06w01:3 Political Vision

by timothy. 0 Comments

Good Reads Mailing List | 2006 week 1 number 3 (political vision)

The Current had a discussion this morning on political vision, and why there doesn’t seem to be any during this election campaign, or for that matter, ever. Which just reminds me that the current crop of politicians in Ottawa are old men without ideas. The Current played clips of what are usually considered political visionaries – Martin Luther King, Trudeau, Kennedy, who are all comfortably dead with faults forgotten. Nevertheless they are voices from the 1960s, an over-idealized time to ‘the grown ups’ of my generation, and a time that means little to someone like me who came into the world in the midst of disco. Means little, except for seeming like a dream time when politicians had the balls to do stuff, like send men to the moon, and not whine about how much it’d cost. The only thing for which money seems to not be an obstacle nowadays is for pissing on our rights. But I digress.
Let’s consider what our options are:

The Liberals: they could have given us a guaranteed income thirty years ago but that didn’t happen. They’ve been promising to decriminalize marijuana for that long as well, but again, pigs will fly first. They’ve been letting Sea King helicopters fall out of the sky since 1993, buying second-rate submarines that catch fire, and talking about a National Child Care program for just as long. They don’t do shit but preen and stammer before the cameras and try to hold on to power. My time as a Board member here and there has given me insight both on how inaction happens, and how easy it can be to be overwhelmed by plans and papers and etcs. Anyway, the Liberals could use a dose of decisiveness. (Of course, if they were decisive, some people would protest).

The Conservatives: the wolf has bought a suit of sheep’s clothing at Moores. Suddenly they’re ahead in the polls and it doesn’t seem that scary. Maybe because the Liberals come across as so pathetic and tired. Maybe as well I’m dazzled by the fact that a political leader is actually laying out an agenda.

The NDP: what the hell is wrong with this country that Layton and the NDP don’t have a huge lead? The only party that makes any sense on anything, the only party made up of people who come across as human beings and not imagination-less managers (Liberals) and simply cold-hearted, mean and stupid (Conservatives), you’d think the NDP could win an election or two. But instead they’re stuck at 15%, which is to say only 15% of the electorate are worth having a beer with. Geesh.

Green Party: What a joke. They can’t even get on the news.

Of course, to be fair to both the Greens and the NDP, the news, (that is ‘the media’) displays clear bias in framing the choice as that between the Conservatives and the Liberals. The NDP are always talked about as if they were the underdog, and the media refuses to take them seriously. They look at the poll numbers as if their 15% wasn’t in fact, their creation, which it is. That fifteen percent (I’m sure it’s fair to say) reflect the citizens of this country who read and who may or may not have a television set, and thus are informed by a plurality of sources and are comfortable thinking about things themselves, rather than be spoon-fed ideas by punditry.

As for the Greens, they can’t even get included on the televised debates … why? Is it the politicians or the TV producers that think we’re too stupid to follow that many talking heads?

They debates themselves are anything but a debate. Speechifying and posturing and practiced mannerisms and phony, cued-up smiles. A debate is what we see the talk shows for christ’s sakes, and if that gets the ratings and get’s the livingroom agitated, why the hell can’t the politicians do that? Why can’t Paul Martin go all Dr. Phil on Stephen Harper and vice-versa?

Perhaps something like this:

Martin: Now listen Stephen, I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. I think you’re wrong about a lot of issues. I think, for example, you still harping on about gay-marriage and your infatuation for tax cuts isn’t good for the country. In a world of hate, why should we persecute and pick on people who simply want to love one another? And taxes are just an indirect way of paying for things that would cost you much more if that service was in the hands of a corporation.

Harper: I respect that point of view, but I disagree, and in the case of gay-marriage, I’ll have to respectfully disagree. But he’s thinking about respecting his poor old grandma and infatuated with the old white-picket fence vision of the world, because he thinks Adam and Steve isn’t the way the story should be told. My view is that people work hard for their money and such a large percentage of it shouldn’t be taxed away just so that you can redistrubute it in what was clearly an entranched crony system. The episode with Mr. Goodale is simply the latest example. There has to be a better way of running the country than you have for the past 12 years.

