Not To Be Trusted With Knives











Wow, I’ve been a total slacker in writing entries on my BC Premiers series lately.  I haven’t actually written one in more than a month.  I blame the economy. And the prorogation of Parliament.

Anyway, I’m back.  And I’m back with the eleventh Premier of the province of British Columbia – Charles Augustus Semlin.

Charles Semlin.png Name Charles Augustus Semlin
Born: 4 December 1836 near Barrie, Upper Canada
Died: 2 November 1927 in Cache Creek, British Columbia
Party: none
Held Office: 15 August 1898  – 27 February 1900.
  • had a lot of different types of jobs:
    • quit his job as a school teacher in Barrie, Upper Canada to try his hand a prospecting in the gold rush, but, not being very good at it, he became a packer (like, he carried other people’s stuff for them), followed by managing a roadhouse and ranch
    • I guess he liked running a roadhouse, ‘cuz then he bought one (1865)
    • But I guess he liked being a rancher more, ‘cuz then he traded the roadhouse for a ranch (1870)
    • in addition to ranching, he was the first postmaster in Cache Creek, became a school board member, became an MLA and got Cache Creek a school, which turned out to be controversial and closed in 1890; but then he became a school trustee for the school district created in the region after the school he got started was shut
  • he doesnt’ seem to have been a very good politician:
    • his entry to provincial politics in 1871 was kind of messed up: he was tied for third in a three-member riding, so the returning officer put their names in a hat, drew Semlin’s name and declared him the third MLA for the riding. Awesome.
    • he ran unsuccessfully in the next two elections (1875 and 1878), but then won his seat back in 1882 and retained it for the next four elections (1886, 1890, 1894, and 1898)
    • 1894: became leader of the opposition after the election of 1894, although he was widely recognized as being rather meh as a leader. Yes, meh is a word.
    • 1898: Premier Turner failed to win a clear majority, so Lieutenant Governor Thomas Robert McInnes kicked out Turner and asked Beaven to form a government. Sure Beaven didn’t even win his own friggin’ seat, but this didnt’ appear to matter to McInnes.  Not-so-surprisingly, Beaven couldn’t get enough support to form a government (did I mention that he didn’t even win a seat?), so McInnes asked Semlin, being the ineffectual leader of the opposition from the last government, if he could form a government.  And Semlin did, so then he was the Premier. Some other dudes were trying to put together a provincial Liberal party (remember, they still didn’t have political parties at this point), but they didn’t have it together yet and so weren’t asked to form the government.
    • Semlin was, did I mention, a pretty meh leader and that, combined with infighting within his Cabinet and Semlin’s attempts to initiate a bunch of reforms (people hate that) meant for a short lived (18 month) premiership for Semlin.
    • A speech given by his Attorney General, Joseph Martin, ended in a brawl that had to be broken up by the cops and Semlin demanded Martin’s resignation. So Martin was pissed at Semlin and joined the opposition.  This resulted in Semlin receiving a vote of non-confidence, but asked Lieutenant Governor McInnes for a some time to prove he could regain the confidence of the house, which he did by getting some opposition ministers to to join him. But the McInnes, who apparently liked doing weird things, ignored Semlin’s newfound confidence and asked Martin to form a government.  Which pissed off the MLAs, so they voted Martin out in no-confidence.  So, basically, it was a really big shit show. So they had an election in 1900 (in which Semlin didn’t run) and, when the dust cleared, Dunsmuir became the next Premier.
    • Semlin won a by-election in 1903, but then didn’t run in the 1903 general election. Then ran and lost in 1907.
  • And now a tidbit about his personal life:
    • Although he didn’t marry, he raised a daughter, ironically named Mary.  Her mother, according to the 1881 census, was a First Nations woman named Caroline Williams, who lived with Semlin and used the last name Semlin, but was not married to him.

In summary, he had a lot of jobs, he was a meh politician and his daughter was a bastard.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Wikipedia, the reference that has a grand total of seven sentences about Charles August Semlin.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

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{December 18, 2008}   Canucks Sign Mats Sundin

Only 27,852 days after he last played a game, Mats Sundin has signed with the Canucks.  Just like me, he decided to move from the freezing cold that is the GTA to the warm loveliness that is Vancouver1

My dad is a life long Leafs fan2, so he’s been quite interested in where old Mats would finally end up.  And the possibility that he3 might sign with the Canucks, along with the fact that we already have the Sedin twins, provides my dad with no end of amusement. In pretty much every phone conversation I’ve had with him this year, my dad has done his impression of a play-by-play guy for a Canucks game with Mats on the team. It goes something like this:

“It’s Sedin to Sundin, back to Sedin over to Sedin… no wait, that was Sundin.. to Sedin, he shoots…  rebound picked up by Sundin and he scores!!!!!!!!”

So glad I’m not a Canucks play-by-play guy right now!

1Our current subzero temperatures are an anomoly, Mats, I promise!
2Which is almost unforgivable, really. But at least he’s not a Flames fan.
3“He” being Mats, not my dad. My dad was actually property of the Montreal Canadiens in his youth. Seriously.



This is why I’ve spent so much time lately explaining to dozens of people what a “constitional monarchy” and a “Parliamentary democracy” are.  A recent survey shows that:

Canadians don’t understand political system: survey

Only 24% of those surveyed knew that the Queen of England is Canada’s head of state (not the Prime Minister and not the Governor General [GG]).

A majority (59%) knew that the Canadian government is a “constitutional monarchy,” but that still means that 41% didn’t know that. (The survey doesn’t appear to have asked them if they know what “constitutional monarchy” means, which seems to me like it should be important!)

On the bright side, most people surveyed (90%) knew that the GG can refuse a Prime Minister’s request for a new election.

But then 51% thought that we directly elect the Prime Minister, which, of course, we do not.  This is kind of funny for two reasons.  First, 90% know that the GG can refuse a PM’s request for a new election, but only 49% knew that we don’t elect a PM directly.  So how, exactly, do the other 41%1 think we get a new PM without an election?  Second, how can people really think we directly elect the PM as, when you get your ballot on election day, you see a list of candidates for Member of Parliament in your riding, not a list of candidates for Prime Minister. And even if you are in, say, Stephen Harper’s riding, you aren’t going to see Stéphane Dion’s, Jack Layton’s, Gilles Duceppe’s or Elizabeth May’s name on the ballot, since they all run in different ridings.  So you can’t elect the PM directly since you aren’t given that option on your ballot!

But then, how can we expect the average Canadian to understand our system of government when the Prime Minister himself doesn’t.  He continues to say that the Liberal-NDP coaltion is trying to “”overthrow” the government” and that the NDP and the Bloc have been “planning to overturn the results of the election ever since election night.” (Source).  Unless the NDP and the Bloc were trying to remove the MPs who were elected (which even Stephen Harper isn’t actually saying), they weren’t trying to overturn the election results.  The election results only give you your 308 MPs – after that, those 308 MPs get to determine in whom they have confidence to run the government.  Sorry, Mr. Harper. You weren’t elected as Prime Minister by the people of Canada, because the people of Canada don’t directly elect a PM!

1i.e., the 41% who know that the GG can refuse the PM’s request for a new election but also think we directly elect our PM.



{December 2, 2008}   Six Things Meme

Apparently it’s meme week here on NTBTWK.  First Raul tagged me with a photo meme, and now Rebecca hit me with the six things meme.

First, da rules of da game:

1. Link to the person who tagged me. (That would be Rebecca)
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog. (Actually, if they’re regular readers of your blog, then #4 should do the trick.)
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

OK, now I have to write six random things.  Crap.   Hmmm… what can I tell you that I haven’t told y’all before?

  1. I was born with a dislocated hip (a.ka. congenital hip dysplasia).  As a baby I underwent surgery, was in traction and then had to be in a half-body cast.  My maternal grandmother had the same thing, but they didn’t know how to fix it when she was a baby, she always walked with a limp.  Thanks to modern medicine, I’m 100% fine in the hip department.
  2. Tonight for dinner I made a recipe that I got from a virtual stranger on Twitter.  I call it my Twitterecipe.
  3. I would love love love to have my own cooking show.
  4. I’m currently obsessed with the goings on in the federal government and the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition government.  I’m checking the CBC and CTV news websites even more than usual, have been watching CSPAN and am delighted that so many Canadians (myself included) are learning about how the Parliament works (No folks, you don’t elect a Prime Minister in Canada – you elect 308 members of the House of Commons and they get to decide who will be the P.M.!)
  5. It looks like I get to teach a course at Simon Fraser University1 next term!  I’m still waiting for my contract, but I’ve been offered an SFU course to teach.  I’ve never taught at SFU before, but I’ve only heard wonderful things about the place from everyone I’ve me that has gone there, so I’m pretty happy about that.

Now I have to tag six people, eh?  Well, I’ll go with the same five people who I tagged for the Five Things Meme2, plus Tod (who is totally dying to be memed).

1Well, technically it’s not at SFU as it is a distance ed course, so I’ll be teaching it from my living room rather than up on Burnaby Mountain. But it’s an SFU course nonetheless.
2Because I can just copy and paste those and I really am that lazy.



{November 27, 2008}   And speaking of Prime Ministers…

… could we possibly have a new entry in my Prime Ministerial series soon?  You would think, given that we had an election just over 6 weeks ago, that such a thing would be very unlikely.  But, according to the Globe & Mail1, we might be getting one sooner than you think.

Opposition parties are mad that Harper’s government has put forward a fiscal plan that (a) “offers no stimulus package to deal with the economic crisis” and (b) contains “a vow to scrap public subsidies for political parties that would financially cripple every party except the Tories.”  So they are talking about bringing down the Harper government with a  vote of non-confidence.

By putting this plan forward, Harper and the Conservatives* are betting that the opposition parties won’t dare force an election so soon after the last one, especially since the Liberals are still being led by lame duck Dion2.  But it sounds like the opposition parties are saying “hey, wait a minute.  There are more of us than there are of them.  Coalition anyone?” Apparently3 if the opposition parties can form a coalition, they could take control of the government without an election.

The plan goes to a vote on Monday.  Can the opposition parties form a viable coalition by then?  Will the threat of his enemies uniting against him to take his job scare Stephen Harper into changing his plan?  Stay tuned4!

Update #1 (28 Nov 2008): I just read in the Vancouver Sun that Harper’s plan “limits public sector wage increases to 1.5%, with the right to strike suspended.” They are going to take away people’s right to strike? How is that even legal??

Update#2 (28 Nov 2008): The Vancouver Sun now has an article on their website saying “The Conservatives don’t plan on backing down from a controversial proposal to eliminate subsidies for federal political parties, but the government says the measure will not be part of a confidence vote on Monday.”  This is really, really lame.  They ARE backing down if they are making it not part of a confidence vote!!  If they were to truly stand behind it, then why not leave it as a confidence vote??

1Props to Kalev for bringing this article to my attention!
2Apparently, “sources say former prime minister Jean Chretien has been approached for advice on how to massage Mr. Dion’s early exit.” Which is a little rich, given that Chrétien was “massaged” out of office himself.
3and I’m hoping Resident Historian and Chief Political Correspondent Sarah will pop by to explain to us exactly how this works
4Isn’t this way more fun that an system where the leader of the government only changes, predictably, every 4 years?



150 years ago today the Colony of British Columbia was born!  Mind you, the Colony of Vancouver Island was born earlier than that (in 1849) and the two would join together in 1866 to become the creatively named United Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.  But, no matter.  It’s Happy 150th birthday, British Columbia anyway!

Resident historian, Sarah, passed along the link to this article in the Globe and Mail – well worth the read if you are interested in the origins of BC.  It’s all American miners flooding into BC in droves for the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, wars with the “Indians” and “headless corpses float[ing] in the Fraser River.”  You know, as opposed to the severed feet we are used to seeing these days.

Me, enjoying the splendour of Joffre Lakes, BC

Me, enjoying the splendour of Joffre Lakes, BC

Fun facts about British Columbia:

  • the province covers 944,735 km2
  • we’ve got quite a variety of climates: from the coast of the mainland and Vancouver Island, which are temperate rainforest, to our desert regions in the Interior
  • our provincial flower is the Pacific dogwood
  • our provincial tree is Western Redcedar
  • our provincial bird is the Steller’s Jay
  • our provincial mammal is the Spirit Bear (a.ka. the Kermode bear)


{November 16, 2008}   BC Premier #9 – Theodore Davie.

Theodore Davie was the 9th Premier of the Province of British Columbia.

Name Theodore Davie
Born: March 22, 1852 in Brixton, England
Died: March 7, 1898 in Victoria, BC
Party: alas, still no parties
Held Office: July 2, 1892 – March 2, 1895
  • brother of Premier Alexander Edmund Batson Davie
  • 1867: went to Victoria  to join his father; studied law
  • 1874: he married a 14-year-old, Blanche Baker; she died 2 years later.
  • 1877: called to the bar
  • built a reputation as a very able criminal lawyer1
  • 1882: elected to the BC Legislative Assembly (seat = Victoria)
  • supported Premier Smithe‘s government, and then his brother‘s government
  • served as Attorney General under Premier Robson
  • 1884: married Mary Alice Yorke, with whom he went on to have 7 kids (4 boys, 3 girls)
  • 1892: became Premier when Robson died
  • you have Davie to thanks for the Parliament buildings in Victoria, as it was his decision to build them despite opposition from the mainland
  • continued to practice law while serving as the Premier
  • 1895: resigned as Premier to take the post of Chief Justice of BC
  • 1898: died of heart disease

In summary, Davie is kind of boring. Except for the part where he married a 14-year-old and was then widowed when she died at 16. What the hell is up with that?

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Footnotes:
1To clarify, that would be a lawyer who defends those charged with crimes and not, as it sounds, a lawyer who himself commits crimes.

References:
Wikipedia, the reference that really doesn’t have much to say about Theodore Davie.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online



Good news for the federal Liberals – Ujjal Dosanjh1 retained his Vancouver South riding, which he has held since June 2004, following a recount. A former Premier of BC, Donsanjh won his federal riding in this month’s election by a mere 33 votes, prompting a recount. After the dust settled, he still won but with a vote margin of only 22 votes!

Donsanjh retaining his seat makes me happy for a few reasons (1) if he’d lost the recount, the seat would have gone to the Conservative* (and you know how I feel about the Conservatives*), (2) had the Conservative* won the recount, this would have given an urban Vancouver seat to them (and one of the small consolations of this election had been that the Conservatives were yet again shut out the 3 major cities), and (3) I like Ujjal2.

I also noticed in the CBC article about the recount that Donsanjh has “not ruled out a run for the party leadership.”  And as I read that, it kind of hit me – we’ve never had a Prime Minister who wasn’t white. I mean, you hear so much about the issues of race and gender in the US presidential election (what with the US being on the verge of electing a black president who beat out a women for the Democratic nomination). But what about us? Aren’t we supposed to be this great multicultural country? We’ve had one token female Prime Minister – who wasn’t elected as such but became PM very briefly when the rat left the sinking shipBrain Mulroney resigned and Campbell won the Tory party leadership. And we’ve NEVER HAD A PRIME MINISTER WHO WASN’T WHITE. In this election, there wasn’t a single party Leader who wasn’t white3. Same goes for last election – all white party leaders. What is up with that Canada?

It made me wonder if we’ve *ever* had a federal party leader – like one with a real shot of becoming the PM – who wasn’t white. I couldn’t think of anyone off hand. I even consulted with my Resident Historian, Sarah – and she didn’t know of any either, at least in recent history.  Does anyone out there know of any?  And if not, why not?  What gives, Canada?

1I don’t think he has enough Js in his name.
2At least what I know of him. I’m hesitant to say I really *like* a politician for fear that they will just let me down later (John Edwards, I’m looking in your direction.)
3I’m talking about the five big parties here. I suppose it’s possible that the leaders of the Marxist-Leninist Party or neorhino.ca (formerly the Rhinoceros Party) weren’t white, but I’m only talking about people with even a remote chance of becoming a PM.

Photo credit: Photo by Roland Tanglao, posted on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.



Now we enter the era of Premiers whose names I recognize because they have Vancouver Streets named after them. At least, I assume Smithe St. is named after this guy.

Name William Smithe
Born: June 30, 1842 in Matfen, England
Died: March 28, 1887 in Victoria, British Columbia (he only lived to be 44 years old!)
Party: none
Held Office: January 29, 1883 – March 29, 1887
  • settled on Vancouver Island in 1862 as a farmer
  • his first public office was the appointed position of road commissioner for Cowichan in 1865
  • ran in BC’s first provincial election in 1871 and won a seat for Cowichan
  • he was actually born as William Smith, but added an “e” to the end of his name, presumably because Amor De Cosmos was also oringally named William Smith and he figured the “e” would stop people from being confused as to who was who.  I’m guessing that the latter William Smith changing his name to Lover of the Universe did more to help people distinguish between the two of them than the former adding the “e”
  • in the Legislature, he maintained “an independent stance”1 by not supporting Premier McCreight or his successors, Premiers De Cosmos and Walkem
  • in 1873 he married Martha Kier, daughter of an important Cowichanian, which added to his prominence in the region
  • re-elected in 1875, campaigned on Walkem’s failure to build a road from Victoria to Cowichan
  • I like to say the word “Cowichan”
  • he was the leader of the opposition when the Leglislature opened in 1976, but as the Walkem Government fell, he handed over the opposition leadership to Andrew Charles Elliott, who then became the Premier. And didn’t include Smithe in the cabinet. Which I find a little ungrateful, no?
  • Smithe was added to cabinet as minister of finance and agriculture in July 1876, however, when the “erractic” Thomas Basil Humphreys was canned2
  • managed to retain his seat in the March 1878 election despite not really doing anything too exciting as a cabinet minisiter and in the face of most everyone else on the “government supporters” side of the floor being kicked out
  • yet again became the leader of the opposition against Premier Walkem (we was reinstituted as Premier)
  • became the Premier in 18 when Walkem’s successor, Beaven, couldn’t muster up the support of more than 8 of 24 MLAs; this gave Smithe the biggest majority since BC joined Confederation
  • at this point, BCers were still pissed off over the long-standing issue of Canada not building the promised railway, as well as mainland BCers being pissed off over a really expensive dock being built on the Island. Dock-gate, if you will3.  Smithe struck a deal (the Settlement Act) that made both mainlanders and islanders happy:
    • the feds got “3,500,000 acres in the Peace River district” of BC<5
    • the feds would “open the railway lands in the south to settlement, assume construction of the graving dock, and advance $750,000, for the building of the island railway”5.
  • As with several other of the Premiers we’ve looked at so far, Smithe’s government implemented a number of racist policies aimed at Chinese-Canadians and Aboriginal people, including:
    • preventing Chinese people from acquiring crown land
    • a $10/yr “license” fee for Chinese people over the age of 15. If I’m reading that correctly, that’s a license to be Chinese?
    • trying to implement an act forbidding Chinese immigration. This act was stopped by the feds, but the feds did implement a $50 head tax on all “Oriental” immigrants to appease BC
    • “severely limited Indian lands […] arguing that because Indians did not cultivate much land they did not need much”5.
  • won the 1886 election, showing support from the public on his policies, including the racist ones,
  • when asked by an “American newspapermen […] if British Columbia might one day annex itself to the Union in response to natural trading interests, he replied that British Columbia might instead annex Washington and Oregon”5.
  • died of nephritis in office in 1887.

In summary, Smithe appears to have settled that whole railway kerfuffle that all the previous BC premiers seemed to have being fighting with the feds over.  So here’s hoping that we will be reading about more non-railway issues in future editions of my BC Premier Series!

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Footnotes:
1Which I still find funny, given that there were no political parties at this time
2No idea what made Humphreys so “erratic” as Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for him. And I’m too lazy to search any further for that as my interest-level:willingness-to-exert-effort ratio on this one is pretty low.
3Not to be mistaken for Deck-gate.

References:
4Wikipedia, the reference that shall inherit the earth
5Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online



Tonight I baked a most delicious batch of “Go To Hell Stephen Harper” Apple Crisp:

Fresh baked Go to Hell Stephen Harper Apple Crisp

Fresh baked "Go to Hell Stephen Harper" Apple Crisp.

I got the recipe from my friend Rebecca, who baked (and, I believe, invented?) this delicious delicacy on election night.  In her words:

“Go To Hell Stephen Harper” Apple Crisp is made like normal apple crisp, but with added funding for the arts, social programs, and sensible health care reform 🙂

“Go To Hell Stephen Harper” Apple Crisp is best served warm from the oven with a scoop of “Don’t Vote for John McCain” ice cream.



Hey, did you know that there’s a Canadian federal election on Tuesday?  I might have forgotten to mention it here on NTBTWK.  For those of you who love my special brand of political coverage, I hope you enjoy today’s posting . For those of you who don’t care about Canadian politics or Canada or, like, democracy and such, I shall return to other hard hitting issues, like how hot Rick DiPetro, goalie for the NY Islanders is, after Tuesday.  Mostly.

A while ago, Rebecca posted a summary of the candidates in her riding of Vancouver Centre. And I thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea! I’m totally doing for that my riding too!”  Then I got sick/busy/[insert excuse here]. Anyway.  I’m doing it now. So there.

Vancouver Quadra

  • encompasses the University of British Columbia, the Musqueam Indian Reserve No. 2 and Vancouver’s West Side.  West Siiiiide, represent!
  • population (according to the 2006 Census) of this riding is 119,627
  • created in 1947
  • has been represented by 7 different MPs over the years – 5 Liberals and 2 Tories
  • was represented by the Right Honourable John Turner, who was the Vancouver Quadra MP from 1984-1993 and was the Prime Minister for about 2 seconds
  • incumbenent is Liberal Joyce Murrary, who won a by-election earlier this year after former MP, Liberal Stephen Owen resigned.  Murrary beat Conservative Party* rival, Deborah Meredith by a mere 151 votes in that by-election.

The candidates, in alphabetical order by last name, are:

Barens, Norris – Libertarian Party

  • doesn’t have a website
  • there’s a link on the Libertarian Party‘s website to an email address for Barens, but no info about the candidate
  • I have yet to see a single lawn sign for Barens
  • I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Barens is not a contender

Caplan, David – New Democratic Party

  • shares his name with an Ontario provincial Liberal cabinet minister, making him a pain in the ass to Google
  • has been in the Armed Forces, a lawyer, a financial analyst, a freelance writer, a homemaker
  • has degrees in science, law, business administration and Chartered Financial Analyst
  • now wants to be a politician – I’m not sure if he’s really diverse, or doesn’t know what he wants to do1
  • there is little info available on Caplan, but in fairness he only took over after civil-liberties lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who had been the NDP candidate in this riding, stepped down on September 19 because he video smoking marijuana
  • his website, such as it is

Grice, Dan – Green Party

  • is a “new media and technology consultant” and appears to have a company that I have never heard of.  I mean, I like to think I know a fair number of the tech peeps in Vancouver, but I’ve never heard of “VanAlive Communications” – has anyone else?
  • He did his B.A. in Classical Archaeology and the History of Rome, Greece, and the Near East at UBC
  • He answers the question “Why are you running?” with “I want to help modernize our political structure and help move Canada to a low carbon economy. I come from a generation that values ingenuity and I feel that we need politicians to be more responsive and more concerned with fixing the problems of today rather than worried about their public perception.”
  • his website

Meredith, Deborah – Conservative* Party

  • evil
  • teaches at the evil UBC Sauder School of Business
  • likes to stick “tackling crime” stickers on her evil lawn signs

Murray, Joyce – Liberal Party

  • has been the MP for Vancouver Quadra since the by-election earlier this year
  • formerly an MLA with the (admittedly, evil) BC Liberals before she was defeated in the 2005 election
  • introduced a private members bill proposing to exempt bikes, bike accessories & repairs from the GST
  • did her MBA at Simon Fraser University
  • her website

As there was a by-election earlier this year where Murray beat Meredith by a mere 151 votes, many people suggest that this will be a tight race (and VoteforEnvironment suggests strategically voting for Murrary to keep out the Conservative*). The Election Prediction Project, which has a pretty good track record for predicting election winners, says that this riding is going to the Liberal.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they are right!

1I’ve been accused of this myself. At my interview, my eventual Masters supervisor, upon hearing I was doing a minor in Drama with my major in Honours Biochemistry called me “conflicted.” I told him I prefer to think of myself as well-rounded.



{October 9, 2008}   Science and the Election

Note: This blog posting is going to be a long one. I’ve been writing it for days. But it’s so worth the read, if you are interested in science, education, the Canadian election, or hearing my ongoing rants about the Conservative* party.

Today Yesterday The other day, I read this story on the CBC: Researchers wonder: What’s the plan for R&D?. Some of the key things that jumped out to me:

  • “On Sept. 17, federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion did pledge a 60 per cent increase of funding for university-based research — to $500 million a year — and proposed a $100-million fund to enable scientists, researchers and graduate students to take on projects that extend beyond the barriers of their disciplines.  But the topic was soon buried under the larger issue of government spending, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper that same day calling the spending proposals of Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton “mind-boggling” in size.”
  • The Conservatives have not issued their party platform, but neither they nor the other party leaders has devoted a speech to science-related issues outside the environment.”
  • Scientists “expressed dismay at political parties that want to build a knowledge economy but seem unwilling to contribute to it.
  • “Funding was the top concern: few scientists can complain about current funding levels, but some worry about the future of the funding while others worry those funds are becoming too narrowly focused on industrial spinoffs or favoured established programs at the expense of new initiatives.|

Few scientists can complain about current funding levels?” What? The Canadian Institutes of Health Research – the federal funding agency for research related to health and the agency with which I’m most familiar – has very depressing rates of funding: exact numbers depend on the particular grant competition, but it’s fair to say that you can expect ~ 25% success rate1,2 when you submit a grant application (i.e., 3 of every 4 grant applications submitted won’t get funded). And that’s not because the grant applications aren’t high quality.  They have a category called “Fundable, But Not Funded,” which basically it means that the proposed research is of high enough quality that it should be funded, but there’s no money for it.  According to a recent CIHR Operating Grant Program Analysis2, the success rate of “fundable but not funded” grant application is only ~30% – that means that 2 out of 3 high quality research applications submitted to the operating grant competition are not funded.

As I’ve mentioned before, the National Science Adviser to the Prime Minister was first shunted to the Industry Ministry (which shows how the Harper government views science – in their view, science is only important if you can make money from it) and then canned completely.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, the Harper government is willing to completely ignore scientific evidence and oppose Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, claiming that there isn’t enough science to back it up (I suppose all the scientific evidence that they choose to ignore doesn’t count?).

Shortly after reading that article, my friend and scientist extraordinaire, Mel Kardel, sent me and some other colleagues a summary of each of the main political parties’3 stances on science and on students, which she created by going through each of their platforms and searching for “science” and “student”4. Would you believe that the Conservative* party platform does not include the word “student” even one time? Oh yeah, the Conservative* party *finally* released their platform. One week before the election. The election that THEY called. And after some people have already voted in advance polls. Anyway. The only mentions of “education” in their 44-page document were vague references to “provid[ing] practical help to Canadian families to assist them with higher costs of living, and protect them from unfair retail practices so that families can focus on the things in life that matter most, like buying their first home and saving for their children’s education.” Which basically sounds like “as for actually paying for education – you’re on your own!” Oh wait, on page 9 it says that they’ll let charities and NPOs create RESPs for kids. Isn’t this like saying “hey poor people, want your kids to go to college? You better ask a charity, because the Conservative* government isn’t going to help!” And then there’s the vague: “Improving Aboriginal education is crucial to giving young members of the Aboriginal community the opportunity to succeed.” No mention on *how* they are going to improve Aboriginal education. Awesome.

As for science, the only mention of science in their platform is the claim that they “made major new investments in leading-edge science over the past three budgets, which will increase support for science and technology by $850 million by 2009-10,” (with no indication that most of this was directed very specific, industry-focuses areas rather than the basic sciences), a claim that they will “make additional investments in internationally recognized science and technology projects in Canada,” (with no suggestion of how much that investment will be, or in what areas).  And there’s a promise to “build a world-class High Arctic Research Station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues, including environmental science and resource development.”  And that’s it for education and science in the Conservative* party’s platform.  For real.

In contrast, the Liberals, NDP and Green Party all talk extensively about science and education in their platforms. I can provide you with the full details if you like, but in view of the fact that this blog posting has gotten quite long (!), I’ll just hit you with some highlights here:

Liberals:

  • increase in the indirect costs of university based research to $500 per year
  • increased funding for both CIHR and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to $1.275 billion/year (from $960 million) and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) to $450 million a year (from $320 million), plus $100 for interdisciplinary research
  • an Education grant of $1000/yr for postsecondary students, plus a $250 tax credit for students who also work
  • increased grants and bursaries for students in need
  • an extension of the post-graduation interest-free period before you have to start paying off your student loan from 6 months to 2 years, plus lower interest rates on student loans (man, could I ever use that!)

NDP:

  • $1000 grant to students who qualify for student loans
  • more funding to universities and keeping tuition fees affordable (although I’d argue with the word “keeping” here, as tuition fees are *not* currently affordable)
  • reforming student loan system, including interest relief for students completing an internship after graduation
  • increased funding for research and for grad students (to keep the best and brightest here in Canada)

Green Party:

  • “Post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence”  Hee hee. Debt sentence.
  • forgiving 50% of your student loans when you graduate (holy crap! that would have amounted to a $35,000 grant for me!)
  • increased funding to universities
  • working with provinces to lower tuition fees
  • “Fund universities to create more tenure track teaching positions, regardless of perceived commercial value of the area of pedagogy.”

Now, I realize that the proof is in the pudding and we’ll only know if anyone will follow through with these promises once they get into power. But I also think it’s pretty clear that the Conservatives* have no intention whatsoever of doing anything for students or for scientists.  At least the other parties have promises for which we can hold them accountable.  Time to replace Harper!

1How to Prepare a CIHR Application, University of Western Ontario
2Operating Grant Program Analysis
3Not including the Bloc, ‘cuz we can’t vote for them here in BC.
4My friends rock.



I saw it mentioned on Evany’s blog that voters in Missouri have to register to vote by today, Oct 8, in order to vote in the November US presidential election.  I also noticed this in the celebrities-telling-people-to-vote video posted on Rebecca’s blog – if you don’t register to vote in the US presidential election by whatever deadline your state sets, which may, as in the case of Missouri, be over a month in advance of the election, then you lose your right to vote.  What is up with that?  Here in Canada I can walk up to the poll on election day with my ID and proof of my address and register right on the spot.  I’ve done it many times.  It’s that simple!  Doesn’t it seem problematic to take away people’s right to vote because they didn’t register over a month before the election?  Is there some rationale for this that I’m missing?



As promised, I let the brochure of evil soak in vinegar1 – and not just overnight, but for a full 24 hrs!

And you know what?  It didn’t look much different than before I put it in the vinegar!  But apparently the vinegar did some work on degrading the fibres of evil, of which this brochure is clearly made, as when I picked it up it ripped apart very easily, making it simple to shred into bits and crumple up into this soggy clump of evil:

And that, my friends, is that end of that brochure.

I wonder if they’ll send me another one?

1Oh for the days when I worked in a lab with concentrated acids!



… perhaps they heard that I no longer had the first one and felt that I needed another.

This time, I figured I would burn it:

Burn FAIL!  The damn brochure, which one would think was made of paper, wouldn’t burn.

So I decided to try again, this time with a little help from our old friend, rubbing alcohol1:

As you can see, the heat of the flames was overwhelming! But guess what happened:

That’s right, the rubbing alcohol burned away, leaving the paper virtually unscathed!! My best theory on why this is so is that these brochures are made by the spawn of Satan in the 7th layer of Hell, and thus must be constructed from flame resistant materials.

As I type this, the brochure is now sitting in a pan full of vinegar, where it will stay overnight:

Tomorrow, we’ll see how it looks.

1Me moving the bottle back and forth is my unsuccessful attempt to get my lame ass camera to focus on the rubbing alcohol label. Focus FAIL!



et cetera