would make such a connection. I can’t say for certain that May has either, because it seems that she’s never actually said anything about smart meters or BC Hydro. She’s only lent her appearance and quotes of GPC policy to the B.C. Green Party’s cause.

Yet, by appearing with Sterk and Havas at a press conference, by having the Party issue a joint press release, by tweeting about the dangers of WiFi, she has certainly created the appearance to be in step with Sterk’s (in my opinion, idiotic and misguided) attack on smart meters.

Remember what I wrote earlier about the Party being concerned that the opinions expressed by members being construed by some to be representative of the Party’s position or policy on a certain matter? Well, that’s exactly what’s happened here. May has created the appearance that the Green Party of Canada supports a moratorium or cancellation of smart meter programs, as a result of concerns related to the health impacts of WiFi. This appearance isn’t in keeping with Green Party of Canada policy. It may be her opinion (it might also not be), but either way, the appearance has been created, and it’s now fair game for other parties, journalists and the Canadian public to leap to the conclusion that the Green Party of Canada is against smart meters.

If we’re not, what was our Leader doing at the press conference, through the joint release, and on Twitter?

And the final problem, which for me is the biggest. What on earth is the Green Party of Canada doing coming out in support of any attack on smart meters? Aren’t smart meters supposed to be one of the tools we use to help create a smart electrical grid, which will assist us in conserving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and fighting climate change? Last I looked, that was the plan. The fact that smart meters will also save Canadians money through conservation is another added benefit which I had been under the impression was a good thing too.

I joined the Green Party of Canada because it has been the only political Party in Canada which actually had a plan to combat climate change. Unlike the unknown cumulative impacts of WiFi on human health, we have a pretty good idea what the cumulative impacts of climate change are likely to be, at least as a minimum. Let me tell you, the two can not be compared. The devastation which will be wrought upon our society by a changing climate will be far more significant to a much higher proportion of humanity than those whose health may be effected by having a WiFi smart meter installed in their homes.

I joined the Green Party of Canada because I am extremely concerned about the future health and well-being of my family, because of climate change. I am concerned about the economic and institutional damage that a warming climate will bring to Canadians. I am concerned about the security implications. For me, climate change is the biggest issue Canadians are facing today.

If the Green Party of Canada is going to start undermining its own member-approved policies and plans for tackling climate change over fears related to WiFi and other unproven scientific issues, invoking the “precautionary principle” and saying that we can’t do anything until all of the evidence is in, even when doing nothing will certainly cause a greater negative impact, well, that’s not the Party that I joined. The other parties like to make it up as they go along. The Green Party, for the most part, has been different. But we now have a clear example of the Leader of our Party taking a contrary stance to what I believe is the will of a majority of Party members.

We can not let these concerns about WiFi derail establishing a smart grid, which will assist in creating that culture of conservation which we need to establish in this country. I understand why the B.C. Greens have come out in opposition to smart meters – they likely believe that they can score some cheap political points with the anti-EMF crowd. That they are pandering to a handful of well-intentioned activists instead of looking at the greater and broader interests of British Columbians says a lot to me about what the B.C. Greens goals must be, and it saddens me that they have decided to substitute good public policy and programming for a cheap effort to score some votes from core constituents at the expense of the greater public interest.

Make no mistake: the greater public good is served by efforts to combat climate change, rather than going after WiFi. The B.C. Greens have clearly lost sight of that, probably in an attempt to hold onto a core voting block. If I were a B.C. Green, I would be tearing up my membership card today. I don’t foresee Sterk reversing herself on this issue. And I don't foresee the B.C. Greens going anywhere in the next provincial election if they are going to attack government initiatives which actually will do something to help fight climate change.

But Elizabeth May must at the very least come clean and now take the time to explain to Canadians that the Green Party of Canada does not stand in solidarity with the misguided efforts of the B.C. Green Party. May hasn’t said anything yet about smart meters, which is both good and bad. Good, because the GPC doesn’t have a policy against them, and good too because in saying something positive about smart meters at this time, she will not be in a position of having to contradict herself.

Her silence on smart meters is bad, though, because it lends credibility to the notion that the Green Party of Canada is, like the B.C. Greens, against the use of smart meters. And the longer it takes for her to clarify the national party’s position on smart meters, the more that people will be able to rightly conclude that the Green Party of Canada really is against the use of smart meters.

