Thursday, 22 December 2016

Somebody else's idea of my 2016 greatest hits list

A few days ago, the helpful folks at Spotify handily offered me a window into my life in 2016.  Okay, I doubt there was actually a human being involved in this, but a link appeared in my Spotify app entitled “Your Top Songs 2016.”

Hmm.  So they were keeping track?  Making a list?  Checking it twice? Finding out if I was naughty or nice? 

Well, I thought I should have a look.  So I did.  It’s not really a complete guide to 2016.  I still listen to CDs and iTunes (Oh boy do I like listening to my two San Fermin albums, and I usually listen to Shari Ulrich’s lovely record Everywhere I Go from start to finish and the Jackson Browne tribute album is a big favourite) but even so, the list says something about the moods I was in for much of 2016. 

Here’s the top 25.  See if you can figure me out:

1.       Not Dark Yet – the Jimmy LaFave version of the Bob Dylan song.

2.       Wisteria – Richard Shindell

3.       My Back Pages – the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert version

4.       Homecoming – Thomas Newman, from the soundtrack to “Bridge of Spies”

5.       So Are You To Me – eastmountainsouth

6.       Farewell to St. Dolores – Pine Hill Project

7.       Ain’t You Tired (End Title) – Thomas Newman, from the soundtrack to “The Help”

8.       Weight of the World – Dar Williams

9.       There Will Be Time – Mumford & Sons – Johannesburg

10.   Gethsemani Goodbye – Richard Shindell

11.   Wonders I’ve Seen – The Bills

12.   Strange News – Kairine Polwart

13.   More Than This – Lucy Kaplansky

14.   I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2

15.   I Put a Spell on You – Annie Lennox

16.   Ship to Wreck – Florence + the Machine

17.   In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel – the live version

18.   I Am A Town – Mary Chapin Carpenter

19.   Love’s Not Where we Thought We Left It – John Hiatt

20.   Hard Times – eastmountainsouth (the Stephen Foster song)

21.   So Familiar – Steve Martin

22.   33 “GOD” – Bon Iver

23.   Walking on Broken Glass – Annie Lennox

24.   In a Parade – Paul Simon

25.   Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Leonard Cohen. And me, I suppose.

So long Marianne; it’s time that we began, to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Tonight we think of Leonard Cohen.

I still have the songbook I purchased in the music store in West Point Grey where I took my first guitar lessons all those years ago: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.  With a picture of Cohen’s Greek visa - if that’s what it was - on the back cover. I wanted to learn how to play Suzanne, because everyone else could.  (It sounded so simple, though it wasn't.) Instead, I learned Bird on a Wire and So Long, Marianne. But really hardly ever played them. There was something impenetrably, ineffably unreachable in his unique juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane.  And I could never shake this feeling that they weren’t really songs; they were more like poetry barely set to music.  He was, I think, simply too adult for my 14 or 15 year old self.  It was far easier to set sail on the more approachable, or at least tuneful seas - flying machines and broken heartships - of Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor and Neil Young.

Oddly enough, I returned to Leonard Cohen a few years later through a side door: Jennifer Warnes’ completely perfect record, Famous Blue Raincoat.  That punching drumbeat in First We Take Manhattan cracks across your mind like some kind of weapon.  Her duet with the man himself on Joan of Arc is a wild tour into the unknowable, unresolvable mystery of mysteries. Song of Bernadette, which I played so often the grooves wore out on the vinyl and still today can bring me close to tears: ‘so many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine, torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo’ - well, isn’t that life in a dozen words?  And anyway, I was just old enough by then to be entranced by the idea of a Jewish poet from Montreal who couldn’t leave all these Christian icons alone. Jennifer Warnes helped me see the music that completed the poetry.

And then again, a long interruption, until the album The Future, and its Closing Time, which I played and played and played again, not just because it really is hell to pay when the fiddler stops, but by then I guess I was maybe old enough to start thinking about closing time.  But young enough still to think that the answer was simply to party on, and hope the fiddler would never stop.

If you will forgive me a moment of excess, I think I can say that the first twenty thousand times I heard Hallelujah - including as k d laing sang it at the 2010 Olympics opening ceremony (we were there for rehearsal night) it meant something to me, but eventually all good things - even really, really good songs, wear out their welcome. Not Cohen’s fault, I know, but there it is. It’s a curious song.  I’ve always thought it’s a lot like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA: there’s something superficially compelling about it that allows you to disregard the true darkness that lies within it.  Sometimes I hear people sing it and I say to myself, are you actually listening to what he’s saying?

Pico Iyer’s writings about Leonard Cohen’s life with Buddhists brought the man into focus in ways that could only cause you to rethink your own way of living, or at least it did that for me, and I give them both credit for doing that.

Leonard Cohen is a special treasure to Canadians, of course.  A Montrealer who made it big in the larger world and never completely let go of his roots.  Someone whose muse also never quite let go, and drove him to create, to mystify and enlighten and even entertain us into his 80’s; well, that’s a powerful inspiration in his own right.  He’s thought of as an icon of the 60’s, one of the greats of a long ago era who managed to reinvent himself into relevance again and again for six decades.  I think his work will last.  Context always matters; the time and place in which creation happens is always at least relevant.  But the art that truly endures can stand outside its time and place.  That is a right reserved to very few creators.  Leonard Cohen is surely one of them, an immortal.  Few people prepare so publicly for their own demise, but I always thought that he was preparing us for his departure as much as he was preparing himself. He’s gone now, but the words and the songs will live on.

The morning after the morning after, and it's not getting better

A day later, and the future still seems pretty dark to me.

Yesterday morning, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat with grace and dignity, and a resolute commitment to the inevitability of social progress, confirming our belief that these have always been her qualities.  President Obama began the process of transition. He invited the President-elect to the White House as soon as today.  And in a quite remarkable attempt to re-contextualize 18 months of bitter, impassioned and angry campaign rhetoric, he quaintly described US presidential elections as "intramural scrimmages".

Well, we're all getting along now, I guess.  At least no one it seems, is any longer describing the US voting system as rigged.

Commentators are well into the post-mortem analysis.  For many, of course, that will have to include an examination of the question: what went wrong with their confident prediction that Americans would reject Trump?  (Of course, in one sense, they did: Clinton won the popular vote.)

There will be lots of explanations.  Here’s one that needs considering.  I won’t remember the numbers perfectly, but they went something like this: compared with 2012, the Republican vote decreased by a bit less than a million (in round numbers, 61 million to 60 million); but the Democratic vote declined by as much as 6 million (66 to 60).  Overall, a lower turnout.  But perhaps what really happened is simply that Republicans voted Republican, while millions of Democrats abandoned their party and candidate.  (These would probably be the blue collar workers who once formed the backbone of the New Deal Democratic coalition and who are now the bedrock of Republican support in the Rust Belt states where the election was won and lost.)

The other narrative that has returned to the media discourse as an explanation of Tuesday’s outcome is the argument that what really happened is that voters decided, as they do from time to time, to vote for change rather than continuity.  In crudely simple terms, it’s like this: “we’ve given those bastards a pretty good run at it; now it’s time to elect a different set of bastards.”  (The argument is pursued by Gail Collins in her op-ed in today’s New York Times.)

This idea was once very elegantly explained by the American philosopher Robert Nozick in his book, The Examined Life.  He called it the "zigzag" of politics.  He wrote,

“The electorate I see as being in the following situation: Goals and programs have been pursued for some time by the party in power, and the electorate comes to think that’s far enough, perhaps even too far.  It’s now time to right the balance, to include other goals that have been, recently at least, neglected or given too low a priority, and it’s time to cut back on some of the newly instituted programs, to reform or curtail them.”

It’s a philosopher’s argument (I don’t think he even names a political party throughout the whole of his discussion).  It implies, plausibly, that voters are rarely as entrenched in their adherence to the positions and views of parties and candidates as are the parties (and their ideologues).  It argues for a balance over time that ensures that different interests, priorities, and aspirations eventually all have their chance.  It underestimates the role that personality - as opposed to policy - plays in election outcomes.  But it is not a bad way of explaining one of the best features of healthy democracies, which is that long term one-party rule is the exception, rather than the norm.

So maybe what happened is that Americans - or at least some of them - were simply voting this week for change.

Fine. I can comprehend that analysis.  I might even agree with it.  But it doesn’t help.
Americans may have voted for change. But what they got was Donald Trump.  And that’s where the fear starts to rise again in the pit of my stomach.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

US Election night - first thoughts

As I write, late Tuesday night, the races in the last few states are too close to call, and there’s as much chance of a Trump victory as a Clinton victory, or even, perhaps, god help us, a tie.  As I write, the TV commentators are simply overwhelmed by the failure of their own understanding - informed and encouraged by the false promise of opinion poll reliability - of the country they are paid to claim they understand.

Whatever the ultimate result, over 50 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. Whose vision of the world is profoundly hate- and fear-filled, and utterly narcissistic.  And who appears to have - or at least demonstrates - not a particle of respect for the institutions of American governance. There are surely lessons to be learned from this for us here in Canada.  I do not think this is a time for smugness.  This is a time to reflect on the corrosive power of disaffection and alienation.

We ought to spend time thinking about the lessons of this US election. At the very least, we are called not to take for granted what we trumpet as our Canadian tolerance for diversity, our compassion, and our respect for difference.  For my part, I think I need to spend more time trying to understand the reality that intolerance in the United States is not just the strongly held ethos of a vocal minority, but possibly something close to a majority view, at least of those willing and able to vote.  A frightening thought.  If the country which is the home of pluralism (e pluribus unum) is actually ambivalent about diversity, that is a worrying thing.

But tonight I want to offer only one comment for our continuing consideration.  America, it seems to me, is a country deeply, profoundly, divided on the question whether government can be trusted to do or manage or solve anything.  It’s not quite the same thing as a vigorous debate about whether, on an issue by issue basis, government has got it right.  It’s a deeper view, a view that government is simply, irretrievably and irredeemably illegitimate in all imaginable ways.

How does such a view come to be so widely held?  Plainly, those who are alienated from the benefits of government, who see or feel nothing of the benefits of social and economic progress, the rule of law, or prosperity are eventually bound to question the basic legitimacy of government as a force for good. My worry is that all of the ingredients for institutional distrust are as alive and well here on the north side of the 49th parallel as they are in the United States.  Think for a moment of the last time a major decision was made by a government, an agency, or an appellate court in our country that was not immediately followed by extensive media coverage of the voices of those who do not simply disagree but completely reject the legitimacy of the process that led to the decision.  We increasingly have come to expect that this is the basic framework of our discourse.  Someone is given the power to decide. They decide. Someone immediately questions the legitimacy of the decision.  You never hear the voice that says, “I argued hard for my perspective, but I respect that others have made a different decision.”  A voice that, in my respectful view, is critically necessary if we are to function as a democracy.

I have no trouble with the idea of dissent and disagreement; they are fundamental to democracy.  But if our public discourse is dominated by voices that simply reject the legitimacy of any decision by any decision-maker, we will sooner or later lose any capacity to decide difficult issues with any confidence.  We will lose confidence in the capacity of government or its agencies to do the difficult business of governing.  We will come to hate government and everything it represents.  And after we’ve done that for long enough, we will start electing people who represent the perfect expression of that perspective: people who have no experience in public service, who know nothing about the complexities of the world, who traffic only in mindlessly simple, misleading slogans.  People, in other words, like Donald Trump.

My question tonight, then, is what can we do in this country to build confidence, support, and yes, trust, in our political institutions?  For all their failings, we simply need to cut them the slack to do the most difficult business of deciding and governing.  We are so accustomed to hearing the voices of those who challenge and question.  My concern is that in the long run we will only continue to earn the right to disagree if we can, at least sometimes, accept the right of others to decide even when we do disagree.  This is essential to the functioning of government.  It is also essential to civilisation - to have the grace to accept defeat, to join hands sometimes with your opponents, to applaud the achievement of a society that has nurtured both government and the right to disagree.  Trump won - or at least achieved surprising success - by campaigning against government, against even the idea of government.  That way lies madness, or at least chaos.  We must choose a different path.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

More thoughts on political fund-raisers

It’s a rainy Saturday in Vancouver, and I’m not really enthralled by the book I’m supposed to be reading. So I decided to sit down at the computer and start typing.  No apologies for length.  It’s pretty much just an edited, write-it-down-as-it-comes to me stream of commentary.


