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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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.