The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: election

Too Good to Last

A Bernie Sanders action figure prototype is seen in a photo illustration taken in the Brooklyn borough of New York February 25, 2016. A Brooklyn product design company, FCTRY, created a prototype for the 6-inch (15-cm) tall plastic version toy of the U.S. Senator from Vermont and started a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $15,000 to fund production. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX28MRJ

IT WAS ONLY A MONTH AGO WHEN ROLLING STONE magazine declared in a feature article titled, Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders: The Good Fight, that “Hillary and Bernie have waged campaigns full of vision, ideas and promise – and have shown us the best in American politics.”

Most of America seems infatuated at the worrying spectacle of the Republican primary campaign – a fascinating intrigue unlike anything seen in recent memory. Any policy pronouncement has tended to come wrapped in some kind of slam against an opponent or a simplistic concept bearing little understanding of its complexities.

While all this was going on, the Democratic Party debates were fluid and probing affairs full of substance and intriguing ideas – just as Rolling Stone stated. For policy wonks, there was much to chew on.

For those of us interested in civility and respect in politics and public life, the Democratic contest was a bit of fresh air. In the early months of the primary campaign Bernie Sanders was given little chance. But then he came marching out of obscurity with millions of young supporters and talk of a political and social revolution that easily matched the spirit of middle-class families while at the same time decrying the immovability of the political establishment in Washington. Yet he refused to slam Clinton over her burgeoning email scandal and reminded anyone who listened that on her worst day she would still be more fitted to the presidency than Trump on his best day. It was kind of fascinating.

Until these last few weeks – something has changed and it’s discouraging. The very first promise Sanders had pronounced as a candidate caught America’s attention: “I’ve never run a negative ad in my life. I hate and detest them.” He then committed to run a campaign devoid of such subterfuge. It was precisely the kind of commitment that drew so many to Sanders and his revolution.

Those were the days when Sanders used to stop his supporters from booing Clinton at rallies; now he permits a growing chorus of negative voices against the former Secretary of State. The fascinating evolution of an older man transforming into a populist giant only to run the danger of looking cranky and somehow diminished might eventually be seen as one of the many tragic casualties of this election season.

Hillary Clinton has occasionally shown a propensity to be a practitioner of the darker political arts, as when she increasingly turned negative in her battle with Obama for president eight years ago. Her team began this election season viewing Sanders as a kind of noble distraction – an elderly politician who meant well, believed in change, and who shared many policy similarities to Clinton herself. The media paid him little attention and he was more of a small bother to her than anything else.

In ironic similarity to the early dismissals of Donald Trump, he nevertheless began showing political traction that eventually became a populist momentum. Far from being a nuisance, Bernie Sanders had become a clear competitor, and eventually a target for Clinton’s attentions – perhaps an understandable evolution from someone who once regarded a certain young black Illinois senator, named Barrack Obama,  as hardly worth the bother, only to see him surge to eventually win the nomination and then the presidency.

The Democratic race had been both a bracing and inspirational contest to many of us. The possibilities of a woman at last gaining the highest office in America, or of a rugged no-nonsense populist tracking towards perhaps the same outcome were intriguing and a clear alternative to what was developing among the Republicans. To see it descend into the kind of negative politics millions of people detest is saddening. For it to be a dynamic influence for improving the world, politics has to keep as far away from the same old, same old as it possibly can. Both Clinton and Sanders have to claw their way back to a sense of fairness and respect.

Perhaps, as Albert Einstein once offered, “Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.” In an election season in which idolatry has risen to new heights, it would be helpful if both Sanders and Clinton were reminded us why a dignified politics is good politics.

Election 2015: Will That Be Cost or Value?

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IT BECAME ONE OF THE MOST TALKED ABOUT experiments in modern psychology. Around 1970, Stanford researcher Walter Mischel decided to sit a series of four-year-olds in a room and put a marshmallow on a table in front of them. He told them that they could eat the marshmallow right away, but that if they waited until he returned he would give them two marshmallows.

Videos shot of the children during that time revealed a lot of squirming and kicking, even kids banging their head on the table. Mischel then followed them through subsequent years and learned some fascinating trends. Those kids that waited until he returned did much better at school and had fewer behavioural problems. Thirteen years later, those kids that waited for the second marshmallow had SAT scores that were 210 points higher than the kids who devoured the first marshmallow immediately. Twenty years later they had much higher college completion rates and 30 years later they had much higher incomes.

The results fascinated the nation and effectively illustrated how kids who could picture longer term strategies in their thinking and exercise self-control (waiting for the second marshmallow) had an easier time of things as they matured. It has come to be known in the vernacular as the “marshmallow test.”

In certain ways, Canadians are being asked to undergo a similar experiment during this federal election season. Sometimes we are asked by the parties to opt for the immediate baubles instead of the longer-term investments. We keep being treated as impulsive shoppers who can choose from an array of boutique items on a shelf that would bring some quick satisfaction – negligible tax credits, limited responses to the refugee crisis, meager investments in climate change adaptation, pension tinkering, even help with the purchase of sports equipment. They all sound great and enticing, but they get us little.

Or we can exert more self-discipline focusing on Canadian arts, education, healthcare, research, environmental, true healing with our indigenous people, and transportation infrastructure that will yield dividends in decades to come. There are a scant few of these on our present election promise season. Why? Because political parties sense that we are more intrigued by costs than we are values. Yes, we desire affordable education, a clean planet, security for our older years, comprehensive healthcare coverage, and a political class that actually delivers on our aspirations. But, in truth, we really like those trinkets that in the end appear to provide a few extra dollars in our pockets.

The problem is that post secondary education costs have already gone up over 200% since 1993, and we have to pay more for government services while waiting longer to acquire them. Is this honestly what we desire in this election? Does the political class feel we’ll opt for that first marshmallow? Of course they do, because that’s how they feel they’ll get our vote. They won’t change that approach until we align ourselves with the counsel of Jennifer Crusie: “Values aren’t buses. They’re not supposed to get you anywhere. They’re supposed to define who you are.”

This is our dilemma during Election 2015: we are being forced to choose between the immediate satisfaction of the initial marshmallow or the deeper discernment that comes with waiting to acquire them both. Canadians pride themselves as a value people but all to often accept cost over values, which are ultimately priceless and were the basis upon which our parents and grandparents build an equitable country. The things we truly value and share in common are those things we simply can’t put a cost to but which form the sinews of our civilization.  If we make the proper choice, we will change the future, and that of our children. This could be an election for the ages, or merely for the next four years. It’s time to play the long game.

 

Showing Up

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Last Saturday night I gave a speech, in which I endorsed Matt Brown’s candidacy for mayor of London, Ontario.  Later, a number of people asked if they could acquire a copy.  I had spoken spontaneously and had no written record, so I informed them that I would write down what I could recall of the speech and put it in my blog.  Below is the text of that speech.  Following all the research undertaken in recent weeks on the need for mayors with a new outlook on citizenship, I am only too happy to vote for Matt and the respect for the average citizen which I believe he will bring to politics.


 

I’m at this rally tonight for Matt Brown because I’m tired. For decades my wife, Jane, and I have fought for pro-democracy efforts across the globe and the results have been exciting. When South Sudan voted almost 99% in favour of directing its own path into the future, with 98% of those who were qualified to vote actually doing so, I sensed the democratic movement was finally beginning to connect.

But not here at home, where our voter turnout numbers have been steadily declining. When only 40% of local citizens turn up for a civic election, you sometimes wonder if your efforts are worth it.  Fatigue has set in as a result.

Yet I still dream about what our city can become when its citizens take part in its ownership. I want a city that’s as romantic as our marriage, that thrives with poetry, music, a rich cultural life, and the belief that we celebrate our collective life together because we’ve helped to build it.

I want a city whose potential matches that of my children. I can’t help it; I’m a Dad and I want them close by, in a city where they feel appreciated as they age, that provides meaningful employment, and engaged citizenry, and a politics that matters.

Tonight I came to endorse Matt Brown as the candidate I wish to support for mayor in this coming election. The reason? Because Matt’s vision includes you … and me. It’s not about some dated idea of leadership where the person in charge directs everything. Rather, it’s about the people in this room and out in our neighbourhoods. It’s about those that show up to care for their community. And it’s about Matt’s support for the London Plan. We helped to craft it and we deserve the chance to build it.

The most powerful office in all the land belongs to the individual citizen, not the mayor. Citizens possess the power to choose different political representatives and the legal system respects their full right to do so.

And so this community is ours – each of us can make it into what we dream – as you and Matt have done tonight by just showing up. Tonight I’m looking at you, where the true power lies in this city, and I’m backing the person who has known that from the beginning and is willing to govern with us.

A long time ago, a friend asked Thomas Aquinas, who was about to embark on a sea journey, where the safest place was on a ship. “In the harbour,” he responded with a tinge of joviality. But ships aren’t built for that. Their place is out on the waves, discovering new possibilities, learning new skills, and overcoming the fear of an unknown future. It’s not all about the captain, but his efforts together with the crew. That’s us, and I think it’s time to take London out of the harbour of security and set ways of doing things and into the challenges and opportunities ahead.

One person has repeatedly talked about that kind of shared future – a mayor and citizens together – and I think it’s time to take London out for a test drive with that spirit. It’s not about top-down or bottom-up; it’s about inside-out, together. I am honoured to announce my support for someone who believes in that vision wholeheartedly. Matt Brown will govern from among us. There is no better place for him, for us, or for our community.

Campaign Insider – Calm Before the Storm

One of the biggest tasks taking place before any election is locating a campaign office and getting it set up to create fluid movement among volunteers to get everything done, from phoning for donations to teams heading out to pound in signs. This time we have the same office we used in the 2008 election and it feels like home.

Starting today I’ll be posting a series of videos during the campaign showing from the inside how a campaign operates and who are the key people who make it all run. No candidate can even compete effectively without the countless volunteers and managers who make it all tick.

So, before all the madness begins, here’s a look at the campaign office before it gets all set up with phones, computers, and above all, fantastic people who care about their country. This is to all the fabulous folks who’ve decided to leave their mark on my marvellous city.

Landlords To A Ghost

One of my favourite authors in earlier years was Lloyd C. Douglas. In his best-selling novel Magnificent Obsession he noted, “If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality and makes him a landlord to a ghost.” The observation came back to me when I heard what Stephen Harper said to a crowd of about 300 in Brampton, Ontario at the start of this campaign. Read it carefully because it is telling.

“Friends, we are living in a fragile global recovery. Yes, Canada is doing relatively well, but a sea of troubles is lapping at our shores, disaster in the Pacific, chaos in the Middle East, debt problems in Europe and of course very serious challenges south of our border. Canada is the closest thing the world has to an island of security and stability.”

It used to be that successful politicians were those like Franklin Roosevelt or Lester Pearson who instilled hope in their populace and openness to the world. Not anymore. Now it’s all about what should be scaring you. While other party leaders have been on the hustings speaking about family care or progressive pensions, our PM has spent his opening days attempting to terrify you about the same kind of coalition he attempted to engineer himself a few years ago. Those terrifying opposition parties are out to get you; be careful.

His statement in Brampton was classic Conservative thinking. The PM was correct about the fragile global recovery, but when he talks about “a sea of troubles is lapping at our shores,” what did he mean? The good people in BC, Newfoundland/Labrador or in the Arctic don’t appear preoccupied with anything like that. Yes, disaster has consumed Japan, but they are a heroic people already rising above the ashes of their misery to get a grip on their future – no danger to us there.

The Middle East has always been a troubled place, but the springing of democracy and freedom in the region and in North Africa has actually inspired hope in millions of Canadians. A part of the world locked in the cruel embrace of dictators is breaking up and average citizens are finding their voice. Sure there’s danger, but this is a moment like the fall of the Soviet Union. The difference is one of emphasis and our PM is more comfortable with the darker shades.

Debt problems in Europe? To be sure and they must be monitored. But I don’t get his instilling fear in Canadians about the “serious challenges south of the border.” Yes, there are economic challenges to be faced in the U.S., but they are still our friends, we are working on shared border issues, and they possess a leader yet capable of inspiring great hope.

In Brampton, Stephen Harper just handed us a view of Canada – pulling up the welcome mat, fearing anything that is “without,” even our historic neighbour, cringing even before the flowering of Middle East freedom – that is not the Canada you and I know and appreciate. And if we’re doing so great, as the PM has stated, why are we cringing in fear?

We have pulled up the drawbridge. Sending some fighter jets to Libya to protect its people is a good thing, but being able to sit on the Security Council, lending our voice to the overall approach to that troubled country would have been far better. But we’re not really “out there” anymore, we’re “in here” and it’s getting darker. In Brampton the PM said we are an “island,” when in fact we should be out in the world, bold, hopeful, and making a difference.

Maybe actress Shirley McLaine was right when she stated, “Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” We are rapidly becoming a country possessed of solitudes. It’s one thing to be fearful of distant enemies, it’s another to be afraid of ourselves. We are at the starting blocks of a significant election campaign and the Conservatives begin it with fear – fear of coalitions within and wild things without. We are fast on our way to becoming landlords to ghosts. Is this what we should be considering at a time when we are so much more than this? Maybe that’s what high-tech fighter jets and super-prisons are all about – fear. And as long as you buy into it, you can be distracted from declining senior’s pensions, the rise of poverty and unemployment, and our deplorable lack of action on climate change. This landlord stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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