On Letting Western Jihadists Come Home

A few years ago, a British comedian made a brilliant video entitled Gap Yah, viciously satirizing privileged British teenagers and young adults taking a year between school and university to go find themselves, or save the world, or whatever it is they go to do. Tarquin and his friend were British, but they could have been from Canada, France or the United States. It’s pretty standard for young westerners to go do community service or something similar in the ‘third world’ or ‘developing countries’ for a little while in their young years before they get bogged down by adult responsibilities. Yes, I did it too. I laid water pipes, planted trees and built stoves in Peru, and I felt incredibly weird the whole time. Did I do some good? Yeah, maybe. Should I have been doing it? I’m really not sure at all.

There’s something totally insufferable about the whole idea. For the most part, and I can’t imagine this has changed much since I did it in 2006, it’s a matter of taking selfies and feeling good about oneself, then eventually getting bored, or realizing that one isn’t actually making that big a dent in the problem, and then going home.

That’s what’s insufferable. We go on vacation, help the poor brown, black or purple people deal with their poverty, and then we go home, to Starbucks Lattes and IPhones and clean water and comfortable beds.

The thing is, this is exactly the same thing that young British, French, American or Canadian Muslims are doing right now in Syria and Iraq. Only the circumstances and the reasons are different, and those differences are kind of cosmetic. In many important ways, they’re doing the same thing for a lot of the same reasons; teenage angst, alienation, anger, and boredom all play big roles, as does a sense of guilt at their comfortable lives and desire to do good for the poor benighted people of some faraway land. In their case, however, they’re going to kill and be killed, not to build schools or plant trees. And recently, like a lot of us eventually do after our service junkets, some of them have begun to realize just how stupid an idea it was the whole time.

Their IPods don’t work anymore. Most of the time they’re not really doing anything glamorous or exciting. The bathrooms are dirty and they’re uncomfortable most of the time. Rapine, murder and butchery aren’t quite as fulfilling as they were led to believe they would be.They want to come home and see their families and go back to the lives they knew. They’re seeing that maybe those Kufar aren’t so evil after all. At least back in the land of Jahiliyya they have regular access to toilet paper.

But out of fear, anger and a little bit of racism, we won’t let them. We should. We should even encourage it, and set up a process by which it is gradually, and very eventually possible. In a way that acknowledges the gravity of their mistake, makes damn sure they’re being sincere in their remorse, and punishes them justly for what they’ve done, but also in a way that leaves them a path open back to a normal life. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also in our interests, as well as the interests of the people of Syria, Iraq and wherever else these people are wreaking havoc.

When young, stupid white kids from western countries go gallivanting off to save the world, not even the people who think they’re being silly think they also deserve to die. Even if they get into serious trouble in one of the places they go to, nobody seriously suggests that they aren’t worthy of consular protection and assistance, and nobody says that their parents are wrong to be glad they’re back, and to let them back under their roof. I imagine Gap Yah’s parents and the British government did eventually get him out of that Burmese prison. Yes, he was an idiot, but stupidity isn’t a capital offense.

Except, it would appear, when you and your parents are Muslim. Then rich, white politicians are apparently perfectly free to brag about how they will burn your passport and never let you come home. Then your parents will receive verbal abuse and even threats because of your stupid decision, and have their motives and loyalties questioned if they worry about the fate of their children. After your government refuses to help you, and you die, your parents will be forced to become political props as well as suffer unspeakable grief. And, by the way, even your mistake will be angry with you, and publicly seek to kill you even if you do come safe back home. Which is tragic, because you could, and still can, do a lot of good there.

When young, often disadvantaged and justifiably angry Muslims in western countries are mulling over the idea of flying to Syria, who do you think is going to have more moral authority telling them that it’s a stupid idea, completely unIslamic, and that they shouldn’t do it. An ex-Jihadi? Or some western politician like Boris Johnson, whose biggest passport problems involve how much tax he’s able to avoid paying out of his ludicrous, undeserved wealth? The ex-head of MI6, Richard Barrett, who has probably had more experience with problems like this than armchair right wing experts around the world (or, for that matter, armchair left wing experts like me) is explaining in the British press that “many of the people who have been most successful in undermining the terrorist narrative are themselves ex-extremists.” It’s terrifying when young westerners decide that ISIS has a more fulfilling narrative of life to offer than we do. It has to make you wonder a little bit how bad ours actually is.  It’s completely in our interests to let these people back to help make sure that that doesn’t happen. They have a chance to do good, and to atone for their mistakes, and since we and our fellow citizens are the ones who stand to benefit from it, it would be suicidal of us to let them die alone and unloved in a foreign country for no good reason.

But what’s good for us or for our ex-jihadi citizens isn’t really the biggest issue here. What is is what’s good for the citizens of the Middle East, for whom this isn’t a theoretical problem, and for whom the tyranny of the Islamic State and the constant threat of violent death aren’t problems happening on the internet or in the papers. It’s right outside their door. This isn’t a hypothetical war, and these aren’t hypothetical issues for them. They are the ones dying, and they can’t just switch off the computer to make it go away. It’s a paralyzingly awful situation, for which there is no easy or obvious solution. Western intervention isn’t going to make it stop, military or otherwise. This is a war that isn’t going to end anytime soon, no matter what anybody says or does. It’s a horror from which there is no escape. It’s not a place people should be jaunting to lightly. And that goes for the people going to join the Kurds, too. The last people in the world whose help the Middle East needs right now are crazed German bikers, and the Western right should stop cheering them on, because they’re not even a tiny bit morally superior to the western jihadists.

One thing I want to make absolutely clear is that these people aren’t just idiots. They are, but many of them are very likely rapists, murderers, and traitors to the countries they’ve come from as well, by any sane person’s definition of the word. The penalty for treason has historically been death, but it isn’t anymore. When they do come home, they should be prepared to do time in prison for any crimes they’ve committed, and probably also to lose any and all privacy they’ve enjoyed in the past, at least for a good long while. In a situation like this, where so much rides on a person’s sincerity, society actually is entitled to know what you’re saying in private, and to see what you’re doing in private. You can’t be speaking out of both sides of your mouth about your repentance, and in a situation like this it’s only prudent that you’re being monitored around the clock, for your own safety, and that of the people around you. This is probably one of the only circumstances in which the sort of dragnet, total surveillance that our security services are subjecting all of us to right now (Hi guys!) is actually justified. Which, by the way, is why they should deploy their resources to that end, and not to collecting the dick pics of innocent strangers.

I do support western military efforts against ISIS, and am glad that we’re helping their enemies in the region to kill them as quickly and efficiently as possible. The closest analogy in the European cultural experience to ISIS for stupidity, viciousness, brutality and unadulterated evil are the Nazis. And if Godwin’s law is in your head, get it out. The reason it’s so irritating when stupid people make stupid comparisons to the Nazis is that it trivializes the analogy when it’s perfectly, completely accurate. And in this case it is. That’s who you should have in your head. That’s the mature, intelligent comparison you should be making. So if these westerners really do believe in the divine mission of Caliph Abu-Bakr and are willing to die in service to a demon in human form, they should rest assured that they will.

But they don’t have to. Because they can also come home. And we should make sure that they can. Were they idiots? Yes. Could they have known what it was they were getting into? Yes. Are they the first young people in history to make a dumb ass decision that they later came to regret? Not a chance. Has their decision put them completely beyond the pale of human consideration forever? No.

The thing about ISIS and their twisted, lying ideology is that at its kernel there’s a small scrap of truth. But only in the same way that the Nazis had one was well when they said that the Treaty of Versailles had punished Germany unfairly. It had, but that in no way justified Nazism or the things people did in its name. In ISIS’ case it’s that there really are a lot of things about Western civilization that are deeply, deeply wrong, and which will destroy us in the end if we don’t figure out a way to fix them. Our society, with its dehumanizing greed, its horrific structural inequalities, and its vacuous inability to give us, its citizens, much in the way of meaning and purpose in our lives beyond waiting for the IPhone 7, is in serious, serious trouble. Going to Syria to wage jihad may be a stupid person’s response to that fact, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. This is a test of our situation and our way of life. If we can forgive this, and reintegrate people into our society even after doing something like this, then we’re probably going to be all right in the end.

But if we can’t, we’re probably on the road to becoming history. We’re often told that at the core of ISIS is a festering, maggoty heart of pure evil. I think that’s exactly right. But all the evil ever done in this world has been done with the best and highest of intentions. People always think, by their own lights, that they’re doing good, even when they’re doing unfathomable evil. And one thing that does need to be said about these kids? They thought this was the right thing to do. And no, the Gap Year analogy isn’t the best one available here. Western students and young people aren’t willingly or knowingly risking their lives for anything these days. But they used to. We actually have been here before. It was the late nineteen thirties, and the problem then was young Americans, Brits and Frenchmen going to join the international brigades to make sure Franco didn’t win the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell, Ernst Hemingway, and countless other much less famous names were so convinced that a better world was possible that they left behind everything they knew to fight for it. Was it their fault that Stalin and the communists betrayed those hopes, and the governments of their own countries decided Franco was the lesser of two evils?

These kids wanted to fight for something. They thought they were willing to die for something. Even that thought is a rare commodity these days. Maybe we should make sure we’re keeping it close to home.

Rob Ford and the Shaming of the Town Drunk

Well, shockingly enough, he’s off the wagon.

The latest video, of His Worship the Mayor of Toronto drunkenly ranting in Jamaican patois (impressive, at least) in a Rexdale fast food joint, lacks the mysterious allure of the infamous, and as yet unseen, crack video. It doesn’t have the voyeuristic, dangerous thrill of the rage-fuelled rant the Star unearthed for public consumption in December. It doesn’t even have the cringe value of the third, and least discussed, video that Toronto police continue to quietly hold in their evidence locker. (Which I have on good journalistic authority is a sex tape. Sorry for putting that image out there.)

It’s just plain sad.

I know I should be filled with righteous indignation. I’ve torn numerous strips off the guy in posts past. I’ve ranted, I’ve raved, I’ve torn my hair at the indignity of it all. I’ve demanded his head on a spike for violating all my bourgeois notions about how politicians should think, speak and behave. My most puerile rant, which is also sadly among my all-time most viewed posts, piously denounced him as a ‘complete sociopath…a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals.’

Strong Stuff.

He may be these things. He may be all of them and more. But at bottom, all he really is is your garden variety drunk. An addict and an alcoholic in the deepest, darkest funk of denial you ever did see. He’s slowly unraveling before our very eyes.

He’s not the first, nor will he be the last person to discover he has a problem with drugs and alcohol. The poor guy has just put himself in a position where he can’t work through this issue in private. Every lapse in judgement, every stupid decision is immediately posted to the internet for the mockery of the masses. Every slip is front page news from coast to coast. He’s late night comedy gold, and will continue to be so for as long as he remains in denial about himself and his issues.

And though the Toronto Star has simply been doing their job in exposing his weaknesses, frailties, and criminal behavior, there comes a point where they’re hurting, rather than helping their cause by publicly shaming the town drunk for weeks, months and years on end.

I oppose Ford politically, and look forward to his electoral destruction in October. But I also feel for the guy. He’s a sick, sick puppy, who’s refusing all help and continuing down a path that leads, in the end, only to jails, institutions and death. I feel no schadenfreude anymore. I just wish he’d take responsibility for himself and become a legitimate opponent once more.

Everywhere I go, I’m assured that there’s still a very good chance he can win in October. That the ravening hordes of Ford Nation will descend upon the ballot box and once again foist their man upon the rest of us, with all his powers reinstated.

I’m frankly not worried. Ford Nation aren’t stupid, no matter what the downtown glitterati believe. They know a train wreck when they see one. On the path he’s on, this can only get sadder and more pathetic. And a pathetic politician is a politician who’s career is over.

If he admits he has an unmanageable problem and seeks the help that is available? Then I’ll be worried. Because the guy has massive political strengths when he’s at the top of his game. He’s personable, he connects with blue collar voters, and he’s a true multiculturalist; capable of relating naturally and honestly with people that most of the downtown elite don’t even know exist.