And with elections coming up in PEI and Ontario in a few months, it really behoves May to provide clarity on smart meters sooner rather than later. And although the majority of the national party’s members might not be watching, a number of engaged members are. Comments appended to May’s blog have been almost unanimous at this time in their condemnation of the smart meter attack.

Elizabeth May, I have the utmost respect for you, but these two recent issues have shaken me. Please, refrain from further involvement in the Party’s electoral processes; do not send an email to members with your endorsement, as your voice carries too much influence, and you alone have the ability to access the membership in its entirety.

And please, clarify the Party’s position related to WiFi smart meters. Make it clear to Canadians that the Green Party of Canada continues to believe that smart meters are an important part of a smart grid, which will help us create a positive culture of energy conservation. Please have the Party issue a press release to that effect - and have them remove the joint release currently posted to the Party's website.

Better a bit of a “mea culpa” at this time than the dissension in the Party’s ranks which is sure to come, along with continued public criticism.

(Opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Shaken Faith, Part I: Elizabeth May’s Recent Mis-steps on Green Party Democratic Processes and WiFi

Elizabeth May experienced a wonderfully inspirational month as Canada’s first elected Green Member of Parliament. She showed Canadians that one dedicated opposition MP in the House can have an impact far beyond expectations. In one episode, May stood alone to oppose the continuation of Canada’s bombing mission in Libya, to the shame of New Democrats and their supporters. Characterizing the Libyan situation as a “civil war in which Canada has taken sides”, her articulate position to parliament was well-thought out and nuanced, and ultimately right. I wrote about this episode in an previous post, "May Right on Libya; NDP Fails Canadians Concerned About Civilian Casualities", dated June 20, 2011.

Fast forward to late July, 2011. May has made a number of mis-steps this month, although since it is the height of summer, she’s lucky that fewer Canadians are likely paying attention. Nevertheless, a number of us are, and I know that I am not alone when I express serious concern with two of May’s actions in particular.

The first of these if largely an internal Green Party matter, and likely of much less interest to anyone not involved with the Party. It does, however, deserve some small consideration.

The second pertains to a growing firestorm which has erupted in the mainstream media, largely over comments May made regarding the use of WiFi. But there's more to this story than the mainstream media has latched onto at this time, for beneath the concerns expressed by May about WiFi is the bigger issue of whether the Green Party of Canada has come out in opposition to residential smart meters being installed in homes. Smart meters, of course, are a key element of creating a smart energy grid, which hopefully would lead to a per capita reduction in energy use, and greatly assist in creating a culture of energy conservation. Those concerned about climate change have generally perceived efforts against smart meter installation as wrong-headed. Yet the B.C. Green Party, in its wisdom, has recently attacked BC Hydro's smart meter program. I'll write more about this situation in Part II.

Green Party of Canada - Federal Council Elections

Internal national elections for the Green Party’s executive, known as the Federal Council, are upon the Party again. Why the Green Party seems to want to hold its elections over the summer time I’ll never figure out. I suspect that timing contributes to the abysmal participation rate of Party members in the electoral process (usually below 20%, which is a little embarrassing for a “grassroots” party which advocates for more democracy. In defence of the Party, however, Elections Canada rules pertaining to membership list access don’t exactly make it easy for us).

This year, Green Party members will be voting on several new positions for a Federal Council Executive, as created by changes made to the Constitution at last year’s General Meeting. For the first time, the Party is to have a President, two Vice-Presidents (one English, one French) and a treasurer. Previously, duties of these positions were shared amongst Federal Council, led by an internally elected Chair.

Elizabeth May, who is the Leader of the Party, is one of the members of Federal Council. The Constitution of the Party is the document that provides for the responsibilities and duties of the Party Leader. Suffice it to say that the Leader, as per the Constitution, does not have any stated powers (aside from being the Party "spokesperson") beyond that of any Federal Council member, although the Leader is elected for a longer term, and can continue to occupy the position of Leader without directly having to run for the position (now that the Constitution was changed to require a “leadership review” instead of a “leadership contest”).

