Metro Vancouver residents reacted with shock, sadness and outrage this week at the news that two Lower Mainland police officers crashed while allegedly driving drunk – one of them tragically striking and killing a much-loved 21 year old motorcyclist from Delta and the other hitting a road sign on the Upper Levels highway.

The RCMP member involved in the Delta incident was identified as Corporal Benjamin Montgomery Robinson, a 38 year old currently assigned to the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (ISU). It was quickly disclosed that Robinson was one of four RCMP members present – and the supervisor in charge – when Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport after receiving jolts from a police taser in October 2007.

The question on many minds is this: why was this man, who remains under investigation for and will quite possibly be charged criminally in Dziekanski’s death, showing such a reckless and wanton disregard for public, his own, and possibly his children’s safety? Details from the incident seem to indicate Robinson had two or three children with him in the Jeep he was driving when it struck victim Orion Hutchinson and that Robinson handed his driver’s license to a witness at the scene and ran off carrying the children in his arms, claiming the scene was inappropriate for them – gee, do you think? – and he would return.

Anyone – like a police officer or a criminal defence lawyer – who deals with impaired driving cases knows that unaccounted-for time between when the accident occurred and when dealing with police provides the accused with an excellent defense to impaired driving because he can claim, honestly or otherwise, that he was so rattled by what just transpired that he ran home with the kids, belted back a few stiff ones to calm down, then ran back to the scene to face the music. The court will not be able to ascertain whether Robinson was drunk before the accident or began drinking immediately afterwards unless witnesses are found who can put him drinking somewhere in the time leading up to the accident. Assuming he may have been drinking with work pals, good luck getting any of them to testify to this and if it’s a local cop watering hole, there won’t be too many waitresses willing to put their necks out, either.

So, he could walk, which will be extremely difficult for the family, but there is a bigger picture. As long as there have been police, there have been those that believe they are above the law. More alarmingly, though, is the number of police that don’t believe they are above the law, but do fall prey to a police culture that tells them they are special people on the one hand and on the other, tries to reinforce to officers that they are just regular people like the rest of us. Police officers languish in this no-man’s-land and many can’t hold up to the pressure of this higher standard.

Added to this is the problem inherent in the very nature of police work: the emotional demands of policing and the stress police officers work under every day erodes their ability to make accurate judgments about ethics and what it means to be held to this higher standard, because most police officers are merely trying to survive the job itself and the emotional fallout it brings.

Society rightly has a higher expectation of its police officers; we expect if they are out arresting us for impaired driving they aren’t going home loaded themselves, but unfortunately, for too many, this isn’t the case. Police people don’t drive drunk any more than any other group of people, but they certainly don’t do it any less and because society reinforces to them constantly how capable and competent they are and how they do things the rest of us can’t even imagine, these super heroes of our society begin to believe they can drive drunk and they’re “okay” to do it because they have so many special skills and abilities. But, they can’t – they’re human just like everyone else. And when they do get caught and there’s no accident or injury, many get a break from on-duty “friends”, perhaps a ride home or no charges, sparing them the “humiliation” of a lesson that might ultimately save their life or the life of someone else.

Clearly, these officers made bad choices and – as is likely in the case of Robinson and New Westminster Constable Tomi Hammer, described as a well-respected school liaison officer – were dealing with various stressors, as most people do every day. The responsibility is on the individual to hold themselves to a higher standard but also on police managers and human resource professionals to do more than ask members like Robinson, who have been involved in a critical incident, if they are doing okay and leave it to them to ask for help if they need it – few police officers will admit they need anything. They may take counseling for marital problems or vague complaints, but very few will acknowledge that the day to day seemingly mundane demands of policing are wearing them down and rendering them incapable. Even the notion that they have to have been involved in a “critical” incident detracts from the reality that many types of seemingly innocuous events haunt many police people.

