On the State of Politics in Canada

Canadians have a reputation for kindness and diplomacy…and then an election happens. If someone were to judge Canadians by their political advertisements, we’d have a reputation for being passive-aggressive (“he’s just not ready“) and corrupt (“enough“). This election isn’t the worst by a long shot; I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how few attack ads there are this year, considering the intensity of the issues at hand (Senators on trial, veterans attacking Conservatives, etc). For too many years now, we’ve had even more negative campaign ads.

But if you did judge Canadians as passive-aggressive and corrupt, you’d be wrong. Canadians are sick of that kind of politics. The problem is, we’ve forgotten that there’s any other kind. Rather than calling on our political parties to clean it up, many people have disengaged altogether. Too many.

I don’t mean that people just aren’t voting. I mean that people actually recoil, physically, when politics is brought up. Everyone is usually happy to share an opinion, but try asking someone for a signature on a petition or nomination form sometime. Some people simply refuse to participate; for others, their eyes widen in surprise and then narrow in distrust, sometimes with a hint of panic. They feel overwhelmed by the very notion of getting involved, and want nothing to do with it. If you think I’m exaggerating, come canvassing with me. (And before you say it – yes, they recoil before they know who I am or what party I represent!)

What’s worse than individuals who don’t want to participate in simple, nonpartisan political actions is when the public square is closed to the conversation. I’ll give you two examples from my riding, Provencher.

On Canada Day, a political day if ever there was one, I was at a public event. Since there were thousands of people there, I had brought my clipboard with signature pages. Every would-be candidate has to collect 100 signatures in order to get on the ballot; the signatures “consent to candidacy”, which means that the people who sign it agree that the would-be candidate has the right to run. It’s entirely non-partisan, because the signature doesn’t imply endorsement of the candidate’s party – only the candidate’s right to be a candidate. Even so, I thought it would be professional for me to ask permission before collecting any signatures, and was directed to a man setting up a microphone; he was the manager of the venue. His response was that they’d really prefer if I didn’t collect any signatures; they wanted it to be a “non-political” place. Sure, I said, wondering what he meant by that. Then he finished setting up the microphone, and introduced Conservative MP Ted Falk, who gave a speech. This was followed by the Progressive Conservative MLA, the Mayor of the city, the Reeve of the surrounding municipality, and the Reeve of the next municipality. Apparently what he meant by “non-political” was “non-partisan”, which itself was based on the assumption that anything I had to say while collecting signatures might stir up tension (not to mention the assumption that the MP, MLA and even municipal politicians would have nothing partisan to say).

The next example is even more clear-cut. One of the places we had been hoping to set up a table to promote our campaign was at local farmer’s markets throughout the riding. We plan to set up a table with a few brochures, a few postcards, and some buttons and cloth tote bags to give away; maybe we’d get a few volunteers to sign up, or collect a few donations. Unfortunately, at least one of the directors of the largest farmer’s market in the riding has denied us access; they will not allow us to rent space at the farmer’s market for our table, citing concerns that we would be “bad-mouthing the other parties.” My first thought is “have they heard of the Green Party? We don’t do that.” Unfortunately, at least at this point, this director has not spoken to me directly.

It would appear that politics of any kind is not welcome in Steinbach. It’s a dirty word. It creates tension, fosters conflict, scares people off. This is not the fault of the people I’ve mentioned above, it’s the result of years of negative campaigning. Politicians: we’ve done that. We need to undo it.

There are eight weeks of campaigning left. I challenge Ted Falk, Terry Hayward, and whoever runs for the NDP: let’s run positive campaigns, with no attack ads. That means no more “Just Not Ready” ads, no more “Wait, What?” ads, no more “Enough” ads. There’s plenty of time and space for criticism of the other parties; we don’t need sound bites and spin to do it. Join me in pledging to keep all of our ads about…us. Us as candidates, and the platforms we’re running under. This election is about giving people a choice between us and our ideas, not about tearing each other down. Maybe we can show the people of Provencher that politics isn’t all about divisiveness and conflict after all. Maybe there’s hope for public engagement and an open public square.

Provencher, don’t be afraid to engage. Ted, Terry and I are all nice guys who actually get along well enough, even if we disagree about how to best represent you. Give us a call, invite us over, and get to know us; we’ll talk to your neighbours too. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

Your Green candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

Let’s Run

This morning I participated in the Let’s Run 5k race in Steinbach. What a humbling experience!

I’ve always had relatively poor cardiovascular health. As a child I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, which made running difficult. Like many people, I’ve had good intentions over the years to become a regular at the gym and get into shape, which led to more than one gym membership that went unused.

Last year I was facing the imminent birth of my first child, Sam, and I realized that I couldn’t put it off any more. Both of my grandfathers died at age 70, one from a heart attack and one from a stroke, so I knew I had a good chance of clocking out early too unless I put in some significant work. Also, I’m 196cm tall, and people my size and larger tend to have shorter lives (the oldest people in the world are usually tiny women). For Sam’s sake as much as my own, I don’t want to have my heart give out on me when I’m 70. So I started running, but didn’t take it too seriously until I signed up for Let’s Run; apparently all I needed to get in shape was the threat of public embarrassment.

Using the “Couch to 5k” plan, I worked my way up to running 5k. On the advice of colleagues who run regularly, I decided to run for five minutes and walk for one minute, and found that I could maintain a rough 11-minute mile average. Because running has always been a struggle for me, I was incredibly proud of myself for even being able to finish 5k, let alone at that pace. And I still am proud of myself – and I’m proud of everyone who participated this morning – because no matter the pace, committing to physical fitness is hard work worthy of pride. But I was definitely taken down a peg or two today.

I said out loud that I only hoped to finish, or maybe to finish in the middle of the pack, but in the back of my mind I envisioned finishing near the front with energy to spare. So when the race started, I made sure to pace myself carefully. Most of the pack moved ahead of me quickly, but I thought “slow and steady wins the race; I’ll be blowing by them when they run out of steam.” I especially thought this of the large number of kids who were ahead of me, some of whom looked to be about seven years old and were setting a gruelling pace.

Boy was I wrong. I didn’t see those kids again until they crossed the finish line a few minutes after me, finishing the 10k in only a few minutes more than it took me to finish the 5k. I crossed the line moments before the first 10k runner, and less than a minute before a mother pushing a double stroller with two kids who looked to be 4 or 5. Oh, and the half dozen firefighters who ran the 5k in their full gear (in the hot sun) were out of sight ahead of me by the second kilometre. All of my assumptions about my own level of relative fitness crumbled pretty quickly.

My assumptions about fitness in general also crumbled pretty quickly, as the people I thought were slower than me were actually just pacing themselves for the 10k, or as I noticed a woman with one leg completing the race on crutches, or as people celebrated completing a walking 5k with even more pride and sense of accomplishment than those who stood on the podium for the fastest times. I realized that this wasn’t really a race, that times or distances or other ways of comparing ourselves to others didn’t matter. What matters is that each of us went there with a personal goal, whether it was just to complete the event, to get a certain time, or to support a friend, and we accomplished them in the context of a supportive community.

And what a community! This event was run entirely by volunteers, and members of the community lined the route to cheer us on. It was well-planned, too: I was pleased to see that there were plenty of recycling bins and compost bags to collect the remains of the healthy snacks, and health and safety were an obvious priority with volunteers directing traffic and a well prepared first aid team on site.

All in all, I was inspired by this event. It’s incredible to see people work together to accomplish a great thing that benefits the whole community. That’s what politics is supposed to look like: all of us working together to accomplish great things that we probably couldn’t pull off on our own, and for all of our benefit. And make no mistake, Let’s Run is a political event: it has a direct impact on the health of the community, and a sustainable health care system is one that focuses on promoting health rather than just treating disease or injury.

Here’s how the Green Party would integrate promoting healthy living with our health care program (from Vision Green, page 102):

