The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: future

Christmas Prep – Hope

SO MUCH OF THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY SEASON is predicated on things from other eras. Gifts, trees, carols, decorations, sentimentalizing snow, turkey, Santa, Bethlehem, trying to fill the kids with a sense of wonder, religious services, and community celebrations with lights – none of these were created by us but by our ancestors and we personalize them each December to fit our own holiday circumstances. In all of this the past can give meaning to the present.

Yet occasionally it becomes instead a mindless following of cultural expectations, or as Todd Stocker would write of it, “Sometimes we get so enamoured with the tradition of something that we forget the intent of it.” We can modernize the Christmas season all we want, but with each passing year it loses something of the past, of the meanings that such an important occasion brought to mind for our parents and grandparents. To those folks, surviving a Depression and a couple of world wars, provided them with an acute insight into why Christmas itself was vital for reasons far greater than mere tradition. In our consumer rush and modern penchant for casting off what we sometimes regard as illusions of the past, we throw the baby out with the bathwater, ending up with cultural habits often devoid of meaning. This is what author Lars Svendsen meant in his book, A Philosophy of Boredom, when he noted that, “Traditions have been replaced by lifestyles.”

Perhaps there’s only one thing that can keep us from losing the essence of the Christmas meaning – the future. For perhaps billions of people the world has become a more dangerous place, at least in their thoughts. So many things seem to be happening across the globe at the same time that it often seems unlikely that our leaders are really in control of the change. The list can, at times, seem endless: poverty, climate change, violence, terrorism, democratic decline, human migration, the loss of long-term meaning, gender inequality. Those who worry about such things can merely turn maudlin and look longingly at the past. Nor can they turn a blind eye to it all and seek to enjoy the present. What they need is to believe in the hope that only the future can bring, or as philosopher Søren Kierkegaard poignantly put it to his generation: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

In other words, both the past and the future matter to our present way of life; without either we turn into a humanity with no lights of wisdom in our heads and no path for which to follow.

It’s likely that herein lies the reason we make kids so much the centre of our Christmas observances – they are the future, and by focusing on them we reinvigorate our own faith in a better tomorrow. Without them there is no one to pass the torch to. Which makes it all the more important that we gift them with things of value on not just commerce. Somehow they have to take the world that we presently have, with all its strengths and weaknesses, and make it better. For that they will require tools that are priceless and can’t be bought in a store (as the Grinch learned) – love, faith in each other, respect, decency, adaptability, forgiveness, healing, and, yes, the belief in those transcendent things that outlast us all. If we can provide our children such essentials, then it won’t matter what’s under the tree.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

The first Christmas story was infused by the sense that something different had to take place, something seismic enough that it could set humanity on a different course. The old path was no longer sufficient for a more enlightened future. Yet the answer wasn’t to throw out tradition, but to uncover the essence of it – the values that had survived for millennia and were still required to give humanity a fighting chance.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
And that’s what we require now: a spot on the ticket, the knowledge that we can turn our world towards better instincts and our hearts towards the better angels of our natures. To give such treasures to our children and grandchildren is to pay our own downpayment on our hope for the future. Such things can’t be bought because they are priceless. But they can be lived and in that truth is the essence of the Christmas message.

Budget 2016: A First Step

canadian-mosaic-flag

IN ONE OF THE FUNNIER EPISODES OF THIS MANIC BUDGET WEEK, host Ellen DeGeneres aired a segment showing Canada’s response to the threat of Americans moving up here to escape Donald Trump, titled, “We’re nice, but we’re not that nice.” You can view it here.

The reality is that we might be even nicer at the moment. During an American election season revealing far deeper divisions in the electorate than many realized, this week’s federal budget couldn’t set a more different tone. It was breathtaking in its own way, covering everything from deep investment in Indigenous Peoples to seasonal Employment Insurance programs, from tackling nagging infrastructure shortfalls to invigorating benefits for children and seniors, from beginning to make right the abiding gaps in veteran’s care to opening a new front on fighting climate change. Yes, it has its detractors, but even they were energized by its comprehensiveness.

It’s scope was made possible by the government’s willingness to go into deficit by almost $30 billion to pay for it (almost three times more than the Liberals campaigned on). Many voiced alarm at such a significant dip into the red, but, as this graph points out, we have been in worse situations before. CeMDjJGUYAA3AdK

Following a decade of austerity, many Canadians are hoping for more investment in our social way of life. While both the Conservatives and NDP ran on balanced budget platforms in the last election, Trudeau’s Liberals put it out there that they believed the time had come for some deficit spending in significant proportions. Those who didn’t take to that outlook nevertheless had to come to terms with a Liberal win, empowered by over two million more voters who agreed with the approach.

Just as our neighbours to the south flirted with a less tolerant future, Canada was banking on more inclusiveness. It’s not the first time we showed a certain economic defiance. When in the 1950s we refused to link our currency with the U.S. dollar, as other nations were doing, alarms bells sounded across the nation as we permitted our currency to float independently. We not only survived; we thrived. And when the great rush to deregulate banks helped to drive forward the global austerity agenda, Canada refused and was able to escape the worst of the Great Recession as a consequence.

Whatever opinion one might have of this budget, there is no question that it represents a clear departure from the same old, same old economic policies of recent years – policies that implied we couldn’t afford to strive for our greatest ideals. It was a rationale used by both previous Liberal and Conservative governments to rationalize some of our greatest social and economic ills like lackadaisical environmental reforms, growing poverty, high unemployment, and deep infrastructure decline. Trudeau didn’t just reason that Canadians were tired of underperforming; he ran on that hunch in his election platform, receiving a clear mandate in the process. Rather ironically, it was the very kind of investment plan that even the once draconian International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been supporting.

In many ways were are staking a claim, investing in ourselves and some of our deeper instincts of fairness and equity. The government believed we were ready for it and presented a budget largely to match.

There is just one problem. The budget is one country’s attempt to somewhat swim against the current of a greatly dysfunctional global financial system. All that was wrong with global inequities still remains in place both before and after the Canada’s recent budget. Trudeau is banking on growth to eventually pay back our deficits, but it will take more – much more. Canada must assist the rest of the world, not by mere example, but by articulate and dynamic financial leadership to reverse decades of elitism and the kind of globalization the placed the free market system and not democratic citizenry at the helm of human advancement.

A number of years ago, then Senator Joe Biden made a revealing observation: “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” This week the Trudeau government did exactly that. But it’s only the beginning. Changing the very nature of our global economies is now the next great step.

Looks Like History Didn’t End After All

hourglass

ALMOST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO IT BECAME a literary sensation. I devoured the book in three days on the coast of Nova Scotia. The premise of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man was provocative, if not audacious. He reasoned that it was clear that capitalist democracy has basically beaten back every other form of government and stood pre-eminent over history itself. He viewed history as a winding experimentation of various forms of governance that eventually fended off unworthy contenders to claim democracy itself as the ultimate victor. In that sense, history needed to look no further; it had reached the most free, refined, and prosperous political management system that would likely never be transcended.

Admittedly, it was a heady time. Communism had fallen. American imperialistic democracy appeared unassailable. And capitalism? Globalization was supposedly spreading its prosperity around the world. All looked good; why look for anything better?

Looking back at it now, it all seems so naïve. The attacks of 9/11 brought all that to a screaming halt. Though armed conflicts between official state actors has been in decline for decades, the rise of terrorism and the lack of accountability of non-state actors has made the world seem more dangerous. The Great Recession put the lie to the simplistic belief that capitalism would lead us to some kind of Nirvana. And the impending catastrophic reach of climate change, driven largely by the insane penchant for modernization without the proper understanding of the consequences, might very well bring us to the edge of catastrophe. So, no, history didn’t end up in the ideal, but in a toxic soup of challenges that civilization hardly seems prepared for.

In a real sense history hasn’t changed much at all, but our perception of it clearly has. It’s never been easy and progress has always been excruciating. Democracy is now being challenged by numerous hybrid-like systems of government, such as China’s. Our comfortable Western view of humanity is under assault and our political structures are sagging under the strain. The great consensus between democracy and capitalism is no longer a sure thing.

In a very real way the concepts of both the democratic and capitalist experiments have to be reinvented if they are to endure. A financial system that can make individuals billionaires overnight while leaving billions in grinding poverty over decades can hardly claim legitimacy. And a political system that can’t overcome the huge gap between itself and the citizenry makes it less likely to be trusted. Both systems were meant to provide prosperity and equity for the masses, neither of which has materialized as hoped.

If everyone truly possesses potential and equal dignity, then what are we doing allowing systems that bring us neither? History should have taught us that you can’t sustain a system that gives you everything but kills the planet, but we haven’t learned that reality yet. Refined history informed us that men and women are truly equal, but we still behave as though we didn’t get the memo. It reminded us that any nation carrying too great a gap between rich and poor eventually squanders its prosperity, but we were too busy with our credit cards.

While believing the self-interest is the way ahead, we forgot that without the collective interest nothing is truly achieved.

History isn’t about economics or governance, but ultimately concerns the pursuit of a respectful humanity. Fukuyama told us that the fulfillment of money and politics would make us happy, effectively ending history’s pursuit, but what we have learned is that they have impoverished and isolated us because we forgot that history itself cannot progress without empowered humans themselves. Time to get back to shaping history for all rather than leveraging it for the few.

Election 2015: It’s About the Fate of Democracy, Not Politics

tattered-flag

“POLITICS HAVE NO RELATION TO MORALS,” said Niccolo Machiavelli back in the 16th century and there are many of us who surely disagree. And yet the idea the politics itself has become a real-life version of House of Cards is growing in strength the more the mudslinging and misrepresentations continue.

Those undergoing Canada’s federal election season likely struggle hard to maintain their belief in a politics that matters, but it isn’t easy. In fact, across the entire Western world democracy itself is losing its moorings; we know it and we are troubled by it. So, yes, it is likely the easiest to blame our present political difficulties on politicians themselves. And it is largely true that if they wish us to believe in good politics once again they are hardly providing us reasons and examples for moving in that direction.

Look at most developed nations and it obvious that a sense of angst runs through their populations – a key expression of democracy’s troubled state. Yet at the same time most of those people say that are primarily happy with their private lives; it’s just the collective condition of their city, province, country, or territory that they are down on.

But here’s something for us to consider: what if our present difficulties have more to do with democracy itself than merely the professional politics itself? Government was once viewed as vital to our prosperity and future; now it borders on the villainous. Democracy was founded on the belief that if you didn’t like any particular government that all you had to do was enter a ballot box and toss them out. Yet increasing numbers of citizens today avoid the vote, saying that nothing will change regardless of who is elected. Reform at any time can prove difficult, but when the elected watchers of the State seem out of touch with the times themselves, believing that we can alter our course isn’t common.

In a modern world built on the principles of collaboration and innovation, how is it that we have ended up with a federal Parliament as bitter and partisan as any time on record? At a time when citizens themselves and their input are seen as crucial for the future, why is it, then, that those same citizens refuse to come out in significant enough numbers to turn their respective nations in the proper direction? These two questions are even more confounding when we realize that the majority of the people in politics, and those in the citizenry, are basically solid, intelligent, and compassionate human beings who just happen to be avoiding the tasks necessary to realign the public and the private good.

Our problems might not be merely the people, but the systems themselves. Politics has become all about stifling partisanship, while citizens often prefer to blame politics rather than using the democratic franchise to reform it. Maybe we have changed more than we care to admit. Perhaps, as citizens, we are so distracted and preoccupied that we no longer desire to be troubled with the larger, more collective, picture. The political system knows this and senses it can get away with bad behavior because we don’t care enough to demand change from it. They would prefer to buy us individually with their money than inspires us collectively with their vision.

As many have noted in recent months, we presently have a federal government that is one of the most secretive and authoritative in Canadian history and yet citizens voted them in. How is that possible in an age when inclusiveness, transparency, and empowered citizenship are supposed to be the way of the future?

If democracy itself depended on the energized relationship between elected and elector for its success and both sides no longer care for that relationship, is democracy itself not really the issue? We have no alternatives, of course, and it’s likely the Churchill’s view that democracy is still the best of all political solutions rings true for the majority of us. But what happens when a divorce seems more imminent than reconciliation? If that indeed be the case, then democracy itself, and its future, is the thing we should ultimately be worried about in this election. Our only way to bring our nation back to a place of health is to vote to stay in a collaborative relationship. Will we show up in critical enough numbers to recapture a national consensus? Will our politicians run against a system that seeks to divide and conquer? Again, it will all come down to a pencil on a piece of paper. Either way, this election is about the fate of democracy, not mere politics.

Election 2015 – The Best Way For Canadians To Predict Their Future Is To Create It

businesswoman standing against business sketch

ELECTION CAMPAIGNS ARE ALL ABOUT CHOICES. We’ve known that since the early days of democracy itself. But it’s time for us to focus on the choosers, and in this case the federal government itself and the implications of its own choices both in and out of a lengthy election campaign.

I had dinner with Dr. Don Lenihan a few years ago in Ottawa and found him to be remarkably informed on issues of democracy. It was only later that I learned he had become a Senior Associate in Policy and Engagement at Canada 2020 – this country’s leading independent progressive think-tank. He’s well respected internationally as an expert on democracy and the new spirit of Open Government, and chaired an expert group on citizen engagement for the United Nations.

Yesterday, all that experience and knowledge were combined in a piece Dr. Lenihan wrote regarding what happens when a government refuses to listen to citizens. Titled, Should You Vote for a Leader Who Doesn’t Trust the Public?, the piece immediately drove to what is the central issue for the democratic spirit in this federal contest. He writes,

The use of omnibus bills, the refusal to comply with access to information, the gagging of public servants, the attack on officers of parliament, the manipulation of committees, interfering with the Senate, proroguing Parliament to avoid a confidence motion, refusing to work with the provinces or the media—the list of his democratic infractions goes on and on.

Lenihan’s conclusion in all this is pungent: Our prime minister doesn’t trust us. In an era of open transparency and accountability, this is indeed a troubling portent. You can catch Lenihan’s article here.

All this leaves us with questions: If government doesn’t trust its people, how then will they direct their future? Or can they?

When nations approach a series of crossroads, it all can be a bit unnerving. We know change is upon us and that our choices in such a setting take on extra meaning. Historically, we’ve trusted that our politic leaders would guide us through the shoals and bring us successfully to the other side. But in our modern world, citizens want a hand in that direction, believing that their opinions matter and that their discernment should be sought. Yet, again, what happens when a government isn’t interested?

It isn’t enough anymore for political parties to lay out their policies from which we are to choose one among them. Citizens are now more savvy, seeing in all parties solutions and leanings that make sense. Increasingly, they are discovering that no one party has all the solutions, or even the right questions. In such a setting, they desire parties that are open to input from citizens (voters), and are willing to build on areas of commonality with their competitors for the sake of the country.

We are now in an age of experimentation, where we can strive for enhanced levels of cooperation and discover new methods for facing the great challenges of our time. Political leaders might conveniently claim we, as citizens, are “innovating,” but in truth we are leading. In fact, that path through our present political wilderness lies in our hands. Whether we select our leaders or demonstrate leadership ourselves, the future is rightfully ours to imagine. Yes, we can entertain ideas from politicians, but in a fulsome democracy, they must also respect ours.

To live in a nation where government refuses citizen input, contributions from seasoned experts, and transparent dealings between government and people, is to refuse the progress history has given us and to turn our back on our own potential. Our best way to explore our own future is to create it ourselves, and for that we require governments that give us a seat at the table and welcome our ideas and convictions. The opposite to that is what we have at present. As Lenihan powerfully puts it: “Canadians who really want to make an informed choice in this election should not only consider how the party leaders are asking us to see them, but how they see us. And as they reflect on this, they should keep a key question in mind: If a leader doesn’t trust me, why would I trust him?”

More than any other Canadian federal election, this present campaign could be the one where citizens say “enough.” It’s one thing to have parties vie for our vote, but it’s another entirely when one seeks the keys to the kingdom while distrusting us in the process. And since that decision has already been made, it’s time for us to make our own.

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