Climate Avengers?

(August 8, 2019)

It scans like the plot from a bad Marvel movie, perhaps called Climate Avengers.

The Arctic burns; glaciers disappear and migrants drown. Cities set scorching new heat records, crops are failing, millions will starve if cholera and Ebola do not kill them first.

Swedish teen climate hero Greta Thunberg refuses to fly across the ocean, and so cadges a lift on a sailboat to September’s One Last Chance to Save the Planet UN summit meeting in New York City. Other climate heroes are killed, one almost every other day in 2018, for the crimes of defending their homes, their water and their land against corporate greed and political corruption in order to keep hope alive for a sustainable future for their children.

The stage is set for the Climate Avengers to arrive. It’s election season on both sides of the border, so the cast assembles in a kind of pick-your-own-Avenger situation… and it’s a disappointment for everyone in the audience.

In the midst of our climate crisis, the planetary emergency that requires brilliant, incisive leadership to save the planet and all of us from, well, ourselves, we get this motley crew instead:

From his villa in Costa Rica, Brian (PST) Pallister pledges to remove provincial sales tax on dead people and pedicures, while Justin (Is that a pipeline in your pocket?) Trudeau promises to turn the clock back to 2015 to recover his promises for electoral reform, gender equality and respect for Indigenous Peoples.

Jumpin’ Jagmeet Singh is fuming in his box, hoping that his handlers will eventually turn the crank enough to pop the lid and let him out to campaign — but is upset that someone stole his bicycle, so he will have to walk if he ever decides to return to Ontario.

Andrew (Alfred E. Neuman) Scheer is mad that his MAD magazine has been cancelled, but is secretly relieved that Conservative policies will no longer be leaked in its pages, so they can dribble out again — to the despair of comedy writers for The Beaverton, who find it hard to write more amusing copy than his press conferences provide.

Wab (Will you be my candidate?) Kinew is discovering that truth in politics is almost as rare as forgiveness and a fresh start, especially when you are the only one playing that kind of game. Speaking of discoveries, Dougald (Upsweep my hair) Lamont has found out that being the third party in Manitoba politics is like being the third wheel on Jagmeet’s bicycle… not really needed, and awkward around obstacles.

And then there are the Greens, who by colour are either sustainable or nauseating, and can’t make their own minds up either way — which is what happens when you have a leader named May, rather than Must — even though she clearly pedals her own bicycle and won’t let anyone put her in a box… not for long, anyway — just until the judge grants bail.

As for “Mad Max” Bernier, well, his vision of the future is as chaotic and nihilistic as anything Mel Gibson could produce in his worst nightmare.

In comparison to what we need at this point in time, this group makes the Guardians of the Galaxy look like polished professionals. Perhaps buried in the northern Manitoba bush there is our own aboriginal Wakanda, hiding the skills, wisdom and intelligence of a Black Panther that we need to lead our province and our country in a world facing its ultimate crisis, but we are almost out of time.

Looking south, we can count on little help from our neighbours, who only wish their politicians had the youth, wisdom and vitality of our own — Jon Gerrard, for example, would have to sit at the kids’ table at either the Republican or Democratic convention.

Given this situation, it’s no wonder the young people would rather stay home than vote. Yet this is precisely the problem; because the young people didn’t vote, the world got Brexit, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and — closer to home — Jason Kenney and Doug Ford.

I’ve often been prodded, after saying things like this, to run for office myself. But — after spending most of my days among 18- to 22-year-old students — at 60, I know I am too old for politics.

I have much less to lose than young people, too much reason to hang onto the way things are (or the way I want to remember them) instead of doing what needs to be done to transform our society and our communities so they will survive in the desperate days that lie ahead.

Elders can supply wisdom (when they have it!), but our hope lies with the young people and their non-violent, active and forceful engagement to change the systems that threaten their future.

If extinction is our current destination, then their only option — and ours — is rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion — XR — coming soon. Watch for it.

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My Canada is upside-down

(July 2, 2019)

My Canada is upside-down.

What I see around me is not the country I knew, not the one I have experienced, and certainly not the one I had hoped for when I was younger.

Something has gone seriously wrong. Given that we are now facing a premature provincial election as well as the expected federal election in the next four months, it’s time for an equally serious conversation.

Not a conversation numbed down to bumper stickers and political attack ads, but one that gets to the heart of what is wrong.

Not a partisan conversation, either, in which brains seize up at the thought of crossing party lines, but one that thinks about the children and their children, out to the seventh generation, and then decides what to do.

I know just how long a time that is — as long as my white ancestors have been in Canada, arriving as United Empire Loyalist refugees after the American Revolution, after already spending 150 years as settlers and builders in New England.

My Aboriginal ancestors met their boats — in the 1630s and the 1780s — and were assimilated well before anyone thought of the concept or what it meant.

Colonizer and colonized, bearing both privilege and loss, my family history hints at the patchwork quilt of new and old that Canada became — and should still be.

But this Canada Day, I wore my Canada flag pin upside-down. Inverting a flag — flying it upside-down — is a traditional maritime signal of a serious problem, of a ship requiring assistance.

As the Arctic warms, the sea levels rise, and forests across the country burn, our governments dither about what to do in a warming world. They lack the wisdom to act, however, not the knowledge of what to do. They subsidize fossil fuels, instead of a sustainable future, more concerned about their own comfort than our children’s survival.

Seventy-five years after the D-Day invasion, we can do much better. Back then, in six years, Canada went from being a Depression-era pauper in 1938 to a modern industrial powerhouse that helped to win the Second World War in Europe. Today, the rich get fewer and richer, the poor grow in number and in poverty, and we are told this is the way things must be.