7. Promote fitness, sport, and active living:

  1. Promote a broad-based national program of active living as a prescription for better health and lower health care costs, to be delivered in partnership with provincial, municipal, and non-governmental bodies to achieve the goal agreed to by all ministers responsible for physical activity across Canada of increasing physical activity by 10% over the next five years;
  2. Introduce a national standard of daily, quality participation in physical activity in schools, colleges, and universities to combat the epidemic of youth obesity;
  3. Make a strategic investment through Health Canada of $500 million over five years to aggressively address inactivity and obesity;
  4. Re-introduce a national school-based fitness-testing program;
  5. Promote the ‘Walking School Bus,’ as developed by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, in which adult volunteers supervise neighbourhood children walking to school, thereby reducing pollution, improving fitness, and promoting community street safety;
  6. Endorse and promote the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21 for Sport, which advocates sport and recreation management practices that are sustainable and encourages sustainable practices at all sports events and facilities;
  7. Support the development of high-performance athletes both by encouraging broad-based participation in sport and by contributing to the provision of essential facilities, coaching, and medical support for high-performance athletes, as outlined in the 2003 Canadian Sport Policy;
  8. Structure the spending for sports to ensure there is a practical progression of long- term financial support for sport at all levels in the sports continuum;
  9. Establish a Canadian Sports Spending Accountability Act, to ensure the effective long-term use of tax dollars provided to high performance sports programs.

Healthy lifestyles are not only better for us, they reduce the amount of medical care we need. Health care is not only one of our biggest expenses, it’s also the national expense that’s rising the fastest. Let’s Run and programs like it are what we need to head this health crisis off at the pass, and I’m so glad I took part in it today. If you’re up for it, join me for the Imagine Run in Niverville September 26th, where I’m going to attempt to kick it up a notch to 10k!

Also, next weekend there’s an event called Walk the Line, a hike along the route of the proposed Energy East pipeline. Registration ends Tuesday, so sign up as soon as you can. I hope to make it, and I’ll be talking more about Energy East and what it means for us in the near future.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

SETI Spring Supper

Last night we had the privilege of attending the South Eastman Transition Initiative‘s Spring Supper in Steinbach. It served as a wonderful reminder of the value of community and local food, and it raised money for Fruit Share Steinbach, a local non-profit.

Fruit Share exemplifies a number of Green values: cooperation, efficiency, local food, and caring for communities, to name a few. It is a local non-profit organization that specializes in connecting people who have fruit trees but aren’t able to pick or use all of the fruit with people who are willing to pick it for them. Fruit Share then splits the fruit three ways: 1/3 for the owner, 1/3 for the pickers, and 1/3 goes to local charities; they even make sure to compost the waste. Last year they connected 150 volunteers with 49 fruit owners and donated to 15 different local organizations! Fruit Share also works to educate fruit owners about the value of their fruit trees and ways to use the fruit, with information and instruction on how to process and preserve the fruit.

SETI (South Eastman Transition Initiative) is another fantastic organization that exemplifies Green values. They serve as a community of shared knowledge and resources to help themselves and their communities to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle, running reskilling workshops (my wife Andrea is leading one on fermenting foods next weekend), documentary screenings, a weekly newspaper column, garden tours, regular “Green Drinks” gatherings, and more. I first joined SETI about five years ago, attending a viewing of the documentary Food Inc. Over time I began to get more involved, writing for the Rethinking Lifestyles column in the Carillon and joining the public policy committee, which makes policy suggestions at a municipal and provincial level to encourage governments toward more sustainable initiatives.

As I grew more interested and involved in politics, my engagement with SETI decreased as my engagement with the Green Party increased. I often regret that: SETI is still a very important organization to me, and helped to form me in my commitment to a more sustainable lifestyle and a more sustainable politics. SETI is a non-partisan organization, so they go out of their way to promote sustainability connecting it to any other banner; they recognize that people of all political stripes care about sustainability, and don’t want to limit their impact by unnecessarily aligning themselves with one party. In spite of the fact that I would love the political support of a group like SETI, I love that they’re non-partisan. In fact, I think this is one of the features of SETI that exemplifies Green values. Putting aside differences to work with as many people as possible toward a more sustainable future is at the core of the Green understanding of what Parliament is supposed to be about, and SETI serves as an example of what it could be: a group of Canadians working together for the benefit of us all. So while SETI isn’t linked to the Green Party in any way (other than an overlap of members, like me!), I see them as an incredible ally who is able to reach people that the Green Party may not be able to reach, and give people practical skills to continue moving us toward sustainability on an individual level even when partisan politics in Ottawa prevent us from moving in that direction as a society.

So thank you, South Eastman Transition Initiative and Fruit Share Steinbach, for your service to your community and your ecosystem. You are inspirations, and great resources! Oh, and that supper last night was delicious.