Monday, September 08, 2008

Election Coming

Me at White Sands, 2007

So October 14th will be the big day. An election that we don’t need and shouldn’t be holding, particularly since the law (to hold elections every four years) enacted by the same government that is calling this one is being flagrantly broken.

Coincidentally, the US presidential vote will take place just weeks after ours. The Republican ticket now includes a woman who is a self-described “hockey mom” and a “pit bull with lipstick,” and a man whose campaign organizers seem to believe that he deserves to be elected because he suffered much as a POW. Meanwhile, the Democratic ticket features a relatively inexperienced presidential candidate who has had some shaky moments in the campaign but represents the best hope for change in a discredited political establishment.

For me, of course, names like Harper, Dion, Layton, May or Duceppe won’t be on the ballot, let alone McCain or Obama. I have to decide whether or not to vote for incumbent Maurice Vellacott or one of his opponents. To help me choose, he’s placed another brochure in my mailbox featuring a get-tough-on-criminals message with the conclusion: “The Conservative Government is standing on the side of law-abiding families and taxpayers. Prison perks have to end.” Vellacott wants to see an end to tattoo practitioners serving prisoners, the closing of smoking rooms and a withdrawal of the right to vote.

It’s the typical conservative response to trouble: meet deviance with force; punish harshly; “they asked for it.” It was Bush and Cheney’s response to 911, and caused them to jump swiftly to choices that were seen in retrospect to be foolish in the extreme.

The problem with this mindset is that, logical as it may seem, it’s ineffective. According to Vellacott, prisons are about “accountability, public safety and punishment.” Prisoners are locked up to pay a debt to society. The problem is that after sentences have been served and the debt paid, we are left with the hardened and broken husks of human beings, incapable of reintegrating, partly because they have been treated like animals in the prison system. This is not doing a favour to “law-abiding families and taxpayers.” This is substituting harsh retribution for a more considered approach to crime and punishment.

Conservatives tend to leave rehabilitation and reconciliation out of their dialogue. That’s why Bush’s foreign policies have failed so utterly, and that’s why another four years of the Harper Conservatives will continue to push our justice system and our foreign policy closer to the retributive model, a model of the past, not the future. Our military budget line will rise faster than our foreign aid line.

In a time when care of the environment, particularly, is front and centre on the global agenda, we can’t afford to be led by the conservative mindset. The Harper record is clear: “Do no more than you have to to keep the tree huggers off your front porch.” Harper appears far more interested in Arctic sovereignty than in Arctic conservation and—as he let out in a recent news conference—that has much to do with the oil that may lie under the Arctic waters.

With any luck, Americans will shake off the Bush legacy, and will refuse to be swayed into thinking once more that their security lies with the pit bulls. With any luck, we Canadians will recognize that conservative thinking in our country is taking us steps backwards when we need to go creatively forward.

Prison-perks is a non-issue in comparison to the global hurdles we face.

We need an MP who recognizes this.

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