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

Jeff_Background1

Ted Talks: Fiscal Responsibility

In the past two weeks, Provencher MP Ted Falk has used his weekly newspaper column to talk about economic stability. In both columns, he points to the economic crisis in Greece as an example of unfettered spending leading to economic disaster, while pointing to the Conservative economic plan of cutting taxes as the recipe for sound fiscal policy. There are a few things that don’t sit right with me about the columns.

1) This Conservative government can’t say much about unfettered spending: Canada’s national debt has increased significantly under Stephen Harper, who inherited a $13.8 billion dollar surplus and turned it into a $25.9 billion dollar deficit over the past nine years. That’s a $40,000,000,000 swing. It’s easy to point at Greece and say that their government spending is irresponsible, but what do you call a government that increases spending and cuts taxes? This government has cut numerous science and social programs in the name of austerity, while at the same time funneling funds into infrastructure projects in the name of stimulus. Why play both cards at once? It’s hard to tell, but I can see a motive (and I sincerely hope it’s not true): While both infrastructure and social and science programs are important, infrastructure is a very visible way to spread government money around  in Conservative ridings and support the Conservative voter base (rural blue collar workers), while social and science programs tend to favour people who don’t vote Conservative (the urban poor, academic elites). I sincerely hope that this isn’t the reason behind the Conservative fiscal policy, but we know that the Conservatives, more than any other party, knows their voter base and knows how to leverage it. Their election strategy is to secure their own voter base and discourage anyone else from voting at all. So while I hope that Conservative fiscal policy is about economic strategy rather than election strategy, it works much better as election strategy.

2) Speaking of election strategy, the Conservatives have been in permanent campaign mode for years now. I was disappointed to see that Ted’s columns comment on what the “opposition parties” think about Greece’s debt situation. Not only were the statements vague on details but clearly negative, they don’t add anything to the column. I appreciate that the MP gets a column to update people in Provencher about what the government is doing and how it interacts on the world stage, but skewering your political opponents does neither of those things. I’ve been similarly disappointed to receive mail from Ted’s office, paid for by taxpayers, which featured half-page photos of Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair with disparaging remarks about both of them. These clearly partisan mailings from the MP’s office can hardly count as good use of government funds. I sincerely doubt that Ted is even aware of them, but this seems to be standard practice for the Conservative government.

3) In regard to cutting taxes, Conservative tax cuts are, again, aimed at specific demographics. In both columns Ted noted that Conservative tax cuts will save “working families” and “the average Canadian” $6,500/year. Personally, I don’t know anyone whose tax return has increased by that amount. It turns out that you’d need to be making more than $80,000/year to get a tax cut that large. I may not be the average Canadian, but I didn’t realize I was only half of one. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out that only 1 in 6 families would benefit from the Conservative income splitting plan, and that it will cost the government (and therefore taxpayers) $2.2 billion in lost revenues this year.

Let’s be clear about something: we get very good value for our taxes. Our taxes pay for endless amounts of infrastructure and programs that we completely take for granted, but that we could never afford on an individual basis. What needs to change about taxes is not that we pay them, but how we pay them. We currently pay taxes on goods: income, goods, and services; the Green Party proposes that we pay taxes on bads: pollution, waste, risk. That way, rather than getting tax cuts as handouts in election years, Canadians can get tax cuts by improving their efficiency, reducing waste, and making healthier and less risky choices. Programs are supported directly by the problems they address, such as healthcare being paid for by tobacco taxes and garbage collection being paid for by bag tags and dumping fees. We have a tax plan that is fair to all Canadians, favours small businesses over large corporations, will keep us competitive in the G20, and will work with the polluter pays principle to promote greater efficiency and less waste.

The Green Party also has a plan to reduce the public debt without compromising infrastructure. Part of that plan is to reform the tax system, raising corporate taxes to what they were in 2008 before they fell to half of American corporate tax rates, and increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Part of the plan to reduce our deficit is to reduce the amount of corporate subsidies we give out (we currently subsidize the oil industry by billions of dollars per year). But the most important part of the plan is our commitment to live within our means and set goals we can actually achieve, which means a real commitment to fiscally conservative budgets rather than spending millions on giving the impression of sound fiscal management through ad campaigns.

