||[Jan. 16th, 2006|11:03 am]
New Democratic Party of Canada
MLA for Nelson Creston
January 8, 2006
This is not my idea. If it doesn’t work it is the fault of Laurie Page, who encouraged me to do something I have never done before, which is to try to turn speech into prose. The gist of the situation is this: I just returned from a trip around southern BC to try to raise money for and interest in the Federal campaign. I had a wonderful winter odyssey visiting fine people doing important work that none of them would have chosen to do at Christmas. It started out supporting Alex [Atamanenko, NDP candidate for BC Souther Interior] in New Denver and Slocan and ended with Alex in Princeton. In between I got to talk to and meet one or two thousand people in Salmon Arm, Armstrong, Kelowna, Vernon, Courtenay, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Duncan and Maple Ridge.
When I got home Laurie asked me what I said out there. I sent her my notes and she asked me to turn the speaking notes into a letter. I don’t think I talk like I write. (Probably nobody does, except maybe poets who read their poems in public.) So this may not scan.
I left home to make this trip on my birthday. I was 58 years old the day I left.
In spite of being so old and having been a New Democrat for the vast majority of that time I am embarrassed to say that I have never before participated this way in support of our Federal candidates.
I had never before even bestirred myself to leave my home riding for a Federal Election.
I asked myself “Why?”
I am going to talk about the answers I came up with and, maybe in answering for myself, help you with answers you will need to convince your friends to care about this ill timed, irritating, winter election that comes to us in the same year as both Provincial and Municipal elections in our poor, exhausted Province.
First, and most basic, this time they will count our votes.
This time nobody who cares gets to go to bed in Ottawa until they count your vote. Most of us have waited a lifetime to see if we could orchestrate such a moment.
Damned if I’m going to miss it.
My Second Reason is that this election isn’t about Power. It’s about Integrity.
The “Big Heads” who like to think they can control the electorate in elections always try to figure out what the “ballot box question” will be. By that they mean “What will people be thinking as they go to vote?” They do polls every night and focus groups every week and try to learn what people think so they can manipulate them into asking themselves some question that the control freaks think they can answer. Then they spend the last few weeks of the campaign trying to get their Leader to provide the best answer to the question that they planted in the voters’ minds in the first place.
This time, though, I don’t hear anybody talking about “vote this way or that way to get something for your community” or any other question the Parties can control. I hear them asking “who should govern and how should they do it to fix such a broken relationship between the people we elect and the citizens.”
We have waited for this election for decades. That is the question that we need people to ask as they vote. The CCF was invented to answer that question. This is our moment.
The Third Reason I like this election, and this is maybe a little complicated, is that Reform is dead.
In my village of Winlaw there are a whole lot of voters I know and like who have voted for me, Provincially, for decades, and voted Reform for the same length of time.
These people are good people who are angry at Eastern Canadian chauvinism. They liked Preston Manning and the word “Reform” represented their political demand. “Reform” is a verb. It is an action verb. People liked it.
Ontario and corporate interests killed Reform. Stephen Harper killed Reform.
In this election I can canvass hard for New Democrats without having to oppose the Party of my friends and neighbours. Now I can say to them, “you were CCFers and NDPers before you were Reform. All you have to do is come home.”
I ask the Party faithful to make those people welcome. Like the Prodigal Son, they are our family. The fact that they may have been lost for most of twenty years is no reason why they cannot put signs out on their fence line once again.
My Fourth Reason is sort of a sacrilege. I don’t think I am supposed to say this.
But here it goes:
Like the CCF, Federally, before us,
Like the NDP, Federally, for the entire history of our Party,
Like Reform as long as it lasted,
We aren’t going to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons in this election.
The really, really good news, though, is that neither are any of the other guys.
Which, in a perverse sort of way, is kind of a good thing and makes me want to help our candidates win their seats. I have been to Ottawa. I have seen the limousines and the power. And I don’t want to elect good people to “become” those people, I want to elect people to go and mess with that system. Clean it up. Reform it. Criticize it and give it some principles.
I don’t want to vote for Privilege. I don’t want to vote for candidates who even aspire to that kind of privilege. I want to vote for candidates who know that they will not govern because they are not for sale and who are happy with that arrangement.
But while we will not win power and privilege in this election, we can win the balance of power.
Canada has an Old Age Pension not because New Democrats made it happen as Government, but because we made a government do it.
So, also, Medicare.
Soon, we could also see National Child Care and Home Care programs.
After the last election we watched as 17 New Democrats who held no seats in Cabinet shifted $5 billion from the pockets of Corporations to services for citizens. Even as I am talking to you Canada would be participating in the American Star Wars project were it not for those 17 people holding, not power, but the Balance of Power.
Everything good happens when we do not govern, but decide who does, for how long, and in exchange for what actions.
This election is a textbook opportunity for such a moment in history.
The Fifth Reason why I am excited about this election is that this is the time of coming together.
Like the folk song says, like the Bible says “To everything there is a season.”
Ten years ago Progressive and thoughtful people all over Western Canada were divided over all kinds of issues about how we might live and work.
In my own profession, my “other” profession, logging, I saw people who loved forests and forestry communities from Port Alberni to Cranbrook so divided by issues that we were left unable or unwilling to make coalition.
