Sunday, August 28, 2011

A rose for Jack

 A rose for Jack - rest in peace
Let’s assume for a moment that the political economic goals in Canada are that everyone should have enough quality food, a comfortable shelter and equal access to healthcare. There’s much more to a fulfilled life than a roof in the rain and a balanced diet, of course, but let these be the goals that are espoused by politicians at election time for argument’s sake. How are we doing?
               The death and funeral of Jack Layton provided us with a curious television spectacle: the camera panning over the audience would stop occasionally to let us see how Conservative and Liberal politicians were standing and applauding Stephen Lewis’s unabashed defense of Jack’s Social Democratic ideals. I’m sure they were forced into some quick calculations: I’ve ridiculed this world view a thousand times so will I look worse if I stand and applaud or if I sit here unmoved among a sea of New Democrats? Given, of course, that I’m at the man’s funeral and am listening to his eulogy!
               If you were following other news beyond the tragic early death of Jack Layton, you would have been aware that Stephen Harper was in the Arctic for much of the week. In one news interview, he expressed the view that social progress is easier if there is economic development. He was wearing a hard hat and there was a gold mine in the background, I think. He was expressing a major tenet of a model that would nearly equate with the worldview of most of the non-New Democrats in the funeral audience: Free the market up so capitalists can create wealth, which will pour down on the whole of society.
This model, however, has had to defend itself over and over again—against charges, for instance, that the kind of economic development that big capitalism tends to bring not only doesn’t benefit area populations, but destroys them. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay used the Lubicon Cree of Northern Alberta as an example to show that rights were being ignored or trampled upon by development around the world: “For example, intensive oil and gas development continues in northern Alberta, Canada in the areas where the long-standing land claims by the Lubicon Lake Nation remain unresolved.”
Amnesty International Canada describes the issue in more detail:
The traditional territory of the Lubicon Cree is criss-crossed by more than 2400 km of oil and gas pipelines. The latest leak has spilled an estimated 28,000 barrels of crude oil –  the largest oil spill in Alberta since 1975.Although the province says that the spill has been contained and poses no threat to human health, the Lubicon are questioning these claims. The school in the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo had to be closed after the spill and there is still no explanation for why students and teachers got sick.
The capitalist, trickle-down model doesn’t deliver on the goals, but our Prime Minister either doesn’t get that, or chooses not to get it.
               And then there was Jack Layton and before him, Tommy Douglas, David and Stephen Lewis, Ed Broadbent and others who proposed another model that begins, not with economic mega-projects and growth, but with the welfare of the population in an area. By the outpouring of empathy for the Jack Layton vision over the past week, one could almost be convinced that Canadians are ready to give his model a try.
               The interests that support the status quo are strong and influential in the corridors of power. But their model is ill; in the USA, it’s so sick it’s throwing up all over the population and the public institutions are bankrupting themselves in attempts at cleaning up the vomit.
I hope a lot of Canadians appreciated the juxtaposition of the two models this past week—and drew some substantial conclusions. May Jack’s enthusiasm and optimism for a better Canada continue to inspire Canadians in the days to come.
(For more on the Lubicon Cree story, click

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