Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

New Brunswick forced to confront abortion access issue

leave a comment »

This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

We will have at least one more provincial election in 2014, the regularly scheduled election in New Brunswick on September 22. We might have a key issue in New Brunswick with a topic that rarely comes up in Canadian political circles these days: abortion.

Morgentaler Clinic

New Brunswick is pretty spread out as a province. Prince Edward Island is pretty far away, even from Fredericton.

The Morgentaler Clinic was the only private clinic in New Brunswick, with no private clinics in Prince Edward Island, to offer abortions. The clinic closes its doors tomorrow.

Those who go to the Morgentaler Clinic have to pay for the abortions. The clinic had been subsidizing abortions but could no longer stay afloat financially.

Under the law in New Brunswick, a woman who wants an abortion covered by medicare must have 2 doctors certify in writing that the procedure is medically necessary and the abortion must be done by an obstetrician/gynecologist in approved hospitals (one each in Moncton and Bathurst).

(Moncton is in southeastern New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy; Bathurst is in northeastern New Brunswick near Quebec on Chaleur Bay.)

Many of the clinic’s patients came from Prince Edward Island. The provincial government claim no doctors in the province will do abortions; the province sends women to a hospital in Halifax provided they have a referral from their family doctor.

Distance. Money. Time. All these factors make getting an abortion in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island difficult, even with the clinic.

Where we are now in Fredericton

The Progressive Conservatives, under Premier David Alward, have a considerable advantage in the legislature. The PCs have 41 seats, the Liberals have 13 seats, with 1 Independent MLA.

While the New Brunswick legislature currently has 55 seats, the parties will be vying for 49 seats in the September election.

On the surface, the PCs shouldn’t have a concern. Sure the economy isn’t great in the province, but the Liberals have a lot of ground to make up to get enough MLAs for a majority. The NDP don’t even have a seat currently in Fredericton.

Brian Gallant (Liberal) and Dominic Cardy (NDP) don’t have much of a chance to be the next New Brunswick premier. The timing of the election and the abortion issue could shake up the makeup of the New Brunswick legislature.

Gallant has said a Liberal government would “move swiftly to address this issue in a comprehensive way, once and for all, and ensure we are respecting a woman’s right to choose.”

Gallant knows the Liberals are in a tough situation. Be too specific and risk losing votes. But voters need to know that the situation will improve for women if the party gains power in Fredericton.

Of the 55 current MLAs in the legislature, 7 of them are women.

Where we will be in September

The federal fight over abortion, while not as loud these days, focuses on federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, whose position is that the party and its MPs be pro-choice, and federal Conservative backbenchers, who would love to make abortion more difficult nationwide.

New Brunswick isn’t concerned with what happens on the federal level. However, even conservatives in New Brunswick will have to recognize that the loss of the Morgentaler Clinic is a political issue in September.

The Maritimes are a conservative place, especially on abortion. The Morgentaler Clinic was a beacon of hope in women’s health care. And now it’s gone. But it could be the start of a movement to bring the region in line with the rest of Canada.

This is a political issue until September 22. No matter which party wins that day, abortion rights will still be a health care and economic concern in New Brunswick.

Restaurants, open carry guns not a good mix

leave a comment »

This column courtesy of BalanceofFood.com runs here with complete permission.

Would you be more likely to eat at a restaurant where you wouldn’t run into someone visibly carrying a gun?

If confronted with large guns in a Chipotle, my instinct would be to get my food to go.

We’ve seen several chains — Chili’s, Chipotle, Sonic, Jack in the Box — express concern over open carry demonstrations, most notably in Texas.

Restaurants try to not get involved in political discussions. After all, restaurants are all about customers and food. They want left-wing and right-wing people to come eat there.

We’ve written about Chick-Fil-A from the other side of the political spectrum. Will gun enthusiasts react similarly to chains that discourage open carry?

The good news for those chains is that they may not have to pay a high price for their actions. Those on the left are more about boycotts than those on the right. Also, the restaurants are concerned with open carry vs. concealed carry.

To be honest, I’m still learning about concealed carry since I live in the last state to switch to concealed carry (and we didn’t even vote on this) and next to the 49th state to go to concealed carry.

We see the tiny signs banning guns from property, reminders that guns would otherwise be allowed in the building. Still getting used to this new world.

Police officers eat a lot in restaurants, and they are armed. Open carry but not in a way that the open carry protesters are doing. They don’t bother me in the slightest. First of all, you should eat where cops eat because they know the best places to eat. But if something were to happen, then I would feel safer.