The real problem with the Greek financial crisis is short-term thinking. Our financial world is focused on short-term earnings, which are measured in quarters. How can anyone responsibly run an economy three months at a time? All of the arguments about Greece’s payments are similarly short-sighted: even if they can delay or diminish their current payments, what’s the long-term strategy? They’ll have another payment next quarter, or next year. We need to spend less attention and money on short-term financial optics, and more attention and money on long-term strategies to ensure that our economy is both stable and resilient. While the Conservatives are blaming our shrinking economy (when they acknowledge it at all) on volatile oil prices, they continue to push for further investment in oil, while other sectors are moving jobs overseas. A resilient economy is diverse, and a stable economy is one designed with long-term goals in mind, not the next quarter. Any financial manager will tell you that a safe investment is a long-term investment.

We don’t need to point fingers at European countries to find issues with fiscal responsibility. Our current government is responsible for 24% of our accumulated national debt, and spends millions annually just to tell us how good they are with our money. We can do better. The Fall, vote for long-term planning and a sustainable and resilient economy. Vote Green.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

On the Cusp of Greatness

Yesterday was Canada Day, and a very busy day across the country. I attended community events, talked with strangers, collected some signatures, and most of all, reflected on what I was seeing. I deeply and dearly love Canada, but on a day all about loving Canada, I wondered why. Why do I love this nation? Allow me to explain.

Canada Day is a time for nationalism, sentimentality, and political speeches. At Steinbach’s Mennonite Heritage Village there were speeches from the MP, the MLA, the Mayor, and the Reeve of the surrounding municipality, one after another. Each of them repeated the phrase “Canada is the greatest country in the world,” some with gusto, others with solemnity. I heard the same words from Stephen Harper on the radio afterward, in a clip from the celebrations in Ottawa. I tend to agree, Canada is great – but what does that mean? How are we great?

The thing that caught my attention, that made me question our seemingly obvious greatness, was the comments of a speaker from the Mennonite Heritage Village. He also said that Canada is great, but he said something else that stood out. He pointed out that when Mennonites first came to Canada they were promised the ability to run their own schools and teach their children in German, with their own curriculum. Not too long after that, however, the Canadian government decided that they must use Provincial curriculum, in English. Many Mennonites moved on to South America to maintain their cultural freedom, but many stayed. And in spite of this betrayal by the Canadian government of that day, this speaker didn’t think that any of the Mennonites who stayed in Canada would wish today that they had moved on, or returned to places like Ukraine and Russia. He’s probably right, but I immediately felt that his repetition of the Canada Day mantra, “Canada is great,” was different from the other speakers. They all spoke about Canada today, our position in the G7, the great things our current government is doing, etc., so that “Canada is great” sounded like self-congratulation; he spoke about the past, and in a way that caused his “Canada is great” to sound like a hope, or even a compromise. Like Canada is great because things turned out okay, but it’s great in spite of past double-dealing and conflict.

But not everything has turned out great for all Canadians. Some conflicts continue. Is Canada great for everyone?

Each of the speakers commented on the number of immigrants and new citizens at the event, noting how this Canada Day must be extra special for them as newcomers. I met a man in the park yesterday who is trying to improve his English quickly enough to renew his work permit, so that eventually he can get Permanent Resident status and continue on the long road to citizenship. I know enough newcomers to Canada to know that achieving citizenship is a powerful, joyful event, and that Canada Day has a different significance for someone who cannot take their citizenship for granted. But that’s just it: many newcomers cannot take their Canadian citizenship for granted, even after they’ve achieved it, because of a new law that allows the immigration minister to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens. Also, not all newcomers receive as warm of a welcome as the ones celebrating at the Heritage Village yesterday: the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has been quite vocal in his opposition to the idea that a woman whose face is covered as an expression of her religious beliefs can take an oath of citizenship. Pledging allegiance to Canada is not enough, apparently; new Canadians must also express their faith in ways that align with someone else’s view of what Canadians should do.

