Following COP26

I’m sure many of us have been listening to the reports from Glasgow with hope and scepticism. The promises, goals and rhetoric are great but we know action is much more difficult to deliver the changes needed to address a green and just future.

One of the best speeches at COP26 was by past president of the US, Barak Obama  (November 9th). Among a number of truths and encouragements he said, “We can’t afford hopelessness. Instead, we are going to have to muster the will and the passion and the activism of citizens, pushing governments, companies, and everyone else to meet this challenge.”

He pointed to the basic need for citizen political pressure, to address a range of requirements for a green and just future. However, even his encouragement is tame considering the urgency and challenges facing us.

 It seems to me, we need a courageous, collective and coordinated strategy to build back better if humanity is going to survive. And this strategy has to come from civil society as governments and industry are incapable of leadership.

Civil society activists – environmentalists, union organizers, social justice advocates, Indigenous leaders, youth groups and many more  – are well placed to play a leadership role for action. Not only can we ‘push governments’ as is being done now, but we can and must ‘pull governments’ with leadership.

Essentially NGOs represent the broad public, the citizenry, who must have a formative role in building back better. While governments can and should participate in a strategy and implementation, they are partisan and limited to short electoral cycles. No government policies or international agreements on the environment are going to reduce fossil fuel conception without the political and practical support of citizens.

Collaboration among NGOs will also lead to more effective partnering with government, business, corporations and industry, all required to be engaged in a green and just future. Building back better will require finance, resources and technology from those with the existing power to change the structure of our economy, the foundation of a positive future. However, government policies and programs can only succeed if citizens change lifestyles, values and material expectations.

A strong non-partisan coalition will have the credibility and capacity to mobilize public action to reduce energy consumption and waste of natural resources. Public and non-governmental implementation can be more responsive, to mobilize consumers and communities of interest, to act broadly and urgently.  

For this to happen, every one of us has a responsibility to both push and pull our organizations, in our communities and in our lives, to take action towards a green and just future.

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Election 2021 – choice between democracy and dynasty

Thank you to the Liberals. The Liberal cabinet has given us the opportunity to change government and reform our democratic process, to represent all Canadians, not just the privileged elite and their fans.

Now it is up to Canadians to choose a government going to talk a lot and do very little as it has for decades OR choose a government going to fundamentally improve our democratic systems so we can seriously make the changes in Canada we need and want. While there are serious issues to address (reconciliation, environment, child care, pharmacare, others) the common deficiency to action on these   is who makes decisions and how.

The Liberals have most clearly benefitted from a distorted democracy based on myth and complacency. Their sense of entitlement and assumed right to rule continually,  has put us in a situation where rhetoric has replaced reaction on a number of serious social, political, historical and environmental issues. While the government talked a good line, it did virtually nothing on reconciliation, electoral reform, child care or health system reform. On the environment the government funded more oil profit while procrastinating on addressing global warming.

The Conservatives. Well they are still thinking a return to Diefenbaker policy days will solve the needs of a country facing 2022 needs.

The NDP. Well they are trying to be better liberals with charming new leaders.

The Greens. When they resolve the leadership crisis and return to party building they may be an option in the next election.

So what do we do as voters? While I am still sceptical we can make serious change to government, I think we need to keep trying. Here is a strategy I think could have an impact in this election.

  • Put forward a Build Back Better strategy, not just a list of programs to fund, but a plan for Canadian transformation, to address future issues facing us all, to the benefit of all.
  • Propose how to reform our electoral system and to restructure the Senate. Both are essential and we need a succinct proposal of what parliament will strive to do to manage a process of rebuilding our democracy.
  • And most important, a party must agree to an automatic immediate federal election IF these two policy themes are not implemented in the first year of them being in power.

While specific issues may concern us and these may have led our voting in the past, it is imperative to demand a democratic change now. With government able to represent all Canadians, it can then give Canadians the means to address specific issues. Second, let’s remember we are voting for a party and their policies, not for their leader or a prime minister. Elections are not celebrity or popularity contests.

It is up to us as voters to choose democracy over dynasty. It is up to each one of us to challenge every candidate and party on these three points. If our voice has volume we can make a difference.

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Pandemic Perspective

One of the effects of the pandemic, or a positive spin-off, has been the appreciation of our social or cooperative instincts. We have taken great pride in acknowledging how Canadians have helped each other or banded together (often virtually) to survive the pandemic. Rightfully we have praised front line health workers and others in essential services who have taken the risks of infection in the fight against the virus. It has been inspiring how so many people have generously accepted the need to physically distance, wear masks and reduce social gathering to protect each other as well as ourselves.

As we start to recover from the pandemic (when and how that will come to be) I hope we retain the perspective of how important our collective relationships are to our survival. I hope we continue to value each other and especially those who work on the frontline of our social services. It may be an ambitious desire, but I hope we resist the pressure to put individual rights before collective rights.

I believe there has been a creeping, surreptitious manipulation of our culture to put individual rights before collective rights. I completely agree we need to protect individual rights in our society, particularly for minorities and women. Being an individual with the capacity to know, choose and err is essential for our collective existence. However, individualism as a manipulated ideology undermines the social cohesion and cooperative enterprise we need to be individuals. The individualism we see running rampant in the United States for example, is socially corrosive in its inherent violence, racism and exploitation.

Like many of you, I have been watching more movies in the last year. One dominant theme I think I see in American movies is the absolute acceptance of individualism. Weather it is comic book heroes, financial or historical characters or benevolent stories, the individual is always the primary focus, not the collective context they are in. Even stories with a social message in a movie inevitably feature individuals rather than a collective.

In Canada, the covert primacy of the individual over the collective is slipping into our cultural norms. Canadian movies are playing into the same American market themes. Far right organizations are echoing the same libertarian protest. The charter of rights and freedoms and human rights commissions are being tested by individual grievances. Electoral politics has become a celebrity competition (national elections look like presidential campaigns for example). And daily journalism is always reducing stories to individual impact as if we are unable to see ourselves and our interests in the news.

I also think the current discussion and debate around Quebec’s Bill-21 is a reflection of the creeping individualism in the guise of defending ‘human rights’ . instead of debating how a secular society can protect religious choice and rights, we are condemning Quebec for legislating its value in being secular and structuring government to demonstrate that principle. As the preamble to the legislation states, a secular government is a way of protecting individual and religious rights.

Stressing our collective rights and responsibilities enhances our individual rights. As a white male, I benefit from official efforts to correct the impact of colonialism for Indigenous citizens and when women are enabled to play a greater role in the governing of Canada, for example. Prioritizing individual rights however is another means to divide and rule, based on a false dichotomy between individual and collective rights.

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Assault on Congress

Is the invasion of the US Congress the final contortion of a dying manipulation of American democracy OR the first day of a transformation of American democracy.

Merle Streep, February 2017: “If we live through this precarious moment,” she said. “If [Trump’s] catastrophic instinct to retaliate doesn’t lead us to nuclear winter, we will have much to thank our current leader for. He will have woken us up to how fragile freedom is.” 

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Let’s take back ‘Populism’

For some time now I’ve been troubled by how conventional news media and our political leaders have co-opted the term ‘populist’ .  The term is now used to describe mass movements with ultra conservative or extreme right-wing qualities.  The term is often a pejorative label for how extreme authoritarian leaders have been empowered.

At one time, I thought populism was a positive progressive term referring to how working class or average citizens thought. I have read where Tommy Douglas and Joey Smallwood were popular and populist leaders who championed the interests of average citizens (the fundamentals of society).

To be clearer, I think we should avoid using ‘populist’ to describe conservative mass movements and instead call them ‘elitist’ for convenience. Using the term elitist will shift owness of the phenomena to where political power is generated, controlled and exhibited. Emphasizing the elitism in these movements also more correctly defines them, as I think they do not reflect the interest of the masses, the majority populations. And second, the default to elitist leaders and authoritarian government underlies the anti-democratic nature of these movements.

Dictionary definitions;

Populism: a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.

Elitism: the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society.

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Who Won the Presidential Election – no one!

Today, November 4th: Don Trump said this morning he won the election. He is right. I think his objective is to be disruptive and he has achieved that and more. The news media reports the result of the election is ‘too close to call.’ They are wrong. The American public are very clearly evenly divided.

We news and politics junkies who have been obsessed with Trump and the election have been distracted. Watching the congressional soap opera in the US has diverted our attention from what is structurally and fundamentally going on.

Let’s step back and look at what the election means, without our ideological hopes or fears, or short term speculations. I think we are seeing a struggle in America for maintaining entitled power while global forces are forcing American capitalism to change. In a way, the election yesterday was a referendum on globalization and who will benefit from it in America.

Look at who voted for the two main parties.

Republican: old capital (landed, manufacturing, resource based), classic unionized workers, rural and small town, small business people. Minorities and the middle class who believe in the American dream but feel it is not for them. Basically those who most directly have paid for but not gained from globalization.

Democrat: finance capital (new money, corporate, international), young workers (gig, IT, entertainment), urbanites, educated women. Minorities and the middle class who believe in the American dream and still think they can get a piece of it. Basically those who have seen some benefits of ‘free trade’ but aren’t sure how to stay in the game.

What I don’t know, is whether this election is part of a revolutionary shift, or merely another adjustment in the historic sharing of power among America’s elite? Wade Davis and others have written about the fundamental loss of American power and influence, cultural unity and the fear of addressing the energy and environmental crisis. All this could indicate a deep crisis of capitalism and western democracy a mere alignment will not save. It will be messy and many people will be hurt, but we could be seeing a tectonic shift, a transformational opportunity. What do you think?

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Is Reality now Imitating Fiction

I watched CNN news when the second plane hit the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. I had just come into my hotel room in Kampala, Uganda around 4:20pm and thought I was watching an apocalyptic movie. It took a few minutes to realize this was a real time event.

The covid-19 pandemic and environmental disasters in the last few years (forest fires, hurricanes, snow storms) also seem so mammoth and consuming they could only be Hollywood movie scenarios.

Recently I have been watching Youtube clips of President Trump and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and experiencing the same confusion. It feels like I’m watching a political thriller, not real time events. Their outrageous defense of lies or vicious attacks on opponents sound like the script of cheap fiction, possibly a 1984 knock-off.

Over the last three years it appears there are more events that seem to be so outrageous or horrific, so unimaginable they are more fiction than reality. It appears there are so many events taking place that only novels, movies or paintings can rationally portray. And underlining these portrayals is the terrifying awareness that human beings are responsible.

Carole Cadwalladr summarizes this moment when she writes, “We have already been through the equivalent of a social media pandemic – an unstoppable contagion that has sickened our information space, infected our public discourse, silently subverted our electoral systems. It’s no longer about if this will happen all over again. The question is whether our political systems, society, democracy, can survive the age of Facebook.” (Weekly Guardian, July 31 2020)

Russian and fascist leaders have certainly realized the political value in distorting and disorienting our basic thinking on major issues. The social media manipulation of the US 2016 election and Brexit referendum fostered confusion rather than promoting particular candidates or issues. The Trump presidential campaign has already hired principles from Cambridge Analytica because of their success in 2016.

We are truly living through the anthropocene epoch but we need to expand the scope of this definition to include human manipulation of social thinking, perceptions and values. Humans are responsible for the changes in our climate and environment, but also in reason and logic, truth and ultimately of reality. With the spread of communication technology and social media the means for mediated interaction has changed dramatically. With the failure of global capitalism and the rise of fascism, public relations have more aggressively attacked truth, facts and honesty. The very building blocks of reality are being manipulated and distorted for political ends. Much of this phenomenon has been around for centuries, but now more pervasive and consuming.

While this manipulation seems apocalyptic there is still the opportunity for personal and social resistance. We do not have to accept the distortions, lies and misrepresentations. For example, let’s watch Trump and McEnany on the internet with a critical responsibility to separate truth from their propaganda. When we make consumer choices, let’s remember the hidden environmental and human costs. Instead of fearing or lamenting environmental destruction let’s do what is possible to minimize our energy consumption. Subliminal and overt efforts to marginalize women and people of colour can be counteracted by invitations that narrow social distance, help us empathize and build solidarity.

The manipulators do not own truth or reality. But it is up to us to challenge them and consistently confront their distortions.  


Adjective – relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Noun – the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

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Follow up to Wade Davis article

The Unraveling of America : Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era. In Rolling Stone, July 2020

In this article Davis eloquently and intelligently outlines the history of cataclysmic change and what America has become in the last century. He then focuses on how the covid pandemic has and will affect America; “COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken.” Everyone should read the article and discuss it with friends, family and colleagues.

Without denigrating the quality of the article, it is important to note that others (like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Joseph Stiglitz and Chris Hedges) have been writing and talking about the demise of America and “what had long been forsaken”.  And I speculate that most Canadians already share a generalized awareness of how America has already crumbled, though we may not have pulled all our assumptions together as well as Davis has.

I only wish Davis had named “what had long been forsaken”. I would appreciate if he had taken the risky step to say the capitalistic system, with its extreme competitiveness and individualism, that America has idealized, has failed. Underlying everything Davis shows has changed in America, the irrationality of electing Trump and how US globalization failed to deliver benefits for citizens in North America points to the efforts to prop up US capitalism and then its virtual collapse. (Note: this perspective is not a blanket condemnation of capitalism generally, as Davis points out social democratic governments can and have extracted benefits for citizens from capitalism.)

Then the next effort for Davis and others is to propose what needs to be done to reverse the collapse of society in America. And for Canada, what should be done to ‘build back better’ after covid-19. While it is important to clearly describe the collapse of the American dream and all the social weaknesses covid has exposed in Canada, it is more important to get started on restructuring government, democratic institutions and social relations. Let’s get started on figuring out what we need to do to avoid the inherent weaknesses of our past economy, foster genuine social equity, aggressively stop damaging the environment and rejuvenate democracy. Lamenting what has happened and how we failed each other and the environment is cathartic, but lets get together to support each other and build the world we want and need.

(My next blog will offer a few ideas of what I think we can do going forward.)



US versus WE

It is great that the WE controversy is getting scrutiny. I believe the inqurery will expose a great deal of how our government is removed from the daily cultural and economic realities of most Canadians.

First, let’s not forget the plan to set up a huge job fund for students through a non-governmental agency was a good idea.

However two errors took place. Clearly the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance had direct ties to WE and should have recused themselves from any discussions about WE. They have admitted that. Second they and the bureaucrats should have known that WE was incapable of delivering the results intended.

WE is a registered charity. WE officials claim to be working for children and youth and in countries of the south suffering poverty. However, I believe they are an elite business fronting for corporations and celebrities wanting to look like they are progressive and empathetic. The organisation in my opinion is doing  little or nothing to change the root causes of poverty and discrimination. WE is paternalistic and colonial in how they engage with countries of the south. While their rhetoric is progressive their behaviour is regressive.

The second aspect of what I hope the inquirery exposes is how our opposition parties are so out of touch with Canadians. They are focused on the ethical breech and are demanding resignations at a time of national crisis. Canada needs a strong leadership now and whether anyone likes the Liberals or not (and I am not or ever have been a Liberal supporter), they have done a decent job buffering the worst impact of Covid-19.

The opposition parties should be challenging the Liberals on the bad choice of delivery organization, a bad management decision. The Liberals and the civil service involved should have done their homework and known that WE is the worse kind of charity.  And it is certainly not a social development agency. As well, all MPs should be engaging with genuine social development agencies

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Has the Revolution Started … and am I left behind?

The world seems to be on the edge of a transformative change. Is something bigger happening or am I just wishful thinking? And because of covid am I and others sidelined.

Like many of you, I have been watching the fervent social uprising of people around the world, mainly young, to challenge the abuse of our environment and people of colour. Demonstrations and protests in the last year have brought thousands of concerned citizens out onto the streets. They are saying the abuse of the environment and people of colour (particularly Indigenous citizens in Canada) must stop. Great!

The size and scope of these demonstrations look like revolt. Many of the people demanding the rights of Indigenous people are pointing to a history of colonialism and the need to change the Indian Act, for example. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations are similarly pressing for defunding and reframeing the police. This looks like there is more to the demonstrations than only a desire to expose past wrongs. In some countries, demonstrations are against government policies as in Hong Kong. Within the fervour of exposure are indicators of some direction for institutional or structural change, for reform.

But are these actions just a transition to some unknown social reordering, a ‘new normal’, or the foundation for revolution (in a Canadian way of course)? Understandably the street action is not going to bring down the state, or even push out those in positions of power. But the level of participation and scope of the protests indicate more is being expressed. There is a not-so-subtle critique of power in these actions. Governments are being challenged openly. The police particularly are being challenged for their racial biases and their authority over the security of society. Our governments are be called to account for their biases (it is great to see how Trump is being condemned in the US). These actions and events are indicating a political dissatisfaction going beyond the headline issues, that could be transformative or revolutionary.

The conditions created by covid-19 are possibly leading to a growing awareness that governments have consciously neglected major social systems and supports. Under funding of public health, care for senior citizens and people with a disability are a few of the major needs exposed. Low wages for front line and part time workers, kept low by business and government, is having a backlash effect on everyone. Some people have now put 2 + 2 together to understand what happened after the 2008 financial crisis – the banks were rescued with massive amounts of public money and citizens and workers have paid ever since for that rescue. In Canada, more people see how all three political parties have failed to provide leadership on addressing important structural changes facing us all. The Liberal government has flaunted the revised NAFTA that is partially responsible for the current crisis and reneged on a commitment to electoral reform.

Are the conditions ripe and the consciousness focused enough to stimulate political transformation? I would like to think so. There is certainly a growing understanding that collective action is necessary to protect us as a society. The public health message may seem naive but ‘be kind, be calm, be safe’ has clearly focused attention on our collective strength. The next step is seeing inequality as the underlining fault in our political system, seeing how inequality is economically constructed and maintained. Are we going to organize now to insist that equality is essential for public health, protecting the environment and promoting racial justice? Are we going to demand a living wage (higher minimum wage or basic annual income, ) and tax the rich to pay for it? Are we going to insist democracy work for everyone, not just those with property and wealth?

A return to past normal is impossible. Some say we need a ‘new normal’. But an opportunity for a ‘better normal’ is possible. Let’s seize the opportunity.

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Protests and demonstrations against racism are putting pressure on institutions and individuals to change. This is necessary and healthy for all of us.

Part of one major demand of the protestors is systemic* change in policing. Again this is necessary and healthy. My hope, however, is that we as a society go beyond general demands for change in one institution and make radical change in cultural racism.

Having lived in different countries and organized anti-apartheid action in Canada in the 70’s and 80’s, I have seen and felt different kinds of racism. I would say Canadian racism is different in that it is largely based on ignorance. Now I agree with one young protestor who said ignorance is no longer an excuse.

But I do know people are discriminated against because they are vulnerable, disempowered, regardless of the scale of racism. To truly end racism people need to be empowered so they are not vulnerable and denied their full human and civil rights. This means we all have a responsibility to reach out to each other, to actively include others in our social and family lives who are different than we are, and create changes in our communities and organizations that invite everyone in Canada. We all have a responsibility to demonstrate that diversity empowers us all, when we empower each other.

Canada has made systemic changes but more is necessary. Recent immigrants are now our neighbours and colleagues and creating opportunities to learn about our differences and similarities. Many Canadians have lived and travelled to different cultures and have a genuine respect and appreciation for difference. We have made a start in treating each other with respect, though we have a long way to go.

* Systemic Racism includes the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. It differs from overt discrimination in that no individual intent is necessary. (Toronto Mayor’s Committee on Community and Race Relations. Race Relations: Myths and Facts)

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