Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands

Within the federal Green Party there is a growing debate about whether leader Elizabeth May has the moral credentials to "parachute" into the riding to become the Green candidate in the next election. Another Green Party member--Stuart Hertzog, also not from the riding--is contesting the nomination based on his assertion that the Green Party is a grassroots party and thus the decision to have Ms May run in the riding came from the top and is thus not "green."

The following is a slightly modified version of what I wrote as a comment on a blog discussion about the issue. It has been modified to read as a stand alone piece for the benefit of anyone who is not acquainted with the original debate or the discussion in general.

I am one of the “blue-greens” people talk about when they try to distinguish differing points of views within the Green Party. I’m a middle-aged farmer trying to take care of my little piece of the planet, and having an ever increasingly difficult time. I used to consider myself a Progressive Conservative, but when issues of the environment led me to change priorities (and the PCs disappeared), I became a Green supporter.

I was first welcomed into the "Green" fold by people who were happy I'd become a 'convert' but later told (and often) that I am not “green” enough by long-term “fundis” (not my choice of words). Often, "fundis" believe that the objective of getting elected and thus having to work within a political system they see as tainted is offensive, and that it is better to simply advocate for the change they see as necessary to save the planet. "Realos" tend to be more pragmatic and recognise the necessity of getting "down and dirty" within the process and scrapping with those in power to get a seat at the table. To us (cause I guess I am a "Realo"), this seems logical.

This schism now has Greens divided about whether Elizabeth May's style of leadership is too "top-down" and thus unworthy of the label Green and that it is simply selfish for her to lead the party in the direction of getting her elected to Parliament.

While I think Mr. Hertzog has every right to challenge Ms. May for the Green candidacy in Saanich-Gulf Islands, I am perplexed by the notion of some Greens who become involved with the Green Party as a political party yet are un-fussed about electing MPs/MLAs/MNAs. The idea of being a movement over a political party leaves me scratching my head.

I see this as politically dishonest: asking voters for support… and especially for money. The call, “Vote for me… I’m happy not to be elected because I believe I am morally superior to the whole dirty business of politics” is simply asking for failure. Taking money for that endeavour, or asking people to volunteer their lives to the effort is just dumb to me… but then again, I’m not an academic or a philosopher.

I cannot believe that people like myself… who still believe individuals have enough integrity to make a positive difference in our political system are somehow simply naive, or that we miss the point of the scale of change necessary to “save the planet.”

I believe getting elected is a first step in our system. Ignoring this fact will not get us the chance to participate in the system, and we will never get a chance to explain our perspectives in the halls of political power. By not getting elected, we cast ourselves into oblivion.

The idea that enough of the electorate would vote for a party that does not see getting elected as the first priority is “pie-in-the-sky” and without integrity to support the ideas we believe in.

This seems more like the same partisan politics that has become the Canadian reality. Greens are fond of saying this party is not about left vs right. It is an attractive motto, however, this party is taking on the shades of “realo” vs “fundi” which is simply the same crap, re-branded, and what is worse, it will hurt the Green cause politically.

I see Elizabeth May as one step in a process to get a Green voice in the House of Commons. She has brought the Green Party a certain cache and certainly more visibility among a larger group of Canadians. I see her as a bridge between the “fundis” and the “realos.”

All arguments aside about the wisdom of running against Peter McKay last time, I am certain Ms. May will run to win in the next election. Win or lose, she will face a leadership review in 2010. That is the time for challengers to mount arguments to replace her. Of course those arguments need to be heard. If someone comes around to inspire more confidence then we will get the chance to choose a new leader.

Until then (and as a “blue-green”) I think it is acceptable for the leader of a political party to run in a winnable riding. Indeed, I think it is an obligation. For my own part, what I find rather mystifying is this continuing idea that the Green Party is above winning or losing. If one believes that, wouldn’t it be better (and more honest) to stay totally engaged in activist activity?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Man Who Will Plant Trees

In February, 2008 a local land developer offered my wife and I $10,000 an acre for 21 acres of land we have that borders a County Refuse Transfer Station. It had been laying fallow since we bought our little berry farm in 2006, and being as hard pressed as I am to clean up the old place and make the farm and greenhouse profitable I saw the sale of the land as an easy way to pay off all our debts... including the rest of the mortgage on the farm... and build us a new house.

The plans this developer showed me were for a small little industrial part with acre-sized lots for small businesses, such as plumbers or mechanics or the like. The plans had neat little lots and shops... street lights... a water and sewage system . Although I didn't really want to give up the land, we were struggling and it seemed like a plan that would benefit the whole village by bringing business out to the area. Anyway, with the land against the "Transfer Station" (itself a bit of an eyesore), I thought it wasn't a bad idea.

But the developer missed closing date after closing date: October 31st became January 31st became March 31st which became May 31st. When he came to see me before the last closing date I told him quite clearly that if the sale hadn't closed by July 31st, I would no longer be interested in selling the land.

The truth is that our little berry farm and greenhouse has done well enough to make us believe we can now pay the bills... and if we work a little harder and gain a little larger customer base, we may just do all right by this little business.

About 10 days before the final closing date, the developer came to me with a cheque for $150,000 and a promise to pay the remaining $60,000 within 90 days of July 31.

That day, he also told me that he no longer had plans to build the little light industrial park. His plans had changed to housing an auto wrecker and to store pipeline pipe on the land.

I was flabbergasted; for the rest of my life I would have to look out the window of my home and see not only the Transfer Station but an auto wrecker and oil field and pipeline pipe.
When it came time to accept his offer, I simply couldn't do it. In the year since agreeing to the deal I have come to love this little piece of land between a tiny village and the County Refuse Station. It isn't much. There are no grand vistas... no stunning trees... no running water... not much... but 6,000 saskatoon berry bushes, a few acres of raspberries and a 75 year-old house that is constantly falling apart. But for the time being it is ours to look after. The thought of giving it over to pipe storage and an auto wrecker was simply too much.

After the closing date passed, I made an appointment with a lawyer (yes, I now have a lawyer) to ensure that I could finally put an end to this deal and be legal about it. We paid back the developer's deposit (even though we didn't have too) and put a formal end to the deal.

The developer is livid. He says he is going to sue me.

I ought to be sad. I will not be able to build a new house for my family... at least not for a while. I will have to keep spending all we make just paying the bills... and I will have to work harder and longer than ever. But standing out in that field now makes me happier than I have been in a long time. I see the aspens and poplars I will plant along the edge of that Transfer Station swaying in the breeze in 20 years. I can taste the strawberries I will plant in the field next to the house. I can see my kids and their kids jumping on a trampoline... skating on a rink... or just lying on the ground looking up at the summer clouds.

We are probably aren't going to get that new house for a long time yet... but I feel fine... just fine!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hands Up!

I was on my way home from work the other day after 12 hours out switching chemical rail cars in and around the big up-graders in Ft. Saskatchewan. I was totally worn out and starving, but it was a evening when my wife and kids were going to be out. I was going to have to make my own supper. Then I saw it! driving south down Gateway Blvd... a buffet... all you can eat for $12.99.

I bought a newspaper and headed in to feed my already fat face. There I sat for three-quarters of an hour, reading my paper and scarfing down enough to feed three families for a week. When I looked around, I saw more than a few tables with one person sitting at them doing just what I was doing... eating too much and reading.

Then it occurred to me how ridiculous the scene around me was. We Albertans are so concerned about the progressive demise of our universal health care system, yet we are killing ourselves over-eating, smoking and drinking.

When I walk down the streets I see a society where more than half of us are overweight... sometimes grossly so. Many of us smoke... a lot of us drink... a majority of us lead sedentary lives, driving to and from wherever we have to go.

We have so distanced ourselves from natural, healthy lives we're inviting disaster. We buy most of our food from chain grocery stores... food that comes from corporate distributors, grown and raised in the most unnatural conditions and then preserved with chemicals we can't even pronounce. And if that isn't dangerous enough, we've become gluttons. Because our food has no relationship to the labour we do, it is simply too easy to eat too much.

I'm just as suspicious as the next Albertan when it comes to what our government is doing with our health care system. I'm concerned that employees within the system can't speak freely about problems they experience. I can't understand why the Stollery Childrens' Hospital has to get a large portion of its funding through a telethon and corporate sponsorship. I think Albertans have every right to be on guard and worried.

Sitting in that buffet with all those other people eating too much, I felt a sense of shame. We can't continue to depend on our health care system when we aren't doing our share to take care of ourselves.

It's time to step away from buffet table. It's time to take the steps necessary to make sure we don't need the health care system to take care of our own gluttony and sloth.

Me first.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A New National Dream

We're finally talking about high-speed rail again in this country, comparing it to the National Dream of old. This country exists because of the grand vision and commitment to the idea of Canada of men like John. A. MacDonald, George Stephen and Sir Sanford Fleming. Today, building a efficient national passenger rail system would be far less difficult than it was in the mid 1860s, 70s and 80s. The technology to whisk people across Canada on rail already exists... some of it right here in Canada with Bombardier. Yet what is missing today is the political will to build anything great in this country... to work selflessly for a great good. Today's political leaders are more concerned about the next election than about the viability of this country into the next century.

Our recent governments are obsessed with allowing the private sector run the country. We deregulate everything so profit is possible. We sell off assets to balance books. It was not too long ago this country had its own railway company in Canadian National Railways. That company was owned by Canadians and operated to facilitate Canadian business and passenger service. Granted, the passenger service was let to deteriorate to a point where it became unfeasible, but CN Rail Freight was always a profit-making railway, no matter what is said about privatisation.

Building a high-speed rail system in Canada, linking more conventional rail lines across the country will be a huge project. It will take the sort of national will we have not seen for decades to move it forward... the national will of the country and leaders with 'cojones' and more concern for Canada than the political success of their own Parties. Catching up with much of the rest of the world (even China) in terms of passenger rail service is a worthy goal. Canada must begin pursuing it in earnest.

It will be difficult... but not as difficult as it was the first time to push rail lines over the Canadian Shield and through the Rockies. The heavy lifting has already been done by Canadians before us. What is left for us is simply keeping faith with those Fathers of Confederation and finding the will and fortitude to complete the task in the 21st Century. Imagine how much easier the task would be if Canadians still owned Canadian National? Selling it at a bargain-basement price was short-sighted. Yet, the task of recreating our National Dream is still worth doing. Now is the time to look farther than the next election and work as a country to get this job done.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Cost of Food

Yesterday, a well-to-do couple drove up to the berry patch and wanted to pick saskatoon berries. That's always a good thing on a saskatoon berry farm, so I sent them off to the best trees, in the aisles I keep mowed and clean, where the walking is easy and the berries hang off the branches like grapes.

About an hour later they returned to the house and noted that ours were the biggest, juiciest, sweetest saskatoons they'd ever eaten. Of course, being the one who spends hours and hours between those aisles, planting and mowing grass, keeping out the weeds and pruning the branches back, I am always 'proud as punch' to hear people tell me how much they like our saskatoons.

We love them, too, and though they don't really make us any money, they provide us with juice, wine, jams and pie filling we enjoy all year long... and share with the people we care about.

But before I could feel too proud of myself, the man asked me if I would get all the berries off the trees. I told him that it was too big a job. We have 5,000 trees and more than 50% never gets picked. It's sad but true and it bothers me. I still hope people in the city will recognise the goodness of local food and start coming in larger numbers. And they have been, but there are still more berries than we can pick.

I could have a mechanized berry picker, but it's tough on the trees--and to be honest--they're just too darn expensive. I do make deals with the local Hutterites where they pick a pail for themselves and a pail for me (which we freeze and use all year long). But for the most part, the birds and coyotes are the recipients of a large part of my berries.

The man then proposed that since so many berries were going to dry up on the branches, that I should give him a discount.


It was logic that just didn't figure to me. If he bought an equal amount of blueberries from the supermarket, they would cost him more than the fresh berries he had in his bucket. The supermarket berries would profit the chain store and some distant shareholder. They might have been chemically treated with herbicide or pesticide... and they were certainly trucked over a thousand kilometres to get to the store.

Buying my saskatoons keeps every cent in his own community. It helps keep this little orchard going and part of our community. What he had in that bucket was more than berries. In that pail was the toil and love of a family... volunteerism in the community... fresh food grown by a neighbour who supports a family with the small amount those berries provide.

Well, I guess I kind of frowned when I told him that I DO give a large portion of my berries away for free... to the birds and coyotes who share this land with us... but for him, it was $10 an ice-cream bucket. He harumphed, got his wallet out and grudgingly paid me.

I think I'm happier when I see purple coyote droppings, packed with saskatoon seeds than when I have to deal with a clod in a nice car who wants the fruits of nature and my toil for free. The coyote is less a scavenger.

Someday guys like him will learn the true value of food. Someday, what I know about growing food will be worth something to the people who think meat comes in cellophane packs and juice pools in tetra packs.

When that day comes, I might just choose to share with the coyotes and birds rather than help feed morons like that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Folk Music Blues

Of all the hundreds of thousands of dollars awarded in federal grants to folk festivals around the country this year, the Edmonton Folk Festival received exactly... ZERO... NADA... ZILTCH....

"Why?" everyone around here is wondering.

Could it be that the Edmonton Folk Festival is held in the federal constituency of Strathcona?

Ring a bell?  Strathcona is the only federal riding that did not go Conservative in the last election.  It went to the 'lefty' environmentalist NDP, Linda Duncan.

This oughta teach them sweater-wearing, folk-music-listening, tree-hugging hippies they can't get away with exercising their democratic right to vote... well, at least to vote for someone other than the Conservative.

... or maybe I'm just imagining it all.

I'm not sayin'.

I'm just sayin'.