Pallister slighting environmental groups

(November 8, 2019)

In the political history of Manitoba, the late premier Duff Roblin towers over his peers, especially in the Progressive Conservative party. He was a progressive in more than name, as his governments led Manitoba into the second half of the 20th century with a long list of major achievements and changes.

His biggest legacy, however, was a hole in the ground — “Duff’s Ditch” — on which he expended a large amount of his political capital as well as provincial cash. Against the ridicule of colleagues and opponents alike, he personally insisted that Winnipeg needed the floodway to protect its citizens from environmental disaster the next time the Red River rose.

He did what common sense, as well as environmental science, told him that future Manitobans would need, overriding the objections that dismissed the flood of 1950 as a rare, ­once-in-300-years event.

That is the kind of political leadership on environmental issues we need in Manitoba today. But at the moment, our current premier’s legacy is falling far short.

Premier Brian Pallister’s first government began by dismantling Green Manitoba, the agency that co-ordinated environmental engagement with the public across all government departments. The new department of sustainable development was supposed to be able to do “more with less” — so he appointed a rookie MLA, Cathy Cox, as its first minister.

After 18 months, little enough time to get a handle on all her new responsibilities, she was replaced by Rochelle Squires. Of course, 18 months later, there was an early provincial election.

One might think that, if the right decisions had been made at the start, then Squires would continue — having learned what needed to be done on such an important file. Instead, another reorganization — stripping out a series of areas relating to natural resources (handed to agriculture) and a new ministry, conservation and climate — with another new minister, Sarah Guillemard. New to cabinet, having served her rookie MLA term as legislative assistant elsewhere, Guillemard is awaiting her new mandate letter from the premier.

As Pallister fiddles, the world burns. We need strong leadership, and instead get reorganization — leaving the clear impression that Pallister makes all the decisions, himself, for his own reasons.

So what will be his legacy? No one, even now, sees him as a hero for reducing the provincial sales tax — and on the environmental front, his legacy will make Duff’s Ditch look like a monumental achievement.

Unless something changes, and quickly, Pallister will be responsible for eliminating the non-governmental, not-for-profit, environmental advocacy and leadership organizations in Manitoba. And so far, no one has complained publicly, perhaps for fear of reprisal.

After multi-year funding agreements, environmental organizations have been waiting for responses to their applications for new grants under various government programs — and hearing nothing. These grants and agreements were supposed to begin April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

It is now November, and organizations that depend on these grants — to do the work, cheaply and efficiently, that the government wants done — haven’t received a nickel, nor even been told if they are going to get any money at all.

You can choose your own rationale here. Incompetence? Indifference? Administrative confusion? Perhaps spite?

I don’t know what your household budget is like, but could you survive for eight months without a paycheque? Or your business — could you continue operations as usual for eight months without any revenue?

Somehow, these organizations — generating their own income, or getting some federal money to keep their doors open — have managed to continue until now.

They are more efficient than any government department, with staff committed to what they do, not just for the paycheque, but because they are dedicated to making a difference — and yet those efforts, right now, are apparently considered unimportant by Pallister’s government.

This past week, 11,000 scientists from 153 countries signed a letter saying that there will be untold suffering for millions, if serious and radical efforts are not made to change the way we live together.

In Manitoba, instead of climate action, we get restructuring and another rookie minister, who is trying to figure out what goes where in her own office, as the very organizations we depend on for community education and leadership on sustainable living quietly plan to lay off staff or close their doors.

Pallister could make things right tomorrow, if he wanted to.

Or, unlike Roblin, will Pallister be remembered by future generations as the premier who could have done something to make life in Manitoba better, but didn’t care enough to try?

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In election aftermath, women should lead

(November 4, 2019)

We could subtitle most of the recent news “Life in the Aftermath.”

Tornadoes in Alabama, wildfires in California, a super typhoon in Japan, a hurricane in the Bahamas — and October snowstorms in Manitoba. Natural disasters seem increasing in number, severity and their effects on people’s lives.

Then there are the political disasters, whose effects may be similarly devastating: the daily, serial consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency, at home and abroad; the loud sucking sounds of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit as the United Kingdom circles the drain; and “Buck-a-Beer” Premier Doug Ford’s chaotic mismanagement of the province of Ontario.

In Canada, we are assessing the aftermath of our federal election and what a fragmented Parliament might mean at a time when decisive and wise leadership for all Canadians is required.

Desperation politics paid off at the end for the Trudeau Liberals, though (even in hiding) Ford really was the liability that Scheer’s Conservatives feared would cost them Ontario.

But more than anyone else, Catherine McKenna deserves major credit for the Liberal minority win. Somehow, it was McKenna’s voice — not Justin Trudeau’s last-minute environmental hyperbole — that convinced enough Canadians that the leaky-pipeline-buying plutocrats were greener than they appeared.

She deserves to continue in her role as minister of environment and climate change, because — often alone — she consistently maintained her focus, her credibility and her poise in the face of opposition from outside and sabotage from within caucus. Given the minority government, needing to co-operate with the New Democratic Party and the Green party to prevent an early election, McKenna should also be made deputy prime minister.

I have watched her interact with people up close, and she is in person what she projects at the microphone. The Liberals desperately need that kind of personal integrity and credibility if they expect to govern for four more years — and it’s about time that the women still left in the Trudeau cabinet had a chance to lead from the front.

Environmental portfolios too often are seen as places to park the second-string, weaker players, where they can plant a few trees and take some nice pictures, while the big boys (for example) buy pipelines and take care of business, especially for themselves.

In an age of climate crisis, this has to change. We need strong, determined leadership in environmental areas, whether it is with regard to climate change, sustainable development or a transition to a low-carbon economy. McKenna deserves that opportunity to lead, for the benefit of all Canadians.

This last Liberal government’s record on the environment was only good in comparison to the Harper government’s catastrophically bad record — a bad record that Andrew Scheer still seems determined to beat, if given an opening.

But there was a clear indication of who was calling the shots before in Ottawa, when McKenna and then-natural resources minister Jim Carr were summoned to a sundown press conference on the West Coast to announce the pipeline approval. Having been told what others — especially Bill Morneau — had already decided, they then had to shill for what was a monumental error in political, economic and ecological judgment.

Carr got his bounce back when he was moved to a spot in which he could follow his heart, as minister of international trade diversification, but McKenna soldiered on. Because of her determination and constant efforts to pluck local green victories from the jaws of policy disaster, she gave Trudeau’s Liberals a breath of a chance to be seen as a better environmental alternative than Scheer’s Conservatives — for the moment, anyway.

What Trudeau will do with that breath of a chance remains to be seen. If he is smart (or has acquired better advisers since SNC-Lavalin), he will appoint McKenna his deputy and take a long vacation out of the public eye, perhaps to wherever Doug Ford went.

McKenna understands the dynamics of the climate crisis better than the boys from Bay Street ever will. She is more likely able to start fresh with the other leaders on the Green New Deal that the rank and file of their parties want to see happen — and has no history of wearing anything other than a green face when it comes to working for what all Canadians need.

After a nasty election campaign, Canadians need a break from both Trudeau and Scheer. The leaders need some family time, as dads, since that is what they both see as their most important roles — perhaps the only area of their lives where apologies are not regularly required.

Frankly, we also need a break from dads-in-power. Catherine McKenna is a mother, and marched with her daughters. No mother (or grandmother) ever needs to apologize for protecting her cubs and giving them what they need for life.

Perhaps the women should lead. For a change.

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Personal attacks just lazy campaigning

(October 17, 2019)

In the critical thinking course I teach, the easiest logical fallacy to illustrate is ad hominem.

Attack the person, because you can’t attack their argument. It’s easy to illustrate, because I just use examples from our election campaigns.

Given the latest provincial results, ad hominem attacks work. At least, this is what the political strategists will say while planning for next time. For me, I recall the 1960s Simon and Garfunkel song Mrs. Robinson, in which after listening to the candidates debate, the lyrics continue: “Laugh about it, shout about it, when you’ve got to choose — any way you look at it, you lose.”

That’s how I felt after the federal leaders English-language debate. Regardless of who slings the mud and whether or not it sticks, we all lose. I am tired of all the ad hominem attacks in this campaign, because they reveal the hollowness of Canadian democracy.

There is no real leadership — instead, we get grandiose promises losers will never have to keep and winners will choose to ignore. We can change governments, but never seem to get ahead.

The Liberal government began with a honeymoon, because it rolled back the most miserable and inane decisions of the Harper Conservative government. When it came to keeping its own election promises, there was no electoral reform and Indigenous Peoples received treatment little different than before.

On the environmental front, the federal government bought a leaky old pipeline and trampled both Indigenous land rights and environmental review processes with the intention of ramming through new ones.

With the New Democratic Party, I thought Jagmeet Singh’s brightly coloured turban would have made him stand out in the last Parliament’s affairs, even before he had a seat in the House. But he was painfully absent from much of Canada most of the time until the election campaign began.

If there were NDP policy alternatives to Trudeau schmooze and Scheer bafflegab, they were buried in somebody’s desk in Ottawa when they should have been peddled (pun intended) across the country like Singh’s book.

The only bright spot in the past four years was Elizabeth May getting arrested for protesting against the pipeline — having the guts to take a stand for what was right, rather than what was politic. That action matched her actions as leader, with her personal convictions and the Green party’s policies — a remarkable triple play, because it is so rare in Canadian politics. Her lone voice is not alone anymore, but she remains, at best, most people’s second choice for prime minister.

The fortunes of the Trudeau government waxed and waned with Trudeau’s own — from clumsily wearing costumes to SNC-Lavalin controversies, from gender-balanced cabinet crowing to eating crow as he sacked Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, from party face to brownface to red face, as he went on his apology tour for past indiscretions.

Turning to the Conservatives, Andrew Scheer still makes people nervous, because every time he speaks, we are left wondering if another Harper-style, ego-driven autocrat lurks behind his pudgy dimples and vague promises.

And, as we wonder about Scheer, right-wing governments elsewhere (in the hands of U.S. President Donald Trump, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney) find new and disturbing ways to shatter the lives of ordinary people, stealing headlines and attention from the crucial issues the world desperately needs to address.

Scheer has had his own misfires — including his U.S. citizenship reveal. Trudeau’s debate zinger that People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier says out loud what Scheer is only thinking is hard for the Conservatives to refute, given their platform on such trigger issues restricting immigration and reducing foreign aid to underdeveloped countries.

But after walking the streets of Winnipeg with 12,000 other people last month, I think the biggest failure of all these players is their weak-kneed response to the climate crisis. We need a coalition for the planet that crosses party lines and sidelines the egos of all their leaders in favour of working together for the common good. If we want a better future for all of our children, then business as usual can’t continue. Climate change requires us to change. Now.

Scheer and his Conservatives dodge that reality, among others — refusing to participate in debates on climate issues and effectively pretending the world has stood still since 1955. Trudeau and his Liberals offer more hope, but need to convince voters their plans are not just green paint over the same old pipeline, and more election promises that won’t be kept.

For the NDP, the climate crisis is one of their key issues, but wanting change is not the same as having a practical plan to make it happen.

Colour me Green? Maybe — but certainly no blue face this time for me.

In the current climate, it’s too risky.

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