That’s now, but Canada’s history of cultural assimilation goes back to before there was a Canada. Several articles online yesterday reminded me that Canada Day is not a day of celebration for our First Nations, whose history predates Canada’s by centuries. Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, it’s true, but our privileges are not shared by our Indigenous citizens, who were systematically stripped of their land, rights, and culture. To them, Canada Day is a celebration of the subjugation and disenfranchisement of their people, which remains an ongoing struggle. Mennonites were once betrayed by Canada, but now enjoy its benefits; First Nations are still betrayed by Canada, subject to the patriarchal Indian Act and the general refusal of the Canadian government to acknowledge and act upon the treaties signed so long ago. Is Canada really great? Were we ever?

Yet I have hope. Several years ago, the Prime Minister issued an apology on behalf of the government for enacting the Residential School system that took so many Indigenous children from their families with the goal to “kill the Indian in the child.” Recently the Premier of Manitoba apologized on behalf of the Province for the “Sixties Scoop,” in which Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and adopted by white families in Canada, the US, and the UK. And we’ve also recently celebrated the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which issued a powerful report about the extent of the abuse that First Nations have suffered at the hands of colonialist Canada. Survivors have had a chance to tell their stories, and we’ve had a chance to listen, and mourn with them.

Sharing stories gives our Indigenous people a chance to heal, but it doesn’t change the current situation. Apologies are an important symbolic step, but they haven’t led to any changes in the status quo. On one hand, they’re even quite negative: they remind us that, from the perspective of our vulnerable people, Canada has rarely been anywhere near “greatness.” But reports and apologies are incredibly important, because they give us a glimpse of what Canada could be. They give us a glimpse of Canada’s true greatness.

We are on the cusp of that greatness.

Canada is not great, but we’re so close that we can taste it. We’ve always been there, on the brink, able to see and celebrate the best in us even if it’s just out of our grasp. The Canada I so deeply love is not the Canada that was, or even the Canada that is (though they each have their moments), but the Canada that may yet be.

We’re not perfect, and we never have been. We’ve been downright awful at (far too many) times, but we’ve always been just a choice or two away from doing the right thing. We signed treaties, some of them in bad faith and some of them in good faith, and either way we have failed to honour them. But even to this day we remain just one or two good choices away from doing the right thing and making good on our old promises. We can honour the treaties, and doing so would make Canada truly great.

We pride ourselves on multiculturalism, but we press our newest citizens to conform to our ways of life and dress. We can be a truly multicultural nation, welcoming outsiders and celebrating difference, and doing so would make Canada truly great.

We pride ourselves on our international reputation as peacemakers and peacekeepers, yet we’ve reduced our involvement in the UN (we invented UN Peacekeepers, and used to contribute up to 3,300 at a time; now there are 34) and increased our involvement in NATO and interventionist wars on the other side of the world. We’ve pulled out of climate treaties, and frustrated the processes of international climate talks so much that we’ve been the repeated recipients of the ironic “colossal fossil” award. Our reputation has become more tied to the oil economy than to the natural beauty, conscience, and compassion that once defined us around the world. Yet we still have a place at the international table, we still have the ability to be leaders in peacemaking and care of the earth, and doing so would make Canada truly great.

I could go on. We are always, and have always been, at the cusp of greatness. I can see what it would look like for Canada to truly be the “greatest country in the world” as so many politicians said yesterday, and it’s because of that vision that I love Canada. It’s because of that vision of peace, justice, compassion, and honour that I continue to work toward those good choices, to try to bring out the best in our nation, to unlock that greatness. We’re not that great, yet, but we could be.

Today is the day after Canada Day, the day after the celebration of our greatness. Let’s make it the day we get to work, to build a better Canada that builds on the wrongs of the past by righting them, so that we can someday earn the title of “the greatest country in the world.”

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

Ted Talks: Supporting Families

Ted Falk recently stood up in the House of Commons to speak about the ways that the Conservative Government are supporting families. It’s a noble goal, and one that every party strives for. But one of the reasons that I’m proud to be a Green Party member and candidate is because we tend to look a little deeper, beyond easy solutions to the root of the issue.

Here is Ted’s speech:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of the hard working Canadian families that form the corner stone of our society. As the basic unit of any successful nation, families drive our economy, build our communities and provide our children with moral, social and financial stability.

I firmly believe that when the family unit is healthy, when families prosper, all Canadians prosper. That is why I stand here today in support of our Government’s commitment to helping Canadian families.

In our most recent budget we introduced a number of initiatives that will help millions of Canadian families, including those who live in Southeastern Manitoba.

Since forming government, we have cut taxes over 160 times. This will result in a typical two-earner Canadian family receiving tax relief and increased benefits of up to $6,600 in 2015.

Some examples of these tax cuts include the Family Tax Cut, Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), Children’s Fitness Credit and the Adoption Expense Tax Credit.

I have received many supportive comments for our Government’s low-tax initiative from families all across my riding of Provencher. They have encouraged us to work hard and continue to deliver results for families.”

I’m not going to pick apart his speech, but the obvious point here is that the Conservatives support families by giving them more money. We all love having more money, myself included. But something that I could use a lot more of, even more than money, is time to spend with my family.

Here’s a section from Vision Green, pages 89-90:

Increasingly, national and international studies document significant stress on Canadian children and their parents. While it is true that an unacceptably large number of Canadian families live in poverty, many more are suffering from ‘time poverty.’ Statistics Canada tracks time stress of Canadians and reports a steady increase in Canadians who report not having enough time in their lives to accomplish all required tasks. Longer commutes rob Canadians of time at home. Longer working hours rob community members of time for volunteer activities. Poorly planned transit and the lack of convenient workplace child care spaces rob parents of time with their kids.

There is a real cost to society as citizens have less and less time to contribute to community and school activities. Not surprisingly, Statistics Canada also reports a steady decline in volunteer hours donated by Canadians. Lack of time to contribute to community also leads to feelings of loss and alienation. On the other hand, time spent in effort to better our society leads to positive feelings of affiliation (belonging) and of empowerment (knowing one’s actions make a difference). Greens will address this multi- layered problem in many policies: fiscal, labour, and social programs.

The tax policy pursued by Green Party MPs will increase the opportunity for Canadians to spend more time with family. More and more adults with full-time employment outside the home are stressed and stretched to care for elderly parents, children, partners or spouses with debilitating illness, and any family members with disabilities.

Greens are committed to nurturing families and communities through integrated policies that focus on the welfare of the child, starting with prenatal nutrition all the way to affordable housing and accessible post-secondary education. We believe we must stop designing our communities around the car and start designing them around families and children. There are no easy solutions. We have to address the multi-layered problems facing families through new, innovative fiscal, labour, and social policies.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Urge reforms to our tax and labour policies in ways that will increase the opportunity for Canadians to spend more time with family;
  • Promote an integrated program of supports, tax cuts, and awareness-raising emphasizing that time spent with children and/or in the community is essential for the continuation of our society.

Don’t get me wrong, the UCCB comes in handy when I’m paying bills; but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how valuable my time is to my son Sam. $6,600 (the maximum benefit of the programs Ted is talking about; most will not receive all of it) may be enough for some families to avoid needing an extra job, but it won’t help change the underlying issue.

We have a cultural problem. We work more than most people in the world, and we’re relatively quite wealthy compared to the rest of the world – but we’re wealthy in measurements of money and things. When it comes to relationships, community, and perhaps especially families, we’re relatively poor. In Ted’s speech, the first thing he mentioned about the value of families is their economic value. But our economy values things more than people, and work outside the home (“official” or paid work) more than work inside the home (like caring for our children, preparing food, etc.), which leads to us trying to maximize our time “at work” to make money to pay other people to do these basic things for us. Our culture becomes oriented around work and money, rather than family and community. This culture comes from the structure of our economy, and the structure of our economy is supported by this culture. Changing a culture is difficult, and there are no easy answers, but if we can change the way our economy values unpaid work and the time it takes to do it we will be in a position to address the cultural problems that undermine our health, families, and communities. Which is something a government handout alone can’t do.

This Fall, vote for policies that go beneath the surface of the issues and offer integrated solutions that go beyond handouts. Vote Green!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon