Sunday, December 04, 2011

Welcome to Queen's Park

Our new MPP Todd Smith (Conservative - Prince Edward - Hastings) is just now learning that holding office involves a lot more than just showing up at all the Santa Claus parades in the region. He recently criticized the Liberal government for its deficit, and what he calls a 'jobs crisis'. He need look no farther for an answer than his boss, Tim Hudak, who should know all about a jobs 'crisis'. Tim Hudak worked directly for Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, and when they were finally ousted from office, they had left the unemployment rate in the province at near 7.6%, not far from the 8% it is now. To note, also, they left more than $9 Billion in debt that they effectively tried to hide on the books before they were voted out in landslide elections.

Considering the global recession and failure of the markets worldwide, there is good reason to have high unemployment in 2011. Mike Harris had no such excuse. He had only his own failed economic policies to blame. One could go farther and show that with only three provinces posting growth in their economies over the past year, Ontario's Liberal success is in part fuelling the limited success of the Harper government. Federally, after all the talk of stimulus and corporate tax breaks creating employment, we have just this week soared to 7.4% unemployment nationwide. So where did all the money go that Conservatives provided to private enterprise in the form of tax breaks? Not in my pocket, nor yours. It's hard for any MPP sitting in a Conservative riding to point fingers at a Liberal Provincial government that has kept up growth, and also kept campaign promises not to cut services, while expanding both Health care and Education funding.

I feel for Todd Smith. I have heard he is a very personable and family-oriented guy.  (As an aside, I wonder why, then, he ran as a Big-Business Conservative?) It must be very difficult being a rookie MPP. There is immense pressure to produce results, especially following the footsteps of someone like Leona Dombrowski, who tirelessly fought for the people of Prince Edward - Hastings in legislature. With no knowledge of the interior workings of Queens Park, save for reporting from afar with scripted news, he tabled a private members bill just this month aimed at amending the Ontario Green Energy Act of 2009. It is very different being a critic, than it is being involved.

In reading the text of the bill, which is a short and sweet repeal of several sections of the Green Energy Act, I can't help but see that it was most likely handed to him from up high. I say that because the bill was in the works, written, and prepared long before the election, when they had no reason to believe that the rookie MPP, formerly a radio personality, would unseat a 12 year veteran MP who was the Minister for education. This "plum" private members bill could then be tabled as if it was his own idea, making him look good to constituents, but not be egg on the face of Tim Hudak, who knew it would fail.

Even before the election, leading environmentalist David Suzuki had much to say about the Conservative plan to cancel the Green Energy Act. He warned that the Tory scheme was ‘absolute insanity’. “I don’t get it, because it’s a job creator," Suzuki is quoted as saying. "I would have thought that the Conservatives would be banging away at the need to create jobs."

In the end, and rightfully so, the Tory plan was voted down.

AYES - 32
Arnott, Bailey, Barrett, Clark, Dunlop, Elliot, Fedeli, Hardeman, Harris, Hillier, Hudak, Jackson, Jones, Leone, MacLaren, McDonell, McKenna, McNaughton, Milligan, Munro, Nicholls, O’Toole, Ouellette, Pettapiece, Scott, Smith, Thompson, Walker, Wilson, Witmer, Yakabuski, Yurek

NAYS  – 45
Albanese, Armstrong, Balkissoon, Bartolucci, Bentley, Berardinetti, Best, Bisson, Broten, Cansfield, Colle, Coteau, Craitor, Damerla, Delaney, Dhillon, Dickson, DiNovo, Flynn, Forster, Gravelle, Hoskins, Jaczek, Leal, MacCharles, Mangat, Marchese, Miller, Milloy, Moridi, Murray, Natyshak, Orazietti, Piruzza, Qaadri, Sandals, Schein, Singh, Sousa, Tabuns, Takhar, Taylor, Wong, Wynne, Zimmer

Todd Smith then tweeted : "Can't believe the opposition parties wouldn't support their local municipalities and constituents"

Aside from the obvious blunder of calling opposition to the bill the "opposition parties", which is by definition the PC's and the NDP, inherent in the one tweet was a naive hope to think that anything other than the defeat of the bill would happen. If it was good politics, with the support of the people, they could have easily defeated the Nays if they had the right momentum and the right interests of the people of Ontario on their side. Only 45 voted against. With 53 Liberals, 37 Tories and 17 NDP, they only needed convince nine other MPP's to vote for the Act. In reality, they couldn't even drum up one third of the Legislature to vote for it, not even all their own party, with five PC's abstaining.

