The Parallel Parliament

Glen Pearson

The Secret Nook – Chapter 1 (The Dream)

Posted on September 22, 2018

Her eyes opened with a start.  The ceiling above her bed seemed to move back and forth like some kind of reflection on the water.  She drew a strange comfort from the familiarity of it and watched for a moment as the lights from the cars on the street below meandered in their usual fashion across the plaster above her.

Meadow was surprised to feel her heart beating heavily in her chest – so loud that she swore she could hear its pounding rhythm in her ears.  She felt a slight perspiration on her upper lip and realized she must have been having a bad dream.

And then the memory of it returned.  The tanned hand, crossed with deep and abiding veins, covered with sun-bleached hair that extended all the way up the arm until coming to an abrupt halt at the hem of a rolled-up long sleeve denim shirt.  The hand held a strange enchantment of looking strong and refined at the same time.  Her heart began pounding again as she realized that it was her father’s hand, as she remembered it from all those years ago.

But it was what the hand was doing that had jolted her awake, she realized.  It was twisting, contorting, as if it was attempting to work something loose.  And then a piece of wood suddenly gave way, permitting the hand to lift it out of place and put it gently on the floor.

“This is from me to you honey.  It’s our secret, okay?  Make me a promise that you’ll come back for it when you’re done high school.”

She recognized it instantly as her Dad’s voice – warm, sincere and with an appealing lilt enveloped beautifully within it that she so fondly recalled.  She heard herself promise to return, as he took a piece of paper from his pocket, placed it in her hand, and then assisted her in putting it in the empty space he had just opened up.  Then, together, they placed the piece of wood they had loosened back in its place so no one would ever know it had been disturbed.  She realized now that she had never read what was on the paper.

And Meadow remembered one more thing – his voice quietly saying, “Someday, when you come back for this, you will understand just how much Mom and I love you.  I can’t wait.”

But it was never to be. Meadow felt her eyes fill with tears at the sounds and sights of “the moment” – that instant when the scraping of steel against steel, the screams, the flashing lights, and then the ominous silence that became the quiet dirge that led to the rest of her life.

How many times had she woken to the terrible memory?  It had to be in the hundreds.  She dreaded it because of that one image that always lingered when she woke from the horror. It was of her Dad’s head, twisted at an odd angle and resting against the dashboard, and that same hand laying almost beautifully across the top of the steering wheel, as if caressing it.

Meadow shook her head to dispel the memory and wiped the tears from her eyes.  She felt encumbered by some kind of heavy weight as she rose and moved quietly in the dark to the kitchen.  It was at moments like these that she wished for some white wine – craved it, really – but fulfilled once again her promise to her mother that she would only partake out of happiness, not sadness, disappointment or depression. She had kept that promise for the past ten years since her Mom passed – the victim of the dementia that ultimately separated mother and daughter forever.

She made some green tea instead and wondered what it was about the dream tonight that felt so different. Meadow always woke at the same instant in time, with the car crash that killed her father.  But that didn’t happen tonight.  Instead, something else had shocked her to consciousness.  What was it?  They weren’t even in the car.  What?  What?

And then it came to her – the hand, her father’s seasoned hand.  The reason for the sudden awakening was that the memory of that hand putting the piece of paper into the secret receptacle was something she hadn’t thought of for years – since the crash itself, really.  Somehow, she had shut out such fond memories of her parents. The crash had been too horrific, violent – final – that it had remained in her memory bank without disturbing her life even more than it presently was.

The steaming kettle whistled its usual tune and she placed some loose tea leaves in their container and dropped it into the scalding water.  She waited patiently at the small worn wooden table for the tea to steep, her mind racing over what had just happened.  She was surprised to feel a certain sense of hope in the dream from which she had just escaped.  It drew her deeper into the memory.

It wasn’t so much the hand but what had been in it.  In her young active life, she had been too busy, overly distracted, to have retained the thought.  And then the event that had so thoroughly changed her life had effectively buried it somewhere deep within her.

Until tonight, when it had returned as if pointing to something she needed to do.  At least, that’s the way it felt in this moment. And she also had no idea what it was she was to pursue.  But something was tugging at her instead of driving her.  She sensed almost immediately that it was a force which should be respected, perhaps revered.

Meadow found herself wanting to know, needing to understand, what was on that piece of neatly folded paper that she had forgotten about for years, until tonight.

But where had the moment happened?  She at least remembered that it had occurred in her first year of high school and that it had filled her with a sense of love and mystery.  The more Meadow thought about it the more she wanted to linger in that moment.  A growing crescendo of expectation was drawing her out of her weariness.

What was on the paper? Where was that place where it was hidden?

Sometimes Leaders Have to Follow

Posted on September 21, 2018

It’s never an easy or simple thing for a politician to cut across the grain of public opinion for the sake of building an even stronger community. And yet that’s what San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Ron Nirenberg did, in a decision that garnered international attention.

When the great behemoth that is Amazon announced it was searching for a second headquarters location, it started a bidding frenzy that saw more than 500 cities bend themselves out of shape in their bid for the prize. San Antonio appeared to be one of the favourites, since it was situated in Silicon Valley and had enjoyed a successful business partnership with Amazon for more than a decade.

Nirenberg, who knows Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos personally, rocked the world by jointly penning an open letter with neighbouring Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to Bezos that — and I paraphrase — San Antonio would not bid because its citizens were better than that. Their language was as diplomatic as it was forceful. They opened by praising Amazon for its success and the productive partnership it had shared with the city.

Then came the tough love: “Sure, we have a competitive toolkit of incentives, but blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style.”

They asked whether the partnership would “create good jobs,” and “offer good benefits for employees.” Could it guarantee “opportunities for small businesses?”

Wolff and Nirenberg reminded Nirenberg’s billionaire friend that San Antonio isn’t just thinking about the future, it is already building it. It already had undertaken improvements in education and affordable housing, developing some of the best biking and hiking trails in the nation, and investments in public transportation.

The mayor and judge claimed the city “takes a long-term view to find the path forward.”

Their closing statement was perfect. After reminding Amazon that San Antonio citizens deserved the best in wages and benefits, they informed the company that, if it would but show such respect to its workers, San Antonio would “love to have you.” They had turned Amazon’s search on its head: the city had weighed the company and turned down its offer.

It wasn’t an easy decision and there was opposition. Yet Nirenberg had pulled together citizen action groups, industry, civil society leaders and small business entrepreneurs, and achieved a consensus. Strengthened by that collaboration, the city turned down what is perhaps the largest company in the world.

In a successive round of interviews following the decision, Nirenberg stressed his city had some of the best citizens, institutions and businesses in the world and he wouldn’t cheapen them by rushing to the bottom just to secure low-paying jobs and grinding poverty.

While hundreds of other cities promised the moon to Amazon (New York City turned the Empire State Building Amazon Orange to leverage its bid), one politician took the lead, making a difficult decision based on consensus instead of his own design.

People seeking office today frequently become either shape-shifters or one-issue candidates to get the vote. All this does is disillusion average citizens or turn them against one another.

Regardless of where Londoners stand on issues such as bus rapid transit or jobs, our city has undertaken diligent work in addressing numerous and pertinent issues, including transportation. It also has worked together on our next comprehensive stage of development, the London Plan, the largest civic engagement exercise in Canada, backed by many in our business community and local leaders.

To toss such things aside to acquire office is to demean us by ignoring the work already accomplished.

This next civic election is not solely about BRT or the desires of one generation over another. It is about us and our abilities, how we have come together to find a new path for the future.

We require leaders like Nirenberg, who put the richness and resourcefulness of citizens above the paltry, and often petty, pursuit of office or the bottom line.

A Decade of Doubt

Posted on September 21, 2018

Confusion.  Confusion everywhere.  Confusion in the House itself and in Question Period.  Confusion in caucus meetings.  Confusion in the various committees.  Confusion at events.  Confusion when socializing with other MPs.  Confusion in calls home to spouses and children.  Confusion from the top leadership levels to the lowliest backbencher. Confusion among economists. Confusion among bureaucrats. Confusion in the media and among citizens.  Again, confusion everywhere.

A decade ago I was sitting in Parliament – one of slightly over 300 MPs trying to figure out what just hit us.  Had the American stock market crashed?  Was Wall Street doing anything?  What about Canadian securities?  Is this going global or confined to America?

It didn’t take long to understand that the Great Recession of 2008 was upon us and, like politicians everywhere, we had little idea of how to handle such a complex fallout on a grand scale.  We were briefed and briefed in Parliament because we were clearly going to have to pass some temporary stimulus measures to keep working Canadians at their jobs. The minority Conservative government proposed incentive measures that were largely supported by opposition members and we made sure that the Canadian banking system was protected from becoming the kind of frontier town the American financial system had become.  We all learned a lot about economics in a rushed period of time.

That was a decade ago and witnessing it from inside the corridors of power wasn’t much different than out in the streets.  Everyone, from top to bottom, from fringe to centre, felt vulnerable to the tsunami of events flowing over from south of the border.  As complex as it was in Ottawa, it must have been havoc in Washington.

In collective disappointment similar to David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, concerning the political and financial leaders managing the Vietnam War, it was clear that the experts put in place to keep something like this from happening somehow got it terribly wrong.  There is no need to reiterate here the reasons why none of this was an accident.  In books like the gripping Too Big to Fail,we now know that what transpired in 2008 was just bad and greedy capitalism – a giant Ponzi scheme fueled by risky sub-prime mortgages that any good financial officer would have avoided like the plague.