Despite the lack of Constitutional power afforded to the Leader, the fact of the matter is that the Leader of the Party is able to exercise real power through influence and access. Some have even criticized May as having influenced the Party significantly, by bootstrapping the Party to herself; some even refer to the Green Party perjoratively as the “Elizabeth May Party”. I don’t think things have gone that far, as there have clearly been some battles at the Federal Council level which May did not win, such as the one pertaining to election financing.

It can not be doubted, however, that May’s voice is by far the strongest voice within the Green Party, and her access to a national podium as Party Leader has allowed her to speak directly to Canadians, and not just members of the Party. No other Green has the ability to project their voice in the same sort of way. And as the Leader of the Party, no other Green’s opinion could hope to carry anything in comparison to the weight of May’s opinions.

With that in mind, let’s return to the Party’s internal elections. A number of positions on Federal Council and the new Executive will need to be filled. Perhaps it says something about the Party’s internal democratic health that only two of the 11 positions are being contested; 7 others will be filled by acclamation (well, technically the Party always runs “None of the Above” as an option for voters, so there will still be a vote; although I’ve never heard of NOTA winning); for 2 more provincial rep positions, no one has put their name forward.

One of the contested positions is that of Party President, for which 3 candidates have put their names forward. In a blogpost made by May, titled “Message to Our Members”, May urges the Party’s membership to vote for one of these contestants, after a brief discussion about why it is important for her to share her opinion on her electoral preference.

Now, I understand that it’s probably best for internal harmony to have a President and Party Leader who get along with one another. And I’m not even particularly troubled by the notion that May has a preference as to who the President should be, given that as a Federal Councillor, she’s going to have to work very closely with the President and other Executive members.

But I’ve seen all of this before. Last year, prior to the General Meeting, May sought to influence the vote on a number of resolutions by having the Party send an email directly to Members, in which she stated her opinions about the resolutions. I wrote about this email at the time, as I was extremely dismayed with what I perceived to be a form of interference in the Party's electoral processes("Green Party Voting: Much More Than Just Going Through the Motions, Part 1: How to Influence People and Game the Vote", July 25 2010).

The authors of the resolutions which May sought to discredit did not have the ability to communicate in the same manner as did May, as the email addresses of our membership are safely guarded by the Party. There was no opportunity for a rebuttal. And even if there had been, it’s clear that May’s voice carries a significant amount of weight in any debate.

This time, so far, May has expressed her opinion on a preferred electoral outcome only through her blogsite. The Green Party, unlike any other Party, allows all of its members, including the Leader, access to blog their thoughts and points of view without any direct interference from the Party (unless the usual lines of good taste and defamation are crossed, of course). In years past, there used to be a direct link to these “Members Blogs” appearing on the GPC’s website. After that link was removed, the blogs became more difficult to find (although they could still be accessed from a drop-down menu). At that time, many bloggers, including myself, moved away from the Party website’s blogs and started our own independent blogs.

In the past couple of months, even the drop-down menu for access to the Member’s Blogs has been removed from the GPC site. There has always been criticism related to these blogs, as more often than not, opinions expressed by members therein haven’t exactly been in keeping with Green Party policy. The concern has been that a casual reader of Member Blogs might conclude that the Green Party stands for thing which it actually doesn’t. It was likely due to these concerns that public access to the Member Blogs has become restricted over time.

It certainly would be an unfortunate situation if a Member spoke out about an issue which was either in contradiction to member-approved policy, or for which the Party does not have a policy, and those statements be misconstrued by the media to be representative of the Party. More on that later.

Unlike the Members Blogs, however, the Party promotes the latest Leader’s blog entries directly on the front page of the Party’s website, through the use of a link. A further link to all blog entries is provided through a drop-down menu. This means that the Leader’s blog is treated quite differently than any other blog on the Party’s site, and as such the Leader is afforded a significantly greater ability to have her opinions accessed by Members and non-Members alike. That’s probably appropriate for a political party in which the Leader is the spokesperson of the Party.

But in terms of an internal democratic election, in which May has chosen to use her blog as a means of endorsing one candidate above the others, clearly the outcome has been to allow May a podium for endorsement which no other candidate or supporter could ever rival. And that’s fundamentally unfair and a bias to the electoral process.

And while at least May hasn’t emailed the Membership her thoughts on the election directly this time, it seems very clear to me that May hasn’t learned that her involvement in the electoral process will inherently taint the outcome, given her position as Leader, and her ability to access the membership to share her opinions.

