Thursday, April 30, 2009

Speaking Truth to Power: The Need for Adult Conversations with Canadian Voters

(originally posted to Green Party of Canada website on April 30, 2009)

Speaking to the Globe and Mail about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s days as an academic, and with reference to Ignatieff’s recent musings on the possible future need to raise taxes to address the current governmental spending orgy systemic deficits, former Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan provided some very revealing remarks. Not revealing about Ignatieff or even government spending, but revealing about what, in his opinion, it takes to be a winner in politics. Contrasting Michael Ignatieff’s former life as an academic to his current incarnation as Leader of the Official Opposition, Flanagan, tells the Globe, "Then once you get into politics, your task is mostly to conceal the truth. The truth becomes a gaffe." This is a revealing statement because of what it says about truth and politics, and the ways in which our political leaders treat the truth.

And we see that play itself out time and time again with the Conservatives and the Liberals. The truth really does become something to hide, conceal, to keep behind closed doors, not to be uttered to anyone on the telephone or especially where a microphone or tape recorder can pick it up.

Our current politicians operate largely in a strange and surreal shadow world, filled with spin and derision, where the truth is known, but not talked about or discussed. How important issues for Canadians actually get addressed in this climate is in anything but a straight-forward way. Rather than speaking the truth, the object of the game is to whack down those who dare to rise up and confront important issues head on.

Is it any wonder, then, in this climate, that important issues are left largely unaddressed? Take climate change, for example. That’s an easy one. That’s probably why most of us are here, as we’ve recognized that the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are more interested in playing politics than achieving results.

Ignatifeff’s recent musings about a cap and trade system, while supporting the Alberta tar sands, shows that he’s no different from the Conservatives, who have recently been talking up the same thing. What we’ll end up with is an ineffective cap and trade system, riddled with industry exemptions, costing billions in support, raising the prices on consumer goods, but doing little or nothing to address greenhouse gas emissions. But the Libs and Cons would be seen to be doing something for the environment. And in their dark world of spin, to be seen to be doing something is so much better than to actually be doing something. Especially if it can put some more money into the pockets of the Board of Directors of Sun Cor and others of their ilk.

At least the NDP want to close down the tar sands. But even the NDP play the spin game on worthy alternatives not of their party’s devising. Witness Layton’s slamming Dion’s carbon tax proposal in the last election. Layton knows that a carbon tax will reduce greenhouse gases, but instead focussed on how it might impact low-income consumers, ignoring completely the financial off-sets in Dion’s platform to address this very concern.

For the Green Party’s own carbon tax shifting proposal, since there was no gain at all for Layton to even deign to admit that the Green Party exists, he left us largely alone. Don’t be too sure that the NDP spin doctors will implement the same approach during the next election, as NDP support sputters out.

Say what you want about Michael Ignatieff (and I’ve got a lot to say!). The only decent thing he’s done so far was to candidly and responsibly suggest that taxes might have to be raised in the future in order to pay for all of the money currently being thrown about. I mean, come on, of course that’s the reality, the truth. But he was almost strung-up by the other parties and the media for daring to utter what is obvious to us all. But that’s what our current system appears to be all about, as Tom Flanagan well knows.

Well, the Green Party is doing things differently. We dare to tell Canadians the truth, even when the truth is going to be a hard-sell. Some would suggest this has been a contributing factor to our inability to get elected. But the fact is, to address issues of importance, we can only do so with all of our cards on the table. Climate change can’t be successfully fought without an adult conversation about how the fight is going to impact us all, altering our lifestyles and changing our lives. Change is often something to be feared, and that’s why so many are against it. It’s easier for us all to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them.

But change is also progress. A challenge, yes, but an opportunity as well, to do things better, to build something more than we have today, something grander.

The other parties don’t want to have this discussion, because they are complacent with the way things are done now, it’s what they know. I don’t think Ignatieff and Harper and especially Layton would even know how to have an adult conversation amongst just the three of them if the cameras are rolling.

Change, though, is also inevitable. And Canadians are starting to understand this double-edged nature of change a little bit better. If our society doesn’t decide to make the changes we need to make, change in other forms will be thrust upon us. There is growing recognition that the road we’re on right now leads to higher temperatures, more severe weather events, more expensive heating fuels and gasoline, higher food prices, inflation, lower wages, fewer jobs, higher unemployment, more homelessness, more protests and civil unrest, less food available to consume, mass movements of environmental refugees, more armed conflict between nations over dwindling resources such as oil and clean water, more bombing, torture, military occupation, war, disease, devastation, death and destruction, and a loss of all we’ve held dear, fewer chances for our children and grandchildren to live their lives in ways we would wish for them.

There’s a growing understanding that those changes are going to be the ones we face in the future if we don’t start making our own decisions to change now.

And we, as a society, can’t make informed decisions for our world when our so-called political leaders are happy to inhabit their dark nether-world of spin, deception of lies.

For us Greens, and for the benefit of our society, speaking the truth to power, in this case Canadian voters, must always be paramount.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Legalizing Prostitution: A Step in the Wrong Direction

(originally posted at:

I read with interest today a column from yesterday's Toronto Star, in which Star reporter Leslie Scrivener interviews Canadian journalist-turned-author Victor Malarek about his new book, “The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It” ( In the interview, Malarek discusses his concerns regarding legalizing prostitution, and instead makes a case that legal reform is necessary, but only up to a point. He points out that Sweden has decriminalized prostitution for women, but has aggressively been targetting the Johns who use prostitutes.

Malarek's views are insightful, even though they may not be in keeping with what many of us believe about prostitution. His views are that men have always gained the most out of prostitution, calling prostitution “the world's oldest oppression”. He argues that those parts of the world, such as Amsterdam, which legalized prostitution are now kicking themselves, because women are still being controlled by pimps, and drug problems are rampant.

Many in the Green Party might be surprised to discover that the Green Party of Canada now supports the legalization of prostitution, through the adoption of Resolution G08-p014 by internet voting last summer, and recently ratified at the February policy convention. Many who might be concerned about the rights of women might find this resolution interesting, and either a step in the right direction, or the wrong direction. After reading Leslie Scrivener's interview of Victor Malarek, I've no doubt that Malarek's reaction to our new policy would be similar to my own: absolutely appalled.

I have to tell you that I've only recently begun looking into the issue of legalizing prostitution. This all came about when a member of my EDA Executive brought this “green lighted” policy to my attention back in January, and had a conversation explaining to me why this was a very bad direction for the Party to be going in with regards to the rights of women. Legalizing prostitution, he explained, only leads to more situations of abuse, which may seem counter-intuitive. I challenged him and suggested that if prostitution were turned into a legal industry or profession which could be regulated and taxed, wouldn't that be better for everyone?

It might be better for those prostitutes who would qualify for the legal protection of the state, but what legalization will do is create an atmosphere, perhaps even a society of acceptance. My friend pointed to the experience of Amsterdam as an example, much as Victor Malarek has done. There, in part through the sex trade, Amsterdam has become an internatinal sex tourism destination, and prostitution is accepted by all as the “new normal”. And while many sex trade workers might have benefitted from government regulation (such as through health coverage and testing), the experience of many, many more women has been quite different. As demand for sex workers increased, women from elsewhere have been brought in illegally, to service demand. And these women and children continue to be exploited.

My friend also took issue with the second point about taxation. While certainly legalized sex trade workers could assist the national economy through payment of taxes (and receive benefits such as health care, worker's compensation, etc), is this something which the state really wants to get itself involved with? In essence, we would be living off of the avails of prostitution in the much the same way that we currently rely on taxation from tobacco. Why on earth would we want to look for new revenue sources from things like this?

And that's what really got me thinking, and investigating. I understand that there are multiple sides to this issue, and many passionate voices out there who are either completely for or against the legalization of prostitution. Many people believe it will be a benefit to our society to legalize and regulate prostitution. Others, such as my friend, and Victor Malarek, and myself, disagree.
But whatever your views on this issue, you have got to acknowledge that our new policy which supports the legalization of prostitution is going to be extremely problematic for this Party.

Prostitution is simply one of those emotional wedge issues which can turn voters away in droves. For many, there can be no rational argument or debate about this issue: legalization is either right and should have happened a long time ago, or it's wrong and how on earth could I ever support the Green Party if they are going to be the champions for the oppression of women and children?

If we are to grow as a Party, we need to attract voters who are generally more conservative in outlook, because the left is already a very crowded place to be. And not to suggest that all of those on the left are of the same opinion on the issue of legalized prostitution, but certainly those on the right tend to identify themselves more as anti-legalizers. With this notion in mind, we gain nothing from having adopted such a divisive emotional policy.

Further, after our good showing in the last election, there is no way that all of the other parties are going to let us get off scott-free in the next election. Many of our policies, from carbon taxation to proportional representation to income splitting, are going to be offered up by the other parties as reasons to voters to give the Greens a pass in the next election. We're already going to have our hands full offering priority policies to voters and defending from the attacks of other parties. Why on earth, then, have we handed the other parties this emotional-based wedge issue with which to hit us over the head with?

We will turn off voters as a result of this new policy. Already, we are losing members.
I note that in the convention's minutes there was discussion about policy development during those periods between conventions, and that a process might be set up for membership to offer new policies and presumably review existing ones. That process needs to be kick-started before the next general election so that this policy can be revisited by Party membership.

Remember, this policy was adopted through our very cumbersome online voting process; it did not receive the benefit of any personal debate.

I believe it is the wrong policy for our Party at any time, but especially at this time when so many voices, such as Victor Malarek's, are now just starting to be heard about the fiasco which sex trade legalization has caused elsewhere in the world.

And the last thing this Party needs is a liberal candidate (or the media) somewhere out there telling voters that the Greens are going to finance all of those new alternative energy projects by taxing prostitutes.