Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Rising Power, Part 3: Zeitgeist and the Green Party

What is The Green Party?

That's not an easy question to answer, but here I am, attempting to do so. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to have keep my answer fairly basic; I'm going to ignore most of the history which precedes the present. This is a dangerous, I know. I'm always one to advocate for the fullest understanding possible, but again, in the interests of brevity (something which I also have a problem with), I'm going to try.

The Green Party arose out of the environmental movement of the 60s and 70s. The environmental movement itself has a pretty interesting history, one which, for the purposes of this discussion, should not be completely ignored. While we like to hold on to the popular view of 60s-style hippy-earth-mother environmentalism, the fact is that the scientific basis for the movement was formulated by academics who didn't really fit this mold. Indeed, we must understand that the environmental movement, in part, evolved out of a desire to keep the world at a sustainable level. Yes, here in North America, environmentalism was also informed by conservationism, but we can not deny that behind the movement there were also those who were primarily concerned about the dreaded spectre of runaway Malthusian population growth, and all of the inherent dangers over-population would bring to our planet.

Even today, I'm sure that many in the Green Party are concerned about the planet's ability to sustain our current population, much less the anticipated population. Population has always been a bit of an elephant in the room of the environmental movement. Ever wonder why? In part, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that the people who have historically been the most interested in population control have also been involved with the eugenics movement, social darwinism, and even fascism. Not exactly the sorts of credentialed ancestors we like to acknowledge. Much better to play up those who were involved with saving wild lands from mining and development.

Yet, a lot of us are here because we really want to save the Earth. We see the current systems we have in place locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, as not doing the best of jobs at achieving this outcome. We are worried about the climate crisis, and our mindset is informed by the over-riding concern that we have not been placing enough value on the environment. Therefore, we are concerned about systems which continue to relegate the environment to being an “afterthought” or a “nice to have”, but certainly not the star of the show.

Our governmental and economic systems in particular have become targets for some greens, and hence we have ended up with Green Parties throughout the world. Other greens wish to continue to focus on local changes, believing that if we continue to think globally and act locally, we can change the world for the better. I think many of us in the Green Party now view that concept as, to put it mildly, rather quaint. Not to undersell acting locally (because I am a major adherent to doing so), but the truth is, without co-operation at higher levels, we absolutely risk venturing into territory where the concept of runaway climate change isn't theoretical, but a reality. The only way to avoid catastrophe is to start reducing our carbon inputs into the atmosphere. Now. Well, yesterday. Local action is good, but really, it can only do so much.

Our Party likes to say that we're not a party of the left or right, but that we're out in front. I subscribe to this point of view, and have fiercely debated it with friends and others. However, the notion that a political party is neither left nor right is a fundamentally problematic one for most Canadians to wrap their heads around. Given our history, our political science classes, our mass media, and just the way in which we've been brought up to think, the notion of left and right is all pervasive. Whether we want to fit into that mold or not, people are going to try to pin us down. All we can do, really, is wriggle.

The reason that we're out in front is because our starting point in any conversation is to boldly challenge the existing systems themselves as being part of the problem. Rather than look for solutions within the existing infrastructure, most Greens would rather dismantle the infrastructure and build something new, recycling what we can of course. Look, I'm not necessarily talking about getting rid of capitalism here and replacing it with something else, but when you look at our policy on income tax reduction and carbon taxation, that to me is a pretty bold, systemic change to the status quo. To some people, when its put that way, our ideas begin to sound revolutionary and more than a little unsettling. Maybe that's why we have a little difficulty in attracting votes.

However, increasingly, people are coming around to our way of thinking about systems, if not about how we think it might be best to change them. Of course people are concerned when they hear about economic collapse, and they see their own incomes being stretched further and further. Maybe they've had to walk away from their homes, or put off seeking higher education. Maybe they've had to start eating less, or buy their clothes secondhand. Or maybe they can't swim at their local beaches any more because of whatever it is that's in the water. Or they can't ride the bus because it's just too darn expensive. Whatever it is, many people are beginning to feel that it's not just one or two things which they are having to adapt to, but something more fundamental. Something like a lifestyle change. And not one which is for the better, from their perspective.

We Greens know that lifestyle changes are going to happen to us all, whether we want them to or not. The only question is, whose terms will these changes be made on, ours or nature's? We want to be able to influence the changes we must make, in order to achieve the best outcomes possible. Unfortunately, change is difficult to sell, except incrementally, and even then there is often friction. But change is going to come whether we want it to or not.

Greens differentiate ourselves from the other political parties in Canada by the fact that we are looking at change as both necessary and an opportunity. Fundamentally, we are in opposition to the status quo. And since the status quo begins and ends with our economy, and specifically with money, that too is our starting point, despite whatever the media or other parties might say by scornfully referring to us as a “one issue” party.

While the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP continue to mire themselves in trying to make the old systems work, through incremental tweaks which are then often thrown out when the next government comes in, Greens know that we must take bolder action. And quickly, because frankly, we're running out of time. Some may be surprised at my inclusion of the NDP here, but I have to tell you that it was not a mistake. The NDP, which likes to fight for families and the disenfranchised, is really just another monied party. Yes, a lot of what they stand for can be considered “progressive” and even necessary, but when it comes to implementation, we can expect to see, and have seen, NDP governments falter. Although not a corporatist party in the same way that the Liberal and Conservatives are, the NDP looks at the world through a lens which accentuates decent jobs and wages. And while I'm not against good jobs and pay, and while I believe that Canadians should be able to live their lives with dignity, I have to say that the NDP remains a party of the status quo because they will not fight for the complete range of changes we need to make to our governmental, social, and economic systems. They remain content to try to work within these current systems. Yes, there are greens in the NDP, and some of them may even be trying to change that Party's mindset. But as long as the business interests of that party remain the powerbrokers, and here of course I am referring to monied unions, we can't expect the NDP to come out in favour of making the changes to our economic system which must be made if we are going to save the country and the planet.

Anyway, that's how I see it, and I think I know a little bit about what I'm talking about. I know others both within and outside of our Party are going to disagree about some or much of what I've said, and that's ok, I suppose. This blog is just about offering my opinion. But I'd like you to seriously think about what I've just written, about what differentiates the Green Party from the other parties, and about what it means to be Green. I'd like you to think about that because I'm going to take this dialogue now in a completely new direction.


I've looked at what I think the Green Party is all about, and I've discussed superficially where we've come from to arrive where we're at today. To recap: Greens are informed by the knowledge that we need to fundamentally change the systems within which our society functions. Our current governmental, economic and social systems are not addressing the biggest crisis facing humanity, that being climate change. These changes can not be made at local levels only. They require political will and international effort. We can begin the process of change at national and sub-national levels, but ultimately we acknowledge that tackling this issue is going to take a global effort. To achieve a global outcome before it's too late, real work at the political level must begin now. Our current political parties are not offering to make any substantive changes to the systems which we know we must make. Therefore, Greens urge that these establishment parties of the brown economy be discarded by voters at the polls on election day.

In a few earlier blogs, I talked about the rise of right-wing populism, and identified it as another point of view which is offering something akin to system change to voters, however with a significant emphasis on opening up economic systems from government regulation. These types of changes proffered by the ultra-right are not, in fact, changing the system itself, even if they are presented that way. Instead, these changes would lead only to unbridled laissez-faire capitalism, which might be good for some, but not for most.

And that is why the ultra-right populists movements have been partially rejected by a group of people I also blogged about whom I've referred to as being “third siders” and “anti-government”. Neither of these terms do these people justice. However, I'm also reluctant to refer to them as “libertarians”, as this concept is also tainted with laissez-faire approaches to the economy, and the notion that regulations somehow infringe on human rights in just about all cases.

I don't know what the best term is for this group of people whom I'm writing about. I'm sure that someone has coined something which makes sense. From here on in, though, I'm going to refer to them as “Zeitgeisters”, a reference to the internet movie made by Alex Jones, which attempts to explain how many of this groups beliefs are interwoven and connected with one another. I will now try to explain, as best as I can, albeit in a superficial way, what a zeitgeister might think.

A zeitgeister also craves changes to our systems, although the reasons behind the desire are many, and have nothing to do with the coming climate crisis. A zeitgeister has a different view of history than what was on offer in high-school history texts. This movement has really taken off as a result in the communications revolution brought about the internet (and as a result, they are very interested and concerned about net neutrality).

Zeitgeisters are very well informed about current events. These people are paying attention. They like to tell others to “wake up”, and they use the term “sheeple” as a perjorative. They may believe in “conspiracy theories”, and they certainly feel disenfranchised that mainstream points of view are dismissive of them.

Zeitgeisters believe that history is pointing in a single direction, which is all about power and control. In the United States, zeitgeisters perceive the Revolutionary War as a significant success in the battle against tyranny, and as a result, they admire in a very strong way the tenets of their Constitution, which talks about equality and especially freedom. They are concerned that we are headed towards a new age of bondage (and maybe we are already there). They fear a corporate-militarist agenda informs our government's decision making processes, as our governments themselves have been bought and sold and are now only proxies acting on behalf of the corporatists. They believe that a distracted and disinterested public is ultimately giving the world away to the monied elites. They fear the future, and beneath the surface, they probably desire a little revolution too.

However, zeitgeisters are ardent anti-globalists, as they perceive the threat coming from the elites is being handed down by international organizations like the World Trade Organization, and the shadowy Bilderberg Group. Not to mention the United Nations. As a result, and this is crucial for greens and especially Greens, many zeitgeisters also perceive the climate change crisis to be a hoax perpetrated by international organizations and the world's wealthy elite, with the goal of financial gain for the elite, and the loss of sovereignty for nations, and independence and freedom for the masses.

Climate Change

Now, some Greens might scoff at this notion. How would a climate crisis line the wallets of the wealthy? How could global destablization increase one's wealth? Well, it's happened before, and continues to happen today. There are a lot of ways to make money. Some people have always profited when war is declared. When our governments declare war on climate change, guaranteed that there will be some who stand to make a lot of money.

Now, I'm not suggesting that all zeitgeisters are fanatical climate change deniers, but many do doubt that climate change is happening. This may come as a surprise to some of my readers who may have found themselves identifying with the zeitgeist group up until now. I think that zeitgeisters have a couple of problems with the idea of climate change.

First of all, a lot of the information coming out about climate change is happening through international organizations of which zeitgeisters already distrust. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC) are considered to be a particularly heinous group, out to dupe the world. In this case, I think that zeitgeisters are a little too quick to shoot the messenger, as I believe that that their real issues regarding global wealth consolidation and losing freedom have more to do with the international response to climate change than with the crisis itself.

Zeitgeisters, who tend to be a little right wing in general, are not keen when leftist tactics are used to silence their voices. A couple of popular leftist tactics used to silence zeitgeisters have to do with declaring them to be (or some of their prominent members to be) either racist or sexist or anti-semitic. Others have to do with insisting that any particular debate is over, and that we need to move on. What the environmental movement has done with the global warming debate is a classic example. We declared the debate to be over, and we moved on. But not everyone did.

Of course, the right also smears zeitgeisters in their own way, by not giving them the time of day, declaring them to be kooks and crackpots, or unpatriotic. To me, this is ironic, as you now see such right-wing demagogues such as Glenn Beck beginning to espouse some of the zeitgeisters thinking now that a Democrat is in the White House. Which leaves many a zeitgeister to wonder just where the hell Glenn Beck and his ilk were when Bush occupied the throne of power. Oh ya: Beck and his buddies were telling them that they weren't really Americans if they questioned the motives of the government. Pishaw.

Combating the Climate Crisis

When crisis rears its head, there are many ways to respond to it. We Greens have been talking about the climate crisis until we've become blue in the face, and we are far from being happy with anything which resembles a response. No doubt, though, one day there will be a “War on Climate”, just as we've had wars on terror, wars on drugs and wars on the ideology of other nations. Most national governments now agree that anthropogenic global warming is happening. Pretty soon they might even all agree that we need to take action on doing something about it. Will we Greens be satisfied then?

Likely we won't be. And that's because the preferred international response already seems to be taking shape. Sure, I guess any response to the crisis is better than what we've had...if it actually achieves its goal of reducing greenhouse gases entering our atmosphere. What's far from clear is whether or not the vehicle to pursue this goal will actually get us to it. Here, of course I am referring to an international cap and trade system.

The European cap and trade system has been in place now for a number of years, and recent studies show that it has not been successful in reducing carbon. What these sorts of systems have been successful at, however, is generating wealth for corporations, and adding to the price of goods purchased by everybody else. Yes, I'm simplifying here, but let's face it: cap and trade isn't going to get us to where we need to be.

But it's only part of the solution, you might say. Yes, of course. But there are other ways of actually reducing carbon in our atmosphere in a meaningful way which don't set up a cumbersome international credits trading scheme which will ultimately line the pockets of the wealthy and potentially make the rest of us poor. A straight tax on carbon would be a much better idea, if other taxes are reduced significantly. In that situation, a purchaser can make a choice based on the true cost of products.

Zeitgeisters have a problem with the international cap and trade system which almost assuredly will be coming our way some day. On this matter I believe that zeitgeisters and Greens can actually find some common ground, even if we come together from two different perspectives. For Zeitgeisters, the issues with cap and trade are obvious: a scheme which enriches the corporate elite at the expense of everybody else is very problematic. For Greens, we should be appalled that time and resources will be devoted to a carbon reduction scheme which really isn't likely to work all that well, and which will succeed in raising prices without any offsets passed on to consumers.

Of course, zeitgeisters likely wouldn't like a carbon tax either, especially if they live in rural areas, where their product choices are limited, particularly for transportation. However, since zeitgeisters tend to understand economics and buy into concepts like peak oil, they are probably more likely to acknowledge that we've got to do something, even if they don't like it.

Zeitgeist and the Tea Party

It might make sense to some that zeitgeisters would be attracted to the anti-government movement south of the border known as the Tea Party. But they're not. That's because the Tea Party really isn't an anti-government movement. From a zeitgeisters perspective, the Tea Party is just another organization acting in the interests of the corporate elite. Since the Tea Party has largely limited itself to addressing issues of taxation (which do resonate with zeitgeisters), and lately with right-wing social policy issues (which often do not resonate with zeitgeisters), the appeal of the Tea Party to zeitgeisters is effectively limited. For example, rather than calling for the system changes which zeitgeisters wish to see occur in order to protect their freedoms, the Tea Party has largely been co-opted by the Republican Party, and it can therefore be assured that repealing Home Land Security legislation which tramples on the tenets of the American Constitution, is not going to happen. Further, zeitgeisters are not fanatics about waging foreign wars either, which many in the Tea Party believe remains necessary in the name of domestic security.

So, the Tea Party in the States equates well with populist movements here in Canada, such as Wild Rose, and which meshes ideologically with the Reform Party minded supporters of the current Conservative government, where does that leave a zeitgeister on the political spectrum? The answer is, not much of anywhere.

Zeitgeisters and the Green Party

Our Party probably has the highest percentage of people who associate themselves with the zeitgeist movement of any party in Canada, even though many in that movement would never support our Party because we believe in climate change and are looking for a global response to it. That's anathema to the core of the zeitgeister cause. However, many in the Green Party obviously share the concerns of zeitgeisters about corporatization, out of control capitalism, globalism, and the increasing gap between the rich and poor. Clearly, there is common ground.

To me, it's a shame that climate change denial has found a home in the zeitgeist movement, not least because now the global warming argument is under attack from the do-nothing globalists and the zeitgeist anti-globalists. Both are now standing in our way of getting at the work we must do at all levels. If zeitgeisters could at least buy into the science behind global warming, and focus their efforts instead on the implementation of the coming war on climate change, we might find ourselves on the same page. It surprises me that zeitgeisters, who like to be well informed, have bought into the rickety arguments of the denial industry. However, given the track record of many of the international organizations which are espousing action on climate change, and their past track records, I shouldn't be so surprised. Remember that the environmental movement in part evolved out of projects to control population, and that even today we have in our midst those who believe there need to be limits set on population growth, sometimes forcible ones.

And this despite the actual demographics which actually show an overall expected decline in population before the end of this century, just after we pass through the baby-boom bulge. As people globally are having fewer and fewer children, the current issues we are experiencing with population might yet sort themselves out. Of course, we'll have a whole new set of issues to deal with in a world of the aged. And of course this all presumes that some other cataclysm doesn't interject itself into the demographic equation, leading to a sudden, sharp crash which many of us are perhaps a little concerned about.

Should the Green Party care about what this “fringe” element, which I've labelled “zeitgeisters” thinks? I believe that we should (just as we should carefully consider most who are out there on the fringes, trying to get heard), but at the same time we need to stay focused on the solutions which we have offered, recognizing that those solutions require global action. While we can't shy away from global solutions, we do need to be concerned about the form which those solutions take. Are they truly going to accomplish the goals that we've set out? Are they really going to benefit the majority of humanity? We need to make sure that our solutions don't simply line the pockets of the rich and force the rest of us to give up our freedoms, whether in the name of security or combating climate change.


This concludes my 3 part series on "third sider" a.k.a "zeitgeisters" and the Green Party. While there is a lot more which can be said regarding common elements and relationships, I think its time for me to move in other directions. I would, however, look forward to hearing the thoughts of others regarding the connections I've written about, whether that's through my blog's comments section or through your own blogs.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Populist Threat to Green Success

The political tectonic plates which underlie our nation have always been moving, albeit often quite slowly, as tectonic plates are wont to do. Every now and then, though, there comes a bit of an upheaval, often regional in scale; the equivalent of a political earthquake strikes. Sometimes, the political earthquake sparks a tsunami, which ends up deluging other parts of the country. Like earthquakes, though, there needs to be a certain degree of political friction at play before the actual event occurs. I believe we are in the midst of a pressure-building situation right now, and that the quake and resulting tsunami it will unleash may mark another turning point in Canadian politics.

The Last Turning Point

The last great cataclysm occurred nationally back when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was in power. I remember precisely where I was when I first heard about it, although at the time, I obviously didn't identify the trigger event as significant. At 17 years of age, I was in Ottawa on my March Break, attending the Terry Fox Youth Centre for the “Encounters with Canada” program, which brought together about 150 students from all across Canada for a week's worth of study and fun.

On the bunk next to mine was a teenage guy from Alberta, who seemed to be intently following an obscure by-election taking place in Alberta. I remember him sitting on that lower bunk, with his radio plugged into his ears one night, and shouting enough to wake most of the male dormitory when it was announced that Deborah Grey had taken the seat for something called “the Reform Party”. That day in 1989 was the day that writing was put on the wall for the national Progressive Conservative Party.

As more western conservatives began parking their votes with Reform, and as the PC Party and Mulroney in particular began to appear as walking wounded, after the collapse of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, their collapse led to the rise of the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec. Losing MP's in the west to reform and in Quebec to the Bloc, Mulroney's PC Party went on to lose all but 2 seats in the next general election. They never recovered.

Later, the rump of what was left under the PC's was eventually absorbed by the Canadian Alliance, which was essentially the Reform Party in nationalist clothing. This absorption, which some have called a “merger”, was the final nail in the coffin of national progressive conservatism. With this loss of this great national party, there remains to this day a bit of a vacuum in the national political scene, which some of the other parties, notably the Liberals, Conservatives and Greens are trying to fill. Even the NDP has appeared to move a little more to the right in hopes of attracting a group of voters who are now without a Party.

You might not agree with my interpretation of recent history here, and you almost certainly won't agree if you are informed by the mainstream media, who for some reason are fixated on the notion that the current Conservative Party is the direct descendent of the former Progressive Conservative Party. You're entitled to your opinion, and I have to admit, with the way in which the Conservatives have been behaving, it's certainly not at all clear that they instead emerged from a Reform heritage. But when the Conservative Party was put together, it was clearly done so with the notion of primarily advancing the Reform agenda.

The Success and Failure of Reform

The new Conservative Party, however, despite being labelled “Tory” by the media, was not always a good fit for many in the old Progressive Conservative Party. As a result, many who belonged to the old Party turned elsewhere; in some cases, to the Liberals, and in many other cases, to the Green Party. Many, of course, stayed on to join the Conservative Party, whether or not they bought completely into the Reformist Agenda.

Under Stephen Harper, however, it's been a little difficult for the Conservatives to implement completely the agenda of the Reform Party. Minority governments have, so far, kept this agenda somewhat in check. But Harper has been playing a masterful game, using all of the tools available to him, to break out of the minority situation. He realizes that to obtain a majority government, he must first break the Opposition. And the Opposition's weakest link has been the Liberal Party.

So, the Reform Agenda has gone on hold. Instead of reforming the senate, Harper has seized it, with patronage appointment after patronage appointment. He has used the Senate to kick-start a number of difficult bills which otherwise might have died in the lower chamber had they first been introduced there, due to the minority situation.

Instead of unbridled tax cuts for citizens, and the contingent cuts to programs leading to smaller government, we've seen an orgy of spending over the past couple of years. Since stimulus spending seemed to be the thing to do, the perception is that Harper hasn't even really lost his base support on this issue. Those who would otherwise be up in arms about all of the government spending have, for the most part, bought into the notion that Harper's hand was forced (clearly, the government, upon resuming office in 2008, had no intention of spending this money, and it was only the “coalition crisis” of December, 2008, which changed their minds), and that the tap will be turned off in early 2011. Of course, Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, also provided significant (and in my opinion, completely misguded) tax cuts as part of their “stimulus” package, which certainly appealed to Reform supporters.

Nationally, Reformers understand that their Conservative government appears largely to be heading in the right direction, and that they're just trying to play with the hand they've been dealt right now. In their hearts, Reformers know that Harper and the Conservatives aren't really happy with the actions they've had to take hold on to, and hopefully increase, their power. They're going to give Stephen Harper one more chance now to come clean as a Reformer before they begin to get too agitated.

This Reform base, however, has started to get more than a little agitated on other fronts, and that's why I suspect that Stephen Harper has been making as much noise as possible to shore up what is perceived to be his own base support. Again, the media would have us believe that Harper is not under threat from the members of his own Party, or the right-wing of Canadian political supporters. They see his stand on the long gun registry and the census as ideological measures, and not as political statements. Yet the Conservative Party's stance on both of these issues really does need to be understood in a wider context.

Law & Order and the Long Gun Registry

With regards to the gun registry, it was always very unlikely that the Conservatives would have ever changed their position that the registry, quite simply, has to go. This position is informed by their Reform roots; not so much by their Progressive Conservative roots. But Harper went about trying to kill the registry in a very interesting way, one which attempted to alienate neither side of his formerly divided party. The Bill to kill the registry was introduced by a backbencher, and not the government. And although Harper was a significant supporter of this bill, it could be said that the bill itself did not represent the government's will, because the government was not its sponsor. Interestingly, by introducing it as a private members bill, debate on the bill also caused some significant damage for both the Liberals and NDP, where many MP's from those parties in rural areas initially, and ultimately, voted to scrap the registry. This was a win-win for Harper.

However, anyone who takes a close look at the long gun registry must realize that it's a very good fit for the Conservatives “law and order” agenda which they keep seem to be going on about. Certainly, the majority of police chiefs across Canada came out in support of the registry. What kind of sense would it make for the Conservatives to go against the wishes of so many police chiefs, and others who support gun restrictions in the name of crime prevention?

The arguments offered by the Conservatives here were telling, as they were based on emotion only, rather than factual information. Police chiefs were derided for getting involved in political matters, and were told to keep their noses out of the government's business, even though they, like all Canadians, would be impacted by those same decisions. Canadians were told that while crime rates are increasing, due to unreported crime, and new prisons are necessary to presumably house those unreported criminals, that the Chiefs were out to lunch on thinking that the registry had any practical use as a crime fighting tool.

We'll never know what position the Progressive Conservative Party might have taken on the long gun registry debate, but what we can surmise is that their position likely would have been informed by their own law and order agenda, something which that Party used to hold front and centre during every election. What happened with the long gun registry debate was, in part, the emergence of the Reformist agenda which emphasizes the rights of individuals over those of the state to curtail those rights, in preference to a true law and order agenda.

The law and order agenda was, however, very much on display during the Vancouver Olympics, and at the G20 summit in Toronto. While Reformers no doubt don't like to see rioters looting in the streets (well, maybe in Toronto), I have to think that some Reformers felt less than comfortable with the notion of citizens being detained and imprisoned by the police for what appeared to be little or no reason. While Reformers tend to respect our law enforcement agencies, for the most part, they'd like to have the opportunity to respect them from a distance. People being rounded up and thrown into make-shift pens without reasons for arrest might have made some Reformers a little nervous about losing their “right” to keep unregistered guns.

The Census

The elimination of the long-form census was an easy bone for Harper and Tony Clement to throw to their Reformist supporters. Not only will it keep the state out of the homes of our nations by eliminating the mandatory requirement of completion, it will ultimately assist in reducing government spending, as it creates a situation in the future where government programs will be much more difficult to justify due to a lack of reliable data. Again, a win-win for Harper.

Although the Conservatives have come under a lot of fire over their decision to scrap the long form, they've stuck to their, er, guns on this one too. Is it because they really believe that the state shouldn't be putting its nose into Canadian homes, or is it because they've needed to throw a few sops to their core base of (Reform) supporters, in order to keep them on the good side of unruly?

The Rise of Conservative Populist Alternatives

Surly Stephen Harper is aware that the tectonic shift which started with the election of Deb Grey back in 1989 isn't quite over yet, even if it did directly lead to his becoming Prime Minister. The populism of the Reform Party has never truly gone away, and although much of its energy has been invested in his Party, there are an increasing number of conservative Reformers who are looking elsewhere for a brand of politics which isn't going to betray core beliefs.

In Alberta, we've seen the rise of the ultra-conservative Wildrose Party, with its populist small-government message. This party hopes to put an end to the decades-long rule of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party in Alberta, and might just end up doing it. The kind of conservatism on offer from the Premier Ed Stelmach and the PC's just doesn't mesh with the direction Wildrose wants to take the Province.

In British Columbia, the emerging BC First Party is also hoping to capitalize on this sort of populism, and if it can get its act together in time for the next election, it might pose a threat to all parties in B.C. The Saskatchewan Party has done a good job of corralling some of this populism in its own province, too, although I don't want to suggest that the SP remains today a party of popular dissent.

Even here in Northern Ontario, we have the newly founded Northern Ontario Heritage Party, which appears to be setting itself up in popular opposition to any of the other parties as, in their minds, they haven't done enough for the North when given the chance. It's quite possible that all parties might lose vote share to this newly resurrected party in next year's provincial election.

Should we be surprised at the rise of these primarily right-wing, populist, Reform-style parties on the provincial political landscape, especially given the popularity of the Tea Party movement south of the border? The answer is, no, not really, especially given the behaviour that we've been seeing on provincial stages from ruling parties who have participated in bail-outs and stimulus spending, driving up deficits and, frankly, offering no real solutions to voters regarding how we might end up getting ourselves out of this mess.

With the established parties devoid of new ideas, and content to play politics to conserve or grow their power, it's no wonder that people are beginning to turn away from these parties. And they are doing so in increasing numbers, and boy, are they angry.

The Green Party certainly appears to be one of the recipients of increased growth due to the mis-steps and lack of ideas offered by the established parties, but our Party is never going to be a home to discontented Reformers as long as we continue to espouse socially-progressive values. While Reformers might like our economic policies, if they acknowledge that climate change needs to be addressed (which many don't believe), our Party just doesn't make sense for the ultra-right wing. So new vehicles are needed for them to deliver their own dissent.

Stephen Harper knows this, and many of his decisions are made to show the Reformers, currently his supporters, that they don't need to look elsewhere for political comfort. As Harper tries to present himself as electable to those in the centre of Canadian politics, he risks alienating his core base, and so must focus at least some of his efforts on retaining those voters. So far, he appears to be doing a pretty good job of walking this fine line.

Threat and Opportunity for the Green Party

What we as Greens need to be concerned about over the next few years is how this continually rising populist tide threatens to undermine much of the good work which we know needs doing. As more and more people turn away from the mainstream parties, the more these mainstream parties are going to want to attract them back. Harper, already doing a good job of keeping these supporters all to himself, actually stands to gain additional adherents as voters become increasingly informed by right-wing media and by what they see as a small-government revolution taking place in the U.S.

With an antiquated electoral process in place which favours monied parties and rural voters, the Green Party will have a more difficult time breaking into the debate. As more and more people begin to question (re-question?) the science of climate change, and turn off to paying any sort of tax, our policies will resonate with fewer voters. Sure, we are doing well with the younger age demographic, and that's great, but power is much more concentrated in the hands of older, rural, wealthy voters who cast their ballots at a higher percentage than other age groups.

With the parties of the left divided (and here I am referring to the NDP, the Bloc, and I'll include the Greens too, somewhat reluctantly; but not the Liberals, because they are a Party whose primary interests lie with big business) by insurmountable differences, it's going to be very difficult to have much of an impact on the future direction of this nation. Greens need a strategy to force our way into this debate. Greens have done so successfully recently in the United Kingdom and in Australia by focusing their scarce resources in areas which could anticipate higher returns. I'm not suggesting that Greens write off whole segments of our nation, but I am strongly suggesting that we get serious about focusing our efforts on a few specific ridings in the next election. And that must be more than just our Leader's Saanich-Gulf Island riding, a place where many Greens simply can't help out. Guelph and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, and metropolitan ridings in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal must also be targeted.

Frankly, we need our own form of Green populism to begin opposing the right-wing Reform/Tea Party brand, before the Conservatives are handed a majority government. For that to happen, though, an increasing number of Liberals and NDP voters must begin to lose more faith in their parties, particularly when it comes to climate change and the economy. That may yet happen. Let's begin to position ourselves to capitalize on that growing discontent by getting ourselves better organized on the ground locally in areas where it matters most.

To do so, though, we're going to need to have a few more experienced people on the ground, willing to interact with and whip local organizations into shape. We can not continue with our default strategy of having voters come to us, largely through what they've heard in the media. If we are going to be a true alternative party, much more work must be done on the ground, and resources allocated by the Central Party to do so. Local Green associations must do more to reach out to the green-minded in their communities, and figure out some way to bring them on board. The threat of a populist, Reform-minded Conservative government has only led to limited success in the past. Maybe a Stephen Harper majority with a handful of elected Green MP's staring at them from across the House will change the game in our favour. It may mean 4 years of hell, and potentially irreversible damage done to our society, the economy and the environment, but since things aren't so hot in that respect anyway, maybe it's going to take Stephen Harper doing his best Mike Harris interpretation to wake people up.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Rising Power, Part 2: "Sheeple" and Anthropogenic Global Warming

Are you familiar with the term “sheeple”? Have you heard it used in the past, either in passing, or perhaps directed against you as a form of insult? Maybe you know exactly what “sheeple” are. Wikipedia reports that “sheeple” is a term of disparagement, in which people are likened to sheep, and is used to denote persons who voluntarily acquiesce to a perceived authority or suggestion without specific research to fully understand the ramifications. Wikipedia goes on to suggest that in its current mainstream North American usage, that “sheeple” tend to take things at face value, especially if it is in the mainstream media.

As Greens, we have a long history with fighting against perceived “mainstream” arguments, especially in the environmental movement. It wasn't so long ago that people accepted that the scientific community was largely in disagreement as to whether or not anthropogenic global warming was happening. “The jury is still out” was a phrase which was bandied about a lot, despite significant agreement amongst scientists. Today, virtually every government on the planet accepts the (significant) majority findings of our scientific community: that global warming is happening, and that humanity is responsible for it. Governments eventually came around to listening to scientists and not believing in media pundits who, although widely read and influential in the realm of public opinion, made wild claims based on unsupported arguments. A victory for science-based solutions over the media mis-led “sheeple” was at hand.

Of course, some would say that actions speak louder than words, and with the relative inaction of the global community to combat anthropogenic global warming, many Greens believe that our governments actually don't subscribe to their stated views that global warming is happening. Why else aren't we doing anything much about it?

In the last few years, a decreasing number of North Americans continue to believe that anthropogenic global warming is actually a reality, especially in the United States. A Gallup Poll, published in March, 2010, shows that this trend has actually been increasing since at least 1997. In 1997, only 31% of Americans believed that the threat of global warming was “exaggerated”. In 2008, this number was up to 41%; in 2010, it stands at 48%.

Still think that war against the denial industry has been won by our side? Just because we like to say that the war is over, that the jury has returned its verdict, and global warming is clearly happening because we, humanity, have been pouring greenhouse gases into our atmosphere at increasing and alarming rates for the past 100 or so years, doesn't actually end the argument. In fact, what our claims of victory have done is to provide our opponents with ammunition that environmentalists, the scientific community, international organizations, and governments are actually evidence that the debate isn't over, and is instead being covered up by those who want to claim victory.

Conspiracy Theories

So now we've entered the realm of “conspiracy theories”, haven't we? I mean, what else would you call a cover-up involving thousands of scientists, tens of thousands of legislators, a compliant media (if only those who are left-leaning), and likely millions of people who sincerely believe that our world is at threat from global warming and that something must be done about it. If all are involved in a cover-up to suppress the truth, well, that's a Conspiracy Theory, isn't it? And therefore, it's very easy to dismiss the views of those who believe in the conspiracy, because if they actually believe that's happening, well, that's....nuts, right?

Or is it really? Perhaps you have been labelled a “conspiracy theorist” at one time by those with whom you've shared your views. Or perhaps you've thought of yourself as a conspiracy theorist, but not in the denigrating way so many others have used the term. Do you remember the first time that you watched Barry Zwicker's “The End of Suburbia”, and perhaps felt a little smugness (and a great degree of despair) that you were in on a secret which the mainstream world hadn't heard of? Those were revolutionary times for some of us, and when we began talking about “peak oil” to our friends, families and co-workers, they looked at us like we were crackpots. Those who bothered to look into the matter themselves either quickly found government statistics which boldly asserted that there is nothing to worry about...or quickly adopted our own way of looking at the world.

Hmmm....I wonder what Barrie Zwicker has been up to since then? But I digress...

Maybe you hold different views on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; maybe those views were informed by Oliver Stone's movie, “JFK”. Perhaps you believe that President Roosevelt knew in advance that the Imperial Japanese Navy was going to bomb Pearl Harbour yet did nothing about it. Maybe you believe that, during the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill deliberately chose not to intercept the Luftwaffe's bombing raid which burned the city of Coventry almost to the ground. Or perhaps you think that the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to a much more militant phase of American involvement in the Vietnam War didn't happen.

What, then, is a “conspiracy theorist”? Seems to me that in some cases, it might be just a question of timing. If you, in 1945, believed that Churchill let Coventry burn, doing nothing to stop the Luftwaffe, you might have been labelled a conspiracy theorist. Yet facts which emerged after the war would have vindicated your position (Churchill knew, and did nothing, because by taking action, he would have let on to the Germans that the British had broken their Enigma codes, and a valuable source of intelligence would have been loss. So civilians died to protect the secret). If you, in 1970, believed that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a fabrication, and that the pretext for American military engagement in Vietnam was based on a lie (what “conspiracy theorists” refer to as a “false flag operation”), you would have been labelled a “conspiracy theorist”. Yet facts which have emerged since then clearly refute the “official” government story.

Governments are not always honest with their citizens. Sometimes they have very good reasons not to be honest. Sometimes, the reasons are a little murky. In the case of Coventry, the British government let scores of innocent civilians die horrible deaths, so that they could pursue their goal of winning the war. Many would suggest that this was a “good reason” to lie to citizens. Rationale in support of the government's decision to create a masquerade off the Vietnamese coast, involving American warships, is less clear. Of course, that wouldn't have been the first time that American naval vessels came under fire from foreign forces, so perhaps it was at least believable (remember the U.S.S. Maine, and of course, Pearl Harbour).

With regards to JFK and Pearl Harbour, the jury isn't out on these verdicts. Mainstream and government sources have clearly concluded that there is no evidence to support that Roosevelt was aware of Pearl Harbour before it happened, nor is there any evidence to support that JFK was murdered by anybody except Lee Harvey Oswald, he of lone gunman fame. We can dismiss anyone who believes otherwise as being either uninformed or unbalanced. Those cases are closed.

Just like the case for the existence of anthropogenic global warming. And hence many Greens are dismissive of those who believe otherwise as being misinformed (either wilfully or not) or, well, kooks.


Of course, if we're going to talk about conspiracy theories, we can't very well ignore 9/11, given that the events of that tragic day have spawned a multitude of theories, and a whole movement has emerged in the past decade dedicated to finding the out what really happened. People who belong to this movement describe themselves as “Truthers”, as they believe that they are looking for real answers to questions which have been asked by some, but not in the mainstream media.

For many Truthers, there are just too many unexplained events, or events whose explanations defy reality. Everything from missing planes to floating passports, cell phone calls and the collapse of buildings being reported on the news before they happened; all inform the Truther position that there was something more going on that day than what has been reported in the mainstream media. A changing government narrative hasn't helped give Truthers much confidence that the mainstream has answered all of the questions here. Nor has a decade-long war, waged to seek out 9/11's mastermind, provided much in the way of evidence for Truthers to give up their cause.

Truthers would suggest that if governments can and do lie to their citizens about some things, and if the mainstream media is complicit in repeating those lies, what really can we believe in? The answer should be that we can only rely on verifiable facts, and that arguments which are based on an incomplete set of facts can not be relied upon, and are likely not true as a result; otherwise, why withhold the facts? There doesn't appear to be a Churchill moment here. A case in point: Some Truthers believe that American Airlines Flight 77 did not strike the Pentagon as reported on 9/11. They sight conflicting eye-witness reports, lack of damage at the sight (to the building, and missing wreckage), and the difficulty of flying the pilot's alleged trajectory. These arguments have all been dismissed by mainstream commentators, without success for many Truthers. Truthers know that there were numerous cameras which recorded the impact on 9/11, but claim that video which actually shows an airplane striking the Pentagon has ever been released by government sources which seized the cameras. Of course, the government has released some video of the incident, which Truthers claim doesn't actually show an airplane. Their point is, if the mainstream argument is valid, why not release the video?

Why just claim that the argument is over and disengage?

Disengagement and Escalation

People have this habit of tuning out when they feel that they are not being heard. It is important for us all to believe that when we are expressing concerns, that those concerns are being heard and actually considered by those to whom we are expressing them. Just pretend to not be paying attention the next time you and your spouse find yourselves in an argument, and see how quickly things begins to escalate.

It's the same with Truthers. They feel excluded from the debate, and they are frustrated by it. They see those involved in their movement have been denied much in the way of opportunity to present their issues. They believe that not only is the government withholding information, but that the mainstream media hasn't been doing its job to ask the government questions about what it knows. Essentially, they view the mainstream media as being complicit in the cover-up. The government declares victory, the media reports it, end of story. If you still disagree, you must be uninformed or unbalanced.

People generally don't react well you call them crazy. What ends up happening is the argument escalates. We've been seeing that throughout the past decade with Truthers, who aren't going to fade away any time soon. It is quite likely that their numbers are growing, as further evidence of government cover-ups come to light, such as George Bush's assertion that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, ready to incinerate Washington or New York City. Later admissions that WMD's didn't exist, and revisions to the “real” reason for going to war in the first place haven't instilled a lot of confidence in Truthers that the government can be trusted.


Truthers have been diversifying for years now. It's not unusual to hear Truthers talk about Bilderberg, the Amero and bank bail outs, even though on the surface, these things have little to do with the events of 9/11. However, when recalled that the Security and Prosperity Partnership was being proposed between President Bush and Prime Ministers Martin and Fox, the context for the discussion was greater North American security, as well as integration. And since many Americans continue to believe even today that the 9/11 terrorists entered the United States from Canada, it's not a stretch to see how a continental security agreement flows from 9/11.

Who stands to gain? That's the Truthers' best question, and they believe if you can answer that question, you'll find the truth behind any event. Who stood to gain from invading Iraq? Who stood to gain from an RCMP investigation into statements made by the Liberal Minister of Finance prior to the 2006 election? Who stands to gain by inaction on fighting climate change? We Greens aren't unfamiliar with this method of exposing the truth.

From a Truther perspective, much of what's happened in the past decade can be viewed as a series of gains for our government and their monied supporters. Gains made at the expense of the “little people” and their constitutional rights. They look at legislation in the U.S., such as the Patriot Act, which can curtail rights, and lead to outcomes which formerly would have been illegal. They look at the use of torture on foreign nationals to extract information and wonder what kind of society the United States is turning into.

Our Evolving Society

Here in Canada, we are very influenced by what happens in the United States. We've certainly had our own questions which many feel have been going unanswered, and we've seen the erosion of our rights through legislation, including the recent budget bill, which stripped our ability to oppose some public works on environmental grounds. Our own Party has expressed considerable concern regarding the democratic deficit, and the idea that our voices aren't being heard. Our Leader has talked about the secretive decision-making process of our Prime Minister, and has called for more honest answers to questions asked in parliament. Greens have expounded to no end that the media has been complicit in keeping our issues off of the front pages of newspapers and out of the 6 o'clock news. We are concerned that our voice may be silenced by the media consortium which controls the next televised leaders debate.

Does expressing concerns about government secrecy and the erosion of rights make us all Truthers of a sort? I mean, you don't have disbelieve in the mainstream story of 9/11 to think that maybe our democratic processes have taken a few steps backwards in the past 10 years. There are even some voices in the mainstream media which cover the democratic deficit fiercely (here James Travers of the Toronto Star comes to mind). However, largely, these issues are not front and centre in the media.

Greens in the Crosshairs

And how do you feel about that? A little angry, perhaps? Upset that your voice isn't being heard? Are you a little irritated that you'll go out and vote for a Party of your choice in the next election, but that because of the way our country elects parliamentarians that the outcome of the next election isn't likely going to be any different than what we have now? Feel like the cards are stacked against you, and there isn't anyone who will listen?

“Why don't those sheeple wake up to what's going on?” you might ask.

And that's another of the very same questions the “conspiracy theorists” have been asking. And they are wondering why you, Green Party supporter that you are, can't wake up and see what's really happening in the world, from their point of view. Many of them are wondering why you belong to a political organization which advocates for the military-industrial-banking complex, and why you want to abolish their rights. You, Green Party supporter, are public enemy number one.

But at least you're in good company, along with the NDP and Liberals, and even the Conservatives, who all express a belief in anthropogenic global warming. But since we Greens actually want to do something about it, we may find ourselves increasingly in the crosshairs of those who believe that there's a different agenda at play, and that climate change is one of many tools being used to promote bigger government, fewer human rights, population reduction, implanted monitoring devices, forced sterilization, and a distribution of wealth and resources which favours the richest few at the expense of the rest of us.

You see, we've declared the global warming debate over, and our side the victors in the debate. Anthropogenic global warming is happening, end of story. Funny, though, that an increasing number of people just don't believe it.

In Part 3 of this series of blogposts, I hope to look at why it is that the “third side” (for lack of a better term) believes that Greens have it completely wrong.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Rising Power, Part 1: Understanding the "Third Side" in the Long Gun Registry Debate

I've been following the “debate” (largely in the media) regarding the abolition of the long gun registry here in Canada. I've been much more interested in the debate itself than its outcome, as it's been really interesting to watch some of the tactics which have been employed by all sides to the debate. I was about to write “both” sides there, instead of “all”, but caught myself. That's because I believe, based on what I've been seeing, that there's another point of view which has started to creep into mainstream Canadian politics, albeit in a confusing sort of way.

The Registry Debate: The Usual Cases Against the Registry

The long gun debate has largely been fought by those for the registry (albeit in many cases, for working to improve the registry) and for those who want it abolished. It's in the case made by those who want to see the registry dead that I think we are beginning to hear more from a third group of Canadians, who are staunchly opposed to the registry.

Typically, opposition to the registry has coalesced around two issues. One is the economic issue (“the registry is a waste of money” either now, or in the past, or both). The other is a little more subtle and difficult to explain, but largely has to do with the notion that long gun ownership is a part of a rural-based Canadian heritage in which law-abiding long gun owners are being treated as second class citizens for having to register guns and/or are misunderstood by an urban, anti-gun “elite”.

It's easy to see why the Conservatives would oppose the registry, given the above arguments. As the Conservatives like to claim that they're the party best suited to fiscally manage the country (despite significant evidence to the contrary), it's plain to see that the economic argument holds traction with the party. Further, since the Conservatives power base is in rural Canada, again it's sensible that the Cons would be against something which is a perceive threat to rural lifestyles.

The NDP fell victim to the rural/urban split within its own caucus, which supplied fodder for the media (and the Conservative Party) over the past few weeks. At the end of the day, the NDP looked extremely silly and incoherent, having most of its members vote in favour of keeping the registry, while some other members did not. This after a few agonizing weeks of watching individual NDP MP's explain to the media why their flip-flop on the vote was “principled”. Some of these verbal contortions of reality made for an interesting read, but at the end of the day, this handful of rural NDP MP's were needed to save the registry, which was the outcome that Jack Layton wanted and needed.

The point here is that the NDP fell victim to the second main argument put forth by gun registry foes, that about rural lifestyle and tradition.

A New Reason: the "Third Side" Enters the Debate

What I noticed in the online debate is that a third reason for killing the registry was being proffered by Canadians, and started to pick up some real legs in the mainstream media. It even elicited some brief comments from MP's. It's this “third side” of the argument against the registry which I found to be the most interesting, and one which Greens need to be aware of. Greens need to understand where this argument is ultimately coming from, not because of the long gun registry, but so that we can better understand why an increasing number of Canadians do not share our values, or in some cases, the values of the other mainstream Canadian political parties.

As far as the long gun registry debate went, the “third side” put forward the following argument in opposition to keeping the registry. You may have read about this as well. Concerns were being raised by some that, if the government knows that you have a long gun or guns, because you have been legally forced to register those guns, it will be easier in the future for the government to confiscate those guns from you. Some commentators pointed to what's happened in Britain and Australia to support this argument (although I haven't looked into whether history in the UK or Australia supports these claims).

These anti-government “third side” arguments were often dismissed as being from paranoid people who fear the government for whatever reasons (such as involvement in criminal activities). Even during the long gun debate, people who opposed the registry were, in some cases, quick to call out supporters of the “third side” argument. And in some cases, third side commentators lashed out at other anti-registry foes, calling them “government dupes” or “puppets of the ruling Conservative Party”. I sincerely wish that I had kept references to some of these comments so that I could provide them to you here, but I haven't, and therefore you may take my analysis with a grain of salt. But it's what I saw.

"Third Side" Concerns

So you have some people out there in the blogosphere who are concerned that the gun registry might actually make life easier for the government to ultimately confiscate legally owned guns from private citizens. Clearly, they have part of point: if all guns are registered in a government directory, it would be easier for the government to show up on your doorstep and demand you make available all of your legally owned weapons. It's the second part where things might fall apart for some people: why on earth would the government want to confiscate legally owned guns?

Supporters of the “third side” argument were often not clear about this, in many cases writing as if the reason was self-evident. I'm sure that to many commentators it's very clear and obvious why the government would want to take away their guns, even if its not at all clear to many of the rest of us. It might be easy to dismiss anti-government commentators as being paranoid and involved in conspiracy theories, but it would be imprudent to do so. Especially for Greens.

There has been a growing anti-government movement throughout the world in the last decade. In the past, if you were involved in an anti-government movement in the United States or even Canada, you may have belonged to some sort of rural survivalist militia, living off the grid, stocking guns and ammo for a time when it was needed. In the U.S., many people are very familiar with the notion of upholding and protecting the Constitution at all costs, and especially that part of the Constitution which refers to protecting the nation from all threats, foreign and domestic. For some people, it's no great leap of faith to believe that enemies of the state may be the very same people voters elect to high office, especially since, seen through a particular and increasing popular lens, the actions of the state have brought significant disaster to the state itself.

What's changed in the past decade or so is that these points of view are no longer limited to the ultra-right wing gun-toting survivalists (ok, admittedly, they never were: the left also produced its own anti-government agitators, who likely received more press, but were less apt to quote the U.S. Constitution as source material for their anti-government rationale). Today, anti-government sentiment is starting to go mainstream, thanks in part to the internet. What's also starting to happen is that people are getting confused about where and with whom they might actually stand on specific issues, as right wing political parties and the mainstream media have started to capitalize on this dissension. And here I clearly am referring to the rise of Tea Party politics in the United States.

But the Tea Party is not speak with a coherent voice, despite the fact that the right-wing has been trying to harness their energies. Indeed, there are many within the Tea Party movement who have expressed dismay that elements within the Republican Party have been trying to co-opt the movement. Wasn't the Tea Party, after all, intended to have an anti-establishment focus?

A Canadian Context

Now, you may be saying, “Sure, Steve; but that's in the States. What does this have to do with Canada?”. Well, as much as Liberals, the NDP and Greens demonize the Conservative Party of Canada as being the Republican Party of Canada, the truth is more subtle and not nearly as monolithic. There are certainly elements within the Conservative Party who would be quite comfortable joining the Republicans if they ended up south of the border, or even joining the Tea Party movement. And many of those elements have risen to positions of power. But the Conservative Party, like all other parties, is comprised of people who hold dissenting views. Recall that the Conservatives came together as a result of a “merger” between the Canadian Alliance (formerly Reform) and the Progressive Conservative parties. To this day there remain some progressive voices in Conservative Party, in some cases as a result of history, and perhaps for reasons related to desiring to be in power as well.

What you're not likely to hear from Conservatives, who are currently governing this country, is that the government has any intention of confiscating people's guns. It's one thing to want to kill the registry in the name of economic or rural tradition arguments. It's another thing completely to postulate that the registry creates a tool which the government can use to seize private property, and particularly that property which citizens might otherwise use to defend themselves from agents of the government (such as the police or whoever they might be).

Lessons for Greens

One of the lessons which Greens need to take away from the long gun registry debate is that the voices of the “third side”, which may be variously (and incorrectly, I believe) labelled as “anti-government” or “libertarian” are starting to receive some attention in the mainstream media. Certainly an increasing number of people are starting to raise their voices in this way, believing that they have a civic duty to get their message out. These people have looked around at the world, scratched their heads because they don't understand how our governments could have got us into the mess that we're in, and instead of incompetence, they see something a little sinister.

Why knowing this is important for Greens is that many who are starting to subscribe to this “sinister motive” approach are put climate change and the rise of Green politics on the “sinister” side of the ledger. It's something that I think we need to be aware of, and maybe concerned about, as countering the "sinister motive" hypothesis isn't going to be easy. First, though, a better understanding of who these people are and what they believe in is essential, especially if you're going to be out knocking on doors for the next election campaign.

When you run into anti-government comments, it's best to question in your own head what is motivating the commenter? Are they dissatisfied with a current governing party, or are they dissatisfied with government in general? And if in general, why, specifically, are they concerned?

Depending on the individual, you may have a great opportunity to turn someone on to the Green Party. In some cases, though, you'll be completely wasting your time. A quick question back at the resident regarding whether they believe human-made climate change is actually just a government conspiracy might give you a quick answer, but I'm not sure that's the best way of approaching a potential voter at their door.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Wide Range of Solutions Needed to Build Safer Streets

The following text was submitted as a letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star, in response to a headline accompanying a story related to the municipal candidates and the Sudbury Cyclists Union. An edited version of this letter was published in the September 9th edition of the Sudbury Star, under the headline "Comprehensive solution needed". My sincere thanks to the Sudbury Star for allowing me the opportunity for further input with regards to the messaging of the Sudbury Cyclists Union.

Re: “Only a matter of painting lines”, article in the Tuesday, September 7th edition of the Sudbury Star.

The headline accompanying Tuesday's article may have left the impression with some readers that the solutions for sharing the roads being offered by cycling advocates, and particularly the Sudbury Cyclists Union, will be easy to implement and without cost. While it is true that some of our city's roadways may currently enjoy lane widths where bike lanes could be added by repainting lane lines, the Sudbury Cyclists Union acknowledges that this solution isn't going to work for all users on many of our streets. While painting bike lanes on some of our roads may represent the “low hanging fruit” on the solution tree, it certainly won't be the only viable option in all circumstances.

Providing safe transportation corridors for all users, including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, is a worthwhile goal for our City. The provision of more “complete streets” will lead to reduced interactions between cyclists and motorists (interactions which all too often lead to injured cyclists). By integrating bike lanes (separated or not), sharrows and sidewalks into the design of our streets, it provides residents with an opportunity to make a healthy choice, such as to walk or cycle, when making some of their daily trips around the community.

Cycling, as a recreational and commuter activity, is expected to increase in the coming years, for reasons related to healthy lifestyle choices, the environment, and economics (the rising cost of car ownership and transit). In recognition of this outcome, our City needs to begin planning for and building safer infrastructure for all users of our streets. When pedestrians and cyclists are given their own clearly marked locations within a corridor, it decreases the chances of interaction between users. This in turn leads to safer situations for motorists, as the actions of pedestrians and cyclists will become more predictable.

While there may be a cost of improving our streets to better accommodate all users, these costs, with appropriate planning, can be budgeted for in advance. Further, the costs need not be considerable if improvements are carried out when a road is being resurfaced or widened.

Finally, there are also costs associated with not improving our roads to accommodate all users. These costs include health care costs related to injury, as well as opportunities lost for residents to make the choice to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle. There is a real economic benefit to building a community which allows residents to make healthy transportation choices.

The Sudbury Cyclists Union is excited that some of the necessary groundwork for real and necessary change is already underway. Rainbow Routes recently submitted the Sustainable Mobility Plan to the City, which was accepted by Council. The Bicycle Advisory Panel is working on a complimentary plan which highlights specific routes for cyclists. Those seeking municipal office have begun speaking about the need for safer streets and healthier communities. And the municipal budget process will begin shortly, allowing our decision makers to allocate resources to begin making these plans a reality.

