Tyee Master Classes

If you’re like many of us, just learning how to be actively involved,  you won’t want want to miss The Tyee’s Spring 2013 Master Class Series. Learn under the tutorage those who are already in the field by signing up for classes like Polling and Public Opinion with Mario Canseco, Web Mapping and Basic Data Herding with Hugh Stimson, Deep Research and Political Ops with Emma Pullman, or High-Impact Online Campaigning with Emma Pullman and Jamie Biggar.  Learn more

If you attend, be sure to write ‘Another Inconvenient Citizen’ on your name tag to help spread the interest and connect with others who are beginning to engage.

 

Help Is On the Way If You Get On Board

I have rarely been a member of any political party, at least until last year when I realized what wonderful work Elizabeth May was doing on behalf of all Canadians and so I joined the Green Party. But that was last year. As of this month I am no longer a Green Party member.

Elizabeth May is still amazing but she needs help. She can’t save us alone. Our country and our environment need help.  Most importantly, right now until March 3rd we have a very unique opportunity to offer that help but we all need to get on board. Rick Mercer perhaps says it best, with levity, in his rant about the Liberal Leadership Race:

What Rick Mercer doesn’t talk about is the benefits for Canada in supporting Joyce Murray’s campaign as it fits well with the urgent care that Canada needs for our democracy, sustainability and stewardship of the environment. I’m pretty new to this whole political scene as an activist. More on that is coming in future posts but right now I’m motivated and excited by what Joyce Murray is offering up by way of creating some real change for Canada.

Many of us already know that our democratic system is not representing Canadians well enough. That Stephen Harper could have been elected as Prime Minister of Canada with a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote, and with less than 23% of those eligible to vote actually voting for him, is just wrong. The system needs to change and it needs to change fast before this government, or quite frankly, any other government with a minority-earned-majority continues to follow the self interest of so few, ignoring the need for a more just, sustainable and equitable society.

As Rick Mercer says, this may well be a one time opportunity. Sure, one needs to sign up to the Liberal Party, but only as a supporter. One does not need to join and it costs no money. Any one of us can still be free to join any party after the Liberal Leadership election. To be eligible as a supporter one only needs to meet very limited criteria. This includes the following:

  • either be a member of the Party or
  • (a) be at least 18 years of age;
  • (b) support the purposes of the Party;
  • (c) be qualified as an elector who may vote in accordance with part 11 of the Canada Elections Act or ordinarily lives in Canada; and
  • (d) not be a member of any other federal political party in Canada.

The Liberal Party purposes are a little less clear. The web site for registering asks one to agree to what is essentially the preamble of the Liberal Party of Canada constitution. It states the following principles but I had to assume they are the purposes I am required to agree to:

The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to the view that the dignity of each individual man and woman is the cardinal principle of democratic society and the primary purpose of all political organization and activity in such a society.

The Liberal Party of Canada is dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity in the framework of a just society, and political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all persons. The Liberal Party is bound by the constitution of Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is committed to the pursuit of equality of opportunity for all persons, to the enhancement of our unique and diverse cultural community, to the recognition that English and French are the official languages of Canada, and to the preservation of the Canadian identity in a global society.

In accordance with this philosophy, the Liberal Party of Canada subscribes to the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons under the rule of law and commits itself to the protection of these essential values and their constant adaptation to the changing needs of modern Canadian society.

The Liberal Party of Canada recognizes that human dignity in a democratic system requires that all citizens have access to full information concerning the policies and leadership of the Party; the opportunity to participate in open and public assessment of such means, and such modifications of policies and leadership as  they deem desirable to promote the political, economic, social, cultural and general well-being of Canadians.

To realize this objective, the Liberal Party of Canada strives to provide a flexible and democratic structure whereby all Canadians can obtain such information, participate in such assessment and militate for such reform through open communications, free dialogue and participatory action both electoral and non-electoral. This Constitution sets forth the institutions, systems and procedures by which the Liberal Party of Canada, in co-operation with its provincial and territorial associations and electoral district  associations, works to implement these ideas on behalf of all its members.

In my opinion, these are pretty general and vague. They aren’t hard at all for me to support as the basis for a civil and democratic society.