Cash for access. Pay to play.  It’s remarkable how a clever turn of phrase has the power to both illuminate and distort our understanding of things.  And to change how we judge the world.

As I write, the public clamour to change the rules of political fund-raising intensifies, encouraged by indignant newspaper editorials, righteous political columnists and the usual radio talk show callers.  Already one premier, Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, has yielded to the pressure and promised reform.  I have to say I think it is inevitable that other political leaders will, sooner or later, fall into line. That is to be regretted.  Sometimes, even in a democracy, the people are wrong.  The changes being demanded will make our politics more complicated, more expensive, and more unwieldy. They will do nothing to improve the quality or honesty of political decision-making.  And they will do nothing to curb whatever corruption actually exists; rather, as I will explain later, they are more likely to encourage it.

The way Canadians practice democracy is the envy of most of the rest of the world.  The rule of law is respected.  Our politicians have integrity.  While it’s unlikely that most people could demand a one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister, it’s actually not difficult to meet with your local representative, whether that be a municipal councillor, a member of the provincial legislature, or an MP.  The views of crackpot conspiracy theorists and Internet trolls aside, corruption is the rare exception, not the rule. Political office is neither bought nor sold.  Nor are political decisions.  To repeat something I said earlier this week, the fact that we can all remember the instances of corruption is evidence of how little there is.  

Until a few months ago, political fund-raising events - dinners, coffee parties, picnics, summer barbecues - had been a feature of political life in Canada (as in most democracies) for as long as anyone could remember.  Some of my own earliest political memories are of political fund-raisers.  When I was in high school my father, an active volunteer in the federal Liberal Party,  was often the principal organizer of the annual federal Liberal leader’s dinner in Vancouver.  Once or twice we were trundled downtown to spend the night of the dinner in a hotel so that my parents didn’t need to get a babysitter for us.  The lure was that we might - if we were lucky - meet a politician or two.  I met the first Prime Minister Trudeau that way.  As this discussion about political fundraising has escalated over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about that meeting, which was probably 1971.  Regrettably, I did not use the occasion of our meeting - with just his wife, my parents, and my sisters in the room - to try to lobby for a highway construction contract or tax change.  I suppose I could be excused for being sixteen and not realizing this is what you’re supposed to do when you’re in a room with a politician.  But I am quite sure of this. If I or anyone else had suggested to Pierrre Trudeau that he could have been in some way bought by the fact that someone had paid a few hundred dollars to attend a dinner in his honour, he would have laughed himself silly, to the point where you were soon made to realize what a fool you were even to think that this was possible.

Is there a difference between a crowd of a thousand in a hotel ballroom and a gathering of a dozen people in a private home?  Undoubtedly.  But it’s actually not a difference that matters.  Again, I’ve been in both those rooms.  I’ve been at the very back of the ballroom, and watched as politicians worked the room, moving from table to table, shaking hands, having their picture taken, and from time to time moving off to one side to have a few private words with someone.  I’ve also been in rooms where the gathering was much smaller, perhaps ten or a dozen people in lengthy and close conversation with a candidate or elected politician.  To be clear, these events are rarely ever open to the public - they’re not advertised in the local newspaper or radio.  That’s because the goal is to raise money, not convene a public consultation session.  And in case you want to know (because you’ve never been at one of these events), they are not actually occasions for influence-peddling.  Rather, there’s usually some cheerleading for the guest of honour or the party, some speeches, and sometimes a question and answer session.  Oh, and of course, the rubber chicken.   At these events the politician is making his or her case in front of a room of supporters.  She is asking and hoping for their continued support.  He wants their help in the upcoming election.  She is trying out new policy proposals.  He is praising his cabinet and caucus colleagues.  She is poking fun at the opposition.  He is scaring the room into fearing the prospect that the other party will be elected. In short, it’s politics.  

And no matter whether there are ten people in the room or 1500, everyone has bought a ticket (or is there because someone else did.)  Everyone, in other words, has paid to play.

Is all of that corrupt? Again, I know how many voices have lined up on the other side of this question, but the answer is no. Not even close.

In fact, these events are indispensable to participatory democracy. They bring people into the process. They are not, of course, a substitute for the obligation every elected official has to be directly and personally accountable to their electorate.  No politician leaving a fund-raising dinner thinks that their job of working for the public has been discharged by a night of politicking with party faithful.  But sometimes they are cheered by the fact that they have supporters, people who are willing to part with some of their own hard-earned money to help ensure that the next campaign will be adequately funded.

The argument is made that political fund-raising events offer privileged access to the rich, and exclude those without means.  That argument confuses partisan politics with public duty.  Partisan politics costs money, and the money has to be raised somehow.  Fundraising events are a time-honoured, and perfectly honourable way of doing that. The morning after the dinner, the politician is back at work in their community, as accountable to those who disagree with her as to her supporters. 

The argument is made that this money buys influence and favourable decisions.  Well, this is the kind of argument that sloppy thinkers (and opportunistic opposition politicians) make because it’s a clever way of implying that politicians are corrupt without actually saying it.  That’s the mischief in the phrases pay to play and cash for access.  Where real corruption exists, it’s a crime.  It should be investigated and prosecuted.  But at the same time, thereare dozens and dozens of examples of politicians who made decisions directly contrary to the interests and wishes of their principal supporters.  Think Gordon Campbell and the carbon tax.  Think NDP governments when they have legislated public sector unionworkers back to work.  These things get done because politicians govern according to their conception of the public interest, not in order to curry favour with their donors.  Are there exceptions to this rule?  Of course.  But at the same time, do you think that politicians could long hold office if they did not have supporters?  People willing to knock on doors, post leaflets, erect signs, update voter id lists, call voters, make coffee, open their houses for coffee parties, drive people to and from polls, scrutineer the count, and yes, donate the money necessary to support this work? 

And yes, the money is necessary. Our political process is already more than adequately subsidized by taxpayers.  Elections Canada - the bureacrats who audit and enforce the mind-numbing assembly of rules that govern our electoral process - spent $443 million on the last election.  On top of that the two major parties spent approximately $40 million on their respective campaigns. A great deal of that money is subsidized by taxpayers through the political contributions tax credit.  But not all of it.  Fund-raising is still necessary to pay for the balance. 