Layton: [interjecting] Can I say something ….

Moderator: No, it’s not your turn yet. And thus earning extra pay for pissing on the NDP. Mr. Duceppe, do you have anything to add?

Duceppe: No, it’s become rather clear that Canada doesn’t work, and so our aim of a sovereignty seems to make sense doesn’t it?

Given that the Conservatives are the ‘official opposition’ (that is, they came in a clear 2nd in the last election) CBC and the like think that means they are the clear second choice. And yet, we re-elected Liberals time and time again because we all hated Mulroney so much. The ’93 election decimated the Conservatives, and they lingered on with reduced numbers while the angry Westerners kept sending the Reform party to Ottawa, and for a time, the Bloc Quebecois was the ‘official opposition’. So after the Reform renamed itself to the Aliance and incorporated the old Progressive Conservatives into its ranks, (thereby making the voter who wanted Senate reform and less Quebec-centrism politics a conservative) suddenly they win enough seats to come in second.

And they booed Belinda Stronach when she spoke up at their convention last spring in support of gay marriage. The woman who, it was said, orchestrated to the merger of the parties, and then ran for its leadership. And then she dumped her boyfriend Mr. McKay to go become a Minister of something or other (what again?) by switching sides.

Oy vey.

So the story of Canadian politics over the past decade and half is more of a soap opera than of any social progress and implementation of policy that makes all of our lives better, the type of thing they were fond of doing in the 19th Century, when they thought a railway across the continent was a good idea, as were public schools. It was a trend you know, once, to care about the citizens and to build a future, and so, we got ourselves Medicare, which is now talked about as being ‘the soul of the country’ (John Doyle wrote that in the Globe last month, critiquing the documentary which in turn was critiquing ‘the funding mechanism’).

Merry Old England was derided by Napoleon as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’. Perhaps our partial English heritage is one of the reasons we get so attached to economic structures like funding mechanisms for doctors and hospitals, and department stores like Eatons and a corporation called the NHL. But ok, in that vein, let’s propose some 21st Century visions:

renticare: we figured out a way to keep people from paying medical bills when they get shot in Toronto, except now days they have to pay for the ambulance and all this other shit that should be free as well. But whatever … it seems to me that they’d be able to pay for the other things if they weren’t wasting money paying rent. Where does rent go? On the landlords’ mortgage or in their pocket … is that not true? It seems to me it’s a lateral transaction that simply enriches a few and improvishes many, kind of like what paying for an operation is like in the US. Them doctors, so rich, so expensive, that the poor just don’t go. Renticare baby – that’s the future. Homelessness would vanish, that seems pretty clear. No more sad stories and excuses and appeals from charities. It’s not like Ottawa can’t afford it, with its record surpluses for years now.

Instead we get Harper saying he’d give $100 buck a month to new families, and Paul Martin saying they’d pay for half the tuition for post-secondary students in their first and last years. Tuition, of course, being the cheapest part of the package, the living expense part being the real killer. (Everybody knows that the student loan program is simply a disguised subsidy to the beer companies). Which brings me to my second vision for the future of Canada:

wipe out student debt: why the hell should I have to pay back all this money, spent supporting the Halifax economy, and enriching a rich landlord? I look back now and say, I helped keep Shoppers Drug Mart, various bars, fast food restaurants and coffee shops going, and in turn, employing that many people. Then there was the tuition, which was a small percentage of the total debt. On top of this, I’m supposed to pay back interest, because I need to be taught a lesson of fiscal responsibility and be ushered into the wonderful modern world of usery. How else is our economy supposed to grow? How else are we going to make money, the governments ask, forgetting about their taxes, which are supposed to pay for social services, like child care programs, or the bureaucratic management of the government’s own grow-ops, producing weak marijuana for those to whom it’s medically sanctioned. Because of course, it’s devastating for society and our ethics that anyone get high in Canada, especially if they have cancer.

Student debt is a severe problem for our society, and yet no politician is talking about it (well, Layton’s said some things, but I’m forgetting he doesn’t count). Why not pay people to go to school instead?

classify students as workers: As Warren Wagar wrote, when he introduced this idea in his 1999 book, A Short History of the Future,‘all adult students were workers, whether their studies were undertaken to satisfy a market demand or not. Work had come to include the enlargement of the self, on the premise that every increase in personal capacity achieved without exploitation of the labor of others represented a net gain for the whole society of associated selves.’

By classifying students as workers, they’d be eligible to receive a wage. Imagine going to school as a job, graduating with a healthy bank account and not burdened by debt. Student Loan programs should be replaced with Student Subsidy ones. I can’t imagine any harm being done to our society by having an educated populace.

Rather, it seems to me that the whole point of the system (the job, the house, the lifestyle idea) is to help us be fully human, to enable us to enjoy our lives. And that simply can’t be done within the status quo. Without getting into the usual capitalist critique, the status quo is set up to divide us into demographic markets and sell us the idea of happiness, while keeping us bat-shit miserable so that the next commercial and Caribbean vacation will seem appealing.

Currently, we’re dealing with a system (inherited from a less kind world), that sets up the winner-loser dynamic throughout our lives. In Bowling for Columbine, the fellow who makes South Park explained the Columbine Massacre as being a result of that dynamic. The current media sensation of gun-violence in Toronto is also a result of that dynamic. We all deserve better. There’s no reason to think some people are just born stupid and are hopeless. If we’re going to have a percentage of the population who will always be useless, they might as well spend their time in university libraries to make the money for their pot purchase, which should have been made legal thirty years ago.

Which brings me to the last vision, and the links:

the most educated citizens in the world: As Michael Ignatieff said last spring, ‘let’s get the federal governments, the provincial governments, the municipal governments working together to make Canadians the best educated, most literate, numerate, and skilled people on the face of the earth’. This plays into the article by Timothy Brown, which I’ve linked to before, and one of the oddest sources of anything visionary. Outlining the world of a role-playing game called 2300 AD, he wrote of Canada:

‘A national effort began in the 22nd century to make Canada the higher education center of the world. A tremendous effort was put into motion at that time to attract great thinkers to Canada to teach, to build facilities which would draw students from around the world, and to build a worldwide reputation for superb education and positive results. Canada correctly recognized the economic potential in being a leader in education. Other nations eventually began sending students, as a matter of national policy, to Canada, not wanting to be left behind in the thinking of the age. By the end of the century Canada had achieved its goal and remains the uncontested master of higher education on Earth.’

As an artist, this got me to thinking about what kind of culture such students would find, and helped me consider the cultural legacy we (and I as a cultural worker) were building. For Ignatieff to be articulating this makes it seem possible, but then again, his chances of actually getting elected seem slim (which is merely another example of Liberal incompetence).

However, the century is still young, and the ‘leadership’ isn’t getting any younger, so there’s still time to make such ideas a reality. Unfortunately, they are not a choices to consider on January 23rd.


We don’t have a vision? | The Current
“Above the western entrance to the Peace Tower on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, this proverb is inscribed: ‘Where there is no vision, the people shall perish.’ And over the next hour on The Current we put that maxim to the test. This year’s election campaign trail has been littered with promises of tax cuts, improved child care and tackling government corruption. But we discussed whether policy announcements can add up to a grand vision for Canada, or if we are, indeed, doomed to perish. And we started with a look back at some politicians upon whom historians have bestowed the honour of ‘visionary’.”with links to real audio files

Speech to the Liberal Convention | Michael Ignatieff
My stats went up in November because people were Googling this

Canada in the 24th Century | Timothy B. Brown
There is a future beyond our deaths, but what are we doing to shape it?

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 05 January 2006 @ 11:26 AM

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