Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A "modest proposal" to Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada

There is a tide in the affairs of men, that taken at the flood leads on to fortune, Omitted all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full-sea are we now afloat and we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4 Scene 3

Perhaps a trifle melodramatic for our purposes, given the original import of the lines.
Nevertheless, it is the timing of a tide, taken at the flood, leading on to fortune that commends these lines now.

In Canada, we have a majority Liberal government, with its ‘dauphin’ leader, Justin Trudeau, son of our former Prime Minister. The Conservatives and the NDP are both in search of a new leader, with basically a vacuum in both parties: the Conservatives have scrounged up only no-names, and the NDP, no one. In the case of the Conservatives, their “minimum” requirement of cash precludes many if not most from even considering throwing their hat into the ring. The NDP, on the other hand, are almost unconscious, deflated by both the election result from the October vote, and the rejection of previous leader Thomas Mulcair by the recent party convention.

It may seem more than a little ironic to find a “tide in flood” at this moment, given the nadir of both opposition parties, and the literal flood of news stories pouring out of the Liberal government PR machine. However, as with the stock market, so too with politics, “buy low, sell high”….only in this moment, it is the country, and not incidentally the Green Party of Canada, that could leap forward to seize the moment, in a manner evocative of the recent emergence of Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party leader candidate for president of the United States.

In Canada, Elizabeth May has established herself as credible, knowledgeable, collaborative, articulate and more than worthy of the leadership mantle of her party. However, putting aside the BDS issue that was vomited out of the recent party policy convention (an issue needing both revisiting and re-voting, if the party is to survive), there are some significant strokes of colour, imagination, courage, democracy and verging on a re-set of the way politics is done in this country.

Of course, there needs to be a national strategy to reduce green house emissions, and a new tax code that effectively levels the playing field between the “have’s” and the rest of us. However, neither of those planks in the platform, taken together or individually, will excite more than a handful of policy and legal and accounting wonks. It is time for Ms May and her party to overhaul the way we even think about government.
Let’s start with the obvious need for committees of cabinet not merely for the photo op of flying to Bejing with the Prime Minister, his wife and daughter. Just as the First Nations relationship to the federal government crosses all government departments so too do most other major issues facing Canada and all other countries around the world. The Environment and climate change cannot and will not be effectively managed by one or two ministers; it needs a committee including the Attorney General, the Finance and Treasury Board, the Natural Resources and the Industry department both domestic and international, as well as Global Affairs, if it is to be examined, and cross-referenced with respect to policy options, enforcement options, scientific realism and attainability, and how Canada interacts on the world stage. No single minister, no matter how competent, professionally and intellectually can straddle all of the implications of this urgent file and any government that restricts the issue to a single minister is living in the la-la land of one-person leadership. And the gap in resources cannot and will not be filled by even the most expansive bureaucracy. Ms May knows this file as well or better than any parliamentarian on the ‘hill’ and she would ‘get it’ in her attempt to highlight a new way of addressing such an issue.

And that is only a beginning: On the First Nations/Ottawa relationship, Ms May could announce that all parliamentary debates, (and those of all Commons and Senate committees) will be simultaneously and instantly translated into at least one aboriginal language, and on each of those committees, an appointed First Nation representative will be first an observer, second a committee resource, and third a potential voting member. Similarly, all appointments to federal boards, commissions, up to and including the Supreme Court of Canada, will solicit names from the various First Nations communities, to serve as full members on those committees.

Expanding the federal responsibility for aboriginal education, as well as the underwriting of much of graduate studies, a Federal Department of Education would monitor, and disseminate “best practices” in both formal and informal, interactive and scholarly method and manner, replacing the rather insomniac Council of Ministers of Education. And, of course, Child Care, for both pre-school children and school-age children, now the exclusive purview of the provinces, would  be researched, documented and monitored so that all parents in the country would learn where their childrens’ opportunities and challenges are in comparison with those parents and children in the rest of the country. For too long, education has been an agent preserving the status quo, the conventional power structure and the appointments of those who most “fit” into the politically correct culture. Rather than have the private sector invade this important phase of national life, (the threats are already on the horizon, and they will not be easily dissuaded, nor blocked), a federal presence, with federal tax monies, might be able to give a national pulpit for one of the most important service in every culture, especially with the invasion of the digital technology. The separate and provincially, and increasingly private-corporation funding of this sector needs restraint, boundaries and push-back, so that children are not developing as mere pawns of those corporations. (If you think this is “social engineering” then just take a look at the K-12 curriculum that is being peddled to American children and their parents who seek to home school. Could a federal department of education also monitor and perhaps through public awareness, document the corporate dollars that are pouring into our graduate labs and research centres, in order to preclude the ideological imprint of a wealthy donor on the education that is offered in a school bearing his or her name? A federal footprint in the education sector would also be an opportunity to co-ordinate more effectively, those nefarious attempts to radicalize Canadian youth.
Of course, still with education, the Green Party could eliminate all interest on all current and future Canadian student loans, thereby relieving thousands of a considerable portion of the burden of financing their university and/or college education. Not only would this move provide an economic stimulus, it would also enable those entrepreneurial graduates to consider “entrepreneuring” rather than entering some large business organization.

Still with graduates: Naturally, federal support of alternative experiences analogous to the former Peace Corps in the U.S. and Katimavik here. We do need a complete re-think of our national education efforts, without backing away from such experiments as the international baccalaureate.. a window on international universities for Canadian scholars. Consideration of a foreign service “enlistment” for those whose talents, interests and passions fit, would also provide a large shot of adrenalin to those philanthropic ventures already extant, and would enhance Canada’s international reputation, in ways very different from the recently announced military initiatives, under the UN rubric, of Peace Keeping.

With respect to the failure of the corporate world to hire and to train university graduates, the federal government could announce funded internships, with the costs to be shared between the corporations hiring and the federal government. An insertion of public dollars would also remove the current abused and too readily available option of un-paid internships, and the cynicism on both sides that results from such a failure.
Another issue needing national attention is the pathetic manner in which the Canadian culture, including Government and private groups, fully integrate newcomers to our way of life. Economic and language burdens seem to grab most of the attention, while full integration wanes and is rationalized as “part of the independent spirit” that all immigrants must demonstrate in order to prove their worth to the country. And the real answers will not come from bureaucrats, nor from politicians, but from the immigrants themselves. And the federal government, along with the provinces, can and must initiate a high-priority public investigation into the history of our “integration” processes, and the specific ways immigrants would have them supplemented and complemented.

Public policy, as an instrument of public good, especially directed toward open wounds that we all know have been left unattended for decades, if not centuries, would thrust the Green Party fully into the ‘flood’ of the public discourse and would make all national and regional media wake up, sit up and begin to dig into a new political vision that could and would inspire thousands of new voters, whose legitimate cynicism about the political process will not be quieted with the legalization of marijuana.
There is a real opening in the public dialogue into which the Green Party could not rush but confidently and respectfully submit provocative proposals, and move past a current fuzzy and ill-defined profile, with the aim of initiating a new dialogue across the country.

And then there is TRADE, neither a sub-set of Global Affairs, nor a sub-set of economic development, nor of  G8 (7) or G20 deliberations. It is a matter for the federal government to list the ingredients of a fair trade policy and submit such a list of criteria to all countries seeking to establish trade agreements with Canada. For example, there is a large degree of opportunism attending today’s announcement that Canada intends to apply for membership in the Asian Development Bank, for the purpose of garnering contracts with countries like China, where there has already been overdevelopment, and where neither the environment nor the fair treatment of labour play an important part in their decisions to award contracts. Will Canadian companies, for example, be freed from their legitimate expectations in hiring back home, when they operate in a country like China?

Ms May your imagination, and your courage and your leadership are more needed and more expected today than on any day since you became leader. 

These ideas, suggestions, and proposals are submitted with the full understanding that none may appeal to you or your party and with the full expectation that they will be dismissed as irrational, inconsequential, unfeasible and therefore readily consigned to the trash. Before you reject everything, however, you might give some thought to a coast-to-coast high speed monorail that would expedite the movement of Canadians and their lighter freight to all parts of the country, thereby introducing us to each other, in ways heretofore unaffordable for millions.

Happy leading!

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