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.

Read More

Add hope to back-to-school list

(August 22, 2019)

It’s back-to-school-shopping time again. Stores are full of harried parents, trying to balance school supply lists against offspring demands and the budget shambles of summer’s end.

The climate crisis is not on their list, or their radar, but it should be.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is not going back to school this fall. She marked the 52nd week of her School Strike for the Climate on a sailboat in the North Atlantic, refusing to fly and instead going carbon-neutral to New York for the UN climate summit.

Her blunt message is the same now as when she first sat down with her crude sign in front of the Swedish Parliament a year ago: “The adults have failed us.”

And so we have. For 30 years, I have been teaching writing and agitating for cultural change. We need to live with the Earth’s ecological systems, not against them, and with dignity and justice for all. Science, history and common sense tell us the truth of these ideas.

Yet the adult leadership in charge of business, industry and especially government has done little or nothing to change the catastrophic course of our society. Whatever our role, we have all failed the children.

As an activist (and despite circumstances, an optimist), I keep hoping that, one day, the parents will wake up.

They will wake up and realize what kind of world their children will inherit, if nothing changes, and they will see everything that is said or done through that lens. They will measure what is needed for a sustainable future against the pathetic efforts of current politicians to change course, and against the pointless greed of consumer culture that makes us as disposable as plastic forks.

When the parents wake up, everything will change — have you seen what a mother bear will do to protect her cub? Imagine a province — or a planet — full of mother bears, and the anger that will be directed at the people who have made things worse instead of better.

Imagine their reaction, in a world on fire because of our overuse of fossil fuels, to Premier Brian Pallister’s election pledge to reduce vehicle registration costs by $35 a year, to make it more affordable to drive a car. On top of removing the PST on dead people and pedicures, this latest splurge is either ridiculous or contemptuous.

I am not surprised, though. He has squandered the past three years on ideological posturing instead of working collaboratively toward a sustainable future for Manitobans. Of all the adults in the room, his failure is the greatest.

To be clear, the NDP did little better, and for a longer time. The green flurry at the end of premier Greg Selinger’s government was a desperation move, finally listening to what backbenchers such as MLA Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley) had been advocating for years. But it was too little, too late.

I perked up listening to Dougald Lamont talking about the Liberal green plan, but that enthusiasm quickly faded when he said it was just one of the things on their list of priorities. As for the Green party, while I think a guaranteed income is a good idea, I had hoped their party would champion a sustainable future this time around, instead of being a sinkhole for votes from the left.

The climate crisis is a crisis, not an option. It is a fact, not an interpretation. We will either manage it, or it will manage us — especially if the adults continue to fail those children we are about to send back to school.

In a crisis, every moment counts. Every decision is crucial. Every person is needed to do what they can, together.

Yet instead of a response to this crisis, the barrage of political attack ads has begun. Each one digs the grave of our children’s future a little deeper, distracting us from the real issues on which we should be focused.

Instead of collaboration, we are divided against each other, pitting generation against generation, as the (elderly) elite few continue to profit from the misery of those whose future they are burning.

So on Sept. 10, every vote counts. No seat, and no MLA, should be safe.

Measure what they say they will do, or claim they have done, against what is needed.

Whatever government is elected, on Sept. 27 — the global day to strike for the climate, following the movement Thunberg started — we must demand action that matters from them. Your kids will not be in school that day and you need to join them.

Will any of this be enough to make a difference? I don’t know. But when my kids turn to me, in the midst of whatever disasters the future holds because the adults have failed them, at least I want to say that I tried.

Read More

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.

Read More