Well, we’re coming up to a provincial election, and I wanted to research the political parties to see what I could find. I’d actually like to make an informed decision. I thought I’d summarize my research here. I’d like to point out, before I start, that I am quite biased against the conservative and wild rose parties. However, I will try to present their information accurately as possible, with maybe only one or two points of snark.

Liberal –

Huzzah to them for having the most easily accessible party platform. Their healthcare ideas are first, they want to guarantee wait times, and want to give incentives for doctors to become generalists (which is really needed, considering my family doctor is retiring and couldn’t even give away his practice because no one wants to be a GP). They also want to help train foreign doctors to Canadian standards. For seniors, they want to increase home care, in hopes to decrease their dependency on hospitals, which seems idealistic that it would save money. Another thing that sounds good, but is unclear how they would fund it, is a curriculum based, non-profit option for preschool and daycare. In addition to that, they want to modernize our parental leave, which is the worst in Canada. For energy, they want to create higher penalties for companies, and destroy some of the energy cartel that has sprung up. Sounds good, but no reference to where the money comes from. Their ideas on education are great – lunch programs, student loans independent of parent income, forgive parts of loans to grads who work in Alberta. I find the lack of any mention of costs or budgets pretty worrying though. On the other hand, they have some interesting ideas about government reform, to reduce it’s size and cost.  Oh I found their money section, tucked away at the end. They want to increase the tax rate for those earning over 100k/year, as well as for large corporations, cut the same carbon storage plan that Wildrose wants to cut (except the Liberals state they want to promote new, better technologies to control emissions), and cut private school funding (it’s private school for a reason..), in addition to reducing government departments and number of MLA’s/MLA salary. The increased taxation sounds good, but I’m worried large corporations and wealthy individuals will leave the province, hurting us in the long run.

NDP –

Also easy to find, but slightly harder to navigate. They begin, however, by attacking the PC’s, which I disagree with as a campaign tactic. See the end of the Wildrose section for the explanation. For healthcare, they want to protect seniors, increase funding and number of providers, without stating how they will fund, or fix the system. The NDP wants to reregulate and create an independent watch dog for energy companies, and promote local power generation. Their ideals for education are pretty darn vague, saying they want to “work with schoolboards,” as well as the ubiquitous lunch program and smaller class sizes. They want to freeze and reduce tuition fees, as well as institute the same incentive for grads to work in Alberta, all pretty good there. As an aside, I don’t like how they blame evil big corporations for the state of the province (along with the Conservatives), it strikes me as being very paranoid. Their environmental policy is filled with idealistic plans such as grants to retrofit homes, cutting that carbon capture program (I think each party has listed a different amount saved from that), double monitoring, and banning the sale of our water. Their budget is pretty vague about where all the money is coming from, and has a very strange unit, seemingly making their spending look smaller than it is. Additionally, their hatred of large corporations could really hinder Alberta’s economy.

PC –

Their platform seems to mostly surround the things Allison Redford has done recently, such as give pharmacists the ability to renew prescriptions. They also state how they support libraries and education, without really saying anything that they plan to do to support them. They also state that they will be giving grants to agricultural societies to get young people involved in the agriculture industry (can you tell which vote she is trying to get?). Somewhat surprisingly, the PC position on crime (especially youth and gang related) is to focus on community prevention programs, which are more likely to work than incarceration. The part about their budgeting is pretty vague and has a lot of buzzwords that don’t really mean a lot, same with the part about “wellness” and health. Although they sound good, they don’t really have any details (especially about where the money will come from for all these clinics with extended hours). They had a good outline of the budget, which sounds pretty fancy, until you think of things like how much we rely on royalties from oil, and the statistics about wages and employment sound good, except for the fact that ridiculous salaries in the oil patch are skewing the results. While some of the PC platform sounds good, I find myself disbelieving that any of the new proposals will happen, since Redford backpedaled on so many of her leadership race promises. Why should we trust her now?

