It may be election time, but it isn’t a time of vision as far as I can see. The two big contenders to replace Harper –the Liberals & NDP—are offering a few key policy choices on child-care, marijuana, restoring the CBC, pharmacare, bill C51. I suppose that when so much of the conversation is about the damage done by the Conservatives, that their decade of disaster defines the discourse. Yes we need the census, we need the CBC, we need to restore Parliament instead of circumventing it with omnibus bills and the PMO all-powerful.
But what if we really stopped for a moment to think about what they could and should offer the electorate?
Stop the election, or at least put it on pause for a moment.
Let’s dream big for a moment. I’m off work today (food-poisoning), recovering, grateful that my stomach doesn’t hurt so much. So i am taking a moment to reflect on the meaning of life, to pause and inhale and imagine.
First and foremost, I think our system isn’t just flawed, isn’t just broken, it’s bullshit. The problem? It is too expensive to run. As a result we have multi-million dollar campaigns. We have millionaire Prime Ministers. Should people get rich leading the country? Maybe that attracts the best people. Or maybe it attracts people for the wrong reasons. What if the office of PM didn’t pay any more than other bureaucrat jobs? What if spending were restricted?
What if all communication were vetted and controlled by the CBC? Imagine if you could log in anytime to see online debates stored, position papers where key questions were directed to the various candidates, who were properly cornered and recorded answering or evading in full public view?
And what if you or I could run for office? Maybe I have nothing to offer, but then again, should it depend on whether I have millions of dollars in my pocket or have been recruited by big businesses to represent them in Ottawa? Lobbying should be illegal. The “conversation” as it goes now is mostly driven by the candidates and large interests, not really a conversation but a monologue. Nobody listens to us. Imagine something like CBC’s “Cross-Country Checkup”, where candidates are perennially asked questions from the electorate, where the conversation truly IS a conversation. No hiding from the electorate (I’m talking to you Stephen Harper).
Okay so we have imagined a very different process. What about policies, what the government offers.
I like pharmacare for starters, as the NDP have proposed. Medicare needs to be shored up and protected, bolstered by this other arm, as well as Denticare. Please don’t tell me we can’t afford it. You get what you pay for always. Toronto (speaking of municipal politics for a moment) is like a Walmart, showing you what you get when you keep playing the game of cheap cheap cheap. A series of Mayors won on a promise of zero tax increase, going back decades. Is it any wonder that our infrastructure is aging, every winter a series of broken water mains tie up traffic, every summer the roads closed for patching up? Taxes are a necessity, and I think the Liberal approach –tax the rich—makes more sense than the NDP choice to tax the corporations, who simply pass it on to us in higher prices or simply leave the country altogether. There are other tools to use for revenue.
The conversation around defense has been knee-jerk, driven by sentiments that are poisonous. Yes we love our soldiers especially when they make the ultimate sacrifice. But do we send them into harm’s way based on posturing, based on pressure from other countries? Our strategy needs to begin with an idea of what Canada is all about. Buying more fighters –whether we want the F35 or something else—puts us into the foreign adventure conversation: a role out of step with who Canada really is. Unless we increase our military spending hugely (recalling that at the end of WW II we had a huge navy and air force), we will never have the army to fight foreign wars. We have been non-aligned peacekeepers for most of the past half-century, taking on a new more belligerent role under Harper. While he also speaks of defending our Arctic –a phrase that must make Putin cough up his borscht with laughter—we simply don’t have the equipment or the personnel. Trudeau is right to propose shifting our emphasis from jets to ship-building, especially given our real priorities. But before we talk about these things, we need a conversation about the Canada we imagine, its role in accepting refugees and helping build a better world, not just as allies in bombing campaigns that only serve to create new orphans, the next generation of recruits for world terror.
The big topic missing from the conversation concerns poverty and income disparity. It’s a complex topic that has the added hazard that there are no votes in it. Generally homeless people can’t or won’t vote, while the rich might oppose policies designed to make the rich pay (the boldfaced phrase is from Communist Party of Canada literature back in the 1970s).
Let me suggest something very simple via analogy.
Profiteering is understood to be immoral and illegal. During the big blackout of 2003, some gas stations raised their prices to capitalize on the desperation of customers: and were punished for it.
How is that any different from owning more than one house at a time that people are living in the street? I would be willing to meet them halfway. Yes it will be legal to own multiple properties (to propose anything else would get me killed but nevermind my own butt). But until such time as everyone has a place to live (and I don’t mean shelters), those second and third homes should be taxed heavily. Perhaps even punitively. Making huge amounts of money while people are forced to live on the street? some think that’s just Darwin at work, some people are smarter than others and deserve their reward. But the reality is that the game isn’t fair and never was.
We are seeing the hollowing out of the downtown, as the statistics on the use of foodbanks –a de facto measure if ever there were one—drops downtown while swelling massively in the suburbs. This isn’t good for the downtown, but (as nobody says much about this) it’s horrific for the poor, who now have to get their groceries in regions totally built for cars rather than transit.
I dream of mass transit that’s cheap or even free in all our cities. The expenditure will pay off.
I dream of free tuition for universities & colleges, just as they have in Europe. I am not sure this would pay off, just an intuition. But huge student debt seems hugely immoral.
Sustainability is nowhere in our conversation. I dream of clean lakes and air and water that is drinkable, fearing that the planet is being destroyed all too quickly. But this conversation is international and one that may lead to conflict. So be it.
I dream of arts funding that recognizes the value of artists and their creations, not just as creators of wealth (which is significant! arts funding dollars are huge drivers in making cities attractive and livable) but art as the essence of a good life. Imagine people wanting to come to Toronto from Italy or Germany to see our art. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it: precisely because we see the profound value of their culture. Imagine if we did that here. It might take 200 years, but why not start now?
But that’s just what I dream of. Imagine a process that allows a real conversation, that isn’t stifled by rich white men who don’t want to hear you or me. Dare to dream.
And make sure you vote.