My Canada used lines of iron to forge a nation with a railroad that brought people from both coasts together in a common interest. Our current federal government approved more lines of pipe that will guarantee both division and environmental destruction — right after declaring a climate emergency.

My Canada would not have allowed a handful of unelected Conservative senators to torpedo legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Worse, this happened at the same time as a long-overdue report condemned the genocide inflicted on Indigenous Canadians, especially women and girls.

My Canada would be ashamed of turning away migrants and refugees, having learned its collective lesson from the way it treated Jewish refugees from Nazi-era Europe. My Canada would not put up barriers to the reunification of families today, or limit the private sponsorship of refugees.

The face of my Canada would not normally be white, nor would its leadership usually be male.

My Canada would offer an alternative to the world of how to embrace diversity and live together in peace, countering the tensions, distrust and hostility that are too often found elsewhere. When I ask my international students “What does a Canadian look like?” they puzzle over the question and hesitate to answer… before I tell them to look in the mirror. I point out that the diversity they experience here will be found nowhere else on the planet, and that they should embrace it as the most important part of whatever education they will receive.

Yet today we have political leaders, or would-be leaders, either embracing or excusing racism, claiming to speak for the fearful in a rapidly-changing global society, justifying exclusions and arbitrary rules that would have left their own ancestors on the outside, looking in.

My Canada would provide health care for everyone, not only those who happen to have money and privilege and live in large urban centres. My Canada would also find ways to fund disease prevention, not just its treatment, instead emphasizing the health of all local communities, good food everywhere, and an active lifestyle for everyone.

My Canada would be led by politicians whose lives were enriched by the experience, not by the office, who demonstrated humility and responsibility instead of flaunting privilege and power.

But right now, my Canada is upside-down — is yours?

Join the conversation on Twitter and tell me about your Canada — what it is, and what it should be.

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Running for office should be terrifying

(June 11, 2019)

If you are (or want to be) a candidate in the next election, you should be afraid about what will happen if you win.

In fact, if you are not actually terrified by the prospect of winning, you shouldn’t run at all.

I am not making a general threat against all politicians, nor am I warning them about other antagonists.

Quite simply, the point is this: whoever is elected to provide political leadership over the next four or five years, from whichever party and at whatever level, they will be responsible for whether our children and grandchildren will inherit a world in which they can survive.

Or not.

If this responsibility doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you, then you shouldn’t go anywhere near the political process. It should terrify you, as it would terrify any normal person — and if it doesn’t, you are clearly suffering from some form of social, emotional or moral defect that should bar you from holding public office of any kind.

We are almost out of time. It doesn’t matter that this next generation of politicians is not responsible for creating the problem. It doesn’t matter that they have inherited a situation that should have been addressed 20 years ago — even five years ago — but wasn’t. It doesn’t matter what ideological platform their party has announced, or what inane promises their party’s leader has made. It doesn’t matter whether they are tall or short, male or female, or any other personal descriptor of gender, orientation, race, age or ethnicity.

All that matters now, and to those future generations who will look back at this crucial time in history, is whether these new political leaders will do enough of anything, and in time. Will wisdom, compassion, science and common sense be reflected in what they actually do, not just in their rehearsed speeches?

What I fear, of course, is we will get another crop of self-interested time-servers, meekly following the party line (however skewed) or their leader (just as skewed), methodically racking up political bonus points for their silence and unquestioning loyalty, regardless of what actually should be done for the good of the people whom they have been elected to represent.

Too harsh? Perhaps, but collaboration across party lines in committee, using collective wisdom to create the best piece of legislation, went out the door with the antagonisms deliberately created by Stephen Harper’s imperial style of political management (remember how he mandated the use of “Harper government,” not “federal” or even “Conservative”?).

Now, we have omnibus bills, jammed through almost without discussion by government majorities — and usually without entertaining or allowing helpful amendments from opposition parties. In what passes for political minds these days, “might is right,” regardless of whether the resulting decisions are smart or wise.

In a time of climate emergency, we can’t afford to play “follow the leader.” At least on paper (if not always in practice), we have a democratic system of government in Canada, not an imperial one. Our leaders — prime ministers or premiers — are elected, not divinely appointed. These leaders are answerable to the people, even if they seem to demand the personal allegiance owed in past civilizations to emperors.

We need to set aside the expectation of party loyalty, the requirement of cabinet solidarity, of parroting “my leader, right or wrong.”

Each elected official is elected to fulfil their personal responsibilities, not just to the faction that voted for them, but to all the people, present and future, whose lives will be seriously affected by the decisions these officials must make.

So if you want to be a candidate, or already are, imagine yourself talking to your children or grandchildren 10 or 20 years from now — or to your neighbours’ kids, or whomever you like. When they ask for an explanation of the current situation in their lives, the struggles and dangers they face, and ask you why you did what you did back then, what will your answer be?

Those kids won’t want to hear about political wrangling in the House, how you scored points in question period by slagging the members opposite or how you felt you had to support the leader, whether you agreed with their decisions or not.

They will want to know what you did — personally — to deflect disaster, to protect those (like themselves) who were both innocent and helpless in the face of forces beyond their understanding or control.

To those children, to the next generations who will look back at what you did, you will be either a hero or a zero.

In the midst of a crisis, there is no middle ground between those two options.

You will have to choose, one or the other, for yourself — forever.

If that doesn’t terrify you, it should.

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