Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: democracy

Why Every Vote Counts

Initially published as a column on AM News.

To vote or notA couple of weeks ago Canadians living abroad woke up to sobering news: those who have lived abroad for more than five years do not have the right to vote in Canada anymore. The reason, according to the Ontario Court of Appeal, is that their vote would harm Canada’s democracy.

I can almost hear some people ask ‘Canada’s what?’ because, frankly, democracy has been on trial lately. If living abroad for various reasons makes one unfitting to vote, where does Canadian citizenship stand?

A poignant and pertinent letter from Canadian actor Donald Sutherland addresses the issue in a way that makes it impossible not to see the wrongness of it. People have their reasons to live where they live but being a Canadian citizen does not come with an expiration date, nor is it conditioned by where you live.

Are we to expel people from our Canadian midst because they live abroad? Many take a deep interest in what is happening in their own country and their reasons to vote are not to undermine our democracy or well-being, but rather guard against anything that might harm it. Many of them have families still living here and it is in everyone’s interest to safeguard the values of the Canadian society, whether you live here or not.

Some say that Canada does not take a patriotic stand, compared to other countries. Well, this comes as close as one can ask for. People who live outside the countries boundaries are and feel Canadian enough to fight for their right to vote.

While some countries do not allow for dual citizenship, in case of those who choose to get a second one, Canada does not impose such rules. Not yet anyway.

While there are way too many Canadian citizens who live in Canada permanently and, upon seeing – one can hope everyone does – the happenings in our social and political environments, choose to forgo adding their vote, there is nothing wrong and everything right about allowing those who live abroad and want to vote the right to do so. If anything, our government, true to honouring every citizen of our country as every citizen is expected to honour the country by caring and thus voting, should go above and beyond in making sure that everyone who holds a Canadian passport has a place to vote.

Because every vote counts. More so in a country where a lot has been happening and many are crying foul over recent decisions of the present government. More so in a country that many decry the slow but steady disappearance of democratic values.

Would a democratic society allow its citizens to be kept in the dark about many political decisions (let’s call them done deals) that the government makes, decisions that cannot be revoked for a few decades and could possibly affect the country, its resources and, ultimately, its citizens?

Would a democratic society allow knowledge to be pushed to the side, through destroying reference libraries and having scientists who oppose the present government’s proposals muzzled because that would affect the financial gains of big corporate giants?

Would a democratic society allow for any of its citizens to be stripped of their right to vote unless they willingly renounce their Canadian citizenship?

A country’s affairs are never solely a country’s affairs. They pertain to the whole world because, nowadays more than ever, we are facing the reality of ‘we are all citizens of the world’. We are, each and every one of us, and that makes it every one’s responsibility to make tomorrow better. Think climate change for example.

Climate change issues that have been surfacing lately, seen in severe weather patterns affecting many countries, more or less directly, and endangering the future of many who are already on the brink of hardship, also seen in our immediate environment here in our own province, represent a global call to action that has been acknowledged by many political figures.

That Canada has been missing from most of the meetings addressing these global issues after retiring from the Kyoto protocol, more so when some of the economic ventures of our country contribute to the said issues, makes one wonder whether Canadian citizens have their right to speak up and express their views as one would in a democracy respected at all.

If our democracy is strong and reinforced from within, nothing from the outside can damage it, not a few votes by well-intended citizens anyway.

While Canadians living abroad may not know the nitty gritty of every day social and political events here, they have a say in what elections bring because their passport gives them the right to do so. If anything, a view from afar adds yet another opinion about our life here. And if a country relies on true democratic values, opinions, whether they are pro and cons, would only offer opportunities to revisit the said values.

Bills And Morning Runs – Connecting The Dots

Originally published as a column in the AM News on March 13, 2015. 

It is 11am and I am out for a run. I get to see far over the grasslands yet my eyes do not make it that far. A river of yellow air sitting on top of the downtown like a lazy impudent snake divides my running grounds from the distant grasslands. It is almost mid-March and there are already rumours of fire bans throughout the Thompson-Okanagan.

These days, bill C-51 is being discussed in Parliament. The two instances of life seem unconnected and yet the connection is as straightforward as it is eerie. Should this bill pass, we will see Canada equipped with a fresh organization capable of grabbing potential terrorists by the throat and stopping them mid-action.

Kind of a police force but with a different name and on steroids, since it will give 17 government agencies (14 of which are not subject to dedicated independent review) that oversee national security access to all information pertaining citizens like me and you. In other words, pray for mercy if you’re it, because this is one mean game of tag.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien (who was blocked from the committee witness list) points to this and more, adding his name to the the 100 plus academics’ who are urging the government to reconsider the terms of this anti-terrorism legislation that is presented as a tool against those who threaten our national security, but has the power to analyze our every bit of data, personal and otherwise.

Which, we are told, is a good thing, because it ensures our safety. If you get past the part where you have to define who the ‘us’ is and who will be cast as the ‘bad guys’.

Could the people who stand for their right to speak and act in the interest of democracy and other civil liberties that we proudly display to the world be labelled as terrorists? That’s one of the fears some of the MPs and independent observers have.

It is sunny and the sky is painted in clouds. It is beautiful, yet the yellow air feels heavy in the distance. I will be heading home soon to work on some articles about the continuous use of bisphenol A and flame retardants despite of their now clearly demonstrated albeit ‘invisible’ to the unaware consumer due to their hidden nature (literally) but also due to the reassurance people get and count on from their government.

Then I will be tackling the dilemma of trains versus pipelines. Just last weekend another train transporting crude oil derailed in northern Ontario, and that is just two weeks after another train derailment causing an oil spill in a close-by area. A bitumen spill in Alberta in the Peace River country makes one stop before saying … ‘so pipelines are safer.’ They are not. Nor are trains. Everything that we do involves risks and consequences.

The dilemma train vs. pipeline has been on the lips of many a citizens lately. Those who keep their minds open and are able to see that our world is undergoing some pains we may not be ready to deal with (on a local scale, imagine a long summer of wild fires and dwindling water supplies because other areas need water just as badly for their own fires) ask another question: if there are alternatives, why don’t we use them?

I have been researching the tar sands (and have so much to learn still) and when the news came that environmental groups are under surveillance and more, I had the uncomfortable feeling of reading flagged material. It made me think of the many stories I heard in my birth country about the government surveying people who believe in values that have no dollar sign attached to them

Will writing about this get me in trouble now or later? Will our collective children learn to whisper rather than talk because someone may be listening? Will we turn on each other to keep safe from powers we cannot see but who will be behind corners we turn every day? Am I overreacting? How 1984ish of me.

Democracy is a gift that a country offers to its citizens. It ensures freedom and rights. And freedom is a mighty big word that stands for a concept we need to keep around us like we need air to breathe.

Hence my parallel. The yellow air does not ensure freedom to breathe, unless we choose to close our eyes and see it as such. Unless we choose to be complacent about it. Watching over people to make sure their safety is in place is what we expect our government to do, but we expect them to do it right, in a way that does not impend on our freedom.

Much has been said about that since the latest sad incidents that saw two Canadian soldiers killed. Terrorism, mental health, lack of resources, the list could goes on, but pointing at them without acting to changing is a useless, redundant activity.

There will be threats, unfortunately, even more so in the context of increased world turmoil that transcends country boundaries and sees people enslaved to the wrong beliefs. Even more of a reason to approach a bill such as C-51 with caution and an open mind. And allowing all parties who stand for human rights and democracy to have a say and be listened to.

We cannot allow anyone for any reason to unravel the democratic tapestry our predecessors have fought hard to weave. So we have to strive to know how to prevent that, because knowledge is power. The good, we’re-in-it-together kind of power that allows you the freedom to look at the sky and wonder what can be done if the blue is no longer blue enough.

If You Believe In Making Good Things Happen, You Need To Vote

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, October 31, 2014. 

It is a time of turmoil, social and political. A few days ago, thousands were present for Cpl. Cirillo’s funeral in Hamilton. Next is Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent’s funeral, who will be laid to rest on Saturday in what the family requested to be a private, no-press-allowed, ceremony. Lest we forget.

As the dust settles and other news will boil over, one can hope that the troubling questions left behind by the sudden and violent deaths of the two soldiers will be answered sooner than later. Much has been said about the charismatic smile of Cpl. Cirillo and his good nature, less so about why he was shot by someone who managed to run amok in an area that has at least one surveillance camera.

Presumably, someone was watching that screen at all times, in which case, how could a man with a long gun be overlooked. And if he wasn’t, where were the security forces that were supposed to come out in a blink and contain the situation before anyone got killed. Answers are not easy to come by, and accountability is an elusive creature we want to see materialized among politicians.

Then we have the lingering, growing as we speak, energy-related issues that transform people into rabid partisans of the pro and cons arguments. We see it all over the country, and we see it in our own city.

Ideally, our elected officials should be able to sort it out in a way that will be good for all and there will be someone who will answer the tough questions or pay the actual price of damage should any damage occur after all precautions have been taken. Or oppose a project unless it is done right, which is the latest case of the David and Goliath type of confrontation between Kinder Morgan and the city of Burnaby, mayor and people standing together. Accountability is what helps with that.

We can toil over these issues and more all we want; truth is, there is no easy solution. Problems arise daily, some bigger than others, and it is often that people feel helpless about them. Expectedly so, when questions fall of deaf ears. Which is why voting becomes the one thing anyone can do to lessen the feeling of helplessness.

Unless we go out and vote whoever we think will do a good job at addressing issues that have to do with the state of our democracy, our environment, education, health, housing problems, and so much more, nothing will be done in a way that feels right.

Someone said to me ‘if I do not vote, at least I cannot say I voted the wrong person when they don’t do their job…’ But is that the point? It is never a matter of whether a politician does it right or wrong by me only. I can voice my concerns, I can express ideas and if I feel in any way betrayed by the ones I chose, I have to take it further than just sanctioning their activity in my head.

I do not vote my personal councilors and mayor, just like you do not either. It is a concerted effort and, as always, my deed (vote in this case) will affect your life and the other way around. A community that can vote is a community where good things can happen.

There is no escaping this one if we want to see changes and issues dealt with in a responsible manner. Freedom of speech and freedom to vote are two important assets in a democracy and they should be exercised by the people who have them.

There have been multiple instances of freedom of speech being impended (see the case of Canadian scientists being silenced to the point of scientists from other countries expressing concern over practices that are unbecoming of a democratic government) and there are cases of truth being withheld for various reasons.

There are decisions being made in regards to pipelines, mines and fracking that are questionable to say the least. There are accidents such as tailing ponds ruptures, oil spills and chronic health issues in many who live near exploitation sites and no one has to live with the consequences expect for the people who suffered in the first place. There are provincial parks that may be having their boundaries redefined just so pipelines could run through it.

All these matters have to be addressed in a responsible manner. More than that, the government officials who address these issues and more, have to be accountable to voters and open to having dialogues as needed.

In which case, one wonders, where are such perfect politicians hiding?

There are no perfect humans, politicians or otherwise. But in case of politicians, they have to understand their mission and the trust they are given by people like you and me.

More so, they need to be able to stand up right, be accountable and make truth their ally. If we all speak the truth, things are bound to get better.

I guess the best way to describe my expectations for what’s to come is to say that we elect representatives that will keep on growing to become great politicians rather than go for the perfect ones from the start, because truth is, no one is perfect and everyone should be given chances to grow and do better every day. What I do ask though is openness and a social conscience.

For that, I will go vote and I urge you to do the same. It is a privilege to have choices.

It’s A Done Deal – But Did You Know About It?

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, September 19, 2014.

On September 12, 2014 the controversial Canada-China Foreign Investment and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) was ratified by the Harper government in a secretive manner, blatantly unbecoming of its important nature and long term consequences. Harsh criticism by many, loud accusations of a major sellout and the chills of having our country’s values betrayed once again by a government that seems to forget its true mission, that is all part of the package.

The sad part is that few knew about it until it happened. It makes one wonder how much of what is important to our well-being as a democratic country we know and how much do we have a say in.

The Hupacasath First Nations legally challenged the treaty in a Court of Law when it was first announced in 2012, arguing that such an agreement violates the constitutional rights of Aboriginal people. While the case managed to delay the signing of the treaty, it did not stop it. Nor did the solid facts provided by Osgoode law professor and global authority on investment trade deals and international arbitration panels, Gus Van Harten, in a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to reconsider the terms of a deal that he deems unfair to Canada.

Yet a strange level of secrecy made the treaty seem almost surreal to the busy citizens like you and me wrapped in the stress of everyday life. Some news outlets announced it, some did not, and overall it did not get a front seat with the major media outlets because… well, because it didn’t.

Media and us people relying on it for the daily newsfeed, function in a form of an awkward symbiosis: it’s not the truly worthy news that get the front page because they are not entertaining enough to most people, and the few to whom they are cannot bring up the numbers in a way that counts, financially speaking. More often than not, people want glimpses of celebrities lives, whether they are ill, get married, have babies or die. Sad but true, and double-edged sword; we can shape our society with our choices but do we exercise them the right way? If we don’t someone will make them for us. The very topic of this column is one sad example.

Among other things, the treaty in question gives way to Chinese investors to challenge and possibly even change Canadian laws, should existing laws happen to interfere with their investment plans. Worse yet, lawsuits to address that will not be decided in a court of law in Canada but abroad. ‘Hands off’ never sounded more threatening to a country, its constitution, natural resources and ultimately, its democratic values.

To not know the implications of such an agreement because we were not presented with it before a decision was made should make us wonder about how the upcoming elections should turn out. Being in charge of a country that has so much potential is no light deed. Understanding that today’s decisions shape our children’s tomorrow should make one stand in awe of it and ask themselves: do I really have what it takes?

The Canada-China Investment Treaty has just become the argument that it takes a lot more to keep our national dignity intact. Unlike other investment treaties, the terms are extremely unfavourable to Canada, and there is a high risk of future lawsuits that, should we lose, might just see us pay our sanctions in natural resources and large sums of money.

But… it’s a done deal and so it will be for the next 31 years, with a 15-year minimum term. Toss it and turn it on all sides, that’s a long time to be locked in any form of agreement, more so when your treaty partner has a clear upper hand.

In a democratic society, this kind of agreement should’ve taken all pro and cons arguments in, from all members of parliament and from the general public.  None of that happened.

The press release that accompanied the signing also mentions the sectors of interests for the Chinese companies that want to invest in Canada: mining, oil and gas extraction. If you’re still rattled by the Northern Enbridge pipeline indignity, the treaty will seem more lugubrious than ever because once October starts (treaty comes in effect starting October 1), who knows what lies ahead.

We should not oppose treaties, far from that. Our history is witness that treaties work; they helped build Canada into what it is today. If we play it right and fair, if we keep it good for Canada. If our democratic values and sovereignty are respected by the leaders who oversee the signing of any treaty, our leaders that is, then other countries will sign their part knowing that we do not sell anything, but trade.

Advantageous to both parties, that’s how treaties are defined. History has plenty of examples of fair treaties (two-sided, benefiting both parties) and then plenty of examples of unfair ones (one-sided). We’re old enough to know the difference.

Fairness and transparency are never to be taken for granted, and no treaty signed by our government should, at any point in time, give anyone the impression that Canada is for sale when it’s not.

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