Celebrating Success in London

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Inspired by a London Free Press moderated roundtable that included several people I have a huge amount of respect for, like Jodi Simpson, Kevin Van Lierop and Chantelle Diachina, I want to spent some time talking about some of the tech-related companies and individuals in London that are doing good things in and for the community, but are also striving in London’s highly underrated tech scene.

  • rTraction - a highly skilled, well-respected web development and online marketing firm that services many non-profits in the city
  • Echidna Solutions – another great web development firm who has donated a lot of their time to efforts like Emerging Leaders
  • Info-Tech Research Group – one of the top 10 IT research firms in the world, rated as the best IT research firm by Outsell (full disclosure: I work at ITRG)
  • Resolution Interactive Media – a very talented group of web developers best known for their online training site built for LHSC, and highly interactive websites for several Ontario colleges
  • Big Blue Bubble – a local video game development company, probably best known for Burn The Rope right now
  • Antic Entertainment – local video game development company that has won awards for their game Junk Battles
  • Start Communications – an Internet service provider, with their own network around downtown London, that customers have been raving about ever since the UBB debate flared up earlier this year
  • Aaron McGowan – a well-respected, and very talented, freelance programmer that specializes in mobile apps and mobile websites
  • Digital Extremes – a large video game developer that’s produced several blockbuster titles like BioShock, Unreal Tournament, Homefront and Dark Sector

And there are lots of others, most of which can be seen on TechAlliance’s Member Directory. For instance, I bet you didn’t know that DirectDial.com is owned by EK3 Technologies, which is based in London. I’m not going to sit here and boast about my company, Orpheum Hosting Solutions, but I do believe Orpheum’s providing a much needed service to freelancers and small business owners!

So really, I won’t sit here and listen to people complain about the lack of a tech industry in London. No, we’re not Santa Clara, California (in the heart of Silicon Valley). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an industry to break into, or a need that’s going unserved. In fact, if you’re feeling frustrated with your attempts to find a job as a developer or networking professional, London has enough small businesses that the right business plan and marketing will get you the opportunity to do plenty of work. I used to freelance and got the opportunity to build computer networks from scratch for several businesses, and I knew a lot less then than I do now.

Here’s the video.

One Way Forward

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Canada. Canada has survived and thrived over the past 144 years thanks to good leadership, determination, and vision. A vision of a nation designed to provide the most essential human rights we all deserve, while providing the opportunity for people to define their own destiny. But that ability is being threatened. Threatened the powers that be who are willing to stifle our democracy, continue to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and put additional tax burden on your daily lives. Taxes, both literal and figurative, that will come in the form of higher levies on blank CDs and DVDs, a stifling of innovation by the absolute demolishing of fair use laws, an inability to get the country connected to high speed internet, so-called “support” for students that only aggravates the problem many students already have paying back student loans, allowing more and more seniors to fall below the poverty line, superprisons for unreported crime, and funding cuts for organizations that support the victims of crime. And all this leaving the sandwich generation with less time and money to help their kids or look after their ill and aging parents.

It’s a dismal state that must be corrected.

Canadians need choice. Canadians need freedom. Canadians need security. And most of all, when things get rough, Canadians need support. What they don’t need is a government that is so eager to put them in prison that they’re going to spend billions of dollars on new American-style superprisons. What Canadians don’t need is a government that seems hellbent on turning us into a warmongering nation, spending billions of dollars on jets without engines, and forgoing our previously well-known reputation for being peacekeepers. What Canada doesn’t need, or want, is to leave our neighbours and families out in the cold when they need our help the most.

It’s high time we stood up for the country we live in. Now is the time where we must look to the future and decide what we want this country to look like, to act like at home and around the world, and how we want to be seen amongst our peers. We have a very serious choice to make, and it can make or break this country.

In order to survive and thrive in the next 144 years, this nation has but one way forward. We need to invest in ourselves, in our communities,  and in the way of life we hold dear. That means making decisive, wise choices in how we spend our money, how we treat the future leaders of this land, and how we treat those that are suffering.

We need to invest in our children and grandchildren. Students need genuine help getting to and through school, and that’s why the Liberal Party’s platform introduced the Learning Passport, providing up to $1500 per year for students that get the grades, and deserve to get a post-secondary education.

That’s why the Liberal Party platform brings back the deal it signed with the provinces, that was killed by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, ensuring each province has the ability to get the funding they need in order to train new early childhood educators, create more childcare spaces, and help parents out in the way they need to most.

Canadians should have the right to take the time off work you need to look after your parents without being penalized for it. That’s why they want to create a new Family Care Employment Insurance Benefit, so that caregivers take six months off work to care for gravely ill family members at home; and on top of that a new Family Care Tax Benefit worth up to $1,350 annually, to help low- and middle-income family caregivers manage the costs associated with looking after their parents.

And, of course, those who need the healthcare system should feel comfortable knowing that it will be there to take care of them thoroughly, efficiently, with the best care possible. The federal government has to continue to work with the provinces to make that a priority now and in the future.

We need to expand and enhance the Canada Pension Plan, before it starts having the same problems the U.S. Social Security Plan has. Canadians need to know the CPP will be there for them, and will make a meaningful impact on their retirement lifestyles. Canadians have also been clear that existing retirement saving methods aren’t enough. That’s why the Liberal Party has proposed a Secure Retirement Option – an enhancement to the CPP that’s voluntary, leaving you with the choice to participate or not, and not run by the banks.

We need to ensure that affordable housing is available, that we leave this country and planet cleaner than it was when we came into it, where service to your community is recognized and rewarded, and where the arts get just as much respect as our office workers, construction workers, and doctors do. Canadians need to know that the food on their table not only tastes great, but is good for them and won’t make them sick. And rural Canada, in all its forms, finally get the respect it deserves from the cities it feeds.

That’s the Canada you deserve. That’s the Canada I want to live in. Anything less is unacceptable.

And when we can afford it, we will reduce taxes. We will reduce personal income taxes. We will reduce business taxes. But we can’t go on running the country as if printing more money is the answer. This all has to be done responsibly and with a level head recognizing the situation for what it is, and the implications of where money comes from, and how it’s spent.

So join me in voting for a Canada we can all be proud of. Vote for your local Liberal candidate, and give them the mandate to turn this country around and into one that all Canadians can be proud of, and is once again respected on the world stage. Our livelihoods depend on it.

Effect Senate Reform via Elections

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I believe I have come up with a solution for how to get each party represented in Parliament without adding new steps to a citizen’s electoral process, and even without the need for additional stumping on the campaign trail. If you read this and have actually come across the same, or similar, idea before please let me know. I’d be interested to talk to like-minded people about this.

Here goes…

Current Situation

Current Senate, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Senate – currently an unelected body of representatives that are appointed by the current governor general (under advice of the current Prime Minster) whom hold their positions until they turn 75 – is the part of our government that has to approve bills after they pass the House of Commons (where our elected MPs sit and discuss bills and other issues). Since new Senators are chosen by the sitting PM, all of them are either Liberal or Conservative, and the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the House.

It’s bad enough the House of Commons doesn’t reflect the true will of the people thanks to the existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. Why does the Senate purely reflect the will of past PMs?

I propose that we impose a proportional representation system on the Senate, so that the number of seats assigned in the Senate are directly proportional to the percentage of votes each party has received, with a minimum of 1 seat being assigned to any party that receives a significant number of votes, or maybe even to any party that has received any votes.

The Solution

Going back to the 2008 Federal Election, here are the results for percentage of nationwide votes by party:

  • Conservatives – 32.67%
  • Liberals – 30.23%
  • NDP – 17.48%
  • Bloq – 10.48%
  • Green – 4.48%
  • Other – 4.66%

Note that only the top 4 parties won seats in the House, and the Bloq wins a disproportionate amount because all 10.48% of  votes come in Quebec. But what do those numbers mean for the Senate? Well, currently the Conservatives hold 52 out of 105 seats, the Liberals hold 46, Progress Conservatives hold 2, Independents hold 2, and 3 are vacant. Instead of this current oligopoly, the makeup of the Senate using proportional representation would be quite different:

  • Conservatives – 34 seats
  • Liberals – 32 seats
  • NDP – 18 seats
  • Bloq – 11 seats
  • Green – 5 seats
  • Other – 5 seats

Looking that over, I suppose it would be best to split those other 5 seats amongst the next top 5 polling parties (I think we have to draw the line somewhere, but that’s up for debate). Whether they be fringe parties like the Communist Party of Canada, the Rhinoceros Party, or the Christian Heritage Party – as much as you may disagree with their politics and policies – the people who voted for them deserve to be heard.

So what now?

At this point it’s important to note that each province has a set number of seats in the Senate. I’m not sure whether this should be continued or not. In the USA, each state has a junior and a senior Senator. I think, for the sake of provinces currently feeling under represented in Parliament, this should be done away with. Instead of each province having a set number of seats, instead each party should be able to choose their best and brightest to sit in the Senate.

One other thing that I’m open to suggestions on is term limits. I think a limit of, perhaps, 8 years or two elections should be in place. While the Senate should theoretically provide a steady, guiding hand for the country, fresh ideas are still needed. I suppose we could let previous Senators back in after being out for one or two elections, but I think most of us are a bit tired of “career politicians,” especially those Senators that were appointed for life prior to recent changes, and even those that are appointed until 75 yet don’t sit in the Senate nearly as often as our MPs do in the House.

What I like about this is that it’s easy to implement. Citizens are already voting for their favourite party/candidate at the local level, and this practically guarantees them representation in Parliament regardless of the results in their riding. It doesn’t require extra effort, math, deciding which parties they prefer in what order, etc. Same tick in the same box as before, with Elections Canada applying the numbers to the Senate, and then calling upon each party to send their best and brightest to the Senate for whatever term we decide appropriate.

Is it perfect? No, of course not. The existing FPTP system stays in place, but I think this is a quick and easy way to bring about electoral reform without confusing the populace (including me).

So let’s open this up for discussion. Love it? Hate it? Suggestions for improvement? What say you?

Why Ideology Generates Bad Policy

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Since the current federal election campaign began, and the CBC, University of Toronto & Université de Montréal unveiled their Vote Compass tool, more than ever before I’ve noticed just how partisan people can get when you’re not even talking about policies. Though the Liberals seem to be taking a bit of support from the NDP and Greens early on, we all know that “the right” is fairly unified beyond small fringe parties like the Christian Heritage Party.

What I have never personally been able to understand though is people who support a party, and therefore that party’s local representative, with blind faith. They identify themselves as small ‘c’ or capital ‘C’ Conservatives, and therefore feel like they need to fall into line with their Dear Leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. No doubt he maintains an iron grip on the party and most of its communications, but I think we’re starting to see an increasing number of people, thanks to the aforementioned Vote Compass, start to question themselves and their allegiances (or at least the Vote Compass).

And regardless of your politics, you must be able to actually rationalize your support. I’ve had several online discussions with regular people asking them to justify statements like, “North Centre, its time to be rid of Pearson. Vote Susan Truppe!” By all accounts prior to this, I’ve heard Glen Pearson is a terrific MP, regardless of whether he’s a Liberal or not. When I asked the woman who originally said this, plus the two people that retweeted her, why they wanted to oust Mr. Pearson… well, let’s just say none of them came up with a valid reason.

The way I see it, ideology in politics gets in the way of reason just as much as religious ideology does. Always identifying yourself as a Conservative, therefore implying that you believe in a fiscally and socially conservative government, ignores the fact that most people are indeed centrists.  There are, no doubt, supporters and members of the Conservative Party that are in favour of same-sex marriage. And though the Conservatives say they have no plans to re-visit the issue now, they were indeed against the idea when it was made legal in Canada.

In the same vein, there are probably Liberal supporters and members who support the purchase of new F-35 jets and superprisons. Should these people suddenly identify themselves as Conservatives? Surely not. Historically the Liberal Party is a centrist party, and welcome all who feel they belong into “The Big Red Tent.”

So what happens? People who identify themselves as wholly left wing or right wing ignore the fact that there will always be good ideas coming from the other end of the political spectrum that they can get behind. I can get behind a corporate tax cut to 16.5%, but not now when the federal government is still running a massive deficit. I’m also a fan of high speed rail, but I fully recognize that it’s an expensive endeavour that has to be fully costed and paid for without putting a massive amount of debt on the backs of taxpayers, whether individuals or businesses. All avenues have to be explored to make sure any idea is feasible.

And there’s the problem. When you see yourself as purely Green or NDP, and the party proposes a set of policies you don’t like, they fall out of favour with you. You feel like they’ve turned your back on you. It happened to me when I donated money to the federal NDP back in 2006 and, suddenly, I was literally a card-carrying member of the New Democratic Party of Ontario. I didn’t ask for a membership or card, but I got one nonetheless. When Mr. Layton, and the party, started leaning further left than I’d like, I felt a bit betrayed. It’s silly, but true.

And while I would love to argue for an end to partisanship, I know that’s just blue sky thinking. Instead, what I would like to argue for is a respectable, sensible debate over representatives, policies and platforms. Look at the facts, look at the people, then make up your mind. Feel free to go into an election not wanting to vote for the incumbent, but don’t tune out all of the other options just because you don’t think you could ever vote for, as an example, the Pirate Party. It’s not easy, and I’m certainly guilty of keeping the blinders up at times, but it’s well worth the effort in the end.

If you’re the type of person who eventually wants to run for office, you and I both know that independents rarely get elected. There’s a case to be made for spending some time raising your profile in your community by, earnestly, attending philanthropic events, participating on committees, volunteering your time to various causes and, therefore, making enough of a name for yourself that running as an independent is worth your while. It wouldn’t be an inexpensive affair, but it could certainly be worth it if you thought you had a decent chance of winning without a party affiliation.

This whole notion of ideology generating bad policy gets far worse at the top of the party. These are the people who are so in the trenches that all they see is the ideology. They sit there day in, day out strategizing, polling, and trying to figure out how to get their party into power. I can’t think of a worse career. The stress these people must go through, I imagine, is tremendous. They’re tasked with crafting ideas and costs that may get them praised or simply booted out the door.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, and now the Conservative Party of Canada, illustrate just what a bad idea it is to let ideology dictate how you run the country. Former Premier Mike Harris started Ontario down the road of the Common Sense Revolution. As Naomi Klein shows us in a column written in the fall of 2001, it didn’t exactly make Ontario a better place to live. And really, isn’t the goal of public service to make the place you live better for everyone, or at least most of us? If not, shouldn’t that be the goal?

Prime Minister Harper likes to harp (ha ha, get it?) on the fact that the Liberals will raise taxes if elected. Yes, they will… one tax. They’ll undo the recent corporate tax decrease, moving it from 16.5% back up to 18%. What Mr. Harper likes to ignore is the fact that the Liberals decreased the corporate tax rate by 10% while they were in power during the 1990s, led by Mr. Jean Chretien. But again, ideology blinds us from even giving a pat on the back to the other guys for doing something good and smart for Canada when we could afford it.

The real problem is that these men are very idealistic. Once in power, they have done everything they can to lead Canada down one road that isn’t led by a vision, but by an ideology.

In recent history, we’ve seen time and time again where ideologies like “free market” and “regulated market” fail miserably. They don’t allow for a balanced and fair approach somewhere in between that not only allows businesses to thrive, but to compete and drive innovation, increasing choice and competition for consumers in the process. There is a place for regulation, and also instances where red tape must be removed. To argue otherwise is to blind yourself to the possibility of a middle way forward that benefits all parties involved.

Maybe that in itself is an ideology… that there is a middle way between the extremes. I would argue that it isn’t – that the middle way is simply an amalgamation of the best ideas from all sides of an argument. And even if you could make the case that it was an ideology, I would still argue that it’s likely much better than the extreme left or extreme right on any issue.

My point is, following a particular ideology leads you to create policies specifically geared towards meeting that ideology. You don’t end up taking into account the needs of all stakeholders, and anyone with an iota of knowledge on how to run any organization will tell you that’s a bad thing. You may end up ignoring a large part of the population, which then leads to the types of revolts we’re seeing in the Middle East and North Africa now. Clearly things aren’t the same here in Canada, but much of this entry has been about extremes.

So I ask you to take the blinders off and don’t simply dismiss an exercise that tells you you actually align better with the policies of another party. Is that really so bad? If the Vote Compass tells you you align with the Conservative Party’s platform and policies, shouldn’t you at least take a moment to investigate whether it’s true? Most everything you need to find is available in the same way you took the Vote Compass – on the Internet. Look up this opposing party’s website, read the platform, talk to the candidate in your riding. You may discover something about yourself you didn’t know, and, as long as you’re being true to yourself, that’s probably not a bad thing.

Keeping Track of the Candidates (EML)

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This Federal election, it’s easier than ever to keep track of what candidates are doing and saying. At least, it should be. Yesterday I showed you how to keep track of the candidates in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex. Today, as promised, we’re going to be looking at the candidates running in Elgin-Middlesex-London.

Joe Preston – Conservative Party Candidate

Graham Warwick – Liberal Party Candidate

Fred Sinclair – New Democratic Party Candidate

UPDATE: Ryan Dolby dropped out and Fred Sinclair is in for the NDP. Both the Conservative and Liberal candidates have made themselves very available online on both big social networks, along with their own websites where more contact information exists. Fred’s on Twitter and Facebook, but his Facebook page currently has 0 likes.

Again, if there are other parties you’d like me to dig up the information for, please let me know. I know of the Christian Heritage Party, and other fringe parties, but we all know they don’t get many votes. However, I will still dig up the information if you want me to.