This is not to say that police aren’t responsible for their actions or can be excused because the job is tough, but we must understand the toll their job takes on them and avail them of the kind of help they really need, before they end up hurting anyone, rather than after.

This seemingly harmless little news piece found its way into several mainstream news media publications this week.

It appeared innocuous enough at first blush: a story about a farming New York State mom concerned enough about her family’s carbon footprint that she chose not to enroll her child in a hockey program that required them to drive long distances to practices and games. Read further and a tale of a man relieving himself on the family lawn to save a flush and a couple reusing the same Zip Loc bag for a year emerge in a bizarre game of If-You-Think-That’s-Weird-Listen-to-This.

The story talks about the newly-coined “Carborexics” – the supposed seven per cent of the population considered “dark green” – who are determined by the vaguely-referenced “mental health experts” to be hardcore recyclers and carbon footprint fanatics. Read about the family that huddles together in sleep to share body warmth – isn’t that also known as co-sleeping, another previously taboo child-rearing philosophy now universally practiced by millions of families and embraced by pediatricians and child psychologists as healthy for children and families? If it saves a few bucks on the heating bill and eliminates of a few tonnes of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere, does that make it a bad thing?

The media is the ultimate enabler in a society nursing a massive oil addiction; make those committed to change out to be wacko survivalist nut jobs and just drill, baby, drill. Even the psychiatrist cited in this story said behaviour only qualifies as a disorder if it begins to take precedence over everything else in one’s life and this article fails to produce any real evidence of that in the people it chronicles – but if you’re the average news paper reader, you skimmed, and you took away that people trying to reduce their carbon footprints in new and novel ways are mentally ill fringe-dwellers to be dismissed. No wonder we’re making no headway on climate change.

Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of food Life details her family’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and eat only locally-produced foods for one year. Somehow, this excellent book was embraced and few deemed it fanatical or crazy.

Consider the book Little House on a Small Planet which showcases some very interesting homes and addresses our North American obsession with huge dwellings. Neither of these “movements” is new, nor radically fringe.

So, what’s the reason for this little seed of a story tucked into your daily paper this week? Fear. Fear that Al Gore and David Suzuki and Kyoto and Greenpeace and the polar bears are starting to get through to us. Consider this quote near the end of the piece:

David Zucker, a sustainability specialist at Porter Novelli, a PR company which has studied America’s “dark greens”, said they were inordinately influential over other people’s behaviour.

He said the “deepest dark greens” were “bordering on the fanatic”, adding: “They’re pushing towards a lifestyle of zero consumption”.

He added: “You know Americans. We take everything to an extreme.”

And therein, my friends, lies the real story. Zero consumption would bring the oil industry – and, indeed, capitalism – to its knees. Make them sound crazy and maybe the masses won’t follow.

Canadians long calling for Electoral Reform may finally have some support after millions of dollars have been squandered on an election that produced another minority government, no change in Canada’s leadership and no indication of a more effective House of Commons.

Tuesday’s Federal Election proved that the winning party – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives – do not represent the will of the majority of voters. The Conservatives captured just 37% of the popular vote while the combination of Liberal, NDP and Green voters represented 51% of Canadian ballots, indicating Canada suffers from the Ralph Nader Effect: a fatal splitting of the left of centre vote that allows the right wing party to win. Ironically, many suspect Nader’s 2008 US presidential candidacy will actually help Democrat Barack Obama rather than splitting the traditional left, but historically, Nader’s runs for the presidency have hurt the left and many blame him for the 2000 and 2004 Democratic losses.

