December 2008


Happy New Year to my twenty loyal readers out there! 🙂

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your comments, insights and input over the past four months. I intend to post far less regularly in the coming year – no doubt, I will still feel the tug of some insurrection and post occasionally, but for the most part, this will quiet down – as I focus my energies and computer time on a novel I’ve needed a New Year’s resolution to kick start once again.

Wish me luck – all the best to you all in your endeavors!

TM

This holiday season, I’ve found myself overwhelmed – far more than at any time in my life I can recall – with gratitude for the life I have and the people in it. I have a wonderful, healthy family, a warm home, an interesting and stable job and few worries in these crazy economic times aside from the rising price of food, paying the bills on time and how to ride my bike in the snow. I am incredibly fortunate.

Vancouver is in the midst of a long and harsh cold snap, made worse by the dampness of the coastal air and stiff winds – both of which I hesitate to comment on knowing most Canadians will label me a wimpy West Coaster, but as a transplanted Albertan, I can tell you it feels like minus 25 in Lethbridge around here.

Vancouver has a huge homeless population, formal counts put the number at around 3500, but anecdotal estimates from people who work with the homeless and know the people out there say it could be as high as 5000. I have not been able to stop thinking of our homeless brothers and sisters this past frigid week, wondering how they’re doing, whether they are taking advantage of more shelter beds open due to the emergency measures that kick in when the mercury drops, braving the bedbugs and lack of privacy and rules to keep from freezing to death.

I am struck, once again, by the question of what I can do for them. What do they need that a single person or family could provide aside from a room and three square meals? My home is tiny, we are comfortable, but packed pretty tightly with no space left, literally not even for a sleeping bag on the floor. And I ask myself: really, would I open my home to a homeless stranger, someone with any possible combination of a mental health diagnosis, drug or alcohol addiction, criminal record? Am I a complete hypocrite? A fair weather aider of men, only moved to assist under the right conditions for someone I deem safe or worthy?

I decided to give away a warm down vest I had, a couple of years old but in excellent condition and sure to offer an extra layer of insulation to someone, even if they slept indoors at night, who might be forced to be outside all day long in this sub-zero weather. For fours days, I drove around the parts of my neighborhood I knew I would normally find the regulars, those I see on my daily trips to the grocery store, the bank, the coffee shop.

Initially, I thought I would find someone familiar to me and give it to them, my mind’s eye envisioned a man and I rationalized that giving something with high street value might put a woman at greater risk for theft or worse. This caused me deeper exploration and I felt sick that even a gift could unleash the forces of misogyny. The more I thought about who to give my vest to, the more disgusted at my unconscious mental list of qualifications I became.

I stopped trolling the Main Street area and headed to the Downtown Eastside, the area of greatest need and target of the greatest judgment. I searched the low track prostitute strolls in the early morning, knowing these women were freezing – but I found none. Adjusting my goal, I began to look for anyone who seemed needy, but I saw no one on the streets, though it was now past nine. I began to feel foolish, my little vest so pathetic, my so-called gift so insignificant and useless to deal with this far-reaching problem of poverty in our city.

I wish I had a poignant ending to share, but I don’t. Tonight, it’s going down to -12, with a wind chill of -19. and I will find some shivering soul to make use of my vest before nightfall, because they can’t all be in shelters, they’re out there, freezing. And I’ll make a plan to do more.

Note: two hours after I posted this, I heard that a homeless woman had died early this morning on the streets of Vancouver, her small makeshift shelter set alight in her attempts to maintain a small campfire to stay warm.

Parliament continues to reel from the dizzying events of the past 5 days, the likes of which are virtually unprecedented in Canadian history – not to mention downright entertaining.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled what was billed as an “economic update” in Parliament last Thursday – a plan placing limitations on the public service’s ability to strike and offering little in the way of economic stimulus – that was met with loud derision and cries of disgust at Harper’s arrogance and calls for a confidence vote in the House. MPs from Canada’s other parties – Liberal, New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois – stated they would refuse to vote this update into law, forcing Harper’s Conservative government into a confidence vote that would surely defeat them.

What angered the opposition most was Harper’s – via Flaherty – blatantly partisan slam tucked inside the update that would see an end to federal funding to political parties, a Conservative Party attempt to weaken the opposition parties in light of their tenuous financial positions and render them less able to mount a strong election campaign down the road against Harper. MPs cried foul that Harper would be playing partisan politics with a piece of legislation supposedly designed to help Canada’s ailing economy.

Immediately, political and economic analysts across party lines conceded Harper had committed an egregious error in judgment at worst and a serious political misstep at best, a blunder very likely to delay much-needed economic restructuring at a time when Canada needs it most. Despite head-spinningly quick reversals by the Conservatives on many of the update’s key points – a move designed to placate the furious opposition MPs – the dye was cast and leaders Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe began talks to form a coalition government, with Dion assuming the role of Prime Minister and the parties assigning Cabinet positions weighted in favour of the Liberals and the NDP.

Fast forward to today where Governor General Michaelle Jean is flying home from a truncated European speaking tour to address the national crisis. Her role will be to weigh the options before her and determine the fate of Parliament. Experts seem to agree that one option would be to grant an anticipated request from Harper to prorogue or suspend the current seven day old sitting of Parliament, presumably so he can avoid a confidence vote and have time to prepare a budget, although this contains some problems in that there is no precedent either way for such a request under these circumstances and many believe she will not prorogue simply to allow the government to avoid a confidence motion.

The second option might be to grant a potential request from Harper to dissolve the current sitting of Parliament and call a federal election – an unlikely and unattractive alternative considering Canadians just went to the polls 7 weeks ago and voter turnout was extremely low. Jean’s third option would be to entertain the request of the Coalition members and allow them to form a government, under strict conditions, for the remainder of the term.

Canadians are understandably concerned. Conservatives who voted Harper’s people into power are furious, claiming – as Harper said himself – that the Dion-led Coalition is trying to take power without earning it. Perhaps, but the Conservatives might want to drop the smug rhetoric and accept that only 37% of voting Canadians elected the current government and a Coalition would actually represent the 63% of Canadians who voted for someone other than a Conservative MP.

Enter Gilles Duceppe. Critics of the potential Coalition are crying “deal with the devil” at the Coalition’s inclusion of Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois, convinced the pact will give too much power to a man the fear-mongering Harper believes would separate Quebec from Canada. What Canadians need to understand is that Duceppe wants sovereignty for Quebec, for it to be recognized as a distinct society and receive appropriate benefits, but there is little in his rhetoric over recent years to suggest he is for cutting all ties and looking to create the separatist nation of Quebec and become President Duceppe. Duceppe is more about left-wing activism than separation – both of which frighten Harper – and it his left wing ideologies that enable him to enter and welcome him into this Coalition.

Once again, Harper is appealing to the fear of the unknown in Canadians – first, it was fear of how a non-Conservative government would lead Canada in these tough economic times, times Harper refused to acknowledge were bad until intense media pressure forced him to. Second, Harper instilled fear of a Stephane Dion-led Canada, a very intelligent man Harper’s attack ads so thoroughly shredded the country was unable to see that this man, while lacking charisma and a slick, articulate style in English, has the smarts and love of this country to lead us through uncertain waters.

Dion has acknowledged he will not continue to lead the Liberals, but he will be the Prime Minister under this Coalition until the Liberals hold their leadership convention in June. By accepting the leadership role in this Coalition government, he obviously fully understands this is not the way he ever wanted to become Prime Minister. He knows he took a serious drubbing and he is not the leader Canadians wanted in the last election. The Liberal party itself is allowing Dion to stand as leader because the leadership candidates don’t want a rushed selection, nor a leadership candidate with a leg up heading into a leadership convention. Dion and the Liberals know Dion is going nowhere as leader and that is why he will stand for now in what is clearly a rather thankless position.

There are those who accuse the Coalition of political opportunism and putting their quest for power first above the good of the country, and at first blush, it’s an easy position to take. To them, I say this: Who would you like to lead Canada? A man with his head so deeply buried in the sand that he misjudges the needs of Canadians and Canada or a group of committed public servants willing to put their partisan policies aside and work together in a coalition to run this great country the way it should be and not according to policies based too deeply in neo-conservative ideologies?

Watch for Harper’s own party to become angrier and most mutinous by the day as they realize his mean-spirited bully tactics have amounted to throwing the whole Conservative government under a bus.