An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau on Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban

File:DC - No Muslim Ban (32443385122).jpg

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

In the wake of Sunday’s horrendous terrorist attack on Quebec’s Muslim community, I am writing to ask that you forcefully condemn not just the shooting itself, but the rising tide of Islamophobia that appears to have prompted it.

On January 27, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending America’s refugee program. It is not enough that you meekly defend the ability of Canadian dual citizens to cross the border. You must join with other members of the international community in denouncing Trump’s racist policy in the strongest terms possible.

Furthermore, Canada must put its money where its mouth is by significantly increasing its intake of refugees over and above the current target for 2017, prioritizing those who have been left stranded by Trump’s Muslim ban. We must also rescind our “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the United States.

Finally, in the event that the Trump administration continues to escalate its policies of bigotry and exclusion in the months and years to come, Canada must be willing to seriously consider measures such as expelling the American ambassador or withdrawing from practices of military cooperation. I realize this is not something to take lightly — the United States being our closest neighbour and ally — but some values must take precedence over friendship and loyalty, such as the fundamental equality of all human beings regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

A light touch is not what is currently needed. (Much less a “pivot.”) The desperate circumstances unleashed by Trump’s hateful actions require that Canada’s government be more steadfast than ever in declaring the universality of human rights.

Thank you for considering my thoughts.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, BC

cc: Harjit Sajjan, MP for Vancouver South

An Open Letter to Elizabeth May Regarding BDS

File:Mauer-betlehem.jpgDear Elizabeth May,

Please don’t resign over Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Far from being “polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful,” the BDS movement seeks to employ moderate, non-violent means (i.e. boycotts and other economic measures) to pressure Israel to end its decades-long occupation of Palestinian land. Originating in 2005 with a call to action by 170 grassroots Palestinian organizations, the campaign seeks to emulate tactics that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. For the Green Party of Canada to pass a resolution supporting this cause puts us on the right side of history.

Let us further dispense with the juvenile notion, peddled by some of the more inflammatory segments of the Canadian media (but thankfully not you), that BDS or any other criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey routinely (and rightly) face condemnation over their human rights records without the debate being lowered by facile charges of Islamophobia. Similarly, objections to American foreign policy are not dismissed out of hand for displaying anti-Christian bias. Many supporters of BDS are themselves Jewish, such as the members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (as well as yours truly), and find allegations of bigotry so frivolously tossed about to be offensive.

I understand that my letter will likely not convince you to embrace a movement that you seem so profoundly opposed to, but at the very least, I urge you to stay on as leader even if you do not approve of every single one of your party’s policies. Surely we are strong enough to withstand a little internal disagreement. Such is the nature of an open and democratic organization. Furthermore, the resolution in question is so broadly worded as to give the party considerable leeway with respect to implementation.

So please walk back your threat to reevaluate your future with the Greens. You are a fine leader and a major asset to the party, just as the party is an asset to Canada’s political discourse. The media fracas will die down if we allow it to do so. We must not let our differences get in the way of building a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

This post appears on rabble.ca.

An Open Letter to Janet Fraser

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Classroom_3rd_floor.JPGDear Janet Fraser,

First of all, let me start by congratulating you on your school board election victory this past Saturday. I voted for you enthusiastically, as I did your running mate Mischa Oak and the rest of the Green Party team on the city council and park board slates. It is truly gratifying to see a Greenie set to hold the balance of power on one of Vancouver’s three elected municipal bodies.

Which brings me to my main reason for writing today. School board is scheduled to select a chairperson on December 8. I don’t know what direction you happen to be leaning at the moment, but I would like to respectfully urge you — barring any unforeseen eventualities — to vote to reappoint Vision Vancouver’s Patti Bacchus.

Vision does not by any means deserve unconditional support, and I fully expect you will assess each issue before the board on a case-by-case basis according to its merits. I also happen to agree with the Green Party position that elected bodies in general function better when no single party is in control.

