In today’s Globe and Mail, you will find a letter from me (fourth from the top, under the heading “In the national interest”) relating the present interprovincial pipeline kerfuffle to global efforts efforts to solve the climate crisis. Never hurts to remind ourselves how much is really at stake.
I’ve never considered myself a Tragically Hip superfan, but in the wake of singer Gord Downie’s passing last night, it is hard not to feel impacted. The group produced many great songs over its three-decade career (as well as a few not-so-great ones) and gradually cemented its status as “Canada’s band.” Downie himself was a fascinating and charismatic figure. He will be remembered for his music, his poetry, and his tireless work for reconciliation.
What follows are my selections for the Tragically Hip’s best songs:
A love song centred around the 1972 Summit Series. What could be more Canadian?
8. Grace, Too
Slow and haunting. An emotional highlight from performances on the band’s final tour.
7. Ahead by a Century
Their best-known song. Exemplifies Downie’s odd “rising inflection” style of singing. You can always tell a Hip song by its melody.
Introduced in concert as being “about a couple of gay cops that fall in love.”
5. Gift Shop
Goes from moody and reflective to a driving rocker.
4. New Orleans Is Sinking
Their riffiest song. Just try not to headbang!
3. Wheat Kings
A melancholy ballad that doesn’t skimp on the Canadiana.
2. Nautical Disaster
A slightly dark one about, well, a nautical disaster.
Wikipedia informs me that this song was released as a single in 1995, but I can’t recall ever having heard it on the radio. An underappreciated masterpiece, this quirky acoustic ballad, featuring understated crescendos and Downie’s characteristically head-scratching lyrics, is sad and beautiful.
Just in case anyone is wondering how I will vote in this Saturday’s Vancouver municipal by-election, here’s the plan:
- Pete Fry (Green Party)
- Judy Zaichkowsky (Green Party)
- Allan Wong (Vision Vancouver)
- Mike Lombardi (Vision Vancouver)
- Erica Jaaf (OneCity)
- Estrellita Gonzalez (Green Party)
- Janet Fraser (Green Party)
- Diana Day (COPE)
- Carrie Bercic (OneCity)
- Joy Alexander (Vision Vancouver)
It pains me not to cast my Council vote for either Judy Graves (OneCity) or Jean Swanson (independent, endorsed by COPE), both of whom are legendary activists for economic justice. However, while both candidates have put forward solid platforms on housing affordability, they are largely silent on most other issues, including the environment. Pete Fry (Green Party), by contrast, while also focusing heavily on housing, presents a more well-rounded program. I sincerely hope that Graves and Swanson will run again during next year’s general election.
On the School Board side of the ballot, a dark shadow is cast by the former provincial government’s anti-democratic decision last year to fire the entire board over its refusal to pass a balanced budget. Five out of nine trustees voted against the budget as presented to them, and of those five, four are trying to re-gain their seats in the current by-election. In the name of democracy, all four will be getting my vote. True, I feel a little uneasy about voting for Janet Fraser (Green Party) after her 2014 decision to cast a deciding vote for an NPA chair, but she partially redeemed herself by switching her allegiance to Vision one year later. The power-sharing rationale of alternating the position of chair between parties carries considerable democratic legitimacy. My feelings on the subject remain mixed, but Fraser’s overall voting record has been fairly progressive.
With less than a week to go before election day and polls tightening across British Columbia, I find myself in the all-too-common predicament of dreading the electoral options before me.
The Liberals, naturally, are out of the question. They have governed this province horrendously through 16 years of the wrong kind of class warfare, slashing education and social services, offering up more for wealthy donors than for regular people or the natural environment. True, former premier Gordon Campbell showed genuine concern for climate change for about 15 minutes back in 2008, but his successor Christy Clark froze BC’s paltry carbon tax at $30 per tonne and weakened her predecessor’s clean energy regulations in service of her pie-in-the-sky LNG dreams.
As for the NDP, the kindest thing one can say is that they are not the Liberals. Leader John Horgan, in an attempt to appeal to both the labour and the environmental wings of his party, is pledging to raise the carbon tax to the level required by the federal government, but to do so at a marginally faster pace than will the BC Liberals. The party favours some LNG projects and not others. It is strongly opposed to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, while it straddles the fence on the Site C dam.
The NDP represents the province’s best shot at effecting a change in government, yet this does not in itself constitute sufficient reason to vote for them. To cast one’s ballot “strategically” lets mediocre parties off the hook for their mediocrities and sets the stage for a race-to-the-bottom-style proliferation of inadequate policy. Progressives must demand more from the NDP, insisting that our support be earned, not taken for granted.
Which brings us to the Greens, the party perennially on the verge of either breakthrough or irrelevance, never quite reaching either. Unsurprisingly, the Greens have by far the most environmentally sound platform — and probably the most progressive one too. They promise to raise the carbon tax to an eventual target of $70 per tonne — $20 above the federal requirement — and to expand it to cover some emissions not currently priced. Party leader Andrew Weaver has been a lone voice of reason in the Legislature opposed to LNG development, and he rejects the approval of any new fossil fuel infrastructure.
