Monday, December 7, 2015

I'm done.

 I'm frustrated, and I'd like to think I'm not alone. It seems that everywhere I turn, I'm seeing an overwhelming amount of negativity on a variety of subjects. Whether it's the government, either federal or provincial, or LGBTQ rights and issues, or the upcoming US election, or gun control, the hatred on both sides is palpable. How did we get here?

Let's examine each of the above individually. First, provincial politics. Six months ago, the NDP was elected to a majority in Alberta, ending 44 years of rule by the Progressive Conservative party. In classic "squeaky wheel gets the grease" fashion, the Wildrose party has been whipping rural constituents into a frenzy, most recently with Bill 6, proposed legislation that wants to remove certain exemptions for family farms regarding workplace safety regulations and workers' compensation. I will be the first to say that Bill 6 is clumsily worded; as a lawyer working in the realm of criminal justice, I have seen my fair share of badly worded legislation, and Bill 6 needs some TLC, particularly where exemptions for family members and unpaid "Good Samaritan" neighbours are concerned. Some of those in opposition to the bill state that their current insurance is better than what WCB has to offer, which isn't hard to believe, but I think they're somewhat missing the point. They argue that there are fewer reported farm accidents in Alberta than im provinces that have similar legislation. The key word there is "reported"; if farm accident statistics are anything like sexual assault statistics, under-reporting is a problem. If anyone wants to preserve the status quo, all he has to do is fail to report a farm accident. There is also concern that farm workers are placed in a position where they have to do work they know is dangerous, but risk losing their jobs if they refuse to do them. These are the primary concerns of the government, which farmers say are unfounded, and will lead to the unionization of farm labour. If this is the case, then show us why; don't just yell and scream in protest. 

There has been a bit of a rush to get the legislation passed, which is never a good idea, but consider the following: the government is only 6 months old, and is composed of many people who have NEVER held public office before. Are they going to make mistakes? Is China the number one consumer of rice in the world? They have since indicated that they are prepared to consult with farmers and their representatives, but that doesn't appear to be good enough. The rural vote is out for blood, and wants to see recall legislation brought in, thinking it will change things. How myopic. Do they forget that nearly all the NDP MLAs were elected in urban ridings? A recall will change nothing. The majority might shrink, but not enough to change anything, and all those taxpayer dollars will be wasted on an unnecessary election foisted on an electorate that is frankly burnt out on politics right now. Has nobody considered actually trying to work WITH the government, to try and understand where they're coming from and come to a compromise? No, because we're hearing what we want to hear thanks to social media. 

My news feeds are inundated with whining (calling it like I see it) about how we're all going to be destitute thanks to the policies of the NDP. Whatever happened to constructive criticism? We can accomplish so much more by not polarizing ourselves politically and falling for the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt for those unfamiliar with the acronym) being sown by opponents of the government. I'm not blaming the opposition; they're doing their job, but when we simply fall in line behind them and drink whatever Kool-Aid it is they're selling at any given time, we're not using our heads. We're treating the government like they're experienced legislators, which they clearly aren't. They have 6 months on the job and are learning on the job. Our job as constituents is to assist in educating them. Quit treating them like the PCs; they're not the PCs. This is a baby government with no experience running government, and how well do babies respond to protests, grandstanding and fear-mongering? While it's been a while since I've had young children, my memory tells me that they would react in fear and recoil, which is exactly what I see happening. While protesting seems to be the saveur du jour, I fail to see that it accomplishes any more than a well-reasoned discussion, and it seems to be accomplishing less. If anything, the current spate of protests seems to paint rural Alberta as a bunch of poorly educated, ill-informed rednecks whose only currency is to yell and scream until they get what they want. I know that's not the case, but back up and take a hard look at yourself.

Moving on to the next example, this is more of a federal/provincial mix than strictly federal, but hear me out. There has been a huge backlash against both the federal and Alberta provincial governments over their environmental policies, coupled with the US government's final refusal of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the increased resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline. As a result, we are getting the same sort of FUD, not from the oil companies, but from those who are either currently working in the oil patch, or have been laid off from their jobs there. Some people think that the NDP and the federal Liberals are trying to destroy the oil industry all by themselves. They fail to see the bigger picture. Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market with their oil and driving the price of crude oil down to the $40 per barrel range. They will have to stop at some point, but because their cost of oil production is well below $40 per barrel, they can survive on the lower prices. For now. 

Oil is a complicated business in Canada. Eastern Canada has customarily imported oil to refine for Eastern use and continues to do so, albeit below their capacity to do so, meaning that apart from Western Canada, which has limited refinement capacity, Alberta has had to export its oil, typically at a steep discount, to be able to do anything with it. That was the reasoning behind Keystone XL and Northern Gateway: easier access to the US and China respectively. At current oil prices, we would be selling at a loss, which is why many projects have shut down, and no new ones are being announced. What is buried in the platforms of Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau is agreement on a proposed Energy East pipeline, which would send crude from Alberta, East to the existing refineries in Eastern Canada, meaning that instead of importing oil from other countries (Venezuela has been a popular choice), Canada has the opportunity to become energy self-sufficient, if we can just get past our regional prejudices. It's food for thought, but the FUDdites toil away, making sure we remain as polarized as ever. Yes, there's a carbon tax coming, and yes, it will make life more difficult, but let's take a hard look in the mirror: as Albertans, we've had life fairly easy up to now, including during the recession of 2008. We bounced back fairly quickly, but we don't know how quickly recovery will happen this time, because it is so dependent on external factors. We need to face the fact that we have been sucking on the teat of the oilpatch for far too long. We can't rely on it consistently, because it is so financially volatile, and the latest reports indicate oil will not bounce back as long as the US continues to invest in shale oil production. 

I repeatedly hear comments like, "I wish Ralph was back," and I have to shake my head. My wife and I were a young couple when Klein and his Conservatives began their hack-and-slash-privatize-everything policies. It was a difficult time to be in that position, but we learned from that experience. Ralph didn't, spreading the wealth around as soon as there were surpluses above what was needed to pay down provincial debt. This was a mistake; he should have been replenishing the Heritage Fund and other measures to save for a "rainy day." I doubt Ralph was much of a Bible reader; if he was, he might have remembered the story of Joseph interpreting the Pharoah's dream about the seven fattened kine and the seven lean kine and the importance of saving for the future. Instead, we are now in a situation where our infrastructure is hurting, especially in the area of school construction. I think I've made my point. Yes, King Ralph slew the deficit, but he didn't consider the possibility of a future one. It appears Stephen Harper made the same mistake on the national stage, but that's another story.

Moving on to LGBTQ issues, I found a very constructive article online a few days ago and would necourage everyone I know to give it a read. Here's a link: it speaks specifically about Mormons, I think other friends of mine may either find common ground, or at least be better able to understand why most Mormons have such a hard time coming to terms with LGBTQ issues. Again, as above, if we stop to consider the "other side"'s point of view, the conversation can be more constructive. A lawyer friend of mine once said, "You attract more flies with honey than vinegar," which may seem contrary to an adversarial profession, but he had a point. If we approach a situation looking for a solution rather than just trying to scream the loudest to get our point across, we are more likely to reach an acceptable compromise. I know compromise tends to be a dirty word these days, but some of the best solutions have been compromises. Is any of this starting to sound familiar?

Donald Trump is an idiot. There; I said it. As polarised as politics are in Canada, it's far worse in the US, and has been for much longer. I really hate the US brand of smearing one's opponent with ad hominem attacks and the like, and what I hate more is how much it has seeped into Canadian politics. Sadly, conservatives are to blame, as they have co-opted attack ads and the like, and conservative no longer means conservative. It now appears to mean libertarian, which is properly described as the classical liberal school of politics. Conservative now means less than nothing, which I find to be rather sad. Conservatives would all rather model themselves on the Republican party, which is heavily controlled by the Tea Party, a classical liberal movement. I think I may have lost those of you who never studied political science. I used to describe myself as a conservative, but now I don't know what I am. I'm not a social democrat, I'm not a socialist, I'm not a libertarian, I'm not a liberal. I just am.

And now, to my last bugaboo: gun control. If you were to ask me what my position is on gun control, I would say that I am in favour of responsible gun ownership. In Canada, gun ownership is not a right; it is a privilege. It is enshrined as a right in the US. I don't honestly know which is the better approach, but I do know this: in my experience, I have known responsible gun owners and irresponsible gun owners. My anectdotal evidence is that there are far more responsible gun owners than irresponsible gun owners, and I am proud to call these people my friends. They know that improperly secured firearms and ammunition are a recipe for disaster, especially with children in the house. The answer, in my humble, non-gun-owning opinion, is education and licencing. We educate people and regulate them in the operation of motor vehicles, which can also be lethal weapons in the wrong hands. They have to be tested and licenced, and there are serious penalties, some of them criminal, for failing to comply. Should we apply a lesser standard to firearms, which are intended as weapons? Will there be unlicenced uses of firearms? If people driving without valid licences, insurance or registration are any indication, yes, but you can't fix stupid. Are we ever going to be able to completely stop murders, suicides and mass shootings? Probably not. Can we mitigate them or reduce their occurrence? I think it's possible. 

Before you go off about the Second Amendment to the US constitution, consider that I am not calling for an outright prohibition on owning firearms, nor am I calling for a firearms registry to return; I am calling for firearm ownership to be a regulated activity, like driving. I am not calling for a ban on so-called assault weapons; if you are properly trained on such devices, you should be allowed to own and use them. Again, think of this like the different classes of operators' licences. If you want to ride a motorcycle, that requires a different licence and training; same with a tractor-trailer unit, or a bus. So what I'm really saying is, the current status quo in Canada works just fine, but could use some tweaking. The US gun regulation is a mess amd is not helped by the Second Amendment, the NRA, or any of the interested parties, as there is no middle ground.

Before you write me off as some left-leaning hippie or having my head in the clouds, consider this: All I'm asking people to do is stop, listen and think. Hear out the other side. I'm not saying it will absolutely change your mind; it probably won't. At the very least, you'll be better informed and better able to articulate your point of view. At best, you might gain respect for another point of view. As an example, I don't like the Wildrose party, and I'm not a fan of the NDP [If you are thinking I voted for the PCs in the last provincial election, you would be mistaken]. However, I understand where they're coming from, and I respect their right to hold the positions they do. I just don't agree with either of them, but know that deliberately attempting to frustrate their political will (especially when one has formed a majority government) is a fool's errand. Power is such that even if a party has proposed election reform, once in power, it is unlikely to occur. Proportional representation sounds like a great idea on paper, but it's terrible if you want to get anything done, because it is dependent on coalitions, since no party will ever form a clear majority. The same with recall legislation, for the reasons explained above.

In short, I'm done. I am sick and tired of listening to everyone scream and shout on social media about their own little fiefdom. I'm on a break.