Thursday, February 26, 2009

A primer on the resolutions process

The annual pre-convention exercise of making fun of NDP resolutions has begun (see the
Globe, Free Press and Rise and Sprawl). The exercise typically involves digging through the hundreds of resolutions submitted by grassroots NDP members to find those that can be most portrayed as "kooky," usually with the end result of right-wingers everywhere nodding and patting themselves on the back for being such sensible folks in comparison to those crazy Dippers.

Sure, there are and always will be ideas presented that are ill-informed and unrealistic, but that's simply part of grassroots democracy. After all, resolutions can be drafted by any party member and make it into the convention book if they're passed at any one of the constituency, committee or affiliated organization meetings. Some of those meetings might only have three or four voting members in attendance, so it's relatively easy for any member to draft a resolution, have it end up in the convention book and presumably be mocked in the local and national media.

Any party that genuinely accepts and debates resolutions from a diverse membership across regions far and wide will end up with a grab-bag of ideas, some good and some bad. And it's not like the bad ones automatically become party doctrine. In the NDP, a policy committee reviews and prioritizes all resolutions ahead of the convention to bring those most relevant and well-thought out to the fore. Convention delegates then have an opportunity to change the prioritization before they debate and vote on the resolutions. Those passed become party policy, but not necessarily government policy.

It may be fun to sift through hundreds of ideas just to laugh at the three or four that seem most far-fetched, but in the mix will also be some policy winners. I wonder if, in mocking the outcome of a system that lets ordinary people participate in policy development, the critics would feel more comfortable shutting out the grassroots and leaving all of the idea-generation to elites.

UPDATE: See the Globe's snidely-toned March 2 editorial here and Endless Spin's take here.

Photo: This year's NDP convention will be held at Brandon's Keystone Centre.

A raw deal for the consumer?

This article in today's Globe should be required reading for anyone tempted to think that sales of unpasteurized or "raw" milk will be ultimately better for the consumer.

Food safety regulations aren't in place out of some need for bureaucratic red tape. They save lives by preventing the spread of food-borne pathogens that exist in food, including in raw milk.

We tend to sympathize with the idea of raw milk because it conjures up some idyllic image of a family farm from which only fresh, wholesome food comes. The reality of most farming today is much different (see the Meatrix video, a take on the movie The Matrix).

We've seen widespread sickness and death come many times from the breakdown of food safety regulations. As the article states, "the last thing we need is to go adding to the list of risky foods by casting aside techniques like pasteurization that have served us so well."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Open consultation or sell job?

So, a firm by the name of Biggar Ideas has landed
a $250,000 contract from the city to "engage the public, provide information and conduct consultations" about Winnipeg’s proposed new water utility. This follows City Council's plan to "explore" the idea of creating a new city water utlity, one rationale for which is that the city can then sell its water to neighbouring municipalities.

Sounds okay, right? The city has apparently not made any decision and is only "exploring," so we can be confident that it's legitimately seeking to hear all opinions on the matter, right?


The hired firm's marketing identifies its hallmark as
"its ability to shift and shape public and stakeholder opinion." Sounds a little like someone in the mayor's office has already made a decision and is hiring someone to manipulate public opinion in the favoured direction, no?

If we're truly in the exploratory stage, then why hire a firm to sell the idea? And if the mayor truly believes this move would be best for the city, why doesn't he just say so and champion the idea publicly himself? Let's have a debate! Glen Murray, for all his faults, was never afraid of promoting his ideas openly.

The burden of proof will now be on the city and their chosen consultant to respectfully facilitate the gathering of public opinion. If anything less happens, those with tough questions will be right to see it as nothing less than a sell job.

It will also be incumbent on those pushing the idea to explain to Winnipeg citizens how the move won't amount to just fueling more urban sprawl at the city's own expense, as
Christopher Leo and others suggest could be the case.

Jenny Gerbasi is absolutely right to be
suspicious of this one.

Photo: Building the Winnipeg Aqueduct, which draws water to Winnipeg from Shoal Lake, Ontario (published in the Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1979).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Harper's Guantanamo?

A Canadian citizen has supposedly been cleared of all suspicion of criminal activity -- enough for the Canadian government to formally request his name be removed from the UN Security Council's blacklist -- and yet the same government keeps throwing up roadblocks to prevent him from returning to Canada. The Harper government appears to be deliberately lying about the requirements he has to meet in order to be allowed back in Canada as they immediately change the requirements the moment he meets them.

If the Harper government is truly confident of Abdelrazik's innocence as they say they are and as they're willing to state in a note to the UN Security Council, then why prevent him from coming home? If they somehow DO have evidence of criminal wrongdoing, then he deserves to be formally charged and then sent home for a proper trial.

Either way, there's no good reason for deliberately keeping a Canadian citizen interned in a foreign country (where's he's been stranded for six years now) without charges or convictions.

By all means, let's do what we can within the law to prevent the perpetration and promotion of violence and hatred. But there's no place for the arbitrary mean-spiritedness, lying and complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law that we're seeing by our government in this case.