On the social front, the Green Party matches the NDP’s promise on raising corporate taxes, while surpassing them on personal income tax hikes for the wealthy. Income assistance rates would be higher under a Green government than under either other major party. Both the NDP and the Greens have some worthy, albeit incomplete, ideas on housing, and while NDP child care policy presents a good deal more detail, the Greens have one-upped them on affordability.
Boasting the largest increases to both spending and revenue, Greens distinguish themselves as the party of what is ominously referred to in right-wing circles as “big government.” While their rivals promise to keep budgets in the black, the Greens pledge only to balance the books on average over a four-year term, allowing deficits to occur during individual years.
Where the Greens start to falter is not so much in their platform as in their leader. Weaver is an accomplished climate scientist and former lead author on several IPCC reports. When he speaks, people rightly listen. But his stature suffered when, during his term as MLA, he bewilderingly voted for two Liberal government budgets.
Like many Green voters, I could not help but wonder what he was thinking. Was it a matter of deep-seated conviction on his part? Or of wanting to “do politics differently,” as he nebulously claimed in the moment? Did he simply wish to ingratiate himself to whoever happened to be in government? Add to this his strange infatuation with private power and his criticism of the NDP’s equity policy on candidate nominations, and it is not clear that Weaver is capable of walking his party’s progressive talk.
Furthermore, the stakes are particularly high in the current election, in which the Greens are polling unusually well for a third party, while the Liberals and NDP wage a closely fought battle for first place. If no party gets a majority in the Legislature, who would Weaver and his potential caucus-mates throw their support behind for premier?
For my part, I plan, with some reservation, to risk another vote for the Greens on May 9, premised on the possibly flawed assumption that an NDP-Green alignment makes more sense than a Liberal-Green one. Two budgets aside, Weaver has voted with the NDP far more often than he has with the Liberals, and he stated in 2013 that he would prefer an NDP to a Liberal government.
However, I understand that others, including many whose opinions I deeply respect, might make their calculations differently. Weaver is a bit of a gamble. Under the circumstances, I cannot blame anyone for casting a safe — albeit uninspiring — vote for the NDP.
This post appears on rabble.ca.
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.
David Taub Bancroft
cc: Harjit Sajjan, MP for Vancouver South
Of the myriad outrages that define last week’s United States presidential election — namely, the elevation of scandal over policy, of demagoguery over competence, of unabashed sexism and racism and conspiratorial paranoia over reasoned debate — perhaps the most egregious is the fact that the winner of the popular vote will not be the one occupying the Oval Office.
Votes are still being counted. As of this writing, however, Hillary Clinton appears set to win approximately two million votes more than President-elect Donald Trump, which gives lie to the all-too-common characterization of Trump supporters as a “silent majority” — a blatant numerical (not to mention auditory) falsehood if ever there was one.
The culprit responsible for this anti-democratic upset is an arcane body known as the Electoral College, which owing to Clinton’s landslide victories in California and New York and her razor-thin losses in Rust Belt swing states, cooked the books in favour of Trump. Historically speaking, Republicans do not have anything like a permanent Electoral College advantage, but given the still painful memory of Bush v. Gore in 2000, as well as other splits between the electoral and popular votes that benefited the GOP in 1876 and 1888, don’t expect the party of Trump to see the light and embrace reform anytime soon.
The rules for changing the Constitution are practically insurmountable. To formally abolish the Electoral College, proponents would need the support of two-thirds of the members of each house of Congress plus three-quarters of the states. Only slightly less improbable is the workaround known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would have signatory states pledge their electors to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.
The compact has so far been signed by ten states and the District of Columbia, which together represent 61 per cent of the 270 electoral votes needed for it to come into effect. The only problem is that all the states to have officially signed on are blue ones. The agreement will never reach the requisite 270 without swing states, which are understandably reluctant to give up their disproportionate power, or red states, which must be blisteringly aware, even after this month’s election, of the Republican Party’s growing popularity problem.
From 1992 onwards, there have been seven presidential elections. A Republican candidate has won the popular vote only once in those 24 years. As the GOP continues to alienate women, people of colour, Millennials, and those with higher educations, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Electoral College represents their only shot at victory. Far from negating this trend, last week’s results further corroborate it.
So get used to hearing Republican operatives sing the praises of a system that distorts election results and subverts the will of the people. Get used to hearing them profess their solidarity with smaller, more rural states — currently over-represented in the Electoral College — against the large urban centres that threaten to overpower them come election time. As if people aren’t just people no matter where they live. As if voters should not all be counted equally.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country, which according to one recent survey wants to eliminate this 18th century anomaly by a margin of 55 per cent to 27 per cent, will go on echoing the luminary who famously described the Electoral College as “a disaster for a democracy.”
That luminary? Donald J. Trump.
This post appears on rabble.ca.