Friday, October 21, 2011
From a letter I wrote to the Camrose Canadian
Your editorial in the October 20th edition, "Occupy protesters lack focus" misses importance of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Hard-working, honest people are becoming increasingly uneasy about the unrestrained corruption, greed and criminality of our largest corporations. These global giants wield incredible power over our financial and political systems. Where once democratically elected governments looked after the rights of citizens, they are increasingly looking out for the interests of powerful lobbies.
For decades, we have been sold on a model that serves not us (or the well-being of our families and communities) but one that serves the interests of a very small minority. No matter how hard we work and strive to live within our means, the cards are stacked against us. Citibank, GM, Chrysler, AIG, Bank of America... they are too big to fail, but the rest of us... we get to fail all the time. And when the big guys fail, their bosses still get millions in bonuses?
One of the main criticisms of the "Occupy" movement is that it is unfocused... has no leaders... has no answers... no demands... and so it's not legitimate. The truth is... it's not the job of protesters to draft legislation; that’s the job of our political leaders. If our governments had been doing their jobs... with the interests of citizens at heart, the Occupy Movement would never have been born. It is precisely because government has forgotten who they serve, and who ultimately has power in a democracy that this movement has legitimacy.
Perhaps the most important thing that can come from this movement is a renewed recognition that when citizens stand together and raise concerns... when we take to the streets... when we recognise injustice and put pressure on political leaders to remember who they represent, they have to pay attention.
What is truly frightening to those in control of the current power structure is the very same thing they criticise: there are no leaders. This is a spontaneous movement made up of fairly non-radical people... old, young, women, men... largely middle-class. It is not associated with any political party... or union... or ethnic group. The power of this movement rests in it's vagueness and the breadth of its support.
This movement will no doubt mature. It's likely going to evolve into many different agendas, and quite sadly (yet inevitably), identifiable leaders will emerge. However, this non-specific, leaderless movement has spawned debate we haven't witnessed in a long time. This movement is not one born of a narrow band of interest. It was not started to address someone's personal agenda. That's the charm and the magic of it all.
Vague to begin with... yes. But who among us has not questioned the entrenched, back-room power that controls our lives... the failing of our democracy... the tendency of government to look after the interests of those who can afford to lobby and not protect the interests of regular citizens... especially our most vulnerable.
One may be skeptical about much of this movement... but the fact remains, it is different, and despite being ignored by mainstream media for almost a month, it has touched off a renewed concept in the power of peaceful assembly. That vague injustice and longing for something better that dwells in so many of us... is something we share with a much larger (and if we want... more powerful) group. We are not the fringe... but the center... and we have power... if we want it.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
There's something I need to say before I get farther into my own federal election campaign. Come May 3rd, I will be shutting off my computer and turning off the T.V. to work in my greenhouse and read a fiction or two. I know I won't want to hear... or talk about anything political for some time after the polls close.
As an original member of the new Alberta Party (one of the first 20), I have been amazed by the rapid growth of the party and by the quality of members we are attracting. Among those members is Glenn Taylor, a current leadership hopeful
Long before I knew Glenn Taylor had an interest in the Alberta Party, I'd been watching him as the mayor of the City of Hinton. He'd caught my eye because of his ability to balance being mayor of a resource-based city with a truly inspiring vision for the future. It also happened that I met Glenn's brother, who lives in the town next to me, and got to know a little more about Glenn's family and their history in Alberta.
I would be lying if I said I knew the other candidates for the leadership of the Alberta Party as well as I know Glenn. Yet, I believe their integrity and their unique stories bring our young party even more credibility and I look forward to all of them taking a leadership role in the future of this party.
However, I believe Glenn Taylor's experience as the mayor of the City of Hinton and his experience with the Alberta Municipalities Association make Glenn not only a very strong leader, but an almost certain bet to win his seat as an MLA in our coming provincial election. That's why I am going to be supporting Glenn's bid for the leadership of the Alberta Party.
Those who have shown the courage to put their names forward for the leadership of this new party have my respect and gratitude. I see you as vanguards for the future of Alberta.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
This week, I've found an incredible "guest blogger." Ken Eshpeter, of Daysland, Alberta, is one of the most inspiring men I know. Ken is the driving force behind the Battle River Railway, a growing cooperative success story.
Two years ago, he knew nothing about railways... and now he and his community own one... one that would have been torn up and sold for scrap had it not been for him and other farmers along CN's Alliance Subdivision between Camrose and Alliance. For a multi-billion dollar corporation, the Alliance Sub. was a nuisance. For Albertans like Ken, it is the way of the future... and a lesson in revitalising rural Alberta.
As a result of many factors, the population of the rural prairies has declined to such an extent over the past 50 years that we no longer possess (what I call) a large enough "critical mass" of people. This "critical mass" is the number of people required for an area to sustain viable goods and services provision. Everyone, including rural residents, wants access to recreational, educational, health, arts, retail, legal, accounting, religious... and I am sure many other services.
When the critical population mass of a region declines too much, two very unfortunate things happen: 1) the number of shoppers declines to the point that they do not create enough traffic for small business people to maintain sufficient revenues... and 2) the number of rate payers declines, making it very difficult for rural municipalities to maintain a range of services. The solution to this dilemma is to increase the critical population mass of rural area, but of course we know that is much harder done than said. In the meantime, the only way for rural residents to re-create and maintain infrastructure is to go back to that age old model that helped build the rural landscape in the first place: the co-operative.
I recently took part in a workshop in Viking, Alberta, entitled Re-learning Community. The workshop was organized by a friend who is intensely interested in understanding how the rural landscape allowed itself to get to the current lack of viability, and how residents might turn the situation around. He asked me to be a presenter and bring information about my experience forming a new generation co-operative. I was involved with a group of 150 farmers in the Camrose area who had just finished forming a co-op to purchase a $5 million shortline railway from CN which runs Camrose to Alliance, Alberta.
The history of co-operatives (and co-operation itself) on the prairies is a story which rekindles hope. Groceries and hardware, telephones, natural gas, electricity, grain marketing, banking, insurance; these have all been provided in large part by co-operatives. The issues and pressures facing our forefathers were much like the ones that rural residents face today. We must take actions like this in our own communities to ensure that we can continue to exist and thrive in the future. In my experience these types of efforts have a tremendously positive effect in small communities.
In 1999 the local movie theatre in my town, Daysland, AB, was for sale. The old couple running it wanted to retire. A group of us in the district did some research regarding the business of movie theatre operation and we found that a population of at least 10,000 people was required to run a commercially viable theatre business. Well... that left us about 8,000 people short, so we knew a different strategy was needed. We formed a society (people co-operating), convinced the town and the agricultural society to buy the building, and then proceeded to operate the facility.
We now have 12 volunteer projectionists. We still show movies every weekend. We present 8 concerts in a winter series. We have a reel alternative movie series. We have a 5-week summer program for young people... and we have a live, local theatre troupe. People in the district cannot imagine life around here without the theatre. The only paid position is a janitor. As you can see from these examples, rural communities have always and will continue to sustain themselves differently than urban centres. Rural survival is rooted in cooperation.
My daughter completed a Master’s thesis a year ago on building sustainable communities. She focused on “intentional communities”. I asked her to define them. She said they are locales where people have come together to share commonalities like a particular conservation ethic. Everyone in a block might have high energy use efficiency within their house construction as one example. I pondered that concept for some time and have come to the conclusion that the rural area is an intentional community. I will expand that concept in the future as well further my philosophy of the value of co-operatives for the preservation of the rural area.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Welcome to the 2011 federal election. Like many other Canadians, I was hoping this election wouldn't come this spring. I'm in the middle of one of my busiest seasons as a greenhouse operator... and that's aside from my full time job as a locomotive engineer... but such is democracy. This election comes as a result of the disgraceful conduct not only of the Conservative party but the selfish interests of the other traditional parties in Canada as well. This last parliament just didn't seem to understand its role is to govern for all Canadians... and not act in the narrow self interest of a few.
This Canadian has had enough. Although I'm crazy busy... I hope I'll never be too busy to engage in Canadian democracy... and that includes the very distinct honour of running as a candidate for a party whose values I have pretty much adopted (though the Greens are tolerant of me for not agreeing with everything... all the time).
Other Canadians are waking up to the reality that a big change is needed in this country to ensure our democracy remains something to be proud of and... something that works for all Canadians.
I will be campaigning in this election on a platform of:
· Sustainable rural Alberta communities getting a fairer financial share.
· Responsible and honest government, working with anyone with good ideas.
· Putting the environment on a par with the economy.
· Ensuring the needs of hard-working Canadian families come first.
It's time for real accountability and integrity, where Canadians feel their political parties are working for the good of Canadians, rather than simply the good of their own partisan interests. In this election I want to engage other Canadians on:
What a sustainable rural Alberta community would mean. There is no greater force for change than a community that decides for itself how it wants to move forward... and has the resources to make it's dreams reality. We need to begin rebuilding our infrastructure to meet our unique needs, for local jobs, for the well-being of rural Alberta families.
We need to re-interpret what responsible government means to us. Above all, ethics and integrity and accountability must have a standard real Canadians agree with... and not some gobbledee-gook political hybrid that allows politicians to twist and turn. It means respect for democracy and fellow Canadians. It means cooperation, compromise, courtesy and collaboration. It means building an economy that has a long-term future that will guarantee Canada is still prosperous long after we are gone.
I was hesitant about being a candidate this election. I'm just an old berry farmer and railroader. My wife tells me I'm not a politician until I actually get paid for my efforts. I think she's right. No one can accuse the Green Party candidate for Vegreville-Wainwright of being an opportunist. This will be an uphill campaign. I have a long way to go to catch the Conservative incumbent. Still, to be able to play this role in this great democracy of ours still brings a lump to my throat.
My goal over the next month is to listen to... but also engage my neighbours... in the streets... in cafes... in schools with tough questions and issues. I'll be on Facebook... this blog and I'll even try to figure out Twitter... but I'll also have to go to work and take care of my greenhouse. I don't have the luxury of time off to campaign... or big money behind me.
Although most of Canadians (me included) are tired of so many elections, I ask everyone to recognise how important our democratic rights are. Many of us did not want this election at this time... but we've got it. Now... let's honour it with our best efforts to understand the issues... dispense the partisan crap... hold our chosen parties and candidates to the highest of our own standards... and vote for the best person to represent us in Ottawa.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Edmonton Journal columnist Todd Babiuk wrote a piece a few weeks ago about his "bowling date" with representatives of the Liberal Party of Alberta and the new Alberta Party. The gist of his effort was to find out why the two parties don't just merge... since they seem to stand for many of the same things... at least in Babiuk's perspective. The piece ends without any real reason why the two parties don't get together. I responded to Babiuk's piece with the following letter to the editor that appeared in the "Letters" section of the Journal on February 17th.
Since coming onto the public radar, the media has portrayed the Alberta Party as dissatisfied Liberals. Although that's an easy angle for journalists to try and understand the roots and reasons behind the Alberta Party, it misses the point of the new Party, and why it's gaining traction so quickly.
What excites many of us is the diversity of those involved in the new Party... and it isn't made up of any one traditional political group. There are ex-Progressive Conservatives... ex-Greens... ex-Liberals... ex-New Democrats... and a whole lot of people who never wanted to self-identify as a member of any political party. Even with it's name, the party has shunned an old way of partisan thinking and opens the possibilities that there is a political entity that is prepared to look beyond traditional party labels and partisan thinking
As a rural Albertan, I see in this new party a chance to break away from the narrow classification as a "conservative farmer" which puts me at odds with "urban liberals... and allows me to be simply an Albertan looking for better ways to move forward.
I see in the new party a chance to re-build rural Alberta into vibrant communities, where families live, and work and play... where municipalities are allowed greater decision-making power and won't have policy imposed by the province. I see a party committed to subscribing to good ideas, whether they come from the right or the left. I see a party that puts less importance on political identity than it does on good policy.
I see a party that is willing to give Alberta's environment equal status to our economic well-being... and that understands the two are inextricably linked. I see a party that will attempt to balance the province's need to organise land-use and plan for the future, with landowners' rights to steward their own land, and to a fair appeal process and fair compensation when a landowner's rights are compromised.
I see a party that does not carry the baggage of an outdated political label (fairly or unfairly burdened) foisted upon it from far-removed circumstances... and a party that would rather spend time and energy on policy than explaining why a toxic name doesn't matter.
At 50, I'm no "babe in the woods" willing to believe everything with the new Alberta Party will be smooth sailing or problem free. However, its commitment to open and democratic process, and no allegiance to old ways of thinking, this party stirs me with excitement for what might be. As a member of the new party, I'm not interested in mergers with the Alberta Liberal Party, The Progressive Conservative Party... or any other party, for that matter. I am, however, interested in working constructively with all Albertans (of any political stripe) to make Alberta the best place it can be for all Albertans... for Canada... and even the world.
If I'd been invited to bowl with Todd Babiuk, that's what I would have told him.