Faultlines

I’ve spent the last week thinking about our recent election. I’ve contemplated writing a couple of times but warded myself off. So, here we are.

This morning, there is word that the parliament at Queen’s Park will be reconvened after one of the longest recesses in history. That’s nice. The length of hiatus, I think, was substantially determined by the timing of the federal election and the need to keep Mr. Ford quiet. The silence was deafening. I suspect, however, that not allowing Mr. Ford the voice to “energize his base” was an error in calculation and contributed to the Conservative loss, especially in the 9-0-5.

In any event, here are some thoughts which do not yet fully cohere. I stayed up into the small hours to hear the speeches. We had to wait a long time as, behind the scenes, the spinners spun. Eventually, the leaders said things but I tuned out when more than one was speaking at the same time. The speeches were dreadful.

From Messrs. Trudeau, Sheer and Singh, I heard that they each won. From Messrs. Trudeau and Sheer, I heard an awful lot of rally-the-troops, sing-to-the-choir blather wrapped in an astonishing lack of humility or critical self-awareness. At the same time, from everyone, I heard attempts to put brave faces on losses. Mr. Trudeau lost the popular vote (and AB & SK). Mr. Sheer lost the election (and ON & 9-0-5). Mr. Singh lost seats. And Ms. May lost her hope of winning a bunch more seats (three is fewer than a bunch).

Well, I’ve now pored over the entrails and it isn’t pretty.

A note about the debates. They are not debates. The clue lies in the pronouncements of the morning after. “No one landed a decisive/winning/knock-out … blow/punch/jab….” It’s some sort of blood sport mislabeled “debate” by common consent.

In another space, I ventured concern for the alienation of Alberta (and Saskatchewan). What I’ve heard a great deal of, however, is the short-form characterization of this as an “east-west” thing. It is not. Or that the Fed “isn’t listening”. It may in fact be listening but not able to give people what they want in the way they want. And so on. It’s all just not that simple. That said, there are several fault-lines discernible in the matrix of the Canadian Federation.

The first is the obvious fissure between the original Two Solitudes. M. Blanchet did very well by all accounts. To my mind, he was well-spoken, made his points plainly and clearly, and gave evidence, in public fora, of having read the briefs and thought things through. Moreover, he wasn’t deliberately abrasive. The great shame is that his competitors, dancing on eggshells, were unable to call the plain truth of Bill 21’s racism for what it is: racism.

A second faultline is an urban-rural Liberal-Conservative one. The Norwegian Poling Gnomes tell me it’s there. This would have contributed to the relative Liberal vote efficiency in urban Ontario and Conservative vote efficiency in the rural Prairies. An additional vote in one place contributed nothing to the outcome. An additional vote in another place meant the difference between winning and losing.

A third faultline has to do with fossil energy. Until this last week, not everyone was admitting that climate change is the big issue. That’s not the case anymore. Everyone said that climate change is big. The fault-line, however, has to do with the willingness to get off fossil energy anytime soon. Some are willing. Some (fewer) are not. I suspect that Mr. Ford’s challenge to the federally-imposed price on carbon will prove to be a waste of resources. I believe that New Brunswick has signalled that it may create its own programme. The climate change tide is turning if it has not already turned. (On that score, I recall that billions in smart money was recently extracted from a major pipeline project only to be replaced with not-smart-money. And with precious little thanks from anyone. We should avoid that sort of deal!)

A fourth faultline lies within the Conservative party itself. There are small-c conservatives who give evidence of occupying centre-right positions which seem entirely reasonable. But there are also people who, in the twinkling of an eye, could replace boisterous enthusiasm with the chant “Lock him up!” To his credit, Sheer didn’t put up with it and suggested the alternative “Vote him out!” However, it’s the scary chant itself, the “Lock him up!”, which is so disturbing. How quickly people chimed in! What’s the upside of keeping that “base” happy? I wonder.

A fifth faultline lies between the two main parties and their leaders. Both leaders show very little self-awareness and neither inspires confidence. With Mr. Trudeau, we bought the sizzle, in 2015, and there was no steak but we re-elected him and we’re likely stuck with him. With Mr. Sheer, there’s an awful lot of gristle. And we didn’t. And we aren’t. (The knives are out. Also, did you know that holding your nose impairs your sense of taste? True fact.)

A sixth faultline is perceived by some between have and have-not provinces or between provinces which contribute to equalization and those which draw on it. This is mostly a preaching to the locals rhetorical device which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny or shoes being on the other foot. If you’re contributing, things aren’t as bad as they could be. See my final words, below.

One of my worries is that Mr. Trudeau shows no ability to build consensus as will be necessary in a minority government. He’s not given to sharing the glory or the limelight. We’ll see.

A final note. I think we are in the throws of a major economic disruption. The movement off fossil energy is akin to the industrialization or electrification of Canada or the advent of cars or the Internet. The change, however, is coming more rapidly than did previous major disruptions and we cannot reliably predict the shape of things only a few years out. This experience, however, has analogues or at least one.

Ontario has undergone and continues to undergo a period of tremendous de-industrialization together with the loss of the family farm, movement toward factory farming, and so on. This has happened well within my working lifetime and within the very lives of the people I served as a pastor. Today, Ford announced job losses in the hundreds for a soon-to-be mothballed Ford Flex plant. It feels, to most injured Ontarians, like we’ve been building cars forever and many would have us keep on doing what we’ve been doing more or less as it’s been done. Well, in fact, not quite so. Cars have been around since the mid-to-late 1800’s. The first Canadian factory, however, was built in the next century (the last century). It cranked out a little over a hundred cars in the first year. That company is no more.

I believe the fossil fuel industry in Alberta dates to the 1940’s. But whatever the age, it hasn’t been a thing forever. Maybe 75 years? Albertans may take hope from the example of Ontario as economic voids have been filled by all manner of entrepreneurial ventures, good and bad, great and small. I think that might be where the smart money goes.

Interestingly, Ontario leaders have also sometimes howled about unfair demands made of the “engine of the Canadian economy”. Sound familiar?

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Bad Words

A few minutes ago, Canadians began to express their collective uncertainty and ennui at the polls. For our part, Barbara and I will make our way down to the Mennonite church to exercise our franchise when she’s home from work. (I’ve always thought, in this context, that the use of the word “exercise” is rather strange. Its use is kindred to the function of taking the dog out for its morning pee. Every four years, Canadians take their franchise out for a walk—or the dynamic equivalent of a pee—and then return it to the place whence it came. I’m probably making too much of this and should stop now.)

Uncertainty and ennui are the order of the day. In fact, we do well to be wary of purveyors of certainty and smiley faces. Even the Norwegian Poling Gnomes, certain about many things, are finding it difficult to sort it all out. The slung mud obscures our vision. Truths of all sorts have taken a beating and untruths have been strewn and stacked several layers deep.

I offered my own, personal hope in an earlier blog. I’m hoping for a Liberal minority in which Mr. Trudeau sucks it up and invites Ms. May and Mr. Singh into a “progressive” alliance. We mustn’t, for God’s sake, use the term “coalition”. It’s a bad word. See “More Things” in Worst-Past-the-Post.

My grandmother once asserted, based on something she was reading, that there were “five bad words” in the English language. We were five in the living room at the time. My mother and father, my grandfather and I were in wingback chairs facing one another at the north-east, south-east, south-west and north-west positions of the formally disposed living room. There was a sofa a few feet outside this arrangement at the due-north position just beyond the rest of us. From there, knees pulled in and feet pulled up onto the second cushion, Grandmama would pronounce.

“There are five bad words in the English language.”

I looked up from something by Tolkien. The others within the compass of one-time readers allowed their newspapers to fold in just enough that they could peer over the tops at Grandmama.

“There are five bad words in the English language.”

All eyes were fixed on Grandmama.

“There are five bad words in the English language: Pee. Po. Belly. Bum. And drawers.”

Our communal gase gave evidence of a fair measure of bewilderment and a sort of pensive quality usually reserved for an explication of gravity or something similar.

“Pee. Po. Belly. Bum. And drawers.”

The newspapers were restored to their former uprightness and I returned to Middle Earth. Or was it one of the Father Christmas Letters? I think, the latter.

“Pee. Po. Belly. Bum. And drawers.”

It’s poetic, after a fashion:

“Pee, po, belly, bum ‘n’ drawers.”

I think the fact that “pee” occurs on this list is what brought this episode to mind. Or perhaps it’s the thought that the word “coalition” does not. Not sure.

My hope

My hope resides in a belief that our leaders have better selves that were consigned to closets or to the care of significant others for the last 40 days. I think it’s forty days. It feels a lot longer.

My hope resides in a “progressive” coming-together of the Liberals, New-Democrats and Greens wherein they could whittle-off some of the rough edges of each other’s platforms in favour of a useful governing synthesis. However, I’m looking for more than simply that.

(By the way, “progressive” is a word that some conservatives relinquished not too long ago only to see it woven into the recent blather of Liberal talking points. Good grief!)

My big hope

My big hope is that a “progressive” coming-together might take whatever bold steps are required to help right the ship of Climate Change and negotiate the hard channels of economic and social disruption and reconstruction that boldness requires. It would, as a matter of course, take dramatic action to repair the relationship between First Peoples and Late-Comers. This is my big hope. It’s born of a certain faith in the original idea of confederation.

And I hope this hope mostly for the sake of my grandchildren. It’s almost too late for my kids. They already get to live in the dirty nest of our self-centredness and in the mire of the broken relationships of our uncaring. Well, mostly so. It’s for their kids that, together, my generation and the next could begin to clean up our act and repair relationships. (As a technical matter, I also hope for a constructive loyal opposition and an intelligent chamber of sober second thought to help make things work. This may be the hard part.)

So for now. I have some work to do in the garden.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Worst-past-the-post

The federal election is two days away and the Norwegian Poling Gnomes and I have thought some thoughts and reached some conclusions.

Things thought by the Norwegian Poling Gnomes:

1. A minority Liberal government is in the cards because (1) by legal convention the prime minister has the confidence of the house until resignation or removal and (2) the Liberals have natural allies whom they have not insulted or offended. 2. The substantial level of undecided voters means that there is a substantial margin of error for the relative percentages of “decided” votes. This is the case because there is no reason to believe that the undecided will be distributed among the parties in proportion to their share of the “decided” vote. The distribution of (decided) votes may prove different come Monday night.

Things thought by me:

1. Ideas and possibilities suffer under first-past-the-post and no thinkers of big thoughts captivated my attention. 2. Least-worst leader/party —or “worst-past-the-post”— is a terrible way to decide on a government. It’s like inviting the jockeys to duke it out to decide a horse race. 3. “Well, that was edifying!” was uttered by no one. Anywhere. At all. 4. I have confidence in platform initiatives which will be accomplished within the mandate and which have devices for ongoing verification and clear accountability. 5. Climate change is the big issue of our time and for such a future as we may or may not have. 6. Climate change is no longer a matter which can be addressed by incremental changes in behaviour. Substantial and economically disruptive action is required now. 7. Disparity of income and wealth have never been greater or more glaring. 8. If I hear a silver-spooned rich guy refer to “the middle class and those striving to join it” one more time, I’ll puke.

More things thought by me:

1. Mr. Singh impresses as likeable, intelligent, clear and responsive. 2. Mr. Singh is the obvious, thoughtful and credible partner in a Liberal-led minority government. 3. I still believe that Ms. May brings the greatest depth to the details of economic and dramatic transition required to address climate change. See Lawn Sign. 4. Mrs. May also impresses as a thoughtful and credible partner in a Liberal-led minority government. 5. I still wonder whether Mr. Trudeau might be willing to invite Mr. Singh and Ms. May both into a three-way partnership even if he does not require Ms. May’s votes to maintain the confidence of the House. This is one of those occasions where being hopeful is not the same as being optimistic. I am hopeful. See Redemption.

Still more things thought by me:

1. My thoughts and disappointment relative to Bill 21 —It is racist but no one would say so.— have not changed. See Mettle. 2. I am dismayed at the performance of the two successors to the historic Liberal and Conservative parties and their leaders. However, one suspects, in one’s lesser moments, that we are simply finding out more quickly and more graphically how the sausage is made. 3. The days of a two-party system involving HM’s government and a loyal opposition are well and truly past but we haven’t evolved anything better. 4. What we have now is an ill-fitting and ill-serving kludge. Did I hear anyone mention “Senate”?

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Redemption

Growing up in Montreal, our family ate turkey twice a year: Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. I have no idea why. Fifty one weeks and then twice and then another fifty-one weeks. I didn’t make the rules and, when I left home, a great many mysteries abided.

The two turkeys were almost invariably “utility birds” as they are called. Meaning that there might be some damage to the skin or a missing bit. They were less expensive than anything else and good value. Sometimes, Mom did some plastic surgery here or there using some extra skin to patch the thing up. She took after her mother who did the same thing. Unlike Grandmama, however, Mom almost always used black cotton thread so that she could see what she was doing. It gave the birds a sort of Frankenstein quality.

So, early this morning I prepared a turkey for the oven. (We always had ham on Thanksgiving at home.) I was pleased that I had acquired a utility bird just like Mom had done 50 and 60 years ago. It was nicely defrosted over several days in the fridge. We’ve taken to preparing our turkeys at Thanksgiving or Christmas the day before. Turkey, removed from the carcass, and more than any other meat, reheats well in a large pan next to the stuffing. This means that much of the feast’s heavy lifting has been accomplished before the guests assemble and nerves fray.

Anyway, I had the parcel in the kitchen sink and used my sheers to cut the plastic bag away from the bird the better to allow excess fluids to run down the drain. I would wash the bird and dry it before setting it in the roasting pan. I was a little taken aback, however, when I surveyed the turkey. One missing wing, absent. Par for the course. But that was just the beginning. The poor bird gave every evidence of having been in a knife fight. And it lost. Badly.

Well, I wasn’t up to sewing. So “que sera, sera”, I sang, channelling Doris Day. The bird went into the oven as is. The stuffing, prepared by Barbara, will be cooked separately.

I just went down to the kitchen to check on things. The roast is coming along nicely and the neck and giblets have come to a gentle boil in a pot of water atop the stove. We have lift-off.

The federal election is a little over a week away. The French language debate was, to my mind, a substantial non-event. But things have changed over the last couple of weeks. There are undercurrents and undertows in the electoral sea.

In an earlier post, the Norwegian Poling Gnomes suggested that the election was the Liberals’ to lose. Well, they have more or less succeeded. They have certainly given up their majority, on vote efficiency and number of seats, if not much in popular vote. And, as Ms. May prognosticated somewhat bluntly to Mr. Sheer in the earlier English language debate, “You’re not going to be prime minister.” The Gnomes agree. No majority there either. So how might things shake out?

If things stay more or less as they are, I would expect a Liberal minority government. Here, however, is where it could get fun.

I wonder whether Mr. Trudeau might have the gumption to invite Mr. Singh and Ms. May into a three-way partnership. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the parties of the more-or-less-left working together? (We musn’t call it a coalition or everyone will run screaming into the outer darkness.) What would it be like for Mr. Trudeau to invite Ms. May and Mr. Singh to do lunch—without any other guests— to see if the three might synthesise a way forward? For all the cranky rhetoric, their ideas share the same planet and our same life on said planet.

They could put all of their platform planks on little post-it notes and stick then up on a wall the way process people do in churchland. Then they could take a look at what items hang together and then at how small patches of commonality and middle ground might be exposed. There might even have to be some horse trading. Imagine! Maybe they’d need a facilitator. I’m willing. Just sayin’.

The idea would be to keep it simple, carve out the landscape and then get the party policy wonks to pull it all together. Would that be out of the question? Could our leaders live up to the politeness attached to the Canadian stereotype?

Right now, Mr. Trudeau reminds me of the turkey in the knife fight. He’s lost. Badly. His “brand” is substantially discredited. And much of it, I would add, from self-inflicted wounds. What might redemption look like? The worm began to turn from majority to minority in the undercurrent of blackface equivocation. For Mr. Sheer, it was more of an undertow of just plain meanness. In diplomacy, you point out the lies but, in polite discourse, you don’t call people liars. It’s no way to win friends. We all lie just a little bit. Anyway, the majority stirling trophy was morphing into minority participant’s ribbons for all. Consolation prizes with no consolation. So, I have two thoughts.

First. Having party leaders serve as the avatars for party policy and platform yields horrible elections. We are invited to chose, following a formal period of leaderly fratricide, the least worst candidate. Why?

We should get rid of the first-past-the-post system which distorts the electoral process and which serves us so badly. It emphasizes people over platforms, and pettiness over policy. And it doesn’t work. Let’s get rid of it while no one has much to loose and everyone has something to gain.

Second. Mr. Trudeau: When the chickens have come home and are nicely bedded down, go, reach out to Mr. Singh and Ms. May and see whether you three could cobble together a compelling vision for Canada. I want to believe that you’re all capable of improving on your lesser selves and might be willing to compromise in favour of a better day for all of us. Redemption.

Happy thanksgiving.

Back to the turkey.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Mettle

When I was a teenager of 17 or 18, I went for a walk with my father at his invitation. He did a walk-around-the-blocks most evenings after supper. Sometimes one or other of the four boys was invited along.

On one occasion, I said something to Papa. Exactly what I don’t recall. I do recall his response to the very words and cadence: “Québec is a fundamentally racist society.” It was startling not so much for its objective content as for his matter-of-fact delivery. He made the observation the way one might assert that it was day or night.

He wasn’t talking about the person we met on our walk or any other particular individual. He was talking about something foundational, something elemental, something of the very fabric (“pure laine”, of course) of our world. His use of the word “fundamentally” has meant that throughout my life, when I hear that word, it triggers a memory of our walk together.

The consensus from those who have pored over the entrails of Monday’s leaders’ debate is that it was awful. Yes, it was. The format was terrible and reminiscent of a cage match with a great many contestants some of whom were “leaders” and some of whom were “moderators” and none of whom proved particularly edifying.

Words like rude, incoherent, phony, deny, delay, bad, shouting, talking points, talking over, publicly, privately, I pray to God (four words) have resonated in my head. Some are theirs, some mine. To my mind, it was, indeed, awful. Mr. Sheer and Mr. Trudeau behaved like schoolyard bullies and the rest, well, for the most part, meh.

I was most impressed positively by Mr. Singh. Even if his reference to Messrs. Deny and Delay was canned, it was still a good line and endeared him to me. My one take-away is that Mr. Singh is likeable, appealing and may have found his stride, probably at the expense of the Greens and Reds.

So… It sickened me that none of the four–Red, Blue, Green or Orange–was able to denounce Québec’s Bill 21 without resorting to weasel words or other contortions. The bill is, in my view, racist. Its proponents, therefore, are racist or badly informed. One hopes for the latter but suspects the former in the manner of Mr. Sheer’s private thoughts. (That was also a good line. Mr. Trudeau on Mr. Bernier: “… says publicly what Sheer thinks privately.”)

Bill 21 represents a racist attack on Jews who wear a kippah, Muslims who wear a hijab, and Sikhs who wear a turban. Am I missing something? This is not rocket science. It’s racism. Of course it’s racism.

The lowest of the manifold low moments in Monday’s debate was that of Mr. Trudeau attacking Mr. Singh for not being as clear as the weasely Reds on the question. This moment was astonishing in so many ways, utterly vomitous and puke-worthy. And awful.

I hope that the leaders reconsider and find their mettle.

The Norwegian Poling Gnomes tell me that that is unlikely. They know about such things. Their reading of the entrails? It still is the Liberals’ to lose but they are now courting minority status rather than majority. They would likely have a choice of non-Red supporters depending on the issues. Oh, sigh.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Platforms

The 4-year cycle of seeking/retaining power in federal Canada prevents parties from seriously addressing long term realities. The electoral cycle yields electoral platforms containing goodie bags for specific voters which may or may not represent good, thoughtful or wise public policy. But they garner votes. The wide shape and variety of special-interest goodies makes it very hard to easily compare party platforms. The CBC does so anyway.

As a politics wonk (and Agent of Record for the Norwegian Poling Gnomes), there are two things I’d want to change if someone died and made me king over, well, you. I’d abolish first-past-the-post elections and I’d require annual third-party reporting out of progress for almost everything. This post is a follow-up to Lawn Sign and Foodbanks.

The ideas below reflect the principle that any good idea is an idea worth appropriating. These are things I’ve thought about and that I would expect from a good minority government or from any government, for that matter. My list is not exhaustive but it’s my list and it’s a start. Moreover, there are some good election helps which would assist anyone interested in crafting their own list to do so. Here are two: Kairos Canada has published an excellent and thoughtful election Resource while the Canadian Council of Churches is offering an election Guide endorsed by Lutheran, Anglican and many other church leaders.

Where a 42-month timeline is indicated below it is there to have prospective voters be well informed of progress and the potential need for continuity (or not) beyond the end of a government’s four-year, 48-month remit. (ATPRC = Annual third-party report card.)

At the time of writing, the Norwegian Poling Gnomes believe the Liberals to have moved in the direction of forming a majority government in a significant voter-efficient lead over the Conservatives. Amidst charges of hypocrisy upon hypocrisy on every side, Mr. Sheer did himself no favours in the TVA debate. The NDP has managed to move out of the doldrums through the appealing and sensible witness of Mr. Singh while the Greens have lost some soft strategic support to the NDP.

On the cusp of this evening’s big English-language debate, the Norwegian Poling Gnomes believe that the election is the Liberals’ to lose. As a person who is hopeful when optimism fails, I will continue to pray for a minority government.

Government

(1) Replace first-past-the-post within 2 years. ATPRC. (2) Lower voting age to 16 now. (3) Continue non-partisan appointments to senate. ATPRC on composition of Senate.

Society

(1) Establish guaranteed liveable income with maximum 42-month phase-in. See Food-banks. ATPRC. (2) Include drugs and dental care in national healthcare with maximum 42-month phase-in. ATPRC. (3) Establish affordable housing strategy with maximum 42-month phase-in. ATPRC. (4) Suspend Safe Third Country agreement now. (5) Decriminalise drug use, simple possession now. Retain severe penalties for trafficking. (6) Make handguns illegal everywhere now.

Environment

(1) Retain price on pollution and honour 2030 targets. ATPRC. (2) Cease construction of Trans-Mountain pipeline. (3) Compensate and assist Alberta et al to reinvent Canadian work force in pro-environment and clean energy directions. (4) Produce a coast-to-coast-to coast transportation strategy to maximise the use of public, mass transportation over the use of cars with maximum 42-month phase-in. ATPRC. (5) Ban single use plastics with maximum 24-month phase-in. ATPRC. (6) Plant 30 trees per year for every human in Canada beginning now. ATPRC

First Peoples

(1) Discontinue Canadian Human Rights Tribunal challenge re First Nations now. (2) Make all on-reserve drinking water potable within 42 months. ATPRC. (3) Implement UNDRIP now. (4) ATPRC on TRC progress within 12 months with government action plan within 24 months and immediate implementation.

Public Finance

Here are some public finance ideas. These are not hills to die on right now but might be worthy of conversation over next 3 years for possible adoption via appeal to Parliament or 2023 federal election.

(1) Cease using tax system for support/delivery of programs or for protecting/promoting particular interests. Federal tax system funds federal government spending. Period. (2) Move to funding of programs by direct transfer to private/provincial or urban sectors. (3) Leave program management in the private/provincial/urban sector where possible. (4) Account for all support/delivery of programs via annual public financial statement. (5) Simplify income tax system with maximum 42-month strategy & phase in. ATPRC. (6) Impute all corporate income to individuals for the purposes of taxation. (Corporations exist solely to effect strategies which require more than one person and/or to share risk. Corporations afford no tax advantage to the individual share-holder who is recompensed with dividends and the prospect of sale of shares at a post-tax profit. With thanks to Prof. Eric Kierans; McGill Public Finance class c. 1973.) (7) Use wealth and estate taxes to broaden revenue streams with 42-month strategy and phase-in. ATPRC.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Foodbanks

A few months ago, one of the CBC afternoon radio shows featured a segment in which listeners were asked to submit a song having a particular keyword or idea. Listeners’ songs were played in the course of the week.

One week the keyword was “money”. “We’re looking for songs about money.” My mind first conjured the Abba song, Money, Money, but eventually drifted, as it is wont to do, to something else. I submitted Brother (or Buddy), Can You Spare a Dime? which was sung by Bing Crosby close to 90 years ago. (If you don’t follow any other links in this piece, follow this one.)

In the Great Depression, soup kitchens were improvised to provide meals for the destitute and desperate. It would be sometime later, however, that food-banks would be established as short-term solutions for the problem of local hunger, typically in urban areas. I think that was all before I was born. What niggles at me, however, is that I cannot remember a time without foodbanks. Failing memory? I don’t think so.

A day or two ago, Feed Ontario (the former Ontario Association of Foodbanks) released its annual Hunger Report. What interests me is that it makes the case once again for what is called a “guaranteed liveable income” (GLI) or guaranteed annual income or guaranteed basic income, etc. I believe it’s an idea whose time has come—often. I invite you to consider it. It would be no small effort for Canada.

It would, however, be the sort of bold initiative a minority or coalition government could put in place. Right up there with taking climate change seriously. In fact, it was noised about in the last federal election, and is part of this one, but struggles for attention in the Sturm und Drang of the electoral mud-fest. It is a plank of the Greens’ platform. I hope that Elizabeth May speaks to it in this evening segment of the CBC’s Face to Face series.

Not too long ago, there was a Liberal-initiated pilot project here in Ontario. It was to provide a basic income to some 4000 participants in a control group experiment. It got torpedoed by Doug Ford early in the slash and burn of his administration.

What interests me is the proposition that both right and left might be interested in a GLI. Those to the left as a social good and those to the right as good economics. Here’s a piece from some CEO’s who were pleading with Ford, a year ago, to keep the trial in place. A sample: “Businesses create jobs in anticipation of growing consumer demand and purchasing power. There are over 36M Canadians. If we want to optimize our economic growth we could ensure all 36M are included in that growth and can participate in the economy without precarity. Being unable to escape poverty even while working is not only inhumane: it’s also a huge opportunity cost for Ontario and Canada’s businesses.” As they note, this idea was live when I was a student of economics fifty years ago.

Give it some thought. I could imagine people from left to right making common cause in an effort to make foodbanks, and the indignities associated with them, a thing of the past.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Neighbour

One of my retirement goals was to get rid of the lawn in our backyard and to plant a garden. The plot of land measures about 40 feet by about 60 feet. It is more or less rectangular though I plan to cheat the eye such that rectangularity will not be the foremost impression upon first contact. That will take time. I’ll get back to you in a year or two about that.

It seems that when I tend flowers I am delighted by the possibilities and pleased at the results. Even if I crash and burn on this or that particular adventure, I greet my failures as opportunities for thought and contemplation and rethinking. My pulse settles in the low forties and I move into The Zone. When I tend my lawn, I am annoyed and disappointed at enemy weeds in an endless warfare as one green grass-like thing competes with another green grass-like thing for space in our yard. My pulse goes up and my blood pressure moves in the direction associated with that flat-line sound of bedside hospital monitors on TV.

First it was human-sized thistles. No exaggeration! When we moved in, they were so big (six, seven feet), they stood as malevolent sentries around our backyard. They dared us to have at them. I contemplated the purchase of a scythe like the one Bedstepapa had taught me to use on his New Brunswick North Forty a lifetime ago. I went to the tool rental place but they have not rented scythes in some time. Maybe ever. That was when we moved in. It took a couple of years but we campaigned against the thistles and we won. We have the scars…

Now it’s crabgrass and other annoyances which our one neighbour has been pulling from her lawn, one small patch at a time … on her knees! Each little sprig, each little annoyance, one at a time. I just shudder. When she’s out, I hide lest she find some deft way of insinuating that our lawn is inferior to hers and threatening contagion, especially where the two meet along the property line: “How come I’m doing all this hard work for the sake of our neighbourhood and your lawn looks like crap?” Arrgh!

Anyway, that’s out front. Where our lawn shares space with hers. We’ve done our best for five years. Sodded. Watered. Seeded. Watered. Resodded. Watered. All to no effect. Our front lawn mocks me. But the backyard, now that’s another story!

Episometer

An adventure has begun.

Blake and I rented a truck, picked out and pick up a ton—or “tonne”; it was one of those—of flagstone and created a series of footpaths around our own North Forty. I’d traced the paths on a sheet of vintage graph paper and designed various gardens within the Garden. Then I used an opisometer in a first step to help me calculate the amount of stone we’d have to buy. And we went to work. An area for hostas here, under the conifers. Daylilies there, by the shed, on an extension of an existing bed. Wildflowers for the hummingbirds and bees over there. And somewhere, near the centre, a place for a swing for my beloved much like the one, made from the re-purposed rear bench seat of a 1954 Buick, which served the adults who invigilated the grandchildren who played naked, save for their diapers, in the occasional warm sun of St. Martins, N.B., sixty-some years ago. (I apologise for that very long sentence. It is simply what was required.)

We’re looking forward to our garden, which, for me and for now, harbours the primitive joy of my simply playing in the dirt. Moreover, I get to add water and to vary the settings on the hose nozzle. What could be more satisfying? We won’t have much to show for our efforts until spring.

Yesterday, on our way home from our more-or-less monthly visit to see Barbara’s mother in Welland, we stopped by a local nursery. We scored a bunch of marked down “clearance” daylilies and daisies, a couple of ornamental grasses and two varieties of creeping thyme. All at a fraction of their original price. I’ve been a forager in the mark-down sections of businesses (Canadian Tire etc.) disposing of plants that didn’t sell when they had flowers and are now less likely to sell given that they can no longer hint, especially without a nice picture on a tag, at what once lay in store. These will become anchor plants for the various smaller gardens but will require a considerable bit of imagination—and faith— in the near-term.

Well, the game’s afoot. I have about 20 plants to put in today. I should mention that the garden meets one additional need for me.

It’s where I hide from my neighbour.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Lawn Sign

I don’t think I’ve ever put up a partisan political lawn sign before. We have a gun-metal “welcome” sign featuring a couple of adirondack chairs (a parting gift from the community of Trinity Lutheran Church, New Hamburg) and one of the multilingual “welcome to refugees” signs which, although faded, gets trotted out every so often. But that’s it. Until now.

When I was working, I felt the need to be fairly circumspect about my political views. I sometimes commented at election time about political process but did so from a place of relative detachment in a fairly clinical sort of way. I felt that that was appropriate in my circumstance. Well, as it happens, my retirement has coincided with one of the most critical elections of our time. Perhaps the most critical. It is my view that we have a lot of work to do and, unless we get things right, in four years it may well be too late. I share that view with Elizabeth May. So I just got off the phone with one of the contenders for our Waterloo riding. I wanted a lawn sign and, no, she is not the Liberal incumbent. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Earlier this summer, I decided to give up my Liberal Party card. It was a very hard decision and one that I’d mused to Barbara about for some months. It all began with Mr. Trudeau’s late-2016, early-2017 reversal on 2015’s being the last election fought under the first-past-the-post system. I’ve been a student of political process forever and was greatly encouraged by the prospect of Canada’s moving in that direction with one or other of the various permutations or combinations. I was gobsmacked. I felt betrayed. I gather I have many confrères in my view and disposition. Still, I licked my wounds, grumped about the decision to our local Liberal MP, wrote letters but got on with life.

After all, I reflected, I grew up in a Liberal home where we read Liberal newspapers (in English and French) and voted for Liberal candidates. I’d voted otherwise before and could do so again. While I’d kept my single party affiliation for all of my adult life, I’d voted for reds, blues and oranges according to the issues, the times, the leader and the candidates. In the last election, I’d voted strategically, as did a great many other people in our riding, and it paid off. So nothing was written in stone even if my modest monthly contributions did go to Liberal coffers. I am liberal by temperament and could remain Liberal by affiliation. Then, strike two.

Mr. Trudeau, on our behalf, bought a pipeline. This made me queasy. Where did that come from? It seemed to me then, and seems to me now, that there would be no realistic possibility that we’d ever meet our climate obligations now that the Fed (as they say in Quebec) was in the pipeline business. Mr. Trudeau had been waffling around the path to meeting our climate targets. Now this. Never mind that the purchase of a pipeline would likely be interpreted by many First Peoples as a sort of bad-faith initiative on the part of the nation of Canada. And post-TRC, no less! Astonishing.

When I was working as our church’s ecumenical and interfaith officer, I would frequently hear myself saying that the single most important issue to transect all of my files was that of racism. It didn’t matter what the file, racism would be woven in somewhere or everywhere. That was in my day job. At the same time, I would hear myself saying that climate change was the single most important issue of our time, and for our planet, with nothing else coming even remotely close. Moreover, it is often the case that climate change and climate extremes affect racialized communities the hardest. For example, as the permafrost turns to swamp, the Inuit suffer most as a result. As the desertification of Africa proceeds apace, migrants forced off their their ancestral lands are often marked by the colour of their skin or other us-them signs for exclusion, expulsion or other wholesale inhumanity.

By coincidence, the other day, on the CBC, I saw an interview with the UBC’s Prof. George Hoberg. I pretty much agree with his assessment of the various party positions vis-a-vis climate change and what each one proposes to do about it. Check out his analysis. Fair? Fair. For further reading, consider Stewart Elgie’s work in environmental and economic sustainability at the so-called Smart Prosperity Institute. Fascinating read.

Anyway, while my discomfort with the Liberals had me hemming and hawing, the straw which broke this camel’s back was that of Mr. Trudeau’s astonishingly inept handling of the SNC-Lavelin affair and his cutting adrift Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Jane Philpott amidst great wafts of stench and ooze of sleaze. I’d had enough.

The Liberal government had shown great tactical intelligence in handling the Nafta talks. I never understood why the SNC-Lavelin file should have proved so daunting and gone so completely off the rails. My suspicion is that it was one person’s hubris. Note, this was all before the blackface scandal which made me queasy all over again.

So I made the calls, said some goodbyes, and joined the Greens. Federal and provincial. My reasoning, imperfect as it may be, is this: none of the political parties of our day suits me entirely. Where are the Teals when we need them? My choice is simply based on the belief that the climate change file trumps all others and Ms. May is the best communicator and proponent for action. I miss the teal days of Lewis, Kierans and Camp on Peter Gzowski’s Morningside.

I think it fair to say that, of all of the leaders, Ms. May has the best grasp of issues and the greatest depth of understanding relative to the climate change file. She is by far the most informed on her feet. To be clear, I have absolutely no illusions about the Greens coming to power anytime soon. I do think, however, that they’d make the best partner for a minority Liberal government. Right now, the Norwegian Poling Gnomes are predicting a minority—maybe even majority—Liberal government but we still have four weeks to go, swamps to traverse and mud to fling.

So here we are. The teal of my world is a little greener than I might have predicted four years ago. And I’m a little annoyed. Discomfited. Grumpy. OK, angry! And while I’m not always sure there’s a lot of cause for optimism, I believe I’m called to hope and to participate in those mechanisms which advance some reason for hope. So…

I gotta get the sign up.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

About te|al

When asked my favourite colour, over the years, I have delivered-up “blue” or “red” or “green”, my couleur du jour. Actually, I never thought about it much and had, in fact, no strong preference.

A few of years ago, Barbara and I moved to Waterloo. We didn’t do any painting, upon moving in, preferring to spend our few dollars on a laundry list of items afforded us by our new-to-us fixer-upper. The A/C died on the day we moved in! So, some two years later, when it came time to redo the kitchen, we spent a long time thinking about colours and holding various sample cards up against the walls.

Long and short, we chose a spectrum of teals for our kitchen. The truth is, that the kitchen is more my domain than it is Barbara’s. She is the pie-maker extraordinaire but, in the main, and when it comes to mains, I’m usually on deck. And so we have teal in the kitchen largely born of my sensibilities. And we have—Circus!—red in the living-room.

Teal was, I realize now, the answer that I should have given all those years. I’ve always liked teal. Teal is neither blue nor green but embraces both. I have a variety of bottles of fountain pen ink labelled “bleu pervenche”, “Türkis”, “Inspired blue”, “Steel Blue” and so on from Herbis, Pelikan, Waterman, Diamine and the rest. All of them are neither this nor that and all of them are lovely. And each one is teal, after a fashion.

I am recently retired. I’ve spent some 35 years as a parish pastor in the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and for the last decade, I assisted Bishop Susan Johnson in the faith-to-faith diplomatic corps of full-communion, ecumenical and interfaith engagement. I also staffed the Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee (“FOD”) of National Church Council. I’ve had a great run and am deeply indebted to the many souls who made of my recent years such a wonderful adventure.

I’ve been contemplating my retirement for some four years. In 2015, my contract was up for renewal. Two years was the usual renewal period but I asked for four. The design was that I would serve out Bishop Susan’s term in office and we’d regroup after that. At the same time, I knew that my health was in decline and, by the time I was done, I was very tired and would, at 66, following the ELCIC national convention, call it a day. Bishop Susan was reelected handily and the universe continues to unfold as it should. There were retirement parties in Regina (national staff in town for the convention) and at Luther (former Waterloo Lutheran Seminary) in Waterloo (an unlikely gathering of usual and unusual suspects whose common denominator was an entry in my address book and a free afternoon in August). Both meant a great deal to me and each was terrific and very moving.

In retirement, I am planning to do several things. Among them, pay attention to my health; read; turn our 40’x60′ back yard into a garden; read; return to my craft as a politics wonk; read. You get the picture.

Which brings me to this blog: te|al. Much of life is neither this nor that but somewhere in between. So that’s where I am: somewhere in between, and in-between on and about so many things. And I’ve styled “teal” “te|al” for two reasons. First, the vertical line (or “pipe” symbol) hints at in-betweenness. At least so for me. (Suit yourself and one person’s pleased. —Grandmama) Second, the vertical line is one of the most underused characters on the Qwerty keyboard. It deserves its place under the sun and for that verity I am an ally and advocate.

So, te|al: Ponderables. Opinions. Notions. Musings.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784).