Keep in mind, no one running as a candidate in the Party is able to send an email directly to the membership, as membership lists are not available to candidates. They may be able to cobble together their own email contacts lists (I know that they try, because I’m on a few of them), but there will always be many members who are overlooked through this process. Nor do candidates have the ability to access members indirectly through links on the GPC website’s frontpage in the same manner as May has.

I believe that May should have remained silent on her preference for Presidential candidate, even though it would have been hard to do. Alternatively, the Party could have explored options to make communication with the membership equal for all candidates who aren’t being endorsed by a publication of the Leader. The fact that my Party’s internal electoral processes have been interfered with by the Leader for two years in a row now is very difficult for me, as a Member concerned about democratic renewal, to swallow.

Continued in Part II...

(opinions expressed in this post are my own, and should not be considered consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why Celebrating Gay Pride Continues to Matter

Some recent happenings throughout the world and here at home have shown that when it comes to gay rights, we’ve still got a long way to go. I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues over the past couple of weeks, as Pride Week in Greater Sudbury gets under way later this month. My family and the Green Party both have been active supporters of Pride and gay rights, which is why I’m both personally and politically troubled by those who claim at this time of year that “gays” have no need of parades and marches.

In my local paper today, an editorial was published by Sun Media’s Michael Den Tandt, (“C’mon, give Rob Ford a break”, the Sudbury Star, Tuesday July 5, 2011), in which he shared his criticism of the Toronto Star and Globe & Mail’s continuing coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s decision to skip the Toronto Pride Parade, in favour of spending the weekend with his family at their Muskoka cottage. Ford’s decision to skip the parade has been one of the biggest stories of the summer so far. Many have suggested that it’s the Mayor’s prerogative to choose family time over civic duties. If that were the extent of this story, I might agree.

But what Den Tandt misses (or chooses not to say, which is more likely) is that not only did Mayor Ford skip out on Sunday’s parade, he wilfully chose not to take part in any Pride Weed events, including the flag raising which took place right outside of his office at Nathan Philips Square. His claims of being “too busy” have been pursued in the media, and it seems that they don’t stand up to scrutiny.

It would have been one thing for Ford to say to the public that he was going on vacation for the long weekend with his family, but to miss an entire week’s worth of event programming, including the flag raising? C’mon, Den Tandt: give us all a break. There’s another agenda at play here.

Beyond Ford himself, though, what Ford did was create the opportunity for all whom have a grudge or personal issue with Toronto Pride events, or the LGBT community, to prop themselves up on their own soapboxes and rant away. Appended to every article written by any of the major newsmedia, one could find dozens of comments, some of which bordered on hate speech directed at the LGBT community (some probably even crossed that line, but being able to hide behind anonymous posts just seems so empowering for many that they likely didn’t care). Sure, the media outlets eventually removed the most egregious comments, but they still made their way into the public realm, even if for a short time.

Talk radio shows, too, highlighted callers whom appeared to be filled with anti-gay hatred, all while discussing Ford’s divisive decision to skip Pride events (although usually only the Parade itself was mentioned).

If this kind of vitriol were directed at jewish Canadians, visible minorities or women, you would expect there would be a national outcry. However, apparently it still remains socially acceptable in many quarters to bash gays.

Let me repeat that, please.

It still remains socially acceptable in many quarters to bash gays.

Which brings me back to Pride Week in Greater Sudbury, and my attempt to pre-emptively answer the sure-to-be-asked questions about why celebrating Pride here in Northern Ontario remains a fun and necessary activity.

Den Tandt points out, where he lives in rural Grey County, “Nobody, gay or straight, makes a big deal of it. It’s more that it just doesn’t matter, any more, whether a person is gay or straight. Live and let live. People get along.” Certainly, there’s some truth to that; but at the same time, it’s not so simple.

Ask an LGBT member of our community whether it doesn’t matter any more, and I think that you’ll find responses will vary considerably, depending on the individual.

For example, if that individual is a youth attending a Roman Catholic school, where gay/straight alliances have been banned (apparently, in name only), and where rainbow flags have been prohibited (as has happened in one Southern Ontario school board), you likely will get a much different response than if you asked a youth attending one of our public schools here in Sudbury (in the “Rainbow” Board no less!). But, then ask another couple of individuals, and I’m sure that the responses will be different again.