I was the Minister of Agriculture for a long time (the best job, by the way, that I ever had.) In that job I worked with an industry and communities that couldn’t figure out if farming was, essentially, a business or a way of life. Communities that should have had a common interest were bitterly divided by disputes between people who called themselves “conventional” producers or “organic.”
We divided over labour issues,
Over gun issues,
Over reproductive rights
And over who got to fish
And almost anything else we could think of.
Our idea of organizing was to circle the wagons and shoot inwards.
Now, though, rural communities everywhere are under attack by such an urban style corporatist and centralist ideology that we have no more time for division.
Now New Democrats have a Leader who says the biggest fight in Western Canada is to fight the Softwood Lumber Duties and, at the same time, has raised Climate Change from political obscurity to the main stage.
Forestry communities don’t want American control “from away” or Monopoly control at home.
Rural people don’t want to produce food for Cargill or Tyson and they don’t want their country signing trade deals that tell them how to produce food.
And nobody wants some corporatist telling them their health care system is inefficient and if they want care for their mother they can move to Vancouver.
The issues that divided us have not gone away, they have just been put in perspective. We have begun to understand that we have more to gain by the hard work of hanging together than by the easier path of falling apart.
Lastly, I bestir myself because I am angry.
I have now been to Ottawa to fight the sale of Canada’s third largest Utility, Terasen Gas, to the former leadership of Enron, Kinder-Morgan Corporation of Texas.
I started out, of course, opposing the sale. I thought it was foolish to sell a company that was as profitable as BC Gas,
Foolish to sell a company that 700,000 consumers depended upon for affordable heat,
Foolish to sell a company that runs 17 municipal water and sewer systems because of the NAFTA implications of losing control over water,
And really, really foolish and arrogant and dangerous to sell such an asset without even allowing British Columbians to comment and question the process through public hearings.
When we lost that fight in B.C. the only option left to stop the deal was an appeal to Ottawa.
At that point our provincial NDP caucus shifted gears. We did not ask the Feds to deny the deal outright, we just asked them to delay the sale until there were public hearings and until the United States came into compliance with international law on softwood.
These were not just the thoughts of a bunch of Canadian Socialists. Even the New York Times financial page editorialized that President Bush should fix the softwood issue so that Canada would sell them access to the tar sands, via the Terasen Gas pipeline.
MLA Harry Bains came with me. Harry has spent his whole life working in sawmills, prior to his election in 2001. He went as a union sawmiller, I as a non-union logging contractor, both to ask Ottawa to consider the sale of Terasen as our best chance to resolve the huge issue of theft of $5 billion, most of it from the Western Canadian forest industry, workers and communities.
I thought it was a good idea. It is not the same as saying “we will not sell you energy.”
Our idea didn’t threaten gas producers or the Province of Alberta.
Naively, I even thought maybe the Conservatives would agree with us. Conservative Senator Pat Carney had been supportive of the idea that we should be allowed to hold public hearings on the sale.
In truth, though, when we got there Conservatives and Liberals and the corporate classes were all the same people.
Liberals wouldn’t meet with us.
Conservatives reversed their position and declared that it was O.K. to sell the third largest utility in Canada to Americans, that there should be no connection between energy and softwood, and that they would not oppose the sale without benefit of public hearings.
ONLY NEW DEMOCRATS SUPPORTED BRITISH COLUMBIA on this issue.
Harry and I were invited to meet the BC Caucus of the NDP, then with the Leader and then the whole Caucus. New Democrats called a press conference to discuss the issue with the whole country and put questions and a motion into the House of Commons to stop the sale of Terasen.
Of course, we lost and I came home realizing that Liberals and Conservatives are, like Tommy Douglas said, just white cats and black cats. Some of them can even change colour at will, but they are still cats. There is no difference between them.
Neither Party gave a damn about energy or softwood.
Neither Party cared, and this bodes evil for the future when they come back for our water.
It seemed to me that if the public was going to be denied a chance to say what we thought before they sold Taresen, then we would have to turn this election into a kind of plebiscite on how we feel about the sell out of our country. If either Party were to win a majority of votes in BC it would be like giving them a mandate, not to govern, but to plunder.
Still, though, I wasn’t angry. I was saddened and defeated on that issue, but we are used to losing. I can lose and not get mad.
Then just after Christmas I heard Stephen Harper on the radio telling us how much he cared about Western Canada and Softwood Lumber and rural communities. He even said he had second thoughts about the NAFTA.
I almost smashed my radio. I had just been there. He and his ilk didn’t care one iota about our issues as long as they were safe behind their desks in Ottawa.
I love politics and public life. I believe that even our flawed and damaged democracy is the best way for society to make decisions and I want other people to believe in the process, too. So I hate it when people in politics lie because it demeans the work I believe in and need people everywhere to believe in.
Hearing Mr. Harper lie, right inside my house, out of the speaker in my radio, infuriated me. I know we cannot deny him his seats across Canada but I want to deny him and the people who own him and his Party every seat possible here in this place where we live.
Liberals are irrelevant in rural B.C. In a week of traveling I didn’t visit a single constituency where they are competitive. Here, it is a contest between New Democrats and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Please participate.
An interesting perspective of a federal NDP supporter (and BCNDP MLA) in rural British Columbia.