Tag Archives: Winnipeg

Tapping Into Prairie Roots: An Engagement Challenge for the Federal NDP




The New Democratic Party of Canada was born on the prairies.  Spun from soil, grain and sweat, the party we call the NDP came into being as a Western Canadian populist-party, steeped in social-democratic ideology. Despite proud roots and prairie pedigree (not to mention the staggering 103 seats in present Parliament) the federal NDP party only holds a total of three seats in their wellspring.

Nikki Ashton (Churchill, MB), Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, MB) and Linda Duncan (Edmonton – Strathcona, AB) are presently the only NDP MPs from the prairies planted in Ottawa.  Despite Saskatchewan being the source of political primordial ooze that the CCF evolved from, the NDP has a grand total of zero seats federally in that province. British Columbia has always been an NDP hotbed. Ontario experiences love for the NDP in waves. Quebec recently went for a ride on the Orange Wave that swept the country in 2011. Manitoba? Saskatchewan? Alberta? A giant voter desert, with several pockets of Tang colored voter oases.

Realizing that there is a persistent voter engagement problem in the prairies, the NDP is now on a grassroots mission to fortify their flock in the flat-lands, dig ideological wells and fill them with clean water for the faithful to sip from, and bring the stray sheep back into the fold. Behold: http://prairiebreakthrough.ca

As a part of that initiative, Tom Mulcair, Megan Leslie, Pat Martin and Rebecca Blaikie were out and about in Winnipeg yesterday, rallying the ground troops and preparing to map out the terrain for the 2015 battle.

In an unusual stroke of fate, my schedule allowed for me to participate in the Prairie Breakthrough event held in Winnipeg.  It was a fantastic opportunity to engage in discussion with other social democrats from around the city, listen to key leaders within the party, participate in in-depth discussions about hot topic issues/policy/future planning in the region. (Tom Mulcair even gave my eldest daughter a pat on the head, which she thought was pretty cool. )
Breakout discussions were focused on four major themes:

  1. Rural & Ag
  2. Urban
  3. Indigenous Rights
  4. National

The second half of the day was campaign skills training, and there was a significantly smaller group of participants on-hand for this portion of the event. The discussion targeted two major areas of concern: engagement and fundraising.
Despite being energized by the event, enjoying the networking and hands-on participation in the group discussions, by the end of the event, I was feeling frustrated, and even a little bit angry.  Why? The goals and desires being espoused were not matching up with the methodology.

  • The NDP has voiced a desire to engage and involve greater numbers of FNMI people, women, and new Canadians.
  • The NDP wants to raise funds and drive membership.

When I looked around the room, I was able to see a microcosm of the Party. The bulk of the participants were male. Nearly all were Caucasian and predominantly in the Baby Boomer demographic. There were a handful of Baby Boomer women, a smattering of Millennials (mostly male, several female) and several male GenXers. There were two individuals in the group that identified as Aboriginal (one a male Boomer, one a female Millennial) and then there was me.  I was the sole GenX female attending. Beyond the two people who identified as Aboriginal, there were no other visible minorities.

  • Where were the GenX women?
  • Where were the new Canadians?
  • Where were people of color, especially women?
  • Why were they not coming out to these events?

It comes back to the issue of how the NDP is going about targeting these demographics.

I had spent my afternoon listening to the youthful, bright and energetic facilitators discussing traditional methods of canvassing: phone, mail, door-knocking, email, forums.

Which is peachy…if you want to draw elderly white people.

I’m not an elderly white person. This does not engage me. This does not engage my peers.

a) I screen my phone calls

b) I don’t read bulk mail

c) I don’t answer my door to strangers/solicitations

d) I can rarely go out to a forum, especially on a week-night

e) I suffer from massive fundraising fatigue.
I’m not alone in this.
So I asked myself:

If the NDP were a corporate brand, and not a political party, how would they go to market, to reach out to these key groups, and drive loyalty?

I offered some solutions. Start with moving beyond the status quo forms of canvassing and recruitment on order to move beyond the tired “think outside the box” mantra.

Forget the box. Get rid of the box. Smash the box.

1 – Eliminate barriers to event access/training/information. Offer webcasts that people can tune into from the comfort of their homes, when they have time. Facilitate online training. Utilize tools like Skype & YouTube.

2 – Hold “tool box lunch” events in coffee shops and restaurants all over town, regularly. Offer quick snippets of training to people who want it, in a neutral atmosphere, and keep enthusiasm and commitment by making it a regular event, not just something to ramp up to an election.

3 – Offer childcare at events. Why were there so few 30 to 40 year old women (and men) in the crowd? Maybe it’s because they’re parents. Which is probably why the number of college students and grandparents are significantly higher than those of us in the middle of Breederland. This may also allow new Canadian women a chance to get out of the house and attend an event, without having to ask their husbands for his support.

4 – Social media can trump traditional canvassing/fundraising methods and jump over the spin of right wing media. Host Twitter parties like corporate brands do. Hold live interactive discussions with leaders.

5 – Everyone has their hands in our wallets, and if you want us to contribute to the NDP coffer, you need to make sure we can see a tangible ROI, or at least how handing over our money becomes a value-added benefit in our lives. Why should I sign up to give my $20/mo. to a political party that serves old white guys, when I could sock it away for braces for my kid or tithe it at church? Two reasons that are compelling – it can now go directly to your specific riding association rather than Big Fed and it’s a much needed tax deduction.

When I sat back down – head spinning, heart racing and palms sweating – I was met with a room full of table thumping, whistles, cheering and applause that rang in my ears.

You love me! You really love me! /inner Sally Field moment

You can engage with the folks working on the Prairie Breakthrough Campaign too, by following along via Twitter @PrairieNDP


Encouraging Early Political Engagement: CitizenNext.ca

It is not an accident that I am a political junkie.

Even as a toddler, I was fed a steady diet of left-of-centre ideology, pro-union sentiments and anti-monarchist dogma. My mother, who was not overtly political, ensured I could recognize political leaders from around the world by sight before I could read, that I understood the vast differences between different types of political thought, and the inherent differences in Canadian political parties before I was school aged. During election season, she brought me with when she voted, and made sure that I was well aware that voting was a responsibility that we had as Canadians, and was something that was not an option. One of my earliest memories as a child is one of smearing mud on the back the giant brown and orange   “JIM FULTON, NDP” billboard in our yard when I was sent out to play while my infant brother napped. In a subsequent provincial election, the neighbours erected a massive Social Credit sign on their front lawn, and I was informed “SoCreds are evil. NDP is Good. SoCreds only work for big businesses. NDP is for the working class people…like us.” One might even say I was brainwashed.

When I was in grade 4, I engaged in fisticuffs on the school bus with a boy from down the street. Ryan was a year older, and his parents were self employed. There was some sort of provincial election brewing, and Ryan’s parents had a megalith of a Social Credit sign on the corner of the lawn. I informed Ryan that his family was clearly batting for the wrong political team, and that, people who voted SoCred were evil and sucked. Ryan retaliated, informing me that only losers would vote NDP. We wound up smacking the hell out of each other with math books, and were sent up to sit in the front of the bus for the remainder of the year.

Why are my memories of a blue collar, slightly pinko childhood in Northern BC in the 1980’s relevant now?

As Manitoba (where I am a home owner and my children go to school) creeps ever closer to the October 4th provincial election, there has been an onslaught of automated calls to our residence, glad-handling politicians standing on my doorstep, reams of glossy campaign fliers from the Conservative, NDP and Liberal parties festooning my mailbox. Most of the propaganda is of the usual variety: health care funding/cuts, taxation increases/cuts, infrastructure, aboriginal issues, education. Bored to tears of watching the Three Stooges bonk one another on the head on the local news, I was pleased to notice something that was out of the realm of the usual regurgitation. It was a large 1/4 page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press, advertising a website: www.citizennext.ca. The tag line? “When You Vote on October 4…Bring Your Child.” On it, a man voting at a booth, with children surrounding him. Under the picture, it read “It is never too early to learn about democracy.” Finally! A government campaign that I could relate to!

A quick visit to the CitizenNext website shows that someone in the employ of the government put some thought into the program. There are games and puzzles for kids to enjoy while passively learning about democracy. There are voter pledge cards, which can be personalized and printed off for the child, and a sticker that they can finish it off with only when they go to the booth with you to vote.  They list books to read to children about democracy and politics. While I’ve seen previous campaigns that were targeted at educators, this one is targeted at parents. The gist is that declining voter numbers can be traced back to parental apathy, and that by acting now, we can turn the tide in a decade or two, by educating our children now. The site also shares a number of simple ways to foster engagement early:

Ideas for raising kids to be engaged citizens:

Talk about it – Let your kids know why you think it’s important to vote. Even very young kids can understand the idea of selecting a leader. Engage older children in a discussion about political issues that are important to you or that come up in the news. Encourage your kids to express their own opinions and ideas.

Vote at home – Introduce the concept of voting by holding simple votes on household issues. It could be as simple as voting on what to prepare for a special meal.

Bring your child with you when you vote – Children are welcome at voting stations. Show your kids what voting looks like.

Visit our Game area – For games and activities related to citizenship and voting.

Take older kids to a live debate or watch one on TV – Discuss the points the candidates make and ask your kids for their views.

Point to resources on the Web – There are many excellent websites devoted to encouraging youth to participate in the election process.

All of the people that I know, who are avid political enthusiasts and are active politically, have at least one parent that downloaded some sort of passion or duty into them. When reading biographies of politicians, they often come from what seems to be dynasties: generations of people who catch the bug, and can’t shake it. What concerns me about this campaign, which I believe is a fantastic start, is that it misses the mark. People who care already do this with their kids. They are having these discussions. They’re involving their charges. They’re taking their progeny to the booth. The problem is that people who are already apathetic are not going to pick up the glossy half page flier in the mail and suddenly feel inspired to a) leave the house and vote and b) have deep and meaningful conversation with their children about the importance of voting.

I give the Manitoba Government an “A” for effort, but remain skeptical of the impact that this will have long term.

In the meantime, my daughters both have “I VOTED – CITIZENNEXT.CA” stickers on their coats, because they joined me at the advance polls over the weekend. I can only hope someone else sees the round little reminder on their coats as they scamper by, and  suddenly feels compelled to put an X in the box on October 4th, possibly with their child in attendance.

Leash Laws are for Chumps: The Credo of the Dog Owning Sociopath

Over the course of the last decade, I’ve allowed myself to become something of a chubby haus frau.  I derive considerable pleasure in planting myself in front of the computer and not bothering to watch what I stuff in my face. Several times a year, something in my brain chemistry is rudely altered, and I find myself yearning to run half-marathons and participate in hellacious boot-camps. Ordinarily, I try to avoid running, as my thighs tend to rub together in such a way that the friction from the slabs of fat swinging back and forth causes me to give off smoke, and it smacks of effort. Yet this morning, still high from the heady excitement of the federal election the previous evening, I felt compelled to go for a jog before going to work. Spring has finally sprung in Winnipeg, and after being cooped up for months on end, it seemed like a really good plan to take the dog (a six pound Pomeranian) out to the Assinaboine Forest for a speed waddle.

Besides the dawning reality of running being that it actually involves movement, my forays into the land of exercise generally end badly. Those who know me, already know what always happens when I go out alone with a child or a small dog: I get attacked by a snarling, gigantic, hell hound.

These beasts are never leashed.

My beef is not with large dogs, specific breeds, or people who train their dogs well and are responsible owners.

My contempt and resentment is directly aimed at the selfish and irresponsible louts who cannot be bothered to think past themselves, subsequently endanger other people and their animal.

There is something disturbingly sociopathic about individuals who go about procuring large dogs, and then persist in taking them to public places and setting them loose, with zero capability to reign them in. Even more so when they do this the face of glaring signage that specifically implores them NOT to let their dogs off the leash. What twisted sense of entitlement do you have to feel, to justify allowing Cujo to charge at seniors and children, unchecked? How do you come to the conclusion that you and your snarling ball of canine terror are somehow exempt from city ordinances that are in place to protect the rest of us from you?

Today was no exception. I arrived at the park with my dog  (who is more of an over-fed squirrel, really) and snapped her leash on. I grabbed a couple of poop scoop bags from the  glove box, and locked the doors. I stopped to read the trail map, some of the historical notes, and was pleased to note that off-leash dogs were prohibited. The map gave directions to a nearby  off-leash park, and warned of fines for those who failed to heed the leash warning. The fuzzy dog and I set off down the trail, enjoying the fresh wind, frog songs from the pond beyond, and the shrill trilling of birds from the birch trees around us. The place appeared to be devoid of other park users, although there were several vehicles at the gate, so after about 15 minutes of brisk jog-walk-running, I was starting to relax, and believed that this time would be different. This time I wouldn’t have to save my purse pooch from becoming a Scooby snack for a rabid monster! No sooner had I let my guard down, did a massive, unrestrained dog appear at the trail-head, snarling and aggressively letting me know it was NOT my friend. I grabbed my yapping fool, and stomped my foot at the demon dog “Git! Go!” I yelled at it. Around the corner appeared it’s owner: a woman in a down vest with sunglasses and Lululemon yoga gear. She had a leash draped, pashmina-like around her neck, but showed no inkling of desire to move to put it on her mutt. “Oh, don’t worry! Charlie is FRIENDLY!” she called to me, all Tinkerbell and sunshine. I stood there, staring her down. “Please leash your dog” I said firmly. “Charlie won’t hurt you!” she called. Charlie, of course, decided that this was the moment he had been waiting for, and launched himself at me, full tilt, barreling down the pathway. I screamed at her “GET YOUR FUCKING DOG” and started backing down the trail, ready to UFC smack down her dog if it dared to come closer. “Charlie! Come here boy!” she said as she stood there, meters up the trail. Meanwhile, Charlie was leaping on me, trying to get at my dog, who was now screaming. I fell over, and she had to pull the dog off of me with both hands on his collar.

Did she apologize? Did she chastise the dog?


Instead, this is what she said.

“You know, you really didn’t need to swear like that! My dog just wanted to play with you.”

If there was a legal way that I could have decked her in the face, I would have. Redfaced and angry, I snapped “This is not an off-leash park. The signs indicate that your dog needs to be on a leash. Why isn’t your dog on a leash?”

“He needs his exercise” was her reply, and she took off down the trail saying “he’s never had a problem with anyone before.”


I wish this was the first time I’d heard this from someone. Or even the second time. It’s not. This happens to me several times a year, and the response is always the same: my dog is friendly, you have the problem, I don’t give a crap about rules, screw you if you disagree.

Is it me that has the problem? I decided to see what the City of Winnipeg had to say about leashes and parks:

Is there a by-law about my neighbours dog running around without a leash on?
The City of Winnipeg Pound By-law 2443/79 Section 20.(1)(a) states that no owner shall permit his dog to run at large.

What does run at large mean?
The City of Winnipeg Pound By-law 2443/79 Section 16. defines “at large” as being off the premises of the owner and not on a leash held by a person able to control the dog.  The leash shall be no longer than six (6) feet.

Can I let my dog run off leash in the school grounds if no one is around?
No – the City of Winnipeg Pound by-law 2443/79 Section 20.(1)(h) prohibits dogs on any school or playground, at anytime.

Why can’t I let my dog run without a leash?
The City of Winnipeg Pound By-law 2443/79 Section 20.(1) clearly states that as a dog owner you must keep your dog on a leash while off its property.  The leash cannot extend longer than 6 feet and the leash must be held by a person able to control the dog.

Letting your pet run loose puts them and the community in danger.  Every year hundreds of dogs and cats die in traffic accidents.  Motorists may be injured trying to avoid these animals. When allowed to run at large your pet can be killed or injury by another animals, they can ingest poison or come in harms way in numerous other ways.

A large playful dog may frighten seniors and children and can cause injury by jumping up on them.  Dogs and cats also create conditions for disease by ripping apart garbage and by soiling property.  A stray dog or cat also puts people at risk for rabies.

Pets that run free contribute to the already explosive pet population in Winnipeg.

Owners who fail to keep their dog or cat on a leash in Winnipeg are subject to fines of $200.00.

Remember, a leash keeps your dog where it wants to be – by your side.

And that, folks, is my point. Your dog, no matter how loving and playful he is with you, was bred to protect you. Everyone and everything else is a threat, and he will do what he can to minimize that threat, even with lethal force. He’s doing his job.

Your dog is a weapon.

Would you stand idly by if someone were to drive their 4×4 through the centre of the park towards a group of children?

Would you feel unsafe if I ran at you with a crossbow or shotgun from a stand of trees?

Then why is it alright for your dog to do so?

If I jumped on you, and tried to bite your face, wouldn’t you call the cops and have me charged with assault?

Why is it different for you and your dog?

It’s not. Leash the dog, or take it to the off-leash dog park.

The rest of society will thank you, and your dog will too.