The precarity and foolishness of what was going hadn’t gone unnoticed.  There had been powerful financial voices out there who shouted their warnings for five years.  But so much money was being made overnight that finance officials couldn’t stop the spigot of avarice that had saturated the market.  Investors like pension companies, insurance firms and hedge funds backed these flimsy mortgages.  Recent research reveals that most sensed it was a con job, but rushed into the fray regardless, not wanting to miss out on the windfall.

The giant banking institutions, who helped to bankroll it all, were judged by federal regulators as being just too big to fail.  If they were permitted to crash through their own greed, the feeling went, then the entire system would collapse and “boom,” capitalism itself would have been wiped out.

All this is complex stuff, but a decade on has seen millions of American citizens, and to a lesser degree Canadian investors, wizen up to what happened to their savings as a result of the greed.  That’s important because it has meant that financial institutions are largely seen as unaccountable machines for making money for the wealthy few. The public never knew what fully happened in those turbulent months, but they know it was a botched job and that the ultimate victims were the average citizens whose savings had been largely lost. Populism is born in moments like these.

Perhaps worst of all: little has changed.  The entire disaster saw some $5 trillion dollars of public dollars granted to these firms to keep them afloat, along with some $16 trillion in guarantees of public backing.  That money was the public’s and it was forever gone, gouged out of services that should have been theirs but which went to the culprits.  It was a mobilization of money the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Second World War, and even exceeded that.  The bailing out of the large financial firms all but wiped out smaller lending agencies because they simply couldn’t compete with that kind of public bailout money heading to their large competitors.

The guilty are mostly still in business and virtually none of them went to jail.  The big banks presently pay little to no tax.  The companies that were too big to fail are now even bigger in size and less regulated, though some have morphed into other firms.  The financial elite kept their jobs, with huge bonuses in addition, while hundreds of thousands of jobs of average citizens fell by the wayside. In 2008 alone, almost one million American families lost their home, with another 11 million in serious mortgage debt.

In any world other than global finance such actions would be regarded as criminal.  But in the strange alternative universe that is now elite capitalism, those guilty of such massive losses were, and are, primarily the supporters of Donald Trump.  This is tough, since they are pushing the president to relax regulations even further, leaving them increasingly open to an even more serious financial fallout than the Great Recession.

All this transpired a decade ago this week and it appears as though the financial elite, not just in America but globally, are on the cusp of making it happen all over again, only this time with less oversight from a deeply divided politics.  Nothing has changed, except maybe the form of deeper distrust average people have for financial and democratic institutions of all varieties.  All that will be put to a deeper test with the global financial fallout about to descend on us all.

Photo credit: Vanity Fair

Looking Outward To Find Our Identity

Posted on September 19, 2018

One has to feel a certain empathy for Meghan Markel – the newest royal through her marriage with Prince Harry. Enduring scrutiny in a fishbowl unlike any other, Markel has to fight for her own identity and image in an institution bathed in historical structure, rigid adherence to form, fighting for air amongst a host of other royal family personages who have the advantage of learning the protocols from the youngest age.  In such a setting, images of Diana come to mind.

It’s all about identity and Meghan Markel is up against the best of them.  And yet there is something benignly noble about her fighting for her own space.  Sure, she receives endless criticism as a person of privilege in a privileged world, but that is beside the point here.  Markle wants people to know that she holds to her own convictions and that she’s prepared to fight for them.

As a royal, Markel is expected to pick up a cause and run with it because, well, that’s what royals do – and the list is extensive.  She has chosen to emphasize the importance and vitality of food as her favourite cause and this week she gave definition to that effort by announcing her new cookbook as her first charitable endeavour.  And the newly installed Duchess of Sussex has chosen as the recipients of the sales 50 of the women who lost loved ones and their homes in the Grenfell tragedy and who have subsequently gathered in the Hub Community Kitchen in London to share their grief, experiences and hopes for a better tomorrow.

To her credit, Markel has already shown this propensity to help others with food long before she took up residence in the royal quarters.  While living in Toronto she volunteered regularly at the local soup kitchen, developing and nurturing a deeper empathy for the circumstances of those she was endeavouring to assist.

We hear a lot about identity these days; it’s everywhere.  Identity politics.  National identity.  Cultural identity.  Gender identity.  Social identity.  Racial identity.  They are all present in our modern world and they are all pressing for attention to their circumstances.  That’s in part because identity lies at the heart of human experience, assisting us with self-definition, self-understanding and self-discovery. Through it we learn who we are, why we exist and how we should live our lives.

