Re: Growing disconnect between Canadians and Parliament, May 2
Democracy is just a mirage, Letter May 5
Al Dunn is essentially correct in his characterization of democracy as it is generally practised today. But the fact that democracy is clearly the ultimate bait-and-switch trick pulled on us by the elites — keeping up the illusion of a fair say whilst actually holding us at arm’s length from the levers that could operate our share of the balance of power — doesn’t mean there is no hope for us or for democracy. It doesn’t have to be this way. The funny thing about democracy is that behind that veneer is an institution that can be reconfigured to actually work as advertised. The trick wouldn’t have worked otherwise.
Democracy can be a true and substantive system for the rest of us but only when each and every representative in our parliaments owes their seat and their allegiance to their electorate more than to their party and every voter gets a rep insofar as the number of seats in the House permits. This is achievable; it only needs a properly designed electoral system.
When voters are truly empowered to truly empower their representatives, democracy will no longer be an illusion. That is the “paradigm shift” our democracy needs.
And while our party elites have (unsurprisingly) seen fit to reject calls to cooperate for meaningful electoral reform the door is still open for individual candidates to respond to the challenge. What do you say, chaps: will you cooperate with us to empower each other or are you content in your role in maintaining the pretense in the face of our dire need?
Mark Henschel, Toronto
Growing disconnect between Canadians and Parliament, May 2
Over the past few weeks there have been numerous opinion pieces in your paper discussing the “disconnect” between Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and the general public. This is by no means an unplanned occurrence. Governments in general — Conservative ones in particular — have been changing the way that governments and the governed interact. They have done it through simple changes to the lexicon.
The most notable change is the words that governments use to describe those who are governed. We are no longer referred to by politicians as “residents” or “voters,” “citizens” or even “Canadians.” We are referred to as “taxpayers,” even by your newspaper and the media as a whole. To be fair, everyone pays taxes, whether it is on one’s salary, real estate holdings or a $2 bag of candy at the corner store. But being referred to primarily as a “taxpayer” by the government carries with it a certain understanding.
Taxpayers pay for goods and services provided by the government for personal use. It is a consumer transaction. As long as you get your money’s worth, there is no reason to expect more or to know how it got to you, as long as you received value for your dollar. If someone else cannot access these goods and services, it is because they cannot contribute as much as you can, not because the government won’t provide.
Moreover, your responsibility ends the moment you sign the cheque. There is no need for any additional input or concern. You can’t question Walmart’s foreign policy, environmental track record or how it deals with dissent from within or without either. After all, your only decision is whether you will purchase or not.
“Citizens.” on the other hand have both rights and responsibilities. Yes, they pay taxes, but their duties go beyond the financial transaction. They are expected to engage in public debate, care for those who need to be cared for, and concern themselves for the community at large. They often put the good of society before themselves. Unfortunately, from the government’s perspective, “citizens” tend to question agendas, complain on grounds of principle, and worst of all, vote … sometimes for other parties.
Many “taxpayers” are content to simply give up their rights as citizens if it means they pay their taxes and not be bothered beyond that; after all, the government has everything in hand, right?
Being a “citizen” is a lot of work, requires you to be passionate about mundane things and pay attention, but the citizenry develops the political power necessary to steer public discussion. Is it any wonder that these two aspects define the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy?
Neil McClung, Brampton
Your editorial and the excellent article a few days earlier by Bob Hepburn on the disconnect between Canada’s parliament and its people accurately indicates that something here does not work well.
I am familiar with the governance structures of both Germany and Sweden and both have far more involved and informed electorates and a far better relationship between their people and their governments, and what their governments do. They both have an electoral system based on proportional representation, where every vote counts.
Our system gave Mr. Harper a strong mandate to govern although only 24 per cent of the electorate voted for him, 76 per cent did not. If we had had PR at the last election we would have since had a Liberal-NDP coalition probably supported by the Greens and an overwhelming majority of the voters. I am sure they would have done many things differently than Mr. Harper, things both you and I would have supported.
The Star has always strongly opposed proportional representation and consequently we must thank you for giving us the current Conservative majority. It would be wonderful and a great blessing for Canada to fix our mess on Parliament Hill.
In your case it might be useful to fix your attitude toward what is a far superior and more democratic electoral system. We can really only fix ourselves.
Chris Smith, TorontoRecommend this Post
One of the most irritating features of government-by-press-release is the “re-announcement” — the enthusiastic proclamation, with full fanfare, of something that has already been proclaimed before, often many times. Today the Conservative government engaged in this practice, or, just as conveniently, had the media do it for them by playing up a funding announcement for a biofuel experiment by Pond Biofuels as though it were evidence of the “new” commercially oriented National Research Council:
Hard on the heels of announcing a new commercial focus for the National Research Council, the federal government today provided an example of what this new mission could mean for Canada’s premier science agency.
Yeah, well, that’s nice. One of the problems with this notion is that the NRC was already working on the algae file. In fact, unless I’m reading the entrails wrong, they were already funding Pond Biofuels to do exactly these sorts of projects. So while it’s nice to see that Pond Biofuels has made it another step toward full commercialization by building a subsidized bioreactor for a tarsands company in Alberta, this really isn’t the “new” NRC. This is the “old” NRC. Whether there will be a “new” NRC, and what form it will take, remains to be seen.
The reason I’m feeling a little bit snarky about this is because I’m deeply skeptical of the long-term usefulness of the sort of product that Pond Biofuels is now developing, with heavy government assistance. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing sinister about them. What they’re doing is developing ways of capturing carbon dioxide at it’s released from various types of industrial plants and feeding it to algae in specially designed vats. That’s stage one, and there’s nothing blameworthy about reducing emissions. It is somewhat disturbing that the journalists don’t bother to tell us what percentage of the emissions are captured in this way. It seems unlikely that it would be 100%. But even a little bit isn’t nothing.
The problem is stage two. Stage two is that the captured carbon, via the algae, becomes the basis for a new biofuels “bonanza.” In other words, once they’ve prevented the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere they’re going to… convert them into saleable form so they can be released back into the atmosphere anyways. We’re not exactly making a great deal of progress here.
Defenders of Pond Biofuels will interject — correctly too, I might add — that it’s not really the same thing at all. Those biofuels are taking the place of conventional fuels. Less conventional fuel will need to be extracted and refined. The ultimate effect will be less carbon is released into the atmosphere. It’s the same argument that defenders of fracking use: that natural gas plants may emit carbon, but that the industry is still “green” because natural gas is better than coal, which is what the natural gas will be substituted for.
Which is why I don’t want to be too hard on Pond Biofuels, because they’re not doing anything wrong, but the fact of the matter is that this sort of technology is not helpful in the long run and it’s a waste of the NRC’s time, and the taxpayers’ dollars, because it means entrenching an industry we should be displacing. There’s no good follow-on here.Tweet
Let's try to spread this as widely as possible. Mockery and satire often seem to be the best way to respond to the nonsense and lies the government proclaims in our name.Recommend this Post
There may not be words to express how much I love this time of year, the leap of seasons between the Spring equinox and Summer Solstice. It's where I live again, breathe deeply, walk and play joyfully, plant and nurture and grow and heal and bask in the sun. My birthday is right around the corner and it's been a long, sometimes exciting but more often than not, stressful year. It's hard to remember that though when the trees are all in full leaf, the flowers are in bloom, the birds are fluttering and chirping on every branch and painting the sky with their vivid colours. It's Taurus season and it's home. Read more about what Kathy has to say about this season, and how it encourages us to let go of body negativity, at the Agora today. Very good stuff.