Monday, November 10, 2014

Justin Trudeau, you have an opportunity

I have not been particularly active in politics up to this point in my lifetime. I have always treated it like a spectator sport. Gina regularly shakes her head at me as I tune into American election coverage like someone would watch a football game, following blogs (like Andrew Tannenbaum's excellent and other news sources, yet never lifting a finger when when it is time to make changes in my own locality. I may blather on about this candidate or that party, but I generally don't do much about it other than trudging off the the booth to mark my X for the Good Guy (TM).

This is not to diminish the importance of voting - it is certainly critically important. Someone who can't be bothered to vote has no right to complain about the result. It may seem that we only have a choice between two brands of vanilla, or worse that we are simply choosing the lesser of two evils. But if we must be faced with evil, then choosing the lesser one is still, to quote the Vice President of the United States, a Big F*cking Deal.

But things change. With my kids grown, I can see myself becoming more active in helping my larger family (i.e. my community). It will come as no surprise to people that I am a small-l liberal, and I am thinking about how I can assist the big-L Liberal party in the upcoming federal election. I have already spoken to Wayne Long, the local Liberal candidate (and a friend) to let him know that I will be on his side and willing to work for him as next year's election approaches. Even cautious polling figures at this time suggest a Liberal government will take over in 2015, although it is clearly too early to make any predictions about the outcome. I can feel a growing dissatisfaction with Stephen Harper's Conservative government over issues like treatment of veterans, impeding the work of scientists, patronage within the Senate, or favoritism towards his home province of Alberta over, well, pretty well every other region in the country.

So I believe that Justin Trudeau, as leader of the Liberal Party, has a huge opportunity ahead of him. He very well could be the next Prime Minister of Canada. What I think is more interesting is what he will choose to do with that responsibility. Trudeau's claim to fame is being the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a man who many would say is our most charismatic Prime Minister. During the tenure of Trudeau père, the country was gripped by "Trudeaumania", with strong reactions from both supporters and detractors. Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution, and created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Make no mistake; anyone following after Pierre Elliott Trudeau has exceptionally large shoes to fill.

Justin Trudeau may be the man who can. He is young and handsome, and speaks with a reasonable tone and thoughtfully. In fact, the only criticism that his conservative enemies have tagged him with at this point, other than pointing at a lack of experience that any person his age would have, is that he is too charming. If only I could be so harshly criticized! All this being said, his charisma may help him get the job, and possibly buy him patience, but what is really more important is his policy. And this is where I see a fantastic opportunity.

"Can he?" - Probably, as long as he can take his shirt off to do it.

For those following American politics, you must be aware that they are in a dark time for liberals. Their Republican (i.e. conservative) Party has captured a majority in both the House of Congress and their Senate. This leaves the Democrat President Barack Obama with few allies in Washington to help him pass legislation that makes up his own agenda. Furthermore, some key committees are now strange predicaments. The ranking member on the Senate Science and Space subcommittee is now Ted Cruz, and climate change denier and noted religious wingnut. The EPA, the US agency responsible for protection of the environment, is controlled by a subcommittee that is now chaired by Senator James Imhofe, who is quoted as saying that global warming is a UN conspiracy to take over the US. No, I'm not making this up.

That's quite the trophy case you've got there, Jim. Do you have one that says "Voted least likely to read a book?"

Climate change, space exploration, and scientific research in general, are areas where the US has been a world leader. However, it seems clear that an anti-intellectual wave of resistance has made its way across American politics in the last few years, leading to a "War on Science". This is really all part of greater cultural war going on in America, partially driven by floundering religious organizations, and partially in response to a swell of nationalism following the events of 9/11. This movement is so strong that even our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper - always keen to keep in step with the Americans - has started his own war on science, muzzling scientists, cancelling decades-long and irreplaceable research projects, eliminating research grants, making the NRC cater to business interests, and abolishing the long-form census. And I could go on.

In Canada, any successor to Harper who starts to undo the damage he has affected on our scientific community in the last few years will be a hero regardless of affiliation, in my view. But I think that would be to stop short of what we genuinely need. If the Americans are bound to beat science down to the politics of idocracy as Stephen Harper has been doing, I think the world is ripe for someone else to grab that torch from them. We are known for having built the arm for the Americans' space vehicle. Why can't Canada build the next shuttle ourselves, and let the Americans' ride shotgun instead? How about not burying our heads in the sand over climate change as the Americans are doing; we can lead the charge in solutions to the worldwide energy problems? I would like to see the American and international scientists coming to Canada to get their work done, and have Canada reap the benefits of their brainpower.

Behold, the mighty Canadarm! Tremble in our majesty, oh ye nations of the Earth!

The thing about facilitating science is that it is not a liberal or conservative issue. In the US, historically the biggest funding for NASA has come from Republican administrations. This is because being a leader in technology and scientific knowledge is good for business. It is only in recent years that conservatives have become loathe to fund scientific exploration, and mostly because of ideological confusion over constituent scientific areas. Advances in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) will result in more jobs. Personally, I do not promote science from either a liberal or conservative perspective, but rather from a human perspective - I am amazed at what we have learned about the universe, and I want to give my descendants even more knowledge so that they can dominate their world. Of utmost importance is the fact that this will not work if we make the planet uninhabitable in the mean time. However, it is a happy bonus to our own generation that this will result in a stronger economy.

In the end, this issue is the single-most import to me. It helps that I agree with the majority of Liberal policies. But when I look to Justin Trudeau, if I expect to see him make himself a leader who is remembered  in Canada, this is how I could imagine him doing that. His father's own motto was "Reason before passion". I want to see cool rationality advancing our nation, in contrast to the emotional quagmire that has bound our neighbours to the south. We need to free the innovation of Canadians to find solutions to the world's great problems, and let the faltering US follow us into this new world. As (the American) Bill Nye says we must, let's "change the world!" There is an opportunity, Mr. Trudeau; let's not squander it!


  1. Welcome. One of the saddest things that I have seen in my lifetime is that "politician" has become synonymous with "crook". Anyone with good intentions and the best interests of their community at heart must find it extremely difficult to throw their hat into the ring, knowing that they will automatically have their motives questioned and open their lives up to critisim and the witch hunt that politics has become. It was at one time a respected position, and you at least had to do something wrong before you were branded as a crook and a liar...

    1. I think a lot of this negative sentiment towards politicians is bred out of having to witness the tomfoolery that goes on south of the border. American politics are much more rife for abuse than the Canadian system. This is not to say that it does not happen: our friendly Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin are evidence of that. However, the fact that we know all about their misdeeds should also show that such behaviour is not so easy to get away with.
      In the end, I admire any person who chooses to be involved in politics as a candidate, even those who I disagree with. My hope is that we can make their time in office as productive as possible.

    2. Having spent some time in the political arena, backing a candidate who was extremely community minded and believed that participation was both a duty and a privilege, I was shocked by the number of times I heard the words " I hate all politcians", and "all politcians are crooks"...of course these same people probably did not even take the time to exercise their privilege to vote, and are also the ones who do the most complaining. My belief is if you don't vote, than you aren't allowed to have an opinion on politics at all!