So, what are the options in democracy where diverse parties and ideologies are encouraged? Countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia adopted the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system and swear by it, but in North America, the vote counting and transfer system that sounds a little too much like a disease you might get from sleeping around at rave parties has failed to catch on. People like the concept of their vote counting even if their first choice candidate isn’t in first place, but it is complex enough that Joe Six Pack won’t be a fan, much less understand it. Check out this BC-produced video explaining how it works far better than anything else I’ve seen.

bc-stv-full.swf

While this system makes sense and the most use of one’s vote, there is another option to consider – one that has worked pretty well for Stephen Harper: amalgamation of the left. Recognizing the potentially fatal split developing among Canada’s right wing parties in the early 2000s, in 2003, Harper manged to bring together the Reform Party of Canada faithful – who had recently morphed into the too-radical-for-even-most-right-wingers Canadian Alliance Party – to form the Conservative Party currently in power in Canada. Some of the Progressive Conservatives of old – a decidedly more centerist party than the Conservatives – came along for Harper’s ride, but many feared Harper’s neo-con agenda, choosing to either leave politics or join the Liberal Party of Canada.

Say what you want about Stephen Harper, but this was a masterstroke for him – and arguably rang the death knell for the Canada we love – enabling the right to attain governing party status in a predominantly socially progressive country. If the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens could forge such an alliance, they would be elected and free to advance an agenda of social responsibility, fiscal conservatism and environmental action.

This election carried with it more talk about leadership or the lack of it than any in recent memory. If the Stephane Dions, Jack Laytons and Elizabeth Mays of the country put aside their own egos and pride and called for a national convention of socially and environmentally progressive parties, perhaps they could forge a similar alliance and pull Canada out of the ditch Stephen Harper has pushed us into.

Time will tell, but that’s the kind of Green Shift we could all get behind.

Stephen Harper continues to chant his “stay the course, Canada needs solid leadership in times of economic crisis” mantra as the other party leaders scramble around the country in a last-ditch effort to convince Canadians Harper is a controlling, manipulative dictator responsible for the country’s demise. Reports from Alberta indicate Conservatives aren’t even attending all-candidates’ debates or forums because they’re so certain those ridings are a lock – this government continues to insult its taxpayers by restricting dialogue and limiting forums for discussion or expressing dissent. There ain’t no “Progressive” in this Conservative.

Ironically, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has emerged as a formidable leadership presence on the Canadian political scene, while Liberal leader Stephane Dion continues to face criticism for his perceived lack of leadership ability – a perception I believe firmly rooted in his English language proficiency and not any deficiency as a potential Prime Minister. Dion has impressed me increasingly over the election as an exceedingly honest man in a world seemingly devoid of honesty; he is compassionate, sensitive, – God forbid we have a leader who is compassionate and sensitive, he won’t be “tough” enough to make the hard calls – educated, intelligent and earnest. Prior to this election, I think the only time I heard him speak was when he accepted his party’s leadership nomination last year. Like most Western Canadians, I barely know the guy, but I’d trust him over Harper any day.

The NDP’s Jack Layton is slick, approachable and quite likely prepared to be PM, but despite promises of all sorts of money for children under 18 and social programs, I have yet to get a real sense of what the NDP gives me that the other parties – Green or Liberal – can’t. Either the person seems acceptable but the party isn’t or the party isn’t moving Canadians, but the person is. What to do?

So, without further delay, I present the five people who would make better Prime Ministers than Stephen Harper. Yes, several have strong American connections, but so does our PM and desperate times require desperate measures.

Here they are:

5. Ben Mulroney
Hey, he manages to keep that self-absorbed, self-inflated Canadian Idol judge Zack Werner from pushing everyone into his vat of acrid-smelling hyperbole, all the while looking every bit the shiny metrosexual we’d all like to hang with – he could probably coax a conciliatory word out of Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. He’s positive and supportive of losers and winners alike and has a hot girlfriend, proving people aside from his own parents like him.

4. Senator Larry Campbell
The real maverick, Campbell shoots from the hip and calls ’em like he sees ’em. No need for a large communications staff, he would do all his own talking and let the rest of his party talk, too. If he didn’t like what they said, he’d tell them. His track record for listening to constituents and bringing widely dissenting opinions together at the table would be a stark contrast to Steve’s House of Mirrors. He also knows Arctic Sovereignty is not important to Canadians.

