The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: democratic reform

Can Conscience Save Politics

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THIS TILE OF THIS POST ISN’T MERELY A RHETORICAL QUESTION.  If it were, then hope is gone.

Vaclav Havel protested against dysfunctional politics for a long time before he eventually became the peoples’ choice as president of Czechoslovakia in 1989. As a playwright and a philosopher prior to his political ascendancy, he asked a penetrating question: “Are we implicit n the system that enslaves us, or are we what we always wanted to believe of ourselves?”

Though on the surface it seems that the average citizen believes conscience and politics have become mutually exclusive, it seems more likely that they hold on to the faint hope that in some way, or somehow, the political influence in our country can still bring us back to a place of meaning.

South of the border a story is rising that brings a glimmer of hope that things are maybe changing. Most Canadians wouldn’t be able to tell you much about Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, but in America this aging public figure, now challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, is capturing a whole new audience, pulling from across the political spectrum.

How can it be, considering that he has no big money donors, is a strong ideological voice from the Left, and has existed on the fringe for decades? Perhaps the answer is to be found in one word: conscience. “He’s the real deal and he’s never changed his message in order to secure more support,” one associate says. In many ways, he holds striking similarities to the ever-popular Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren. She, too, is seen as someone authentic and courageous while constantly fending off pressure to run herself for president.

In Sanders and Hillary Clinton the Democratic Party is confronted with what should be an easy choice. Clinton appears to have all the pieces and is a formidable, perhaps unstoppable, force. But questions of funding, and how she acquires it, runs contrary to the feeling of those who are convinced that people like Clinton and Republican contenders pander to the wealthy and are, in turn, too much under their influence.

Financial inequality continues to appear at the top of the list of concerns for Democratic voters in advance of the nomination and this is precisely why Sanders has appeared out of obscurity to capture public attention. He has been speaking out on the negative influence of big money for years and has been one of those stressing the need for campaign finance reform. You can hear the effectiveness of his message here.  He has held his convictions for decades, even though he has had to endure slights from the political mainstream. When he recently said in an interview, “I’m the only candidate who is prepared to take on a billionaire class which controls our economy and increasingly controls the political life of this country,” he drew significant support from across the country because people understand that he has been saying this for years, an action that had previously resulted in ridicule.

But not anymore. His voice has found a place to land effectively: in the aspirations of millions of voters. And this is what makes him worrisome to elite Democrats and Republicans alike. Hearkening back to Havel’s question at the beginning of this post, what happens when contenders themselves are “implicit in the system?” The serious challenges facing our world aren’t going to be solved by political aspirants who alter their platforms in an endless effort to corral the vote, or who say one thing while they are running, only to do whatever their party says once they’ve succeeded. We need people who are the “real deal,” and we feel like that now more than at any other time in recent history.

Upon becoming president, Havel summed up the choice any politician must confront:

“Can we find a new way of governing that allows us to move forward, to bring politics to a deeper level that engages our whole beings, and to save our civilization from its collective hubris?”

Increasingly, American voters are looking to Sanders who is one who could perhaps bring such an influence to the upcoming presidential election. It is highly unlikely that he would beat Clinton, but the addition of his authentic voice to the debate can at least remind the political class that voters are tired of a politics that doesn’t work despite who gets elected. Canada has its own federal election coming later this year and Canadians are just as weary as their southern counterparts, and putting conscience over endless compromise will have more appeal than ever.

The Importance of the Principled MP

Follow the link below to my most recent London Free Press article on the absolute necessity of principled MPs if the democratic system is to be rescue – http://goo.gl/ONMBz

Will Canadian Politics Have A Breakthrough?

pain_knot_yogaDoes politics really matter anymore?  The greatest challenges facing our generation are getting short shrift from the major parties as they continue to tinker around the edges and continually seek out that “sweet spot” that will hopefully launch them into power.  The rise of Justin Trudeau to the Liberal leadership has caused a stir, in part because he is viewed as a new leader for a new era.  Trouble is, we still have old problems, and should the new Liberal leader propose incremental policies on files such as climate change or poverty, then he will have wasted his opportunity to take our country in a new direction.  People always say we require bold policies if we are to embrace change, but we yet await that party – any political party – that will actually take the risks and tackle our systemic problems head-on.  Follow the link below to my new Huffington Post piece on why politics won’t matter anymore if we can’t create effective change surrounding our greatest challenges.

  http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/../../glen-pearson/justin-trudeau_b_3131732.html

Riot Time

Success for any community often depends on the difference between vocabulary and language. Articulating the current challenges faced by all regions across the country means communicating in ways that energize citizens to get involved. That’s what politics is supposed to be doing, but instead it seeks to provoke us through vocabulary – the careful selection of words and concepts that might prove useful to a particular agenda but which in the end cheapens the very language we need to overcome our problems. George Orwell took this a bit further when he wrote, “Political chaos is connected with the decay of language … one can probably bring about some kind of improvement by starting at the verbal end.”  Indeed.

A real threat in our communities comes from the kind of jingoism that both our representatives and we throw about each day. Democracy was empowered when its mode of language was inclusive by nature as opposed to divisive in intent. Consensus, common good, cooperation, empowerment, equality, integrity, justice, responsibility, participation, community  – these were the terms our parents used to build our country. Such words are still used but cheapened by the kind of vocabulary that mentions them while at the same time stripping them of their substance.

The history of democracy has been accompanied by the building of a language that empowered citizens to take control of their own communities and not to discharge that obligation to others. Now we are left with buzzwords that speak more of a democratic past than present reality.

We all know things aren’t right. While governments appear frozen in their partisan place, citizens continue in a place of either ambivalence or perpetual anger. And no matter how much rhetoric is used to lift our democratic spirits, we sense it is either empty or designed to gain our political loyalty as opposed to our participation.

It’s been some time since we conversed with one another in a language broader than our present circumstances. But what would happen if we tossed out our present vernacular and permitted ourselves to be possessed by a language that speaks to the better angels of our nature. I believe the effects could be revolutionary.

Think of what happened to the people of colonial America when Thomas Paine published his Common Sense. Its effect was so powerful even George Washington was drawn to its logic and eventually the leadership of the independence movement. What Paine brought to the citizen equation was not new understanding but a clarion call to what people already knew yet seemed to have misplaced.  They knew all the buzzwords but he brought them the language of their shared knowledge, stripped of its manipulative vocabulary. By writing in such a moving style, Paine put the people in touch with their own fundamental understanding that lay beneath the overly used political code words of the day. What he gave them was a language – their own aspirational language – and it was sufficient to light the fire. He thrust their own intrinsic knowledge back at them, minus the limiting vocabulary that had stunted their collective action. He believed his readers possessed the knowledge required to claim their own fate – a language they had submerged within the complex equations of politics and power.

Think of how we have permitted modern political vocabulary to change the game and force our inaction. We don’t talk about justice anymore but law and courts. A clean environment has been trumped by economic necessities. Education has gone from being about life and participation in community to training for employment. Healthcare policy is now all about personal sickness instead of collective and preventive planning. Politics today is all about parties not democracy. Voting is more often about vengeance than vitality. Perhaps saddest of all, citizenship is more about consumerism than contribution.

I think it’s time we allowed our deeper language and aspirations to captivate us once more; we’ve been in bondage too long. We need to take what we already believe at its best and join forces to enact those values. Maybe it’s time we rebelled, motivated by that deeper language of inclusion. Martin Luther King Jr. provoked the political leaders of his day by proclaiming, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The Occupy movement correctly identifies the “unheard” as the homeless, the poor, the environment, the marginalized, and so on. But is it not true that all of us as citizens are unheard? Silenced by our own ambivalence or the sheer manipulative nature of politics, the “herding” nature of capitalism or the pre-packaged symbolism of much of the modern media, it’s perhaps time we started our own riot. Maybe it’s time to strike out, not with signs, guns, voting ballots or anger, even tents, but with language – the kind of words of promise that remind us what we were once capable of before we got lost in the weeds of political vocabulary and individualistic pursuits. We’ve been silent too long as citizens. It’s time to elevate our language and our conduct. Now that’s a riot I’d love to be part of.

Yea!

It was kind of bizarre.  Conservative Michael Chong finally got his Private Member’s Bill to the floor of the House of Commons, but we remained unsure as to its welfare until the vote was concluded.  It was a sincere attempt by a sincere Conservative to introduce the subject of reforming Question Period – the most shameful 45 minutes in any Parliamentary day.  His ideas for change and progress were sound, and when it finally passed at the end of the evening, there was hope that perhaps we might turn a corner.

Michael had initially phoned me a few months ago, on a Sunday afternoon, while I was jumping on the trampoline with the kids.  When he informed me of his proposal, it dawned on me I was speaking to a man of some courage – brave enough to introduce some human decency into a government demeanour that has been especially rough.  When he asked that I second his motion, even though I was a Liberal, I was thrilled to accept.

Last night in the House brought the culmination of his efforts.  It grew ironically difficult for him as his own party – the government – sought to introduce amendments that would significantly water-down his proposals.  But his best friends at that moment were the Liberals and the NDP.  In voting down the amendments, they cleared away all the rubbish that had coagulated around his initiative and opted to move on his original motion.

In the end, his own party (the PM was absent; the other party leaders were all present) had no choice but to accept defeat on the amendments and then to throw their support behind his original offering.  One wonders how they could have explained voting against one of their own, who was honestly trying to clean up a significant mess.  Quite simply, they couldn’t, and so they voted with him.

We had voted yea and applauded for Michael when it was over, but, alas, his toughest days are to come, as his bill gets sent to committee, where it will surely be sliced and diced.  But for one brief moment, a man of some nobility rose above his peers and reminded us that a country is watching, and wanting reform.  Tonight the Liberals, NDP, and finally his own party got him off to a good start.  Now we must turn it around and give a more meaningful Question Period back to the country.  Possible?  I don’t know.  But for sure such things will never happen unless good and decent people like Michael Chong challenge the system and call on the better angels of our natures to cross that line ourselves.  Well done, Michael.  You did it.  Now it’s our turn and we could use a good dose of your fortitude.

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