As per my previous blog post, I have withdrawn my membership from the Federal Green Party and am now registered as a supporter for the purpose of voting in the Liberal Party Leadership Election.  At this time I believe that I will be supporting Joyce Murray, and only Joyce Murray, as leader. I’m taking this vote very seriously and so am also doing the ground work to really, really research who Joyce Murray is, what she stands for, and whether or not she deserves my vote. In fact I’m learning everything I can about all of the candidates and I will be voting for the candidate who I think will put my concerns at the forefront. I want a Liberal Leader who understands that we need to oust Stephen Harper first and foremost; a leader who understands that the politics of our diverse nation has to be about cooperation, not just now but forever down the road. I want a leader who understands that we need  electoral reform so that we will never again have a minority-elected-majority. I want a leader who cares about our environment and about sustainability, and yes about economic development but not at the expense of the health of our citizens and not solely for the benefit of the corporations. I want a leader who is honestly respectful of diversity including our First Nations. Someone who values women. So far, the only candidate in the running who seems to be the kind of leader that I can support is Joyce Murray.

As a newbie to this world, I’m going to keep on blogging so as to report on what I’m learning. If you have video clips or articles I should check out to help me in my research, please comment and let me know. I’d appreciate your comments and opinions. Even more, I’d love for you to get involved if you aren’t already. Please join me in being a liberal supporter. Help make a difference.

 

 

 

Baby steps at being Inconvenient

Two days ago Elizabeth May wrote a blog post on political cooperation. She begins it with the following:

Greens favour a cooperative strategy in the next federal election.  We need to move away from First Past the Post (FPTP), to a voting system that will ensure every vote counts and that the popular vote will be reflected in the proportion of seats held by each party in the House of Commons.  And while we are discussing the impact of FPTP, it is clear we need some form of cooperation between the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens to avoid another term of Stephen Harper’s agenda.

While she continues on in the post on to say that she will not endorse a candidate for the Liberal Leadership election, after all, how can she as the leader of a different party, she acknowledges her respect and regard for candidates who are colleagues in the House, specifically Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau and Joyce Murray. And then, much to my delight and surprise she points out that Joyce Murray’s success, whether a win or not, would “advance the shared goals and objectives shared by the Greens, by NDPers who supported Nathan and by many across a political, progressive spectrum.” She commends Murray’s “political courage and integrity”. In that spirit, she all but endorses Murray’s run for leadership.

Three days ago following a discussion with other “Inconvenient Citizens” about my own dilemma of wanting to both support the only Liberal Party leadership candidate who is running on a platform of working towards a coalition type government, but still support, without reservation, the work that Elizabeth May and the Green Party are doing, I decided I needed to take action. In this frame of mind I responded with the following message to an email from the Green Party reminding me to vote on the Resolution Ratifications from the last summer’s convention :

Thanks for this email. While I did/do want  vote on the Resolution Ratifications, I’ve decided that for now I need to not be a member of the Green Party and so need to refrain from renewing my Green Party membership and/or renounce it should it happen to still be current. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from other Green Party members as well with this same issue, but for now please know that in spirit I am fully behind the Green Party and I’ll be back to pay my dues. However, I feel very strongly that we need to fix and change some of what is wrong with the democratic process in this country and to do that we need to first get Harper out. To that end I am going to sign up as a Liberal Party Supporter so as to be able to vote for Joyce Murray as leader of the Liberal Party. I’m not entirely sure that Joyce Murray is the best candidate but I am 100% sure that it would be a good idea to have a leader of the Liberal Party who is willing to plan and work towards a coalition government. Just as an aside, I’d like that coalition government to be headed by Elizabeth May as Prime Minister!  But, one step at a time. For now I’ll just read the information on your website and after the Liberal Leadership vote, I’ll be back to join the Green Party once again with more $$ support.

Let’s be clear, I have enormous respect for Elizabeth May. She is an excellent speaker. She is smart. She is committed and passionate. We couldn’t ask for a better representative for Canadians in the House. And, I am under no illusion that her blog post was at all as a result of my email. However, that said, it felt really, really good to have my first act as an Inconvenient Citizen be met with such a positive outcome as to have my political guru, Elizabeth May, write a post that is so in line with my own thinking. I know my letter alone was not responsible for Elizabeth May’s position, but I felt great all the same with the way that the timing worked out. It was a great first step for me as an Inconvenient Citizen.

I received the following response back from the Green Party about the same time that Ms. May’s blog post went up. The email read as follows:

Dear Betty,

No problem at all.

I have cancelled your membership, as per your request.  We’ve set up a reminder for after the Liberal leadership race, so you can come back at your convenience.

Have a good evening.

