Politicians should copy school bus drivers

(September 3, 2019)

Every morning and afternoon at this time of year, “back to school” means watching out for the yellow/orange school buses criss-crossing the province.

If you have ever waited for one by the side of the road, you know the first-day excitement (or, in winter, the relief) as it rounds the corner and heads for your stop.

With a mixture of dread and anticipation, the opening door signals the start of a new school year or a new school day. The first person you see is always the driver. As parents, we place a huge trust in these people, every day.

School bus drivers would be near the top of the “Most Trusted” list in our province. And it is a sad comment that politicians of any stripe would likely be close to the bottom of such a list.

School bus drivers don’t need press conferences to make us promises they shouldn’t make or couldn’t keep. They just deliver our children safely, every day, regardless of the weather — as they are supposed to do.

Perhaps we should have similar expectations of those we elect to political office — just to care for us and our kids, every day, regardless of circumstances, like they were driving the local school bus.

No ideologies, no grandstanding, no childish tantrums in the legislature. Just do what you were elected to do.

No leader’s ego should be involved, either. Imperial politics, where the emperor has total control, are always bad for the ordinary citizen. What’s more, our follow-the-leader style of party politics undermines the integrity and credibility of the rest of those who are elected, because obedience (not intelligence or wisdom) is the only thing that matters.

This emphasis on obedience over common sense also determines the kind of people who choose to run for office in the first place. I simply don’t trust people who leave their judgment outside the caucus-room door — people who do and say whatever they are told.

Regardless of party affiliation, regardless of how good you think the leader is, such individuals don’t make good representatives of the people.

In fact, if you wouldn’t trust a candidate to drive your children to school on the bus, don’t vote for them, whatever party they represent.

Thinking back to my school bus days, I remember Charlie, who drove the primary-school bus. He really used to enjoy the first day of school, joking the parents were happier to see him than were the kids.

I also remember Dave, who drove the high -school bus. Despite a complete lack of formal education, he demonstrated in conversation every day that he was the wisest and smartest adult in my life — and far from living in glamour, the rest of his day he spent working a septic truck and running the local trailer park.

If either of them had run for political office, I would have voted for them in a heartbeat, whatever the position.

For those city folks who will not understand the importance of school bus drivers, you might get a glimmer of what I mean if Winnipeg Transit goes on strike this fall. If it takes a community to raise a child, it requires a bus to get them to school — or at least it should.

Despite all the concerns for global warming and reducing fossil-fuel consumption, however, there are no longer any other buses outside Manitoba cities. The Pallister government has done nothing to fill the hole left by years of declining — and now cancelled — bus service to rural areas.

If you aren’t rich enough or able to drive yourself, you either walk or stay home.

Inside the cities, provincial cuts to transit funding mean no fundng for electric buses, for transit-route expansion or for the entirely practical possibilities of light rail transit in the Winnipeg metropolitan region. Drive yourself (and your kids), walk or stay home.

There were electric streetcars from Winnipeg to Selkirk until the 1930s. What we see today, as the Amazon and Siberia (and northern Manitoba) forests burn, is not progress — but it’s what happens when we don’t use common sense on such issues as carbon consumption and public transportation.

We need more trees and fewer cars. If you want to call that political, go ahead — it is still common sense.

So, as Sept. 10 approaches, remember:

Ditches don’t vote. Any candidate who posts signs on public property does so because they have more signs than supporters.

Don’t vote for the leader, unless you happen to live in one of the four constituencies in Manitoba where there is a party leader running. The leader will not represent you.

If the party you prefer can’t find anyone good to run in your constituency, vote for someone else.

Vote as if your life, and the life of your kids, depends upon who is driving the local school bus.

Because it does.

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Has Green become the new orange?

(May 15, 2019)

There is a sea change happening in Canadian politics. There is a green tide coming in, across the whole country.

Prince Edward Island is leading the way, just as it did with Confederation. The recent provincial election swept out the red (Liberals), narrowly elected the blue (Conservatives) and, for the first time in Canada, the official Opposition is the Green (party).

Political swings on the Island are not new — but they have see-sawed for 150 years between red and blue, never orange (NDP). This time, the reds were washed away by the surging Green tide. But if Green is the new orange in P.E.I. — and I suspect elsewhere, given the byelection win for the federal Greens in British Columbia that gives them a second MP — what does this mean for the future of the New Democratic Party, the perpetual alternative?

First, the name is unfortunate. The NDP were new once, but not in the lifetime of anyone under 50. Second, their main slogan is no better — looking at the policies and rhetoric of their leadership, “Today’s NDP” is really “yesterday’s” instead. Apart from the work of some outstanding individuals (including Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie, a Red Seal electrician with an MA in philosophy), the federal NDP has floundered for decades.

Across the aisle, the Progressive Conservatives were erased by the blue wave of Reformers from Alberta, but there has been nothing progressive in the federal Conservative party since Joe Clark’s short-lived government fell in 1979. There used to be a wing of red Tories that promoted centrist, socially responsible government. Today, the only red Tories in leadership are angry ones. Yet, among the rank and file, I suspect there are lots of red Tories left. The party’s policies and hierarchy don’t align with them, but they are still not likely to vote either Liberal or NDP.

All of this opens the way for a Green tide — perhaps even in Alberta, despite the decidedly blue-hued result of its recent election.

We are headed further into economic and environmental uncertainty. Old answers (and players) aren’t working, and there is a limit to the number of times the same old thing can be repackaged or rebranded. Real change becomes the only sensible and practical alternative.

The Social Credit Party surprised everyone by winning the Alberta provincial election in 1935, when voters decided red and blue had nothing more to offer. From these roots, the Alberta spin on Conservative politics (including the Reform Party) eventually spread across the country when the money to be made in Big Oil appealed to Bay Street power brokers, and replaced the traditional federal conservative party with its own shade of blue.

Similarly, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation also got its start in Alberta, in 1932, and then moved east to form government in Saskatchewan in 1944. It only became a national party when Prairie farmers allied themselves with trade unions elsewhere, and so the CCF morphed into the NDP in 1961.

Both Alberta blue and Saskatchewan orange began as alternatives, therefore, in a time of great economic and environmental crisis, and then grew. P.E.I. Green could do the same again, as we move further into a deeper global economic and ecological crisis.

As we have seen recently in Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is easier to start a new party than remake old ones. While the “new” Manitoba Liberals seem greener than their opponents, it’s still a red/green show at the core, I fear — not the true renewal of a third option in Manitoba politics. That leaves the Green party, at provincial and federal levels, as we contemplate at least one election this year. Reducing federal politics to repetitive verse, the Liberals are the party of old money and privilege; the Conservatives are the party of new money and profit; the NDP are the party of no money and need.

The Green party is still in search of its own poetic definition, but it has amazing potential. As a clear alternative, the Green party could stand for social justice, fiscal responsibility and ecological engagement. It could deliver the decisive action that our world so desperately requires, right now, instead of offering platitudes to greenwash the guilty consciences of those who could change, but find it personally inconvenient, and so don’t.

It could take all the old colours and combine them into that New Green Deal for Canadians that those of us who are worried about the future young people will inherit still hope to create. And it would be a New Green Deal, not the Green New Deal of the United States, because we do things our own way, here — and don’t intend to apologize for it.

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