Carbon Pricing: You’ve Got it Wrong, Mr. Falk

It is with great disappointment that I note that your party has decided to oppose the Liberal Carbon tax by portraying it as a tax grab. The government is saying this tax will be revenue neutral – that is it will not be an increased tax [tax grab] but a tax shift. There is nothing inherently conservative about opposing a tax shift and my hope is that Canadians will see the shallowness of this approach, and reject it even as they rejected your party’s scare mongering about Justin Trudeau’s youth and Islamic immigration in the last election.

Justin Trudeau has said the tax is to revenue neutral. (Note that I am using the word ‘tax’ rather than the term ‘carbon pricing’, because I agree with you: Mr. Trudeau is proposing a tax on carbon.) According to the announcement, the provinces, not the Ottawa government will determine whether the this new tax will in fact be revenue neutral.

We know that BC has had a carbon tax since 2008. This tax has not been a tax grab. It has been revenue neutral. The BC government has reduced corporate and income taxes by an amount equivalent to its carbon tax. BC now has the lowest personal income tax rate in Canada, and one of the lowest corporate rates in North America. Your insistence that this new tax is a tax increase is scare mongering, and is not a service to the Canadian people nor to the conservative cause.

We also now know that the BC tax has affected behaviour (which was its intent). Since the tax came in, fossil fuel use has dropped in BC by 16 percent; in the rest of Canada it has risen by 3 per cent. And this has not been because the BC economy has been sluggish. In fact BC,s GDP has slightly outperformed the rest of Canada since 2008.

It is misleading and a disservice to both the Canadian people and to the conservative cause to assert, as you are, that the carbon tax will take money out of the pockets of Canadian people, thereby killing jobs. Yes, the carbon tax will take money out of the pockets of some Canadians: those Canadians and those Canadian companies using large amounts of fossil fuel, but it will put that same amount of money into the pockets of other Canadians and Canadian companies economizing on fossil fuel. You seem to be suggesting that in order for our country to continue to prosper, we need to continue subsidizing energy guzzlers and penalizing energy economizers. I hope Canadians, including conservative Canadians will see through the shallowness of that argument.

I have referred above to Mr. Trudeau’s carbon plan as a carbon tax. Mr. Trudeau calls it a ‘Price on Carbon’. I think he is also correct Anyone burning fossil fuel, simultaneously does two negative things: he is putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and he is making this valuable fuel unavailable to future generations. But he is not paying for this detrimental activity. Society in general pays and future generations will pay for this. Surely you, as a conservative, agree that this is neither right nor efficient. A price on carbon corrects this injustice, at least up to a point.

I see nothing conservative about the current norm where the primary source of government revenue is a tax on income and a tax on profit. On the other hand, a tax on the consumption of a scarce resource builds on sound conservative values. This is a call for you to return to your conservative roots and embrace a tax shift that would be good for the country now and even better for generations to come.

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The Aftermath

What an experience! The election is over, and I’m filled with pride, gratitude, and hope.

Pride because I’m part of something bigger than myself, something incredible: Canada, and also the Green Party of Canada; and because the people of the Green Party Provencher have bigger hopes and vision than I could have dreamed, and are already pressing me to take things further. I’m so proud of them, and proud to be their candidate.

Gratitude, because there are so many people that contributed to our campaign. Our donors and volunteers, the Executive Committee of the Green Party Provencher Riding Association, the people who came out to our events and shared their ideas with us, the people who left us encouraging emails and Facebook messages (and notified us when our signs disappeared), the other candidates (congratulations Ted, and a huge thank-you to Terry and Les for running a positive and friendly campaign!), the local media (the local papers and radio stations were great at giving us equal coverage – something the national media stopped doing with a month left in the campaign), and of course the voters who had the courage to vote Green even in a heavily Conservative riding with enormous pressure to vote strategically. I applaud those Green voters, who voted for the candidate and party they thought had the best plans and ideas when it seemed that so many others had other motivations for voting, because they understand the principles of our system and stand by them even when they’re unpopular.

And I’m filled with hope because our future looks a little bit brighter today than it did at this time last year, not necessarily because I’m excited about a majority Liberal government (though I think it’s a marked improvement on the one it will replace), but because I’ve seen so many people throughout this campaign thinking deeply and speaking articulately about the nation they live in and the issues we face. I’ve had so many people tell me that they’ve never been so informed, and that they’re hungry for more. You all have more hope than you’ve had in a long while, and that inspires hope in others, including me.

The Results

So what does the future look like for Canada? I’m sure there is no end of articles speculating about what it will be like. I do have a few thoughts on the election results though, and what that will look like both locally and nationally.

Nationally, this looks like a huge change. This is the first time in Canadian history that a third-place party has jumped to first place – and a majority government, at that! This is also the first time in Canadian history that the son of a Prime Minister has become Prime Minister. This change in party fortunes is unprecedented, even in comparison to the Orange Wave that swept Quebec in the 2011 election.