Why? With so much at stake for the futures of our children and our grandchildren in weaning ourselves from fossil fuels and nuclear energy, no politician from any riding that has concerns for our future would vote yes for it. Hudak, with his big money coming from corporations like Shell, and Exxon, needs to table things like this to keep the campaign dollars flowing. Poor Todd Smith bought the party line, and his idealism of going in to do something for his riding was the first casualty.

His tweet, about the other parties not caring about municipalities is a common complaint in rural areas, and serves him well in his bid to win over the hearts of Hastings-Prince Edward residents. However, in his laments that the Provincial government overstepped its boundaries in limiting the discourse (I should point out there is already a lengthy consulting process for solar farms and wind farms), he is ignoring the history of party politics in Municipal affairs. It was Mike Harris who downloaded debt on the Municipalities, crippling their ability to provide services. In Todd Smith's own riding, the County of Hastings had to disband its road department, leading to layoffs of all employees because Mike Harris nearly doubled their debt. Our debt. When the Tories were in power, they did much more damage to the Municipal infrastructure than any Liberal ever has. They continued the trend of doing the same for Health care, and for Education as well.

Stark reality is that in the past eight years, the Provincial Liberals have uploaded municipal costs, saving the Municipalities over $1 billion, and will reduce them another $500 million by 2018. Hardly the ignoring of concerns Todd Smith would like us to think, and must convince us, is happening, before the Liberals take this riding back in 2015. That, I believe, is the reality of support for the Municipalities, and in refusing to address this, Todd Smith is playing the game of partisan politics, not supporting his riding.

If he follows Tim Hudak's lead, this will not be the only game he learns to play.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Remember the album?

I abandoned albums for individual downloaded songs some time ago. Now on my iPod and PlayBook, there is a hodge-podge of music. Some songs I love and don't even know the artist.

But the album used to be King, back when CD's, and tapes before them, were an art form. There were albums that affected me because they were so textured, song after song, to create a coherent whole. It was the collection of songs that was the sound, not the individual pushed money-maker pop hits.

This is not a list of the "best" albums of all time, because really I could go on about Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Stevie Wonder, Moby, or others, for ages. And don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing that there aren't great artists out there today. I'm simply saying that the album does not rule any more, and in a way that's a shame because it has left pop grasping for talent (or lack thereof), and indy artists fighting for attention.

So in memory of the album, I thought I would post about the few albums that changed me, the ones that became so essential to my listening that they were the standard to which all others are judged. I recently rediscovered the self-titled Stone Roses from 1989, and remembered those nights in high school playing it as loud as I could handle in those huge headphones that came from my Dad's high-fi set, with the cushy vinyl covered donuts over my ears, and the layers ... goddamn layers of sound. That was when I could put it on and get lost in it for hours. Now, well, I'm lucky to hear a whole song over the sound of the kids.

Here are a few of them:

1987 - U2 - The Joshua Tree
Before I found the Smiths in Grade 10, I think this was the first album that showed me what was possible.  After the metal music that had surrounded me in Havelock: Motley Crue, Ratt, Def Leppard, AC/DC, and the pop was no better. I was still ducking and covering from the abyss that was the 80's.

The Joshua tree came out and shattered that with a richness of sound and brilliant stories. 'Where the Streets Have No Name', 'Helter Skelter', 'Bullet in the Blue Sky', I don't even have to list the songs they have become so ubiquitous. Even so, it was some of the lesser known songs on the album that were brilliant. I still sing 'Running to Stand Still' in the shower, (where my voice doesn't scare anyone). The rooftop concert in Los Angeles was brilliant. I still get shivers to the bass line of 'With or Without You'

1986 - The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
I was introduced to the Smiths in High School after moving from relatively monotone (60's and 70's rock) Havelock Ontario to 'near-Toronto' Whitby, and a whole range of music taste. I remember one cute girl in my class, Anne, listening to Morrissey on her walkman, sharing one headphone with me for just a moment when I asked about it. I remember thinking I had to find out who they were. My introduction was The Queen is Dead, and it's bizarre 'Cemetery Gates', and the title track, and its cheekiness and lyrics I had to look up to understand, all of which fueled my love of odd music. The album propelled me into Bauhaus, Joy Division, New Order, the Cure, Madness, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and a whole new range of angst and frustration. I loved every minute of it.

1989 - The Stone Roses (self-titled)
Mentioned above. I had listened to the Charlatans UK, The Farm, Happy Mondays and some other groups who were toying with that Manchester sound, and when I first heard 'Fools Gold' on the radio (CFNY pre-corporate schlock) I had to buy the album the very next day. I was not disappointed. From 'Waterfall' to that excellent drum intro on 'Elephant Stone' to 'This is the One', to the brilliant outtro on 'I am the Resurrection' that lasts a full four minutes, I was mesmerized.

1991 - The Pixies - Trompe Le Monde
Being an ardent Jesus and Mary Chain listener at this point, it only took one listen of the Pixies version of 'Head On' before I was hooked. My disappointment to find out that they were on their fourth album, and I had been missing out for three years was bittersweet. I think when they opened for U2 at Maple Leaf Gardens, it was the Pixies who stole the show. They broke up soon after that, and became the Breeders, and Frank Black, separately. I always thought the Breeders ran from that split with all the talent.

1991 - Nirvana - Nevermind

I remember the first I knew of Nirvana was a wall of covers in the record store in the food court at the Oshawa centre, and I remember thinking 'what kind of crap are they trying to push this time' ... little did I know I'd be listening to it obsessively about three years later. I even had a chance to see Nirvana in concert in about 1993 out in Vancouver, before my conversion to the Nirvana fold, and didn't. It would have been an easy trip from Van, but I was working in a video store at the time, and didn't fully appreciate the band. You know what they say about hindsight.

1993 - The Breeders - Last Splash
This album, from the newly broken apart Pixies, was by far a vast step forward for their sound. The sisters Deal have a way of layering the guitar and leaving it raw at the same time, and using the drums as more than just a metronome, but an entire section of percussion, that still resonates as what a rock band should sound like. 

1994 - The Beastie Boys - Ill Communication
Out west, and visiting my friend in Victoria, and he put this on. My first thought was "What the hell is this?" followed by, a few short minutes later "Where do I get it?" This was the album that took the Beastie Boys from rappers to musicians, a respected and vast soundscape that tells a story like many albums before, but few since.

1994 - Beck - Mellow Gold
Tree planting, listened to this over and over and over. Highly addictive.

1995 - Elastica

This album of pure, raw, unadultered fun, and raunchy innuendo was a favourite from first listen while I lived in Vancouver in 95 and 96. My girlfriend at the time would put it on in the apartment and we would dance around like idiots. I always thought Justine Frieschmann was cute.

1997 - Portishead - Dummy
I was living in Montreal when Portishead released its album Dummy, and its fusion of electronic, haunting vamp-beat sounds, and heroin addict undertones. In the Second Cup on St. Laurent they played it over and over where I often wrote, and put down the first raw material that would become squeakyclean. I think the murky undertones of my writing were a subconscious absorption of the odd feeling of murkiness that came from this album.

1997 - Radiohead OK Computer
It was probably about 1998 that I actually discovered Radiohead, which has led to an on again off again infatuation with their sound that often leads me to question my taste, but then roars back with another listening to 'Subterranean Homesick Alien', or 'Electioneering'. Arguably the best rock band in history.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany