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Today’s blog article is based on something I originally wrote on my Facebook page on October 17, 2017. A number of people offered positive comments, so in order to give this issue a wider audience, I felt it might be wise to share it all with you on my blog. As always, feel free to share this with anyone you wish. 

I really hope some good things come about as a result of this Harvey Weinstein situation – which not only has dominated the news for the past few weeks, but also seems to keep changing rapidly as more women come forward to discuss their “encounters” with him. As an aside, unless you have just beamed in from the outer planets, or maybe you just did the Tom Hanks “Castaway” thing where you spent four years on a remote tropical island and just returned to civilization, I’m sure you know that this is the creep who has been recently accused of making sexual overtures, advances and other disgusting behaviour to many of Hollywood’s leading actresses and other prominent women. Not unlike what many men in positions of power in the entertainment industry have been doing for decades. For example, here’s an October 2017 article from the Toronto Sun which notes that many well known actresses  including Marilyn Monroe, Joan Collins and Judy Garland were asked to “be nice” to many of Hollywood’s most powerful men (as Ms. Collins describes it). Casting Couch Confidential  The legendary Claudette Colbert, one of the most glamourous actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1930’s and 1940’s, once commented “The casting couch? There’s only one of us who ever made it to stardom without it, and that was Bette Davis”.

Joan Collins comments are especially interesting to me, not only because she has long been one of my favourite actresses (I loved her as The seductive Siren on Batman and of course she played the cunning Alexis Colby on the 1980s prime-time show Dynasty, a role which really made her career in America take off) but also because I knew that she had originally been cast to play “Cleopatra” in the 1963 film of the same name, only to be replaced by Elizabeth Taylor. I had never heard any definitive reasons why she was replaced, so it was interesting to read in this article that the studio chief at 20th Century Fox (which other sources note turned out to be none other than Darryl Zanuck, one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful executives at the time) invited Ms. Collins into his office and bluntly told her that in order to be confirmed in the role she “had to be nice to him”. Obvious code for “let’s get it on, darling” or other sexual innuendo. The article goes on to say that she fled in tears and of course never got the part. Given that the picture underwent major casting changes and other overhauls during the production process, it would be easy to cover up this sordid episode. I’ll bet even today, over 50 years after its release, most people are not aware of all this. If you can’t get enough, here’s an article from The Daily Mail which discusses that same encounter as well as other times when Ms. Collins was propositioned by powerful entertainment executives So sad, disgusting, repulsive and so much more. One last comment about this – in an ironic twist of entertainment fate, Joan Collins actually did get to play Cleopatra in a 1980 episode of the popular TV series Fantasy Island

Should it surprise us that the dashing swashbuckler Errol Flynn had the “hots” for teenaged girls? According to the same Toronto Sun article,he had an affair with an actress (Beverly Aadland) which started when they met on the Warner Brothers studio lot in the mid 1950s. She was 15 at the time, and the affair was such that she was with Flynn when he died from a heart attack in October 1959. Hmm – although this only lasted for a couple of years (another article describes the relationship in more detail) dare we say that had the dashing actor lived longer that things would have really heated up? Indeed, that Daily Telegraph article notes that Flynn proposed to “his darling Woodsie” (apparently she reminded him of a wood nymph) on her 17th birthday and they were engaged at the time of his death. He’s not the first, nor will he be the last, Hollywood actor who couldn’t keep his libido in check. There are, of course, countless more episodes like this – rather than turning this blog into a 500 page essay that will contain so many sexual/”XXX rated” references that it will be branded as pornography and not suitable for general reading, I suggest you do your own research into why, as another Toronto Sun columnist notes, Hollywood is such a sleazy place

Now before I go further, if anyone reading this (especially women) are offended by my opening statement, and feel that it’s impossible for anything good to come out of this and feel hurt or offended by my comment, I sincerely apologize. But work with me for a minute, gang, and let me tell why I chose to start this article with those comments. I think you’ll understand once you read the whole thing. Weinstein and (sad to say) millions of other men out there are repulsive, disgusting creeps. Any man who treats any woman this way is not a real man. You guys give the rest of us a bad name. Please get the help you need. Not tomorrow, not next week. Get help NOW!! Or let me put this another way. If you’re one of those men who likes to “prey” on women, who thinks it’s OK to make sexual advances to them, “hit” on women as often as possible and other disgusting behaviour, not only are you just as much a repulsive, disgusting piece of filth as Harvey Weinstein, I also “pray” that you have a “Jacob Marley wake-up moment” and realize how inappropriate your actions have been.

For those of you who didn’t get the above reference, I’m sure that all of you reading this recall the classic Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol” and the saga of the miserly, cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge. The story is set on a Christmas Eve long ago, and soon after Scrooge returns to his home, he is greeted by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley. The ghost reminds Scrooge of the life he has lived, and offers him one last chance at redemption. That Scrooge will be visited by three other ghosts who will work with Scrooge at turning his life around. We know the rest of the story. Scrooge is indeed visited by the ghosts and he becomes a changed man. So to you repulsive creeps who call yourselves men, but who seem to think you can force yourselves on women and make their lives awful, I hope this is your “Jacob Marley wake-up moment”. Get the help you need. Do IT NOW! I could say more, but probably best to leave it there.

Everyone (men and women together) should be treated with love, respect and dignity. That is how I have always tried to live my life every day. It doesn’t mean I always agree with their feelings on things (especially political or social issues, where I will admit that I do take a more traditional/conservative view of society), but it does mean that simply by living on this earth as a human being, that in itself deserves that we treat everyone with respect and dignity. I say this especially not only to all the women who are in my life, but in fact to every woman reading this article. What Harvey Weinstein and these other “thugs” did (and sadly continue to do today) was not love, sex or anything resembling any of those things. What they committed were acts of violence and so much more. Those acts do not belong in a society that claims to be progressive, tolerant, inclusive and so on.

To all the women reading this, if even one of you has experienced this kind of behaviour, my heart aches for you. You deserve so much better and I hope your lives today are filled with love, compassion and especially support from those who truly care for you and are helping you every day. If the actions of pigs like Harvey Weinstein leads to a worldwide discussion of sexual harrassment and related issues in our society and helps build a better world, then perhaps some good will come from all this after all. Which brings us full circle and right back to where I began. Yes I do want some good things to come out of this situation. And I want to do my part to help build that better world I just described. I hope all of you do as well.

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It’s coming up on 11:00 pm on the evening of July 24, 2017. Just back home from seeing Christopher Nolan’s latest film “Dunkirk”. The film is based on the actual events of the spring of 1940 when something like 400k British troops were trapped and surrounded by German troops in northern France, and in particular at Dunkirk. I say “based on…” because as happens with all historical films, there are a few liberties taken in the transfer of actual events to film. But not as many as one might think. Judging from the research I did prior to watching “Dunkirk” (including reading and watching many reviews in recent days) I would say it is a highly accurate rendering of what happened some 77 years ago.

So what do I think of “Dunkirk”? All I can say is Wow! It is such an absolutely stunning, emotional, astonishing film. It has been a long time since I have experienced a movie like that. Yes, I did say “experienced”. It’s not a movie that you watch, you experience it. From its opening scenes when soldiers are running through the streets of Dunkirk as gunfire rains down upon them to the final scenes when we see men sitting on trains rolling through the English countryside while one of the soldiers delivers Winston Churchill’s classic “We shall never surrender” speech, “Dunkirk” isn’t really a film in the true sense of the word. You do indeed experience it. It is really an assault on the senses that packs a solid punch and never lets go from beginning to end. As one would expect from a World War 2 movie, it is very disturbing and horrifying in places (I would definitely NOT recommend the film for young children or for those who are frightened by graphic images), but on the whole it is a masterpiece. We all know that World War 2 has inspired thousands of movies through the years. And I will wager that if you took a poll asking what is the finest WW2 film ever made, many people will say that “Saving Private Ryan” is their choice. Certainly “SPR” is one of the most realistic of all WW2 films, especially that first half hour or so when D Day is gruesomely re-enacted in incredible realism that I understand moved many veterans who saw the film to tears and other poignant emotional reactions (and in particular caused those reactions in many who saw “SPR” and who really fought that day on the beaches of Normandy). But having now seen it, I think “Dunkirk” is in that same league, and I think it soon will become a classic. In fact, I came across a story from Calgary about a 97 year old veteran who really was at Dunkirk back then and his reaction to the film No doubt there are others around the world with similar feelings.

In closing,”Dunkirk” has had many positive reviews in the media and I agree 100%. Such was the power of this film that as the closing credits ran in the theatre, most of the audience just sat there stunned and moved by what we had just seen over the past two hours or so (I think the actual running time is about 1 hour and 46 minutes). In addition to the above reaction, I was moved to the point that when I left the theatre, instead of walking directly back home from Jackson Square (the major retail and entertainment complex in downtown Hamilton where I watched “Dunkirk”), I made a slight detour to the Cenotaph at Gore Park and spent a few minutes with my head bowed in silent prayer and remembrance in tribute to those brave soldiers from Dunkirk. To those who were indeed evacuated back to England, but especially to those who didn’t make it. In short as I said earlier, “Dunkirk” is a masterpiece. Highly recommended. Thanks for reading this blog entry – stay tuned for my next article, coming soon to a computer near you. Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday morning here in Hamilton, Ontario. And after what has been a somewhat cooler and rainier than normal spring season, it has warmed up and brightened up in more recent days. As I write this ca. 9:30 am and look out over downtown Hamilton, it looks like God is giving us a lovely warm day. Hmm – I think once I have published this I will head out and enjoy the sunshine. But more important than the warm spring sunshine, today is the 2nd Sunday in May, so of course we continue in 2017 the time-honoured tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day every year on this day. Now I should note that I really think every day should be Mother’s Day. And Father’s Day too. Whether you are a mother or a father, I really believe that being a parent is a special calling from God. And it’s not for everyone. I am single and live alone – I’m very happy to live that way. As part of it, I knew from a very early age that I didn’t have what it takes to be a father. It just wasn’t in me and I truly believe that it’s not something God has in mind for my life. Having said that, however, I am the proud uncle of 11 nieces and nephews. I love each of them more than words can express and always will be there for them whenever they need me.

Let’s go back to Mothers Day, because in spite of what I wrote above, I want this article to be about these incredible women who have given our world so much. As some of you reading these words know, I didn’t have the best childhood growing up. I had a number of issues that I would rather not get too personal about, but let’s just say that I dealt with a number of issues which meant that I didn’t develop as quickly as most children did. I think all that continues today in my struggles with things like social anxiety. Not to mention that through the years I have battled things like mental health, a lack of self-esteem, even suicidal thoughts at times. If nothing else, however, my life has taught me to be positive, to rise up from adversity, to never hold grudges against anyone, to reach out to others who have caused me pain, to forgive them and hope they will forgive me if I have done the same to them. But most of all to be a champion, and to live my life as best I can.

Yes, I have had my dark times and my adversity as noted above. But against all that, I am so grateful that I have the best mother anyone could ever have. In spite of my challenges growing up, she never gave up on me. When I was having dark times and difficulties, I always knew that Mum was there. I talked earlier about how parenting is really a special calling from God. My mother certainly had that, and still does today. She’s an amazing person and I can never thank her enough for her love, support and so much more.

As my way of paying tribute to my mother (and by extension to all mothers worldwide), let me share with all of you two items which I hope you will enjoy. First, when Mum turned 80 in October 2012, many family members and friends gathered at a Mississauga restaurant near their home for a wonderful evening of celebration. A number of us were invited to offer tributes that night, and I was so blessed to have been asked to do so. Here’s what I said that night, hope you all enjoy it!

Second, let me share an email that I wrote to her earlier this morning for Mothers Day. It really says it all. And if you are wondering why I have references to that classic hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, that’s because there were many times during my childhood, especially when I was very young, when my life seemed so difficult that she will cradle me (or hug me when I was older) and would sing that to me. It meant so much back then and still does all these years later. So let me offer this in tribute not only to my mother, but to all mothers out there. Happy Mothers Day, not only on this Mothers Day 2017, but all year round. Until next time.

Dear Mum:

Happy Mothers Day! I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me. You have always been my greatest champion, my rock and support in dark times and so much more. And of course I have to send you this song. This is a different version from the Alan Jackson one I sent the other day. This is a beautiful live version by the country music group “Alabama” (the same group that also sang Angels Among Us, another song that always makes me think of you because you have always been my angel. I have been a fan of their music for many years). I really love this performance, it’s warm, loving and so heartfelt. And I love you too. I also want to share another video – this is a behind the scenes look at the song, written by Joseph Scriven at Rice Lake (not far from Peterborough). Just click on either link. God bless you, I love you!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKjUoE2fack

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Hi gang:

Today’s article is based on a series of tweets I sent out in late April 2017 from my Twitter account During the week of April 23 to 30, one of the hottest “hash tags” was one called “Advice for people joining Twitter”. I fired off a few ideas and several people suggested to me that I take my comments and put them in a more public forum where people outside of social media could see them. I thought it was a good idea, so here we go. In each case, the first sentence (which I will put in bold type for ease of convenience) is taken from the original tweet, then I expand on what I wrote as I feel led. I hope you enjoy this material and as always feel free to share my stuff with others:

Send positive, uplifting tweets. You can be a ray of sunshine for others and make their day better. I find it disappointing just how much toxic and negative stuff is on social media. Human beings seem to be better at destroying each other than helping. Is that really what you want? Instead, let’s send out positive stuff that can really make someone’s day. Who knows – your message just might help pick up someone who is having a rough time. I believe men and women were put on this earth to help each other and make life’s journey a little more pleasant. Let’s all do our part folks.

Follow reliable news and other media sources. Share valuable and useful information with others. People want to know what’s going on in our world. One of the really neat things about social media is its ability to inform people and make their world better. So be sure to subscribe to Twitter accounts representing newspapers, TV and radio stations and other sources. Don’t just subscribe to outlets that support your opinion. Try other points of view. For example, if you favour the left wing/liberal side of things, don’t just subscribe to the Toronto Star, MSNBC or other liberal outlets. Try FOX News, the Toronto Sun or other conservative stuff. And the opposite is true for the conservatives out there.

Make your tweets interesting and informative. Share social media content that will attract followers. If people see you in that light, that you are someone who wants to share interesting stuff, they will be more likely to follow you. One thing I learned long ago about Twitter is that followers don’t always hang around. I subscribe to a couple of sites that monitor who follows my Twitter account. And I always chuckle when I get a report that says something like: “In the past two weeks you gained 100 new followers and lost 42”. I’m just as guilty as the next person. Sometimes I will look at the accounts I am following. And in some cases if I don’t see a reason to keep following them, I won’t. Happens all the time on social media. But if we all share content and information that people really like, chances are more likely that they will stay on and continue following us. A pleasant notion indeed!

Everything you write on social media impacts your personal and professional reputation. Keep that in mind folks! I suspect most people on Twitter don’t do that. Especially the idiots who seem to spend all their time on social media trashing others. It can really come back to haunt them in future in ways they can never imagine. For example, if that person is looking for a job and I am thinking about hiring them for my company, if they decided to send out really disgusting tweets or fail to treat others with respect, chances are that I won’t be hiring them to fill my open position at work. And that’s just one example of many such situations.

Once you post something online it’s there forever. Do you really want to “trash” someone or something? Be careful! Next time you want to get back at someone who caused you pain and/or other negatives, just remember that it will always be there. Sure, you can delete your tweet later on, even if its 30 seconds later and you realize you made a mistake. But that original tweet will always be there folks, whether it’s positive or negative. Along with the ramifications that may come from your negativity. Isn’t it better to just not post that trash at all? And while you are at it, work on healing that pain and related stuff. Why not reach out to that person and see if you can work together at finding some positive solutions? OK – maybe I should leave the “counseling” and “therapy” stuff to the experts, let’s go to the next one!

Watch the “personal” stuff. Most folks don’t care about your Friday night pool party or that Sunday afternoon brunch. You’re just not that interesting. Rather than posting “personal” stuff like that on Twitter, save it for Facebook or more “intimate” settings. And don’t use Twitter to “trash” your ex-husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend. It’s awfully tempting to dump your “dirty laundry” out there and talk about when your best friend cheated on you by having an affair with your wife. Or similar stuff that would make the supermarket tabloids or reality shows proud. But being negative online never solves anything and it could also bite you back someday. Is that really what you want? Is that really the reputation you want people to have about you? I hope not.

Practice “pay it forward” and help others always. When someone does a nice thing for you, do that to another person. When someone does something nice to us, the natural reaction is to pay them back. For example, if you give me a book or a CD for Christmas, I would be tempted to drop by my local bookstore or order something online for the next time I see you. And while that can be really nice, I think it’s much nicer if I repay that good deed by doing something nice for another person. And also encourage that person to do the same for someone else. It’s another way we can make our world better.

If you are a Christian or practice other beliefs, pray for your social media friends daily. I do it, it’s a blessing. I really value the people I have connected with on Twitter. Whether it’s the people who actually follow my account, or someone who has even read one of my tweets, I really appreciate their support and encouragement. So I feel the least I can do is take a couple of minutes every day to pray for anyone who has had any kind of association with me on social media. I also like to pray for the people in their lives, such as their families and friends. And if one of my followers or social media friends gives me a specific prayer request, I will work on that too. We should support and care for each other, prayer is one important way to do it.

Send positive thinking messages on social media. Bring hope and light to anyone who reads your tweets. We live in a world full of negatives and toxic environments. Sometimes I think that is the default setting for human beings, and that really sickens me. Why does the world treat others with such filth and lack of respect? I just don’t understand and probably never will. But why not change the channel? Let’s offer positive content when we are on Twitter or other social media forums like LinkedIn or Facebook. We can make our world a better place. And it certainly enhance how people think of us. We all want people to like us, to say nice things about us. We can start by doing that to the people who read our tweets and similar messages.

Be thankful for those who follow you. They are your online family. Reach out to them during dark times. I can think of countless times when my social media friends tell me they are having a rough time. We all have pain and hardship in life, that’s just the way it is folks. So when I know that George in Los Angeles or Maggie in Philadelphia or Reg in Hong Kong or Nancy in Sydney is having a difficult time, I like to send some positive messages to help build them up and make them feel better. I can think of many times when I have sent messages to my Twitter friends (out of respect for their privacy, however, I will leave it there). And I know they will do the same for me. When I have my bad days and the world is closing in on me, I know there are folks out there on social media that I can reach out to and share my pain with. I am really lucky and blessed to have a wonderful online support system. They are there for me in my dark times. I hope that the same thing is true for each of you reading this.

Respect people who have different views of life than yours. Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong? One of the sad things about today’s social media environment is that we seem to have lost the ability to tolerate an opinion other than our own. And we don’t seem to understand that in fact most people are likely not to agree with your views on a subject. But I think a strength of social media can be to find people who have a different opinion of things than you do. For example, if you are an American and voted for Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 election, instead of “trashing” the Donald Trump supporters, why not reach out to them and work together by having a dialogue on issues where you are on opposite sides? It also makes me think of the disturbing trend on many college and university campuses these days to shut down a speaker who has a different opinion on a certain issue. In many cases, it has even led to rioting in the streets and other negatives. Then there’s the issue of “safe spaces” and other things designed to protect people from views other than our own. The real world doesn’t work that way folks. Instead of shutting down your opponents, reach out to them instead. At the risk of going off on a tangent, whatever happened to freedom of speech? Better stop there and get back on topic here! As I have said in similar blog entries here, you may never agree with each other, but listening to opinions that are different from yours can change your view of the world and make you a better person. How about it?

Social media can often be dark, hateful and disgusting. Be a light in that darkness. Treat everyone with love. This is similar to what I have mentioned before in this article and in other blog articles I have written in the past. I find it sad that so much of what is out there online is hateful, disgusting and wants to destroy each other. Do we really need to do that? Instead let’s use Twitter and other platforms to help brighten our world and make a positive difference.

Use social media as a source for good in our world. Have a dialog with people who disagree with your tweets There’s a lot of hate, venom and filth on social media. Don’t do that yourself, let’s practice civility. No matter how repulsive some people are on Twitter (and we all know those people are out there), I believe we should treat everyone with respect and compassion. It may be necessary in the end to “block” them or find other ways to cut off all contact, but I suggest you do that only as a last resort and not too often.

Show friendship to others, be a friend when someone who follows you is in pain. Treat your followers kindly. This is similar to other tweets I mentioned here. My point is simply to be positive and help others along the way. It’s something I strive for every day, I hope all of you do as well.

Treat everyone with dignity and respect Don’t trash people with different opinions than yours. Again very much like some of the others I have mentioned. I think it would be a very scary world if we all had the same opinions and ideas on life. I love reaching out to people that I don’t agree with for reasons I noted earlier. Don’t be rigid and intolerant of people who think differently than you. Respect their right to express their opinion in a public forum. And if you don’t like their stuff, why not reach out and have a dialogue with them. You all may be better for the experience.

Thanks for reading this article. Whether you are a long time user of social media outlets like Twitter or you are just getting started, I hope you find my suggestions useful and that they can play a role in establishing your own social media presence. I am always delighted when people tell me they like what I have written. I don’t expect my audience to agree with me, but dialogue and discussion is the essence of a tolerant, open, diverse and inclusive society. I hope that’s something we can all agree on. Oh – and if this article encourages you to follow me on Twitter, I’d love to have you join my online family. You can find me anytime over at Greg’s Twitter account Have a super day folks – until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s a typical cold February Sunday morning here in Hamilton. And tonight is the 89th annual Academy Awards (aka the Oscars), arguably the most important night in the entertainment industry. What follows is based on a posting I placed over on my Facebook page earlier today. I thought it might be fun to put the same thing here on my blog. As always feel free to share this article with anyone you wish.

Let me offer one more Facebook posting before I move onto other matters today – and ask all of you what I hope is a simple question. Do you plan to watch the Oscars tonight? My answer is a strong and definite NO. Why? First, because I have always felt the awards show is a colossal waste of time. The funny thing is that I can remember as a kid thinking it would be fun to stay up late and watch the show. Then when I became old enough that I could indeed do so, my first reaction was why I am doing this? I found it all to be a colossal bore and couldn’t understand why Hollywood would make us endure long hours of such nonsense. In the intervening years my feelings about the Oscars have not changed. Why should we sit through a show that goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on… you get the idea (let’s just say the Oscars give “eternal life” a whole new meaning), when the winners could just as easily be announced at a news conference (exactly as the Oscar nominees were done a few weeks ago on January 24). In other words, why should I waste hours of my time watching it either on television or online, when I can just as easily get the results via a one hour press conference format, or find out tomorrow morning from any number of media outlets? Anything else tonight will be a much better use of my time.

Another reason why I am not interested in watching the Academy Awards is because of the “Thank You” speeches offered by the winners. Back in the day, the speeches used to thank everyone from the grade 10 drama teacher to the next door neighbour who first encouraged me to go into show biz when I was four years old. While I can appreciate that the winners want to thank the people closest in their lives (such as their parents, other family members or close friends), do we really need a 15 minute biographical account of every single person who helped them? No thank you! In 2017, however, it’s not just about the “special” people in the winner’s lives. More and more today it seems like everything in our society is all about politics and supporting some bizarre and strange point of view. How much do you want to bet that almost EVERY speech tonight will blast “You Know Who” and his Presidency, or make other statements about the state of the world (or at the very least some element of American society). Which makes me very angry and annoyed. I’m not just saying this because I tend to hold conservative/traditional views of life and the entertainment industry has always been very extreme liberal/left-wing/progressive. I’m really saying this because does everything in life have to be political or some sort of commentary on society?

Just once, I want to see an entertainment program or news show that doesn’t take a shot at the so-called “problems” in our society. Whether you are a left-wing liberal or a right-wing conservative – all you do is alienate and anger the half of society that holds a different viewpoint from yours. And you don’t do your cause any good. All you do is stir up controversy when there is no need to do so. It would be so refreshing and wonderful to have a “no politics” or “no social commentary” entertainment event. Same thing with sports and other public stuff especially when it’s broadcast on TV or online to millions if not billions worldwide. Do we really need a sports star refusing to stand for the national anthem because they want to protest a societal issue? Or kneeling while the anthem is played (as in the case of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick during much of the 2016 football season)? As an aside, do we really need to perform those national anthems before a sports event? I don’t think so, but that’s a discussion for another time. Or if you want to take a page from sports history, did John Carlos and Tommie Smith really need to do a Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics? I don’t think so – they only caused much criticism and anger from all corners of society. So before the various winners come up on stage tonight to accept their awards, I really hope they think about what they are going to say. And if they are going to make some social commentary, whether from a liberal or conservative viewpoint, think of the consequences of their actions. Do they really want the pot to boil over and get their opponents really angry and upset? I can already see the “Boycott [perfomer]” social media campaign tomorrow morning because of something they said tonight. I hope not. I think these things should be like that orange traffic light: proceed with caution.

That’s all for now. As usual, thank you all for reading this posting. Oh – and if you do decide to watch the Oscars tonight, I do hope you will enjoy the spectacle. And if you wake up tomorrow morning frothing over with anger and wondering why you wasted tonight listening to idiot speeches and other nonsense concerning this thing (or at least that’s my view), just remember – I told you so. Have a super day folks!

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Hi everyone:

Although I am writing this in February 2017, this is actually a subject I have wanted to tackle for some time, in particular since the most recent Canadian federal election held in October 2015. As part of the campaign leading up to that election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau (who was elected Prime Minister because his party won the majority of seats in the House of Commons) stated that if his party was elected to office, this would be the final election where the “First Past The Post” system would be used. I found that prospective rather alarming and ever since that time had planned on using this blog as a way to support “First Past The Post” (which for the rest of this article I will simply call “FPTP”). But like the so-called “Procrastinator’s Club”, it was something I had not gotten around to writing about. Now, however, seems like a good time because earlier this week, Trudeau announced that in fact electoral reform will not be proceeding – or at least not at the present time. He cited a number of reasons for changing his mind – not the least of which being that when a number of public hearings and consultations were held across Canada during 2016, no real consensus emerged on what to replace FPTP with. If anything, it seemed that most Canadians felt it was best to leave things as they are. Count me among those people.

Now before I continue, let me state for the record that I am writing this from a certain level of expertise and interest that I think qualifies me to offer an informed opinion on the subject of electoral reform. For openers, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University in Montreal. And although my degree features a Major in History, I also took a number of Canadian political science courses during my time at McGill. I have always had a fascination with Canada’s electoral system, and these courses allowed me to indulge in that fascination. I was also rather fortunate that my professors were two giants of the Canadian political system during the 1960’s and 1970’s, Dale Thomson and Eric Kierans. As you will discover if you click on either of those links, both men played key roles in the federal Liberal governments of those years which were led first by Lester Pearson and then by Pierre-Elliot Trudeau (that’s right – our current PM’s father). They also were active within the Quebec provincial Liberal party that won the 1970 election under the leadership of Robert Bourassa. To their credit, both men never showed a bias towards the Liberal party in their teaching styles, although it might have been easy for either of them to do so. Instead, they instilled in all of us who were fortunate enough to be their students a passion for the inner workings of Canadian government, including for purposes of this discussion such matters as how the men and women who represent us in Ottawa (and indeed at all levels of government) come to be elected.

In addition to the “scholarly” training I received at McGill, as well as a lifelong passion for the Canadian electoral system that has led me to read many books and examine countless other sources on the subject, I have also had the pleasure of working behind the scenes on elections at all 3 levels of government, starting with the Ontario provincial election of 2003 and continuing up to the aforementioned 2015 federal election, where I served as a Central Poll Supervisor at Queen Victoria Public School just a short walk from this apartment building. These opportunities have allowed me to take a peak “under the hood” and really examine our electoral system from an insider’s viewpoint. Which I absolutely love and can never get enough of. In part, it has allowed me to examine not only FPTP but other electoral methods including proportional representation and the “ranked ballot” system, arguably the two most common types of electoral methods used around the world, and the two I will compare the FPTP system with for the rest of this article.

So with my credentials as stated above in mind, let me state why I feel the FPTP system is the best one. There are a number of reasons – the first one I would like to examine is historical. It was once said that “the sun never set on the British Empire”. A true statement if ever there was one. Today, the Empire is a thing of the past, but it has left us many legacies, too many to mention here. The obvious one, of course, is language. English is the second most spoken language in the world, second only to Mandarin Chinese. Many have in fact noted that if Latin was the common language (or the “lingua franca”) that bound the many nationalities of the Roman Empire together, English fills the same role in our 21st century global society. But for purposes of this discussion, the key legacy of Empire is not the English language, but instead that Canada follows what is commonly called the “Westminster” system of parliamentary democracy. Which of course takes its name from “the Mother of Parliaments”, the one housed at Westminster in London and which serves as the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And to me the “anchor” of the Westminster system is that each MP (Member of Parliament) is elected to represent a specific geographic territory or electoral district (we call them “ridings” here in Canada). He or she is accountable to all the men and women who are eligible voters in the riding. If the voters don’t like the job their MP is doing, he or she can be defeated at the next election.

This sense of accountability is one of the things FPTP does best. It truly binds the MP to his or her constituents and keeps them “on notice”. For example, as I write this in February 2017, my Member of Parliament here in Hamilton Centre is David Christopherson, a member of the New Democratic Party (or “NDP” for short). For those reading this from outside Canada, the NDP is a party which practices “democratic socialism” and is most often found on the left wing/progressive side of the spectrum. Canada’s equivalent, I suppose, of parties such as Labour in the UK and Australia, or the Democratic party in the USA. Mr. Christopherson has held this position for a number of years, to the point where he has won re-election at least a couple of times. I think the reason he keeps getting re-elected is that when each election has come, the majority of voters in this riding who chose to cast a ballot voted for him because they were pleased with his performance and wanted him to continue representing them in Ottawa. I suppose the “cynic” in me says I should not be surprised by this, Hamilton has long been a “blue-collar/labour union/working class” city, and this is the exact constituency that finds a home within the New Democratic Party and their left-of-centre platform. But in addition to this, Mr. Christopherson has done an excellent job and in addition to loyal NDP voters has also won the confidence of those who favour other parties. They trust that he is an honest, open and transparent voice who will represent the voters of Hamilton Centre in our national capital of Ottawa.

The fact that Mr. Christopherson is directly accountable to the people of Hamilton Centre is one of the hallmarks of FPTP because this system is best at binding the MP to his or her constituents. And after all, isn’t that the ultimate goal of any electoral system? Regardless of whether we are talking about the national, provincial/state or municipal levels of government, anyone elected to public office should truly represent the people who voted them into office. I have my doubts when this concept is subjected to the litmus test of proportional representation, the first of the two major alternatives that have been examined as part of electoral reform that I want to examine today. Oh – I well understand what PR is all about. Let’s say the Liberal Party gets 40% of the vote in a federal election. The Conservatives get 35%. The New Democrats get 15% and the Green Party gets 10%. PR then means that this is how you distribute the seats in Parliament. But in my opinion, a system that assigns seats in any house of assembly (such as the House of Commons, the lower House of parliament in Ottawa, or the Legislative Assembly in Toronto, the capital of Ontario) which is based solely on popular vote has the inherent weakness of de-valuing that “local” connection between the MP and their constituents.

I also feel proportional representation centralizes power in the hands of a political party – at the expense of that “local” connection. Too much power. I’m saying that because in my opinion, as part of a PR system, the leader of a political party as well as other senior officials have a greater say in determining who represents a certain region or territory (the “riding”) by selecting people from quotas or lists – a form of “patronage” as it were. Which also means that in the end the person who represents a riding isn’t really accountable to their constituents, but instead is more inclined to report to their party leader or other senior official. Since FPTP is “territory” based and draws its accountability from the voters themselves, it is a much fairer and more transparent system. In the case of Mr. Christopherson, he answers not to the leader and other senior officials within the New Democratic Party, but instead to the voters of Hamilton Centre. And in the end, anyone elected to public office at any level of government should be directly accountable to their constituents – instead of to some party “hacks” in Ottawa or elsewhere. Their “performance appraisal” comes at each election. If we like the way Mr. Christopherson represents us, we re-elect him. If not, we select the candidate from another party. And of course the “appraisal” continues in every future election.

Let me offer one final argument against the PR system. That it reduces the likelihood of any party winning a clear majority in any election, especially in a multi-party nation like Canada (as opposed to ones like the United States, which the only two major parties are the Democrats and the Republicans). In Canada (as well as in many other countries worldwide), we have at least 4 major parties vying for office (Liberal, Conservative, New Democrats and Green), as well as other parties who represent other interests (such as the Bloc Quebecois, which only operates in the province of Quebec and has as its stated goal the intention of facilitating that province’s independence). The more parties you have in play, the lesser the chances of any one of them securing an absolute majority in an election which uses  PR. To cite one more example, look at countries such as Italy or Israel – both of which feature many political parties and have histories of frequent governmental changes and corresponding political instabilities. The lack of a clear majority for one political party also increase the likelihood of coalitions or other strategic alliances between parties of similar viewpoints, but which can also be highly unstable and can end at any time – if you have studied Israeli politics you know that coalitions have been a dominant theme, practically right from the country’s founding in 1948. I don’t know if either Israel or Italy uses PR as part of their electoral process, but I hope I have made the point that under a PR election in countries that offer many political parties, the chances of any one party securing a majority decreases. As in any argument, I could go on with other criticisms that I have of the “proportional representation” system, but I think I have given you all enough to chew on for now.

The other major type of electoral system I have heard considered is what is called the “ranked ballot” system. In this type of election, when you are presented a ballot you don’t simply vote for the candidate of your choice. You actually vote for all of them, but indicate your choice of preference in order of desirability, starting with your preferred candidate and working down to the least. So let’s suppose that in an election run using this system, there are five candidates in your riding. Cassandra Jones is running for the Conservative Party. Lorelei Smith is representing the Green Party. Luigi Tortorelli is the New Democratic Party candidate. Raylene Cohen carries the Liberal Party banner and Karin-Anne Brown represents the Christian Heritage Party. In a FPTP election, you only need to vote for the desired candidate. So if you prefer Ms. Cohen, all you need to do when you receive a ballot is to put an “X” in the box beside her name. You cast your ballot, leave the polling station, and that’s the story. But in a “ranked” ballot system, you must also indicate how you feel about the other candidates. Under that system, if you still want Ms. Cohen as your choice, you indicate that on the ballot as your first choice. After that, however, you must indicate second, third, fourth and fifth choices. So you may “rank” your choices as Cohen, followed by Tortorelli, Smith, Jones and Brown. If your first choice does not receive more than 50% of the overall vote, then the second choices are considered and on down the line until a candidate receives an overall majority.

The problem I have with the “ranked ballot” system is that there would now be a tendency to move everyone towards the political centre and eliminate both left wing/progressive as well as right wing/conservative viewpoints. And like many others, I truly believe that a wide variety of political and ideological opinions works best. I would even go as far as to say that the more variety of opinions you have, the better. Indeed, any political system (along with a society as a whole) truly works best when there is a clash of clearly defined but very different agendas on the table. We need politicians, social activists and others bringing forward their visions of society, especially when they clash and provide opposite, contradictory and even radical opinions. At the risk of going off on a tangent, I truly believe that this is no “absolutely correct” view on any issue, especially when it comes to government. I have always believed there is “good” and “bad” in every political party and philosophy. And that the pendulum should swing back and forth between liberal and conservative viewpoints. I believe that each party should take their turn holding the reigns of power for a few years before the other side takes over. In fact, my father’s political philosophy was in keeping with this concept. Dad always felt that you should give any party two terms in office and then vote them out. OK, I think I hear some of you saying that I am digressing. Let’s get back to the issue in question.

Our world is much better when people engage in “left” vs “right” arguments. When we can examine and then debate the merits of as many viewpoints and opinions as possible. Globalization or protectionism? Central governments or greater regional autonomy? Traditional societal values or modernity? Balanced budgets or deficits? Or as many have often said, it would be a very dull and even frightening world if everyone felt the same on any issue. Diversity of opinions, respect for others and acceptance of points of view that are very different from our own is a hallmark of a supposedly open, tolerant and inclusive society. At the risk of playing amateur sociologist or similar profession that analyzes people’s behaviours and attitudes, I have always felt (and I suspect most people share this opinion) that the majority of us tend to reject extremism from both sides of the scale and favour more “centrist” philosophies that appeal to the greatest number of citizens (and in this case voters). I really think this is why most political parties tend to gravitate towards the centre – especially if they are currently in opposition but sense that the people don’t like the current governing party and that their chances of gaining power might improve if they change their platform to appeal to the broadest spectrum of society – which by nature tends to be at the centre. I believe that the “ranked” ballot system would eliminate the varieties of political expression and instead lead to nothing more than “centrist mush”, in which every candidate not only wants to win, but also wants to do everything possible to ensure that he or she is everyone’s second choice. In the rush to claim that “centrist” ground and appeal to the greatest number of voters, a “ranked ballot” system runs the risk of shutting down extreme views from either the liberal left or conservative right.

There is another element to this discussion which I have heard some observers mention in recent days that also is worth examining. A “ranked ballot” system might very well mean that a right wing/conservative government will never again govern Canada. While I am sure those of you reading this who favour the left-wing/progressive agenda might be standing up and cheering right now, I find this idea rather frightening for the reasons I noted earlier. That all opinions and viewpoints should be embraced and accepted in a free, tolerant, inclusive and diverse society. That no one side should dominate for a long time, that the pendulum needs to swing back and forth so that we have a few years of left wing/progressive governments, followed by a few years of right wing/conservative ones so that both sides get to implement their agenda. Instead of centrist “mush”, we are much better off when a wide variety of ideologies and opinions are on the table. So why might a “ranked ballot” system mean the end of a “conservative” government? Because if you look at the major Canadian political parties, two of them (and probably three if you include the Green Party) feature varying shades of the left wing/progressive platform – those being the Liberals and the New Democrats. I think this is a reflection of Canada as a whole, in that our country has had a tendency in recent years to be more favourable to left wing/progressive issues than other countries, such as the United States. So maybe we should not be surprised that we have multiple parties representing that viewpoint. On the other hand, however, only the Conservative Party can truly say they represent the right wing/conservative platform.

That fictitious election I illustrated just now is an example of how this works. Did you notice how my imaginary voter ranked Cassandra Jones and the Conservatives near the bottom (and that the Christian Heritage Party – which also favours traditional, conservative moral and ethical values – was the last of the 5, although the CHP is not considered a major political party)? They did this not only because my imaginary voter clearly wanted someone with a left wing/progressive agenda to represent them, but also because 3 of the 5 parties came from that side of the spectrum. In a political system like ours, where several parties represent one viewpoint, but only one represents the other, this is the danger of the “ranked ballot”. That since multiple Canadian political parties represent left-wing /progressive parties at the expense of more conservative ones (where there is only one such option available), the “ranked ballot” works in their favour. As an aside, in places where the reverse might be true – let’s say a country where more parties represent a conservative viewpoint, then the “ranked ballot” system favours that viewpoint. In order to be legitimate and to win the confidence of the people, any electoral system must not show favouritism between one political ideology or another. It must be fair and balanced for all sides.

In essence, what I am saying here is that in my opinion the “ranked ballot” system runs the risk of people choosing like-minded candidates and reduces the chances of greater political differences because everyone wants to be at the centre of the political spectrum. Being at the centre means your party appeals to the greatest number of voters. Do we really want an electoral system where in the mad scramble to appeal to the greatest number of people, you get candidates who sacrifice their more extreme political tendencies in order to get more voters? Not only that, but what happens after he or she is elected and they start to reveal their true colours? Let’s return one more time to that fictional election I set up earlier. During the campaign, each of those 5 candidates staked out a position at or close to the political centre, but not too long after the election we discovered that Cassandra Jones (let’s say that she won and Ms. Jones is now the duly-elected MP for the riding of St. Swithins in the Cow Pasture) really is a right wing conservative whose ideology of fiscal and/or social conservatism is very different from what she portrayed in the campaign. Or to paraphrase part of an article published in the 24 Hours free newspaper owned by Sun Media back in April 2016 that was one of many I read in researching this one noted, why would we want a system where every candidate claims to love the people and has their interests at heart, only to find that the winning candidate is really someone who bleeds Liberal “red”, Conservative “blue”, or NDP “orange”. As that article rightly points out, I think the vast majority of voters would feel cheated and taken advantage of if the winner veered away from that centrist position in favour of a more liberal or conservative tack. I’ll bet those folks in St. Swithins would feel that way about Ms. Jones. But that’s a whole other story that we ought to set aside.

I have probably written enough by now that I should think about wrapping this up – but before I go, I hope you have read enough by now to appreciate why I feel that “First Past The Post” (FPTP) is the best system for Canada, and indeed for all nations of the world that use the “Westminster” parliamentary system of governance. In summation, the true strengths of FPTP are the ability to bind the local MP or other elected official to the riding or other geographic territory that she or he represents; as well as the necessity of political debate and ensuring that as many different and opposing political ideas and philosophies are represented.

Rather than changing FPTP for another method, let’s concentrate on strengthening the current system and reforming things from within. For example, how about a more educated and informed public? One of the things I have noticed from my many experiences of working elections is that the turn-out is much lower than it ought to be. Frankly, I am disappointed that eligible voters can’t take a few minutes on election day to visit their local polling place and cast a ballot. It also saddens me because it always seems that when people complain that a government does not follow their chosen view on a certain societal issue, it turns out these folks didn’t even bother to vote. And while I fully respect that many of you will likely feel otherwise, I have always believed in the idea that if you couldn’t be bothered to take a few minutes to vote either at the advance polls or on election day itself, you have no right to complain about the result. So I believe that all voters have a responsibility, even a duty, to research the issues during the election campaign and become better informed on things. By doing so, they can make a clear, honest and well-informed decision at the ballot box. I suspect it is more than just a oft-quoted stereotype that Canadians don’t vote “for” a candidate. They vote “against” another one. And I think that is the wrong reason to decide which candidate you should vote for.

Rather than moving away from FPTP to systems such as “proportional representation” or “ranked ballots”, I really think we should look at adopting other measures of democratic reform that can make the Canadian electoral system more accountable and encourage more people to vote. Let me offer some examples of what I mean. Reforms such as strengthening the power of individual MP’s in Ottawa (or their provincial counterparts) so that they can vote according to their consciences, or in a way that better reflects how the majority of their constituents feel on a given issue, rather than being “forced” by their parties to automatically vote according to the party position. Promoting a greater sense of transparency, honesty and open government (such as allowing each MP to post their financial reports online so that their constituents back home know how their tax dollars were spent). What about term limits, so that elected officials can only serve for a limited number of years (some have said this is a great idea, it provides the opportunity for new blood, fresh thinking and greater creativeness, instead of some politicians who hang on for many years and whose longevity means that things can get rather stale after a while)?

We should also encourage greater differences among the political parties. There are many Canadians (maybe even the majority of us) who see little or no difference between the parties, which in some cases leads to frustration, a disconnect from the political landscape and no desire to vote at all. They make the claim, and I believe with much justification, that for all their gesturing and pandering, the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats are essentially the same. No matter which party is in power, you will still get the “same-old, same-old” stuff. Some Canadians, especially those who feel disenchanted that the Liberals have not delivered the “Real Change” that they campaigned on in 2015, have argued that Mr. Trudeau isn’t really all that different from his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper. At the risk of another tangent, there is ample evidence to show that in many cases, the Liberals have merely followed the same policies as the previous government. Hmm – I think I just found a subject for another article in the not-too-distant future. Are all the major political parties in Ottawa really cut from the same cloth? I think I will let my fellow Canadians judge that one.

Whether you agree with the above paragraph or not, I hope we can all agree that instead of each political party moving towards the centre (and thus being guilty of the above charge – that there is little or no difference between them), as part of democratic reform each of them ought to establish their own identities. As noted earlier, the political landscape, just as the societal landscape, is much better when a wide spectrum of ideas are presented for discussion. I would challenge of each of Canada’s political parties to do just that. Present political and societal ideas that are different from the other parties. Offer clearly defined alternatives to the Canadian people and then have the courage to actually implement them if you are elected. Resist the temptation to rush to the centre when you might be on the verge of taking power. Don’t sell your political soul in order to reach more voters. As an example, there were many within the New Democratic Party who strongly criticized their 2015 election campaign. Prior to the election, the NDP formed the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. And given that many Canadians were disenchanted with Stephen Harper and wanted a change after ten years of Conservative rule, it was widely believed that the party had an excellent chance of taking power. So what happened? It was a perfect example of what I noted above. During their time as the main Opposition party, the NDP was seduced by the “siren call” of the centre and moved away from their left wing/socialist roots. Or at least this was the opinion of many in the party, who felt they had betrayed themselves and as a result alienated many voters who wanted a more “left wing” government and decided to chose the Liberals. To the point where they won the election, and the NDP was reduced to “third party” status and a lot of soul-searching, which continues as of this writing (and likely will for some time to come).

Maybe democratic reform ought to make more use of the Internet and other online technologies – thus allowing people more voting options? Instead of implementing “proportional representation” or “ranked ballots” in a future election, how about the ability to vote online from your home, office or other remote location instead of actually going to a physical polling station? Or adopting electronic voting practices at the polling locations (as has been used for several Ontario municipal elections as well as in other jurisdictions across North America and beyond) instead of the traditional “paper” ballots used for Canadian federal and provincial elections. If nothing else, you get the official results from your polling station 5 minutes after the polls close instead of possibly 5 hours or more using the “paper” system (as happened to me at the 2015 election – even though our polling station closed at 9:30 p.m that night, it took so long to count the ballots that I did not return home until close to 4:00 a.m. the next morning). All of the above initiatives and others could go a long way in strengthening the system of parliamentary democracy that has served Canada well for 150 years. In summation, I truly believe that FPTP is the best way to conduct a Canadian election, and I hope this article has provided ample evidence to support my claim.

One last thing about democratic reform – I’ll bet someone out there reading this will ask me about mandatory or compulsory voting as used in Australia and other nations around the world. Hmm – don’t get me started! Maybe I ought to explore that concept at another time. Which is another way of saying that I have probably written too much already and should say goodbye to you, my patient readers (especially if you actually have read this far!). Which I now in fact do. Goodbye to you all. As always, thank you for reading this article. Feel free to share this with anyone you like – until next time!

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Hi gang:

I wanted to share this message with all of you today, slightly adapted from a posting I wrote over on Facebook earlier this morning, and before I head out for another busy day here in Hamilton. As an aside, Hamilton is located in southern Ontario – about 50 miles west of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

The following comes within the context of being a Canadian by birth, but with very strong American roots. My mother’s family is mostly American (my maternal grandmother was born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota on July 3, 1904). My ancestors came to America from Scotland in the spring of 1751, landing in New Castle, Delaware. My sixth great-grandfather, Nathaniel Mitchell, served in the Continental Army for three years during the Revolution, and it is my understanding that for a time he even served as a bodyguard for George Washington. In succeeding generations, my ancestors served their country in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. And in more recent times, one of my cousins served with distinction in the Navy. If you ever read this, Shannon, thank you for serving your country. She is one of many American cousins, who live in places as distinct as Schenectady, New York; Portland, Oregon; Everett, Washington (just north of Seattle); and Los Angeles, California. I even have an American cousin who is a university professor in, of all places, Montreal. Patrick teaches at the Universite de Montreal – and yes, it does mean that he has learned to speak French and I gather has done so quite well. I grew up in St. Lambert (a suburb of Montreal) and even though I moved away shortly after my graduation from McGill University in 1979, I still visit the city when the opportunity arises. Next time I am “back home”, we’ll have to connect.

So as I am sure you can appreciate from what I have written above, I love America and truly desire the best for your country. I could say more but will leave it there. What follows is that slightly modified Facebook posting, I commend it to you all and hope you will share it with others:

Dear citizens of the United States of America:

Sending this to my American friends here on Facebook and to others across the USA who may come across this message. It’s your Election Day today, wishing you all the very best as you go to your local polling stations and cast your votes. I’m saying “votes” in the plural on purpose because although everyone is focusing on Clinton vs Trump, I know that you folks vote for EVERYTHING today from the White House right on down to the local school crossing guard (well, maybe not the last one, but you know what I mean). I pray that men and women of honour, integrity and solid commitment to the American people will be elected to public office today, regardless of which party they represent or which political or social views they believe in. I think it was President Kennedy all those years ago who said something like: “What we need is not a Republican solution or a Democratic solution to our problems, we need an American solution”. He was right. Praying for America today – the world will be watching, God bless you all as you make your choices today.

With heartfelt love, prayers and warmest good wishes from a Canadian who loves America and wants nothing but the best for her. God bless America, this Election Day and always.

Greg Brown

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