“They said…they said…they said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned, to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, on this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this New Year, 2008. In lines that stretched around schools and churches, in small towns, and big cities, we came together as Democrats, Republicans, and independents to stand up and say that we are one nation, we are one people, and our time for change has come.”
It’s extremely cold out today. Perfect for trying out your new Christmas sweater, eating a bowl of hot noodle soup for lunch, or curling up on a coach in front of whatever your couch is in front of. (So far, I’m two for three. During election campaigns, one does not find much time for one’s couch.)
It’s also a good day to remember that there are still tens of thousands of people in Toronto, including thousands of children, who are either homeless or too close for comfort. In a city and country as wealthy as ours, there’s no excuse for that.
Canadians rightly pride ourselves on our universal health care, and in recent years have considered introducing additional “universals,” including universal child care. It’s time to add universal housing to the list of things that make us proud as a nation.
And we can achieve universal housing throughout Canada. Not only can we afford it, but when full-cost accounting is applied it would cost government even less than the status quo. (As one simple example, one of my campaign volunteers works in a hospital emergency room where homeless people routinely come in complaining of some ailment. After a few hours the hospital staff realize that all the individual wanted was food. That’s a very expensive sandwich.)
There are a number of specific actions that Green MPs would take. In short, the federal government needs to provide more funding for affordable housing, and that funding needs to be used in a more creative and effective way. We don’t need to look far for positive examples. Here in Toronto Centre we have the St. Lawrence area, which Wikipedia calls “the model for the design and planning of new urban communities across North America.” Its successful mixture of market and subsidized housing has been duplicated around the world, yet we haven’t duplicated it in our own city.
Obviously, homelessness is also tightly linked to poverty, and the connections run both ways. Providing housing helps to eliminate poverty by giving individuals a stable base from which to seek employment and build confidence. We must simultaneously use new and realistic solutions to tackle poverty directly with a view to its elimination.
We can’t allow the lack of affordable housing in Toronto and other Canadian cities to continue. It’s time to move forward.
Last year I wrote a list of ten things you can do as an individual to reduce the negative impact you have on the Earth (focusing on some less well-known or obvious ideas, instead of the usual “drive less, replace your light bulbs” kind of stuff that I assume most people already know).
There is, however, an ongoing debate about individual versus collective action. In other words, how much of a difference can we as individuals really make, and how much change must come from government and business.
Obviously action at all levels is critical, and the individual changes we make to our lives do make a difference. That being said, I believe there is an increasing need for strong leadership at the government level. During the last campaign I was asked by a young boy why we need “politics.” I answered that government, at its best, allows us to do things together that we would otherwise be unable to do. Big things. Things that are larger than you or me, but not larger than the two or more of us combined. The challenges we face are large, and require this level of cooperation.
This year, since we’re in a by-election campaign, I suggest you use your vote on March 17th to help achieve your grander New Year’s resolutions. Here are some ideas for resolutions for Canada:
- Exercise more of a positive influence on the international stage. Rebuild our reputation as a global leader, instead of a global saboteur.
- Enjoy life more by making sure we measure genuine progress.
- Quit drinking 4 barrels of water for ever 1 barrel of oil extracted from the tar sands.
- Quit smoking whatever it is the Conservatives are smoking that makes them believe the obviously false idea that action on the environment can’t also be positive for the economy.
- Lose weight at the federal level, and transfer more resources and authority to cities and communities.
Any other good ones I missed?
I was driving from Brantford (my family’s Christmas) to Almonte (Claire’s family Christmas) when I heard of Benazir Bhutto’s death. (I couldn’t help but have the same initial thought as James; that the interruption of the holiday season by tragic news has seemed all too common in recent years.) All sorts of politicians and observers filled radio airtime for hours with the painfully obvious: that this was a sad and deplorable act, that it was an attack on democracy, and that it has ramifications for the whole world, including Canada.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until we switched to Radio Canada (en franÃ§ais) approaching Ottawa that we heard the first reports of inevitable conspiracy theories involving various aspects of the government and/or military. Feeding that distrust is the ever-changing explanation of how, exactly, Bhutto was killed. First there was a shooter and a bomber. Then just one person, who was both the shooter and the bomber, and shot her in the neck and head. Then a report from the hospital said that she hadn’t been shot, but instead had been hit with a piece of shrapnel from the explosion. Now, the government is saying that she wasn’t shot or hit with shrapnel, but instead hit her head on her car’s sunroof. (Eye witnesses who were in the car have called this latest explanation a “pack of lies.”)
After a failed assassination attempt in October of this year, Bhutto gave an interview calling for an independent international investigation to uncover the truth surrounding the attack. Today, that request resonates as a request from the grave. Canada should do everything it can to advocate for and assist with such an investigation. Only the truth can lead to the conditions needed for peace, stability, and democracy.
Around the same time, Bhutto was asked by a CBC reporter what she thought of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, given the close relationship between the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani “neo-Taliban” and al-Qaeda. She was diplomatic in her answer, saying that while she understood it was hard for Canada to suffer the casualties and sacrifices of serving in Afghanistan, it was necessary to ensure that the country didn’t fall back into the hands of those who would oppress human rights and oppose moves towards democracy. It helps to illustrate why this obsession that the parties of the past have with our withdrawal date from Afghanistan misses the point. The NDP would have us withdraw our troops right away, likely leaving a civil war in our wake. The Liberals propose the same thing, but would wait a year to do it. The Conservatives refuse to propose anything of substance and instead resort to shameful partisanship and perverse patriotism.
What’s needed, instead, is a rebalancing of the mission. A recognition that there is no military solution to George Bush’s “war on terror,” and that the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan cannot succeed since it is viewed as a “clash of civilizations,” along with a realization that the people of Afghanistan do need and will continue to need our help rebuilding critical infrastructure, promoting regional diplomacy, development assistance and the training of the Afghan national army and police force. I’m proud to be associated with the Green Party’s sensible, balanced, and realistic approach towards building peace in Afghanistan.