Thoughts on politics

So, parliament has been prorogued, and the proposed coalition government will have to wait another two months before having another try. What do I think of this?

First of all, I’m disappointed – I thought the coalition would be a fine way to salvage a functional government out of a deeply divided parliament. We have a horribly broken electoral system that results in a parliament that does not reflect voters’ preferences. We have a Conservative government now that received about a third of the votes – and it must be said that half of the eligible voters didn’t bother going to the polls at all, through apathy, or else because they knew their votes wouldn’t count for much of anything.

Proroguing parliament in this case is clearly just running from the vote that would bring down the government, giving the coalition a chance to try to govern in its place. That vote was already postponed (it was originally supposed to be Monday, the 3rd, I believe). I think it was Bob Rae who I heard saying that it was “Like a kid pulling a fire alarm so he doesn’t have to write a test.” This parliament hasn’t really had a chance to do anything at all yet – no bills had been voted on at all. It’s rather similar to the way Harper called the election for October 14th, actually – he dissolved parliament the day before three by-elections. This meant that the government managed to avoid the bad press that losing those elections would have given them (all three ridings favoured other parties strongly). It also meant that the other parties, at least in those ridings, would have to be campaigning for 3 months straight – certainly in my riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie, several parties were very low on money at the beginning of the real campaign, having budgeted for the length of the by-election campaign.

So the government has been granted a reprieve – but what for, really? I think it’s obvious that the very first act of the new session of parliament in January will be to vote against the government. There’s just no way that Harper can restore confidence in himself or in his party (practically the same thing, the way he runs things). So why delay the inevitable? What can be accomplished in two months without a sitting parliament? Rather little, I think. The only thing I can think of is that, in January, the Governor-General would be more likely to just call a new election rather than let the coalition have a try.

That said, I don’t really lay the fault with the Governor General. While I wish she had decided otherwise, it’s a difficult decision to make. Normally, the Prime Minister decides that prorogation is desired, advises the GG of this, who then makes it official. The only way she could really refuse this request would be to say that Harper is no longer the prime minister, since he does not enjoy the confidence of the house. That’s a tough call to make though – on the one hand, all non-conservative MP’s (with the exception of the two independents) had written to her to say they did not support the government, clearly indicating a failure of confidence. On the other hand, it had not yet been formally recognized by a non-confidence vote in the house – this would have happened on the 8th, had the prorogation request not been granted. Technically, he is still the Prime Minister, and while not constitutionally obligated to grant his request, there’s a lot tradition behind the practice.

I’d say, though, that this is one of those very rare occasions where the GG should have been more than a rubber stamp. The office has become more and more of a symbolic one, just doing whatever the PM requests, and this is more in that direction. If she just follows tradition and precedent on all decisions, what’s the point of the position at all? Do we really need a purely symbolic head of state? I’d say that her role is really precisely to step in and work outside the well-established rules of the house, and do what’s right for the country, and for the system as a whole. Letting the government run from a confidence vote, preventing parliament from doing its job is not what I want to see.

So we’re left with an ineffective government for another two months, one that’s bound to collapse within days of parliament resuming in January. Stephane Dion will have even less time to serve as Prime Minister, since he has committed to stepping down as soon as a replacement is chosen. I can’t see this decision as being good for Canada in any way. It looks to me like Harper’s just hoping that something happens in the next little while that somehow makes him look good, so that they election that’s bound to happen soon won’t hit his party too hard.

edit: One unlikely, but interesting possibility is that the opposition coalition could call an emergency session of parliament to vote down the conservatives… I really don’t know the specific legalities involved, but it’s something I’d love to see happen!

moop moop moop

It is 7:30AM. I’m awake because my neighbour has left for the weekend again (if not longer) and neglected to turn off her alarm clock which sits right across the wall from my bed. It has been beeping for the past 45 minutes now. ARGH. I might be sleeping on the couch for the next few days.

New copyright bill

So, the internet’s all abuzz about the new Canadian copyright bill that’s just been tabled. It looks pretty awful… as a musician and a computer geek, this basically seems targeted mostly at me, and people who use computers the way I do.

A few things that it would criminalize that I do regularly:

  • Copying a CD (legally bought) onto a computer or mp3 player
  • Watching a DVD on a linux computer (I don’t have a tv, and can’t watch DVDs any other way)
  • Watching non-region-1 DVDs (I don’t actually do this now, but I certainly might want to, and know many people that do all the time)

There are many other things that, while legal, I never do because I avoid any DRM-laden media because I disagree so strongly with it. For example, I will never buy anything from iTunes while Apple insists on DRM, even if it’s relatively easy to remove the copy protection. This law would make it illegal for me to play songs bought legally on iTunes on my computer or mp3 player.

My biggest complaint about this bill though isn’t that it makes me a criminal for something that I don’t think should be outlawed – I feel pretty safe in just ignoring the new penalties, since the chances of being actually caught are next to nothing. The main problem is that it completely changes copyright law, and puts the wrong people in charge of it.

See, the law says, essentially, that it is illegal to circumvent any copy protection device. So if I take a DVD, break the (largely ineffectual) copy protection contained on it and copy the movie onto my computer, I’ve commited a crime, even if I’ve acted completely within the bounds of copyright law, and even if the discs contents are not protected by copyright! In other words existing laws about what copyright restricts, and how long copyright lasts become pretty much meaningless, since whoever slaps any sort of copy protection onto their media basically can rewrite the law to work however they want. If they don’t want you to make a copy of a DVD to watch on your computer, they can prevent that, legally. If they want their copyright to last indefinitely, they just have to ‘make sure’ that the DRM doesn’t magically turn itself off after the copyright expires – i.e. they have to do nothing.

In short, this law says that our existing copyright laws (thousands and thousands of words in the current Act, and many more thousands proposed to be added by this bill) are useless and say nothing, since they can all be easily overridden by anyone putting the most simplistic ‘digital lock’ onto the work in question, and even worse, it means that these new pseudo-laws are not controlled by our lawmakers (misguided though they may be, at least we can – and will – vote them out of office when they make a horrible mistake), but they’re controlled by those tech companies that make the digital locks themselves. Why should we, as Canadians, grant that kind of power to American, Japanese, and other corporations?

I’m hoping that this nasty bill will lead to quickly getting rid of this government, but I expect nothing will happen until the Fall in any direction on this front. Parliament is supposed to adjourn soon for the Summer, and it would be ridiculously rushed for it to come to any sort of vote before then. Sigh.. another quarter of a year with this ‘strong leadership’ in place, wrecking our country.

Concert reviews

I was pleased to see that harpsichordist and fortepianist Tilman Skowroneck has started a blog. I’ve been enjoying what he has to say on the harpsichord mailing list for a few years now. He wrote an article about choosing concert reviews to post publicly on a website, which bears comment.

The challenge of choosing which reviews to show people isn’t something that I’ve run into, simply because I don’t have any press clippings at all – I don’t think a review of a performance of mine has been published since I was in high school, with the exception of some large ensemble concerts at McGill in which I played a very small part and certainly wasn’t mentioned by name! I wish I could get a review done of one of my concerts, but unfortunately, it’s next to impossible here in Canada, it seems. Most of my performing is either in Montreal or else in the much smaller city of Fredericton. In the latter, the local newspaper hasn’t actually had any arts reviewers on staff in many many years, and I haven’t seen a classical concert review since I was in high school. It’s a real shame – there’s a small enough amount of classical music that you could put a review of every single concert in town into the paper without taking up too much space, but the interest just isn’t there on the part of the editors.

In Montreal, it’s a different story: there are professional music critics writing for some of the newspapers, and they do cover many classical concerts. That said, the main dailies here have concert reviewers that cannot stand early music – one goes so far as to state the fact clearly at the beginning of almost every early music review he’s forced to write. It’s quite ridiculous that they can’t find someone with a hint of interest in the music to cover the scene here, and makes the music look bad quite unfairly. The other issue in a large city like Montreal is just that there are so many concerts and established professional ensembles in town, that even in a style of music that the critics might appreciate, it’s rare to get anything written up about a small concert, especially for a new group.

Increasingly, I think private critics writing on blogs are becoming a more useful look at what’s really happening in niche styles of music, though I expect, and hope, that the situation is better in Europe. For now, every time I see an application that requires the inclusion of press clippings, I wonder if the person requesting them really knows what they’re asking for!

Perhaps I’m just at too early a stage in my career right now, and I will accumulate some mention in the press in coming years, but honestly, I don’t see it being too likely. Perhaps I’m also putting too much emphasis on print reviews – serious, informed writing about the kinds of performances I do seems to be confined to the net. Perhaps it just makes sense that way!

Take that, form TP-80-V!!

Taxes are done and ready to be mailed. And the deadline isn’t for 36 hours!

I must say, the whole tax system seems a little … off, to me. Especially here in Quebec, where we have the Quebec versions of everything on top of (or beside…) all the federal taxes and pensions and deductions and all the rest, things get so complicated that many people – probably most of the people I know, actually – just don’t bother at all. It’s particularly a shame since those people are the ones that would actually be benefiting from filling out the forms – us poor musician and student folk usually get more money back from the taxman than we’d ever have to pay! I’ve been doing my taxes for a few years now, and there are still things that I leave out that could potentially make me more money – I’m not registered to collect GST, for example, and I don’t claim any deduction on rent money or the phone/network connections, even though I do a lot of work at home these days.

The other interesting thing is how so much of it is based on the honor system, especially when declaring self-employment income. I could stick any numbers down there at all! I know this year’s isn’t all that accurate, either, because it’s the first year I’ve considered myself self-employed, and I wasn’t keeping the best of records to begin with. But who could ever know? If I can’t keep track of it, how could an auditor have any hope of finding inaccuracies over a year after the fact?

Anyway, I’m glad all the forms are done, and I’m glad I have a better accounting system in place for next year! This was the last year that I have any significant real ’employment income’ at all (i.e. ‘income that’s easy to manage taxes for’)- from now on, it’s almost all self-employment income. And if you have a problem with that, talk to my boss.