The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Canada’s Kind of World

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PERHAPS THE GREATEST TEMPTATION IN THE WORLD of government is the politics of the urgent, and in a world of bad news the pressure to “do something” becomes endless. The recent incident in Strathroy, Ontario, of a man suspected of plotting a terrorist attack only provides further fodder for those concerned over the presently precarious state of the world. Turkey, Syria, France, mass shootings, individual acts of madness – all of these occurrences are pressing on the Canadian government at once, with pundits endlessly reminding us that something has to be done before our planet blows up.

But there is another world out there – a global place of collaboration and effectiveness that continues to get glossed over in favour of front page headlines. It is the kind of world that Canada excels at, and has for decades, and which runs concurrently with the other more alarming dimension that seems bent on violence and which gains almost the entirety of media coverage.

We rarely hear of the victories being won against the worst of the planet’s poverty, for instance, but the president of the World Bank, Jim Young Kim, says that it is the “best story in the world today.” In 1993, almost two billion people lived on less than two dollars a day. But as the world came together to support the Millennial Development Goals and their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals, in a more coordinated fashion, extreme poverty began to drop fast. And it continues to do so. Today that number stands at 700 million – a drop of almost 60% in just two decades.

How about education? According to UNESCO, the UN’s education arm, the last 15 years has seen a drop of almost 50% – 100 million to 57 million – of those children who had no access to schooling whatsoever. Before 1980, only 50% of girls in poorer countries finished primary school – a number that now stands at 85%. And where less than 50% of women could read and write, that number now stands at 93%. This is a remarkable achievement by any measure.

In a report released by Global Findex, we discover that between 2011 and 2015 an extra 700 million people from 140 countries gained access to finance for the first time. New mobile money accounts are resulting in tens of thousands of new businesses being established where before there was only grinding poverty. A portion of the success has been the access to the Internet that is presently revolutionizing the developing world through cell phones, especially in Africa, which has seen access to the Internet climb 51% in just five years. Right now, some 3.2 billion people can get online, but 2 billion of them are from developing countries. To understand the scale of this, back in 2000 only 300 million people could get on the Internet and only a third of those were from the developing world – an eight-fold increase.

The advances in healthcare are equally as staggering. Malaria cases have declined precipitously – 50% since 2000. Almost 7 billion people (91% of the global population) now are using improved clean water sources – a figure that stood at 76% in 1990. HIV cases have dropped by one-third. In 1960, 22% of children born in the developing world died before their fifth birthday; today that number is 5%.

The list of such advancements could go on and on, including income rise, the political empowerment of women, the decline of war worldwide, and the advance of democracy in developing nations. Better coordination among donor nations, improved ethical leadership in developing nations, and the success of globalization in these sectors have made the difference.

This is the world in which Canada excels and has contributed to in significant fashion. Successive Conservative and Liberal governments, with frequent insights and prodding from social activists in the NDP, Green, and even the Bloc parties have placed Canada squarely in the centre of global improvement. This is the Canadian influence Justin Trudeau inherited and must build upon. More than any other time in world history, success in these areas has risen to remarkable heights – a feat almost totally ignored by modern media.

From global emergency aid to longer-term international development investments, from micro-finance programs to Canadian business investment, and from peacekeeping to the modernization of our military – all of these are presently under an internal review in Ottawa and will take their time to roll out. In the meantime, however, Canada’s decades-long investment in improving the development of humanity is achieving remarkable heights. The Trudeau government, pundits, and Canadians, in general, would do well to keep all this in mind, even as we seek to respond to the immediacy of the global terrorist threat.

 

No “Team” in “I”

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WITH THE FINAL NOMINEES SETTLED AND three months of campaigning ahead, this American election season is likely to be one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. That’s okay; political contests, especially south of the border, have ever been tumultuous affairs.

Yet there has never been anything like the showdown that has been building for months, largely because of Donald Trump. It almost seems like nothing new can be written about him. Appearing not to care what people say of him, the Republican candidate speaks with a directness that isn’t so much targeted as scattered about in every direction. This results in his dominating every news cycle, breaking every political protocol, and promoting a political war that seems to break every bond of respectability.

But in very real and concerning ways this election isn’t about Donald Trump at all, but the depths of the absurd millions of citizens are willing to embrace in order to send a message to the political elites of both parties in Washington. That people are upset with the financial bailouts, the fallout from globalization, stubborn unemployment, and political dysfunction, is a given. But is the best choice to send that message an individual who doesn’t respect numerous groups of immigrants and nations, who carries few credentials for the top political job in the land, and who scatters the election landscape with landmines designed to blow up at any time in order maintain the chaos that has so come to characterize public life in America at the moment?

It is likely that there has never been such a year in American political history when so many citizens disliked so many other citizens from all points of view and for such nonsensical reasons. When Trump said, “I will build a wall because nobody builds walls better than me,” he provided the modus operandi of his campaign.

Much has gone into the creation of this condition, but Donald Trump has been its main instigator. Is this really what Americans want, or are they just angry enough to suspend the traditional traits of respect and progress in order to get their point across? If so, then this America looks more like the America of 1927, where a season of prejudice became so combustible that more people were deported from Ellis Island than permitted in.

In tolerating so many lesser evils hoping that they will all add up to the so-called greater good, many good citizens are collectively guilty of bad math. It all merely adds up to political decline by calling for the baser instincts of a once proud nation.

In a boisterous era where citizens around the world are demanding seats at the tables of power more than ever, it becomes a major setback when the nominee for the GOP says things like: “I know what’s best for America,” or, “I will be your voice.” The need for a saviour, a political redeemer, the “great man,” is precisely the kind of political attitude that hundreds of millions of people have been endeavouring to shake off around the world. The fate of democracy lies not in the giant footprints of powerful leaders but in the millions of collective footsteps taken by global citizens interested in sharing power and fighting for a more equitable future among all peoples.

Do Americans truly desire a politics of resentment, where everyone is against everyone else? In a world where hate is as near as a keyboard or a gun, do people honestly wish to put power in the hands of a Commander-in-Chief that could place an army or a grand policy behind his animosities? With tolerant societies now fighting for their lives in Europe and other places, does a troublingly divided America honestly think it can lead from the middle of the pack?

Something is growing terribly amiss in our popular and moral culture when a man who openly insults any woman, race, immigrant, or vulnerable person finds a possible path to the White House. If being president isn’t about the power to divide but the responsibility to unite, then somebody has goofed. Rather than taking the easy way of looking for a voice, citizens themselves must raise their own voices in ways that bring a nation together. And if that nation is a global leader, then there exists also the possibility of working with others to bring the world together.

Donald Trump’s greatest blunder is believing that it is his voice that matters in a time when citizens themselves are craving to find their own articulation – for him there is no “team” in “I”. When a top presidential contender tells a crowd, “Frankly folks, if I don’t win this thing, then it was a total waste of time for me,” what does that say about his view of average citizens and the struggles of their own lives?

As the World Moves

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Read this post on National Newswatch here.

IN CANADA, THERE IS FREQUENTLY THE SENSE that the refugees brought into the country in the last year posed not only a challenge but a kind of calling card to the world of why we still remain such a compassionate land. We feel good about what we’ve done. The disruption of thousands of Syrians families into our communities has been slight compared to the sense of inclusion and accomplishment the challenge created for us.

Yet all this can provide a rather rosy sense of the refugee problem that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the world. It has been reported that there are more displaced people and families in the world than at any time since the Second World War. Then the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) came out with new data revealing that we have already exceeded the refugee fallout from that great conflict – 65.3 million, or one out of every 113 people on the planet. As imposing as that is, it also represents a 5.8 million increase over last year. Here are some revealing statistics from the findings:

  • The population of displaced people around the world now exceeds the entire population of the United Kingdom
  • If the total number of displaced formed a country, it would be the 21st largest in the world
  • 24 people are being displaced every minute
  • over half the refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia
  • Up until now, Turkey has played host to more refugees than any other nation
  • Among the great number of refugees, 100,000 are unaccompanied children

So, yes, outside of climate change, the refugee dilemma in the most serious of modern times, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it is the affluent West that is taking on the greatest load. As the Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York reminded us recently, it is the poorer nations, not the wealthy ones that are bearing the brunt of the phenomenon. That makes sense when we consider the political thunderclouds in France, Germany, Britain, the United States, and now Turkey, as a result of its recent coup, that has now created a strong backlash against immigrants and refugees. The relative peace in Canada aside, the age of relatively compassionate democracy seems more on its way out than expanding.

All this leaves the poorer parts of the globe to deal with the refugee fallout. As York reminds us, 86% of all refugees are being sheltered in poor and developing nations. Five of the ten largest hosts of refugees were from sub-Saharan Africa. On the basis of challenges to the national economy, those bearing the greatest burden are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Kenya. In Lebanon, 183 of every 1,000 people are refugees.

Canada was rightfully mentioned in the UNHCR report as a world leader in generosity towards refugees – second only to the United States. In the past year, we have accepted 20,000 refugees, while the U.S. took in 66,500. The problem is that no matter how great our collective and individual generosity, the world itself is fraying at the edges and more refugees are being created every year than can possibly be managed, sheltered, and empowered.

Of all the intense risks the Western political order is facing – irrelevancy, gap between rich and poor, climate change, the inherent flaws in globalization, political dysfunction – it could well be that it is the manic creation of refugees that could succeed in destroying it when war, poverty, and racism couldn’t.

The solution to this most pressing human problem of the modern era is not more generosity alone, but a rising global movement of social equity, female empowerment, and political pluralism that together can bring about solutions in those troubled nations from which today’s refugees are forced to flee. It is a cause worthy of Canada’s leadership role in the world, but it will require a united army of compassionate nations even greater than that assembled in World War Two.

“The story of humanity is essentially the story of human movement,” writes author Patrick Kingsley in his The New Odyssey. Right now our human story is rumbling about in some dark chapters. This could well be the moment for Canada, as a softer, more tolerant nation and protected on three sides of its boundaries, to capture the world’s attention by building a global consensus to bring a troubled world back from the brink of destructive human fallout.

Outside the Lines

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Read this post on National Newswatch here

When Ben Hur was launched as a stage play in 1899 it became an immediate sensation. Stagehands were hired to shake tarps to make the background set look like waves, while others rocked the fighting ships back and forth in an effort to make it look realistic. A year of preparation went into the production, with the highlight being the chariot race in the grand arena. People had been practicing for months – the white horses leading Ben Hur and the black steeds powering his enemy Masala’s chariot. Then something went wrong behind the scenes, with the result that Masala won the contest – a conclusion that threw the plot, and the rest of the evening, into disarray.

I thought of that story repeatedly in these past few weeks as so much in politics failed to finish as planned. We weren’t supposed to end up in this place and it appears the political elites have lost considerable control of the political process in a number of countries. The politics of Europe and America now share an equal dose of uncertainty and perhaps danger.

This week’s Republican convention reminds us again that standard politics is no longer a sure thing. For an entire year the Republican Party proceeded as though Donald Trump was a novelty, an also-ran, who would surely bring lots of attention but never be a serious candidate. All that party machinery! All that preparation! All that fundraising to get support for the major candidates! And then the publicity stunt candidate triumphs.

This American campaign is one for the ages, whether people like it or not. But after all the analysis is done, with pundits ad nauseam picking apart the entrails, one key reason stands out as to why Donald Trump achieved what he did: the voter. It was supposed to be the usual kind of campaign that affirms democracy still works by selecting from the choices the political class provides. The problem is that the billionaire wasn’t the figure either the party apparatus or even the media initially preferred to be crowned. On the flip side, in the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders was pulling off a similar kind of revolution that to this day carries momentum even following Hillary Clinton’s clinched nomination and the endorsement of Sanders.

Let’s face it: Donald Trump prevailed because he garnered too much support to deny him the prize. This isn’t the year of Trump, but the year of the voter – perhaps more so than even Obama’s remarkable run in the 2008 election.

And now we have Brexit and all the chaos that will go on for months, likely years. With both France and Germany going to the polls next year, the jury is out as to the overall result. In order to achieve his last election victory, British PM David Cameron rolled the dice and promised a referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, likely sure he could control the political process. Except he couldn’t, and now a political Pandora’s Box has been completely kicked over.

It remains tempting to talk about the major personalities in all this bedlam as the collective reason for the unpredictability, but in a very real sense this has been about troubled citizens, not their ultimate leadership choices. Something seismic is clearly going on and its impact is changing so many preset ideas regarding our politics.

The era of political pandering by parties to voters while at the same time ignoring the global challenges citizens face and the values they hold dear is seemingly coming to an end – citizens don’t believe the hype anymore. Readily assuming that political elites no longer understand the profound challenges faced by the electorate, voters are colouring outside the lines and opting for choices that are no longer the safe ones – something Abraham Lincoln deciphered over 150 years ago, as noted by strategist Ariel Moutsatsos:

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.”

None of this means, of course, that voters have voted objectively, but they have shown the political classes in their respective countries that they’re tired of being duped and want in. The great danger is that their stretch for a collective voice might unleash dominoes of great uncertainty. If in their arrogance the political managers created winds of change, voters themselves must be somber and diligent lest they reap the whirlwind.

Shaken, But Not Stirred

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I SPENT THIS LAST WEEK IN SCOTLAND, and it was clear from the places I visited that people feel swept up in an array of key events that left them at a loss at their own individual place in it all. The Chilcot Report was released on my first day there and everywhere people were glued to their screens, mostly angered that they had been duped into supporting a war that Sir John Chilcot himself concluded was driven more by ideology than information.

People were discussing the implications of Brexit wherever I journeyed, including a fish and chips spot where two people in the booth next to us bemoaned the reality that they had no idea what would happen next.

This is the world as we know it, and, in developed nations around the world supposedly constructed on the primacy of the individual, people seem more lost than ever, feeling little hope that they can change the arc of events. It all reminds us of the movie Roger and Me, where Michael Moore is denied the right to meet with officials from General Motors because he “didn’t represent anyone.”

Politics increasingly views the public as divided into various groups representing a myriad of issues and leading to great divisions within society itself. Every cause imaginable now has spokespeople active anywhere where an audience can be captured. Such groups have always been present and are essential to any healthy nation, but of late their numbers are so numerous that one key group is repeatedly overlooked: the public itself.

Average citizens continue to represent the great unknown. They are the deciding factor in elections but remain difficult to read. They hold to their convictions yet refuse to broadcast their intentions. They hold to their opinions but don’t feel the urge to broadcast them to everyone. Most don’t belong to activist groups and the majority barely interacts with social media, where most of the animated groups seek to make their connection.

For those in government, individuals can seem only to matter if they are connected somehow to this or that activist group. That remains a misnomer, as the majority of Canadians, Americans, or Brits keep their convictions largely to themselves or to select friends in a coffee shop. Treating such citizens as part of a group only drives them more into their isolation. But when given a chance to emerge, as with Brexit, the results can be earth-shaking.

“I was not designed to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”

While social media grows increasingly inflamed over this cause or that, the majority of individuals are merely getting along with their lives, providing for their families, volunteering at charities, or helping their neighbours. They are nobody’s fool and refuse to be counted in the great battle of “us versus them.” They neither like to be labeled nor appreciate attempts to recruit them by phone canvasses. Private interests will never secure the change they seek until they find some way of mobilizing these average citizens through a sense of fairness and understanding – characteristics often rare in groups attempting to change their world in a moment’s time.

Governments can spend their days repeatedly responding to the activists (which is one of their responsibilities), but should they not find effective venues for energizing the majority of Canadians just getting about their personal business, then no sense of political change can endure. Most Canadians are not political, but they are cultural and work together through their institutions. They form the living embodiment of Henry David Thoreau’s observation: “I was not designed to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”

In Britain at present, perhaps even in the U.S. and Canada, it is the average citizen who has emerged to reveal a strength unequaled by all the various groups with a cause. The world may be in chaos around them, but they have their act together.

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