Canadians need to talk about and start to settle controversial political questions. The cowardly status quo where the people cede difficult matters to professional administrations just won’t do.

From one controversial issue to another the sticking point is that the only iron clad logical positions are at the extremes while most people are just uncomfortably in the middle- inclined to one extreme or the other, but also aware of the heart-wrenching context of callousness, cruelty, or suffering that holds them back from embracing an extreme position. Still, that is the law: the law is a line drawn by representatives of the people in our democracy and we must have those hard public conversations.

There will always be more and less sympathetic cases and we need that compassion and tenderness for the tough cases but we shouldn’t let that hamstring us from doing the right thing or let that discomfort turn our eyes away from other injustices.

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There is a very intriguing article on a thriving small town in the November 2017 issue of the New Yorker- I heartily encourage you to read the whole thing- what really snagged my attention, though, was this passage:

If you belonged to a church and you had a crisis, church members would likely help you out. If you moved to a city, though, you saw a level of need that could not be addressed by church groups alone.

Why is it if cosmopolitan people are more trusting of strangers as the article posits that there isn’t enough close face to face help for people to get what they need?

I still stand for this platform I wrote during the last election cycle

  • 100% inheritance tax, increased sales taxes
  • I’d eliminate all tax credits and deductions
  • guaranteed minimum income- eliminating all other credits and transfers (the very few people who don’t want to work and want to have others pay their way are already doing that- by replacing the absurd and convoluted safety net now that claws back anything earned by anyone who finds themselves at the bottom, people would be free to benefit from more choices and everyone would benefit from people working towards their dreams and helping their families. So, very few people would continue to just take from others, a larger group of people would volunteer and do good things and be satisfied with the minimum income, while others would take a tiny wage to enthusiastically contribute to something they’re passionate about, and many would continue to try to make as much money as possible in a more coherent marketplace)
  • This simplified tax system will cut out much of the petty rent-seeking many talented Canadians are tied up with at the moment
  • strong focus on freedom of speech and opportunity
  • I would also like to see a rating system for all public services- i think it works great for restaurants etc. (People recognize when someone is complaining for no good reason, but a complaint made in good faith needs a timely and specific response)
  • Environmental stewardship- carbon tax and protections of crown land, watercourses, and wild places- this is a democracy with future generations tempered by the wisdom we have received from previous generations of what Chesterton called the ‘democracy of the dead’
  • Rekindle public affection for what Edmund Burke called our ‘little platoons’ of family and community

The comments thread on news sites was a rare moment of pure democracy

It seems that comment threads at the bottom of articles are vanishing, and many bid good riddance for many good reasons. Still, this feeling of a free, wonderful, weird, expansive, disgusting, Wild West of ideas was really more like pure democracy because of the ‘vote’ or ‘like’ feature.

I read many vile comments- I must say, though, the top rated comments on mainstream news articles and editorials were always incisive responses to the ideas and deepened and broadened the conversation. I’m sure anyone who reads opinion pieces has read pieces that have an unbearable need for comment, and it’s unbearably stifling without that outlet.

Alas, for various reasons, some economical some ideological, news sites are either carefully curating and controlling the engagement with ideas or going back to a one way megaphone.

It’s far from perfect, but you remember what Churchill said about democracy, and I reckon, unless something drastically changes, people will look back on that early period when mainstream news began to mix with internet commentary as a brief and unique emergence of pure democracy- never before or since will there be an occasion and a place for so many voices to have an opportunity to engage in sober and passionate dialogue. That kind of dialogue, because of the vote or like feature, really did come to fruition most of the time on mainstream news sites, to my surprise and edification.

Canada could be drifting into oligarchy

4 February 2018: There has always been excessive political correctness or the pressure of conformity , and there have always been identity politics or tribalism of some sort or another, but I hope Obama is right that the arc of history bends toward justice. I fervently hope that we are able to hear more voices, including marginalized voices, because I just as fervently believe that when something good is well said everyone listens.

Still, with elections looming in Canada I’m compelled to ask what is a big difference between the early life of Jean Chrétien and the early lives of the current Canadian political leaders both federally and in our largest province? What all of our current leaders share, and what Chrétien lacked, is money in early life. I gather Andrew Sheer has the most modest upbringing of our major political leaders, but even his was luxurious compared with Chrétien’s (or Abraham Lincoln’s whose family lost their land repeatedly on the frontier, or Andrew Jackson’s who was a poor orphan and later became the seventh president of the US). I gather Jagmeet Singh went to a private school with over $20k tuition; Kathleen Wynne’s father was a doctor; Doug Ford grew up in a wealthy family; Caroline Mulroney and Justin Trudeau, well…

I believe in the universal appeal of virtue and goodness, and that those ideals, not to mention competence, are much more important than these other parts of their identities, like their socioeconomic backgrounds. I also think that everyone is capable of inspiring those qualities of virtue and goodness—so that’s why we need to hear from Every One! The fact all our leaders share a similar socioeconomic background and do not represent all the socioeconomic backgrounds of our population does not necessarily mean that they aren’t the best candidates. I’m still concerned about our political institutions and I think, with elections looming, it’s worth asking the question plainly: is it possible for a poor child to grow up to become a political leader in Canada today?

Singh, Wynne, and Mulroney would not have had a political voice in Lincoln’s time because of their identities, and Sheer and Trudeau for that matter, because of their Catholicism, wouldn’t be able to lead the US during Lincoln’s time. So, if we gain more voices capable of inspiration, which were lost to the bigotry of previous generations, then we are better for it. What would we lose, though, if a child like Lincoln, born into poverty on the fringe, could not have a political voice in Canada today?

The solution is better education and more citizen engagement. I know that’s hard, but it’s the only way to be confident in our democracy instead of continuing to worry about sliding into oligarchy.

18 February 2018: I feel impelled to start rambling again. I wrote about my worry that Canada is drifting into oligarchy because all our political leaders seem to have grown up within wealth and political influence, and how I thought lack of political engagement was to blame. Still, even though I mentioned that Chretien grew up poor, Canada has never had an Andrew Jackson or Abraham Lincoln–someone poor and on the margins who grows to eventually shake things up.

Andrew Jackson is emblematic of the original American possibilities, constructive and destructive. He was brave and ruthless, and he took on a powerfully corrupt financial system. He took that system on, though, in defense of an agriculture system inextricably linked to slavery.

So, I see both those noble and ignoble incilinations and dispositions in Trump supporters, and it leads me to ask: is our only other option a liberal smart set that entrenches their own ‘middle class’ interests while congratulating themselves for asking more of other richer people with a nod to gender equality and civil rights?

There are far too many politicians who ask less of voters and still promise more, and there are far too many people who vote for them

5 March 2018: we’re somehow making government that is authoritarian without the order and anarchistic without the freedom

Letter to the globe and mail public editor

Dear Editor, please consider the following letter responding to Matthew Sears’ piece:

The dictators of the world don’t seem to agree with Matthew Sears that freedom of speech benefits the already powerful. I maintain the hope that when something good is well said everyone listens, even when it comes from a humble source on the margins. I share Matthew Sears’ resolve to listen to everyone; I just don’t see how we can listen, though, and be open to paradigm shifts, without everyone also being free to speak. I’ll add that in this polarized world let’s resolve to use that speech with honesty and generosity.

Stewart Britton, Belleville, Ontario