Sunday, September 27, 2015

Canadian Electrion 2015 - Latest thoughts

If one believes the current political polls it looks very much that Canadians will wake up on the morning of October 20th with the likely probability of a minority government. Both the NDP and Grits have ruled out a coalition with the Tories and Trudeau seems to have shut off the possibility of a similar united front with Muclair, although he will probably reconsider the decision should the opportunity arrive.

Coalition governments are not always a hallmark of instability (although they often are – look at Italian politics). The British Conservatives for one joined together with the left-of-center Liberal Democrats to govern the country between 2011 and 2015 with a degree of moderate effectiveness. Stable coalitions have played a role in Japanese and Benelux politics as well.

However the problem though with a likely NDP-Liberal coalition is that the power share between the two parties weighs in at a roughly equal level compared to the traditional European coalitions where the centre of gravity is generally skewed toward one party (in Britain’s case the Conservatives).

Muclair is the better of the two with respect to leadership potential. He has a more definite understanding of economic issues and has so far acted with pragmatic intent (a cue taken from Tony Blair who masterminded Labour Party success in 1990s) but his party has three pillars that can fracture with ease. The Quebec caucus is his most powerful base but it is notoriously fickle, provincial and susceptible to splintering should the conditions change. The hard left vote will stick with him but it cannot deliver a government on its own and the BC caucus support can easily be drained by the other two parties. He will have to tread carefully to placate these groups whose interests don’t necessarily align.

Trudeau is a poor choice for PM based on tangible credentials. He has virtually no experience in any project of merit and comes across all too often as an intellectual lightweight. However he does carry a Canadian name built on mythical acclaim (rather than actual substance) and represents a party that in the view of many Canadians (especially immigrants) owns the default status on governing. He has national appeal but much of his support comes from a negative bloc that seems to detest Harper more than they really like Trudeau. Still he enjoys strong media support and in trying to be everything to everyone has built up a base that seems capable of rescuing the party from the doldrums of the Dion and Ignatieff eras.

Neither Muclair nor Trudeau is likely to play second fiddle in a coalition for too long and what will likely occur is that the one will bring down the other with a no-confidence vote (normally on a budget issue). We could therefore be back at the polls within two years or so.

So where does this leave Stephen Harper? With the Duffy scandal receding into the background and the boost of the great news of a budget surplus, Harper needs to keep his attack going on both opponents. He has remained firm on the migrant issue and should not cave into pressure from the opposition. A strong stance against the Niqab (which reflects the view of a majority of Canadians) issue may help drive voters from the NDP to both the Bloc and Tories in Quebec. He needs to keep pushing the obvious truism that both the Liberals and NDP will likely increase taxes. Vote splitting between the left and left-of-center candidates may help him in key ridings but there is no doubt that he is facing an uphill struggle.

The mood in the country seems to be for one of change and that does not bode well for him. Charisma is not his strong point and he is struggling to make inroads with young voters. However he needs to fight back with vigour. He has been a consistent champion of Democracy (and Western Civilization) on the international front and has called out many a dictatorship when he sees it. People need to know more of that.

As a Prime Minister he has governed over a stable Canada that all but cleaved into two following the mishandling of the Chretien Liberals of the Quebec crisis (during the Grit’s earlier tenure). He also should exploit the endorsements offered by Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberals (arguably one of the most fiscally irresponsible governments in Canadian provincial politics) for Trudeau. If he can weaken Liberal strength in Ontario he can pull back much needed votes for his party in a part of the country that appears to be Ground Zero for Battleground Ottawa.

Still its too close to call. Election results can surprise everyone. Cameron came back from the wilderness in 2015 to win in the UK as did Netanyahu in Israel.
Harper should not count on this. He still has time to steamroll Trudeau as a neophyte ill-equipped for the job and can force Muclair to make hard choices that will divide rather than unify his support base. The time is now. This campaign is far from over.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Teaching - First Week Retrospective

Well I just survived the first week back at school which most teachers can testify is more an act of mind altering strategy than conventional pedagogy. On one level its akin to a rebirth on another it screams out for a throttle back of self that after the bliss of the summer is antithesis to the soul.

Students take first weeks seriously and appear to pay more attention to the first quiz than they do to the fourth or fifth test of the course. From both sides of the divide (teacher/student) expectations dominate. Nobody wants to leave a bad impression and this colours the order of business. My priority is to make students feel welcome, establish the ground rules of the course and nurse an excitement on which to build an atmosphere for future learning. With some classes, and I have two this semester, the connection is immediately there. I am not sure if I can quantify what this means but it seems to be a resonance in personality between the teacher and the class’s core group of students. While this resonance undoubtedly helps it can take time to develop and in the odd case might actually fail to emerge.

This does not mean that the student’s fail to learn but it does imply that the process of learning may be more cumbersome and mechanical in its follow through. As a teacher I have learnt to expect this and don’t live under the delusion that my style of teaching can conquer all. Still an immediate resonance is most welcome. Ultimately it translates to an ease of teaching.

Even so with even the best of classes there are individual students who run the risk of being overlooked, and if not given the level of personal attention, may negatively splinter in their grasp of the material from the core group. This is the real challenge of teaching - reaching those students, while keeping your focus on the core group and exceptionalities on the other end. I call this the 'Juggling Act of Teaching'. Take you eye off any of these elements and spheres come crashing downward. No teacher wants that to happen.

Thirteen years of teaching have afforded me the opportunity to develop these multitasking skills and while I have still much to learn I know now that the raw enthusiasm and book smarts which guided me in my early years only serve as a foundation for the real teaching knowledge that evolves with each student taught.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Liverpool - not feeling warm and fuzzy

Despite the fact that Liverpool seem to have improved their attack with the acquisitions of Christian Benteke and Danny Ings I am still not feeling the confidence that I believe that I should be with this apparent improvement in squad depth. Two goals in four games (one of which was controversial) do not appear to highlight an attacking format that will be the envy of the League. Part of this is that the stakes have been raised. Man City have retooled and while Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal are still struggling to fire on all cylinders one can sense that it is only a matter of time before these giants hit their stride.Couple this with the impressive performance of Swansea/West Ham/Leicester and it is obvious that Liverpool will have to scrap for each point if they are intent on consolidating a top four finish. However it is still early days. The Premiership may yet throw up a few curve balls that will possibly bounce in the Reds favour. We live with hope.