But I say it looks like a huge change because, in some ways, it isn’t. Yes, blue to red is a big change in the votes, but we’re still going from one false majority government to another. We complained for four years that the Harper Conservatives formed a majority government with only 39% of the national vote, but that’s precisely the amount that the Liberals won with last night. And a majority government behaves like…a majority government. While the Harper Conservatives behaved rather poorly much of the time, rushing omnibus bills through without proper debate and ignoring the warnings of experts in committee, and while I sincerely hope (and even believe) that the Liberals will not follow suit, the point is that a majority government doesn’t have the same accountability that a minority government does. I don’t think the Liberals will behave the same way the Conservatives did, but they could – which is why we must be vocal with our MPs, always letting them know that we’re paying attention and that we won’t tolerate bad behaviour and broken promises. Remember, the Liberals voted for C-51 and promised to fix it later, and also promised that this would be the last election with First Past the Post; hold them to it!

If the Liberals follow through on their promise to bring in electoral reform, everything about our political system will change. People will no longer be afraid to vote their heart, or feel pressured to vote “strategically” or vote against someone, and that will change the way that they vote. Greens stand to gain under proportional representation, not only because last night we would have won 10-12 seats instead of 1, but also because more people would feel empowered to vote Green. We know we’re most people’s favourite second choice; without fear of vote splitting, we’ll be a lot more people’s first choice. Parliament will no longer be polarized between two parties, as it traditionally has been, and elections will be less prone to sweeping waves of protest votes. Quality candidates and smart policies will matter more.

The Liberals are also poised to enact some Senate reform, which is hugely important. We need a sober chamber of sober second thought, and one of Trudeau’s best moves as Liberal leader (in my opinion) was to eject all Liberal senators from his caucus; there’s no room for partisanship when it comes to scrutinizing potentially partisan bills.

And finally, the Liberals have a much, much better approach to the environment than the Conservatives do. Elizabeth May will still be an outspoken critic of the government, but you can bet that her comments on environmental issues will be taken more seriously than they have been over the past four years. Stephane Dion is a brilliant environmentalist who will make a fantastic environment minister, and we’ll finally be able to make progress at an international climate change conference when we go to Paris (and it has been suggested that Elizabeth May will lead or co-lead the delegation, in a throwback to when delegations to such events were non-partisan and collaborative).

So all in all, this is very good news tempered by the possibility of seeing little real change. Time will tell, but I’m happy to give the Liberals the benefit of the doubt and say that they will show integrity and accountability in how they govern Canada. And I’m going to keep my eye on them and support my MP in valid critique of them in case they don’t. That’s how democracy works.

Locally, it looks like there was little change at all: Ted Falk received 55% of the vote instead of 58%, and the Green Party candidate received 3.9% instead of 3.6%. The Liberal and NDP vote share stayed more or less the same too, within a few percentage points. It almost makes you wonder why we bothered…except that there was very significant change in a number of ways!

First, the voter turnout jumped dramatically. In 2011, 61% of Provencher electors voted; in the 2013 by-election, only 33% did. This year 69.8% of electors voted. That means that more people are engaged and potentially holding their MP accountable. Politicians need the feedback of their constituents in order to do their job, and knowing that more people are paying attention is an important and powerful motivator. Ted Falk, take notice – because we are.

Second, Ted may have been re-elected, but he is no longer a back-bencher in a majority government, he is now a member in opposition to an even larger majority government. His role may change dramatically, and I think and hope that this means that he’ll be more able to speak on behalf of his constituents and collaborate with other parties and citizens’ groups within the riding. While our chances of getting handouts and goodies from the government has decreased (because governments tend to favour the ridings held by their own MPs), our chances of having a stronger voice in government has increased (because Harper is stepping down as leader and Ted will have to raise his voice more often in order to have much of an effect). I don’t know if Ted sees last night’s results as good news for his party, but it IS good news for Provencher, and particularly for the residents of Provencher who want their voice taken to Ottawa. We can work with Ted in a greater capacity now, and I hope he’ll be happy to have our support.

Third, and most powerfully, we are seeing the start of a Green movement in the riding. This is something you can’t see in the numbers, but if you come out to any of our events you’ll see it in the eyes of our supporters. When I started the Green Party Provencher Riding Association two years ago, just in time for the by-election, it was with the goal of creating an infrastructure to organize the Greens of Provencher and help the movement to grow, and we spent the last two years building that infrastructure. Without it we had no way of knowing who our voters were, why they voted Green, or how we could get them together. While we’re still a long way from the database and structures of the Conservatives, we’re growing in organization and making connections with more Greens all the time. And we’re growing: the small increase in percentage of the vote masks the actual numbers: we’ve jumped from over 1,100 votes to over 1,800 votes, and some of our new supporters are experiencing a personal awakening to politics, and to values that they’ve long held but had never heard a political party articulate. They want to grow in that, and they’re talking to their friends about committing to a movement, rather than just voting in an election. That’s incredibly powerful, and I’m excited to see where it will go!