There are those among us, however, who feel that they can’t find that identity without including others.  They seek to serve, to lift up, to empathize with, to share, and in so doing remind us of Mahatma Gandhi’s insight:  “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Great leaders like Mother Theresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Michelle Obama stated their own versions of this reality.

Through all indications, Meghan Markle is attempting to live a life of independence, dependence and interdependence all at the same time.  Since how we connect with others determines our ability to transcend traditional bounds of culture and insular identity, Markle is attempting to carve out a humanitarian space for herself that moves past the traditional role of the royals and, as such, should be commended.

Perhaps she understands better than many that our constant pressing need to see identity as primarily a position of being different from others will in the end prove untenable.  There is compelling evidence that our common identity might well prove a healing element to the nations and cultures.  To separate ourselves from others in order to stress our uniqueness is understandably appropriate but can’t prove redemptive until it stands side by side with the need for all humans to have a spirit of understanding, solidarity and mutual respect.  If our perspective of human beings continues on its present path of one-dimensional fragmentation, then we, like Humpty Dumpty, might find that there are too many pieces to put ourselves back together again.

For every claim like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that, “I am not an angel and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself,” must be matched by Suzy Kassem’s observation: “To become a true global citizen, one must abandon all notions of otherness and embrace togetherness.”

It is no accident that the title of Meghan Markle’s book is,Together: Our Community Cookbook.  You can watch the video of just how she’s managing it below.  It’s actually pretty remarkable.

 

 

The Most Expensive Real Estate in the World

Posted on September 13, 2018

The following is a repost from a blog originally written on February 16, 2017.  It is still prescient since little seems to have changed since that time 18 months ago and citizen responsibility is required now more than ever.

 

Readers and viewers seem transfixed with the more extreme political movements across the world. Far from bringing the world closer together, these new developments threaten to disassociate us in ways we haven’t experienced in decades. All eyes are on politics these days.

Yet something else is bubbling beneath the surface that receives little attention but which is effectively cutting off our collective ability to meet the powerful challenges facing our modern world. For over two decades we have watched as hyper-partisanship has ripped the governing capabilities out of our politics, aligning each party into rigid positions that often make compromise and common ground almost impossible to achieve. That inflexibility has now spilled over into the citizenry and the results are eerily similar.

It was almost a year ago that Bill Clinton and journalist David Brooks labeled hyper-partisanship as the “governing cancer of our time” and little that has occurred in the past twelve months alters that reality. Brooks talked about those who “don’t recognize other people … don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions … don’t recognize restraints … want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.” We’ve all been around long enough to see the results of that kind of politics, but can we spot its emergence among citizens?

Repeated studies over the past decade have highlighted just how the different liberal and conservative temperaments in people have caused them to pull further apart from one another, talking past each other in the process.

Intrinsic in all of this has been our penchant to meet only with those of similar feelings to our own, to only befriend or follow those on social media who agree with us. A natural tendency, the results of such social isolation into similar outlooks has come to look more and more like those political parties who sincerely dislike one another and refuse to find that essential common ground that is necessary for progress. The negative effects of this in the political class prompted Irish playwright Sean O’Casey to note: “Politics – I don’t know why, but they seem to have a tendency to separate us, to keep us from one another, while nature is always and ever making efforts to bring us together.” More than a few are now worried that this practice has carried over into how we treat one another as citizens.

While the operating principle in our modern politics has been partisanship, its equivalent in our communities has been polarization. There are good people in our communities who run solid businesses, create loving family environments, volunteer at charities, and pitch in to help their neighbours. The thing is that they might not agree with us on some issues of policy, but do retain many shared values which we hold. While many of these individuals remain silent, they are nevertheless fellow citizens who ride the same buses, have kids who play on the same sports teams as our own, and are just as patriotic as those who hold to different political persuasions.

The reality is, of course, that there are millions of such people around us. But what if our present course continues as citizens retreat from their shared culture of consensus? What happens when we need to come together for the sake of our children over some great universal challenge and discover we can’t?

Perhaps our greatest task as citizens is to show that we are actually capable of establishing a civic culture that eventually accomplishes what our heavily partisan politics lost. But that will require talking with respect, not trashing. It will need understanding, not umbrage, intelligence and not incitement. There’s nothing wrong with protesting; indeed, it’s our right and obligation as citizens. But so is the task of finding news ways of coming together. As Mike Sasso would put it in his Being Human: “Originality is the best form of rebellion.”

Protest we must because that is part and parcel of any healthy society, but added to our desire for change, or principled opposition, must come the willingness to sit down and deliberate together. The reaching out must start happening now before it becomes impossible. It was our first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, who said that, “A public man should have no resentments.” Neither should private citizens if we are to attain the country we all seek.  Common ground is still our most treasured asset.

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