On Priorities

I’ve quickly discovered, running as a Green candidate, that the larger parties set the conversation topics around election time. So long as we’re talking about what they’re talking about, we’re part of the national conversation and get a decent amount of press coverage; but if the larger parties get distracted by side issues and partisan rhetoric and we try to steer the conversation toward more important matters, we get dropped form the news cycle because we’re no longer part of the story. The story is whatever the larger parties, and in particular the current ruling party, are doing. Even in my own riding, where I am pleased to be interviewed on a weekly basis, the interviews are often largely asking me to respond to the issues the other parties bring up (though not always – I’ve really appreciated the coverage that The Carillon has been giving to the election campaign).

The way we fit into the media cycle became quite clear to me the other night as I was on my way to meet a supporter and deliver some signs. It was pouring rain and pitch black out, but I took comfort from The Current Review, one of my favourite shows on current events. The host was talking to a panel about healthcare in Canada, and they were hitting on all of our Green policies: pharmacare, home care, palliative care. They could have been reading straight from our platform a lot of the time. But the panel members lamented that no political parties have a vision for this type of thing – nobody is talking about healthcare, they complained. Through the whole episode I was just waiting for someone to mention the Green platform by name, but that mention never came. But there was a flash of hope: the host mentioned that the next day there would be a panel of political candidates! We’d get to point out that we DO have a vision for these things! But alas, my hopes were dashed: “…we’ll have a panel of the three major political parties to talk about healthcare….” Three major parties? Finally the story was about something important, something we’ve said a lot about, and we were denied the chance to comment.

I’m not writing this to say “woe is me,” but in a system of politics that depends largely on simple public recognition, getting mentioned on a national radio show holds a lot of power. The Green Party has the most ambitious and concrete vision for Canada, but that doesn’t matter if nobody hears about it. But to get any mention in the media, we have to be commenting on whatever the larger parties’ leaders are talking about rather than our vision and ideas. We’re left with a choice between promoting important ideas in obscurity, or making headlines talking about sensational issues that have nothing to do with this election, like niqabs.

So knowing that the party leaders of the three largest parties are able to set the media agenda, and through that to decide what Canadians will be talking about and thinking about as they decide who will represent them in Parliament and, ultimately, who will govern the country, I can’t help but wonder: what are the priorities of the other parties?

The biggest expenses our government faces are always healthcare, education, military, and judicial (mostly prisons). At the same time, we’re facing several crises that are either currently exploding or soon will be: climate change, the aging baby boomers, and refugees. All of these expenditures and issues are crucial to the role of the federal government. But what have the three largest political parties been talking about?

  1. The Economy. Everyone is always talking about the economy. When they do, they talk a lot about the number of jobs that have been lost or created, the amount of imports and exports, whether or not the budget is actually balanced, and the Gross Domestic Product and whether or not we’re technically in a recession. All of that is fine and good, except that none of it is particularly important on an aggregate level on a week-to-week basis, or even a year-to-year basis. It doesn’t really matter if the budget is balanced this year, the problem is that it was in severe deficit for the previous eight; it doesn’t really matter how many jobs were created this month, the problem is that overall employment is still too low and the jobs that are being created are largely not as high-paying or meaningful as the ones that were lost; and the government doesn’t actually control these things anyway! The most the government can do to influence the Canadian economy is create incentives and disincentives through taxes or tax breaks, or by setting interest rates, and then wait and see what happens.

So the never-ending conversation about the economy amounts to throwing numbers around and trying to predict things that we can’t control. Meanwhile, the very structure of our economy is about to be challenged by the aging of the workforce and the oncoming retirement of the baby boomers. The viability of our economy is currently being challenged by climate change, and we know that it’s going to get a lot more challenging if we don’t act now. The shift from a carbon-based economy to a clean-energy economy is the biggest economic shift, and therefore the biggest economic opportunity, since the industrial revolution. And the refugee crisis, largely caused by climate change in the first place, also presents us with the economic challenge of settling tens of thousands (or more) people into our nation, and the economic opportunity that increase in population will bring us provided we can integrate them into our economy through recognition of their learning and credentials and ongoing education and professional development to adjust to their new context. But who’s talking about all of that when they talk about the economy? The Green Party is, but when we do so we’re off the narrative, and shut out of the media cycle.

  1. Niqabs. Seriously, this has been the biggest issue of the campaign so far, except maybe for the nebulous talk of the economy. There have been opinion polls that show that the Conservatives and the Bloq Quebecois have gained significant popularity since this issue came up – but it’s an issue that actually only affects two Canadians thus far. Yes, two women in Canada’s history have insisted on the right to wear garments they feel inspired to wear out of respect for their God while they swear a citizenship oath. It’s a baseless issue, but even the question of whether or not it’s an important issue is getting more attention than things that are absolutely important issues – like healthcare, education, climate change, and the necessity of a national seniors strategy.

  2. Whatever the other party is saying. I get that it’s necessary to differentiate yourself from your opponents during an election, and that means being critical of the platforms of the other parties. We all do it, and it serves a function if it’s done well. But the message that’s been most clearly sent in this election isn’t about any particular issue, or about any party’s particular plan; the central message of this election that most people have received (including some of the kids in the public schools I’ve spoken in this week, who can quote the ads verbatim) is that Justin Trudeau is “just not ready”, and that Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau all seem to hate each other. They do a better job of pulling each other down than they do of informing people of their actual platforms. Props to the Carillon for running a story this week asking high school students what they think about the election; their question was, why all the mud-slinging? Teenagers want to know what the parties stand for, not who they stand against.

And while we’re on the subject of promoting platforms, here’s an interesting fact: in spite of the excessive length of this election campaign (the longest in Canadian history), the Conservatives and NDP waited until yesterday, the first day of advanced polls, to actually release their platforms in full. We’ve had almost ten weeks of campaigning, and they waited until the last week of the campaign to show the nation their full strategy. The Liberals released their full platform a few weeks ago, and the Greens released our platform six weeks ago, fully costed and with an independently reviewed budget, because we believe that the point of an election campaign is to give voters the chance to actually hear what we’re proposing to do for the country and compare that to the strategies of the other parties in order to decide what they think is best. How can we have an informed electorate if the two biggest parties don’t release their plans until the last minute, and continue to lead the media cycle down rabbit trails instead of actually talking about their platforms?

Some of you may have already voted, as the advanced polls opened yesterday. I’ll be going to my advanced poll today. When you make your mark, consider what you know about the parties and their priorities. Are they spending their time informing you about real issues, or incensing you about cultural concerns that you’ll probably never actually have to deal with? Are they planning for the future, or fighting for prominence in the present? The spectacle of it all is like team sports, and many politicians (and voters) treat it that way, but this is not a game. This is our life, our nation, our world, and we need people who can lead us and keep us informed, people with a plan for the present and the future. “Without vision, the people will perish;” so what vision and priorities have the different parties presented you with?

You can see the Green Party platform here, and the full Vision Green policy document (available year round, not just the week before an election) here. Take another look, compare it to the other party platforms, and vote for the vision that inspires you to make your community, nation, and world better. And let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issues and platforms!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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TPP, Globalized Trade, and Resiliency

This morning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed. This is the biggest trade agreement in the world, covering 40% of global trade and including 12 nations, including Canada, the US, Mexico, Japan, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, and Vietnam. Previously, the biggest trade agreement that Canada was a part of was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but since the TPP also includes the US and Mexico, it will supersede NAFTA.

There are a lot of people analyzing this deal today, saying whether it will be good or bad for Canada. Here are some highlights. There has also been much said about the nature of free trade in general, and even the Trans Pacific Partnership specifically. (I highly recommend you check out this link – it’s a comic about global trade, and specifically the TPP, and it is very informative).

The details of the deal are finally being made public (after it is signed, go figure), and it’s not looking good for our dairy and chicken markets – both of which are huge in Provencher – and our auto sector, which is the largest employer in Canada. But completely aside from the details of the deal, I see big problems with it. These problems have to do with the nature of globalization, trade agreements, transportation, and climate change, as well as with the way the Harper government has handled trade.

Problem #1: Secrecy and Manipulation

This trade agreement has been in negotiation in some form for almost a decade, but we’re only hearing details about it now, after it has been signed. There was no public consultation, and not even a motion in Parliament – though Harper is NOW saying that he’ll propose a motion to ratify it, after he’s signed it. If we had known the details, the question of how to approach it would have been an election issue; because we did not, the only election issue is take-it-or-leave-it. The NDP are saying leave it; the Conservatives are saying take it; and the Liberals are saying wait and see. This will define the rest of the election, with the Conservatives pushing the increased prosperity that they believe always comes with trade agreements, and claiming that the NDP will ruin us all by refusing to participate in it. It’s a false choice that we’re being pushed into, and it’s extremely clever of Mr. Harper to do so, but it’s incredibly manipulative. It’s presenting us with a choice between prosperity and poverty, at least on the surface, and most of us don’t know enough about economics to debunk the political rhetoric that’s already starting to come out about it. We’ll just have to choose which leader we believe, and vote for them; but it seems clear that Harper is the safer choice, given the situation, because the risk of not being involved in the world’s biggest trade deal is scarier than the status quo that Mulcair is offering. But this is a false choice, because…

Problem #2: Trade Deals Don’t Always Increase Trade

Since becoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has signed Canada into dozens of trade agreements with 39 nations. Not all of them have benefited Canada. Just this morning on CBC’s The Current, an economist explained that since signing a trade agreement with South Korea, our imports from there have increased significantly while our exports there have stayed flat. Just because there are no trade barriers doesn’t mean that people there actually want our products. When they work, that’s great! When they don’t, it’s a risk for nothing.

Problem #3: Trade Deals Aren’t Always In Our Best Interests

Free trade agreements are never actually free. They are carefully negotiated agreements to reduce certain tariffs (taxes on imported goods) and other trade barriers. If it were truly “free trade” there would be nothing to negotiate: each nation would completely remove all tariffs and other protections for their own nation’s industries, period. But that never happens, and the negotiation sets the terms for the economic relationship that follows. Depending on how well the deal is negotiated, we might do very well – or we might do very poorly.

Take, for example, Mexico and NAFTA. Before NAFTA, many Mexicans survived on subsistence agriculture and the export of corn. Corn has long been a staple crop in Mexico, with thousands of varieties and a deep connection to Mexican culture. But in the negotiation of NAFTA, the US managed to maintain the ability to heavily subsidize their corn crops, while Mexico removed trade barriers for agricultural products, which led to a situation in which it was cheaper for Mexicans to buy American corn than to even plant their own corn. A way of life for thousands of Mexicans was routed, and the number of Mexicans trying to find a way into America skyrocketed. While there are surely hundreds of factors involved (not just corn), Mexico is now largely run by drug cartels and the US is talking about spending billions on building a wall all along the Mexican border, and I can’t help but think that the shift from a farming economy in northern Mexico to unemployment or factory work (as Canadian and US manufacturers set up in Mexico for lower labour costs) factors into this somehow. Of course that’s difficult to prove, but my point here is that the way a trade deal is negotiated can have effects that go far beyond any particular industry or product.

I have a book called Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History Experience, which makes the case that Canada has historically only signed onto trade agreements when they were clearly beneficial to Canada. In the past nine years Stephen Harper has signed trade deals with 39 nations without the input of Parliament, which means that our system for ensuring that something is in Canada’s best interests (i.e., the system of regional representation called Parliament) was bypassed. Can we really be sure that all of these agreements are tilted in our favour?

Problem #4: Trade Deals Limit Sovereignty

The goal of a trade deal is to set clear boundaries that nations cannot cross in regard to how they regulate industry and trade, and to ensure that those boundaries are firm enough that investors can trust that they will not change. For example, the trade deal that Stephen Harper signed with China will take us decades to withdraw from even if we start immediately. We can’t simply back out, and we can’t change the terms unless China agrees. If we wanted to change the terms because it turned out to be bad for us, then that would mean that it was very, very good for China, so why would they agree to change it? In this sense, trade agreements are laws that govern the actions of nations, and therefore overrule national laws.

This is particularly dangerous because we live in a rapidly changing environment, especially due to climate change. If we decide to enact regulation on an industry that is affected by a trade deal for the sake of preserving our environment, for example, we are open to being sued by any industry from the other nation that is currently, or even could someday be, profiting from that industry. We’ve been sued numerous times under NAFTA, and BC was recently threatened with a lawsuit because it refused to export water to the US. Much of BC and the US west coast are in a drought; one would think that bottled water sales should take a back seat to conservation in a drought, but NAFTA has no such provisions. If Canadian municipalities, provinces, or our federal government were to legislate regulations on polluting industries, such as putting a price on carbon at the source, we could face serious economic consequences because of our trade agreements. There are enough economic arguments against taking action on climate change without adding the threat of getting sued in a secret international trade court that supersedes the power of our own government.

Problem #5: The Nature of International Trade

International trade functions on the economic system of “comparative advantage” (for a full rundown on how this works, see the Economix link at the beginning of this post). The gist is that some places are better at producing some products than other places. We all have our strengths, and it’s comparatively cheaper to produce palm oil in Costa Rica than it is to produce it in Canada, while it is cheaper to produce seal skins in Canada than in Costa Rica. Therefore, it is economically advantageous for both Canada and Costa Rica to trade with each other than to produce each others’ products. The argument makes sense economically, but there are a number of problems with it:

a. Comparative Advantage is calculated almost entirely in financial terms

It really comes down to “is it cheaper to make this here, or can we save money by getting it from China?” But what if it wasn’t just about what is cheaper? What if we were actually concerned about the environmental or human rights issues in these other countries? You can, of course, try to reduce social and environmental costs to financial terms by putting prices on them, but then you run into the problem of commodifying the commons: is it really a good idea to make clean air and water into something to be traded on an international market? Not really, even if it were possible; can we really put a dollar figure on the forests that were lost in Costa Rica to plant row upon row of oil palms? For the most part, we do the opposite: environmental and social costs are externalities, which is another way of saying that we don’t even count them – we have removed them from the equation, leaving them to be paid by the poor, or by our children or grandchildren.