Wildrose –

They have some interesting ideas about keeping the balanced budget, and a solid goal about how much spending they want to do. However: a warning sign is that they want to eliminate carbon capturing and storage, without an alternative. Does this mean they are human induced climate change denialists? I sure don’t want people in power who deny basic scientific fact. I do, however, like how they focus on the long term cycle of boom and bust that Alberta has to contend with. I’m also worried about their proposals for education. They want to prohibit school fees for public, private and charter schools. However, they don’t say how they will cover these costs for schools, so I interpret this as a cut to schools that they will have to cut more teaching positions and increase class sizes. They also plan to change educational funding so that parents can have more choice in educational programs from public, private and charter schools. This seems pretty decent at first glance, however the subtext says to me: they want to let private and charter schools teach things other than Alberta curriculum, and possibly deny children important facts about evolution and sex education. This seems directly aimed to fundamentalist religious groups. Their plans for tax deductions for children and activities seem positive; keeping in mind the tax cuts and budget balancing they want to do may throw a wrench in the works. They also want to spend a percentage of surplus amounts giving a dividend to Albertans, hard to argue that, seems like a campaign promise to make them popular, like the kid who brings chocolates to buy into the popular clique. Their healthcare plan sounds a lot to me like privatization and a two-tiered system, since they want to allow people to go to independent or out of province facilities for treatment, on Alberta dime. I can’t see how this will make our broken system better, there will still be the inherent bureaucratic nonsense that plagues our system. And how will this encourage doctors and nurses to work in Alberta, since we have a shortage?

The other thing I don’t like, is that they attack the PC party. Similarly to how the federal Liberal party instigated a smear campaign against the Conservatives, the Wildrose seem to promote the idea that they don’t really have a campaign platform aside from “the other guys suck.” Now, I’m not saying that the PC’s have been perfect, or that they don’t deserve criticism – they do. But, a party platform is not the place to put such criticisms. I’d rather see a focus on what their plans are for when they are in power.

So there we go, a summary of the campaigns of the 4 big political parties. I haven’t decided who I will vote for yet, but I strongly feel that it’s time for the Conservatives to lose power. They have instituted some terrible laws, and have not been doing their jobs properly. It’s time for a change.

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I’ve just finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s an interesting look at how products (whether that product be a physical item or an idea or concept) go viral. Basically, by getting the right type of people, the right number of people, and knowing how to make your message “stick,” it can cause a social epidemic, just as a carrier can infect the right number of people with a contagious virus to cause a disease epidemic.

However, these social epidemics do not all have to be negative. Gladwell cites examples from the fashion world, like making shoes popular, as well as crime prevention models. I find it all to be very McLuhan-esque. McLuhan stated that the medium is the message. The way a message is presented to us is equally, if not more, important than the actual message itself. This corresponds with Gladwell’s analysis of epidemics. Having the right type of person (a “connector”) spread a message through a short-list of acquaintanceships is more important than what exactly the message is. No one will listen to it, even if it is truthful and important. Not only that, but unless your message has the right context and “stickiness” (generally, how well a message sticks in the minds of the receivers, and how well they interact with it), it will not “tip” into an epidemic.

The one thing that stuck (haha) in my mind, was an example Gladwell used at the end of the book, to pull all his ideas together. He discusses an incident that occurred in Belgium in 1999. About 100 children in 5 different schools became ill; symptoms included nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shaking, and headache. It was noticed that the first few cases occurred right after a bottle of Coke was drunk. When the company analyzed that batch, they found that indeed, the Coke was contaminated with sulphates, which should have produced a bad smell. However, not only were the levels so low that they should not have produced illness, less than half of the cases were actually associated with drinking Coke. Gladwell’s hypothesis was that one of the kids to get sick was a connector type. The child gave the rest of the children a context for being ill, and the message stuck. Many of the other children who became sick, did not do so because they had a contaminated drink, but because it became an expression of their social surroundings.

Does this remind you of anything? It sure reminded me.

In Ontario recently, there has been a lot of concern about wireless networks in schools. Parents reported seeing symptoms in their children shortly after a wireless network was installed in their school. Symptoms included dizziness, anxiety, faster heart rate, hyper activity, and a whole slough of other symptoms that are fairly vague. Now many have dismissed this as being overly concerned parents buying into the media hype. And, I suppose to some extent it is, but I think Gladwell’s explanation fits rather well, and may give clues on how to combat the nonsense that wireless networks cause harm to anyone. It’s the same situation as the Coke. The first few students probably did get sick. It could have been anything though; allergies, exam anxiety, anemia, etc. However, because of how our minds look for patterns, parents correlated the sickness to the wireless, but didn’t look for confirmation. Then enter “experts” and the media, and we get the nice circus that has been going on.

Then, because of the “stickiness” of the message – these sick kids are getting way more attention than normal – a context evolved. More children could become ill, because there was a social situation that allowed it. Suddenly we have an epidemic of children who are becoming ill.

If we know that we have a social epidemic that has tipped, how do we answer it? Just telling the truth about wireless networks wont be enough, because the message isn’t sticky enough compared to the epidemic of sick children. If the medium is the message, then the message is sick kids, and there’s not too many things that will trump it.

The message that wireless technology is safe needs a new context. The message itself needs to be spread through a smaller network – national newspapers wont do, even if they did publish the science behind it. Perhaps the answer is for businesses who provide wireless to promote it, thereby making people realize how ubiquitous it is. Perhaps as more people get smart phones, they will become more accustomed to the technology and fears about it will ease. I know I don’t have the answer, but it is worth trying to find one so that we don’t lose a valuable technology (yes, useful for education too) to irrational fears.


Going to to the chiropractor seems to be a common thing in Alberta. Almost everyone I know has uttered those words at one time or another. It’s one of those things that seems ubiquitous and I had never really thought about it until I became interested in the skeptical movement. At first, once learning about the basis of chiropractic history and theory, I dismissed it as complete nonsense. Now, after reading more information about it, and seeing some of the research, I believe it’s mostly nonsense.

Every time I think about chiropractics, I remember some family members discussing X-rays they saw at their chiropractor. “They’re exactly the same as 10 years ago!” they cried. While they thought this was great evidence of how effective the chiropractor was, I thought to myself, doesn’t that mean it hasn’t done anything?

However, that being said, there is some evidence that spinal manipulation is about as effective as any other therapy for back pain. Of course, none of the treatments are terribly effective, but some relief is better than none. So, I will agree with you: if you have an aching back, and you went to a chiropractor, and you felt better afterwards, wonderful. It helped. I’m happy that you are feeling better.

It’s just when chiropractors start to move outside the science that I start to get worried.

Here is what happened. At a mother’s group, one mother asked to speak. She very passionately described her poor boy’s troubles with colic and acid reflux. She then described how after taking him to the chiropractor, he was miraculously cured. This mom recommended that we all take our babies to the chiropractor to cure what ails them. I felt the horror well up inside me. I felt sick at the thought of letting someone crack my baby’s back, or neck. I, not wanting to rock the boat, managed to contain myself with a warning to the other moms not to let a chiropractor touch anyone’s neck, due to fear of injury or stroke.

Personal feelings aside, what about the science?

Colic is a terrible thing. My baby had evening colic, and there was nothing my husband or I could do but bounce him on our shoulder, hoping that he would eventually fall asleep. Those were dark days, as I was struggling with the baby blues, and he was exhausted from working and parenting. I felt helpless, and useless, and I wanted nothing more than to soothe my poor baby and take away all his problems. I can completely understand how any parent would want to try anything in order to cure it. .

However, no one really knows what causes colic; if there’s even just one cause. The wikipedia page is decent – at least until the “4th trimester” section, which is a blatant advertisement for a book (I read the book, the ideas have merit, although he didn’t present any research to back up his findings). Theories range from stomach trouble, to sensory overload. All we know is that it can start from 1 month after birth, and ends usually at 3 months. This is why I doubt this woman’s story that the chiropractor cured her son’s colic. At the time of the testimonial, her son was at least 6 months old; way beyond the threshold for colic. I can’t be sure she didn’t take him to the chiropractor during the 3 month colic period though.

None of the mainstream theories regarding colic have anything to do with the back. The only theory that does, is the one perpetuated by chiropractors themselves – something about birth trauma to the spine. Trauma that no one else can see. I can imagine that this mother tried remedy after remedy in order to help her baby, just as I had done. I can also imagine that the last thing she tried – seeing the chiropractor – before the colic resolved on its own, was attributed as a cure.

The logic behind chiropractics curing acid reflux is even thinner. The spine is not connected in any way to your digestive system. For a brief review, check out this you tube video. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach ( which could be producing too much acid) acid leaks up through the sphincter into the esophagus and creates that burning sensation. This would be terrible for a baby. He or she would be in pain and not be able to understand why. It would make nursing difficult and perhaps even intensify the pain. There are medications to help with this, and as far as I know, this condition is relatively rare.

Again, I can understand why you would want to do anything to help your baby, I hate seeing my baby in any sort of pain or discomfort. I also know how scary it is to have to give a baby any sort of medication, and how reluctant I would be to do so. This would be increased if you have any sort of doubts about “chemicals” or doctors. However, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that a baby’s (or your) digestive system is connected to the spine. They are separate systems, and there is no physiological connection. The spine is a series of bones that protect and support your spinal chord. Yes, nerves do run out from it, however they are related to sensation and movement within your limbs. Not pain within your esophagus.

If you, as an adult, wish to see a chiropractor for your back problems, or even anything else, that’s fine. You are responsible, and able to make your own decisions and conclusions about the health care you wish to receive. However, don’t extend that to a baby or a child. Infants and young children cannot speak for themselves, and as such you owe it to them to give them the best, science-based care that you possibly can.

For a bit more detailed account of chiropractic pediatric care, check out this post at Science Based Medicine.


As a new mom, I’ve been introduced to entirely new worlds; that of parenting, and that of alternative infant care. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, people want only the best for their darling children, including myself. It probably is genetically inherent to become slightly crazy about the welfare of our children. Think what an evolutionary advantage it would be. However, in today’s world, being a parent is no reason to let your skeptical guard down!

I’m suspicious that my 3 month old has started teething. Trying to confirm my suspicions, I asked my mother’s group about signs and ways to alleviate symptoms. There was the usual symptoms of drooling, chewing and irritability, and the usual treatment of cold chewy things. (As an aside, one thing I learnt was that baby anbesol has a Health Canada advisory) One mom recommended that I get an amber necklace to help with teething pains and fussiness.

Say what? Amber?

Luckily for us, that day at our group, a dental hygienist also discussed the same topics. She asked if anyone was using amber to help for teething. She then noted that it was a choking hazard – since the necklace could come apart and the beads are easily bitesized. She also said she couldn’t recommend using it since she could only recommend things that were science and evidence based. That made me feel slightly better, as my skept-o-meter had been going off ever since the mom first mentioned the amber. However, it was still slightly a cop-out, I felt.

Here are the claims:

  • it is one of the oldest teething remedies
  • it is natural pain relief
  • it is analgesic and anti-inflammatory
  • it decreases fussiness and irritability
  • it protects against the (imaginary) effects of electrical equipment
  • succinic acid (which can be created by grinding up amber) is a part of the Krebs cycle in cellular respiration
Health Canada also issues a warning against these necklaces, but just based on their being a choking hazard. They say nothing about the effectiveness.
So let’s look at the claims.
1. It is an old teething remedy. Well, this doesn’t impress me too much. I don’t really care how old a treatment is. I really just want to know whether or not it works. A good example of an old treatment that does nothing is bloodletting. There are many others too.
2. Well it is natural, however again this says nothing about how or whether it works or not. The google told me nothing, although some sites tell me that the body heats the amber which allows oils to absorb into the skin. Now the big concern with this is: your skin is a big ol organ. Its main function is to keep stuff out. That means, while stuff can absorb slightly into your surface cells, not much really penetrates far in unless there is a wound. Check out the wikipedia page for more info and a nifty diagram. The other explanation on how it causes pain relief is even more silly, talking about organic energy and such. A quick search on pubmed found nothing.
3. Same for no. 2
4. Fussiness and irritability are very hard to quantify. It can wax and wane throughout the day and depends on so many factors, such as how many naps the baby’s had, whether the baby has gas, how hungry the baby is, etc. They’re the perfect symptoms for us moms to be biased about. I know that I find my baby much more fussy on days that I’m tired or have a headache. Is the baby really more fussy, or am I just less tolerant? Unless you are fanatically timing how long your baby cries, and measuring decibels, I’m not sure how you would reliably measure such things. Also, when using something like the amber necklaces, I would be inclined to notice the non-fussy periods and disregard the fussy ones. It’s human nature to do so. (An anecdotal example: the mom who recommended it to me said her baby was never fussy anymore, yet he fussed throughout the 3 hours we were in the same room).
5. This is an interesting one. It’s another very subjective symptom. The radiation that is given off by electronics is very low energy. It’s on the same spectrum of energy as the visible light we see, X-rays, and gamma rays:
EMR spectrumYou can see that radiation (or electromagnetic radiation, not nuclear radiation) given off by microwaves, tv, radio, and other devices not shown on the graphic are lower energy than visible light. They’re lower energy than heat (infrared). It’s very doubtful that this type of low level radiation does any harm to us and does not cause any symptoms. Especially not symptoms that wearing amber can protect you from. In order to protect yourself from this type of radiation, you better turn off all the lights and put yourself in a Faraday cage.
6. The IUPAC name of succinic acid is butanedioic acid. It’s mainly used as a sweetener now, although traditional uses, as claimed by the amber websites, were for pain relief. It’s also a chemical involved in the Krebs cycle (also called the citric acid cycle). This occurs at a cellular level, in an organelle called the mitochondria. The Krebs Cycle is a part of how cells turn sugar into ATP (the type of energy that cells can use). Since succinic acid is created at the 8th step in the Krebs Cycle, I don’t see what affect it would have without more of the beginning products. Of course, I’m not a biochemist, so I could very well be wrong. Even if adding succinic acid ramps up the Krebs Cycle somehow, there’s still the problem of how succinic acid would dissolve through the skin and into the bloodstream in order to do so. Additionally, the body may use it, but it doesn’t have any pain relieving or anti-inflammatory properties. Again, I couldn’t find anything on pubmed.
In conclusion, these necklaces are not effective in helping baby’s bear teething pain. While I agree that moms want to do everything right for their children, they don’t need to try every miracle treatment. I know I’ll have a handy wet cloth in the fridge to help my little guy through his teething pains, since that at least has some effectiveness, even if it wont be 100%.

Great Grains

25Aug11

Recently, I’ve heard the claim that human beings aren’t supposed to eat carbs, because agriculture is only 300 years old, and therefore, carbs are not a part of our natural diet.

Well huh. I’m no archaeologist, but perhaps I can try to muddle through this. Let’s think back to humans in a hunter/gatherer society. First off, I’d like to point out that the “gatherer” part would include edible roots (very startchy) as well as wild grains. My frantic wiki-ing has confirmed this. So right from the get-go of human civilization, carbs were a part of our diet. Were they a large part? No. Did they eat as many carbs as we do now? Of course not. In fact, my research at google university indicated that a Paleolithic hunter/gatherer type diet was quite healthy, and that these tribes were healthier than many in an agricultural society.

I feel like I’m arguing in circles here: let me explain. Agricultural societies initially fared worse than hunter/gatherers not because of some digestive issues. It was more of a societal thing. Throughout the middle ages (and probably before), farmers were serfs. They did not benefit from the foods they grew, and they did not have access to the rich diet a hunter/gatherer would have. So of course, when the majority of a population is half starved and is only eating grains with a small portion of vegetables, they will not be healthy. I’m sure the noble class fared much better. To say that eating carbs is unnatural is false; it would be better to say that eating only carbs is unhealthy.

Going back to the claim that agriculture is only 300 years old, we can see that this has to be false. 300 years ago would put us in the 1700’s. We know that Europe has been farmed for way longer than this. We know that crops were cultivated in South America for thousands of years. It makes evolutionary sense. Once people stopped moving around with their food source, steps had to be taken to ensure they could feed themselves. This means agriculture and domestication of animals. I would be willing to bet that agriculture has been around since the first cities and towns were settled.

What implication does this have for our modern diet? The average person can afford to eat a rich and varied diet. We can buy meat, fish, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables – even out of season. Our nutrition has the potential to be the best it’s ever been. I will agree that people eat too many carbohydrates. I will also agree that most of the carbohydrates we eat are rich in refined sugars and are not healthy. White bread could be the bane of our existence. However, whole grains and fibres are an essential part of our diet, and there is no reason to think that we should not be eating them.


Paradigm Shift

07Jul11

I was recently sent a link to a youtube video, part of a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson for the RSA.

I thought it was a fantastic representation of some of the problems with our current system, and where we should be headed. Fortunately, I feel that this is where we are heading, at least in Alberta. Of course, as with any significant change, it is slow in coming, and filled with many problems.

Over the past 6 years or so, Alberta Education has created an initiative called AISI, or the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement. One of the things it has provided, is professional development for teachers to help improve their practice and teach in new, innovative ways (however it may not last long as the government has cut AISI by 50% this year). For example, it encourages teachers to move away from assessment based teaching. Ie, the practice of teaching a concept in a lecture format, giving an assignment, and grading it. Such marks based programs are irrelevant in the long run, and do not prepare the student for any situation later in life. Rather, teachers should encourage a learning environment where students explore material as a means to get to the end: mastery of the concept. Any mark or grade would then be awarded based on the student’s mastery of whatever concept taught.

This system does have its flaws, I agree. I also agree that in certain situations marks based assignments are necessary (for example, to test student knowledge in a unit or final exam). However, they should be used sparingly in order to make their presence more significant. By giving too many marks based assignments, they become dilute and worthless as far as student learning and grading is concerned.

However, that was not the main point of the video, just a brief explanation of where Alberta education is, and where it is heading.

The idea that education must move from a teacher-centred, lecture based system, to a student-centred, inquiry based system is not a new one. It is difficult to implement it in our current system. Our funding, our grade programs, our post-secondary education system, and our teacher training are all based on grade achievement. I would love to see schools restructure based on ability rather than age, however the logistics of that in the public system are horrendous at best. It’s not that it can’t be done, just that enough people in high places must be dedicated to do it.

Especially interesting, I thought, was the visual regarding ADHD. Now, I am also not an expert in such things, and I do believe that a certain segment of the population does have ADHD. The visual did provide some food for thought, although I doubt the correlation is as simple as a technological, conservative east versus a liberal, artsy west. I do also wonder though, if ADHD prevalence isn’t increased just due to the nature of our society. In other words, while a certain segment of the population does have ADHD  the true prevalence is masked by confounding factors. For those who say it’s a new, completely invented disorder, think about our increased knowledge of brain function and our increased diagnostic tools. The concept that is ADHD now would have been classified in a different way previously. This is similar to the “rising autism prevalence” seen now that is based purely on the changing definition of autism spectrum disorder.

If you think back to McLuhan, “the medium is the message,” consider what our mediums are like today. Instant. Flashy. Continuous. Think back ten, twenty years and consider how slow paced TV was. I don’t mean the plotlines were slow moving, I mean the scenes were longer, the movement between characters slower, the volume lower. Take a look at the difference between these two commercials: an Infinity commercial from 1990, and a Lexus commercial from 2011. This is a difference of 20 years, and the change is remarkable. The Lexus commercial is faster, brighter, gimmick-ier, and more attention grabbing. I would argue that you can see this change in every medium. If this is what our children (and ourselves) are exposed to, is it any wonder that we have shorter attention spans?

There is one point where I am a little at odds with Sir Robinson. He, albeit briefly, mentions that standardized curriculums should be discarded. I disagree. Standardized curriculums are essential. There are so many times, especially in education it seems, where change is foisted on us with the assumption that it must be good because it’s a change. How do we know this for sure? If we are to change education paradigms, and I believe we should, then we must keep the curriculums the same, at least in the beginning. If we don’t, how would we get a basis for comparison? How would we know that these changes are indeed beneficial? The curriculum outcomes, in Alberta at least, are general enough that the learning can be achieved using many different models. In order to tell whether we are doing students a favour by changing our entire system, we must keep some things controlled. This may also involve keeping our standardized tests every 3 years.

At any rate, I am glad to see some support that Alberta’s education system is moving in a positive direction. I feel that we could have a world class education system again, government cuts notwithstanding.


With the federal election come and gone now, it will be interesting to see how things pan out. While I feel that the conservative minority government previous was fairly ineffectual, this was mostly due to being stonewalled by the other political parties. The government since the 2006 election has been little more than the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc fighting over power, rather than actually governing the country. This will be Harper’s chance to show the country what he is made of. I’m not entirely sure if I feel that having a conservative government is the right way for Canada to go, however, I do believe Harper is an intelligent man and one of the stronger leaders in Canadian politics. I feel that having a majority government is a wonderful thing to have at the moment, and having the NDP as a strong opposition will create balance to some of Haper’s more inane ideas.

That being said, I thought it would be interesting to examine the Conservative party platform in detail, and to track over the next few years in subsequent blog posts, how well the Conservatives follow through.

There seems to be 5 prongs of the platform, aside from blowing of horns over Harper’s “success” in riding out the recession. He wants to create jobs, support families, eliminate the deficit by 2014/2015, make the streets safe, and “stand on guard” for Canada. These all seem fairly generic platitudes that really, no one can argue about. In fact, none of these prongs seem especially unique to the conservative political ideology, aside from eliminating the deficit. The devil, they say, is in the details.

As I am a school teacher, let’s consider this the Harper government’s program of studies. Since teachers are learning to become more accountable to the program of studies, teaching lessons by outcome rather than by what’s in the textbook, or what they’ve always taught, it seems the government should be accountable to their self-imposed program of studies.

The Harper government states it will help create jobs for Canadians by:

  • Not raising taxes for consumers, families and businesses
  • Giving small businesses an EI tax credit as an incentive to hire more employees
  • Helping businesses keep employees by enhancing the work-share program (without stating how it will be enhanced)
  • Prohibiting a mandatory retirement age
  • Providing loans and mentorship to young entrepreneurs
  • Enhancing the student loan program for part-time students (without stating how)
  • Allowing students to earn more money while still receiving student loans
  • Enhancing research done at colleges and universities
  • Providing loans for immigrants who need to upgrade credentials before finding a job in Canada
  • Legislating a “one for one” rule, where any new business regulation must be accompanied by getting rid of an older one.
  • Encouraging businesses to adopt new information and communication technology (interesting, when he would like to restrict consumer use of internet, and our telecommunication laws are still in the dark ages)
  • Investing in First Nations land management, adult education in the territories, and environmental upgrades to fuel tanks in the North

The Harper government states it will eliminate the deficit by:

  • Continuing with the economic stimulus package
  • Giving “specific measures” (not specifically mentioned) to cut program spending
  • Reviewing government spending

The Harper government states it will support families by:

  • Establishing a family tax cut, which will allow couples to share income and hopefully pay less income tax
  • Doubling the children’s fitness tax credit, and establishing an adult’s fitness tax credit
  • Establishing a children’s art tax credit
  • Extending the ecoEnergy retrofit homes program by a year
  • Establishing a family caregiver tax credit
  • Increasing the guaranteed income supplement for seniors
  • Doubling the amount that can be put in a tax free savings account
  • Implementing a low cost pooled pension plan
  • Working with provinces to reduce wait time for health care

The Harper government states it will “Stand Guard” for Canada by:

  • Expanding various parts of the military, such as purchasing an F-35, build new ships, and expand CFB Bagotville
  • Reintroducing and passing the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act
  • Enhancing the coast guard by giving them greater power to enforce laws, upgrade their equipment, and establish armed boarding teams
  • Reforming the laws regarding deportation of foreign criminals to reduce appeals and ease the process of deportation
  • Extending the Security Infrastructure Program to help prevent hate motivated crime
  • Introducing undescribed legislation to “give law enforcement the tools they need to investigate and prevent acts of terrorism”
  • Defending religious freedom (hopefully including the freedom to not have a religion)
  • Supporting and investing in such environmental measures as building new national parks, and switching to renewable energy sources (hah, good luck)

The Harper government states it will make Canada’s streets safer by:

  • Funding enhanced EI benefits for parents of murdered or missing children
  • Prohibiting inmate drug abuse by creating yearly drug testing, give inmates additional charges for possession while in jail, and deny parole to inmates with drug offences
  • Amending the criminal code to help prevent seniors better
  • Re-introducing the Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defense Act
  • Giving mandatory jail time to reduce contraband tobacco trafficking

Do I agree with all of these things? No, of course not. Some of them seem sensible, but others make me wary that our human rights and freedoms may be impinged. I’m also worried about the drastic cuts to program funding that all these tax breaks may cause. However, the posting of this is not merely to judge, but to see how many of these things the government will actually try to follow through on, rather than conveniently forgetting. Of course, initiatives brought up into the House of Commons but defeated wont count against Harper, since in all fairness, he would have tried to put it into legislation.

As cliche as it sounds, only time will tell us if Harper actually has a decent head on his shoulders. In any event, his party was almost the only legitimate choice, after the shennanigans of the other political parties.

As an aside, check out this SkepticNorth article on voter apathy and skeptical voting. There is an amazing TED video on road blocks to citizen participation in our political system.