3. Margaret Atwood & Anne-Marie MacDonald (co-PMs)
Both because they’re really busy and need time to write. Both because they are incredibly smart and have wicked senses of humour (have you read The Edible Woman?) We need some of that. MacDonald has been on Oprah, so we’re talking the Six Degrees of Barack Obama here.

2. Matthew Perry
This Canadian looks great in a sweater vest, talks fast AND has worked in the White House. Okay, so he was acting on The West Wing, but he had to meet with technical consultants (who’ve worked in the REAL White House), learn his lines, recite them back believably and look good doing it. Hey, wait a minute, that kinda sounds like – another day for her.

1. Janeane Garofalo
Although an American, the radio host, actor and comedian demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of Canadian politics and the issues heading into this election that would shame most Canadians during her CBC interviews with Stephen Quinn and Jian Ghomeshi last month. Also a West Wing alum, she’s preparing for a new role on 24 and we’re betting she’ll get to do more than keep an eye on Russia. Now, if we could just dispel those nasty Scientology rumours I’d email her a marriage – limited domestic partnership? – proposal….

Taking a page from George Bush’s Chicken Little public warning strategy, this week Stephen Harper portrayed his Conservative Party as the only reliable, safe, responsible choice to lead Canada through the current economic crisis. This is not true and a growing grassroots uprising of concerned Canadians is fighting against the national media monopoly to make you aware of how to make your vote count as one for anyone but Harper.

Award-winning journalist, economist and outspoken critic of globalization Naomi Klein weighed in on the Canadian election at a recent lecture given at the University of Regina and called for a coalition of Canada’s left-centre parties to thwart a re-election of Harper’s Conservative Party. As the author of the highly prescient 2007 book, “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, based on the premise that political leaders exploit moments of crisis to further their power and amend rules in favour of corporate capitalism, Klein sees the same tactics used by George Bush employed by Stephen Harper. Here’s how Klein expressed it:

In Canada, Stephen Harper fits the archetype of the father-figure type leader who steps in during crises and reassures the population that all will be well as long as he is given more power, she said.

“I think we need to be extremely wary of how a new Harper government would fit in as this (U.S.) crisis migrates to Canada.”

“It’s an important time for 800 people to gather,” she said, referring to the overflowing hall. “We can fall apart and look to leaders to save us, or we can rise to the occasion. We can regress or we can grow up – and it’s time to grow the hell up.”

Why should you, as an average Canadian, fight to save Canada?

First, let’s review Harper’s record. What Harper, a trained economist, fails to mention is that his Conservative government lead Canada into the current recession – Canada’s only period of negative growth in recent memory – largely due to his decision to cut the Federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) from 7% to 6% on July 1, 2006, and then further down to 5% on January 1, 2008. This was an election promise Harper kept, in stark contrast to promises to refrain from taxing Income Trusts and to increase child care options for Canadian parents. He also overturned promises previous governments have made to Canadians, such as reneging on the Kelowna Accord for our First Nations citizens, cutting Federal funding to the arts and proposing film censorship law in the form of Bill C-10.

Harper continually speaks of electing a leader you can trust, but clearly, his flip flops and broken promises aren’t to be viewed as indications of his dishonesty, only his father-knows-best desire to do what’s needed for Canada. Canadians must see through this for the good of Canada. He portrays the other leaders – Liberal Stephane Dion, Bloc Gilles Duceppe, Green Party Elizabeth May and New Democrat Jack Layton as not to be trusted, but no one has screwed up and screwed over our country like Harper has. There have been rumblings of a Green/Liberal alliance, but nothing concrete – we must call on these leaders to put their own ambitions aside for the good of the country and encourage voters to think strategically.