Den Tandt, and others like him, fall into the trap of assuming that all individuals who share a partial collective identity (such as being gay) must experience things in the same way. This is clear when he states that nobody makes a big deal of it. And that’s just an absurd assumption. Based on what we’ve been seeing in the media, and hearing on our radios, plenty of people continue to make a “big deal” out of it. Den Tandt’s attempt to shrug this off won’t change that fact.

I’m very pleased to see that Greater Sudbury’s Mayor, Marianne Matichuk, will be attending the Sudbury Pride flag raising at Tom Davies Square, kicking off Pride Week events here in Sudbury (the flag raising will take place at 1:00 PM, Monday, July 18th; information about this and other events can be found at the Sudbury Pride website, Although Pride Week in Greater Sudbury isn’t the same kind of community economic generator that it is in Toronto, Sudbury nevertheless hosts celebrants from all over Northern Ontario, who find themselves here in town to celebrate the North’s diversity. For a smaller community, Pride’s economic impact is still robust.

Which is why Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s snubbing of Toronto Pride events appears to be so perplexing. And now, apparently, Toronto’s City Council will be entertaining a motion to cancel committed funding, which could lead to bankrupting Toronto Pride (along with costly legal battles for Toronto taxpayers): see “Pride funding in jeopardy after Mammoliti video gets rise from City”, the Toronto Star, Tuesday July 5 2011).

So, what’s really going on here?

Take a closer peak behind the scenes to see who else didn’t show up at Toronto’s Pride Parade. From my review of media articles, it seems that not one of Toronto’s newly elected Conservative MP’s were in attendance, despite that Party’s recent breakthrough in the City. Nor were any candidates spotted who are standing for the provincial Conservatives in the upcoming Ontario election. (Now, I admit that I’m operating with incomplete information here, and if someone knows something that I don’t, please feel free to advise me, and I’ll correct the record by appending information to this post).

Listening to CBC radio yesterday, one caller made a very telling remark, when she praised Mayor Ford for his decision to put his family values ahead of “depravity”. When challenged by the radio interviewer, who stated that Ford has only ever said that he was “too busy” to attend Pride events, and that he chose the cottage over the Parade, the caller said what was on the minds of everybody: “Well, that’s just what he’s saying, but we all know the truth”.

The truth, for me, is that gay rights are a political issue, and members of one political party in particular seem scared of showing support to the gay community for fear of alienating so-called “core” supporters. Which is interesting, because last I checked, I didn’t realize that people were pre-disposed politically based on their sexuality.

Like it or not, fringe elements on the right-wing of Canada’s political spectrum continue to politicize the every day act of being gay, which gives lie to Den Tandt’s statement that being gay just doesn’t matter any more. Clearly, to some, it does.

And it still remains socially acceptable in many quarters to bash gays.

This is not to suggest that the policies and programs of Canada’s Conservative government are in any way anti-gay, or that Conservative parties, as political institutions, are homophobic. I will not repeat Den Tandt’s mistake of assuming that all individuals act as the collective, or the reverse: that the collective is a reflection of each individual. Certainly, I’m sure that every political party in Canada has its share of anti-gay supporters. No Party, however, deserves to be labelled homophobic.

But the right-wing social agenda remains, even when it actually works against family values. We just saw how that played out in New York State, when Republican legislators voted in favour of legalizing gay marriage, because they identified that doing so was the right thing to do from a human rights perspective, and also because it could potentially lead to stronger, more stable family units.

Gay rights are human rights. Shame on those who forget this.

Recently-elected Toronto Councillor Kristyn Tam-Wong shared her concerns with the media during the Rob Ford flap regarding her belief that Canada might be taking steps backwards when it comes to recognizing the rights of LGBT individuals. Tam-Wong, a member of the New Democratic Party, understands that there is a political element at play here, and that it’s not just an easy matter of saying that being gay has become acceptable and that nobody cares. When politicians are bent on retaining core voters, what’s right and wrong is frequently less important than what’s politically expedient.

Until there is a comprehensive understanding that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, let the parades and marches continue. And let all who participate in them have a great time celebrating Canada’s diversity!

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)