b. Comparative Advantage on a global scale depends on cheap transportation

Transportation is shockingly cheap, when it’s scaled up to the level of global trade. There are apples that are grown in England, shipped to South Africa to be waxed, and then shipped back to England to be sold and eaten. Because they’re being shipped on a massive scale, and alongside other more profitable goods, the cost to transport them back and forth is almost negligible in terms of dollars and cents. But when it comes to the environmental cost of shipping a product around the world in order to shave a penny off of its per unit price, it’s astronomically wasteful and leads to some strange contradictions. For example, take a hybrid car: made with a hybrid electric engine to save on fuel consumption, the amount of fuel consumed in the process of collecting its various parts from their place of manufacture around the world actually eliminates most fuel savings and resulting lower carbon footprint the hybrid engine may have provided. And what happens when we run out of oil, or when oil becomes so expensive that shipping is no longer so financially viable? (We can make electric cars, but electric container ships? We have a lot of work to do to innovate ourselves out of this hole.) We’ll lose an awful lot of comparative advantage at that point – so what will happen to our trade deals then?

c. Comparative Advantage destroys resilience

The more we trade with outside nations under the logic of comparative advantage, the more we’ll focus on our strengths, which means we’ll invest more and more into a few profitable industries. We all know the primary product of Saudi Arabia is oil, but what else do they produce? Can their economy survive without oil? What will happen to them when they run out, or if there’s a war and their oil wells are set on fire, or if the rest of the world weans itself off of oil? The more we depend on a few products, the less resilient our economy is. Taken to its ultimate end, comparative advantage can lead to every nation in an interdependent state of vulnerability.

Take the Irish Potato Famine as an example. All of Ireland was producing the same kind of potato – one product that employed 2/5 of the population. It just so happened that a particular type of potato bug liked to eat that kind of potato. Had they been growing several varieties of potato, the bugs wouldn’t have spread so quickly or eaten so many potatoes (they only like the one kind); had they been growing crops other than just potatoes, it might not have been that bad at all. Instead, a million Irish people died and another million immigrated, dropping the population of Ireland by about 1/4. England’s potatoes all came from Ireland, so their potato market would have been decimated, but they ensured enough potatoes for England by taking all of the potatoes that survived the bugs, which is why so many people in Ireland starved.

When we invest heavily in a particular industry or product, we tie our national economy to that product. In Canada, our dollar has recently dropped in value significantly, and this is due primarily to a drop in the cost of oil. While the oil sands only actually make up about 2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), investment in that industry makes up a more significant portion of our nation’s prospects – and the drop in oil prices hurt investor confidence, sending oil stocks plummeting as fast as the international cost of a barrel, all thanks to Saudi Arabia flooding the market with their cheaper oil. Thousands of Canadians are out of work, and Canadian corporations have lost millions or billions of dollars, and the ripple effects of this are wider in our economy in general because of the degree to which we have invested in oil. If we had a more diverse investment, say, in clean energy technologies and systems, we could better respond to a change in the marketplace. That’s resilience: the ability to survive the unexpected. Diversity is the key to resilience, but comparative advantage focuses us on specialization. Canada’s specialization, it appears, is exporting our natural resources as cheaply as possible, which is not only unresilient, it is economically foolish.

Problem #6: Climate Change will Disrupt International Trade

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but South Carolina is under water. They haven’t had this much rain in a thousand years.

The thing about climate change is that it’s not just that things are getting warmer, they’re getting weirder. A small change in temperatures can change entire weather patterns, leading to stronger and less predictable storms. Is this really the best time to be increasing trade across the ocean and shackling ourselves economically to nations that are more vulnerable to climate change?

We’ve already talked about how international trade agreements put us into a state of interdependent vulnerability, but how much more vulnerable will it get if there are environmental barriers to trade? We can’t simply pretend that business will carry on as usual as the world continues to warm and weather becomes more extreme.

Conclusion

That’s enough reasons for me to think that the Trans Pacific Partnership isn’t in our best interests – because it, and trade deals like it, do not account for our changing world. We need to shift from a carbon economy to a clean energy economy, and from a consumption economy to a conservation economy, if we want to be prepared for the changing climate and do our part to minimize the change that will occur.

When you add to it the fact that the TPP endangers supply management, expands copyright on medications to keep their prices higher for longer, and threatens an open internet, it’s not just a bad deal for Canada, it’s an affront to our values: the family farm is already threatened, and this could lead to a greater industrialization of agriculture; the cost of living for our seniors is already sky-high, largely due to medication costs, and this deal will make that worse; and the internet is the greatest cultural and innovation hub in world history, and this deal will put it under the kinds of controls that restrict access, increase costs, and stifle the flourishing collaboration and community that has characterized our engagement with the internet thus far.

The Green Party has opposed this deal from the beginning. It’s not that we’re against trade – by no means! But trade deals like this go so much further than simply trade, infringing on sovereignty and having massive environmental and cultural effects. A Green government would re-open Canada’s trade agreements, renegotiating where possible to ensure we have the freedom to act to conserve resources and address climate change and injustice. We would also seek new trade agreements that address a more thoroughly assessed comparative advantage that takes the sustainability of an industry and the resilience of a nation into account. Because our best interests are always our long-term best interests.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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Abortion, Refugees, and Making Room for Moral Action

My last post on marijuana and why legalizing it is not an endorsement of it has generated a lot of interest, and I’ve received a number of emails from people asking me about my stance on abortion in light of this discussion of the limits of law in relation to morality. I really appreciate that this conversation is happening, because abortion is a very important issue to me, and one that Canadians have been increasingly polarized on for so long that we’re not going to see any change from the status quo unless a third path can be found. I believe that it can.

First, a bit of history. I grew up being an anti-abortion advocate, even choosing to debate the topic in my high school English class in order to get more people talking about it. But in all of my research into how abortions are performed and how many occur, I had never heard (until quite recently!) about why the abortion laws in Canada and the US were struck down in the first place. In large part it was because there were unintended consequences to the outright prohibition of abortion: women continued to seek abortions, but they were either performing self-abortions or were receiving unsafe abortions from back-alley black market providers, and they were dying or being seriously injured in large numbers. It was so bad that there were actually groups of Christian clergy who were helping women get safe, but illegal, abortions. They felt that what they were doing was reducing harm, rather than killing children; if a woman was desperate enough to attempt a self-abortion, it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to save the child, so they did what they could to save the woman. In all of my years of anti-abortion activism, I had never heard of this, or understood why pro-choice people framed the issue as a women’s health issue.

I bring this up because I believe in harm reduction. The interesting thing about harm reduction is that it is often portrayed as a refusal to take a moral stance on an issue; I believe it is quite the opposite, and that’s because of what I believe about the way law and morality interact.