I complete reject the suggestion that our political process should be paid for entirely by taxpayers.  I believe that the work needed to obtain financial support directly from citizens is an excellent way of ensuring that political parties actually pay attention to citizens. (Every citizen is a potential donor.)  In addition, most models I have seen for heavier public subsidy of political parties tend to encourage what I would describe as a change-averse political process.  All the parties that have traditionally done well get most of the funds.  It’s harder for new parties to break in.  That’s not healthy.  So some fund-raising is necessary.

Should we ban political fund-raisers?  Well, let me ask this question: how would we do that?  Let me be a lawyer for a moment and ask whether it is possible to define what a political fund-raiser is in terms that can be readily understood by those expected to comply with the law, and easily enforced by officials and courts.  Would it include an event where there is no actual ticket price payable ahead of time, but where phone calls are made after the event to solicit donations?  Would it include an event such as, say, a local Chamber of Commerce or union local or environmental organization dinner, where the featured guest is an elected politician and there’s someone in the crowd meeting everyone, asking for their business cards, and planning to call or email them the next day to see if they would support the politician?  What if you really do want to buttonhole a politician and you can’t get anyone to organize a small group dinner - because they’re against the law - and so what you do instead is to pay the amount necessary to secure an elite membership in a local charity, which guarantees you a seat at the head table at the next event, so that you will sit beside the politician?

I can assure you that all of these things happen now, and they will continue to happen.  If you’re actually worried about whatever it is you think is meant by “pay to play” then please don’t fool yourself into thinking it will all somehow go away if some more rules are made.  This is what I meant earlier about the risk that the cure may actually be worse than the disease - if the wrong rule is enacted, the problem (if it is one) won’t go away, it will just pop up in a different, possibly more pernicious form somewhere else.

And I haven’t even offered up the most difficult example with the proposed prohibition.  What’s the difference between a typical political fund-raiser and the dinner at the annual constituency meeting or party convention?  Again, you’ve paid to participate in the event - you’ve paid to join the party, and you’ve paid the fee to attend the convention, and you’ve paid the special ticket price for the dinner, and may event have paid the additional fee for the special pre-dinner party attended by all members of caucus and Cabinet.  Isn’t this starting to look a lot like whatever it is that people mean when they say “pay to play”?  Are we going to ban politicians from attending constituency meetings or party conventions? 

The direct and intended consequence of any prohibition of this kind of fund-raising will be to isolate politicians from people. To cut them off from their supporters.  Indeed, to cut them off from everyone. It’s ridiculous.

Another suggestion for ridding politics of the scourge of fund-raisers is to enact a donation limit of, say, $100.  Well-intentioned, I suppose.  So how does that work?  If you’re a constituency MP or federal candidate who needs to raise $200,000 to pay for the cost of an election campaign, that means you need to find at least 2,000 people willing to donate $100 to your campaign.  I won’t say that’s impossible.  I will say it’s close to impracticable.  How will you find those 2,000 people?  Remember, you can’t hold any public events for that purpose because you don’t have the money to hire the meeting room and you can’t charge admission.  Do you knock on doors?  Come up with some clever viral online strategy?  Or do you hire ten people to mount an organized telephone and online solicitation campaign to try to raise the funds?  Let me say this:  people who have never had any experience in campaigning for, or holding elected office, often think all of that is easy.  In my experience, having done it and watched it for nearly two generations it’s actually very hard.  Forcing politicians to fund-raise this way will probably mean that they spend way more time fund-raising than they do now.  Is that a good thing?  I don’t think so.

There are some who wish our politics was less expensive.  While I sympathize with the wish, it’s not realistic.  There are already limits on campaign expenditures.  I don’t know whether their impact has been studied, but I’m guessing experts would say it would be hard to mount the kind of campaign which actually reaches voters without spending amounts in the general range of current campaign expenditure limits.  

Lastly, I will say again what I said earlier this week.  At some point, high becomes too high.  But the cure is not to legislate prohibitions on this important feature of our democratic politics, but rather to impose strict standards of disclosure.  Public disclosure of donors and amounts.  This is a situation where, to use the old saw, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  Don’t add yet one more set of rules to our already burdensomely complex electoral processes.  Don’t require taxpayers to pay for still more legions of Elections Act officials.  Tell the public how much money is being donated and by whom.  And let voters be the judge of how much is too much.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Political fundraisers

The Globe and Mail published this piece I wrote on political fundraisers on October 27.  

A growing chorus of voices calls for an end to what are derisively called “cash for access” political fundraisers. Most recently, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to ban politicians from attending them. Respectfully, I dissent.
One such event that recently caught the public’s attention is a private federal Liberal Party fundraiser in Halifax attended by a small group of donors who paid $1,500 each. The featured guest was Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Two points of context. One, the law of Canada encourages individuals to donate up to $1,500 a year to political parties by granting a tax credit. Two, fundraising dinners are – and always have been – a basic feature of our democratic landscape.
What is the difference between a big-ticket fundraiser attended by a very small group and a large-scale fundraiser with hundreds of people in the crowd? In both cases, the attendees are there to be supportive and be seen as supportive. And at every table at every one of those events, large or small, people are hoping that the guest of honour, be it a premier, a cabinet minister or a candidate, will take a moment to stop by, shake hands and engage in conversation on the issues that concern them.
Of course, with only a dozen guests, there is every likelihood of a longer discussion of those issues. The difference, if any, is only one of degree. In every case, the name on the invitation – the politician – is the reason for the event, and the reason people attend. It is not just political fundraisers. It is also the dinner in support of a community charity, where the local politicians are seated at the head table, and a long line of ticket-buying attendees wait to buttonhole their MP about their favourite cause.
There is no meaningful distinction between someone who buys a table at a dinner for 500 people and someone who spends the same amount on a single ticket for a much smaller event.
A high ticket price obviously excludes many who might like to share their views with a cabinet minister, but that is as true for the $100 dinner as it is for the $1,500 dinner.
What is missing from this discussion is any consideration of a more fundamental question: If not this, then how are we to pay for our electoral politics?
Elections are expensive. At the constituency level, it is not unusual to spend more than $200,000 on a federal campaign. At the national level, the two major parties each spent at least $40-million in the 2015 election. Campaign costs are already heavily subsidized by the federal government. But unless we want the taxpayer to foot the entire bill for our political process – a policy direction that should be resisted – parties will need to raise funds, just as they have always done.
No doubt, many donate to political parties out of a sense of altruism. They sincerely support a party or candidate, and want to help them succeed. But almost no one donates to a party they do not support. Alignment between the donor and the recipient is the whole point. If the party breaks faith with its donors, the donations will likely stop. In that sense, every political donation – whether it’s a dinner ticket, a reply to an e-mail, or a promise made during a phone call solicitation – has an element of “pay to play.” It is basic to the process.
Of course, as the amount increases, so do the stakes, and the risks. To lose a major donor is potentially to experience a major setback. This, again, is how our system has always operated. We remember the occasions of actual corruption – in which someone really did buy a government decision or appointment – because there are so few of them. Every politician can tell you of the decisions they made that alienated their closest supporters but, more importantly, connected with the electorate, where real power ultimately resides. Money matters, it even makes politics possible, but it does not buy our politicians.
Ban politicians from these events, as Ontario’s Ms. Wynne has now promised to do? That would isolate them from an important source of ideas, inspiration and criticism, namely their supporters. And it is worse than naive to pretend that those who want access will not find a way to get it. The dinner (or other event – say, a “stakeholder consultation” session organized by the local party, or some other community organization, for a select group of local citizens) will be free, and the call for a donation will come afterward. Draw a line between, say, the $100 dinner ticket and the $1,000 ticket? The line would be arbitrary, easy to evade and expensive to enforce.
The answer is not prohibition, but transparency. Continue to require full disclosure of all donors and donations. Encourage media scrutiny and public discussion about who is donating and why. There is a level at which donations are so high they bring both donor and recipient into disrepute. Let the criminal law deal with those thankfully rare occasions of real corruption. But let the dinners continue – rubber chicken and all – and let voters be the judge of how much is too much.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

My street - a film location - great! But.

Yesterday we received a notice that a TV commercial will be filmed on our street.  Tomorrow.  So don't even think about parking on our street on Thursday.

Well, I'm generally just fine with the fact that Vancouver is a frequent movie set. Dressing Vancouver up as though it was somewhere else provides all kinds of "I see Vancouver moments" when we're watching movies or TV.  Those downtown commutes that are disrupted by all the big white vans are a relatively small inconvenience, even though sometimes they are actually a six block, ten minute detour, with police cars, roadblocks and all the accoutrements of major security incidents.

I'm sure that the revenues from all this activity are a big boost to someone, especially, of course, all the people who work in the industry.

But less than 48 hours notice of the fact that access to our home will be seriously disrupted feels more like an imposition than a benefit.

Luckily for us, it won't be that much of an imposition.  We have no plans for Thursday.  But what if, say, we had been planning a wake for a deceased relative?  Or a wedding reception party, planned months and months ago, where dozens and dozens of people driving here from everywhere were expecting to show up at our door, maybe dropping grandma off just in front of the house and parking elsewhere?  Or maybe we were planning to move a lot of furniture? And, I have to say this, because ours is a narrow street, will there be room for an ambulance if one is called?

I hate to be grumpy.  Really I do.  Mine is actually a sunny disposition. But this notice presumes that we are doing nothing in our lives, that we simply wait at home desperately hoping for the opportunity to put our neighbourhood at someone else's service.  At 48 hours notice.

One of my near neighbours is probably pretty happy, given the daily rates these companies pay to film in your living room.

For the rest of us, we get the chance to hope that someday we'll see ourselves on TV.

Am I saying all this should stop?  No.  But 48 hours notice is nothing short of arrogant and rude.  And something more tangible than a notice left on our doorstep would make a big difference.  How about, say, a nice plate of chocolate chip cookies?  I can forgive almost anything if it comes with a nice place of chocolate chip cookies.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Fun factoid from Jane Mayer's "Dark Money"

Sitting here tonight watching the first night of the Democratic National Convention I am moved to remind myself of this little gem from Jane Mayer's book, Dark Money, which, as the subtitle says, is "The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right."

It's about the Kochs, especially, two brothers who have spent untold millions trying to influence American politics in so many ways because they are so opposed to government full stop.

Folks of the hard right are always singing the doom song.  Any more government from those dreaded liberals - those people who think that government is actually capable of some good - and we will all go to hell in a hand basket.



Here's the factoid.

from pp 377-78:

"Despite their predictions that Obama would prove catastrophic to the American economy, Charles's and David"s [Koch's] personal fortunes ... nearly tripled during his presidency, from $14 billion apiece in March 2009 to $41.6 billion each in March 2015, according to Forbes."

Those poor Kochs!  Those poor conservatives!  Those poor Republicans!  Barely getting by.  Having trouble making the mortgage payments.  Probably on the brink of impoverishment.  Eating second rate caviar.  Having a hard time even breathing because of the heavy weight of government on their necks.  So thoroughly strangled and held back by the oppressive weight of a Democratic president.  Except.  Not.

It's always like that.  The rich always figure out how to get by.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The vacancy tax that won't work

