While I admit I’ve been out of the country for several weeks, and out to sea a few times during this period, I am not out of touch.
No sooner do I slide outside, than Stéphane Dion and Elizabeth May try to pull the wool over our eyes on the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova.
These two party leaders want us to believe the environmental crisis is so serious, ominous, immediate and complex that in order to introduce real solutions Canadians will have to shelve democracy in favour of back door politics.
No, no. Not for a minute am I buying it.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney successfully derailed democracy in the US — orchestrated lies, an illegal war, voter suppression, Supreme Court bailouts and unconstitutional wiretaps — as their response to international terror.
But no, no. Not in Canada. Not for any war on terror, certainly not as a response to climate change.
No crisis is as important or imminent as global warming. No solutions will be more effective in this battle than straightforward environmental education, fair and responsible governmental regulation, voluntary compliance of citizen and corporation, and yes, yes, representative democracy.
What Dion and May fail to recognize, or conveniently refuse to admit, is education, regulation and compliance in service to environmental sanity will only work when reinforced by representative elections with a diversity of candidates.
We got into this environmental crisis through a calculating backroom democracy staged between government and industry. Voters know this and have come to despise it.
If Dion and May think for one minute similar offstage activity will lift us up and out of this mess, they should be asked to walk the plank. I am betting they will, if not by their respective parties then surely by voters, and soon.
What is at play here is the failed notion that some political work must be done on the margins of democracy — that there are some contexts which make it necessary to tweak the rules, ever so slightly.
Of course those doing the tweaking would want us to believe this is done with our own best interests in mind.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is nothing short of self-serving political expediency and opportunism using fear of impeding environmental collapse as catalyst.
The Liberal and Green Party leadership’s parental musings of “this is for your own good” is elitist, ill conceived and certainly fatal to those “lesser” in the party who would like to retain a degree of character and good sense.
The win-at-all-cost brand of politics is exactly what we do not need while we sit here staring a dire planetary picture in the face.
I will, however, have to give credit where credit is due. Both leaders told it like it is — refreshing to say the least, but disturbing.
In terms of government’s response to complex issues like climate, war, and economy, Dion speculated Canada would be better off with “Stéphane Dion and Elizabeth May as members of Parliament than with Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay.”
In similar vein May refreshed us with an important truth. “If Mr. Dion becomes the prime minister of Canada,” she said, “I’m certain that he will be acting so as to reach the targets of Kyoto.”
Both, however, used their respective ‘speak truth-to-power’ to justify bad behaviour. It is nothing short of an illegitimate way of beguiling their followers to shelve democracy, if only for a moment, if only on this one issue.
But truth-to-power is cancerous — there will surely be other contexts to follow.
I sit here, far from home in the Gulf of Alaska, getting in sync with a rising sea — wave in, wave out.
I am mesmerized by the rules which govern the intertidal zone. In the richness of life between high tide and low, sponges move over barnacles and snuff them out; growing crabs search out increasingly larger shells and set up house; aggregating anemone take on their own and wrestle for competing space, and ochre stars reach out, curl round, and twist loose frail shield limpets.
There are lessons to be learned here while sitting on these rocks. Political science, like the science of ecology, is the study of systems in which we have both winners and losers.
In the competition for political space Jack Layton and Stephen Harper just elbowed some breathing room.
They did so by relying (like shellfish and algae adhering to the rules of the sea) on principles as old as governance itself: voters should always be seen as occupying higher ground — ground much higher than narrow party politics.
And there is another rule we cannot forget: political systems grow best when exposed to the long light of day. Only then can voters see clearly enough to decide.
I watch a blue and red Sitka periwinkle wash out to sea. This tiny globular snail lost its grip on the porous rock and for now at least it must float around in rough water. But that’s one of the rules here in the intertidal zone and I can do nothing but watch.