The eating environment is preached on both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives talk about family values and eating together as a family; liberals do too but conservatives are louder on this topic. The eating environment should be about comfort, whether dining at home or in a booth in a restaurant.

For most people, seeing heavily armed private citizens while eating in a restaurant is not a comfortable environment for digestion.

Drive-thrus, when available, offer a compromise. Those carrying serious guns can keep them in the car while ordering their food.

Open carry vs. concealed carry might be splitting hairs, but in a restaurant environment, this can make a huge difference. May never get used to the idea of concealed carry, but that looks smarter compared to open carry.

We mentioning the police. They are armed and everyone knows it. But the police do so in a way that isn’t, well, obnoxious.

People need to respect guns. And people respect people who respect guns. Police really respect their weapons. These open carry protesters aren’t respecting their weapons.

The eating experience doesn’t always have to sacred, but it should be enjoyable. And ideally gun-free.

Stephen Harper, Pauline Marois import GOP dirty tricks to reduce voting

leave a comment »

This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

Stephen Harper and Pauline Marois rarely have something in common, but that something is a trend that has been sweeping throughout the United States.

Though using different methods, Harper and Marois are trying to deny the right to vote to people who are eligible. We’ve seen these “voter ID” laws in several U.S. states designed to prevent those likely to vote against Republicans a chance to cast their ballot, even though they are registered to vote.

While the target audience for Harper and Marois are different, the target audience for both is those who aren’t likely to vote for their party.

Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, is working its way through Parliament.

Canadians have voter identification cards, which help identify them, and Elections Canada has allowed their use with another form of ID as proof of being able to vote. Bill C-23 would take away voter identification cards as a proof of ID. The bill also disallows vouching, where someone in the precinct of the riding can vouch for that person.

Bill C-23 allows bans Elections Canada from encouraging turnout, especially among groups that aren’t as likely to vote: youths under 30, ethnic minorities, Aboriginals and the disabled.

The legislation also removes the Commissioner of Canada Elections (investigators) from Elections Canada to be a separate office. The Conservatives have been the target of numerous allegations from overspending their budget to robocalls telling voters their voting spot had changed when it hadn’t. The change reduces the impact they can make on parties that violate election laws.

Previous coverage:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper copies Bush tactic of ejecting people from campaign stops

Like their U.S. counterparts, conservatives in Canada don’t have actual examples of voter fraud. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, conservatives have the power to change the law nationwide.

In Quebec, university students who are otherwise eligible to vote are being told that they aren’t eligible. The requirements for voting in Quebec is to be a “Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old, be domiciled in Quebec for six months.”

The key word is domiciled. The stories are pretty consistent. Even if people have been living in Quebec for longer than 6 months, and can prove those facts, they are still denied registration.

The Civil Code of Quebec states that “change of domicile is affected by actual residence in another place, coupled with the intention of the person to make it the seat of his principal establishment.”

In other words, you can be a student in Quebec, but if you no intention of living in Quebec after university, you can’t vote. And since that can’t be proven, those who aren’t francophones are being targeted as not likely to stay in Quebec.

These students are primarily living in Montréal, where anglophones and allophones are much more likely to be found.

Previous coverage:

2014 Quebec election preview; election set for April 7

Marois was also vocal about those outside Quebec (i.e., Ontario) were trying to pull the election away from the Parti Quebecois. The premier said there was an influx of illegal anglophone voters in 5 ridings. However, Chief Electoral Officer Jacques Drouin said that there was no abnormal rise in registrations.

Vote fraud would be if these students or anyone else were voting in Quebec and in the province where their parents live. There is no proof or accusations of that happening. In fact, if a student from Quebec were going to school in Ontario or New Brunswick, by Quebec standards, they wouldn’t be eligible to vote where they go to school and would also be legally barred from voting in Quebec.

The students can’t vote in two places, but legally have to be able to vote in one place.

Reading the mind of the voter is literally an impossible task. As to whether graduates will stay in the province, this would depending on being able to find work. Quebec’s jobless rate is not good, yet the campaign has been more about sovereignty and language than the economy or infrastructure.

Residency is where you live. College students in the U.S. run into similar troubles, especially with the new anti-democracy “voter ID” laws since these states “magically” won’t take a college ID as proof of identity.

Voting is a civic duty that comes with being a citizen. The voting process is about opportunity and choice. Political parties — Republican, Conservative, and Parti Quebecois — that take away opportunity and choice from citizens are no better than the Third World dictatorships that the First World likes to admonish.

Canada has done a much better job in running elections than its southern neighbor in great part because a non-partisan group such as Elections Canada works to open up voting to citizens and fights back against rampant partisanship. The Harper Government wants to make elections more like the United States in the spirit of their cousins, the Republican Party.

Politics is supposed to be about ideas. When you run out of ideas, you try cheap, undemocratic stunts such as these. These tactics go against being a democracy. The best way to punish them is to respond at the ballot box.

Paul Ryan school lunch lie showcases GOP irrationality

leave a comment »

This column originally ran on BalanceofFood.com. The column appears here with complete permission.

What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-10-2014/the-amazing-base—power-of-love

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the man who wanted to be vice president of the United States, told a story about a child who didn’t want a free school lunch. He wanted a lunch in a brown paper bag “because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

That story would be emotionally telling … if it were true.

Ryan heard the story from Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson at a 2013 Congressional hearing. The story Anderson told was actually based off a TV interview with the boy in the book, “An Invisible Thread.”

Anderson inserted the school lunch program, not mentioned in the book, into the anecdote. And the story in the book is an executive who offers the child money to buy lunch for the week or to make a lunch for the child. The child chooses the brown paper bag lunch because that means “somebody cares” about him.

The representative from Wisconsin later regretted “failing to verify the original source of the story.”

That was 1 of about 8 things Ryan did wrong: the most important thing was telling that story at CPAC knowing that the story was incorrect.

This implies that we are calling Rep. Ryan a liar. Yes, that is true. This speaks to an issue that we have had with some politicians, mostly conservative, on these topics.

Just because someone says something you like or falls in your comfort zone doesn’t mean it’s true. You have a responsibility to find out whether the third-hand story you are telling has a kernel of truth.

The false story that Rep. Paul Ryan told at CPAC literally has no truth to be found.

The damage has been done, of course, which is the point. If you like Ryan, you will believe the story he told, even if the “liberal press” told you otherwise. And someone in a conversation will overhear someone tell that story, as if it were true, and the story will spread.

I could write a column every day for a year filled with criticisms of the school lunch program. But not having a program would never be one of those criticisms.

Ryan spoke of a “full stomach and an empty soul,” the one part of the story that came from him. The implication is that a “free lunch” hurts a child when accepted.

“Full stomach means a full brain” is a slogan we like a lot better. That “free education” the child receives goes a lot better when the stomach is full, making things easier for the child to learn. This is especially true when that school lunch is healthy.

Yes, a number of conservatives don’t like the idea of a “free education,” but “free lunch” is an easier target.

As adults, we can argue the issues of child poverty and the impact of smart children on a society. And we can even discuss the impact of healthy food for school children.

We need two ground rules for this to work: 1) children need to be protected from being literally in the argument (e.g., Salt Lake City taking school lunches from kids), and 2) we need to work from the truth.

Rep. Ryan and any other politician who wants to take on the school lunch program: we want you to be a part of the discussion, but only if you are willing to work with the truth.

2014 Three Amigos preview

leave a comment »

Three Amigos summits are rare and brief, not a combination you want from three side-by-side countries that have a lot to say.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama for the latest Three Amigos summit in Toluca, Mexico.

Technically, the name is the North American Leaders Summit but the Three Amigos nickname has stuck for this event.

Despite what you might think based on the U.S. media, agenda items other than the Keystone XL pipeline will come up in the discussions.

For more on what we might see during the brief summit, check out our analysis from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Senate passes Farm Bill with yet more food stamps cuts

leave a comment »

The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

“Our political system is basically evil versus spineless now,” former Clinton USDA official Joel Berg.

As someone who has worked well with words over the years, I couldn’t sum up how I felt about the savage attack on food stamps in the new Farm Bill soon to reach the desk of President Barack Obama. The quote above was as close as I could get.

The Farm Bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps in the next 10 years. In practical terms, this means an average cut of $90 per month.

Those cuts are on top of $11 billion over the next 2 years that came a few weeks ago — benefits that expired from the 2009 stimulus bill. The average cut works out to $38/month.

The $8 billion is presumably a “compromise” especially since Senate Dems opened the bidding at $4 billion in cuts. This would be the spineless portion of the negotiations.

Berg is on the frontline of this battle as the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and author of “All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?”

The politician who has received the most criticism on the food stamps cuts is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Sen. Stabenow points out that the new Farm Bill gets rid of direct payment subsidies. The senator also points out changes for those who want more support for local and organic foods.

“Our agriculture economy is increasingly based on rising consumer demand for healthy, locally grown foods. We’re investing more in programs to promote fruits and vegetables. We provide over four times more funding for farmers’ markets and strong support for growers who want to transition to organics. We create local food hubs to help institutions like hospitals, restaurants and schools buy more local foods.”

Specifically, the senator states that the new Farm Bill “doubles SNAP benefits for low-income families when they buy healthy produce at farmer’s markets, increases funding for food banks, and provides financing for new grocery stores in underserved areas.”

As for the food stamps cuts, Sen. Stabenow says the bill is designed to reduce fraud and misuse. The “heat and eat” programs — where states can get extra SNAP money for signing up people for home heating assistance — is the primary focus. The senator says any SNAP recipient getting more than $20/year in home heating assistance won’t get SNAP cuts, and those getting less assistance have to show a heating bill to keep their SNAP benefits at the status quo mark.

Even if the bill does address direct payments, the bill still has plenty of crop subsidies and expensive crop insurance. The louder Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) screams, the better the bill will be. Fincher is in the dubious position of taking huge payments to not grow crops while calling for radical cuts in food stamps.

If people are choosing between heating their homes and eating, then we are shortchanging those people.

And if we are saving this much money from payments to those who don’t need the money, then we should be able to afford a boost for those who still need help.

The truth likely rests somewhere in between. The sad part is that we may not learn about whether people are suffering from the food stamps cuts since those stories go underreported. And in a struggling economy, especially without a subsequent raise in the minimum wage, it looks bad to cut food assistance, no matter how that might be done.

I love reforms to make sure those who need help are getting help. But those that need help aren’t getting enough help.

President Obama will be under significant pressure to sign the bill into law. Fights over the Farm Bill have weighed down Congress, but then again, this is part of the GOP strategy. Unfortunately, for Americans who struggle in real life with putting food on the table, the politicians in Washington have other priorities.

Conservative politicians need food security solutions, not rhetoric

leave a comment »

The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

Some conservative politicians get upset over the idea of government helping those that need help (as opposed to those who don’t need help). They get really upset with the idea of helping people get food, even children.

We have two stories, one American and one Canadian. While the Canadian politician did eventually apologize, these two stories are a microcosm of an attitude, mostly in the United States, that helping people who are struggling with getting food is one of the worst deeds for government to do.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) is trying to stand out in a field to replace Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in the Senate. Kingston’s views on school lunches will definitely make him stand out.

Rep. Kingston really has a problem with free school lunches, as he expressed to a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party.

“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?”

Think that is too severe? Kingston is one step ahead of uh, something.

“Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

Even by the standards of the U.S. South, Georgia’s children come up short. More than 25% of Georgia children live below the poverty line (already set pretty low), and the state has the 6th highest child poverty rate.

“Is it the government’s job — my job to feed my neighbor’s child? I don’t think so,” Canadian federal Industry Minister James Moore.

Moore said this in a radio interview about child poverty and hunger in British Columbia, Moore’s home province.

“Obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry … but is that always the government’s job? To be there to serve people their breakfast? Empowering families with more power and resources so they can feed their own children is I think a good thing.”

Moore hit on a conservative theme: giving more power to families to feed their own children. Or using private charity to help those in need. In theory, that sounds lovely. It doesn’t match the reality on the streets and in the neighborhoods.

To reiterate, Moore did apologize later for this remarks.

“Great work has been done to tackle poverty and the challenges associated with poverty. And while more work is needed, I know the cause of fighting poverty is not helped by comments like those I made last week. For that, I am sorry.”

Rep. Kingston is worried about poor children thinking the world is full of “free lunches.” MP Moore is worried about people thinking the government job is to feed children who need food.

Children, regardless of social structure and status, do not think about how much food costs. They don’t get that toys can be expensive, no matter how cool they look on TV.

If the children are poor, then they already know their world are not filled with metaphorical free lunches.

The government’s job isn’t to feed people. And food assistance doesn’t do that; food assistance allows people a boost so they can afford rent and food. You can treat it as a subsidy to farmers markets and grocery stores if that will make you feel better.

MP Moore’s suggestion of empowering families to feed their own children is a rather good suggestion, but neither the United States nor Canada is doing so.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.