Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: January 2014

Preferential ballot in Manitoba?

Tuesday night there were two provincial by-elections in the “Tory Blue” Manitoba ridings of Morris and Arthur-Virden. The Progressive Conservative candidates crushed all competition, receiving more votes than all their competitors combined, both received over 50% of the vote. The night was pretty much as expected as far as the PCs go.

The story of the night seems to be the weakness of the NDP vote which collapsed, and the Liberals who increased their overall percentage.

This led to the following on Twitter:


Now both tweets say basically the same thing. However, the tweet from Drew Caldwell, a sitting NDP MLA reads like a warning not to vote Liberal if you do not want a Progressive Conservative government. It seems like less of a comment on the by-election, PCs were winning those ridings regardless, and more of a comment or even warning regarding the next general election.

This brings me back a gain to a topic I raised during the federal by-election in Brandon Souris, our first past the post system being broken. Here is a great example of that.

In Manitoba you have three centrist parties. The NDP are centre-left, the PCs are centre-right, and what exists of the liberals I suppose would be centre-centre (is that a term?). The two main parties, the NDP and PCs are fairly close in support a lot of the time. Mr. Caldwell’s point actually is in many respects true.

And it ends up being completely unfair to the Liberals.

If you look at the last number of years in Manitoba, it could be argued that the best potential premier of the province was the (former) leader of the Liberal Party, Dr. Jon Gerrard. The new Liberal leader, Rana Bokhari, seems to come with some stellar qualifications too. However, with the battle seen as between two alternatives, potential Liberal voters would most likely decide to vote strategically for one of the other parties.

This is another reason we need to reform our voting laws. If we were to go to a preferential ballot in Manitoba, then those who would vote Liberal could show that support with their first choice and then select their favourite of the main two parties for their second choice. It lets the third party show that it actually has some support, which I suspect is there, but gets lost in the strategies of voting day. If people start seeing the Liberals as having a little more support, they become more of a contender. More choice is good for democracy.

This is actually a time where we could get this done in Manitoba. My suspicion is that preferential ballot might actually be good for the NDP in a couple ridings going into the next general election, as I suspect more Liberals would go NDP as second choice over the PCs. In ridings like Morris and Arthur-Virden, it wouldn’t affect the outcome at all because of the strong first-choice showings of the Progressive Conservatives.

It may be an interesting experiment going into the next general election, and it may work in the NDP’s favour to try it.

Lastly, my friend Rob pointed out something else about Mr. Caldwell’s statement.

Does that mean that in the federal by-election in November, did drift towards the NDP give the Conservatives a win over the Liberal candidate? After all, had just a portion of NDP voters went Liberal, Brandon-Souris would have a Liberal MP.

Peter MacKay’s potentially wasted opportunity

Sometimes you just see something coming. You see the potential for the best possible outcome, but somehow you know that the worst or something close to it is on its way.

This is the case with the current situation on Canada’s prostitution laws. Peter MacKay needs to draft new prostitution laws by next December, and it appears that he is just going to make it worse. This is all of a sudden an issue because the Supreme Court of Canada struck down large parts of Canada’s current prostitution laws back on December 20, 2013.

The three parts of the law struck down were:

  1. Keeping a Common Bawdy-House
  2. Living on the Avails of Prostitution
  3. Communicating in a Public Place

Now, I’m no lawyer, and I will admit that the over 80 page decision was not closely read by me. However, I do understand that the crux of the SCoC’s ruling was that the three struck down areas were struck because they interfered with the “security of the person” guarantees of the Charter.

“The prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate.  They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky — but legal — activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.”

It really isn’t that difficult of a concept. The Court basically said this: prostitution is not illegal in Canada, therefore passing laws that make it impossible to practice a legal profession fall outside the accepted provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court deferred its decision for a year to allow Parliament to pass new laws to regulate prostitution. It was pretty obvious to me that by “regulate” the Court meant things such as where and when prostitution could be practiced. Passing an outright ban of any kind is obviously something that would go against the spirit of the decision made public on December 20.

So, where is MacKay on all of this? He has mused the last few days that the government is not looking at provisions against prostitutes; they will now concentrate on laws that target johns and pimps.

Targeting pimps I have no problem with. These reprehensible individuals are the lowest of the low in society and in practice serve no purpose whatsoever, other than to themselves. Theoretically they are there for protection but often end up being one of the most dangerous parts of the whole enterprise.

Johns? This brings us right back to where we started. If you target johns, then prostitution will still be driven into the back alleys and underground where it currently is, and which the court clearly said is a situation which causes a prostitute to have to ply her trade in more dangerous conditions. Sure, you can make the brothel, the security guard, and the communication all legal, but if the customer gets arrested on his way onto the premises, then he won’t come to the legal premises. Prostitution will again be driven into the same dangerous underground areas that the Supreme Court said were unconstitutional because it forces prostitutes to work in more dangerous conditions because of the law.

Pass a law that makes being a john illegal, and we’ll be right back at the Supreme Court in a few years. It’s just a stupid thing to do, and by all accounts it looks like Peter MacKay is about to do it.

I think the part of this that annoys me the most is that a Conservative government could possibly be the architects of a really good law. They take the actual harms that surround prostitution very seriously. If they could actually just take the SCoC’s decision to heart and really understand it, they could craft a well thought out law.

But no, the official Tory stance seems to be, all prostitution is bad and icky. Peter MacKay said, “We believe that prostitution is intrinsically degrading and harmful to vulnerable persons, especially women and we intend to protect women and protect society generally from exploitation and abuse.” He didn’t say that that it is often degrading and harmful, or even mostly. He said intrinsically, at its core, prostitution is always harmful.

Look, I’m not going to argue that prostitution is some grand enterprise that should be honoured. I’m not going to pretend that vulnerable people, many vulnerable people, are not involved. What doesn’t help is marginalizing them even more. It also doesn’t help when all forms of prostitution are lumped together. Every time this topic comes up, someone points to child prostitution, as if we do not have laws on the books that already make it illegal to have sex with a minor child or teenager. The legalization of prostitution would not change this.

In fact, it has been my belief for years that if you stopped criminalizing the behaviour of what goes on between consenting adults, then you would have more resources to go after those who would prey on children and teenagers. They would also be easier to identify as they would be the only ones looking for sex outside the accepted legal channels. Equating consenting adults to those who would have sex with minors is essentially guilt by association; the two issues actually have nothing to do with each other.

It really comes down to the rights of consenting adults to do what they want with their own bodies and their own money. If you want to help vulnerable persons, make sure that their only economic option is not prostitution. Create a society that lifts vulnerable people out of their circumstances and make sure that no one turns to prostitution as a last resort. Fact is, some people who are involved in the sex industry are there of their own volition and have decided that for them it is a way to make money. I find it ironic that we wring our hands about this transaction between two consenting adults, but add a third person and a camera crew paying both participants and you have a perfectly legal transaction.

I guess the porn industry has better lobbyists than the prostitution industry.

To Peter MacKay: if you are actually really concerned about the livelihoods of our most vulnerable citizens, then adopt policies that make them less vulnerable, so that prostitution is not seen as their only option. Prostitution should be no one’s only option, but if they choose it as an option, I am not the moral judge to tell them different.

Mr. MacKay needs to actually understand what the Court has said. So far he has not.

Separation of state and church…

“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”
– Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1967


This September will mark the 10 year anniversary of equal marriage in Manitoba. While our neighbours to the south still grapple with the question of gay marriage, Canada has pretty much finished with the question, and we have moved on. The sky didn’t fall down, the sun came up, and heterosexual people didn’t start divorcing en-masse to join in holy matrimony with a new same-sex partner. Canada pretty much stayed the same after 2004 and 2005; we went from the status-quo to the status-quo + equal marriage.

I however look back and wonder if we even looked at the right question. After years of thought, and an awakening about my true feelings when it comes to religion, it occurs to me that perhaps the governments of the day, and of today, have the wrong approach on this topic. Why is the government involved in marriage at all? Why did governments feel that it was their prerogative to define marriage in the first place?

Historically marriage has been a religious institution, some would argue a cultural institution, but for the most part it has its roots firmly in religion. It is in many religions, and many religions practice it in different ways. It is really a religious entity.

Now, at first glance, it may seem that I am giving credence to those who would say that their religion should have some say about how we write marriage laws in this country, this is however not the case. What I am saying is that we should not have marriage laws at all.

The government should get out of the marriage business.

Sometimes, it has been said, the obvious solution is staring you in the face. This is one of those cases. Early on in the equal marriage debate we had the idea of same-sex couples having a domestic partnership, basically marriage in practice, but not in name. I’m not sure if that was the legal term, but I’m no lawyer so forgive me, please! It was not fair, it was discriminatory, and it was not a tenable solution. It did however provide us with an alternative, in my mind a much better alternative that we did not take.

The government should have taken the opportunity to get out of the marriage business altogether. Instead of moving forward and extending marriage to same-sex couples, we should have taken the opportunity to define a clear cut separation between church and state. We should have dropped marriage as a government recognized institution in Canada.

All marriages should have become legally recognized as domestic partnerships.

This doesn’t actually mean that you wouldn’t be able to get married in Canada today, far from it. It would only mean that as far as the government was concerned, your religious practice, in this case marriage, would be of no consequence to them. The law would be blind to this religious practice.

How would this affect your taxes? It wouldn’t. You would still file joint taxes with your spouse, but as far as the government was concerned, you would check the box for “in domestic partnership”. How would this affect the validity of your marriage? It wouldn’t. That would be between you and your church. Why involve the government? If your church believes in same-sex marriages, then it performs them. If it doesn’t believe in it, then it doesn’t. No government involvement.

As an atheist it seems funny that I have to be involved in what is essentially a religious institution for my spouse and I to have the rights afforded to each other that we want to have. Yes, there is such a thing as registering a common-law relationship in Manitoba, but realistically it is not the same. Despite having had a civil marriage ceremony with a marriage commissioner, the institution itself is still very rooted in religion.

And because of that, we don’t actually want to be married anymore.

We’ve discussed it. There is no marital breakdown, we probably love, respect, and understand each other more than we ever have before. She is my best friend, and I am hers. We just don’t believe in the institution anymore. We enjoy the legal protections that marriage affords us when it comes to healthcare, property rights, and child rearing. We have a greater commitment than a common-law relationship, and we recognize that. We just do not want to call it marriage. It’s a loaded word and we don’t like it anymore.

So we’d like the government to get out of the marriage business.

And it’s not just a matter of our relationship.

We’ve seen a few couples’ marriages break up in the last few years and the fact that it takes at least a year to get un-married when there is only a waiting period of 24 hours to get married in the first place seems ludicrous. I understand that there are legal challenges when it comes to separation of assets, custody of minor children, and income support in instances where it is required. What I don’t understand is why these civil responsibilities get tied up with the religious institution of marriage. I’ve watched people remain married for years, as the monetary and custody battles ensue, to someone they despise. If we separated the legal from the religious, these people could be “divorced” in the eyes of their religion, if allowed by that religion, while the legal issues wind their way through court.

Marriage and divorce should be in the hands of religion. Domestic partnerships and their dissolution should be in the hands of the government and the courts. The two do not need to be entwined together. They are separate issues, despite many people’s belief that they are inexorably linked.

It is also my feeling that this is possibly the only solution that would put the matter to rest in the United States. The establishment clause in the Constitution prevents the government from passing laws that favour the establishment of one religion over others. Recognizing the Judaeo-Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman to me is a clear violation of that clause. The fact that the government recognizes marriage at all, in my mid, may be a violation of the clause. The American government especially, since its enshrined in the Constitution, should be blind when it comes to religious practices. This is clearly one of them.

The whole idea that the government needs to legislate people’s relationships seems more and more foreign to me as I get older. The government really has no business in the bedrooms (or churches) of the nation, just as true today as in 1967.

Got out the stopwatch…

Today I decided to get accurate figures on the time saved by the 8th Street Bridge.

With my spouse driving, we started at the “top” of the bridge on Pacific Avenue. Our route was west on Pacific until we reached 18th Street, north onto the bridge, east onto Maple, south on 17th St N, and then east on Stickney Avenue to the northern foot of the bridge. Our return trip was west on Stickney, north on 19th St N, east on Maple, south onto 18th Street, over the bridge, right on to the Pacific loop that goes under the bridge, and finally east on Pacific to the top of the bridge again.

Today’s weather was less than ideal, with light flurries and somewhat icy streets. At no time did she get over 40km/h during the trip. Being around 11:20 AM it was also getting somewhat busy.

Our trip north took us about 4 minutes and 10 seconds. Our trip south took us about 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I’m fairly sure that under better weather conditions, that this trip would have been much closer to the 3 minute mark. Also, less traffic on the Daly Overpass would have sped us up on the return trip. The only way you get less traffic on the Daly Overpass going south is if you move the traffic elsewhere, since we already have two southbound lanes. This supports my argument of paying more attention to the west side of the city.

Later, in the spring, I am going to drive the route again to see what we get.

Regardless, even if it took as much as 6 minutes to get around, the time savings is not worth upwards of $34,000,000.

Do you think that the taxpayers of Winnipeg or Vancouver would find it fiscally responsible to spend this many millions to save maybe 200 people a 5 minute commute?

I think not.

More costly than we think…

A private firm’s garbage truck ran into the Eighth Street Bridge yesterday. From a layperson’s perspective the damage looks horrible. Assiniboine Avenue goes under what appears to be the 1934 portion of the bridge. The support structure at this point is much lower than that of the 1968 portion. The street is split into two lanes under that portion of the bridge. It appears that the truck hit in the westbound lane.


Judge for yourself, but that looks like one very damaged bridge.

Now back to my thoughts on the future of the bridge itself. In a previous post I put forward my reasons for thinking that the city can do without the bridge as a traffic bridge, which when I look at the above images I tend to think that the current bridge may have just reached that state. I wouldn’t drive a car over that bridge today even if it wasn’t closed.

The thing I fear is this. A sudden closing of the bridge is not a good test of my claims. We were not prepared for this, and the Daly Overpass at Eighteenth Street has not been adjusted to this new reality. We do not have a bus route planned for this.

People are going to have delays and frustrations trying to get around during high traffic times on 18th Street, and their one conclusion, the wrong conclusion, is that we need the 8th Street Bridge.

We don’t.

What we need to do is get traffic from the west end off of 18th Street. It is really that simple. If we do something with the tracks on 26th Street and hook it up to Hilton Avenue then we lessen the traffic on 18th. If we lessen the traffic on 18th, then we get rid of the bottleneck on the Daly Overpass. If we get rid of the bottleneck on the Daly Overpass, then the 8th Street Bridge becomes unneeded as a traffic bridge. Do we add a fourth lane to the Daly Overpass. Perhaps, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the problem. However, if we do add a fourth lane that means a new bridge most likely, built by the province, not the city.

And we don’t spend twenty to thirty-four million dollars on a bridge we don’t need.

I fear that this accident is going to cost us more than we ever would have thought, because it will lead people to a conclusion that they should not come to.

I want to see an active transport bridge built there, not a traffic bridge. Even after yesterday it is the only fiscally responsible option.

One further point. What the hell were we doing letting traffic go under a bridge which we know was near end-of-life and which we knew could not take a hit? The fact that we had put up signs shows that we knew a truck hitting the bridge was a possibility. Assiniboine Avenue is not so busy there that we could not have closed it under the bridge. Hindsight is 20/20, but it now seems silly that traffic continued going under that bridge.