Where have all the Tories gone?

My mother’s current garden, 20 years in the making

(March 29, 2021)

Pete Seeger’s song Where have all the flowers gone? epitomizes the circular futility of refusing to deal with what is really wrong in our world. We always return to where we started, and the cycle of heartbreaking loss begins again.

The song’s first verse blames the young girls for picking all the flowers, instead of just letting them grow, and everything else unravels from there.

One spring day, long ago, when I took the shortcut across what is now the Living Prairie Museum field on my way to Athlone School in St. James, the prairie crocuses were in full bloom. So I took a paper bag and half-filled it with crocuses as a gift for my mother. My nine-year-old brain thought this was a great idea — my mother admired those spring crocuses, especially because her garden then was mostly new subdivision gumbo.

I still remember the mixed emotions on her face as she looked into the paper bag that I offered to her — pleasure at the gift, but dismay at what I had done. No scolding could have been more effective, and to this day I remember that lesson.

So I am reluctant to cut down trees — even dead ones, which the woodpeckers love. Weeds have their place in the cycle of plant and insect life. The edges of our small oak bush randomly blossom with prairie roses, wild plums, highbush cranberries, and other surprises. The clover and dandelions feed the bees when there is not enough else in bloom, as our perennial garden slowly accumulates plants that will carry on for the rest of the summer.

It was a fundamental lesson in conservatism. Every good gardener and farmer is conservative. Nothing is changed just for the sake of change; nothing is uprooted or thrown away that could be used by someone else; the soil is tended, fed, watered and thoughtfully cultivated. There is a harvest at the end, but the process (and the life that is nurtured throughout) is just as important, because next spring will always follow winter.

I thought of this conservative philosophy as I watched the Pallister government finally reveal more of its mystery legislation, in what is best described as a systematic effort to uproot or dismantle the democratic freedoms all Manitobans currently enjoy. It has long been said that the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Pallister’s leadership are not progressive. It now also needs to be said they aren’t conservative, either.

That brings me back to Pete Seeger’s song, only rewritten to ask “Where have all the Tories gone?” Certainly, a new cycle has been started on Pallister’s watch, because like fellow Reform politician Stephen Harper, he has gifted the next government a winning legislative agenda: all they need to do, for the first six months, is to repeal his bad legislation and try to repair damage already done.

Bizarrely, Pallister’s legislative assault is aimed most at the people to whom conservatism is important — those farmers and others who live closer to the land, in rural Manitoba. Farmers have already lost their local agricultural support offices, told instead to go online or drive to the city. The “ag gag” laws don’t help their image, because everyone is now unfairly lumped together with factory farms that animal activists protest are inhumane — protected by the “Big Brother” of government against problems (and enemies) most farmers don’t have.

School trustees may be invisible or irrelevant in the city, but in rural areas, they are important elected officials, respected for caring about local children and giving the community a voice in how local schools are run and taxes are spent. (My mother later became a rural school trustee, by the way.) To be told all education will now forever be handled from Winnipeg, by a handful of government-appointed minions, is another blow against rural autonomy.

I suspect rural municipalities are next to be hit. They have already lost control over outside businesses plundering their land, because they can be overruled by the Municipal Board of government appointees (located in Winnipeg) if they refuse anyone.

Worst of all, the very people whose life philosophy these rural conservatives share — the environmental activists who work to conserve and protect the environment for our children and theirs — are now all potential criminals. Free speech, freedom of assembly, the right to protest bad laws, to preserve land rights, clean water and air — all dismissed by a government more concerned with corporate power than natural justice. Bill 57 (the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act) smacks of American Republican values, not conservative Canadian ones.

Where have all the Tories gone? Pallister isn’t one — never was — and that should worry any Progressive Conservatives still left in Manitoba. They need an alternative, soon.

Actually, we all do. Pallister is not just some kid plucking flowers this spring. He is deliberately ripping out perennial plants — just because he can.

Read More

“Recovering” Albertan feels the need to apologize

(March 11, 2020)

SINCE Jason Kenney became premier of Alberta, I have had this urge to apologize for being born there.

Claiming the bully pulpit of “speaking for all Albertans,” especially when ranting about pipelines, Kenney’s first legislation this year, Bill 1, would make any blocking or interference with “essential infrastructure,” into a major crime, subject to thousands of dollars in fines and jail time.

What’s more, anyone (like me) or any corporation (like this newspaper) that “aids, counsels or directs,” another person to take part in such interference — whether or not anyone listens — would also be liable to arrest and prosecution. Fines for corporations go as high as $200,000 — and the directors of corporations are individually liable for prosecution, too. Any environmental organization and the Winnipeg Free Press (actually, any free press) could be prosecuted under this blanket legislation.

Just to be sure everyone gets Kenney’s petulant rage at pipeline protests, every single day any “essential infrastructure,” is blocked constitutes a separate offence.

What is “essential infrastructure,” you ask? Essentially anything that has ever been made or built. If someone blocks or interferes with something not on Kenney’s list (such as a play structure in a park), the Lieutenant Governor in Council has the right to designate it as “essential infrastructure,” too.

Take that, you dastardly defenders!

I suspect that Bill 1 violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as running utterly afoul of common law, but that legal reality won’t make a dent in his fossil-fuelled rhetoric.

Kenney seems bent on recreating Alberta as a fascist petro-state, and so — taking a page from North Korea’s playbook — he is trying to convince Albertans that they need to hunker in the bunker against all the evil forces of the outside world. Whether or not the first charge laid under this law is tossed out on its ear, Kenney’s apparent intention is to threaten, exclude and otherwise punish anyone who does not fit into his vision of Fortress Alberta.

Like the rants of politicians elsewhere, Kenney’s outbursts would be asinine if they were not so dangerous. This is why I feel the urge to apologize for being born in Alberta, because it’s not the province I remember, nor does Kenney represent the Albertans I knew.

I grew up with a good dose of Western energy alienation, the heritage of the “fuddle-duddle” language and finger gestures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father. If I’d been old enough to drive a car, I would have happily bumper-stickered it with “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark” the way others did.

But these things were irritants of a long history of being out West, a minor part of the identity that took people — often by economic necessity — from the familiar roil of urban life or the smell of the sea and dropped them into the foothills to create a new life.

No one survived for long as a rancher or a dry-land farmer in Alberta, however, if they were not utterly pragmatic and able to dream, too. Big sky, big dreams, and a lot of hard work every day. That’s the Alberta I remember.

We left there just as the oil boom hit Turner Valley. People from elsewhere poured in, looking for get-rich-quick opportunities in the oil industry and its hangers-on — people, in fact, like Jason Kenney, who arrived in his 20s, after the economic bust of the 1980s.

He might claim to speak for all Albertans now, but he was born in Oakville, Ont., in sight of the large car and truck assembly plants. With the smell of petrochemicals in his nostrils and its toxins in his blood, like everyone else who lived there, it’s no wonder Kenney was drawn to the Alberta oil patch and its co-dependant urban sprawl: it reminded him of his childhood home.

It takes more than a Stetson and a photo op flipping flapjacks at the Calgary Stampede to make you a local, however. Alberta needs to find another, better path — one that respects its roots in the land, under the big sky, honouring the Indigenous peoples there as well as those people from away who helped to create the province with every crop they planted and every herd they tended.

The pragmatist knows that the days of oil must soon be over — and that means in Alberta, too. Their children and grandchildren will inherit the same future as everyone else.

But the dreamer wants to find hope in the midst of that struggle for a just transition from oil to whatever comes next. Kenney’s rants — and Bill 1 — are a cruel denial of creativity and optimism, replacing them with bitterness and rancor instead.

So without further apology, after 50 years of provincial oil addiction, call me a recovering Albertan. Put away the petulance, Premier Kenney, and do your job properly — for all real Albertans.

Activist and author Peter Denton is Albertan by birth and Manitoban by choice.

Planet doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions

(January 7, 2019)

Blame it on the calendar.

We mark the end of one year and the start of a new year, not just by (old school) hanging a new calendar on the wall, but also by our New Year’s resolutions to start all over, one more time.

Either way, we are living by calendar time. Everyone likes another chance for a fresh start in January, when the slate is wiped clean and last year’s mistakes are left behind.

It’s part of who we are, as people. Humans have followed the motions of the planets and stars, along with the cycles of the moon, since the first time someone looked up into the night sky. Neolithic stone monuments and carvings (such as Stonehenge) are astronomical in size and intention, marking the patterns we see in the passage of time from one year to the next.

Our bodies are affected by the monthly calendar set by the moon, as the seasons, they go round and round … again. Some people also believe their horoscopes. And so on.

Yet all this is actually only in our heads.

What we think is a new beginning is merely the continuation of physical systems, going back to the beginning of everything. In fact, human measurements (of such concepts as time) are created and imposed on the universe, just like the stories about what it all means that have been told around cultural fires for thousands of years.

There is no “redo” in nature, no fresh start when we turn over the page or hang a new calendar on the wall. There are no do-overs. No mulligans.

In other words, the same pollution that was there on Dec. 31 was also there Jan. 1 — just increased by whatever additional trash had been added to the Earth we share. I would love the banks to reset the debt clock at the end of the year, too, but somehow the interest on what I owe just makes the debt bigger once Auld Lang Syne has been sung another time.

So while we celebrated the start of a new year with party hats and streamers, while we pretended to make a commitment to resolutions to live differently in 2019, all around us, nature continues to weave together what we did last year into what will happen in the next, whether we like it — or realize it — or not.

In the hope for a sustainable future, we need to change our clocks and our calendars to mark planetary time, not political or human time. Sustainable development is actually planetary economics — requiring a just transition to a low-carbon society for humans, ensuring biodiversity and preserving ecological systems.

It would be nice if our political, business and community leaders could make New Year’s resolutions that reflect this necessity, but that would require more wisdom than most of them seem to possess at the moment.

Politicians instead try to reset the political clock, hoping that by the time the next election comes around, people will have forgotten the things the current government did wrong, the promises that were not kept and the situations made worse by inaction, squabbling or bad judgment.

We have a federal election in 2019 and a provincial election in 2020. Soon, the end of those political calendars will generate a spew of political advertisements, growing nastier and more personal as election days draw closer or as certain parties realize they are falling behind in the polls.

Politicians need to align their calendars with the ecology of the planet if they want to get my vote next time.

Why should I trust my future — or, more particularly, the future of my children and grandchildren — to you and your party? In a world in crisis, are you going to mark time and play political games — again — for another term? Or are you committed to doing the heavy lifting on behalf of all Canadians (or all Manitobans), regardless of whether they voted for you?

Leaders in business and industry seem to have similarly selfish myopia. Where is your planning for the future, when your decisions are driven by how much money can be made this quarter, regardless of how it is done? I get that you want to make money or a living, but why does that have to mean you make them at the expense of my health or the health of future generations?

Want my business? Think ahead. Go way past looking green, to thinking and working toward a just and sustainable future for all of us.

Mind you, I am only one person. Maybe they don’t care about my vote or my business. But I have friends, and so do you, and real power belongs to the people, and the planet.

Whatever the calendar says, it’s time.

Read More