If you’ve been following my blog, thank you. If you voted for me, thank you! If you’ve seen something here that inspires you to a better vision of Canada, send us an email and we’ll add you to our list. In a week or two we’ll have a meeting to decide how we can best keep this momentum going, to plan events and meetings that continue to inspire us and bring out the best in Provencher!

Thank you.

This has been an amazing experience, and I’m so blessed to get to know so many of you! Thank you for your support: you’ve taught me so much, and I’m honoured to have been your candidate!

Your friend,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

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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

Jeff_Background1

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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

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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

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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

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Agreeing or Being Agreeable? Partisanship vs. Opposition

It’s been a while since I’ve responded to Ted Falk; there hasn’t been much to say about his recent posts, except that they’re more or less exactly what an MP should be writing about. He’s telling us what the government is up to, and how it affects us here in the riding. He’s recognizing volunteers and veterans, announcing new services, and even putting out calls for proposals for new programs and events. Well done, Ted! I love to agree with what Ted is doing, though I often find it difficult to agree with what the Conservative government is doing. If I seem critical here, it’s because I’m supposed to. Allow me to explain.

A coworker recently told me that he really doesn’t like Elizabeth May. I was surprised; she’s always struck me as being the most positive, gracious, cooperative politician around. But my coworker pointed out that she disagrees with whatever the Conservatives say or do, and his perception of her is that she is a negative person who can’t bring herself to agree with anything. Ted Falk, on the other hand, has a very high opinion of Elizabeth May: he knows her both personally and professionally, and both likes her and is impressed by her work ethic and collegiality. But he admitted to me that he thought it would be nice if she agreed with the government more often.

My coworker is reacting to negativity and perceived partisanship in politics, and that’s good – our political system has become far too partisan and combative. Some people react to attack ads, for example, by becoming cynical about the whole political process and refusing to participate. (That’s actually quite deliberate: the Conservative campaign strategy is to alienate and suppress non-Conservative voters, using the same strategy the Republicans used in George W. Bush’s elections). Other people respond to negativity by just wanting everyone to cooperate and get along for a change. That’s more admirable than tuning out and refusing to vote, but it’s not a recipe for good legislation or an accountable government.

Agreeing vs. Being Agreeable

Ted and my coworker would both like Elizabeth May (and undoubtedly the rest of the MPs in the opposition) to agree with government legislation and policies rather than always arguing so passionately against them and pointing out their flaws. If she were to do so, she would be utterly failing in her job as an MP in the opposition. This is because our government is an adversarial system: one party (or a coalition) writes legislation and attempts to pass it, while the other parties, who have less power, pick it apart to ensure that it’s actually good for Canadians. The role of the opposition is to find the problems with a bill (and no bill is perfect) and point them out, and hold the government to account when it begins to overreach. The Senate has the same function. The reason we have this system is because we want to ensure that no individual person, party, region, or class has absolute power to act in their own interests at the expense of all Canadians.

So when Elizabeth May argues passionately against a government bill, she’s doing her job. She’s still friendly with MPs from other parties, and still supports them as people even when she doesn’t like their bills; and she still tries to work together with others whenever possible. She’s agreeable. And when I pick apart Conservative policies and Ted’s columns here, I’m doing mine. I want to represent you in Parliament, but until I’m elected the best I can do is try to keep Ted sharp and on his toes to ensure that he’s doing what’s best for you. This doesn’t mean that I dislike Ted, or that I don’t agree with anything he says on principle. That would be partisanship.

Partisanship is when a representative from one party opposes representatives from other parties simply because of their party affiliation. It’s a refusal to cooperate, putting the interests of the party ahead of the interests of Canadians. The role of disagreement in Parliament is supposed to be a refining process, altering legislation bit by bit before it is passed in order to make it better. Partisanship undermines that role, because it causes MPs to refuse to hear each other’s suggestions and ideas regardless of how good or bad they are. Partisanship takes an oppositional process of refining legislation for the good of all and turns it into a power struggle, or as a “team sport.” The trouble with this view is that politics is not a game: it’s our lives, our society, our ability to create a better world by working together.

Refusal to work together is being downright disagreeable. I would rather work with someone I generally disagree with, than refuse to acknowledge someone I might agree with because of who they are or who they represent. And I have no problem saying that Ted’s political communications lately have been good, even though I think some of the things he’s been communicating aren’t as good (lapel pins and certificates for veterans, after the dog’s breakfast this government has made of actual services for veterans? I don’t know if lip service is better, or worse, than nothing – if you want to help veterans, restore the services that were cut!). If Ted were in a position to actually represent his constituents rather than being a back-bencher in a party that controls his vote, and if he were using his position to argue for long-term sustainable policies and programs that benefit Provencher, then I’d be working with him. There are many places where Ted and I could see eye to eye, and I’d love to hear him say that his party is willing to compromise, to work with others, or even to allow for proper debate and amendments to the legislation they ram through Parliament. We’re willing, but cooperation is a two-way street.

Who’s agreeable?

