Good Sunday Morning,
Ed Broadbent and Preston Manning make strange bedfellows. Mix in a little Bob Rae and you get an amazing trilogy of forewords to "Turning Parliament Inside Out" by Michael Chong, Scott Simms and Kennedy Stewart.
"As happened in the 1930s," writes Ed Broadbent, "severe social and economic disruption is resulting in major portions of the disaffected moving not to the democratic left but to the authoritarian right. His [Trump's] appeal to the large number of Americans thoroughly fed up with the traditional leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties [in the US] is now understood as a common sense fact." He goes on, citing other international examples to underscore that this is not just a US phenomenon and then asks questions like: "Is Canada's parliament responsible to its citizens, or do parties operate as leader-controlled oligarchies stifling MPs?"
Preston Manning reminds us that Parliament is (or should be) the institutional embodiment of our most fundamental principles. He tells a story of a sign on an old back road east of Lesser Slave Lake pointing to the town of Sawridge. The sign was sturdy and strong, acting as a landmark for over fifty years. It was a beacon, a guidepost that represented a steadfast sense of direction. There was just one problem. If you followed the sign it would not take you to Sawridge. The sign was permanent but the world around it changed. Over time the town changed its name and its location to higher ground after a flood. The roads were also rerouted. Anyone relying on the sign would find themselves lost, as surely as anyone trying to make sense of democratic institutions that are no longer democratic at all.
"Political discourse has increasingly become the rote repetition of the same phrases over and over again, people talking to each other, with canned answers responding to canned questions," writes Bob Rae. "Voters rightly feel that there is something wrong with how our politics is working. We don't yet have the deadlock of the United States, but we do have another kind of deadlock; the hard hand of too much party discipline."
Last week Elizabeth May (who also wrote a chapter in the book) and Michael Chong shared a stage in Guelph to discuss our democratic shortcomings. "[Committee members] are chosen by [three] party leaders and sit at the pleasure of the three party leaders. Because of that," said Chong, "members work at the whim of their party leaders and not the constituents who elected them." Elizabeth points to the total power that a party can wield with a false majority government: “In Canada, if a prime minister has a majority of the seats in the House [irrespective of the popular vote] under their party banner, that prime minister controls automatically the executive and the legislative. That is the key reason I so desperately believe Canada needs to have a voting system that does not allow a big gulf to develop between the popular vote and the seat count.”
The folks who have been driving our agenda in recent years clearly need to have their fingers peeled from the levers of power. “Since 1992, the government has repeatedly promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and support clean energy technology. However, since then, Canada has missed two separate emission reduction targets and is likely to miss the 2020 target as well; in fact, emissions have increased by over 15 percent.”
Meanwhile the world is moving forward. Marija Kramer is Head of Responsible Investment Business at Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS). She is responsible for all aspects of responsible investing (RI) offerings, including policy development as well as research and data screening services covering more than 13,000 global companies, for institutions seeking to fully integrate Environment, Social and Governance considerations into their investment decision-making. In this Forbes Q&A she makes it clear that investors have reached a tipping point: "Unprecedented votes this year on climate change resolutions at some of the largest energy companies, including Exxon Mobil, would suggest mainstream institutions have crossed the Rubicon on the materiality of climate change."
In China, the war on coal reached a fever pitch this month. "Steel production has been halved in major steel cities, coal banned in China's coal capital, factories closed down for failing pollution inspections, and hundreds of officials sacked for failing to meet environmental targets," Kirsty Needham writes in the Sydney Morning Herald. Multinationals and Chinese companies have complained the shutdowns and factory closures will hurt business and raise prices. But, unlike what happens when polluting industries push back against government policy in Australia and here in North America, they have been given short shrift by China's Ministry for Environment Protection. The ministry's director of environmental impact assessment, Cui Shuhong, held a press conference to debunk the complaints, saying polluting companies will be phased out because they "disrupt the market order". "Healthy and faster economic growth can happen along with an improved environment," he said.
Those of us intent on changing our political culture are not alone. Mike Schreiner wants to get elected to the Ontario Legislature "for the right reasons, not the easy reasons." In an online Town Talk last week he said this: "Like many people in Ontario I've started to lose trust with what's going on in Queens Park. I'm tired of the political games, I'm tired of the backroom deals, I'm tired of the attack ads going back and forth between parties, I just want to offer solutions that put people first." When challenged if he could see himself end up in a position to drain the swamp, Mike was unequivocal. "I don't have to imagine it, I can see it unfold in British Columbia."
Peter Bevan-Baker remains the most popular party leader in his province of PEI and although he hails from Scotland, his great-great-grandfather had also lived in Canada, it turned out. He had moved here as a teenager and worked here his whole adult life. He was a successful newspaper publisher, author and on-and-off politician. Oh, he also helped found the country: His great-great-grandfather was George Brown. "I sort of feel, in some odd way, I'm completing a grand circle here," Chris Hannay of the Globe and Mail quotes Peter during a recent interview in his office below the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, where he now sits as an MLA.
"Andrew Weaver is an internationally recognized pioneer of models that represent Earth's physical systems at a modest resolution, facilitating the simulation of climate over tens of thousands of years," writes Peter Fairley in Nature. "His ascent from academic to political power broker is a far cry from the attacks on climate scientists that are under way in the United States. But there are US researchers who dare to dream that they too can tilt the political balance. In fact, dozens have declared the intent to run for local, state or national office..."
I'm reminded of the poignancy of Preston Manning's story about the road sign as I read this CBC News piece about Site C: "Time has moved on," Robert McCullough explained at a Vancouver hearing held by the B.C. Utilities Commission in Vancouver to review the project. "These huge megadams take too long to construct. They're expensive to build, and you have to plan them a decade in advance. The competition is cheaper. It's a lot less risky, and you only have to order them a year or two in advance. The economics have changed."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swept to power in October of 2015 by raising expectations. He offered hope that we would emerge from a decade of global isolation and stagnation by finally entering the 21st century. But now, two years later, his Sunny Ways are faltering. The Liberal strategy to walk the fence and renege on the promise of bold leadership isn't working out so well for them. The Angus Reid Institute reports that the Liberals and Conservatives are running neck and neck in the polls again. Just like in PEI, backing away from Electoral Reform has hurt the Liberal Party's credibility.
Turning parliamentarians into proxies for partisan agendas is no way to run a country. It takes more than three voices to represent Canada and few have been more outspoken on this than Rafe Mair. "I think it must be understood, perhaps conceded is the better word, that the Green Party isn’t like other parties and probably never will be," he wrote in this blog post a little over a year ago. "If it struggles to be what it never can be, it will go the way of Technocracy and Esperanto... ...I’ve not spoken to Ms. May on this but I infer from what she has said and done that she realizes power to change is far more important then the trappings of office, where change will usually be thwarted by the establishment in one uniform or another." Rafe Mair died last week at the age of 85.
Change is upon us. Rapid change. And the old institutional traditions of partisan politics and false majorities with absolute power are no longer serving us adequately. The only hope we have is to adapt, not through evolution or mechanical systems but through cultural transformation.
To do that means to change. And to change means to cooperate. And to cooperate means to build community. It is through that community that we can learn the meaning of culture as being more than the traditions of the past that separate us into silos. We can embrace culture as the one mechanism that allows us to unite around the solutions of the future and embrace change in the security that we are doing it together.
Have a great weekend,
"It is our job to work tirelessly for justice, for peace, and for a planet that can survive with a human civilization that thrives. This is the challenge that we take on as Greens." Elizabeth May, October 19th, 2015
This weekly missive is authored by Thomas Teuwen, our SGI EDA coordinator. Opinions expressed are his own. We welcome your comments and feedback. If you were sent here by a friend and would like to subscribe to our weekly email simply click here. You can also go to the archives section of our SGI website to read back issues.