The Globe and Mail published this piece I wrote in their Monday July 25 edition.
British Columbia’s MLAs are returning to Victoria on Monday for a mid-summer legislative session to deal with changes to the Vancouver Charter intended to allow the city to impose a special “empty housing” tax.
I was struck by a comment made a few days ago by West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith, who thinks a better approach to the issue would be to levy an additional tax on non-resident owners. He’s quoted as saying, “I pay a non-resident tax rate in Hawaii because I own a house there. It’s a much more logical way to go than a vacancy tax because, first of all, how do you enforce it and everyone has a different definition of vacant.”
For anyone that repressed a grin thinking that only a mayor of West Vancouver would be happy talking about his house in Hawaii, there’s a much more serious point that his observation completely misses. It’s a point invariably avoided by nearly everyone who discusses housing issues.
In Hawaii, as in the rest of the United States, there is no principal residence exemption for capital gains on the sale of your house. Everyone, resident and non-resident alike, pays capital gains taxes on the increase in value in their house when it is sold. Creating a two-tier system of taxes thus becomes a way of providing at least some comparative tax advantage to resident homeowners.
In Canada, of course, you pay no capital gains tax on your house, provided it is your principal residence. If you own property here but don’t live in it, you are taxable on the full amount of the increase in its value when you sell it. That’s true even if you live in it part-time, as long, of course, as you have a principal residence somewhere else.
This is a massive tax benefit for resident homeowners. In some parts of Vancouver, houses are being sold for literally 10 times what they were purchased for decades ago. All of that gain is tax-free if the house is your principal residence. But if you have purchased the property for an investment, if you’ve flipped it, or if you are planning to subdivide it and sell it off, it’s all taxable.
In other words, we already have a very significant two-tier taxation system for residential property.
Indeed, there is another such scheme, the Home Owner Grant, which reduces the amount of property taxes you pay each year on your principal residence. Admittedly, the grant doesn’t offer much value any more in Vancouver because the ceiling on eligibility has not kept up with the rising values of real estate in Vancouver.
But in other parts of the province, the grant is a very efficient way of distinguishing between houses that are lived in by their owners and houses that are owned by investors.
So there are at least two mechanisms already in place for distinguishing between resident homeowners and property investors. Do we need a third?
The proposed tax on vacant houses is partly about the apparent growth in non-resident investor-owners, and also about the shortage of rental property in the city. Rarely, in the long history of housing policy, has a tool been conceived that is more poorly designed to increase the stock of rental accommodation than the vacancy tax.
There are at least two fundamental problems with it. One, the definition of vacancy, whatever it is, will be arbitrary. How long does a property have to be uninhabited to be “vacant”? A week, a month, a year? No matter where you draw the line, it will be arbitrary.
In fact, there are lots of reasons why a house might be empty for many months, and many of them will have nothing to do with investors sitting on capital assets. What about the family that bought a house intending to move here because of a job transfer, but the transfer has been put on hold and the family decides to hang on to the house for a while to see if things change? It’s not hard to imagine dozens of such scenarios: Mom’s just been put in a care home, but there’s some chance she might recover and wouldn’t it be great if we could make arrangements to care for her in her house? And in such a situation, why would it make any sense at all to force the family to rent her house?
Of course, some properties are being left vacant because that is a rational investment decision by their owners. I’m not for a moment pretending that’s not happening. But I can tell you this from long experience overseeing public-policy administration: Every exemption proposed to try to limit or narrow the focus of the tax in a way that targets the “pure” investor will turn into a loophole and magnify problems of enforcement.
The second fundamental problem is that it will be an exercise in impossible magicianship to determine the right amount of the extra tax. Why? Because if it’s not high enough, it won’t deter vacancy or produce any significant revenue, and so will do nothing to help Vancouver achieve its goal of funding additional affordable housing. And if it’s too high, it will simply – and instantly – give an incentive for avoidance. Experts will spring up overnight to advise you on how to make it appear that your house is being lived in.
If I were an MLA, I’d be more than a little grumpy about taking time away from the summer barbecue circuit to debate a tax that is neither necessary nor enforceable, and will do nothing to address the problem it is intended to solve.

Monday, 11 July 2016

I'm Right and You're (Not) an Idiot - a review of James Hoggan's wonderful new book

Jim Hoggan’s new book I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is a tonic for our times.

Increasingly, our public debates are dominated by a superabundance of invective.  Sometimes it seems that ad hominem attacks have all but completely taken the place of reasoned discourse.  This is of course most evident in that part of our communicating world called “social” media – where, all too often, the “communication” is profoundly anti-social.  On rare occasions when I have been privileged to participate in the discussion of public issues, I always tell everyone I know to, “please read my essay but for god’s sake don’t read the comments”. There be dragons.  But of course, I’m not just talking about Internet trolls: witness, most dramatically, the preferred form of discourse of the presumptive Republican nominee for US President, whose stock in trade is not his mastery of the issues, but his seemingly infinite capacity for personal insult.

Hoggan, a highly regarded public relations consultant, has decades of experience in helping clients navigate the public sphere; he’s also personally contributed to our community through his service and leadership for organizations as diverse as the David Suzuki Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.  This book is another - invaluable - contribution to the welfare of our community.  As the issues we confront grow steadily more complex, we are going to have to find a way to stop shouting at each other if we have are to have any hope of successfully addressing those issues.  Hoggan’s book is a much-needed guidebook for how to repair our public square.

I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is Hoggan’s response to a question once asked of him by David Suzuki, who was having trouble understanding why, faced with overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change, the public seemed hardly to be paying attention, let alone demanding action.  Hoggan decided that the best way to answer that question was to interview a range of experts – people as diversely qualified as Jonathan Haidt, Peter Senge, and Karen Armstrong.  The main part of this book is a tour through those conversations, and the various insights of everyone with whom he talked.  It’s quite a collection of conversations – too many to summarize fairly here, but it culminates, finally, in Jim’s own insights, in particular, the conclusions he draws in a section entitled “From the Heart”, where the essence of the book is compressed into one marvelous statement by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Speak the truth but not to punish.”  Or, to use another term Hoggan offers in his concluding observations, what’s needed is the responsibility to “learn to use speech for its highest purpose – moral discourse.”

For my part, the book’s best passages are those where Hoggan personalizes his own response to what he has learned through dialogue with his interviewees.  It’s not easy to distill the essence of the thinking of such scholars as George Lakoff and Marshall Ganz into a report of a single meeting or interview; in many cases, Hoggan’s report of the conversation serves best as an invitation to dig more deeply into those writers’ work.  But there’s a continuing, over-arching theme that links his discussions, and Hoggan’s own insights are rich and thought-provoking, in the best sense of that term.  The first step in fixing any problem is to understand it.  Our task now that Hoggan has so expertly diagnosed our “polluted public square” is to find a way to put his marvelous insights into action.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

A Sunday summer day in Howe Sound

Sunday afternoon, the first weekend in June.  It’s a glorious day, more like summer than spring. We are paddling kayaks in Howe Sound, surrounded by ocean, mountains and islands, and counting seals and eagles.
We are not alone.  In the waters around us others are enjoying the beautiful blue sky day.  There are motor boats filled with families fishing, picnicking and water-skiing.  Off in the distance other boaters are travelling to and from their cottages.  Water scooters zoom noisily back and forth. From the mainland across from us, we hear the roar of traffic on the Sea to Sky highway – folks coming home from a weekend of hiking or mountain biking at Whistler, and motorcycle riders making the long day’s circle trip up the Duffy Lake Road.  High overhead, seaplanes filled with sightseers circle around the scenery.
It’s a busy day in Howe Sound.  Everyone’s finding their soul space, doing the things that give them pleasure, and enrich their lives.  It’s at the heart of why we love this province, and why we live here in coastal BC.  And it is all completely and utterly dependent upon fossil fuels.  
Without carbon products, the only sounds in Howe Sound would be waves lapping on rocky shores and the beat of seagull wings.
Strung out along the mountainside just across from where we are paddling is the community of Lions Bay.  It was once home to a few waterfront cottages.  Now it’s a community of over 1300 people.  Made possible by, and utterly dependent upon, our car culture.  As a place to live, it fails every walkability score ever devised.  Yes, there’s a community school, but it stops at grade 3.  There’s a village hall.  There’s a small general store that serves great cinnamon buns, and a real estate office, and a marina, but that’s about it.  Everyone who lives in Lions Bay does their shopping somewhere else, a bus ride or, far more likely, a car drive away.  They would all be helpless without carbon fuels.
The same is true for all of us who live or play in Howe Sound and its islands.  There’s Bowen Island, increasingly populated by folks who commute daily by ferry and water taxi to Vancouver.  There’s Gambier and Keats and Anvil Islands, with cottages and boat docks lining their shores.  It’s motor cars and motor boats that make it all possible.  And the chain saws that clear our views, and the generators that operate our water pumps, and the ferries and the water taxis that deliver us to our destinations.  And yes, of course, even the plastic kayaks in which we are paddling.
There’s a breath-taking gap between the promise we have made to reduce our carbon output and the reality of our lives.  
I feel this all the more acutely because I know that some of those boating or driving around on this lovely Sunday afternoon will spend their Sunday evening writing letters to the editor insisting that we keep the LNG vessels and oil tankers away from our precious waters.  LIke them, I believe that Howe Sound is a special place, and I am glad it is cleaner today than it was a generation or two ago.  I certainly don’t want to turn back that clock.  But I also don’t want to live in denial - to pretend - or even simply just ignore - the reality that without carbon none of us could live or play in these waters. 
But what about the orcas?  Yes, there are the orcas that, for the first time in my life, are swimming in Howe Sound.  Those orcas.  They are beautiful, majestic creatures.  I always know when there’s a sighting. That's because I can see the train of motor boats following behind and surrounding them. 
The problem, I think, is not that we aren’t superficially sincere in wanting a better, cleaner, sustainable environment.  It’s that we assume that all that heavy lifting is going to be done by someone else, somewhere else, some other day, while we continue to live and enjoy our carbon-dependent lives to their fullest.  As if, somehow, we will have done our part for the environment if we insist that the pipelines and tankers go somewhere else.  But please make sure I can still afford the gas I need for my boat or car!

Canada has signed on for ambitious carbon reduction targets.  As the Canada West Foundation recently pointed out, the amount of the reduction required by the year 2030 is equivalent to the elimination of all GHG emissions from Ontario, Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and the Territories. Completely shutting down the oil sands would only get us partway there.  The reductions in carbon activity required to achieve this target are nothing short of transformational.  Are we actually ready for that change?  As I look around at the busy waters of Howe Sound on this lovely day I don’t think we have even begun to turn our minds to the magnitude of the task.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Other Americas

I began my Sunday morning as a good citizen of the world, by deciding to catch up on the week in US presidential election.  Pretty soon, I was back in the slough of despond.  The thing is, there is an America that is not the grotesque caricature that is dominating its politics just now.  At times like this I just need to make a special effort to remind myself of it.  
So I jammed the earbuds in and went for a walk on the windy beach.  Richard Shindell began singing Wisteria: “The vine of my memory is blooming along those eaves.”  Soon enough, I felt a bit better.
It is a cold October night and my friend Sam Morse and I are camped on Tumbledown Mountain in Maine, which is not so much a mountain as a long ridge of ancient granite that looms over the miles of forests and farms of northern New England.  We have a campfire going, and we are working our way with some deliberateness through a bottle of Jack Daniels, solving the last few remaining puzzles in the mystery that is the universe.  It’s a dark starlit night. Just when I am starting to think it is time to crawl into the sleeping bag, a car pulls up, filled with teenage boys.  They ask if they are on the right road to Mexico.  I start to laugh.  Sam, who knows the backroads of Maine, asks, “Where are you boys from?”  They reply, “Paris”. I laugh again. Sam looks at me as though I am the completest idiot ever to set foot on earth.  He turns back to the boys in the car and says, “I’m afraid you’ve overshot Mexico.”  And then he proceeds to tell them how to get back to the right road.  It turns out there’s more than one way to get to Mexico from Paris, in Maine.  In that other America.
It is a summer afternoon in the early 1990s, and we are sitting in Fenway Park, in Boston, in a row of seats halfway up the stands behind home plate.  The Blue Jays are playing the Red Sox.  It’s a sunny, muggy day. We catch bags of peanuts from the vendor and make a mess of shells at our feet.  We watch as pitchers and batters duel, fielders make spectacular catches, and there is a collective intake of breath with every long ball that arcs towards the Green Monster.  We feel like we are sitting in the nave of a cathedral built to honour the soul of a nation. On the row beside us sit two men who have probably been watching Red Sox games at Fenway Park for over half a century.  They see an opportunity for education.  And so for the whole of that long, deliciously slow August afternoon, they generously regale us with stories of their team, its players and managers, its successes and heartbreaks.  They fill our heads with statistics of unsurpassing obscurity, which they disagree about vigorously. They tell us what to watch for with every batter, and call every pitch before it is thrown. All is said with what can only be described as wise-cracking reverence, as though there could be nothing more important in this world than to know every fact about the life and career of Carl Yastrzemski, the greatest Red Sox player of them all.
There’s a room in Washington D.C. in an art gallery called the Phillips Collection which holds four paintings by Mark Rothko.  We were there last December. Its mid-20th century construction marked the first time an entire room had been created specifically for Rothko’s work.  It’s not a large room; and it is dominated by the paintings, abstract expressionist works that are fields and bands of colour.  When you enter the room, you are literally immersed in Rothko’s vision.  It’s deceptively simple: colours and shapes on four canvases; purely abstract.  But if you take a slow breath, and let it wash over you, you start to realize that the paintings are somehow humming; as though they are alive. And then you realize that you are not just looking at something, you are feeling it. You’re buzzing, elevated by an emotion that’s almost impossible to explain.  It’s glorious to be in the presence of such achievement. 
There is a book by the American photographer Robert Adams called Prayers in an American Church.  It’s a small book, a collection of a dozen or so photographs, accompanied by meditative words from diverse sources.  The church in the title is not a building; it’s the natural world, whose beauty is honoured in the photographs.  Not the grandeur of mountains and canyons, but the simpler beauty of sun-dappled tree branches and leaves, and the peace of quiet places.  Robert Adams’ images are austere.  He captures the intersection of humans and the landscape of western America. It might be a treeless suburban housing tract on the outskirts of Denver.  Or a scarred clearcut hillside in Oregon. Or a woman pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store.  Or the line of the prairie horizon broken by a single tree.  Or a lonely road. He is determined to find beauty in all these places, and, against the odds, he does. 
When I want to think of that other America, I think of Dar Williams, whose early songs were, for a time, the soundtrack of our life as a family.  When I Was a Boy was a kind of anthem for our belief as parents that our children could grow up on their own terms, unconstrained by the limiting stereotypes of mass consumer culture.  The Christians and the Pagans is a generous and funny hymn to the possibility that we can get along, despite our differences, as long as we can find a way to eat together.  The Babysitter’s Here is a short story about love, growing up, and everything else, sung in about four perfect minutes.  She still makes amazing music. 
One summer a decade ago, we rented a car in Las Vegas and began a road trip by heading towards southern Utah and its breathtakingly beautiful red sandstone natural monuments. On our first night we stopped in a town called Springdale, which is on the doorstep of the majesty of Zion National Park.  We try to be respectful travellers.  We had read that Mormon traditions were strong in southern Utah.  We were prepared, then, for a few days of righteous, stoic, alcohol-free travel. But on our first night, we sat down at the table of our restaurant and read a menu that suggested we might like a glass of Polygamy Porter.  Why?  Because, as they said, “you can’t have just one.” It’s hard not to love a country that can make fun of itself.  And while I am at it, I think, too, of Las Vegas, all of it, because, as I said, it’s hard not to love a country that can make fun of itself.
When I think of America, I think of Aaron Copland, and that moment early in the first movement of Appalachian Spring when the orchestra comes alive and I always jump from my seat. And Bob Dylan, because, well, because everything.  Even if “it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” And Edward Hopper’s paintings.  And Emily Dickinson: "Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.”
And I think of lightbulbs, Linus Pauling, the Hardy Boys, Huckleberry Finn, Rosa Parks, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Walter Cronkite, e e cummings, Rebecca Solnit, and that moment when, after screaming in terror all the way down the Matterhorn at Disneyland, our daughter turned to us and breathlessly said, “Can we do that again?” 