The Green Party has consistently invited the other parties to work together toward shared goals. In regard to democratic reform, we invited the other parties to work with us toward instituting proportional representation in Canada; they refused, not because they don’t want proportional representation, but because they don’t want to cooperate to get there. There was even a leaked NDP memo telling NDP MPs that they could not even read the letter on this subject that Elizabeth May sent to them. There have been calls to cooperate on many other issues, always with similar results.

We’ll continue to try to work with the other parties to create a better Canada, even if on the surface that looks like we’re opposing them. What we won’t do is refuse to hear an idea because of who’s saying it, or band together as a “team” in order to try and “win.” We’re all Canadians, and we’re all in this together – but agreement has to start with being agreeable.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: Fishing for Hunters and Anglers

In a recent blog post, Provencher MP Ted Falk talks about all of the things that the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus have done to stand up for hunters and anglers. I find it more than a little puzzling. From his blog:

This caucus helps to advance the issues surrounding conservation, habitat and enhancement of fish and game while engaging the millions of Canadians who enjoy the great outdoors.

This is the first ever group of its kind in Ottawa. The caucus meets with interested parties from across the country and the input received is brought back to Ottawa to help influence our policy development. Protecting Canada’s strong hunting and angling heritage is paramount to ensuring that we will continue to protect this Canadian tradition and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

I very much appreciate that there’s a group devoted to preserving and promoting a traditional way of life, and I especially appreciate that this involves “conservation, habitat and enhancement of fish and game.” What I’m puzzled about is how this group can make any claim to protecting habitat when they report to the government that has done more to cut environmental protection than any government in Canadian history, single-handedly destroying protections over two terms that took a century to build up.

The Conservative omnibus budget bill of 2012 amended or repealed 70 other pieces of legislation, many of which were directly related to conservation of habitat. Elizabeth May wrote about it in May 2012, and noted some of the key environmental protections that were gutted by the supposed budget bill. This government has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning our already modest goals for greenhouse gas reductions in favour of embarrassingly lax new goals, which we have since failed to meet. This government cut the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano to save money, which led to an embarrassing slow response to the recent oil spill in English Bay this year. This government continues to promote pipelines to facilitate the expansion of the Alberta oil sands, even though those pipelines would run through important habitat areas carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), which is far more difficult to clean up than conventional oil; the proposed Energy East pipeline would run dilbit through Provencher, so this would directly affect us, including the land that Provencher hunters and anglers use.

I could go on about how the Conservative government has undermined the protection of species and habitat in Canada, but I think the point is clear. So what is the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus actually doing? Ted gives us a list of things that the Conservative government has done to protect hunters and anglers and their way of life, and you can find another list on the Hunting and Angling Caucus’ website. From Ted’s blog:

– Scrapping the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry, a +$1 billion Liberal government boondoggle that criminalized Canada’s hunters and anglers.
– Reversing the decision made by RCMP bureaucrats to phase out their use of muskrat fur hats for an inferior alternative.
– Tabling the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, keeping our promise to make firearms regulations safe and sensible. The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act will reduce red tape while ensuring that Canada’s communities are safe.
– Establishing the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program to support projects aimed at improving the conservation of recreational fisheries habitat. The Program brings partners together and pools their resources to support the common goal of conserving and protecting Canada’s recreational fisheries.

Most of these things have to do with the long gun registry and streamlining the process of getting a gun license. The only thing related to fishing on this list is the last point, which is only even necessary because this government has already decimated the protections that Canada had in place to protect the habitat of fish.

It seems, then, that this caucus is a political tool to promote the issue of gun licensing and fix the problems caused by their previous legislation. Hunters and anglers care about the environment in ways that most people who spend less time in the wilderness cannot understand, so a government that destroys the environment needs to reach out to them in a special way in order to keep their votes, and getting their backs up about gun control is a good way to do it. There are few political issues that are as polarized as gun control: Green MP Bruce Hyer was elected as an NDP MP, but when the NDP required that he vote to keep the long gun registry in spite of the desires of his Thunder Bay constituents, he quit the party and sat as an independent before becoming Green (because the Green Party never tells its MPs to vote against their constituents). The language used in Ted’s blog post and the Hunting and Angling Caucus website is polarizing and misleading (e.g., suggesting that the Long Gun Registry “criminalized Canada’s hunters and anglers”), and designed to shore up support for the party with those groups.

So while I appreciate that the Conservatives have a group specifically for the purpose of protecting habitat and a way of life, I try to always remember that you can know a tree by its fruit. This government talks about protecting habitat, and then systematically undercuts existing programs that were already doing just that.

The Green Party of Canada has a thorough platform, but nowhere is our platform more thorough than in regard to the conservation and sustainable development of our environment. Our policies on fisheries, forests, ecotourism (which would include hunting and fishing), air and water quality, parks, species at risk, toxic chemicals, support for environmental science, waste management, Arctic strategy, Aboriginal policy, and more, are together the best protection for the Canadian way of life enjoyed by hunters and anglers. You can read about them in Vision Green.

The Green Party would also take seriously the responsibility of gun ownership, but work hard to ensure that lawful gun owners are not unnecessarily hassled or penalized. Gun registration, like vehicle registration, exists to help us maintain the security of our own guns, and in so doing protect our neighbours should a gun be lost or stolen; it doesn’t need to be a burden, and it certainly doesn’t need to be unfair, but it can be a great help to law enforcement agencies. From Vision Green’s statement on gun control and ownership rights:

[Green MPs would] work hard to create a registration system that is fair, free, and easy to use. Streamline the gun registry in consultation with First Nations, and with gun sports and hunter organizations. We support the elimination of registration fees for hunting rifles and will ensure law-abiding citizens do not have their firearms confiscated.

If I were your MP, I wouldn’t be a member of the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus (I’m not a Conservative!). Instead, I would continue to work to protect the habitat of animals and fish in consultation with First Nations, hunters, and anglers, and fight for the rights of my constituents without membership in any special group. That’s simply the job of an MP, and I’d love to work for you. What I won’t do is create a special group to pay lip service to a special interest group while at the same time voting for partisan legislation that undermines our environment and the way of life of Canadians who love the outdoors. Ted Falk is a good guy, and wasn’t even around when those bills went through, but sadly those things don’t matter: as a Conservative MP, he has to vote the way his party leader tells him. This year, vote for someone who can actually represent your interests.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: A Budget for Buying Votes

Most of the political talk these days is about the late, 518-page federal budget, so it’s no surprise that Provencher MP Ted Falk used his column this week to extol its virtues. Those virtues are real, but they cover a multitude of failures and omissions. A budget is where a government really shows its priorities, and it’s clear that the Conservative government’s top priority this year is votes.

There’s plenty of analysis on the budget already, so I just want to briefly talk about a few key points.

1. What’s Missing.

Conservative Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that no federal budget has ever done more for the environment than this one. That’s very odd, since the budget doesn’t mention climate change once, and gives only token mentions to carbon emissions and environmental protection. Meanwhile, it has over 100 mentions of oil resources and mining. Keep in mind that this is a budget bill – it’s not talking about regulating resource extraction industries, it’s talking about helping to get Canadian natural resources to outside markets. That means subsidies and spending public money to prop up industries that are already obscenely wealthy and incredibly environmentally destructive. Ted Falk says that over all this budget is very good for Manitobans, citing tax cuts and family programs; he fails to mention that Manitoban tax dollars are being used to subsidize private companies to help them get Albertan resources to China.

There’s also no mention of inequality in the budget, even though we know that inequality hurts the economy. In spite of all of the talk of a balanced budget, the tax cuts and expanded programs favour the rich. That doesn’t sound balanced to me.

I’m not surprised by these omissions, they’re perfectly in line with the Conservative ideology. This government doesn’t believe in climate change, and dismisses the social sciences except for their own brand of neo-liberal economics. This budget just puts our money where their mouth is.

2. Budget Priorities.

Ted Falk offers a list of reasons why he thinks this budget is great for the people of Provencher. It includes benefits for: families, seniors, industry, and the military. The measures he outlines include tax cuts, tax avoidance programs, offering more loans to students, and handouts to parents and industry. The things Ted mentioned are representative of the budget in general, which panders to specific groups to fulfill promises made in the last election. Yes, that’s right – the Harper Government waited until an election year to fulfill their promises from the last election, and now they’re bragging about it. The long-awaited promises play to their support base, with programs aimed at families and seniors (who have high voter turnout) and very little aimed at youth (who have low voter turnout).

But the biggest “fulfillment” in this budget, they say, is that it’s balanced. Sadly, this isn’t true.

3. Bogusly-balanced Budget.

A pet peeve of mine is that the government uses its own websites for PR purposes, and the budget website is no different even though it doesn’t use the phrase “Conservative Government”. Here’s an example from the top of the page:

The Government is fulfilling its promise to balance the budget in 2015, pursuant to its long-standing commitment to responsible fiscal management. Economic Action Plan 2015 will see the budget balanced and Canadians can rest assured that Canada’s fiscal house is in order.

This government inherited a surplus, and turned it into a massive deficit before the 2008 global financial crisis. Since then they’ve run our national debt to record highs, but continue to claim that our “fiscal house is in order” because they finally managed a balanced budget. The reality is, this budget is not balanced.

There’s technically a $1.4 billion dollar surplus on this budget, but that’s only after you include the proceeds from the sale of General Motors stock, the Canadian Wheat Board (which was sold to a Saudi Arabian company), and other assets, as well as reducing our national emergency fund from $3 billion to $1 billion. Selling off assets makes us poorer in the long-term.

Time for an alternative.

The Conservatives have been claiming for years that they’re the best with our money, and we’ve bought that line too many times. The type of economics they use is the same type that led to the 2008 global financial crisis: it drives inequality and short-term thinking by emphasizing quarterly profits, and undermines the long-term health and economy of Canada by pushing raw resources to foreign markets. This type of economics is relatively recent, and only popular in Canada and the US, but it has a huge impact on the global marketplace. There are other types of economic thinking that emphasize full employment, sustainable development, and long-term strategic planning instead of quarterly profits.

The Green Party of Canada began as The Small Party, a party that started based on economic principles that lead to us having enough, forever. That emphasis on sound economics hasn’t changed. When I asked Green Party leader Elizabeth May what I should be reading this year, she said without hesitation, “economics.” We take this very seriously, which is why we’re always the first to get our policies vetted by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. You can see the Green plan for the economy in the first  section of Vision Green, and I’d love to hear from you about how the Green Party and I can serve you better.

So Provencher, don’t buy the line that the Conservatives are best with your money. And don’t get sucked in by their hand-outs and their bogus “balanced” budget this year. We can do better.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Abortion, and the Limits of Law

Something that I struggle with as a Christian politician (particularly one whose primary study is in Ethics) is the question of how much morality should influence law. I know I’m not alone in this; I think we all have ideas about this, even if we haven’t spoken those thoughts out loud. I also know that there are many people who speak their thoughts on this subject, often quite loudly, and quite often around the subject of abortion. Abortion is a touchy political subject, but I want to talk about it not only because it’s the perfect example for a discussion about morality and law, but also because I regret that it happens and want to move the all-too-polarized national conversation about abortion forward. So I’ll begin by talking a bit about abortion and how Canadians tend to talk about it, and then I’ll talk about morality and law in relation to it.

The Politics of Abortion

Probably my first ever political action was when I was about seven years old. My mom took my brother and I with her to stand across the street from the hospital and hold signs with anti-abortion (or pro-life, if you prefer) slogans on them. I must admit that at the time I had no idea what was going on, and spent my time that day counting cars as they drove up the hill. Even so, I was raised with a strong notion of the sacredness of life, and particularly human life. In the debate section of my grade 12 English class I was selected to present the pro-choice side of the argument, but my research convinced me more than ever that abortion was wrong: it kills babies, but it also hurts women (sometimes physically, often psychologically), and it has a social impact on our collective ideas about the sacredness of life. Since grade 12 I’ve learned that the realities involved are much more complicated than the arguments made in both my grade 12 debate and in the national debate, but I still can’t think about abortion without sadness, regret, and even a little mix of anger and sickness. When I decided to join the Green Party, I had to reconcile my views with the Green Party policy (which I’ll talk about below).

The national debate between pro-life and pro-choice is nasty, to say the least. There are no other issues that divide Canadians like this one. People on both sides of the argument are often quick to demonize each other and misrepresent each other’s position. Even the names of the “sides” are highly politicized: “pro-choice” very carefully does not say “pro-abortion”, because even the strongest pro-choice activist would never say that an abortion is a positive thing in itself; yet this doesn’t stop many people from depicting their view as being pro-abortion, and some pro-choice rhetoric comes very close to suggesting that an abortion is in fact a good thing. On the other hand, “pro-life” makes a strong political statement: positively, it implies a strong commitment to the sacredness of human life and is often used outside of the abortion debate, such as in the debate about assisted suicide; and negatively, it implies that those who oppose this view are anti-life. The polarized nature of the whole debate allows both sides to define themselves in such a way as to imply that the other side of the debate is the direct opposite, even if that’s a false choice (after all, surely it’s possible to recognize abortion as an occasionally necessary evil – a third option that neither side seems eager to embrace). This argument has been deadlocked for decades, and I don’t see much hope of moving forward unless we can find some common ground.

Politically speaking, the polarization on this issue seems to follow the political spectrum. The NDP and Liberals have long favoured guaranteed access to a safe abortion as a basic element of women’s rights (with Justin Trudeau requiring Liberal MPs to vote pro-choice if the issue ever comes up), while the Conservatives (and the right-wing parties that came before them) have typically referred to it as a form of murder. Even so, there have been plenty of right-wing majority governments since Canada’s abortion laws were struck down, yet those governments refused to touch the issue with a ten foot pole. I’ve had people argue passionately to me that it is our Christian duty to vote Conservative because they are the only party that will outlaw abortion; I’ve had to explain to them that Harper has gone on record as saying that he will not reopen the issue, and that he even voted against a motion about the definition of human life brought up by a Conservative backbencher. Even so, the fact that someone would argue to me that voting for a particular party is a Christian duty because of a particular issue raises the question of morality in law.

Legislating Morality

Is it possible to “legislate morality”? Can we make laws that require people to be loving, or peaceful, or healthy? Surely we want to, because we all recognize that those things are all good for us, both individually and as a society. If my neighbour is loving, they will not only be happier but they will also treat me better. If we could just have a law of love, we’d all be better off, even if we don’t hold it as a moral value.

Unfortunately, laws can’t directly change our inner nature. Jesus speaks to this in the New Testament. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus lists a number of Old Testament laws and then tells his disciples that they have to go beyond them. To paraphrase him, he said “you have heard it said ‘do not murder’, but I tell you that whoever is angry with his brother or sister will face judgment.” Jesus knew that internal moral changes were far better than the law, and he pushed his disciples to go further and make those internal changes, and in so doing they would actually fulfill the law. He also dealt regularly with a religious group called the Pharisees, who were experts at fulfilling the letter of the law. He constantly called them out on the fact that, even though they fulfilled the letter of the law, they completely neglected its spirit. He called them “white-washed tombs” because they were clean and perfect on the outside, but inside they were full of death and decay. So following the law doesn’t lead to internal change, but internal change leads to following the law (and doing even better!).

We need to be able to honestly compare what we want a law to do and what it can actually do. Morality should absolutely be the basis on which we write laws. Laws should be just, and promote goodness in our society. We should never pass laws that promote evil, period. Some laws are there to promote efficiency or create procedures for things, so they don’t have much moral value, but for the most part our laws are written as a way of living out our morals and values. We don’t have a law against murder because murder is a drain on the economy, we have a law against murder because we believe that it is inherently wrong. If we trace our moral reasoning back even further, we believe that murder is wrong because we believe that life is sacred and murder is the opposite of the love that binds us together as a community and society. If we could pass a law that required us all to love each other, we wouldn’t need laws about murder; sadly, no law can make us love.

What’s the purpose of a law against murder, then? Murder is a symptom of a moral problem, and we can limit the number of murders by a) providing a deterrent (because people don’t want to be punished for murder, so their own self-interest will prevent them from murdering someone), and b) removing murderers or attempted murderers from society to keep society safe from them. A law against murder can’t make us love each other, but it can (at least to some extent) stop us from killing each other. It doesn’t actually satisfy our moral goal, but it limits the extent of our moral decay. In that sense it is a moral law, but it is imperfect and very limited, dealing with the concrete realities rather than the moral ideals.

The Limits of Law

A law is a blunt instrument. Early laws were a simple “thou shalt not”, a universal principle that often lacked any nuance. As we become more aware of how complicated society, human beings, and ethics can be, our laws get longer and more specific, full of caveats and limitations and exclusions in an attempt to try to shave off the rough edges of the law. After all, a law that applies equally to everyone without taking into account a unique situation (and almost every situation is unique) can often be unjust. For a literary example: Jean Valjean (in Les Miserables) stole a loaf of bread, and went to prison for violating the law. When we learn that he stole a single loaf of bread to attempt to feed his family as they were starving to death, we recognize that his prison sentence was incredibly unjust, even if we agree with the idea that stealing is wrong. Most of us would be willing to let him off because of his circumstances, but unless it’s worded very carefully and is full of limitations, a law can’t make that distinction.

One of the ways that we limit a law so that it is just is by targeting laws at specific situations or groups. We recognize, for example, that theft in itself is wrong, but that theft as one part of a ring of organized crime is of a different nature. Another way of saying this is that we take motive into account. We also target laws to protect certain people: it is illegal to sell certain drugs anywhere, but penalties are harsher for people who sell drugs close to schools, because we want to protect our children from drug addiction. Making our laws more specific like this means that our laws are longer and more numerous as we constantly write new laws to further clarify the way laws apply to different situations.

Another way that we ensure that a law is just is through our judicial system: the application of our laws is decided by judges, who are able to take subjective things like motives and background and other issues into account when enforcing the law. A good judge would have recognized that Jean Valjean was not a hardened criminal, and would have given him a much lighter sentence because of the cause of his theft. Unfortunately, the Harper Conservatives have used their “tough on crime” approach to strip judges of their ability to take these things into account, writing laws that require mandatory minimum sentences. This means that even if a judge recognizes that there may have even been a good reason behind someone breaking a particular law, they are unable to adjust their sentencing to reflect that situation. Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Canada has recently overturned a mandatory minimum sentence because it is unconstitutional, and a form of “cruel and unusual punishment.” I expect that with language like that, this will be just the first of many mandatory minimums that gets overturned.

So for a law to be just it must not only have a good moral foundation, but it must also be fitting to a situation and not have unintended negative applications and consequences. In other words, laws should not do harm as well as good.

Applying this to Abortion

I had coffee with Ted Falk a little while back, and we talked very briefly about abortion. Ted is on record as being pro-life, and hopes that if his party wins another majority government they will finally address the issue. I asked whether he thought that criminalizing abortion, so that women who seek abortions or doctors who perform them would be thrown in prison, would actually stop abortions from happening. His answer was “it would stop some of them.” I read his sincerity in his eyes, and was touched by it – it was a point of connection for us, even though I disagree with him.

He’s right, a law criminalizing abortions would stop some, or even most, abortions – just as our law against murder presumably stops many murders, though obviously not all. But abortion is much more complicated than murder, and a law against abortion would have unintended consequences.

