Voting the Rejecting Way

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I don’t want to vote. The First Past the Post system means if I want to vote for a particular party but don’t like the candidate, I have to vote for the candidate to register a vote for the party. And if I like a particular candidate out of all of them but not the party they represent, I have to choose between candidate and my preferred party. It’s nuts.

To make matters worse, our Parliament and Legislatures are becoming more and more about The Leader and the MPs or MPPs are simply seals that bark to command. And so voting for candidates because of who they are and their background is becoming meaningless. You’re simply voting for a human to keep a seat warm in their party’s section of Parliament or the Legislature. It’s disheartening.

But then I’m reminded that people died to keep Canada a democracy, to keep it free from fascism and totalitarianism. I’m reminded that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with teeth, that came about because we’re a democracy. And a key way to keep Canada a democracy is to vote. I’m reminded that it’s the people’s voice that keeps the police and politicians from blanketing our highways and cities in CCTVs, which allow tracking of our every move and strip us of anonymity, a hallmark of democracy. Autocracies need to, and like to, track its citizens wherever they are. I’m reminded that it’s our voice expressed through votes that decide how much of our privacy will be stripped from us, whether we approve the arbitrary use of police force okayed by Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal government during the 2010 G20 in Toronto.

But what to do when the First Past the Post system disenfranchises you, when you don’t like the three big parties, when you don’t like the candidates in your riding?

Remember first that if you don’t want your democracy usurped by something else — by an autocracy, by one man deciding your fate — then use your vote.

If you don’t like the three main parties, check out the Greens. They may surprise you as reflecting you and your political wishes. And perhaps see a vote for a smaller party as sticking it to the big guys.

And most importantly remember you can reject your ballot. It’s a protest at the ballot box.

If everyone who sat home on voting day went to their polling station instead to reject their ballot and have that rejection registered, then the politicians — and the media — would have to take notice. And maybe then our leaders would seriously bend their minds and actions to improving our democracy.

So go and reject your ballot! I am.

Brain Health

Brain Injury: the Government Ignores, the People Remain in the Dark

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BIST (Brain Injury Society of Toronto) was founded in 2004 and has grown to 469 members, as of this week’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). I looked around at the 50? 40? 70? or so members in attendance and was rather surprised. But as the AGM progressed I thought about those growing numbers and BIST’s new focus this past year on fundraising and awareness, as reported by the various committees and 11-member board.

But from the abysmal brain injury care in Ontario, you wouldn’t know there is an epidemic out there.

When I first joined, I had no idea who was on the Board and who volunteered, even though I had a good sense of who were the active members with brain injuries from falls, meningitis, crashes, tumours (no hockey). Today, members of the Board are making a concerted effort to get out to the meetings and making known who they are. And by the end of the evening, it struck me that like the Board, putting ourselves out there where we live and engaging is what we people with brain injuries need to do.

Everyone knows about cancer; breast cancer is the charity du jour. Half the population suffer from heart disease, and the other half know someone who’s had a heart problem. Rick Hansen has done a stellar job of bringing attention to spinal cord damage, and people in wheelchairs are visible representatives (even if that is not the reason why they must use a wheelchair). But unfortunately brain injuries are invisible, though plentiful.

The Brain Injury Association of Canada says “thousands of Canadians incur a traumatic brain injury each year the majority being young adults.

And so, as usual, we Canadians must look to the US for detailed stats (and that was true even before Prime Minister Stephen Harper nixed the scientifically sound and comprehensive look at our population, the long-form census). Every year, 1.7 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury. Using the ten percent rule, that means 170,000 Canadians have their brains damaged each and every year. And like Americans, twice as many men as women.

As I listened to the reports at the AGM, I thought how daunting the task and how needed to make people aware of brain injury and its devastating effects on the injured. Hockey fans are becoming aware, but only as it applies to hockey players and with incomplete understanding of its lifelong effects.

Sidney Crosby appeared recently with his doctors to talk about his concussion and their expert opinion that when he is one hundred percent better, it will be like he hadn’t had a concussion, that his risk of another concussion will be back to what it was before his two.


How can they know that? There is no technology that can look at the brain in such detail so as to know the brain matter is one hundred percent healed and regrown, that there are zero changes in neuronal metabolism and structure.

The science is so new and still in the dark ages, relative to heart disease or cancer treatment, that to say we know with certainty the future and the risk is full of hubris. But then I’ve discovered too many doctors, particularly neurologists, are like that — think they know it all in the face of great ignorance, think they recognize brain injuries when the cognitive ones zip right over their heads — and so why would the population be any more knowledgeable?

Researchers are finding that people who have traumatic brain injury have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, and so on. Yet they cannot say if the long-term effects of brain injuries are different in people like me who’ve had active treatment for cognitive deficits. But to assume not is a dreamy, potentially dangerous assumption.

I’ve met people who’ve experienced bad bangs to the head but with no broken skull, maybe only temporary unconsciousness, which they’d shrugged off and if they saw a doc, told it’s just a concussion, watch for a couple of days, then should be fine. Yet when they hear about some of my difficuties, they go, “hey, I have that too.” They always thought whatever “that” was was normal. It isn’t. I never had these injury-related issues pre-car crash. Most people don’t. Yet they had an impact on these people’s lives, and because they never made the connection, they didn’t understand the problem, never mind how to heal it and improve their lives.

It doesn’t help that even if you recognize you need to see someone about it, you can’t in Ontario because of lack of funding for neuropsychiatrists, no funding for psychologists who are on the forefront of active treatments, and severe cutbacks to community care. When no one knows about brain injuries, except as hockey concussions, why would the government fund adequate care?

Crosby and his docs have presented his concussion as healable as a simple broken leg, just takes longer. Even when concussions are recognized as real injuries with bad effects on the brain, they’re still represented as happening only to hockey players and having no lasting effects, thus no big deal.

Yes, the AGM theme is right: we need more awareness to stop injuries, to have access to good treatment, and to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of the walking wounded.



My #elxn41 Experience

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It’s almost 2:00 am as I begin to write this, the morning of May 3rd, and I’m watching the local election results and now the BC election results on CBC. It’s been one of those elections that are so unexpected that even though I’m not happy with the Conservative Party majority, I’m finding it hard to wind down. I blame Twitter.

I’ve never had an election experience like this before. Usually, in the weeks leading up to the election, I read the papers, I watch the short TV news stories, and in the last one, I also followed opinions on Twitter. Then on election day, I watch the results on TV and have short convos with people I know in real life about the results. Ho hum.

This year was different. First so many reporters came onto Twitter and live tweeted events, shared pix, cracked wise or trivial — that they gave me an inside picture of the leaders’ campaigns I’d never seen before. It was relevatory and fun, especially when the unthinkable happened — the Orange Crush. And second, so many more people were tweeting about the election today than have done so before (at least that was my impression) that it truly felt like I was part of the entire country. I saw results come from Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada in real time, not as a 2-second clip prior to the Ontario and Québec results being released. I got a glimpse into the electoral map on our east coast in a personal way. And it made me feel closer to that part of the country. The same with British Columbia. In fact, seeing Canadians in east and west opining on national and their own local results caused me to notice the absence of those in the North tweeting their territorial results.

Because I was so caught up with what was going on nationally from east to west in Canada on Twitter, TV, and online streaming, I forgot all about my own local results. I wasn’t too concerned because I honestly felt that, as usual, Toronto would resist the wave of change.

I was wrong.

People in Toronto historically, for the most part, vote Liberal and seemingly always vote incumbent. The familiar name is the safe name, never mind that our MPs just do not represent our needs and interests in Ottawa despite the billions in taxes we send that way. We vote them in time and again, and they reward us with big words, magnificent promises, no action. Our city is crumbling, and our MPs do nada. Apparently, fellow Torontonians noticed, and many decided to take a massive risk and vote for a new name, a different party. Awesome. Unfortunately, around Toronto, voters went blue instead of orange or green.

The Twitterverse, usually not in sync politically with the non-Twitterverse, was not happy with the Conservative win. All sorts of complaints flew around about it’s all the NDP’s fault for vote splitting. But as one of my followers said, vote splitting has benefitted the Liberals in the past. This is not new. And that is not a reason to impose upon us a stuffy, stultifying two-party system. The Canadian Alliance came from the Progressive Conservative Party so the unite-the-right was essentially fixing that split. But NDP came from CCF not Liberals, and Greens are not left. So unite the left is not the same as unite the right.

What is new in this election is that so many Canadians right across Canada chose NDP in enough numbers to make them the Official Opposition. They are not the Liberals, and they will bring a different tone to our Parliament because NDP Leader Jack Layton has demonstrated an ability to negotiate with Harper, because he doesn’t huff and puff dramatically then quits, because Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (though only one person has a strong voice) will be there and will back up Layton in trying to bring a more respectful tone to the House, because they have not wavered in policy goals, and because they learn.

One thing that both Harper and Layton have demonstrated is that patience and persistence pay off for those who do not lose hope, who don’t quit, flip, or switch. Those of us yearning for electoral and Parliamentary reform to restore our democracy, would be wise to learn from that and to see that the NDP, the only big-three party for reform, is one step away from government and being in a position to effect reform instead of crying that all is lost with a five-year Harper majority. (Yes, it’s bad, but Canada will survive.) This is the time to persuade Tory voters that democratic reform is very important, too important to ignore in the next election.