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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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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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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