Reflection – 2018 edition

It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for my Canadian Atheist year-end reflection.

Oof, but 2018 was a rough year. One where just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. That’s true not just on the technical and administrative sides, but for just about everything even peripherally related to Canadian Atheist.

2018 was also a tough year politically in Canada. It saw the election of right-wing populist assholes in Ontario and Québec, and the defeat of the electoral reform referendum in BC. But I honestly don’t think it was as bad as it appears on the surface.

Let’s break 2018 down by category. Let’s start with Canada in general.

2018 for Canada: The struggle continues…

The last few years have seen a struggle for the soul of Canada. It’s more pronounced in the US, as most things are, but the ugly heart of our society – the racist, bigoted, intolerant urges that lurk in the worst parts of us – has reared up and even taken power in some places. Last year we had an enormously successful time of fighting them back. Results were much more mixed in 2018.

The biggest setbacks, and the ones hardest to ignore, were the election wins of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, and François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec in Québec. New Brunswick also swung right… sorta.

So does that mean that Canada swung right in 2018? Well… no. Not really.

It’s hard not to feel that some of the shine has worn off our allegedly “progressive” politics, now that the Trudeau government has been in power long enough to tip its hand and show its true allegiance to money and the status quo. And it’s true that if you don’t look too closely, you can spin a believable narrative that Canada is going the way of Trump’s America in electing demagogues like Ford and Legault. But if you do look closer, the picture is much more complicated, and very different from what happened in the US with Trump.

Doug Ford

Take Ford, for example. To understand what happened there, you need to go back to the beginning of 2018. In the beginning of 2018, the PCs were already tapped to win the election by a sizable majority. People were already proclaiming Patrick Brown to be the next Premier. That’s right, Patrick Brown. Not Doug Ford. Ford wasn’t in the picture yet.

And it’s important to realize that Brown was not only nothing like Ford, Brown was actually leading a very clean campaign with some very progressive principles. While other conservative parties across Canada flirted with racism and anti-immigration conspiracy theories and denied climate change, Brown was planning on instituting a carbon tax, speaking out against the anti-immigration rhetoric of people like Kellie Leitch, and proposing a massive expansion of mental health services. He was conservative, yes… but he was doing a pretty good job of outflanking the Liberals on the left. He was basically destined to win, and Ontario was cool with that.

And then came the #MeToo scandal that led to Brown’s downfall. Good riddance to him, if the allegations are true, but he left a power vacuum that the extremist factions in the party fought tooth-and-nail to fill. In the end they won… but it wasn’t a good victory; not by a long shot. The preferred candidate of the social conservative faction was Tanya Grancic Allen… and she got her ass shpanked in the party leadership election. As instructed, all the so-con bozos collaborated to put Ford as their second choice… but even then, Ford lost the popular vote in the end. And not by a little either – by over 2,000 votes. However, the Ontario PCs have some obscure system where they redistribute votes using some method of weighting something something riding size – I really don’t know how it works – and Ford ended up winning by about 150 points, 50.6% to 49.4%… hardly a resounding victory.

Once he’d won party leadership, all Ford had to do was keep his fucking mouth shut for less than 90 days, which he accomplished by tactics like avoiding debates. Even then, support for the PC dropped precipitously, with several polls predicting an NDP victory in the month before the election. Luckily for the PCs, the Liberals helped them out by sabotaging the NDP; their thinking was that they were destined to lose, but they would have a much easier time winning back power in 2022 after a dumpster fire term by the PCs than after a likely decent term by Horwath’s NDP… and they’re probably right.

Thus, Doug Ford won Ontario, but with the full story told, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as smoothly as those claiming this is a victory for the far right would want it to. No doubt Ford’s win is a win for the far right, and for bigotry, ignorance, and regressive beliefs – the evidence of that is already clear as day, and he’s only been in power for six months. But he only got that power because of circumstances outside of the right’s control. In other words, the far right didn’t win this power… the left and centre lost it.

And that may be the most important lesson of 2018 for Canadian politics.

It is not true that the far right is carrying out a brilliant and effective campaign to seize power in Canada. Far from it. What’s happening is that every victory they win is due to more progressive and sensible political forces bungling shit – and not out of incompetence, but due to straight up greed and lust for power. Doug Ford won Ontario due to Ontarians’s disgust of Kathleen Wynne’s corruption and pandering to big money, and because she not only refused to institute a fair and functional electoral system for Ontario, her party actually, consciously went out of their way to fuck things up for the province so they’d have a better chance at absolute power in four years. And even then, Ford only won because most Ontarians didn’t have enough time to learn what a scumbag he is.

If you look at the bigger picture, the forces of hate are losing everywhere. A few high-profile victories won’t turn the tide. 2018 saw concerted and organized efforts to disrupt and expose the far right in Canada. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network was created, and, working with journalists across Canada and the US, they scored some huge victories unmasking the activities of the far right, particularly in the Canadian military and law enforcement.

There’s still a lot of work to be done – the authorities are still not taking the threat seriously enough – but we are still winning.

If there’s anything to learn from 2018 it’s that we can’t be complacent, and that we can’t ignore or downplay the threat – particularly for our own short-term benefit. We had more politically-motivated violence in Canada in 2018 than in any previous year I know of (I can’t speak to what went on in the 1960s, for example). More Canadians died from political violence in 2018 than in any previous year I know of. All of them were killed by right-wing actors, connected to the kind of bullshit that too many Canadian atheists buy into, like islamophobia and misogyny.

We’re doing okay. But we’ve got to work harder. Let’s make that our goal for 2019: To work harder to scour intolerance and hatred from our communities, and to speak out against it and spurn it whenever it appears in our political discourse.

2018 for Canadian Atheist: One thing after another…

So how as 2018 for CA specifically? Rough. Not bad. Just… rough.

2018 was a year where just… everything… seemed to go wrong for CA. I mean that not just on the technical side… everything was a challenge this year, for one reason or another.

But absolutely none of the challenges CA faced this year were the fault of our contributors. Quite the contrary! CA’s contributors did even better this year than they did last year, and in fact had the best year since I’ve been doing these year-end reflections.

And neither were our readers at fault. As always, they’ve tuned in to our content week-in, week-out, sharing it, discussing it, and giving us positive feedback to help improve. Our readership grew quite a bit in 2018 – up 15% by my estimates. And that was despite all the many hiccups the site had!

There wasn’t really any one thing to blame; it was more like a series of random, disconnected unfortunate events – or rather, not even necessarily “unfortunate” events so much as “unexpected shit” that interfered with various plans and operations. Some of the events were actually good … they just unfolded in a way that didn’t work out well for CA.

[Canadian Atheist logo]
Our spiffy new logo

Let me give you an example of the kind of interference to plans and operations we faced this year. CA runs on a piece of software called WordPress, and, frankly, our set up is getting a little creaky with age. There are a lot of things we need to fix and update – as just one example, the theme we’re using hasn’t been updated in over six years, and doesn’t support mobile devices all that well… which is a huge problem in the current era. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the background to bring us up to date, some of which you may even have noticed – like moving us to the secure (HTTPS) web – but there’s still so much to do. I have been laying the foundation for a new, modern Canadian Atheist WordPress theme – a totally new look and feel complete with a new logo and everything! – and I had hoped to roll out some of the new features in 2018. So… why didn’t I? What happened to those plans?

Well, buzz started in late 2017 that a major new version update for WordPress was coming in 2018. This is a good thing – there were a lot of important security fixes, and usability updates, so I was looking forward to it. But at the same time, it didn’t make sense to develop our new theme on technology that was going to be outdated in a few months. So… everything got delayed. And then the new version of WordPress itself was delayed for months! And then when it finally came out, the update caused a ton of new issues that I had to fix! Facepalm.

So here we sit at the end of 2018, and basically nothing was accomplished toward our systems update. Well, not nothing… I mean, a lot was accomplished. We did update our core to the new version of WordPress, and all of the teething issues have now been solved (crossing fingers here). It’s just that on the original timetable, we were supposed to have been at this point months ago… and we just got here a couple days ago.

And it’s the same for everything else that happened with CA over the year. Another example: our preferred crowdfunding payment processor got shut down. And here’s the crazy thing: it didn’t get shut down because it was skimming too much off the top of the donation money… it got shut down because it wasn’t skimming enough! Head explosion. It’s back up and running now, but it took months… delaying for months the entire project to get Canadian Atheist crowd-funded. And once again, it’s hard to complain because Liberapay is better now than it was before. We’re actually in a better place than I thought we’d be… it’s just… it took so much time to get here that it feels like we didn’t really accomplish much.

And so on and so forth. There were dozens of these little hiccups along the way. Slowing everything down, delaying every project we’ve been working on. There’s so much the pipes right now just… stuck… because they need this or that to continue and those things are delayed. Seeing so many things hung up delays is frustrating; it feels like we’ve accomplished nothing.

The reality is… we’ve done pretty damn well this year. Yes, we didn’t accomplish nearly as much as we’d hoped to, but perhaps our timelines were overly optimistic; it’s not like we have a massive team working on CA, and as of now we have effectively zero substantive support. But we faced a lot of challenges this year, and – and this is the important point – we managed to overcome them all.

And while every one of our projects has faced delays and setbacks… they’re all still underway. Nothing has been lost or destroyed. We’ve been slowed, but we haven’t been stopped. Indeed, a few good months, some real substantive support, and suddenly the dams will break, and a lot of neat stuff will suddenly see the light of day.

So that’s been 2018 for CA behind the scenes: one thing after another interfering with just about every aspect of our operations… but we’re still motoring on. And even doing better than the previous year! It feels a little disappointing because my hopes were so high this time last year, but the reality is: We’ve really done good, folks.

I could not have done it without our contributors. Running this site is a hell of a lot of work, and these people take a lot of the weight off of my shoulders. I want to give full, unrestrained, and heartfelt thanks to Derek, Scott, Shawn, and our newbie/oldbie in 2018, Ian. If all you guys did was help out keeping CA alive, you’d all deserve medals, but honestly it goes way beyond that – because I’m not just the managing editor of CA… I’m also a reader… and your pieces over the year have been fascinating reading for me on a personal level. So I thank you all both as the editor here, and also as a reader.

And of course, our readers. You know I love you. You’re why I do this. Your appreciation for what we provide is literally the only payment I get for running this site; I literally pay for the privilege! But it’s worth it. It really is. Thanks to everyone, and I promise to give you even better in 2019.

Top posts and trends of 2018

Here are the top 20 posts for 2018 – with miscellany like the About page and regular features like Weekly Updates removed. Posts that were actually made in 2018 are highlighted.

1Interview with Gauri Hopkins on Cult Upbringing and Contemporary FeminismScott Douglas Jacobsen
Separation of Church & State in CanadaDiana MacPherson
Would you believe Christians are the most persecuted religious group?Indi
2Benjamin David on How His Abusive Childhood Motivated Him to get involved in Human Rights ActivismScott Douglas Jacobsen
3Doing blasphemy rightIndi
42018 Canadian Atheist Awards – Person of the yearIndi
5In Conversation with Melissa Krawczyk – Atheist, Secular Humanist, and SkepticScott Douglas Jacobsen
6Pastor Paul VanderKlay on the Christian Reformed ChurchScott Douglas Jacobsen
The Salvation Army throws family out into freezing night, due to fear of imaginary gay paedophilesIndi
7In Conversation with Atheist Minister Gretta Vosper – Current ContextScott Douglas Jacobsen
Public Funding of Catholic Schools in OntarioVeronica Abbass
8Bill C-51 passes: Blaspheme away!Ian Bushfield
9The fundamentals of humanismIndi
10Meet Joe BeefIndi
11International Blasphemy Day 2018Indi
12Sodfa Daaji on the Urgent Case of Noura Hussein HammadScott Douglas Jacobsen
13Faisal Saeed Al Mutar on Concerns Over Backlash MovementsScott Douglas Jacobsen
14Conversation with Pastor Brad Strelau – Pastor, CA Church: Town CenterScott Douglas Jacobsen
15Please don’t let atheists fall for the latest conspiracyIan Bushfield
16The Role of Religion in Gender InequalityScott Douglas Jacobsen

I mentioned earlier that 2018 was a fantastic year for our contributors, and you can see that above. This was the first year I’ve been doing these reflections where I didn’t dominate the top five: No matter how you count it, I only appear twice.

Instead, the champion this year is Scott Douglas Jacobsen, who also got the #1 post… by far, I might add, by almost twice as much as the next most popular 2018 post… which was also his! He got 2 of the top 5 posts overall, and 3 of the top 5 2018 posts. He ended up with 6 of the top 20, all of them 2018 posts. Not too shabby, Scott!

Also, Jacobsen’s posts highlight the post type of posts in 2018. Turns out what our readers were really interested in were… people. Both contemporary and historical. Atheists really wanted to read about other atheists, or about people with perspectives on atheism in Canada. That wasn’t just true for Jacobsen’s articles, which are usually interviews with people like Gretta Vosper, Faisal Saeed al Mutar, or Jessica Schab. It was also true for my own articles: many of my most popular articles were focused on people, like Michael Coren and Joe Beef. I think that’s a neat trend, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more focus in 2019 on people, rather than on events, or arguments.

2018 in summary

So 2018 was a bit of a slog, where it really felt like we were just treading water the whole time, trying not to be overwhelmed by a wave of intolerance, ignorance, and hate. Not to mention, behind the scenes at CA shit going wrong, breaking, or just working out as planned.

But while think 2018 was a rough year, I do not think it was a bad year.

Let’s not forget that we won some spectacular victories.

Let’s not forget our fight against discrimination in the combined case of Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University and Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada. TWU wanted to force people to “stop being gay” to get a law degree, and they tried to use their religion to justify it. And they lost. We won that shit, people! TWU ended up backing down and licking their wounds. And to make the victory that much sweeter, while the ruling itself was fairly specific to the case at hand (as they usually are), there were strong hints in the minority concurrences that the Supreme Court is very much on our side of the issue in general: that you don’t get to use your religion to take away rights from other people.

Let’s not forget that we got the blasphemy law repealed. We’ve been fighting that battle for as long as I’ve been an atheist activist… and we won! That is fucking huge! We won that, people.

And even when we didn’t directly win victories, we won spiritual victories. For example, the Saskatchewan government was so flummoxed by the 2017 ruling that they can’t pay for non-Catholics to attend Catholic school that they were forced to use the notwithstanding clause for maybe only the second time in Charter history (where the notwithstanding clause actually mattered). On the surface, that doesn’t really look like a victory for us… but it really kind of is. Because the fact that Brad Wall had to use the nuclear option to keep the separate school system afloat is a harbinger of its impending demise. You can’t hope to keep the publicly-funded Catholic system alive on the life-support system of the notwithstanding clause forever. It is going to die. Wall is just delaying its end. His action telegraphs that fact to everyone. We’re going to win this fight, too… and probably soon.

And let’s not forget the many, many smaller or incidental victories we won this year. A lot has happened toward reducing or undermining the power religious authorities have over our health… over our lives and deaths. Yes, there’s a still a lot of battles to be fought there… but the tide is on our side.

And hey, we got legal pot! The Bible says: Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be stoned. Well, guess what, folks. Canada is now the only country in the world where you can do both – blaspheme and be stoned – legally!

Yeah, it’s been a rough year. But it hasn’t been a bad year. We had a lot of challenges. But we did okay.

So I’m looking forward to 2019 with optimism. Maybe we’ll face even more challenges, maybe it will be an easy year. Either way, I’m confident that we’ll get by… and not just get by: I’m confident we’ll have even more victories to celebrate this time a year from now. It was a beast, but we kicked 2018’s ass. 2019? We’ve got it’s number already.

Thank you to all our readers, and to all our contributors. I raise a glass and puff legally in heartfelt gratitude to you all. And as always, I’m going to strive to do even better in the next year.

See you on the flip side, folks.

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