Change isn't going to happen overnight. It will happen, however, because it must. Our City can do part of the job by improving our infrastructure and making streets safe for all users. Motorists and cyclists must also begin to do their part by acknowledging that our streets are here to be shared, and by using them in a respectful and safe manner.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sudbury Cyclists Union Sunday Ride Joined By Candidates for Municipal Council

Just a shorter blogpost today (if that's possible for me; let's see). I just wanted to comment on the Sudbury Cyclists Union ride through the downtown today. As many readers are probably already aware, the Sudbury Cyclists Union has been hosting rides every Sunday for the past couple of months. What made today's ride a little different had to do with some of the attendees.

As the last leg of the municipal election is about to kick off next week, and given the horrible collision witnessed by many cyclists during this past week's Share the Road Ride, the Sudbury Cyclists Union invited all municipal Council and Mayor candidates to attend today's ride.

Now, bear in mind that invitation went out with only short notice, and it is the Labour Day weekend, so obviously not everyone running for Council would have been able to attend. A few candidates sent their regrets, including Mayoral candidate (and current Mayor) John Rodriguez, and Mayoral candidate Derek Young.

Although with little notice, and on a long weekend, a number of candidates for Council did come out to today's ride and said a few words to riders before we departed for a ride through the smoke in-”Ribfest”ed downtown. A few even joined us on their own bikes, but the cyclists certainly appreciated the support of all of the candidates who turned out. Especially on such short notice.

Now, please someone let me know if I've missed anyone from the following list of municipal candidates who were present and said a few words at today's ride. With all but one exception, none of those in attendance today currently sit on our municipal council:

Ted Callaghan, candidate for Mayor (and current councillor for Ward 8)
Richard Paquette, candidate for Ward 4
Ron LaPlante, candidate for Ward 8
Lorenzo Tripodi, candidate for Ward 8
Paul Stopciati, candidate for Ward 9
Jeff MacIntyre, candidate for Ward 12

Cyclists were also joined by Gordon Harris, the former federal candidate for the Green Party. Gordon promised everyone some free bike route maps at next Sunday's event. So, if you're in town next Sunday, join us at Market Square for our next ride, time to be announced (usually we've left at 1pm, but today was pushed back to 2pm; more to follow in the Comments section when information becomes available. Of course, if you're on Facebook, why not join the Sudbury Cyclists Union group and get all of the latest updates that way?)

Again, thanks to everyone who came out today. We need to continue to show our City that cyclists are going to be on our roads in ever increasing numbers in the years to come, and that it's time we all moved ahead, and started making decisions, with this fact in mind.

Thanks to Bob Vaillancourt of the Sudbury Star for covering today's event as well.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reflections on Last Night's Vehicle-Cyclist Collision During Share the Road Ride, One Day Later

It's been almost 24 hours since 71 year old cyclist Giovanni Leon was hit by a southbound vehicle while travelling southbound on Long Lake Road in Greater Sudbury. This collision took place in front of about 200 cyclists participating in a ride organized by the Share the Road Cyclists Coalition, right after a pause in the ride to pay respects to cyclists injured and killed on our nation's highways. I was one of the cyclists who saw the collision occur, turning around at the sound of screeching brakes. I did not see the circumstances which led up to the collision.

The local news media and blogosphere are all a-twitter over this event here in Sudbury today. First, an update on the well-being of Mr. Leon: apparently, he is in surgery right now at the Sudbury Regional Hospital, where doctors are working on repairing a broken arm and ankle. His condition is described as serious but not life-threatening. Many community members have been thinking of praying for Mr. Leon and his family throughout the day.

Local media have described Mr. Leon as being an experienced cyclist, and a member of the Sudbury Cyclists Club, a local organization for serious enthusiasts which focuses on road racing, mountain biking and touring.

Some further details of the collision have emerged, although police are still investigating. As I suspected, Mr. Leon was travelling south on Long Lake Road, heading toward the police escort when he was struck by a vehicle also heading south. Media isn't reporting in which lane the collision occurred (there are two southbound lanes at this section of Long Lake Road). I seem to think that the cyclist may have been struck in the left hand (inner) lane at a time when the road was relatively clear of traffic. I may be mistaken about this, and I will update this blog should more information become available. What is clear, however, is that the cyclist was heading in the same direction as the vehicle which struck him on a fairly empty road.

Local media is reporting that charges likely will not be laid against the driver of the vehicle. Until all of the facts are known to police and their investigation continues, this seems to be a prudent approach. Certainly the circumstances of the collision were a little unusual. Again, I'll provide my readers with more information when it becomes available. For me, who was at fault here really isn't that important right now. The health and well-being of Mr. Leon and his family is really all that matters today.

What has prompted me to write this blog today, though, is to draw attention to comments being posted online, in many cases anonymously (but not all) on the websites of local media and Facebook. I have to say that I'm shocked and disgusted by the nature of many of the comments which have been posted by members of my own community. The anti-bike expressions of ill-will have been considerable. Others have been quick to condemn the cyclist, Mr. Leon, without all of the facts. For me, it's no wonder that so many cyclists in my community express horror stories while just trying to get around this City. If these comments are representative of even a fraction of Sudbury motorists, I'm surprised that there aren't many more injuries and deaths.

What's also become quite clear to me today is how few people actually know the rules of the road, or respect them if they do know them. Some motorists believe that cyclists must remain on the right-hand side of the road at all times, and never venture away from the curb (which would make left-turns a little tricky). For many motorists in my community, cyclists have no right to be on our roads. Some have gone as far as suggesting that if cyclists want to get around, they should pay for their own bike paths. This sort of ignorance is quite disturbing to me, as I guess I'm one of the lucky few cyclists in this City who hasn't been part of a near-death experience on our roads. I've never even had anyone give me the finger (that I'm aware of).

It's true that cyclists in this City disproportionately drive on the sidewalks in order to get around. I certainly can't condone this kind of activity, but I do sympathize with these cyclists, given the mentality of drivers here, and given the lack of cycling infrastructure which exists here (less than 12 km of bike lanes). For many cyclists, rather than take their lives into their hands by venturing out on the roads, it's better to brave the $120 ticket and the wrath of pedestrians. Of course, that's not the answer either.

I believe that we all need to start doing a lot more to make our City's roads safer for all forms of traffic. The fact is, cyclists aren't going to be going away. With ever-increasing prices of gasoline, and with the real wages of working families not keeping up with the price of inflation, we can expect to see more cyclists on our roads in the near future. We need to begin planning for their safety and convenience now. We should have been doing this decades ago, but we didn't. Now there is an urgency to do so like never before.

One in three residents in my City do not have access to a motor vehicle. The round-trip price of transit is $5, making this option unaffordable to many. An inexpensive, yet apparently dangerous choice is to cycle. It's also a healthy choice. And it's an environmentally sensitive choice. No longer can we except the status quo which has existed here in Sudbury. Quite simply, change is upon is, and we need to react to it, and plan better for it.

This isn't about a war on the car. Far from it. It's not about cyclists “taking back our streets”. What it's about is the peaceful co-existence between all transportation users. It's about recognizing that the car isn't king – and in fact no mode of transportation should claim such a title. It's an egalitarian attempt to acknowledge that we all have rights to our roads, and that we all need to share the roads that we've paid for through our tax dollars. And it's about spending those tax dollars wisely, so that our transportation infrastructure is improved sensibly and for the benefit of all users.

We've a long way to go to educate our Council and city staff, not to mention motorists and cyclists. We've a long way to go as well to actually build the sort of infrastructure which will make cycling safer in my community. We can keep putting it off, but we do so at our own peril, for tomorrow isn't going to be like today. With ever-increasing numbers of cyclists on our roads, it makes sense for all of us to work together to start moving things forward. Or else we can only expect more carnage on our roads, and an increase in the bitter resentment felt by many motorists and cyclists for one another, which apparently exists just below the surface here.