But compared to Vision’s often poor performance on council and parks, on school boardĀ  the party has for the most part done a commendable job. Under Bacchus’s leadership, the board has lobbied relentlessly for increased provincial funding, made public schools more welcoming to LGBT students, and stood up against Chevron’s sinister efforts to buy influence.

None of this is to suggest that there is no room for improvement. There always is. But I for one — again, barring exceptional circumstances — have no desire to see the school board take a giant leap backwards under an NPA chair. Please consider using your new status as swing vote to build upon, and add a tinge of green to, Vision’s many accomplishments on education.

Thanks for taking the time to read over my thoughts, and congratulations once again on your victory.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

An Open Letter to TransLink Regarding the “Disappearing Palestine” Ads

Disappearing PalestineDear TransLink:

I am writing to express my wholehearted support for your decision to display the pro-Palestinian transit ads recently unveiled at the Vancouver City Centre Skytrain station and on several buses. The ads offer an important perspective that needs to be heard as part of any informed debate on the Middle East conflict.

My praise may sound a bit strange, since, as you yourselves have noted, “within defined limits TransLink has no legal authority to decline advertising content.” A 2009 Supreme Court decision established that TransLink, as a public body, is bound by the free speech provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Nevertheless, I insist on applauding you during the minor melee currently underway in the city’s media. Please do not feel deterred or bullied by the individuals and organizations that have criticized the ads in recent days — shamelessly conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, even going so far as to threaten legal action. I myself am Jewish and do not feel unsafe or offended in the least. Many members of the Palestine Awareness Coalition, the group responsible for the ads, happen to be Jewish as well. And while neither they nor I make any claim to be representative of all Vancouver Jews, to characterize the Jewish community as monolithically mortified by the ads, as strongly implied by some media coverage, is clearly ridiculous.

Ethno-religious affiliations are one thing; politics are another. Most people are perfectly capable of looking beyond the former in coming to opinions on the latter.

Thank you for standing up for the principle of freedom of expression and for facilitating a public discussion that needs to be had.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, BC

An Open Letter to Barack Obama and John Kerry

Dear President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry:

As a concerned Canadian, I am writing to urge you to reject TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline for purposes of transporting dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the United States.

I assure you that not all Canadians are quite as eager to export climate-busting bitumen as our federal government seems to be. Many of us recognize that the high energy demands required to exploit this unconventional resource give it a dangerously large carbon footprint. For this reason, we consistently oppose similar projects, such as proposed pipelines to the Canadian West Coast by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

According to estimates of greenhouse gas trajectories needed to avert runaway climate change, global emissions need to be peaking right about now (if not earlier). That means that we as a planet need to start drastically decreasing our use of coal, oil, and natural gas. At a bare minimum, we must not engage in further expansion of existing fossil fuel infrastructure — especially when it involves something so exceptionally dirty as tar sands bitumen.

Many Americans seem to recognize this too. Barely a week ago, tens of thousands gathered in Washington for the country’s largest ever climate rally. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club agreed for the first time in its 120-year history to adopt the use of civil disobedience. Any jobs that may or may not temporarily be gained from the proliferation of pipelines are more than outweighed by the jeopardization of the climate system upon which agriculture, forestry, and our very ways of life depend.

So please reject TransCanada’s application once and for all. To do so would benefit both of our countries, as well as the world at large.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

An Open Letter to Israeli and Palestinian Hawks

Israeli Apartheid Week artwork

Dear Israeli hawks:

What are you thinking?

I realize that you consider every destructive, civilian killing, infrastructure shattering air raid you launch on the impoverished people of the Gaza Strip to be an act of self-defence against the terrorism of Hamas and other militant groups, and that every cheap rocket fired at you from the Strip represents an existential danger. You have even managed to convince most of the mainstream media (at least in North America) of this rocket-and-retaliation narrative. But reality is considerably more complicated.

Forget for a moment the near impossibility of determining who “started” any given Israeli-Palestinian flare-up. If we wish to rise above the proverbial cycle of violence in search of root causes, we are left with three explanations: the blockade of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank, and, to a lesser extent, the refugee crisis that has been ongoing since 1948.

Your blockade, enforced with Egyptian assistance, has never limited itself to purely military concerns. The import of fuel and construction equipment is heavily restricted, and your government has at times reportedly counted calories to determine how much food to allow into the Strip. From day one, the intent was to strangle the Gazan economy and pressure its long suffering civilians.

None of this excuses Palestinian violence, but the importance of these issues must be acknowledged. Context matters, and so does scale. As of this writing, the death toll from the current escalation is at least forty on the Palestinian side and three on the Israeli side. This ratio is fairly standard.

It is therefore incumbent upon you to accept an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and bring an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Dear Palestinian hawks:

You are not helping.

I realize that the humanitarian crisis brought on by the ongoing blockade or siege on Gaza fosters anger, desperation, and extremism, but you need to recognize that you will never defeat a nuclear-armed, American-backed regional superpower militarily. Not only are your constant rocket attacks ineffective; they are positively counterproductive. They produce an unreasoning impulse for revenge among Israelis no less than Israeli strikes do among you.

Furthermore, in addition to the above strategic considerations, any act of violence against civilians is morally reprehensible and a war crime. This applies both to your actions and to Israel’s. I do not mean to present a false equivalence; it is not even close. After all, context matters, and so does scale. But a death is a death is a death. Crimes cannot be justified simply because the other side is doing it more.

It is therefore incumbent upon you to accept an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

The Point of Taxes

Taxes

What follows is my submission to BC’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Any other British Columbians interested in influencing next year’s budget have until October 18 to do so by clicking here.

Taxation has three major purposes: raising government revenue, redistributing wealth, and discouraging “bads.”

The first is the most obvious. Taxes — “the price we pay for civilization,” in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. — provide for such crucially important public goods as health care, education, welfare, parks, and transportation infrastructure. However, cuts that have taken place for more than a decade here in BC have left us unable to adequately deal with the urgent problems we now face as a society, like climate change, child poverty, and rising health costs. The only feasible solution — an unpopular solution to be sure, but a necessary one — is to raise taxes.

This directive leads to two reasonable follow-up questions: which taxes, and on whom? To answer, we must consider taxation’s other two purposes.

In order to effectively achieve their redistributive aim, taxes must be progressive, that is, they must apply at a higher rate to the rich than to the poor. In BC, however, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the rich pay a smaller portion of their incomes in overall taxes than the poor, as a result of the government’s increasing reliance on regressive measures like sales taxes and MSP premiums. In order to solve this problem, corporate and upper-tier income taxes must be increased dramatically. Even middle-tier income taxes will probably have to be increased moderately. And while it may not be practical to eliminate regressive taxes entirely (in the short term anyway), they can at least be lowered — provided that revenue is recouped via a progressive tax shift.

Finally, taxing “bads” rather than “goods.” Taxation can be used to introduce socially beneficial incentives, one example of which is BC’s carbon tax. There are two major problems with our carbon tax, however (as well as several other minor problems). First, it is not nearly high enough to effectively get us where we need to go in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. And second, according to another CCPA report, it is regressive, thus violating the redistributive criterion for good tax policy. Fortunately, both problems are easy to fix. All we need to do is to continue raising the carbon tax rate year after year — probably quite drastically. And the CCPA recommends devoting fully one half of carbon tax revenue to a tax credit for people with low and moderate incomes (considerably more than what we currently do), so that on average, they would actually gain from carbon taxation.

I urge you to deal with taxes in the 2013 budget in a way that is mindful of the three purposes I have outlined. Over the long term, I agree with the CCPA that the government must set up a Fair Tax Commission to gauge the public’s true priorities on how and why we raise revenue. Only then will we as a province gain momentum on the road to equity, sustainability, and the common good.

An Open Letter to Stephen Harper Regarding Senate Reform

Senate Foyer Ceiling

Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

I am writing today in response to reports that you will seek a Supreme Court reference on the constitutionality of your proposals for Senate reform. In a way, I can understand this. You would like clarity on a politically tricky issue, one that would otherwise almost inevitably face judicial challenge.

Personally, I do not believe the court will fully endorse all features of your plan, as the Constitution Act, 1982 is quite clear regarding the constitutional amendment requirements for such fundamental changes to the upper house. But either way, both you and I know that pursuing Senate reform by statute is not a long-term solution. Any future government will be able to repeal your legislation without difficulty.

What Canada really needs, to settle the decades-long debate once and for all, is a national referendum. Not one in which the issue of Senate reform is muddied by other matters, as in the Charlottetown Accord, but a single stand-alone nationwide vote on the future of the Red Chamber. Voters should be given a choice between three possibilities: 1) an appointed Senate, 2) an elected Senate, and — my personal favourite (see here and here for my reasoning) — 3) abolition of the Senate. The ballot would also need to be preferential to make sure the winner has majority support.

Once the dust from the referendum has settled and one of these three options has become legitimized by popular endorsement, it should then become easier to get seven provincial governments representing half the country’s population (as required by the Constitution Act, 1982) to, if necessary, back a constitutional amendment. Will the provinces inevitably put aside their differences and come to an agreement after such an exercise? There is no guarantee. But this at least represents a better shot at a permanent resolution to the Senate reform debate than your Supreme Court reference case.

And what if voters settle on something other than your preferred route of an elected Senate? Am I being naive in asking you to put your own preferred outcome at risk? Only you can answer that question, Mr. Harper. All I can do is urge you to recognize that what unites all proposals for Senate reform is the desire to deepen democracy in our country. So please, respect the people — theĀ demos — in their right to decide for themselves what institutions are most appropriate for the expression of their will. This is the only way of dealing with the Senate that truly embraces democracy.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

An Open Letter to Kevin Falcon

Dinner with Kevin Falcon

Kevin Falcon

Minister of Finance

Government of British Columbia

Dear Mr. Falcon,

During your budget speech yesterday, you announced that BC’s carbon tax will be frozen, and its place in our economy reexamined, after its final scheduled increase later this year. Forgive me if I am being presumptuous, but given the tepid support for environmental measures sometimes demonstrated by segments of your government, I fear that the future of the carbon tax may be in jeopardy.

May I suggest instead that you use the opportunity to make it better? This goal, should you choose to pursue it, can be measured by two vital criteria: effectiveness and fairness.

In order to be effective, a carbon tax, rather than being eliminated or frozen at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, must be increased. Quite drastically in fact. Having hardly made a dent in BC’s emissions at present levels, the tax should probably rise to somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100 to $200 per tonne at the very least. Moreover, it should be expanded to cover the roughly 25 percent of emissions (such as natural gas flaring) not currently included.

As for fairness, this can be achieved by compensating — overcompensating even — for any negative impact on those with low incomes. All else being equal, consumption taxes tend to be regressive — that is, they tend to cost the poor a higher portion of their incomes than the rich. According to research done by Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC’s carbon tax does not adequately address this concern. He suggests that fully one-half of carbon tax revenue be channelled into a tax credit for low- and middle-income households (with the remainder going to fund public transit and other environmentally friendly investments).

Another approach is the “fee and dividend” system advocated by climate scientist James Hansen among others, according to which all revenue would be returned to the population on an equal per capita basis. The benefit of this kind of carbon tax is that while the poor would individually pay the least in “fees” (in absolute terms, not as a portion of their incomes) because they emit the least carbon, they would get back just as much as the rich in “dividends.” In other words, this system has a built-in mechanism to make sure that most of those with low incomes come out ahead.

So please consider preserving and strengthening BC’s carbon tax. If you are concerned about its apparent revenue negativity in these tough fiscal times (another drawback pointed out by Marc Lee), a few tweaks could easily turn it into a money maker. What is a tax, after all, if not something that raises revenue? I personally would not miss the cuts to corporate and upper-bracket income taxes that were designed to offset costs to taxpayers, and neither would the majority of British Columbians who do not benefit from them.

The problem of climate change is one whose urgency is growing by the year. Now is not the time to get caught up in some fabricated tax revolt. Now is the time to get serious.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft