Monthly Archives: February 2015

Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Opposition Effect

I smell an election.  All the political parties are in full rut; wooing and catcalling all and any citizen that happens onto social media. In the midst of the flying oaths and dodgy declarations I keep hearing the stupidest thing.

“Don’t throw your vote away.”

This is my rebuttal to those people who proffer the warning that the ruling party alone is responsible for making sure that the wheels of government keep turning, and anyone not in the ruling party does nothing but take up valuable space:

Stop it already.

That’s not true, and in fact it belies a basic lack of understanding about how a parliamentary democracy works – about what is and what isn’t a sign of a healthy democracy.

DEFINITION TIME:

  • Parliamentary democracy = democratic governance in which the executive branch derives its legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature.

Note the italicized words.

How much accountability is there really going to be if we elect one allied group of people? How much greater the opportunity for collusion and coercion when all members of the ruling party espouse and are aligned with the same ideologies?

Doesn’t accountability spring from fresh perspective, skepticism and asking new questions?

Who does that?

In parliamentary democracy, the party with the second highest number of seats in the legislature is given the OFFICIAL status of OFFICIAL opposition. That comes with an OFFICIAL function.

Our government enacts legislation on our behalf, and the opposition watches over them with a skeptical eye and reports back to us. Government runs things, and opposition makes sure they do it in an efficient, effective and legitimate way. They are the quality control.

Opposition is the steward of democracy. Perhaps not to rule, but to participate in good governance, is the nobler goal.

So, if you vote for the party that doesn’t form the government your vote is not a throw-away. If your elected representative is an opposition member then your elected representative is responsible for the health of our democracy.

This isn’t the race track, Alberta. Picking the winner doesn’t pay the highest democratic dividend. We complain about corruption among our representatives. It exists because we have handed unchallenged power to them. If we can’t muster the collective will to change things up once in a while the least we can do is to elect an opposition to mitigate the tendency of power to corrupt.

Alberta, we need to work together to oppose the behemoth on the right. Until we do that we have no hope of ever replacing the behemoth on the right and changing our boom and bust (hi)story.

 

This is the story of a place called Alberta. Alberta was a place where working people lived and played, were born and died. And they lived through booms and busts too.

They even had a legislature and every few years they had an election … used to drag themselves to the polls and cast a ballot. Some of them got tired of casting their vote and got caught up in the nets of some pretty big fish. Caught in rural ridings.

And every election those Albertans who did get to the ballot box just got used to electing conservative governments. A government made of oil loving wealth hoarding entitled bureaucrats.

Now, if you think it’s strange that Alberta should be electing bureaucrats you don’t understand the history of Alberta for the last 43 years, there is this fear of electing anybody other than cons.

Now, I’m not saying anything against a bureaucrat. They have a place keeping the wheels turning. They are the engine of Alberta, but they aren’t good as leaders. And the process and policies that bureaucrats just follow aren’t moving Alberta forward.

The laws and policies started to cater to the wealthy and gave them tax loopholes big enough that they didn’t pay a fair share. The policies and procedure started to focus so hard on one single industry that it slowed down the speed of change and growth in other areas so that one industry could keep its grip on the economy without too much effort.

Laws and policy are good things – for the status quo. But they are hard on a society that’s changing. The economic climate was getting harder and harder for new ideas and entrepreneurs. Yet, Alberta kept hoping with each election they would see some progressive change.

And finally they went en masse to the polls. They voted one conservative out and put another conservative in.

The conservatives had put on a great campaign. They said “vote for Ralph’s team” as if a new leader meant real change. As if when you put in the new leader the old party would suddenly be different.

So Alberta elected them again. And the new leader had the same cronies and enacted the same laws and policies as his predecessors. Life was as bad as before.

And when they couldn’t take that anymore they elected the old men out and split the right apart. Then they elected a woman leader ‘for progress’. Then they went back to an old man. They even ended up merging the right all over again. And they called that reunification.

They got a government made up of some progressives and too many regressives: there were even some that preached a lake of fire.

You see, the trouble wasn’t with the leadership. The trouble was with the lack of fresh perspective. There were no new ideas. And because government was always the same they naturally kept repeating the same mistaken financial management policies.

Finally there came a long a group who had an idea. Alberta, you should listen to people with new ideas. These people said we should unite the left, why do we keep electing conservatives and scattering the progressive left wing candidates? Why don’t we run together as one progressive left wing alternative?

No! Liberal minded Albertans said, we want it our way even if we lose! And they turned their backs.

I implore you, Alberta, you can be all for one, or one for all, but you can’t be all fighting one another and hope to prevail.*

(*with all due respect for the late, great Tommy Douglas)

 

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Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Social Edition

I am going to keep saying this until it sinks in; Yes, government has a role in legislating morality.

We need to elect progressive, liberal minded representatives that understand why philosophical-esque ideologies clash over individual and plural rights in our communities. Look:

  • liberalism = commitment to balancing individual freedom and social justice.
  • conservatism = commitment to traditional values, the goals and ideologies of which vary.

The definition of social conservatism includes the caveat that traditional values vary between groups. In any society there are potentially multiple traditions, and potentially values may not align.

I hope you can hear me over the wailing right-wing nuts when I say this. Do try…

If we’re all going to live together, we need balance. Maintaining balance between personal and secular values isn’t a zero sum game.* Sharing a human right doesn’t eliminate it; or halve it, or quarter it, or reduce it by any fraction. Removing a tradition from the public realm doesn’t necessarily remove it from the personal realm. In fact a zero sum only happens when progressive liberalism governance is NOT present.

Herein lies the peril inherent in democracy. Votes are equal individually, but not collectively. The risk that a majority can run roughshod over a minority exists because there is considerable pressure for government to conform to majority held views.

But the role is government is not to pander to the majority, it is to rise above and serve the whole.

In a progressive liberal democracy we avoid the trampling minority rights by implementing reforms that protect the right to have personally different values. A progressive government implements reform where there is contradiction between current traditionally informed and non-traditional choices. Progressive governance mitigates inequality founded upon tradition.

The catalyst for this Personal Pedantic Political Peroration is the Bill 10 fiasco in Alberta. Bill 10 panders to the worst pockets of social conservatism in our society. I expect my government to enact legislation that makes it unlawful for any group to use tradition to deny rights to the others. I’m not alone either. Alberta is full of progressive liberal minded people.

I don’t care what any religious tradition says about homosexuality. I am not bound by other traditions. Everyone is free to be offended by LGBT people in any old heteronormative tradition bound way. However, finding something personally offensive does not give anyone the right to censure it. We are all free to disregard any tradition, or the word free doesn’t apply at all.

The right to challenge tradition has been asserted before, and it will be asserted again:

Well, Alberta, now there is so much racket that something must be out of rightness.

I think that between the social progressives in the cities and the reality of what constitutes a human right, the traditional bigots will be in a fix pretty soon. Let’s be honest about what we all are talking about.

The zealots over there say that LGBT students don’t need to be helped to feel safe, or given a place to share, and that they have anti-bullying protection already. Don’t ask don’t tell will help them, doctrine over compassion, because that’s what scripture says.

Was Delwin Vriend protected? Was he? Now look at his students. Tradition clearly allows them to be marginalized, or be punished for who they are, here in this system. Isn’t that bullying? You should look at the statistics and look at these children – maybe you’ll get it – LGBT students suffer your bigotry. Do they deserve it?  They all bear higher risk of suicide, and GSAs mitigate that risk, and aren’t their lives important – doesn’t god love even sinners? Aren’t you a sinner? I hear you all talk about this scripture or that – why use them to justify contempt? What’s that got to do with a moral life?

If you have the right to choose your religion, and you are choosing it freely, doesn’t that give us all the right to choose for ourselves which path to follow? All the small minded keep saying it was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve; how does your wife feel about Abram and Hagar? Which scriptures do you follow? Which ones are discarded? Use logic and reason for human rights. Your religion has nothing to do with it.

If we have already as a society made a clear distinction between church and state, and we have already agreed to allow our neighbours freedom of conscience, you few right-wing nuts rallying behind your irrational traditions shouldn’t be able to hold the rest of us back from moving human rights forward!

The progressives are speaking, and the government better start listening.**

 

* FUN FACT: Zero Sum one of my favourite pedantological terms, I slip it into every conversation I can.

** With all due respect for the great Sojourner Truth; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

 

Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Fiscal Edition

Politics in Alberta. *sigh*

Before I launch into “Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Fiscal Edition” let’s get some definitions out of the way. We pedants love definitions.

  • [1] Conservatism = preference for the existing order and opposition to efforts to effect change.
  • [2] Fiscal conservatism = avoidance of deficit spending, reduction of government spending and debt, and commitment to balanced budgets.
  • [3] Democracy = government by all eligible members of a population through elected representatives.

The other day on twitter I asserted that the majority of Albertans who claim to be fiscal conservative are in fact not Conservatives[1]. I got a bit of push back on my assertion, and while I admit my opinion is based on personal observation and gathered anecdotal evidence, I stand by it.

There is no doubt that Albertans are resistant to change, I don’t know how else our current 43 year single party run can be explained. However, why this is the case is not certain. My theory is that it is because somehow a significant percentage of the electorate is convinced that ‘conservative’ and ‘responsible’ are synonyms[2].

Oh, Alberta. They aren’t synonymous – as proven by the woeful fiscal record of our 43 year Conservative dynasty. Alberta, do we need a remedial lesson in what is and what isn’t a synonym?

I understand, Alberta. We all want fiscal responsibility with reasonable avoidance of debt and deficit spending. That is the definition of responsible and can be achieved from any ideological location on the political spectrum; conservative or liberal or centrist or progressive… whatever name you want to give an alternative political placement.

The Conservative ideologues’ claims that they are sole party of fiscal responsibility seem to rely completely on the specific part of conservative ideology advocating reduction of government spending and low taxes, and this is what I think most Albertans are not actually in favour of.

Complaining about government spending is a sure fire way to gain fiscal street cred on gravel roads and secondary highways here in Alberta. But what does that mean really? Spending is not wasteful necessarily. Right? It depends entirely on what you get in return for your expenditure.

Yet our message to government is usually that they should spend less but (there is always a but) also provide the level of services we demand.

Between you and me, Alberta, I think what we mean is that government should spend; and tax; responsibly to provide the level of services we expect.

Alberta, listen, I say this with the best intentions, get your shit together. Stop voting Conservative because it’s just the way we do things around here and then lamenting their dismal performance on the fiscal issues we actually care about. Don’t vote conservatively. Vote responsibly.

Alberta, I have a dream.  I dream that even as we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow this province will rise up and elect a government true to the meaning of fiscal responsibility. I have a dream that my three boys will one day live in a province where they will not be haunted by the fiscal misdeeds of a former government, but live the Alberta advantage delivered by a government responsive to the needs of all Albertans. I have a dream that one day, here in Alberta with its vast resources and human ingenuity, with our Premier’s lips mouthing the words ‘this is not budgeting as usual’ that Albertans will join forces[3] and with their ballots declare ‘this is no longer government as usual’ but government for the better and for the future, governing so we will all see my dream together. This is my hope, and this is the dream that I will go to the polling station with. *

Dream with me, Alberta.

(* with the utmost respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I borrow out of admiration for the master)

 

Next up on Planned Pedanthood … ‘Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Social Edition’