When he’s drunk, he’s just another sad lunatic raving on a street corner. He just happens to be a famous one as well. And that won’t last forever.

#IdleNoMore: A White Man’s Conversion

I was born and raised in Canada. I love it viscerally. I have travelled widely, but life would not be worth living if I could never go home.

It is a beautiful land. Few places on earth compare. And the incomparable beauty of the land is matched, by and large, by the spirit of the people who live in it. Kind-hearted, generous, fair minded and decent. We have our share of clowns and shits, just like any nation. But our instincts are good. We want to believe the best in human nature, and we’ve been brought up to aspire to it.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m a WASP from Toronto; born into privilege and luxury, and the heart of the Canadian establishment. I try and excuse myself this through the fact of my rampant homosexuality, but the fact remains that by background and upbringing I am the quintessence of white.

And that whiteness has come with certain privileges. I grew up in a beautiful, upper-middle class part of North Toronto, attended elite private schools, and graduated from Oxford University not long ago; a place which, despite its best intentions to change, remains at bottom a proving ground for young members of the global establishment.

I have to face up to that. And writing this is, in part, an exercise in doing so. But while I’m perhaps an extreme example of white privilege, I don’t think I’m alone in needing to face up to the fact that my economic comfort and security comes from my background. I think a lot of us have a lot of hard truths to face, and a lot of serious thinking to do about the unique privilege of being Canadian.

A privilege for which we owe indigenous Canadians quite a lot.

Canada is the most perfectly realized colonial state in the world. Some may rankle at the use of the word, but it remains the accurate one. We are a settler colony of the former British Empire, whose founding, which we celebrated just the other day, dates from an uneasy accommodation of the interests of two different ethnic European groups; the French and the British. It was a celebrated bit of deal making, and it laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Our political instincts run to consensus and compromise. Indeed, those two things are necessary in order for us to get anything done in the system we’ve built. We have never succumbed to chauvinism, or denied our origins as a nation of migrants. We have kept the door open, and build a strong, multicultural community. And as a result, our immigrant society is peaceful, ordered, tranquil, and prosperous.

But it has never included aboriginal Canadians.

It’s patronizing to pretend otherwise. It’s our dirty little secret as a country. The thing we don’t often advertise, but the simple truth. The outright contempt for indigenous peoples that is rampant in the Conservative Party notwithstanding, the pious bleating of our two opposition political parties, which represent between them the decent majority of Canadians, can give a false impression of respect and deference for aboriginal peoples. and stunts like the appropriation of symbols like the Inukshuk for the Vancouver Olympic games, ridiculously inappropriate as it was, can give us the impression that we respect and value aboriginal culture. That we have atoned for the sins of our ancestors, and that our government essentially treats the indigenous population with dignity. The truth is rather different.

The truth is that, as Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox points out on the #IdleNoMore website, ‘for the most part, settlers simply have no clue, are not engaged in a relationship with Indigenous peoples, and assume that the government is following the rule of law and doing right by Indigenous peoples.’

The truth is that for most Canadians, the plight of aboriginal peoples in this country only becomes truly visible when they stand up and take action to shake us out of our indifference, like they did at Oka, or like they’re doing now with #IdleNoMore. Or when the mainstream media deigns to notice the plight of communities like Attawapiskat, and the scandalous deprivation that is their normal. And when they do intrude on our consciousness, the backlash of racism, contempt, and sanctimony that inevitably follows is as disheartening as it is insidious.

The truth is that Canada has a long way to go as a society before it can truly be said to include everyone who lives within its borders.

This is partly because of the fact that aboriginal Canadians make up a very small (albeit rapidly growing) portion of our national demographic. On the streets of our major cities you are unlikely to hear Cree, Ojibwe or Mohawk amid the babel of languages from every corner of the earth you can otherwise hear. Nor are our children likely to know their fellow indigenous Canadians in their classes and in their schools. I think few in urban, middle class Canadian life can claim that they have many native friends and neighbours in the big cities of Canada. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, as there are to any, but I doubt they are legion.

So I’m going to commit here to try and make myself an exception. I’m going to consciously make myself an ally of the First Nations, because we’re going to need more of them in the months and years ahead. Harper’s reign will continue at least until 2015. There is still room for him to do incalculable amounts of damage to our country. It is up to us to stand up to him.

This post represents my personal rejection of much of the conventional wisdom and easy complacency of Canadian life.

Indeed, when I first heard the words Idle No More, I thrilled a little. It was such a direct challenge. Such an inescapable truth.

We have been idle, as a nation. We’ve been bought with comfort and easy living. We acquiesce in the destruction of our environment, the emasculation of our social programs, and the assault on our very democratic heritage by the neo-conservative Harper Government because we’re very well sedated by the pleasures of a fully developed and peaceful capitalist society.

#IdleNoMore represents a challenge to that society. A clarion call to all of us to rise from our apathetic slumber and do something to protect the land we love from those who seek to rape it.

Native Canadians are challenging the rest of us to live up to our own best instincts. To change the way we think. To acknowledge that there are some truths older than capitalism; firmer foundations for society than endless resource extraction; better ways to live than mad, unthinking consumerism, and that we ignore them at our peril

As Martin Lukacs put it succintly in the eminent British newspaper The Guardian, ‘finally honouring Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous legal debt to First Nations: it is also our best chance to save entire territories from endless extraction and destruction. In no small way, the actions of Indigenous peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet.’

I for one, accept that challenge. I refuse to be passive any longer. I refuse to wait on larger forces to get their act together. And above all, I refuse to be complicit in the crimes of my government against the environment, against society, and against democracy. I am Idle No More. From this day, until my last day.

The Surreal Survival of Rob Ford

Can this really be happening?

Not the mayor smoking crack. I accept that. He clearly lacks even basic amounts of self-control, and would smoke whatever was put in front of his fat face if he knew it would earn him a vote. (It’s the second-to-last quote, but read them all. And know that this man still holds high public office.)

Not the insane international attention Toronto has been receiving. Insanity, crude farce, and spectacular governmental collapse are intrinsically interesting everywhere, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the world is smugly laughing behind their hands at us.

Not the fact that His Worship Rob Ford’s response to the circus he’s inflicted on all of us is some sort of wounded spite, as though we’re the ones responsible for this situation.

No, none of this fazes me. Let alone shocks me.

What shocks me is that we’re moving on from this. Without his resignation. Hell, screw his resignation. Without his immediate removal from office.

Admittedly, I’ve been watching this whole spectacle unfold from across the ocean in London. Which in some ways makes it a doubly surreal experience. (Total strangers, who have no reason on earth to know who the Mayor of Toronto is, laugh at me when I say I’m from Toronto, and ask me if I want some crack.)

But now inertia seems to have finally set in. The media attention has gradually drained away as nothing new emerges, and even the Toronto Star have been forced to move on to other things. The pundits, the public, and the world at large have gradually ceased to care.

And Rob Ford remains.

Toronto will linger on in a state of inertia and despair. And there’s not a damn thing we’ll be able to do about it until next year, when after he’s trounced in the election, I suspect that he’ll have to be physically dragged from his office.

Guess I’d better find some crack. It would appear to be a wonderfully effective way to kill my sense of shame.

Sellout: Stephen Harper and the Canada-China FIPA

The imperial Chinese government, as Dr. Henry Kissinger lovingly relates in his recent On China, was in the habit of giving Panda bears, among other things, as gifts to barbarian states and tribes, in the belief that barbarians were easily distracted and susceptible to flattery.

It seems the modern Communist Party have not abandoned that particular policy. And alas, it seems it still works.

Stephen Harper came back from a visit to China last fall, which received really quite sparse coverage in the Canadian media, with two panda bears. He presented them to the Toronto Zoo, where fawning crowds were waiting to watch them eat.

I can only guess as to his motives.

Because what he didn’t make anywhere near as clear, upon his arrival back in the country, was that he had signed a massive trade deal with China. It’s only really been prominent in the news for the past week, when it’s almost imminently going to pass. Here it is.

Did you click the link? Did you attempt to read it? Did you give up in despair before you’d even really scrolled through the first articles?

Don’t worry. So did I. That’s what you were supposed to do. You weren’t actually supposed to read it. You’re not supposed to be able to understand it.

The thing about this treaty is that it’s actually impossible to read without legal training, as a good friend of mine going into her second year of law school informed me when I showed it to her. It’s such an impenetrable thicket of legalese that the layperson is simply unable to read it. It’s likely that not that many MPs have read it. Not all of them are lawyers.

Why?

Because it’s quite literally selling the ground out from beneath you.

If you knew that, you’d probably kick up a fuss. Which would be inconvenient, to say the least. So Harper hid it in plain sight.

It’s got some truly horrifying implications for Canadian law, which neither I, nor my friend, claim to understand fully, not having spent several years studying international trade law.

But we’ve at least read the damn thing. And we’ve found some terrifying things buried in there. Buried at the back. Long after the point any sensible human being has given up reading.

But not a law student. Like my friend Kylie Thomas. Or Osgoode Law School constitutional scholar Gus van Harten, who thinks it’s unconstitutional, for what it’s worth. And even from our cursory, fumbling reading of the bill, the evil comes through pretty palpably.

Article 11, for example, which obliges both governments to recoup losses that companies suffer due to ‘war, a state of national emergency, insurrection, [a] riot, or [an]other similar event.’ This effectively gives the Canadian government justification to deem a protest a riot, and break it up citing its need to protect Chinese investments under this FIPA.

Or Article 17, in which both parties are ‘encouraged’ to ‘publish in advance any measure that it proposes to adopt’, and ‘provide interested persons and the other Contracting party [with] a reasonable opportunity to comment on the proposed measure.’

Encouraged. Not obliged in any way.

Or Article 18, in which it is deemed ‘inappropriate’ for either party to encourage investment by waiving, relaxing, or otherwise derogating from domestic health, safety or environmental measures.’

Inappropriate. To override almost all provincial law regarding our health care system, our police forces, and our environmental regulations.

But the real kicker is this one. Article 21. While observance of most Canadian laws are merely ‘encouraged’, and the overriding of almost all provincial legislation is merely ‘inappropriate’, both parties ‘shall,’ the strongest binding legal term used in this document, ‘first hold consultations in an attempt to settle a claim amicably’ when there is a treaty dispute.

Those claims will be settled by a three-person tribunal. One Canadian, one Chinese citizen, and one foreign national, whose identity will be mutually agreed. That’s in article 24.

So basically, the tie breaking vote on this tribunal will always be a citizen of a country who is infinitely more interested in currying China’s favor than in protecting Canadian citizens.

This tribunal ‘shall’ have its findings made publicly available, ‘subject to the redaction of confidential information.’ But only when it’s ‘in the public interest.’ Which is straight out of Yes, Minister.

But the contracting governments ‘may share with their officials of their respective federal and sub-national governments.’ May. They don’t have to.

And if a third party is affected by a dispute? Like a first nations band? Or a provincial government that is about to see its environmental protections gutted? They can submit to this tribunal.

But their submissions cannot be more than twenty pages long. Their application can only be five. Essentially meaning that the exercise of trying to protest this tribunal’s decisions would be ultimately pointless and unrewarding. That part’s buried in Annex C-29. Literally at the end of the document.

In the idiotic preamble on the Harper clique’s website explaining what FIPA’s actually are, it gets pointed out that Canada has signed FIPA’s in the past with countries including Hungary, Latvia, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Venezuela.

But of course, none of these countries remotely compare to China in size and power. We are the junior partner in this agreement. The one who can be safely ignored.

Much as we were with NAFTA. The last trade treaty Canada signed that had this kind of scope and significance. Of course, we fought a bloody election over it, and freely chose as a people to sign it when we voted for Brian Mulroney. We didn’t have it snuck through the legislative backdoor by a vicious and corrupt petty despot and his henchmen.

Because that’s what’s happening. Right now. In your country.

If you’re angry, you should be. And you should tell people so. That’s the only chance we have of stopping this from happening. I’ll be publishing Kylie Thomas’ more detailed dissection of the treaty later next week.

In the meantime, I would ask that you share this. People should really know.

The end of the government of Canada.

So it’s official. There is no longer a government of Canada. There is now the Harper Government. It’s appearing on the letterheads now.

Though Harper himself has proven unable, in the face of popular outcry, to push this through in its entirety, the fact remains that he has tried. And will try again.

I’m glad, in a way. It draws a useful distinction. It helps us remember that this isn’t our government. This isn’t the Canadian state. This is something else entirely.

For me, at least, It makes it easier to realize that this band of old creeps has nothing to do with me. Or my country. It helps me to look people from other countries in the eye and tell them the truth, which is that I increasingly no longer recognize my government. Not in some petty ideological sense, but in the most fundamental way. I want nothing to do with it.

I once dreamed of a career at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International trade. Of representing a country I was genuinely proud of. But that was a different time. I was young. Idealistic. I had faith that I would be doing something worthwhile.

Not shilling Alberta crude in Washington. Or working for John Baird. I’d honestly rather turn tricks. I’d feel less filthy at the end of the day.

Gradually it became obvious that government work in today’s Ottawa would be like wading knee-deep into congealing cement. Pointless, boring, and ultimately stupid.

I didn’t want to be so cowed by my obstreperous, rude, and in some cases clearly rather stupid political masters that I wouldn’t feel able to speak out against something like this idiotic name change  ‘for fear of retribution’ as the Globe and Mail rather drily noted that most civil servants are in today’s Ottawa. I value my  integrity and my pride.

I didn’t want to watch as my funding gradually receded under the unthinking axe of some idiot minister, enslaved by a paleolithic ideology, and animated ultimately by a contempt for everything I hold dear.

And above all, I didn’t want to help them do what they’re doing.

I didn’t want to help them build bigger and more expensive jails to hold the waves of new ‘criminals’ they’re incarcerating. I didn’t want to be party to the mass beating of the peacefully demonstrating citizens of Toronto in their own streets with the unthinking fists of thugs from out of town at the G20. I didn’t want to lie through my teeth to the rest of the world about the wonders of the ‘oil patch,’ or ‘ethical oil,’ or any of the other thousand and one euphemisms we’re now obliged to call the tar sands.

I’d rather work for the Government of Canada. I’d rather be an active citizen of a country I can still be proud of.

But I will never work for the Harper Government. Not so long as it bears this stupid name.

There’s so much we can be proud of as Canadians. We’re peaceful, we’re tolerant, we’re compassionate, and we’re friendly. We mean well. We really do. We just find it hard to care about politics right now, because they’re so dispiriting, petty, and low.

Which is, of course, something Harper doesn’t care about. Or at least doesn’t mind. The more apathetic and tuned out the Canadian public becomes, the more we are lulled and fattened by the gushing fountain of petro dollars keeping our economy afloat, the easier his job becomes.

The easier it becomes of him to rob us of our hard won social protections. Or to pointlessly glorify our military. Or to suck the damn oil out of Alberta as fast as he possibly can, no matter what gets destroyed along the way.

He thrives off the fact that we don’t pay attention.

So I will no longer ever refer to the Government of Canada in reference to the actions of the Harper clique. I will call it what he doesn’t have the courage to do. The Harper Government. Something distinct, alien, and terrible.

Not something that has anything to do with the country I love.

How I’ll be Voting in the Liberal Leadership Race, and why.

So it’s come to this. After months of struggle, schmoozing, debates, meet and greets, and snide remarks from the media, Liberals across the country are choosing their next leader.

Not some cloistered stadium full of delegates and hacks, but real people, across the country, with an interest in restoring Canada’s promise after the long years of Tory skulduggery, small-mindedness, and venality.

And you know what? More people have just voted for one of the six Liberal candidates than voted for the NDP in 2011.

The party is back.

I’m currently trying to cast my vote, but am experiencing difficulties. Mainly because I can’t access the help phone lines because they’re completely jammed.

I’m happy to wait. They’re busy, and they deserve to be. But in the meantime I’m going to explain publicly who I’m voting for, and why.

Some people like to keep this a secret. Others find it rude to even be asked about it. Personally, I’ve never understood that mind set. Of course, a secret ballot is integral to democracy, and it’s something people are perfectly entitled to keep to themselves, or not, as they choose.

And I choose to tell people what I stand for. Because I’m not ashamed of it whatsoever.

So I’m going to explain, partly for my own purposes, to clarify my thinking, and partly because I don’t care who knows it, who I’ll be voting for in the preferential ballot I’m about to fill out.

A word on preferential ballots: They’re an absolutely brilliant way of ensuring that the majority of voters’ preferences are registered, and the candidate who has the broadest base of consensus support takes the cake at the end of the day. No chicanery, no absurdities like the ones that we all know first-past-the-post can create. Just the will of the people. Clearly stated.

What I’ll be doing in a few minutes is ranking the six remaining candidates by order of preference. My first preference vote will be noted, applied to my chosen candidate, and so on down the line. Candidates will gradually be knocked out of contention, and the ballots they collected passed on down their lists of preferences until eventually a winner receives a majority of the ballots cast.

In case you’re interested, for whatever reason, here’s how I’ll be voting.

My first preference vote will be going to Deborah Coyne, and my second will be going to Justin Trudeau. Bronze medal goes to Martha Hall Findlay, fourth to Karen MacCrimmon, with Martin Cauchon and Joyce Murray bringing up the rear.

To some, that may require explanation, or even justification.

I worked on Deborah’s campaign. Admittedly not as hard as I should have, for a number of personal reasons, and perhaps not with the greatest deal of expertise, but with a certain raw enthusiasm for her and her ideas. She’s a wonderful woman.

I came back to Canada recently from several years abroad, and found myself in a bit of a political vacuum. I had viewed Canadian politics through the prism of the foreign media for four years, and while glad to be back, was a little under informed. But I bought my Liberal party membership, which I had been meaning to do for some time, and set about learning about the candidates.

I had little to go on but their websites, and so started there. Being interested in public policy myself, I scoured the various candidate pages for evidence of the new ideas and new thinking that I was convinced the party needed.

Which, in fact, we desperately still need. We’ve effectively lost our way in the years since the death of Pierre Trudeau. Since the waning days of the Chretien administration we have offered little but economic competence and federalism to Canadians as a justification for the right to govern we seemed to simply claim, with some arrogance. I won’t comment in detail here about past mistakes, as it isn’t the place, but a number of them were made, and Canadians turned away from us. Which we deserved.

So I was particularly hungry for policy that day as I searched for the person I thought would do the best job as leader. And Deborah’s website was a revelation.

There were ideas. There was vision. There was a comprehensive approach. There was a blueprint for the country’s future that I could get on board with, and which I’d still really like to see happen. You can still find it on her website. It remains incredible.

She’s spent her life thinking about this country, and how it could be better. She’s Pierre Trudeau’s  intellectual heir. The muscular federalism, the concern with social justice, the belief that Canada is at its best as one country, and not as a ragtag collection of interest groups and disparate provinces, it’s all there. If you believe in the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, and love the country he gave us, Deborah Coyne is the one who understands where it goes from here.

She’s one of the brightest minds in the Liberal Party. And would give Harper a run for his money in any election. So she gets my first choice. We’d be lucky to have her as PM.

But the majority of the party wants Justin. And frankly, I understand why.

He’s young, he’s personable, he’s articulate, he’s effortlessly bilingual, and his hair is perfect. Just perfect. He may also have what it takes to be a truly great Prime Minister.

I should concede that I have my criticisms of him, and have been far from uncritical in my assessment of him. I’ve called him a featherweight. A hairdo. Someone who can’t be trusted with the leadership of the party.

But I’ve said a lot of stupid things in my time, and most likely will continue to.

The fact of the matter is, he’s not a bad guy. In fact, he seems like a really good one. And he’s built the sort of grassroots, modern campaign architecture that the party needs to be competitive today. To say nothing of the fact that his ascendancy, and that of the bright young turks around him, spells doom for the old fuddy-duddies who have brought the party to the brink of ruin since the Chretien-Martin years. This is a new party now. And it’s Justin’s.

The Tories are calling him the Liberal’s ‘pretty pony.’ Let them. A pony looks a lot less pretty when it’s kicking you in the face.