So I am now a Liberal Supporter. Today I signed up to vote in the Liberal Leadership race and so far I’m planning  to support Joyce Murray. I’ll continue to watch the debates and inform myself as best I can as to how each candidate plans to work together with other political parties. I hope everyone who reads this will also do something “inconvenient” and get involved in the Liberal Leadership Election, irregardless of how you stand on the leadership race and on the need for political cooperation. That’s what democracy is about.

Resources to follow up:

The Green Party website at on the background of the resolutions, like all of their website, is impeccable. It is well organized, articulate and informative.  And just as an aside, did you know that in Margaret Atwood’s 2009 book, The Year of the Flood, the world has a new saint, Saint Elizabeth May?

If you don’t currently belong to any other political party you can sign on as Liberal Party Supporter through the Liberal Party Website Supporter form. You need to have registered by March 3, 2013 to be eligible to cast a ballot. Once you are registered as a supporter, my understanding is that you will be contacted by Matt Certosimo, the National Membership Secretary, with instructions for registertering to vote. You need to have registered before March 14, 2013.

Here’s how the voting works:

And, for those who like all the details here is some background information on the current Liberal leadership election and a list of who’s who on the election ballot.

If you miss any of the Liberal Party Leadership debates, they are being uploaded to YouTube by the Liberal Party. For your convenience I’ve linked the first two below. The next one will be this Saturday, February 16, 2013.

Video of the Vancouver Liberal Party Leadership Debate from January 20, 2013:

Video of the Winnipeg Liberal Party Leadership Debate from February 2, 2013:

 

Being Inconvenient

After more than a year of reading and participating peripherally in activist kinds of events, it seems I’ve begun to find my sea legs in this perfect storm of rising corporate power, dwindling democracy, serious climate change and increasing youth activism. To that end, last week I had coffee with a long-time-ago friend, Jackie, who like me, is approaching retirement age, has grown children no longer living at home, and has recently woken up to the political swirl of smoke and mirrors being directed at us all.

As recently as this past fall Jackie began participating in her first political protests, including the October 22 protest in Victoria against the Enbridge Pipeline. Like me she is trying to make sense of it all. She wants to work to use her time and energy productively and so has taken to calling herself simply ‘An Inconvenient Citizen.’ She is keen to connect with other like-minded individuals, sharing information and encouraging participation in asking the questions that need to be asked of our government officials so that they are being held accountable on issues that matter. For now what is jumping out for Jackie is the need for reforming our electoral process so that our democracy is functioning as it ought to be. Jackie is a smart and voracious researcher so that working alongside her makes sense to me.

This week we’ll meet again and I’m keen to suss out just exactly what it means to also label myself an Inconvenient Citizen.

 

Reflections on The Trouble with Billionaires

I’m really not good at remembering facts. With increasing access to internet information, that’s become less and less of an issue, but it does mean that as I seek to understand issues I have a preference for getting the ‘big picture.’ It is only through finding a structure that I can hope to remember important details so that facts fit together and make sense to me. It is perhaps for this reason that I especially appreciated Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks’s book The Trouble with Billionaires.

Simply put, The Trouble with Billionaires makes the case that income inequality is bad for society and bad for democracy.

“In unequal societies,[…] [t]he very rich tend to withdraw into their own rarified world, traveling by limousines and private planes, entertaining themselves at exclusive clubs and resorts, and living physically apart form the rest of the population, often behind gates or even walls. They come to see themselves as essentially independent of society, purchasing their own health care and education and relying on their own security systems. This leads to resentment that their tax dollars are paying for costly public services that they don’t use, leaving them determined to reduce these costs to keep their taxes from rising. Given their political clout, they’re able to maintain enormous pressure on politicians to keep taxes low, thereby starving the public system of the funds needed to maintain shared services and programs that are basic to the well-being of the broader community. The deterioration of key public services and programs increases the vulnerability of most members of society, as well as exacerbating social divisions and stress levels.” (Chapter 9)

McQuaig & Brooks develop their argument throughout the book first by methodically outlining the historical similarities of the crash of 1929 and the travesty of the financial collapse in 2009. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his book The Great Crash of 1929, the authors point out, identified five reasons for the crash, the first and most important being the bad distribution of income. McQuaig and Brooks’s accounting of the economic policies and players is informative and easy to follow. They takes care to carefully explain the terms which we’ve all read about in the paper but may not have fully understood, terms such as credit default swap (CDS), insurance bundled mortgages, hedge funds, and subprime mortgages. They includes thriller-story like details of how they all played out to culminate, with a number key players such as Joseph Cassano, Angelo Mozilo, Gary Shilling, Stanford Wiell, John Paulson, Bernie Madoff, and Alan Greenspan, in the final fiasco in which the real losers were inevitably always the state, the taxpayers and the working poor.

Holding Bill Gates up as the poster boy billionaire, McQuaig and Brooks move on from an historical account to not only effectively make the case that Gates is not entitled to his billions, particularly given that Gary Kildall was the real inventor of the PC operating system, but also to argue that Gates’ role as internationally renowned philanthropist is misguided. As per the January 2013 article in the Guardian paper, “Philanthropy is the Enemy of Justice,” McQuaig and Brooks strongly support the belief that philanthropy works against democracy. The real philanthropists it can be said, are the millions of people around the world indentured to Corporations providing the funds to the world’s wealthy. The loss of democracy in the current philanthropy process stems from allowing billionaires to vote with their money, taking choice, access to resources, and power away from the people and governments where it belongs.

“Philanthropy provided the rich with some very significant benefits that they would be reluctant to relinquish. The benefits to the public are less clear, once the lost tax revenues are factored into the equation.” (Chapter 10)

The authors detail a very Canadian example of the downside of philanthropy with the story of Barrick Gold CEO and founder, Peter Munk’s donation to the Munk School of Global Affairs at University of Toronto. The way it works is that Munk’s $35 million donated dollars receive a $16 million tax reduction, so amounts to a donation $19 million in real cost to Munk. Taxpayers make up the $16 million through lost taxes while Munk in turn gets to make the decision as to what Canadian taxpayers are donating to. Additionally in the “deal” government is required to added $25 million from each of the Provincial and Federal governments, all so that the School of Global Affairs program and building gets named after Munk rather than the taxpayers who footed an equal if not greater amount.

“The capacity of the rich to undermine democracy–so obvious and yet so strangely invisible– is surely the most serious negative effect of extreme inequality. Even if we were somehow able to deal with all the other negative consequences, such as the myriad of ill effects on health and social well-being, we would still be left with the impact of extreme inequality on the very functioning of democracy.” (Chapter 10)

Perhaps even more blatant in this use of money for influence is the flow of money from wealthy power brokers to political parties, here and around the world. McQuaig and Brooks’s thesis fits nicely in this regard with the Academy Award winning 2010 documentary Inside Job, directed by Charles H Ferguson. While the movie goes beyond the scope of The Trouble with Billionaires in demonstrating the incestuous connections amongst the wealthy and the elected officials, McQuaig helps us understand how the circles of influence of our own western creation of oligarchs are clearly operating at the  global level.

The bottom line, as per Louis Brandeis‘s observation, “we can have democracy… or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”(Chapter 10)

In reading The Trouble with Billionaires I particularly appreciated that McQuaig is a Canadian journalist and so telling an international story but from our own Canadian perspective. McQuaig currently writes as a columnist for the Toronto Star. With at least two journalism awards, including the Atkinson Fellowship for Journalism in Public Policy and the National Newspaper Award, and nine books, six of which have become national bestsellers, she comes to this topic with a strong journalism background of high calibre. Neil Brooks taught tax law and policy at Osgoode Hall Law School for over 35 years. He has researched and written extensively on tax, tax planning and policy, corporate and international tax, and financing the welfare state including a number of pieces for the CCPA. For me this was all important background information in considering the more optimistic and hopeful stance at the close of the book which includes policy changes as a move towards a more democratic and socially just society. As a start their recommendations include the following:

  • A more progressive income tax system with a rate of 60 percent applied to income above $500,000, and a new top rate of 70 percent for income above $2.5 million.
  • Loopholes closed and the tax preferences that now riddle the income tax system and almost exclusively benefit the rich removed completely.
  • Examples of this include the tax on only 50% of capital gains and business deductions for business related meals, entertainment, and travel.
  • Support for the international implementation of a financial transaction tax which is sometimes referred to as the “Tobin Tax.
  • Support for international measures for a clampdown on tax avoiders and evaders.
  • Education and effort towards effecting a change in social attitudes toward taxation and its essential role in a democracy.
  • An inheritance tax, and use the proceeds to introduce a new education trust for every Canadian child. McQuaig suggests a lifetime tax free inheritance allowance per person of up to $1.5 million with progressive taxation on fortunes after that rising up to 70% for over $50 million and then a $16,000 trust for children at age 16 for post secondary schooling or training.

The book is an easy and informative read, overall excellent background for a better understanding of the misguided thinking behind the neo classical economic theories of Milton Friedman and his followers. It is well researched and an excellent starting point for anyone seriously wanting to help us stand up for real democracy.

Other Resources and Related sites: