Category Archives: philosophy

Being Respectful Pays Dividends

It has become the practice in Federal politics these days to hold your opponents in contempt. All parties have descended to this; it is now the norm.

It is also a great liability. Respect your opponents so that you can see them more clearly.

Here’s the liability. Let’s say you are a die-in-the-wool Liberal — say, somewhat like a Toronto friend of mine — who really believes that there is something mentally wrong with anyone who supports the Conservatives, and who believes in his/her heart of hearts that the Prime Minister is Evil Incarnate. This very viewpoint blinds him/her to the reality of the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister, and the actions taken by them.

We saw this in the last session. “You have no Green Plan.” Well, yes, the Government did — it was just founded on different principles than the plans and suggestions offered by others. The Government recognised Kyoto was no longer achievable without excessive destruction of the Canadian economy: the lost years had seen to that. So they admitted it, and put forward their own plan (centred on reduction of pollutants which, incidentally, would achieve a carbon reduction as a natural consequence). But this was not seen or evaluated: “no plan” was the conclusion, simply because the plan didn’t contain the elements expected. The contempt for the Conservatives meant that what was said was not heard, what was published was not seen.

Likewise, the Conservative Party’s contempt for Stéphane Dion blinded the Conservatives to Dion and his policies. Opportunities were lost and fights unnecessarily picked — the blame for a dysfunctional Parliament belongs on all shoulders — and during the election campaign blunder after blunder emerged from the Conservative War Room and advertising policy precisely because that contempt led to excess. (This is not an argument that Stéphane ought to have done better or won the day; it is a recognition of a failing that may well have played its part in denying the Government a majority.)

One need not agree with one’s Opponent; one does need to respect them, their integrity, their intelligence. In a minority situation, this may be essential to finding votes to carry a measure. On the campaign trail, it is essential to not going to excess and thus destroying one’s own case for election. I do not like nor approve of my MP, Joyce Murray (Lib., Vancouver-Quadra) based on her performance to date. Nevertheless I must be sure to see what she does clearly: perhaps she will surprise me and my estimate of her grow. If Deborah Meredith, the defeated Conservative candidate in the riding had had a similar respect she might well have campaigned differently — and won. (The campaign at the end of the day is local, and local expectations must be met: in Quadra, that includes actually engaging with your counterparts on the ballot.)

Here in the wider community of bloggers, there are those of us who choose not to affiliate with a blog roll: these — be it for Blogging Dippers or Tories, or Libloggers — are often mostly closed worlds, echo chambers of a sort. Respect for others includes actually reading others, especially those who do not share your views. When a noted Liblogger such as Steve V. of Far and Wide, for instance, makes a good point, I am happy to acknowledge it, just as I am others who choose to affiliate themselves. Quality thinking and quality writing deserves that from me. (I reserve my more contemptuous moments for those who earn them, such as the syncophants, party messagers and cynical truth-benders, and only read them occasionally to see if things are changing.)

I do not (for instance) much care at this juncture who takes over Dion’s faltering reins: none of the potential candidates seems worth a candle. Nevertheless, the Liberal Party will ultimately select a new leader, who will become Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Leader of the Opposition. Whomsoever it is (and, yes, I do have views as to who would be better or worse for Canada [and for the Liberal Party, not at all the same thing]) will have my respect: I shall want to know where they are taking that institution, and I can’t find that out if I’m not willing to grant them the opportunity to be heard.

As I suggested yesterday in examining the possibility of leader turnover, party by party, this could be an era with many new faces contending the next time an electoral writ is dropped. It is therefore a time when policies and approaches could well be in flux. Attention and respect will go a long way to understanding what this means — and how best to achieve goals related to the issues that matter to me. Contempt would blind me — and surprise me, probably in a manner not to my liking.

One hopes the Government, in this Parliamentary session, will take the first step to respect its opponents on the other side of the House. It must begin somewhere — why not with the victors, who need prove nothing about their ability to fight and win?

Incidentally, respect does not mean rolling over or engaging in destructive compromise. Nor does it mean being effectively thwarted and doing nothing about it. But even in the heat of battle, it does mean paying attention and being willing to respond when appropriate.

We Canadians used to be good at that. Let’s see if we can be again.

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Making Them Hear the Voice of the People

One of the things to like about the Conservative Party of Canada is its broad, shallow, “retail” donor base. One of the things to dislike about the CPC is exactly that same means of raising prodigious sums of money. Before you call me schizophrenic, stay with me for a moment and see why it is both a blessing and a curse.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” It’s not, of course, that money plays any different a role in politics than it plays in any other field of human endeavour. Athletes need money to be free of working for any purpose other than their training, and to be able to afford to compete at the levels required for world competitiveness. Non-profits, in doing their work, need the funds to carry out their missions. Policy influence study groups need to be funded so as to pay the costs of researching and publishing their papers. Entrepreneurs need investors so as to be able to handle the start up period, when costs far outrun revenues and the newborn business is nurtured to health and potential prosperity. In all these cases, how the money comes in matters.

Have just a few funders, each of whom writes a large cheque, and you have an oligarchy (even if its members do not know the others) that, by virtue of its financial support and the weight of worry if it were lost in the future, have a significant voice in the direction of affairs in the endeavour they are funding. Have thousands of small funders, on the other hand, and those voices are stilled: the loss of a few dollars is not something that keeps the leadership of an organisation up at night, but the potential loss of hundreds of thousands all at once can cause a ready loss not only of sleep, but rationality, with worry.

What’s to Like: I said in the beginning that the broad donor base of the CPC was something to like. If I’m a donor to anything — a subscriber to start-up capital, a charitable subvention, or a political campaign — I want to know that my money will be used for the things I expect it to be used for. A broad donor base helps ensure this: the party can reasonably conclude that the record of accomplishments and policy options for the future that it puts “on the table” are what is being subscribed to with the donations. As a result, there is little reason not to stay the course, as it is the ebbs and flows of funds in their thousands of droplets that gives an indication of what the “political market” wants, as opposed to just a few voices with the undertone of “be reasonable, do it my way … or else”.

It can — and has been, many times — be objected that this reduces political participation to “consumer” behaviour rather than the involved interactions of being a citizen. Does it surprise you that we act as consumers? For most people of voting age, their entire life has been spent barraged and assaulted by the presumption that they ought to be consumers. That this message should have been internalised ought not to be a surprise. Nor should, in such a world, we be surprised that a political party “gets it” — and treats their donors in precisely the right way to trigger the “consumer” response mechanism.

What’s Not to Like: Alas, every upside does come with a downside. The downside of mass political donation rather than élite accommodation (lubricated by funds) is that there is no easy mechanism to say “hold on, guys, you’re on the wrong track”. The power brokers of old, after all, were steeped in the on-going conversation (both via the media and directly over lunches, drinks and social encounters) of other influencers in the land. High names in one sphere of endeavour — a Jeffrey Simpson, say, in print media — have their calls taken by another high name in another sphere — a Paul Demerais, say. Influence could thus be brought to bear on political parties to adjust their policy vectors — in ways “appropriate” to the large influencers, of course, but there was a path to make this happen.

This is the pattern that operates the Liberal Party, and operated the historical Progressive Conservative Party. Our New Democrats are less so, even despite the long-standing “union connections”. Greens, the Bloc and Reform/CA, on the other hand, were and are all resolutely “grassroots” driven — and it is this strain that influences the CPC today.

”Grassroots” Is a Mixed Blessing: Alas, a permanent policy “conversation” does not occur within parties. It is considered by one and all to be a source of “off message diversions”. Today the Greens, in public, do the best job, with their many Green bloggers linked via their party website, but even there’s a lot of self-policing going on. As a result, the “grassroots” becomes a means of taking over an EDA (riding association) or forcing a candidate upon a riding by weight of temporary numbers — and a source of funds. That’s it, tout court.

EDAs, in turn, are focused on getting their candidate elected at the next opportunity. A free-ranging policy discussion unfolding over months would “tear the association apart” (in the words of one EDA president) or “lose our focus on getting [the candidate] elected” (in the words of another). Yet, without these links back to the party itself, the money comes without its voice. There is the illusion of participation, but not the reality of it. “Turn out your troops for the ground war, keep us flush with cash … and otherwise know your place.” This seems to be the anthesis to the thesis of élite accommodation.

The “Chrétien Revolution”: The closing days of the Chrétien government, as we know, changed election financing in this country to make the micro-funder supreme. This is, on the whole, a good thing (although its impact on leadership selection and other aspects of party management has yet to be fully figured out): more of us can decide, month by month, who to reward and who to punish with our dollars. (The parties, on the other hand, will be working to get the vast majority of Canadians to stick a crowbar in their wallets in the first place. As with any other “consumer” situation, the by-far-largest share of the market is held by “not interested in what you’re offering”.)

Now, as the Liberals try to ramp up their micro-donor base with their Victory Fund, and the Conservative Fund keeps on massing its monies, and the New Democrats turn in substantial-enough performances at the cashbox, the second half of this revolution must be undertaken. In this, the burden will be on the donor. Part of this comes by demanding that gag laws and other anti-democratic initiatives be put to rest: parties no longer need protection, nor an exclusive field. Issues, indeed, are far closer to the future of politics than parties in a stream of minority governments! — and far more likely to engage that growing body of Canadians who can, but won’t, take part. The other part is that we must engage with EDAs and other structures and bring democratic discussion to them.

These considerations apply regardless of party — and just as much to issue-oriented groups as to classic political venues. To only give money — and not to bring your voice into the fray, somewhere — is to essentially allow those in charge to do as they please. After all, these days, there isn’t the restraint traditionally offered by the élites.

It’s our money: our voice comes with it. Only then will the synthesis of the new power arrangements be complete.

Fundamental Change

There are many in society who now hold to the idea that the world we have built is too complex to be “taken apart” and redesigned. They hold, as a result, that the best we can do is to make many small changes — small, so that if we make a poor choice, we can change away from it, and many, so that collectively these “add up” to redesigning the whole.

Add to this the concept that society can be perfected — or that the people in society can be perfected — and you get classical liberalism. Add to that the notion that experts know better than the common man or woman what needs to be done and how to do it, and you get modern liberalism, in its range of orientations from the socialist utopians through social democrats, through the power-and-influence band, to the social moulders and corporatists. In other words, today’s Republicans and Democrats in the USA, today’s Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the UK, and today’s five parties in Canada…

Some of us disagree with the very notions of liberalism. As with Hippocrates, we begin with the principle “Above all, do no harm”: change should therefore be slow and careful (yet not wholly forestalled). Yet we stand with the people, believing them capable of understanding complex issues and making good choices about them if they are treated as competent adults rather than children to be babied by the nanny state mentality. Experts thus advise, they do not control. From the span of social order and justice (the original CCF) to the indigenous Canadian Tory, this span is currently but a fragment found (almost exclusively) in two of our parties. But it is there.

With that, let’s turn to the question of the purpose of government.

Those of us who are not liberal generally agree that the purpose of government is the provisioning of peace and order, and clarity around the rules of engagement — this is the element of justice expressed not as equality (the liberal idea) but as fairness (the same rules for all) — and the capitalisation of infrastructure needed but not yet a viable commercial investment. We may disagree on the span of items requiring infrastructure investment, and on the number of rules of engagement that may be required, but, unlike the liberals in our midst, we do not try to invoke change beyond these limits.

At the moment, for instance, it is necessary to rethink the fundamental piece of infrastructure that is our socio-economic model. This is based in (a) the uninterrupted flow of cheap energy (underlying the expectation of endless growth), (b) a disregard for locality of origin of products and services — communities, in other words, should not be encouraged to be sufficient unto themselves (globalisation), (c) a notion that despite obvious regional differences around a continental scale country one’s location should not matter (equalisation) and (d) a redistribution model for taxation expressed through the funding of many “programs” providing services (the nanny state model of extensive welfare provisioning). On these principles we have built sprawling suburbs with no attention to transportation infrastructure beyond roads, which are provided at a market discount relative to all other forms for people and goods movement, to take but one consequence.

When the environmentalists in our midst start to talk about global warming, carbon reduction, etc., it is the consequences of these fundamentals that they point to. Thus, whether we are dealing with the Gordon Campbell Government’s decision that British Columbia will have a carbon tax (to change usage patterns) and a carbon trading scheme, or the potential for their national equivalents being bruited about by various people supposedly in the know about Liberal Party policy plans, the solutions on offer are all designed to attack the consequences of the fundamental infrastructure of society that we have built.

How, for instance, retirement savings and provisioning is to be handled in a society that no longer grows at a rate sufficient to afford endless growth in nanny state activities is apparently left to the typical answer: “Oh, you’ll do it somehow”. Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, showed how this was the underlying expectation of every initiative to throw sand in the gears to achieve “social purposes”. (What she failed to examine was the question of whether we needed a new fundamental infrastructure in the first place.)

Endless growth, you see, leads to endless demand. Only in a society which is fundamentally conceived of as as allowing initiative to flourish but which may not grow will our innovations overcome our limitations without setting off year-after-year redistribution of resources.

Take government paperwork. I spend, depending on the quarter, six to eight times the time and energy handling regulations and reporting requirements for my tiny company as I do on managing that company. That is utterly ridiculous: were I to have the money to retire today, I would shut the company’s doors immediately. Why contribute one more minute of my life to bureaucracy, practically none of which benefits me? Yet the real losers from that decision would be other productive people who today can engage me on solving their problems — and to whom I would be unavailable at any price. Stagnation would replace change. Multiply that attitude, and whole communities lose their spark and die to subsist on the dole of government programs, all of which suck more life out of them than initiative would do, and which demand more money and more bureaucratic “feeding” as time goes on. The weeds take over the garden and starve the plants of life.

That is what a carbon tax would do. Forget the rhetoric of “revenue neutrality”: how can it be? Who pays, and when, changes from today — the burden is shifted. Worse, it is shifted into places we have consciously and deliberately disadvantaged by limiting their options already — and there is, despite the speechifying of politicians and experts, no real set of choices for the automobile and truck dependent far-flung villages and towns, and suburbs, of the Canadian landscape. We at one time had alternatives which we systematically starved into extinction. They no longer exist. Nor — under our current laws — will they easily come back.

Meanwhile, since no existing taxes are outright discontinued — all proponents of the social engineering that is carbon taxation merely diddle rates rather than make it impossible to collect further taxes of other types — these will soon become revenue accretive (to pay for more programs demanded to “relieve the suffering” brought about by the destruction of value in motor-dependent communities by this tax). This isn’t just sand in the gears of the economy, as one writer has put it: these are a means to outright stop innovation that isn’t part of an “approved path”. “Grind to a stop, we will.”

You can kiss your savings for retirement good-bye, then.

Let’s stop diddling around the edges. The disease is liberalism and the infrastructure it built of an economic model requiring endless growth. To “do no harm” these days we must detox our society, so to speak: we must wean it from dependency back to self-sufficiency, and wipe out taxes and programmes left, right and centre rather than add to the pile.

The end of cheap energy will take care of most of the issues with carbon emission. Going beyond that into changing what we tax to influence behaviour must start with what we stop doing and stop demanding those of us who create economic results must do. Otherwise we will starve ourselves — and, two decades hence, see if that wasn’t a highly accurate statement of our impoverishment under the weight of a state we can’t afford without the endless growth model cheap energy provided — instead of free up the initiative space and resources needed to change our fundamentals.

Sometimes the Tory advances basic change with many follow-on effects to correct a path that has gone fundamentally wrong. This is one of those times. For without such a diagnosis, this patient won’t make it.

First, detox the junkie (don’t give him or her a place to shoot the drugs into their body “under supervision”). All three Insite studies show that that medical principle holds despite the promotion of “harm mitigation”. So, too, we must detox the junkie that is the body public, whose answer to all questions is “what’s the Government doing?”

Don’t expect me to support you, Mr. Campbell, in next year’s election, unless you get cracking on what should have come with your carbon tax. As for M. Dion, I’d expect you to get the picture, too — except you’ve spent your entire working life with your lips firmly coupled to the public teat. Take your carbon tax proposal and go away.

Do For Yourself – A Vision Worth Exploring

The Red Tory in me knows that there are times and places for Government to be the institution that mobilises resources for a large-scale common good. Most Government programmes, however, do not pass this test: they are simple transfers of wealth from the majority of us to a minority of us. These must go! — for choices will increasingly need to be made.

If there is one thing that the Chrétien, Martin and now Harper years have demonstrated, it is a singular lack of vision. Give Trudeau and Mulroney their due: both were fixated on what the business world calls “big hairy audacious goals”. Whether we have benefitted as a nation by these obsessions is not the subject for today. Both of these former Prime Ministers wanted to accomplish their goals; they subordinated much else to these (which means there is no shortage of real criticism possible for their years in power), and ultimately both finished as permanently unelectable despite their legions of adoring fans who to this day gladly defend them. (Proof of the assertion that Trudeau and Mulroney had visionary goals and drove toward them is that Clark, Turner and Campbell simply disappear from view, as those in the shadows often do.)

Chrétien (I must be in a charitable mood today) ran a government driven by reacting to events. The deficit and accumulated debt hit the point of unsustainability? Oh, well, I guess we’ll do something about it. Québec came within 0.5% of a referendum result to chart a course toward independence? Oh, well, I guess we’ll do something about it. So it went with Chrétien: a long list of promises, seldom kept, and a pattern of letting events unfold. His years in office were ultimately about le p’tit gars being in office.

Martin, too, suffered from “I’m here because I’m here” syndrome, typified by his penchant for everything being a top priority (and therefore nothing other than surviving at the top of the dung hill for another day was a priority). When he asked us, in his last election battle, to “Choose Your Canada”, we did. We wanted one with some sense of vision and purpose.

Alas, despite a good start — and a decent track record of “things done” — the Harper Government has also failed dismally to articulate a vision and a reason for its existence, beyond “it’s not the other guys”. I tend to support the Conservative Government, but not reflexively: I do believe we need (as a nation) to regenerate the Liberal Party after years of neglect and mismanagement under Trudeau, Turner, Chrétien, Martin and Dion. They must seriously rethink their purpose. Policy must be more than a book of line items: where is the overarching vision? What elements of our past must we now move away from; which should be the centrepiece of what is brought forward? None of this is being done; until it is, my view as an elector is “anyone but a Liberal”. Enough of tactics and expediency!

That, of course, is the message I would give Mr. Harper, too. “Enough of tactics and expediency!” I would, for instance, have hoped for a healthy dose of fiscal conservativism, grounded in the notion that tax monies are our monies, not “the Government’s”, and should be minimised to return them to their rightful owners. As with, for instance, the whole day care plan issue: “here’s money; you decide how best to use it” rather than “here’s your program and you’ll learn to love it”. (Even better, of course, would be “we’re cutting taxes here so that you can decide if day care is one of your priorities” — no money in, no cheque out — but it will take a very long time to wean Canadian lips from the teat of the State.)

We haven’t had a vision. We’ve had one tactical manoeuvre after another, designed to appeal to this or that, or to get a credit with some small voting bloc for this or that, but we haven’t had a vision.

Within the Conservative Party, of course, there are those with a vision. Some of these have visions I do not support; indeed, actively oppose. That’s all right, because national political parties capable of reaching Government must, of necessity, be big tents: there will be no shortage of people with whom to disagree, even abhor, from time to time. The question is “is this a side note to a vision of the party tout court, or is it what passes for the party’s vision in the absence of having laid one out”? Harper’s Government is perilously close to having its minority views substitute for a vision due to the lack of one.

Despite having had my dalliances over the years with other alternatives — and I do think that if the NDP were to get the stick out and acquire a real vision it might do well enough to actually contend for government rather than for “Best Opposer, 20xx” — I come back to my conservative roots and thus the Conservative Party in its various incarnations over the years because, often, their tactics in the absence of vision are closer to my own views than others. The lack of vision, however, rots this at its core. Expedient actions and tactical manoeuvres don’t add up to anything other than “return me to office” — and in the meantime burden Canada with yet more reasons not to get up off its collective ass, turn the idiot box off, and fend for itself.

We’re going to have to learn again how to do that. Big Government, big programmes, massive transfers are all creations of cheap energy. Cheap energy is going, going, gone, never to return. With its passing into history, the “big structures” it created: massive corporations, national-scale unions, and huge government bureaucracies, are all going to find themselves also headed toward the rubbish tip of history.

A Canadian Conservative Government of vision would be starting to position us for exactly that. It would dismantle programmes of little merit. It would transition us out of them in the way that the pending debacle of “national day care” would have immobilised the country’s wealth and future growth was transitioned away from: most people are much happier with their cheque than with a programme. Then a tax cut can clean up the cheques. Putting resources where they belong — generally as close to the coalface of decision-making as possible — is a sound application of the principle of subsidiarity.

So, too, getting out of the way of the provinces: our provinces should be laboratories for public policy. They ought not only to reflect local conditions and local affordability, they ought to be able to experiment with “what is enough” and “how to do this” in their own domains.

In the meantime, there are elements of national infrastructure in need of repair. A dependence upon road traffic must come to an end: we must invest in alternatives. A mass investment programme of that nature — to be done in a short period of time — is a proper use of government (and then you get out of the business as the economics of operation start to change).

A vision of a sustainable Canada whose prosperity is not based on incessant “growth” obtained by strip-mining the world’s affordable resources could very well be a vision for 21st century Conservativism. But it won’t happen if the Conservative Party doesn’t stop mucking about with tactical voting bloc slicing and marginal riding dicing and instead lay out an integrated vision.

Right now no party offers that sort of visionary umbrella and a set of integrated policy proposals to put meat on the vision’s bones. A free prediction: those that do so first will benefit greatly at the polls (and electoral turnout will jump upwards at that election).

You would change Canada so Canadians stop whingeing and waiting for “Government to do something”? You would make us a centre-right nation rather than a centre-left nation? Where’s the vision to rally the country around?

We are who we are because a string of leftist leaders did exactly that. One of them — Pearson — even did so through two minority governments, and “scandals” far more invasive to his agenda than anything being raised in Ottawa today. All it took was vision, and the courage to stake everything on selling that vision.

Do you have what it takes, Mr. Harper?

It’s a Cloudy Cool Day in the Neighbourhood

Back East, in Ottawa, Mounties visit the Albert Street offices of the Conservative Party of Canada, ostensibly to collect such evidence as might be available in support of a complaint issued by Elections Canada. Unsurprisingly, the media are there; so is a video crew working for the Liberal Party.

Is “In and Out” — Jason Cherniak’s favourite subject, these past two days — the scandal to tar and taint the Government when nothing else so far has stuck? (The Government has done more damage to itself — the musings of our Foreign Affairs Minister, L’Hon. Maxime Bernier, come immediately to mind — than the Opposition has to it.) I don’t know. What I do know is that I think three things:

If “In and Out” isn’t illegal, it’s damn close to the edge, at least for my tolerance of it. Politics is group morality in action: what the law (suitably interpreted) might allow to slide by, good moral reasoning should not. From my comfortable chair this day in Vancouver, it looks to me as though the moral line was crossed. What that means, of course, is that the Conservatives are just as untrustworthy as the Liberals have already proven themselves to be, both tapping the public trough for party benefit.

When Everyone’s a Crook-of-sorts, It’s No Longer Relevant, at least when making selections between parties on the basis of trust, accountability and honesty. Allegations and to spare exist to show that “in and out” is hardly a Conservative Party invention: apparently the meme was in the air in most of the parties and in various geographies across this land. I didn’t vote for the Conservatives in 2006 (although I was mightily glad to see the Liberals dispatched into Opposition for a rebuilding and rethinking that they have yet to undertake), and one of the reasons then was that I didn’t think they were any better than the Liberals at keeping their hands to themselves. The pursuit of power over principle will always “justify” any action thought to bring power closer regardless of how close to the edge of moral and legal limit it skates.

Only the Partisan Minority Cares, in Any Event, for Jane and Joe Citizen could care less. When it comes to crimes against the Canadian people, the “making irrelevant” of politics that our parties have undertaken — and accomplished — should rank near, if not at, the top. Blogging Tories and Libloggers, Media columnists and editorialists and personalities, that’s who cares these days. Not many others.