And my favourite sentence in the English language. “So we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past.”

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Happy Earth Day, British Columbia

The Globe and Mail published this piece online tonight.  I've read some of the comments, which, really, no one should do, who wants to maintain any faith in humanity.  But the hilarious thing is that no one (so far) seems to have read what I've actually written. They've read the headline and that's about it.  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised?  Anyway, here we go.  

Happy Earth Day. Earth Day can be a day to honour the precious gift that is our planet. Often, however, it is also an occasion to lament, or at least feel guilty about, the way we use it.

There’s reason enough to lament. But I would suggest there is another perspective, that there is also, sometimes, a reason to celebrate. In British Columbia today, we actually have an enviable environmental record to celebrate on Earth Day.

A recent report by Corporate Knights confirmed that no jurisdiction in Canada protects more land than British Columbia. There are 1,029 protected areas managed provincially. As of last June, over 15 per cent of British Columbia’s land base, or nearly 14.3 million hectares, was dedicated to protected area status. That’s 2.2 hectares per resident. It’s a remarkable achievement.

And the story gets better. Earlier this year, after years of conflict and negotiation, the Great Bear Rainforest on the central coast was fully and properly protected.

The agreement now in place permanently protects 85 per cent of the old-growth forested area in this enormous and remote part of British Columbia from industrial logging, while allowing restricted logging on the balance. That’s over 5.4 million hectares of additional protection, an area nearly the size of Nova Scotia.

For once, I don’t have to go out on a limb to agree with the Greenpeace spokesman who stated: “From conflict to collaboration, we now celebrate the protection of areas of cultural and ecological importance while ensuring economic opportunities for the communities exist long into the future.”

This achievement is especially important because our forestry, energy and mining resources will continue to drive the growth and stability of our economy.

The reality for our province – and for Canada – is that our prosperity is founded on resource development. That’s not to say we should not diversify our economy; we have done so and should continue to do so. But it’s resource development that built our province, and responsible, sustainable resource development will be a cornerstone of our economy for generations to come.

That makes it all the more important to find the right balance between land development and land protection.

That’s why for the past couple of years, I’ve been involved with a group in Vancouver that is sparking an informed conversation about these issues. Resource Works, a non-profit society with representation from all sectors and corners of the province, works to raise awareness of the importance of our resource economy to our standard of living in British Columbia.

Too often in this province, we hear a discourse that presumes we can somehow maintain our quality of life by leaping immediately to some postresource economy. It won’t happen. And it shouldn’t happen. For as long as we continue to drive cars, take buses or ride bicycles; use smartphones, tablets or computers; expect our streets to be safely lit at night; boil water for coffee or tea; expect our homes to be warm in winter; build and live in houses; catch fish; eat fruits and vegetables in winter – in short, for as long as we continue to do everything that is indispensable to our quality of life, we will make demands on the planet. It’s simply not credible to pretend or suggest otherwise.

Somehow, we need to hold two thoughts in our minds at the same time: the need for access to sufficient resources to sustain our quality of life and ensuring that we respect the planet. Neither side holds a monopoly on truth in this debate. There is no point or purpose in trying to out-shriek each other. The task, again, is to find the balance.

But I’m not suggesting it’s easy. I am suggesting it is fundamentally important that we embrace both sides of the question, and find a path forward that can both recall our duty to protect the planet and yet also find a way to continue to sustain ourselves from its amazing bounty.

Count all of the protected areas, wrap your mind around the millions of hectares of British Columbia that have been put outside the reach of resource development – the forests, mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, estuaries and marshlands that have been been protected. It’s been the labour of a generation to reach a point where our record of land protection is second to none. It’s Earth Day. Let’s celebrate that achievement.

And then ask the question: Is that enough?