Category Archives: Friends



Thank you to Rick for inviting me to post this on the Smatters blog! I’m very happy to be guest blogging. The purpose of this series is to give my American friends a better understanding of the political system in Canada. Again, as with part one, this is all from memory, so please forgive me my lapses (and Canadians, please do correct me if I’m wrong).

Part the Second: Parliament and Parties

Canada’s federal legislative branch is the Parliament. It’s comprised of two houses – the House of Commons and the Senate. Unlike the US Senate, the Canadian Senate is appointed. Similar to the US Senate, it is rife with scandal (Google “Mike Duffy,” for example) and obstructionists (Google “Canadian bill C-279,” for example).

When Canadians vote for the Member of Parliament (MP) from their riding (a riding is akin to a Congressional district in the US), they are voting for their representative in the House of Commons. This is the only direct vote the Canadian public has for federal representation; Canadians do not elect the Prime Minister (PM) directly, unlike the election of the US President. In the case of a majority government (ie, one party wins more than half the seats in the House), the leader of the majority party becomes the PM. (Currently, PM Trudeau of the Liberal Party leads a majority government; in the previous session of Parliament, 2010-2015, PM Harper of the Conservative Party led a majority government.) In the case of a minority government, when no party has won more than half of the seats (what Harper had in his previous terms as PM), a coalition needs to be formed between several parties in order to select a PM. Deals are made, agreements are reached, and usually the leader of whichever party won the most seats becomes the PM.

In the US, we’ve had two main political parties (with shifting platforms and party identities) basically since the Lincoln/Douglass presidential race of 1860 (ie, 7 years before Canada gained its independence). Third parties (eg, Bull Mosse, Greens) and independents (eg, Ross Perot) have occasionally made waves, but it’s mostly been Democrats and Republicans running the show in the US.

The party system is much more complex in Canada. After the federal election of 2010, the New Democratic Party (NDP) skyrocketed to prominence and replaced the Liberals as the official opposition party (ie, the party with the second highest number of seats in Parliament); at one point in 2015, the NDP were expected to win the most seats in the election and form the next government. Also, the Greens have maintained one seat through the past few elections. And the Parti Quebecois (PQ), though not as prominent as it once was (or as its predecessor, the Bloc Quebecois, was) since the diminution of interest in Quebec separatism, holds seats in Parliament as well.

So why are there so many parties in Canadian national politics? Well… partly it’s due to differences in regional interests. The PQ addresses interests that are (for the most part) specific to Quebec. The NDP has broader appeal now, but most of their support base originated in the prairies.

I think there’s another reason for the proliferation of parties in Canadian politics, though, and this one should be informative for Americans interested in the development of viable third parties in the US. It’s because Canadians only vote for their MP’s, and not their PM. When a third party rises to prominence in the states, it’s usually because they’re running a charismatic presidential candidate. All of the focus ends up on a single candidate at the top. But the way to effect change isn’t by starting at the top; it’s by starting at the base. Canadians, because they only vote for their MP, have no direct influence on who their next PM is. Everyone knows who the party leaders are, but they’re not voting for them directly (unless they live in their ridings – eg, Trudeau’s riding is Papineau, Quebec; Harper’s riding was Calgary West, Alberta). They are voting for whichever candidate in their riding best represents their interests, which is why regional issues sometimes play out on the national political scene. And because minority governments (especially) are inherently unstable, relying on coalitions of parties, third party MP’s can exert substantial leverage on big issues by deciding which larger party to (temporarily) lend their support.

The lesson here, for Americans: expecting a third party or independent to win the presidency in the foreseeable future is probably not realistic. There are no third parties or independent movements with enough sustained involvement at the base to pull this off from scratch. Because of this, at the presidential level, the most valuable thing you can do with your vote is probably to use it to support whichever big party (Republican or Democrat) nominee best represents you, even if they do not represent you perfectly. If you’d like to support other parties, the local and Congressional levels are where you will have (by far) the most leverage. This is built in to the Canadian system, but not the US system. And this is why it is essential to vote in all elections, not just every four years in the presidential ones.

A Primer on Canadian Politics (for Americans) – Part 1

Thank you to Rick for inviting me to post this on the Smatters blog!  I’m very happy to be guest blogging.  The purpose of this series is to give my American friends a better understanding of the political system in Canada.

Part the First: Head of State

Canada is a part of the British commonwealth; what this means (amongst other things) is that officially, the head of state is the reigning British monarch; ie, currently, the Queen. Her representative in Canada is the Governor General. This position was much more meaningful in the days when the monarchy was more deeply involved in administrative affairs, and communication technology involved slow, fallible wooden ships. Now the position seems a lot more ceremonial; however, the Governor General still does have to sign off on various official acts in Canada – calling an election, forming a new government, and proroguing parliament.

“Proroguing,” as I understand it, is when the prime minister decides to close shop on the sitting parliament for a while. There may be legitimate uses for it, but it can also be kind of a bullshit move. The current prime minister (Stephen Harper, Conservative Party) prorogued parliament in late 2009, ostensibly because he wanted Canada to focus on the winter Olympics in Vancouver, but immediately before the prorogue there was a lot of grumbling in parliament and the press about some shady dealings he’d supposedly been involved in; speculation (on the left, anyway) at the time was that he just didn’t want to answer questions and he hoped it would blow over. Anyway, the Governor General rubber stamped the prorogue, parliament went home for a few months, the Olympics were awesome, and the furor over the issues did quiet down.

So clearly, the Governor General’s position (and by extension, the Queen’s role) is still important in Canadian politics. If the Governor General hadn’t signed off on it, parliament could not have been prorogued, the prime minister would probably have been asked to answer some uncomfortable questions, and possibly there would have been a call for a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Next installment:  Parliament!  (No, not George Clinton’s Funkadelic.)

Friend Links

I’ve decided to collect all my “friend links” here. I’m starting to collect “dead wood” in my blogroll by pointing to blogs that haven’t been active for a couple of years. I want to keep the links in case they become active again.

Do Zombies Stink?

This question arose in an after-dinner conversation last night. A quick Google search on nearby phones uncovered little to clear up the subject, so I figured it was my duty to post something about it.

I admit I’m not up on the state of the art in zombie movies. Most of my knowledge was acquired from cheesy horror comics in my youth. Of course, everything we know about zombies comes from media depictions: written stories, TV, and movies. So the question of zombie odor doesn’t really apply to audiences. “Smellivision” was never a popular concept.

So, what do zombies smell like?

Continue reading Do Zombies Stink?

Backlighting remains tricky

Friend and colleague John posted a comment on backlighting, noting that part of a stop can significantly improve exposure. I think there are two observations worth making here:

  1. Automation is stupid. Until we get Do What I Mean brain interface debugged, cameras will make a best guess.
  2. This is what I like about photography: the opportunity to exert control over how the image gets captured.

Although I learned a bit about photography years ago, I still blunder with camera settings. I didn’t mind the shutter speed while snapping pics of dancing. I find I have to literally exercise a special bit of my brain to look at the lighting of a scene. Otherwise I fail to assess backlighting or realize that the shadow will make a huge black slash through the image.

I find that I rely heavily on Photoshop-like software to redeem over- and under-exposed photos. It’s usually good for 1 or 2 stops on a digital camera, though the colors may suffer. Unfortunately there’s no related technology to un-blur a moving subject.