On the world stage, Harper and his staff have continually exhibited decidedly un-Canadian positions, voting against a United Nations declaration supporting Aboriginal rights, failing to participate in the now-defunct Kyoto Accord and helping George Bush scuttle the environment agenda at the 2008 G8 Summit in Japan.

Closer to home, Harper Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier committed a national security breach of epic proportions by leaving a classified document at his former biker-chick’s apartment – a relationship Harper knew of and did not think was a problem – for several months before anyone know it was missing.

Health Minister Tony Clement seems to be constantly asleep at the switch, stumbling his way through the Walkerton water tragedy, the listeriosis outbreak, and Canada’s position on INSITE, Vancouver’s safe injection site, as it relates to controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Harper has long appealed to the segment of the Canadian population seduced by promises of tax cuts and cash incentives and ignorant of Canada’s environmental responsibilities and poor record in the eyes of the world. His policies appeal to those less interested in responsibility and more interested in entitlement.

By voting strategically, you can help to ensure the left-centre vote is not split. There are numerous groups working to help you vote to beat Conservatives in every close riding in the country that isn’t a Conservative lock to thwart a Conservative majority. Many of them explain it better that I could, so I urge you to check them out.

Avaaz.org campaign

Facebook page: Canadians United Against Stephen Harper

www.voteforenvironment.ca

Vote Pair

Anyone But Harper

The Wrecking Ball

Department of Culture

Stephen Harper thinks Canadians are stupid – really stupid. He thinks we look at him in his warm sweater vest, hugging Asian babies and huddling around immigrant kitchen tables and believe that he’s changed, that he’s just like one of us, down there in the trenches, eking out a living.

"I can't see his teeth - what does he hide?"  Moonstruck

But, he’s not one of us. He is an arrogant, hypocritical opportunist determined to tell you and I what we need in government, what we need in our lives and what we need in our country – and he will only tell us these things through carefully scripted, painstakingly researched bites screened through his office by his people. Heck, even his people can’t actually speak for their own campaigns, as we saw this week when Surrey, BC Conservative candidate Donna Cadman was muzzled by Harper staff at a function in her home town.

Are Canadians buying the fatherly schtick Harper puts on – and he doesn’t even do it well – while trying to hide his true Machiavellian, Big Brother, neo-Con mish-mash of an agenda? One wonders when poll after poll show the Conservatives in a comfortable lead – how is this possible? Harper is uber-intelligent, no one doubts that for a moment; he is a policy and process wizard. But where he falters is in trying to sell his regular guy image to a country he runs under the assumption his subjects are all far too stupid to understand the issues or manage the country themselves.

Even when he lies to us – as on October 31, 2006 when Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced new taxes on income trusts for Canadians in clear contravention of a Harper election promise not to tax the investment vehicle – he tells us we need it this new way. He flip flops his way through election promises: a Ford prop up here, stricter environmental penalties there – ooo, say five dollars per indiscretion, up from three for corporate polluters? – a “tougher” Youth Criminal Justice Act there, a jab at members of Canada’s vibrant arts community who apparently attend too many fancy galas for the liking of a PM who looks like he’s known more “tax-payer-subsidized” buffet tables than Kirstie Alley. And all for what?

Canadians – even those who might vote Conservative and could be considered politically stupid or unsophisticated – wonder what Harper really stands for, or, more accurately, will he ever reveal his true agenda? He says – like most politicians – what he has to in order to get elected, then disregards it all and gets down to serving up the real Conservative menu of law and order, militarization, globalization, and – oh yes, let us not forget – bowing and scraping at the feet of the American neo-Con movement and its unfortunate government of the moment.

The American cruise missile, whose tail to which Harper has so firmly attached Canada’a fortunes, is about to crash, as evidenced by John McCain’s numerous blunders this week culminating with his latest announcement that he will suspend his campaigning in order to go to Washington and help George Bush sell his woefully misguided economic bail out plan to increasingly dubious taxpayers. McCain apparently thinks Americans are stupid, too and that might not be working for him.

Many believe this is McCain’s way to avoid or postpone looming presidential and vice-presidential debates at a time when his leadership and decision-making are under fire and the physical manifestation of his worst decision – the choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate – sits marinading for what would be the worst wolf attack since maybe somethin’ that happened in Alaska one time. (Gosh, I’m startin’ to sound like her!)

There are choices, Canada – Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May don’t seem to think we’re stupid. Now, if we can just work out a way to join forces to beat Harper’s machine, we can move on to the business of fixing our economy, our environment and our arts and social programs. Are we smart enough to do it, Canada?

The truth is finally out – Judy Rogers runs the show in Vancouver and will long after the election dust settles in November. At first blush, Frances Bula’s Vancouver Magazine piece presents an in depth, illuminating bio of the woman long acknowledged by insiders to wield almost d-word-like power in civic politics, but her style is far from dictatorial.

She does much of her work in what some would see as a classic woman’s style: she believes in partnerships and collaboration. “The city can’t make any change by itself,” she says. That’s why she put together the Vancouver Agreement, the three-government effort to salvage the Downtown Eastside. And when that stopped working, she called on people like Dobell and former attorney general Geoff Plant. To get things done, she believes, you need links to “people who are strategically placed to make things happen.”

However, upon closer examination, this “news” outing Rogers’ status and role should strike fear in the hearts of voters, taxpayers and anyone purporting to believe in democratic process – and cause downright panic in the annals of City Hall, begging the question: Are Vancouver civic elections a sham? Consider this from Bula’s piece:

Over her nine years, there has been a strong undercurrent of unease in each of the three council regimes about how much power Rogers holds, power that seems to have expanded as she’s filled the vacuums created by rookie and dysfunctional city councils. People in both political camps murmur about the bureaucratic culture Rogers presides over at City Hall that seems to see politicians as the “temporary help” whose flighty ideas need to be headed off at the pass or allowed to drift off into never-never land.

The Mayor and Council are not intended to be merely “the public face of civic politics”, they are there because of the process through which voters elect them – all under the erroneous assumption that their decisions impact the civic landscape, literally and figuratively. Make no mistake, over the years, Rogers has worn many costumes: horse whisperer to Larry Campbell’s bucking bronco, cautious tour guide to Phillip Owen and most-recently, hang-wringing puppeteer to the Sam Sullivan regime – and it was a regime because as an individual, Sullivan came so close so many times to deep-six-ing his own office through his blunders, only his gang of handlers kept the truth of his incompetence from the public and saved his administration from a premature trip to the toilet – and she is poised to assume a new as yet undetermined incarnation alongside either Peter Ladner or Gregor Robertson.

So as the city prepares to elect yet another new mayor (the third in a row), it’s no surprise that there are many conversations on both sides of the political fence along the lines of, What are we going to do about Judy? Because it’s clear that getting to the throne at City Hall this November will be only half the battle. Then there’s dealing with the power beyond the throne.

Perhaps the public’s new awareness of Rogers’ omnipotence will create barely a ripple, due in large part to the fact that she is damned good at what she does. There seems to be little suggestion from anyone on the inside – love or hate her – that Rogers has done anything but carefully consider and weigh her decisions with the gravity of a judge on a death penalty case; she is extremely hard to find fault with. Perhaps no one has a problem with her as the financial, social, developmental and environmental compass guiding the city through the murky waters of increasing homelessness, high property crime, unparalleled drug trade, the Olympics, Civil City, the future of Eco-Density and the threat of big box development, but one would think the citizens would want these decisions exposed to the light of due process and transparency.

Missing in Bula’s piece is any mention of the challenge to end homelessness. Rogers and the rest of City Hall may find this issue on their doorstep far sooner than later – perhaps even before the new Mayor and Council are elected – and the smart money says this may press Rogers into action to create a plan that works for all the stakeholders. If anyone is up to the task, it sounds like it’s her.