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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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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