While murderers have many reasons for their murders, when they have a relatively good reason we recognize it as something else – manslaughter, which is a much less serious crime. Murder requires evil intent, while manslaughter is causing the death of another person without evil intent. In cases of self-defence, we usually call it “involuntary manslaughter”, which is even less serious of a crime. I would argue that calling abortion “murder” is wrong – I have a very hard time believing that anyone gets an abortion with evil intent. Most abortions, so far as I can tell (from research, of which there is plenty), result from social issues such as poverty, patriarchy, shame and exclusion, and other issues that make women feel incapable of raising a child. These cases would be analogous to manslaughter at most, and probably involuntary manslaughter for many of them. As a new parent, I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by my role as a father, and my son was planned and born into a stable family with stable employment and great community support; I can’t imagine the pressure and strain faced by a single mother living in poverty without a stable community, or a teenage girl who fears her family’s reaction to her pregnancy and feels that her entire future has changed in a drastically negative way because of one mistake. While many abortions also occur as a form of birth control, these would probably be more analogous to criminal negligence causing death; but once again there is no evil intent there beyond basic selfishness.

In all of these cases, a law can never be specific enough to take everyone’s unique situation into account. But even if judges are allowed to do so in their sentencing, laws against abortion would have significant unintended consequences. One unintended consequence of abortion laws is that women, even in Canada, do not always have control over their own reproduction. Rape is far too common in Canada, and the trauma of carrying the child of your rapist can be significant. Our laws generally prioritize the life of the mother over the life of the unborn child in a no-win situation like that. The physical and mental damage rape can do to a woman is often significant, and it’s unclear whether physical and mental trauma are a sufficient risk to a woman to justify terminating a pregnancy (again, it would vary from case to case). Control over our own bodies is fundamental to human rights, and the rights of women to control their own bodies are often suppressed in most cultures even today, so we should be very careful when we attempt to make laws that might undermine a woman’s right to control her own body and reproduction.

Another unintended consequence of potential anti-abortion laws is that such laws wouldn’t stop abortions entirely. Making something illegal doesn’t stop the demand for it, any more than making murder illegal prevents anger or hate. As we’ve seen with drugs, demand for an illegal substance creates a black market. Black markets are unregulated and dangerous places, and we must always rate the risk of creating a black market when we write laws. “Back-alley abortions” are incredibly dangerous, and one of the reasons that Canada’s abortion laws were struck down was because they were not effective enough to eliminate abortion altogether, and too many women were having dangerous abortion procedures done in unclean and unsafe conditions. Abortion laws were undermining the safety of the women who were violating them. And why would a woman violate a clear law, at great risk to her own safety, unless she had a significant reason to do so?

So Ted Falk rightly says that a law against abortion would stop a lot of abortions. He’s right and I appreciate his motives, but at the same time a law against abortion would also lock up a lot of people who are already the victims of abuse, poverty, and other social issues.

The Green Party’s Stance on Abortion

Like Ted Falk, I want to stop as many abortions as I can. But unlike Ted, I don’t think that a law will do the trick. I think that we need to get to the root of the problem and deal with the issues that make women think that undergoing a potentially dangerous procedure to end the life of an unborn baby actually sounds like the best idea. Reading the Green statement helped me come to this conclusion. From Vision Green, page 108:

Green Party MPs will:

  1. Oppose any possible government move to diminish the right of a woman to a safe, legal abortion. We fully support a woman’s right to choose. We will also expand programs in reproductive rights and education to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and expand supports for low-income mothers;

It struck me when I first read this that I wasn’t comfortable with the first two sentences. My feelings about abortion are still strong: it’s an awful thing that comes out of awful situations. But it also struck me that, in all of my years of following the abortion debate, I hadn’t seen anything like that third sentence very often. The Green approach is to try to minimize abortions without the unintended consequences caused by outlawing abortions. Pro-choice advocates argue that abortions should be available as a way of supporting women’s rights and keeping them safe; Pro-life advocates argue that abortions shouldn’t be available because they violate the rights and life of the unborn child, and that life is sacred. This policy presents a third way, working to uphold the sanctity of life without undermining the rights and safety of women. It is my hope that this third way will provide a way forward for our entire society, so that we can stop arguing about the definition of life and start finding better ways to protect it and help it to flourish.

Conclusion: Just Laws

To wrap up a very long post, I’ll quickly recap:

1. Just laws will have a strong moral foundation, and exist to promote goodness and restrain evil;

2. Laws aren’t capable of enforcing requirements of goodness, and are imperfect at restraining evil; and

3. Just laws won’t do harm for the sake of doing good, and must minimize unintended consequences.

I hate abortion, but I also hate that many women are in such terrible situations that the availability of abortions is a positive thing for them. I want to save as many people as possible – born and unborn – and this moral stance drives me to want to do something about abortion, but I don’t want to do harm for the sake of doing good. This serves as a good case study to describe the limitations of laws, and it also shows the strength of the Green position on abortion. My hope is that we can all agree that saving lives and preventing harm are our common concerns, and work together to address the root causes of abortions so that we can save as many people as possible.

I know that this is an issue that many people in Provencher care deeply about. Please contact me to let me know your thoughts on it, or ask for clarification on mine. I’d be happy to connect with you and keep the conversation going, because this is a conversation that isn’t going away – and shouldn’t go away. The health of women and children are too important to ignore because of political awkwardness.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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