Hmmm … the sky is lightening to the south west. Perhaps the clouds will lift for a while. Of course, that’ll take the temperature from under normal for spring back to full on wintry chill. Perhaps another latté…

Meanwhile, over in Victoria, the Board of BC Ferries — a corporation organized as would be any other publicly-traded joint-stock corporation, except that there is only one shareholder (Her Majesty in Right of the Province of British Columbia) — gave itself a 60% pay rise yesterday. That’s base pay for the indignity of having to sit on a corporate board; meeting attendance fees are extra. This consumed the provincial Question Period yesterday, but, of course, the real question — can the Crown simply remove ministerial oversight (a Crown Corporation) at will and not complete the task, selling off its ownership stake? — wasn’t brought up at all. No, the Opposition called for the Minister of Transportation to step in and roll the increase back, and the Minister claimed to have “expressed his displeasure” to the Board. As he did, no doubt, to the Translink Board for its self-pocket-lining moves (oh, my mistake, there taking the Board away from community control and making them Ministerial lackeys was a “good move”).

But, of course, it’s poor service and rapidly rising fares that consume those citizens who use the ferries regularly, just as it’s poor service and rapidly rising fares that consume those citizens who travel on buses and the Sky Train system.

BC’s media, of course, wasn’t going to put the effort in to sorting this out that they did to reporting on the RCMP’s actions in Ottawa, mind. Can’t go against the Government, you know. Thank goodness Gordon Campbell and crew don’t have a central bank at their disposal, because the subservience they receive from the media in this province would otherwise allow them to complete the Zimbabweanisation of Canada’s west coast without further worries about how to pay for it.

My word, there goes two cars driving with their headlights on (not just the standard daytime running lights). It’s not that dark out there…

As for the City of Vancouver, there is little to be said. Yes, the rolling wonder-wit, Hizzoner the Mayor, will face a challenger for his party’s nomination; Sam Sullivan’s bag of tricks will no doubt see Peter Ladner off without even breaking a sweat. (Will he, as in the documentary Citizen Sam, then put his foot on Ladner’s throat and press for daring to take his poor results as Mayor on?) The same bag of tricks will no doubt dispatch whomever surfaces as the Vision Vancouver candidate — that is, if COPE doesn’t split the vote and elect Sam in a landslide.

The City, of course, continues to do everything and thus nothing; to (under Sam’s leadership in Council) block real debate. The NPA councillors, one of whom is running against the man, continue to vote as sheep. (Remember, the NPA has, with Sam himself, a margin of one: six-five votes would convert into five-six if even one sheep decided to make his own record.)

It could be a nice country, province and city, couldn’t it, if it wasn’t ground down by the likes of these.

I’ve said all along that what I am is a Tory — which doesn’t make me a Conservative, despite the inability of headline writes to ever note the difference. The smell arising from the dung heaps of Parliament Hill, Victoria’s Inner Harbour and 453 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver disgusts me. Since, in all locations, all parties present are complicit in what’s going on, there is effectively no possibility of change on the horizon.

So, Liberals, topple the Harper Government — or not. It makes no difference. We’ll have an election sometime, and little will be changed (if anything) as a result. Just as Campbell’s gang will be re-elected again in Victoria (and Sullivan in Vancouver) on the backs of supporters who, Huey Long style, would prefer to be robbed blind rather than consider sending them a “get packing” message.

As for me, another latté, and more watching the clouds scud by. I just can’t get wound up today about any of it. It gets easier each day to ignore them.

Perhaps that’s the real future: neighbourhoods that just ignore the lot of them and work to make things work (possibly even better) on a scale more appropriate to the efforts of individual human beings. Certainly it’s hard to have a world-circling ego when your platform is a few houses on a street.

The one thing my MP, my MLA and my current mayor and councillors can count on is that, when they deign to ask, I will be voting against. For none of them personally nor by affiliation deserves to be returned again to suck at the public teat.

A Canadian Near Majority for No Options on Offer

There have been a fair number of hands wrung in public about poor voter turnout at all levels of government, lately, but nothing much done about improving the situation. It’s not my intention today to try and solve all the problems in politics in Canada within 1,200 words or so — talk about trying to boil the ocean! — but to focus on just one factor:

The disenfranchised see no point in voting

What do I mean, “the disenfranchised”? Well, simply put, if you conclude that (a) the system now only turns on leaders of parties — not even the party and the rest of its cadre of candidates, but simply X, Leader of Y —, (b) once elected, leaders see no responsibility to the electors to honour their commitments, (c) once elected, leaders see no reason to invest energy in persuading us that a course change is the reasoned thing to do but simply impose the change, (d) once elected, public opinion — unless loud and highly persistent — is brushed off as “the ravings of the uninformed who should leave such matters to their betters”, and (e) the system is now so complex that getting anything done within it is a matter for intermediaries, fixers, professional supplicants and courtiers, then (f) why bother with the charade of voting?

I had always been a dedicated citizen: studying the issues, paying attention to my local candidates, avoiding reflexive party voting, trying to cast a reasoned ballot. I have followed political matters between elections; I have belonged to multiple parties over my life (if only as a financial supporter).

Living outside of Canada twice, however, forced me to realize — years later — that whilst I lived in the United States and in the Netherlands, places where I was outside the political process (not being a citizen), that I didn’t actually miss much. Things unfolded in both countries exactly as they would have had I been able to get involved, and been involved. In other words, despite all the object lessons that one vote matters, whether these be in Florida in 2000 or in Vancouver-Quadra two weeks ago, the reality was that all it mattered for was “who got to win and who got to lose”. In terms of how the national landscapes unfold, it didn’t make a whit of difference.

So, too, here in Canada — in British Columbia — in the City of Vancouver. There is no reason to be “for” anything, for there is no result obtainable 99% of the time by being “against”. Whether one is choosing positively, or simply voting to “toss the bahstids out”, makes no difference. The system trundles on, unaffected.

See how the Harper Government has been co-opted by the “Ottawa consensus” of the civil service, the central provinces’ leaders and “conventional wisdom”. See how the Federal Liberals still fail to recognize that their day as the “Natural Governing Party” died ages ago — with John Turner — and that Chrétien was an aberration brought about by the last rebellion of the voters breaking up the Progressive Conservative coalition, not the attractions of Chrétien at all (or of Martin in succession, who no longer had a divided opposition to face off against). Enough said: the stately dance continues.

Then there’s the mess in British Columbia, where we have a left:right political rationalisation completed for generations, and therefore a sense of entitlement on the majority side (the “right”). Why not? — far too many people in BC would rather die than vote for “the left” (whatever that is, these days: it’s certainly not what they think it is) no matter how crooked, dismal, abysmal, arrogant, expensive, etc. the “right” becomes. Enough said: without the threat of discipline, politics will run amuck.

Or how about the City of Vancouver. Wardless — oh, how that helps the NPA hold power! — and with neither side needing to offer anything to anyone who lives here. Unless, of course, you’re a developer, in which case have at the city and put up more ugliness. This city deserves the low-life that is Sam the Sham, Mayor of all the “people that count”.

If there was any level of government that ought to have given an opportunity to have influence, it ought to be the one closest to home — the municipal. But none of us do. At the end of the day, a municipal ballot is a long list of candidates, and no more. No wonder people block vote by party — or, as do about two out of three, ignore the whole thing. There’s no point. Taxes will rise, services will be chopped, streets will stay in deplorable state, and “prestige” will be all that matters.

Our political leaders, by making this all about themselves over the years (perhaps a good “Kicking Liberal Ass for the Good of Canadian Politics” aimed at the likes of Senator Keith Davey, Warren Kinsella and the likes is in order, if only to let off steam for their tactics of debasement), has broken faith with the institutions of responsible government. Responsible to Parliament? Three-line whips for almost every vote, trained seal tactics in the House, message management outside of it and a “who gives a damn who the candidate is” towards the constituency MP have destroyed that responsibility, which is founded in, and survives via, backbench rebellion. Responsible to the citizens? Hardly: Jeffrey Simpson was right, we elect “Friendly Dictators”, regardless of majority status or party affiliation.

That’s why we’re not supposed to talk policy, but instead positions. Why we’re not supposed to criticize, but to trash opponents. Why there are emerging “affiliation tests” across the blogosphere, and a growing hostility and refusal to see one’s challengers over a course of action as your equal and worthy of consideration and respect even in disagreement.

The MSM has their part to play in turning everything to the simple story line of a horse-race, and backroom intrigue, of course, but we put up with it, don’t we? If you don’t like the way CTV or the CBC cover matters, turn the television off — and keep it off. But we won’t do it. We deserve the outcome, the way we act.

Meanwhile, the more rational amongst Canadian citizens have checked out. They spend their time on other matters. Increasingly, an election is given and “no one shows up”. This allows the more rabidly partisan to use ever-smaller numbers to “win” — and thus reinforce the politics of position and shouting as opposed to debate and consideration. The cycle intensifies.

Eventually democracy itself will be lost, if only from a lack of interest. But that is form finally catching up to function. Democracy as a function of the political mind-set was lost a long time ago.

I doubt many will actually miss it when it goes.

Secret Totalitarians Emerge During Earth Hour

Yesterday, “Earth Hour” struck. The goal was to get everyone on this planet to turn off their lights and other optional electrical usage (televisions, computers, etc.) between 20.00 and 21.00 local time.

As an aide memoire to turn off lights in rooms not currently in use, to not leave appliances running purposelessly, etc., “Earth Hour” was a good idea. As a means of enforcing compliance through social suasion, however, it left a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern we see more and more often these days: everyone must comply. It’s not enough any more to win over a significant minority, or even a majority: the result must now be total.

That is so perilously close to a return to (take your pick) Fascism, Naziism, Stalinism, Maoism, Khmer-Rougeism, etc. as to be frightening. (Yes, I know, every one of those “isms” is going to get someone’s back up. That’s another little “everyone must comply” of our twenty-first century society: “no one can upset me”. Get over it, and get over yourself.)

There are those, of course, who, in the face of societal pressure like this feel a deep need to rebel. So we had the converse, those who publicly announced they would (and no doubt did) “turn every light, every appliance on in the house”. Some of that is perhaps also motivated by a rejection of the whole panic-mongering syndrome that surrounds discussion of greenhouse gases, energy production, limits to supply, and other such issues. (Note that when it comes to anything — if I may be permitted “a convenient” shorthand here — raised in Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth the only debate seems to be “are you of the body (of those who accept this without criticism) or not?” To even question Gore’s claims at the margins is to be thrown into the same camp as the outright deniers, and those that welcome the possibility of the planet’s impairment.)

Well, I do not count myself in with the deniers (despite this past winter!) but neither do I accept all the claims holus-bolus. Science is a process, and every statement made comes with (when no attempt to deceive is in play) an implicit to the best of our knowledge to this point in time. I expect to be able to, for instance, accept the Stern Report, and accept the IPCC report, and still find that new data, experiment and analysis will yield changed conclusions. Those don’t mean the deniers were right; they just mean the process continued and the position is now refined.

Still, it is as obvious as all get out that the winters of today are shorter than they were when I was a child, on average. The change in species availability (and I am no naturalist!) is staring me in the face. So, too, the summers being more intense. The finding, after all, wasn’t “universal and continuous warming in all places and at all times”. It was a general annual temperature rise in terms of the trend line, more pronounced as you look to the poles, which would, pace the models, lead to more intense weather systems. Seems about right from one man’s nearly fifty years of observed conditions, just as it is equally obvious to me that a point in time would come when cheap and easy-to-extract energy would decline as a component of our energy supplies, leaving us with tightened supply (hard-to-extract implies long lead times to get projects running, and lessened total outputs likely for the effort) and permanently higher costs involved for energy use. (You can say many things about the thousands of square kilometres of “oil sands” in Alberta, but “cheap and easy-to-extract” aren’t one of them, not matter how many oil-barrel equivalents they may represent.)

In other words, experience should be more than enough to motivate any thinking person not to be wasteful of energy. (Hair shirts are not required, just common sense.) You leave the kitchen for the evening, make sure things are turned off. You’re not using those outboard disc drives for your computer, power them down. Little things, all over, adding up. That makes the stance — from the point of view of rationality — of spending last night with all power consumption at maximum to counter “Earth Hour” really an irrational response.

Of course, if the point is not to play along with a totalitarian impulse, then that’s a potentially different story. Non-violent “disobedience” leads one into irrational acts that can add up to a reasoned path to change. My own view is, however, that “all lights blazing” wasn’t necessary to overcome the “everyone must comply” overtones in our society, at least yesterday.

Simply living normally — the only lights on were the ones that were needed, the only appliances on were the ones in use (or that must stay on, as with the refrigerator, to do their jobs) — was sufficient.

I must say that last night, in a brief glance out the windows, I didn’t notice a massive darkening of my neighbourhood. I suspect that many of my neighbours fall into the same camp I did: it was well on toward nine before I remembered that this was the day that had been set aside. This, mind you, with no less than thirty plus blog posts read earlier in the day highlighting it! But lives are busy these days, and time quickly slips by when work is at hand.

Having realised when it was, however, I can also say that I felt no impulse to rush and join “the crowd”. Saving power by day in British Columbia means offsetting the twenty-odd percent we import from Alberta and Montana, all produced via coal-fired generators. In the evening, however, we produce a power surplus, and it’s all hydro power. The water will fall over that dam regardless; spin the turbine, regardless. Giving up a post-Edison existence was therefore only going to make it possible to sell more power from our grid to other grid operations in Western North America; it wasn’t going to offset anything locally. (You might say, “well, but those sales offset GHG-producing producers elsewhere”, but much of the power moves by contract regardless of conditions, and that would only be true if we — Powerex, that is — priced BC power at a discount so as to win the business. One presumes, after all, that consumption might have dropped in the target markets as well?)

So I didn’t shut my remaining lights off, nor turn off my computer, last night. To be fair, I feel pretty good about that. Consumption had been minimized — which is in both my and our interests — but, at the same time, I had stood up to the totalitarian impulse surrounding this issue.

One can be greenish, in other words, without having to slavishly take up a position, and worry whether one choice or another is about to trigger the opprobrium of the crowd.

Those of us who have watched group-think descend since “9/11”, with its “those who are not with us are against us” Manichaean thinking at work, and who have watched a similar dualism infect any rational discussion of the environment on this planet, know full well that waiting until the other men of independent spirit are overcome to make a stand is to leave it too late. By then, one is the one albino monkey in a cage of brown monkeys. Ask any zookeeper: the albino is torn to shreds simply for being different.

For those of us who value liberty and the possibilities it creates, breaking up the dead hand of the crowd is essential. For, behind it (as history shows) someone will always emerge to use that crowd-think to impose their will on all of us.

Whether you went “lights out” yesterday or not, that’s the real issue at stake.