The Morality of Law

Law is not, and cannot be, moral. Actions can be moral or immoral, and restraint can be moral or immoral, but laws are just words. It takes a person, acting or refusing to act, to be moral. A law is just or unjust based on what it requires of people: does a law require us to do something that is moral, or something that is immoral? Does a law prevent someone from doing something that is moral or immoral? Does a law result in people doing something that is moral or immoral?  Note that these three questions are all different. Let’s walk through it in relation to abortion.

We have an intention for a law, and that intention is usually based on a moral stance. In this case, we want to stop abortions because we believe that killing a human being, no matter their stage of development, is wrong. So we write a law that requires people to act in a certain way, in this case to not get or provide abortions. If it actually does prevent people from doing something immoral (killing a human fetus), and there are no other consequences, then it would be a just law. But if it doesn’t stop people from doing so, it is a flawed law – it is not enforceable. Unenforceable laws are inevitably unjust because they undermine the validity of the law in general. Visit a nation that doesn’t enforce its laws, and you’ll find that morality is actually quite relative when it comes to obeying the law, even if people otherwise have a strong sense of morality; a government that does not enforce its laws gives up its own authority, including its moral authority.

But what if the law isn’t just ineffective – what if it also has unintended consequences? In this case, prohibition of abortion was not only not preventing abortions from happening, but it was resulting in thousands of women dying or maimed by unsafe abortions. I believe that we are just as responsible for the unintended consequences of our laws as we are for the intended consequences, and that makes a law that results in maimed and dead women unjust. But questions of responsibility aside, we have to deal with the outcome either way.

So a law itself is not moral or immoral, but it does relate to actions that are moral and immoral, and it does lead to results that similarly have moral status. A situation in which millions of human fetuses are dying is profoundly immoral; but a situation in which millions of human fetuses and grown women are dying is also profoundly immoral. We cannot legislate intentions or morality, but we can write laws that create space for moral behaviour, and this is where harm reduction comes in.

Harm Reduction

You’ve probably heard the term “harm reduction” in relation to safe injection sites or sex education and free condoms, and it’s always controversial. Opponents to harm reduction say that giving someone a clean needle with which to inject their heroin is the same thing as endorsing heroin use; or that giving kids condoms is encouraging them to have sex. If you read my last post you know that I don’t agree that having a frank discussion about our choices and their consequences, and then giving people the freedom to make those choices, is the same as endorsing something. This is particularly true when we don’t actually have the ability to stop people from doing these things: we weren’t successful in stopping abortions, we’ve never been successful in stopping teenagers from having sex, and we’re incredibly unsuccessful at stopping people from smoking marijuana. Remember, if we can’t enforce a law it becomes an unjust law – and too many unjust, unenforceable laws makes for an unjust society. So while the intention of those who oppose harm reduction is to take a firm moral stance, the result is often quite the opposite: attempting to enforce unjust laws, and removing the help that we might have offered to those who are dealing with the consequences of their actions (or all too often, the actions of a rapist).

Showing mercy and grace to people who are facing the consequences of their immoral actions (or of the immoral actions of others) is deeply and profoundly Christian, perhaps more than anything else we could do. We serve a God who, “while we were yet sinners,” died for us; who forgave his executioners as they nailed him to a tree. This unbounded love for those who are living immorally or unjustly is so profound that we wear crosses around our necks and place them at the front of our churches to remember it. It is what defines us as Christians. So as a Christian who also wants to be a Member of Parliament and write just legislation, I see laws that give room for grace and mercy as deeply and profoundly moral. So what does this look like in practice, and in relation to abortion?

Refugees, and Getting Out of the Way of Morality

There was a time in which every hospital was funded by the church. In the time leading up to the social reforms of the 1960’s (the “welfare state”, healthcare, etc.), churches were divided on such measures: some saw the social gospel as filtering through all of society, so that even the government became God’s tool for serving those who needed help; others saw the government as stepping into the church’s territory, and resented the idea of things like healthcare and welfare that removed the necessity of the church’s service of the needy. As time went on we became more and more individualized, our homes have become fortresses that outsiders rarely breach for a cup of coffee, and hospitality seems a thing of the past; it appears that the role of government in supplying for the needy got the church off the hook, and we tend to this day to focus on weekly programs for our members rather than the focused service initiatives and hospitality that used to characterize Christians. I’m not saying this to lambaste the church, but only to point out that our social role has changed drastically over the past fifty years, and that is in part because of the government taking on roles we once had a monopoly on.

People are moral actors, and the church makes a point of trying to train and encourage people to act morally. Government can prohibit or enforce actions, but sometimes government can get in the way of the moral actions of people. Let’s use the current refugee crisis as an example.

It is morally unacceptable to allow people to die when we have the means to save them. It is also morally unacceptable to exclude a foreigner from our community (check Deuteronomy 10:19 or Exodus 22:21 or Leviticus 19:34 or Ephesians 2:12 if you doubt it). In spite of the fact that we know there are around 60 MILLION refugees living in crisis around the world, our government has designed our refugee system in such a way that it only brings in 10,000 refugees per year, and it takes 4-5 years and tens of thousands of dollars to get in. By definition, a refugee is someone who needs help now, and probably has few resources. Most Canadians are willing to help refugees, but this is a great example of legislation that actually prevents moral action.

There are around 25,000 churches in Canada. If every one of them sponsored one refugee family, we could bring in around 150,000 people and settle them in caring communities across the country. As an MP, I would work to reform the refugee system so that the government can get out of the way of ordinary Canadians and churches who want to do something profoundly moral and Christlike; and I would work with churches to help them navigate the system in order to bring more people in as quickly as possible.

Abortion

So what is the Green Party stance on abortion, and how would I as a Christian MP uphold morality while still upholding the law?

The Green Party stance begins with the promise to always support access to a safe abortion. This sent my red-flags up when I first read it, but knowing what I do now about the history of prohibited abortion and harm reduction, I agree with it. But my agreement with that point didn’t come until I came to terms with the rest of our stance on abortion, which is to work to address the issues that lead to unwanted pregnancies in the first place – things like poverty, women’s inequality, safety, and social supports. I would add to that list that it’s about time we had a serious conversation about the over-sexualization of our culture. These other steps are something that no other party is talking about, and what made me appreciate the Green position.

Among all of the political party positions on abortion, the Green position is the only one I think has any chance to change the status quo. While Conservatives like Ted Falk are genuinely interested in introducing abortion laws, Stephen Harper has said unequivocally that he will not re-open the issue, and while they claim to have a free vote on “matters of conscience” Conservatives still voted down a Conservative back-bencher’s private member’s bill that would have made it illegal to coerce an abortion (and I probably would have supported that bill, had I been an MP). The Liberals and NDP are firmly pro-choice, and don’t appear to be interested in dealing with unwanted pregnancies in a more compassionate way. The debate is so polarized that nobody is looking for a third way, a way to save babies AND women, except for us Greens. I think that a compromise on “principle” that leads to saving more lives is far more moral than taking a moral stand on the issue and demanding all or nothing, but Jake Epp saw what happens to people who take a middle stance on this issue – it cost him his job as MP of this riding. I hope we’ve all noticed how few lives have been saved by insisting on taking a moral stand rather than seeking a compromise; a third way is necessary to see any movement on this issue at all.

As MP for Provencher, I would work within the current abortion laws: there are none, and I see no chance of that changing any time soon (neither does Ted Falk, as he admitted at the all-candidate forum on Thursday). I would continue to ensure that safe abortions are accessible, but remember that this is a harm reduction strategy designed to save women’s lives. At the same time, I would work to create space for moral action, whether by writing bills or by simply working with community groups and churches, to provide supports for pregnant women in order to address the concerns they face. We must remember that people don’t have abortions for fun, they have them because they have serious needs that we have not addressed. The Green Party wants to implement a Guaranteed Livable Income to ensure that nobody has to live in poverty, and we have a national housing strategy to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and affordable place to live; these are the types of things that governments can do to address basic needs. We would also run public health campaigns and educate people about fertility, and introduce strategies to hold men to account for their act in producing an unwanted pregnancy.

But I would also work with churches to connect them with clinics or charities to sponsor a pregnant woman. As with refugees, if every one of the 25,000+ churches in Canada sponsored a pregnant woman we would save a lot of lives. Providing a hospitable community is something that government has never been able to do, but somehow we in the church lost track of that part of our calling as the government took over our mandate to provide hospitals and colleges. Meals, clothes, transportation, child care – these are all things that churches can offer without great cost and with great personal care and connection; but if government tries to offer them, it can only do so in impersonal, money-intensive ways. Government can never replace the church’s ability to care for people, but it can do a number of things to create space for the church to fill with love and grace, and create more justice through the combination of our efforts than we could ever hope to create alone!

This is a complicated subject, and I’m happy to discuss it further. Please leave a comment or send me an email. Together, we can make a third way that stands a chance of making a difference – for children and women.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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Morality, Marijuana, and Legislation

A comment I made recently on Facebook about marijuana prohibition brought some very negative feedback, so I thought I would elaborate on the subject a bit. I’ll also reflect on the nature of morality in legislation and legislation in public life, because that’s foundational to my view.

I’ll start this off by pointing out that I’m a Christian theologian whose research focuses on ethics. I care about ethics and morality a great deal. It seems that when people see that I am in favour of legalizing marijuana, they immediately think that I am therefore immoral; that entails a whole lot of assumptions.

Morality in Legislation

The first major assumption is that morality and legality go hand in hand. That is not the case, and I’m not sure it ever has been outside of theocratic nations. I’m sure we get the idea that immoral things should be illegal by reading Leviticus, but we don’t live in a theocracy like ancient Israel did. Our law is often based on morals, but it is just as often based on social and political goals, needs (e.g., funding needs leads to taxes), and bad precedents (i.e., a lot of legislation is in place to clean up other legislation). Not everything that is against the law is necessarily immoral, and not everything that is immoral is illegal (e.g., adultery).

In order to have just legislation it must be both just and enforceable, and must not have unintended consequences or results that cause harm. A law that is itself unjust (e.g., discriminatory, exploitative, or immoral) should not exist. But a just law that cannot hope to be enforced is also wrong, as it undermines the value of the law in general and sets up mixed expectations regarding law enforcement. A law that is only enforced part of the time is usually unjust because it lets some people get away with it while punishing others; which is not to say that having speed limits is unjust, but if every other person who was pulled over for speeding wasn’t ticketed, we’d be concerned about fairness.  But even a just law that is equally enforced can be unjust when it has unintended consequences that cause harm; this was the case with the ban on abortions, which led to thousands of women being injured or killed by botched back-alley abortions, and that’s why the law was struck down.

So laws should be moral, but are not in place to enforce morality. Morality, by its very nature, cannot be enforced. To force someone to be good robs them of the choice to be good, which is the valuable part of being good. Even God does not enforce morality.

Legality Is Not an Endorsement

There are a number of immoral things that are not illegal, and a number of illegal things that are not immoral. At the same time, something being legal does not necessarily mean that it’s something you should do. Smoking cigarettes is legal for people over a certain age, in spite of the fact that we’ve long known that doing so is a great way to shorten your life span and cost the healthcare system an incredible amount of money in the process. Smoking cigarettes is legal because making cigarettes illegal would only lead to a greater illegal trade in cigarettes, because as we know, people have difficulty quitting. Tobacco is relatively easy to grow, cigarettes are easy to roll, and the product is relatively easy to smuggle; law enforcement is not able to control cigarettes sufficiently to make it worth our while to spend money attempting the task, when it is easier instead to make them legally available within certain parameters – such as being illegal to advertise, and illegal to buy under a certain age.

I do not smoke marijuana (although I did as a teenager), and unless you have a medicinal reason, I don’t suggest you start. That said, marijuana is easy to grow and smuggle, and the current laws haven’t stopped anyone from using it, so why are we spending so much trying to control something we can’t control?

The Unintended Effect of Prohibition

 

The current laws against drugs in Canada and the US haven’t stopped us from having some of the highest rates of drug use in the world, but they’ve cost us exorbitant amounts of money and thousands of lives. This is because the absence of a legal market for drugs means that all drugs go through the black market, enriching and empowering drug cartels and biker gangs, leading to gang wars and other crimes. We saw this with alcohol prohibition, which led to the rise of the mafia in the US, and the same things are happening with the prohibition of marijuana now.

The strange thing is that such a system actually makes it easier to get the very thing we’re trying to control. When drugs are not legally available, their value goes up; this gives people incentive to grow or deal drugs. As drug dealers get better at bringing drugs into the market, the cost of those drugs goes down, making them more accessible. To keep profits up, drug cartels need to make it up in volume, so they bring in even more drugs. This results in illegal drugs being both accessible and affordable, with no restrictions on who can buy them unless the buyer gets caught by the police. There is also no quality control in place, which often leads to joints being laced with harder, more addictive drugs (marijuana on its own is impossible to overdose on, and has a very low rate of addiction; but marijuana laced with other drugs can be very dangerous).

My View of Marijuana

The Green Party of Canada has looked at the data and saw that making marijuana legal would a) no longer enrich gangs and cartels, b) generate $3 billion or more per year in tax revenue that could be spent on healthcare and education about drugs and their negative effects, c) make marijuana less accessible for kids and safer for adults, and d) save us a lot of resources as we no longer attempt to fight battles that cannot be won. Also, the data on legalization suggests that we won’t actually see a significant rise in marijuana use if it is legalized, and that over time we’ll probably see those numbers fall.

I am not a recreational marijuana advocate, but I am an advocate of legalizing marijuana. The available data says that the best solution to most of our problems with marijuana is to legalize it, and the risks associated with doing so are small. Legalization will not stop the medical issues association with it, but it will raise money to help pay for those medical issues, and it will also take drug use out of the legal conversation and allow it to be a health conversation, which makes support to get people off of drugs much more accessible – because if you’re going to go to jail if you admit to using drugs, you’ll probably never seek help to get off of drugs.

Legislation and Ethical Living

Just as legalizing marijuana does not constitute an endorsement of using marijuana, so too does it not require anyone to use it or endorse it. I come from a religious background in which smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are (in some cases explicitly) forbidden and considered immoral, in spite of the fact that they are legal; the Catholic Church does not share that view, and I’ve met chain-smoking priests who thoroughly enjoy a good beer or wine. Gay marriage is legal in Canada, and some churches willingly perform gay marriages, but there is nothing in the law that forces any church to bless a gay marriage.

We Christians need to have a thorough conversation about what it means to live out our faith in public. I would argue that a Christian ethic necessarily involves exceeding the requirements of the law, being better than the law demands that we be; and that if we make the demands of Christian discipleship into law we not only end up pushing our religion on everyone else (something Jesus himself refused to do – he went out of his way to scare off people who were attempting to follow him but not counting the cost of doing so!), but also undermining the role of Christians in society as a people who exceed the demands of the law.

Put another way, I’ll paraphrase Jesus, Paul, and James all at once: “So you don’t partake of illegal drugs? Even the pagans do that.” Christians who are concerned that taking drugs is immoral should refuse to take even legal drugs, and enjoy the ability to take an actual ethical stance rather than simply doing the bare minimum of following the law. Paul’s point about the law and not being under the law anymore was that true Christian freedom is not coerced – not by God, and certainly not by the state – and Christian freedom is what theologians call “freedom for” (as opposed to “freedom from”); that is, we have the freedom to make good choices even when we are not compelled to do so. This is a powerful freedom that we’re missing out on so long as we insist that all things that are immoral should also be illegal.

Conclusion

I hope that my position on marijuana legalization is clear, but I’m happy to answer questions about it. I also hope my understanding of legislation and morality is useful to you. A majority of the residents of Provencher are Christians of a variety of stripes, but we all need to think carefully about how religious faith and ethics interact with laws and public life, particularly if that is going to influence the way we vote!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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True Diversity is Hard, but So Worthwhile

On Friday evening I hosted the second of our six lectures, this one titled “Embracing Diversity: Living an Enriched Life Within Canada’s Borders” and presented by Wendy Peterson. Wendy described diversity by noting that there are hundreds of distinct First Nations in North America, but that we treat them all as a single entity under the Indian Act and in our culture. She recalled seeing a local newspaper article that referred to two women who were “aboriginal in appearance”, and asked us what we thought that should mean: did it mean that they looked like doctors, teachers, theologians? She showed us a series of photos of her own friends, mostly aboriginal, and while not many of them looked alike, they were all similarly (highly) educated and successful people. She noted that she herself is “pigmentally challenged” (she is Metis), but that her son is often assumed to be Filipino, even by other Filipinos. So what does it mean to be “aboriginal in appearance,” and how can we have a truly diverse society and welcome refugees when we still have difficulty acknowledging diversity within our first peoples?

Diversity is hard. One of the greatest strengths of the human brain is its ability to categorize things: there are so many things and creatures around us, if we saw every single one of them as unique we would not be able to process it all. Our brain simplifies the process by creating categories, which is why we can say “lawn” instead of seeing millions of individual blades of grass. This is handy for lawns and leaves, but less helpful when we’re dealing with people, because categorization requires simplifying something down to a particular characteristic. Human beings are too complex to be simplified like that and still maintain their dignity, and because of this, our ability to relate to them is diminished. We can’t relate to people who are reduced to a single characteristic, especially if that characteristic that we’ve reduced them to is the very way that they are different from us. But that’s precisely the way we categorize people: by the ways they are different from us, rather than the ways we are the same. This makes sense from the perspective of efficient systems of categorization, but it does nothing to help us empathize with people who are different from us. The name for this process is called “Othering”, turning a person who is actually very like us in most ways into an “other”, someone who is very much unlike us.

It’s nearly impossible to get through life without othering people. We all do it, by virtue of our brain functions if for no other reason; but we’re also often raised with certain notions of different people groups or “others.” We tend to gang up on public figures when they let their othering slip out in a debate or interview, but we’re all guilty of it any time we fail to treat someone as a human being with their own thoughts and volition. Is my height my dominant characteristic? I sincerely hope not – I would hope it would be my intellect, my integrity, my attitude, or some virtue – but I once walked down a busy street in Osaka, Japan, and I drew an awful lot of stares, and while I don’t begrudge people for noticing that I stand out, it gets frustrating explaining that I’m not a basketball player. I can’t imagine what it’s like to explain to people that I do indeed have a “real” PhD (one example that Wendy gave on Friday), or have people assume that I’m a terrorist simply because of my skin tone or last name. In our culture, we need to find a balance between recognizing differences and reducing people to those differences. That’s hard to do, but it’s so worthwhile!

In our government, though, we don’t have the limitations of our brains as an excuse for othering. We have carefully crafted policies and laws that should not succumb to any person’s cultural or racial blind spots. Even so, in Canada we have a long history of policies that thoroughly and deliberately “other” indigenous people, and we are currently doing the same to Muslims. A perfect example is the way that our government refuses to allow a woman in a niqab (a garment that some Muslim women wear as an act of religious obedience and devotion, to express modesty) to swear an oath of citizenship. Two courts have already upheld her right to swear the oath without removing her head covering, but the Harper government has appealed to the Supreme Court. Harper’s argument is that the niqab comes from a culture that is anti-women, and that may be; a niqab may be used by many as a way to suppress women. But the moment we assume that rather than listening to this woman’s own story, we have othered her in a way that strips her of her dignity even as she attempts to swear an oath to our nation. We absolutely should support women’s rights, but we cannot do so by removing their freedoms and pigeonholing them based on a single characteristic.

Muslims vote at about half of the national average rate – only about 30%. Indigenous people in Canada vote even less. I have a hard time blaming them, given our history and current policies. We need a government that is willing to replace policies that other entire people groups with policies that truly embrace diversity. This will be hard: it will cost us money, and security. The Green Party of Canada wants to begin dialogue with First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis, rather than treating all First Nations as a single group, and honouring the treaties that we made with them. We want to collaborate with them to solve problems, rather than assuming a paternal stance and telling them how to run their affairs. We also want to support more refugees, and streamline the refugee process as much as possible so that we can adequately respond to the demand. These things will be difficult to do, but they’re so worthwhile! Join us. Vote Green.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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On the Possibility of a Nonviolent Nation

Last night Karen Ridd opened up our lecture series with “Swimming Upstream: Being Nonviolent in a Violent World.” Her presentation was by turns enchanting, engaging, challenging, and inspiring. One thing that came up several times, perhaps given that I was hosting the event, is how nonviolence relates to a national stance on ISIS and foreign policy in general. I’ve spent much of today thinking about this. It’s wonderful for individuals to practice nonviolence, but is it possible as a national policy?

Karen talked about the distinction between using nonviolent action and being nonviolent as a way of life (there are many people who would, say, go on strike, without actually committing to nonviolence in any other situation, much less as an ongoing approach to conflict), but in terms of actually executing a nonviolent approach I think it can happen in two ways. First, we can choose to make ourselves weak so that we cannot do any harm; and second, we can maintain our power while exercising restraint. Either can be done by an individual, and either can be done by a nation. Let’s take a look.

My favourite exemplar in regard to most important issues is Jesus, and this case is no different. Jesus made himself “weak” by taking on human flesh in all of its frailty: the God of the universe, eternal spirit, became vulnerable to the elements, hunger, abuse, and even death. He chose weakness in order to empathize and express solidarity with the weak. Vulnerability is a powerful aspect of nonviolent action; Karen’s stories about the effective use of nonviolent direct action were almost all about little old ladies. Nonviolent action tends to rely on exposing injustice, and there is little that is more obviously unjust than violent treatment of the vulnerable. In that way, choosing vulnerability can create a degree of safety while at the same time appealing to the best in our opponents, humanizing them even while we humanize ourselves by exposing our vulnerability.

At the same time, while Jesus became vulnerable he remained incredibly powerful. When he was arrested by an entire detachment of soldiers, Peter pulled out a sword to try to defend him; Jesus not only told Peter to stand down (and healed the soldier Peter had injured), but reminded Peter that he could have called on a legion of angels at any moment. During his arrest, his trial, and even his execution, Jesus retained the power to destroy his enemies, and yet chose to forgive them instead. His concern for the well-being of even his enemies led him to exercise restraint on that power. That’s what made Jesus’ refusal to use violence so powerful: weakness in itself is no virtue, but exercising restraint most certainly is.

So it’s possible for an individual to choose nonviolence either by choosing to be vulnerable or weak, or by exercising careful restraint of the power he or she has. But what about a nation? Is it possible to be nonviolent in either way? Not only is it possible, but there are clear examples of both.

Costa Rica has not had a standing army since 1948. They have a small armed guard probably more similar to the RCMP than to an army, and they contribute to international peacekeeping, but that’s it. As a nation, they have chosen not to have a military. They have made themselves vulnerable. Since then they have not had any war, even civil war, in spite of the revolutions that occurred throughout the region in the 1980s. Some people may write this off as a benefit of being allies with nations like the US and Canada whose military capabilities make up for Costa Rica’s lack, but perhaps that’s part of the point: a nation without a significant armed force must use other foreign policy tools, and making allies with other nations is an important one. If Canada were to reduce our military capabilities we would be less quick to enter into wars and would rely much more on diplomacy and trade to settle our disputes. By making ourselves vulnerable in one way, we could build on other strengths (and frankly, we’ve always been better at diplomacy than at warfare).

The other example is Switzerland. As gun advocates love to point out, nearly everyone in Switzerland has a gun and knows how to use it. This is because military service is mandatory in Switzerland (for males starting at 19). The amazing thing is, even though every single (male) Swiss citizen is (at least in theory) ready to go to war (their military force per capita is the second largest in the world, after the Israeli Defence Forces), they haven’t violently participated in a war in almost 150 years. Even during the World Wars, their participation took the form of economic and nonviolent tactics. They have an international reputation for neutrality, and therefore as a place to meet for discussion rather than battle; and they contribute to peacekeeping efforts around the world. They pose no threat to anyone in spite of their great power, and they present the world with opportunities for nonviolent conflict resolution.

The Green Party’s plan is somewhere between these two models. We would reduce Canada’s military to a functional defensive force, redirecting funding and personnel toward new forces that focus on disaster relief, and restoring our place as one of the main contributors to the UN Peacekeeping forces. As climate change gets worse, environmental issues will spark conflict. Clean water reserves are depleting worldwide as glaciers recede and sea levels rise, for example. Canada’s ability to respond quickly with humanitarian aid and disaster relief will help prevent conflicts from arising in such situations; and our Peacekeepers will help provide security and space for diplomacy to work in situations where conflict does arise. At the same time, our lack of a significant standing army will give credibility to our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, and nobody will suspect ulterior motives or fear a humanitarian mission may turn into an invasion force.

Our ability to do good in the world and humanize others is our greatest defence. Promoting peace is more powerful than the ability to win wars. Through a combination of deliberate vulnerability and restraint, and a refocusing on meeting the needs of others, Canadian foreign policy can be nonviolent in very significant ways without leaving Canada defenceless. Then we can restore the reputation that I grew up with, our former international renown for promoting peace.

Join us next Friday for our second lecture in the series: “Embracing Diversity: Living an Enriched Life Within Canada’s Borders” with Wendy Peterson!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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Press Conference: Platform Release, Candidate’s Pledge, and Lecture Series

Last night we had a fantastic evening listening to Karen Ridd’s lecture on Nonviolence titled “Swimming Upstream: Being Nonviolent in a Violent World.” Unfortunately we were unable to record it (though we have plans to record future lectures), but given that it was the first lecture in the series, and that the Green Party had released our fully-costed platform just two days before, I thought it was a good opportunity to invite the press and kick the series off in a more formal fashion. I signed the Candidate’s Pledge, and said a few words.

The world is faced with an unprecedented challenge: we’re consuming beyond our means and beyond what the earth can sustain, and it’s having disastrous effects on the climate. While we don’t feel the effects here so much, the droughts in California and Syria, the wildfires in BC, and even the record-breaking temperatures here in Provencher, are all related. But the greatest challenges are also the greatest opportunities, and Canada faces an unprecedented opportunity in the shift away from a carbon economy and toward a clean energy economy.
There are already more Canadians working in the clean energy sector than there are working in the oil sector, even though the current government is subsidizing the oil industry by billions of dollars a year. Jobs in the clean energy sector are stable and long-term jobs in manufacturing, construction, and maintenance of clean energy infrastructure such as solar and wind farms, and those solar and wind farms provide stable and steady revenue – unlike oil, which rises and falls with the global market and creates a boom-and-bust cycle in the Canadian economy. And while the oil industry only brings dangerous pipelines to Provencher – like the one that exploded a few kilometres from my house last winter, or the one that exploded this week just south of Emerson, or the Energy East pipeline that would run diluted bitumen right through the Whiteshell Provincial Park – the clean energy industry can turn Provencher into a literal powerhouse: we have more sunlight than anywhere else in Canada, we have strong and regular winds, and we have wide open spaces that can be used for clean energy infrastructure. Another key aspect of the clean energy economy is efficiency, and the need for home energy retrofits is high: Steinbach’s number one industry is construction, and a national home energy retrofitting plan would maintain business in construction without fear of a housing bubble. So a carbon economy only offers us risks, but a clean energy economy offers us incredible economic opportunities. As MP for Provencher, I would press the government to invest in the clean energy economy and work with citizens and businesses in Provencher to ensure that the local economy benefits from this opportunity.

On Wednesday, the Green Party of Canada released our full election platform. We were  once again the first party to do so, and as usual our platform is fully costed and has been reviewed by economists to ensure the numbers are right. They are. The Green Party is prepared to eliminate tuition for post-secondary education by 2020, invest in rail infrastructure, phase in a Guaranteed Livable Income, implement a national housing strategy, a national Pharmacare plan, and a national Seniors’ strategy, lower small business taxes, and reverse cuts to Veterans’ affairs, CBC, and Canada Post – and deliver a surplus starting in 2015-16 and every year thereafter so that we can more effectively pay down government debt. These initiatives would be paid for by removing existing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, legalizing and taxing cannabis, restoring the corporate tax rate to its 2009 level to ensure that it remains competitive with other OECD countries, eliminating tax havens, and implementing cost-effective programs that get better value for our dollar.

But while the climate and the economy are incredibly important issues, the thing that most made me take notice of the Green Party and decide to run as a Green candidate is our attention to the effectiveness and dignity of Canadian democracy. We aim to institute proportional representation, government transparency, and cross-partisan cooperation and respect. That’s why I’m proud to sign the Green Party Candidate’s pledge today: I pledge to conduct myself with integrity and treat others with respect, and if elected, to publish all of my expenses, conduct myself with civility in the House of Commons and never heckle, and to always put the best interests of my constituents, Canada, and the planet before partisan politics and personal interests. I’ve been pleased to have a positive relationship with the other candidates in Provencher even in the midst of this campaign, as we all attempt to better engage and serve the community.

It is in the service of our community that we’re here today at the Jake Epp Library, where in a few minutes we’re going to start the first of six public lectures. These lectures are sponsored by my campaign and the Green Party Provencher Riding Association, but they are non-partisan lectures about issues that are important to the community. The lecturers do not represent the Green Party, and approach their topics from a number of perspectives; they were chosen because of their expertise and experience in these issues, and because they are from the riding or from close by. The lectures will run every Friday evening from tonight until the election, and will cover the topics of nonviolence, embracing diversity, sustainability, social justice, ecological wisdom, and participatory democracy. Admission is free, and donations will go to offering the lecturers an honourarium and, if there is a large interest, toward renting a larger venue. We welcome anyone and everyone to engage with this conversation.

Conversations are incredibly important, but they need to lead to action. When it comes to the climate, the economy, our democratic institutions, and our global leadership, it’s time for action. A vote for me is a vote for fair and active representation in Ottawa; for a clean energy economy that will create and maintain jobs in Provencher while reducing greenhouse gases and dependence on oil; and for a cleaner, healthier Canada.

Thank you!

Candidate's pledge
BIG smile – I’m happy to pledge to be dignified and respectful!

 

After that we had a lovely Q&A session about the platform before turning it over to Karen, who challenged us all with her experiences of nonviolent action and her perspectives on how Canada might embrace nonviolence in our policies moving forward.

Watch for a story about this great event in the Carillon on Thursday, and be sure to come out for our next lecture on Friday – Wendy Peterson will speak on “Embracing Diversity: Living an Enriched Life Within Canada’s Borders.” See you there!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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The Green Party 2015 Platform

Platform2The Green Party of Canada has posted their official platform for the 2015 election along with a fully costed and audited budget.

The platform is derived from the official Green Party policy which is documented in Vision Green. Our policy is perpetual; based on Green Party principals, Vision Green is available at any time, even between elections, for anyone to read. The policy is also “living”; Green Party membership can propose amendments and all members are invited to vote on it.

The election platform and the budget are derived from the principles outlined in Vision Green.

 

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On Refugees

For the last few days, all I can think about is Alan Kurdi. The first picture I saw of him was an artist’s rendition of Alan laying facedown in a bed, and I liked it because it reminded me of my son Sam, who is just a year old. “Sam sleeps like that too,” I thought. Then I saw the image it was based on, realized that he wasn’t sleeping, and I broke down. I’m not normally prone to bursting out in tears at work, but it’s happened a few times in the past few days as I continue to process it.

It’s amazing how quickly one photo can change the world.

There have been refugees in Syria for years. Long before there was ISIS, Bashar al Assad was killing his own people en masse. Syrians cried out for help back then, in 2011 and 2012. Canada condemned Assad, and issued sanctions against Syria, but the number of refugees has been steadily growing since then, and while we heard about it from time to time it was rarely headline news. It was just numbers from a far away place, until it suddenly became humanized this week.

Children are more human than the rest of us. They embody the preciousness of life, both in the sense that their life is fragile and vulnerable, and in the sense that they enjoy even the smallest things in life. My little Sam can’t wait to be awake every morning, and gets more joy out of a window crank than I do out of…well, out of anything (except maybe Sam himself). In a world divided by sex and race and religion and politics, children remain undividedly human, blind to their differences and universally representative. It’s easy to dehumanize adults; it’s nearly impossible to dehumanize children – and who would? They embody our hope for the future, our best features and qualities, and our love itself.

When I think about Alan Kurdi’s picture, I also think about other iconic and disturbing images of children. The Vietnamese girl splashed with napalm and the starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture come to mind. I won’t post them here, in case like me you feel too overwhelmed to see them right now. But the point is that these images put the most human of faces on international crises – the faces of children.

Since then, we’ve begun to look at how to respond, and it’s degrading quickly. We politicians have jumped over each other to promise to bring in higher and higher numbers of refugees, and it’s turning into a pissing match. The Conservatives want to bring in another 10,000 refugees over 5 years; the NDP says they can do that by the end of this year; and the Liberals and Greens are saying 25,000. Meanwhile, there are nearly 60 MILLION displaced people around the world. We have to do better than 25,000; people are dying today. This should not be a partisan issue of which party can one-up the others; we should be coming together to save lives.

The difficulty of bringing in more people is that our refugee system is not built for this. But like I said, these refugees didn’t pop up overnight, so if our system isn’t built for this, what is it built for? Currently, refugees are designated as part of the immigration system, and it can take up to 4 or 5 years to get into Canada as a refugee. This is insane. By definition, a refugee is someone who is in danger; they don’t have 5 years to wait. But this is the system we have. Here’s a brief story that outlines the situation:

 

Here’s what we’ve done in the past:

Here’s what we’re doing now:

In short, we’re not doing enough, but we’re hampered by an inadequate system. The government brings in less and less people, unless Canadians stand up and demand more. That’s what we did in the 1970’s: the Boat People crisis in Vietnam led to tens of thousands of Canadians stepping up and volunteering to sponsor refugees, and we moved 65,000 people. When Canadians volunteered, our government stepped up and provided planes to ferry people to Canada. The same thing is happening in other nations, too: over ten thousand Icelanders, spurred on by their own government’s insufficient response to this crisis, have called for more Syrian refugees to be taken in there. On issues like these, it appears, when people lead the governments follow.

So let’s lead. I know that the people in Provencher are the most generous in the country (actually – this is documented). And I know that Canadians in general are already responding en masse, searching online for how to sponsor Syrian refugees. This link is really important – it includes links to a lot of information, including a list of organizations that can help you sponsor a refugee. One local organization that didn’t make CBC’s list is MCC, which has a number of ongoing projects to help.

Let’s set aside electoral politics and work together to help these refugees. This is not an election issue, it’s a human issue. If we can step up and demand to open our nation and our homes to people in need, the only question our candidates and party leaders should have to answer on this topic is whether they’re prepared to follow where we lead them – to a more compassionate Canada.

For Alan, and Sam, and all of the children this world is not worthy of,

Jeff

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“Sleep tight, little one.” Taken from facebook. If this is in copyright violation, please let me know and I will remove it.

 

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