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.

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