Categories
Ethics Leadership

Our Leaders and the New Morality

Today we were witness in Canada to the sight of government and church leaders half-apologizing or non-apologizing for the mass unmarked graves of children who died at their institutes of learning.

These institutes, known as ‘residential schools’, were created with the explicit purpose of erasing the cultural identify of indigenous children by separating them from their families and strictly regulating their learning and behaviour.

Despite being told of the mass graves by witnesses during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings neither government nor religious leaders felt it would be important to search for the children’s remains and acknowledge their deaths.

Now everybody is shocked, but they shouldn’t be. It’s the same pattern of abuse that we’ve come to expect from today’s self-professed guardians of morality.

Police, for example, were first told of the decades of abuse of boys by the Christian Brothers at Mt. Cashel orphanage in 1975, but it was years before anyone heard about it and not until 1989 that some newspapers first began documenting the story.

The abuse by religious leaders was not one of a kind. The story of abusive hockey coaches is well known in Canada and one that continues to surface even this year. There’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. There’s a long list of excessive force incidents by Canadian police. Canadian military leaders have resigned in disgrace after presiding over a culture of sexual abuse.

None of this is meant to diminish the offensiveness of the mass graves and the residential school system. These are in a category of their own (at least in Canada) and are a complete and utter disgrace. It is only to point to a pattern.

It is long past time we stopped looking to government, corporate and religious leaders for any guidance on morality. They have shown us time and again how deeply immoral they have become.

Each time you think there is a line they couldn’t cross, they seem to find a way to sink to new depths of depravity. You would think that scenes of dozens of dead children would have deterred gun rights advocates in the U.S., but they didn’t even slow down. Similarly, the revelation of mass graves has done nothing to deter those who celebrate their authors today.

To be frank, I think the people complaining about ‘cancel culture’ and ‘political correctness’ and saying ‘history is history’ should just shut up.

I, for one, have had it with their fake moralizing. Go peddle your hypocrisy elsewhere. We know who the immoral people are, and it’s not the people calling for diversity, inclusion, equity and reconciliation.

It’s not worth much in the face of such tragedy, but to my Indigenous friends and colleagues, I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and any of my ancestors or compatriots who played any part in this outrage. I’m sorry. Sincerely, genuinely, deeply sorry.

I am committed to genuine truth and reconciliation. At the very least, we can begin with a full and proper investigation, and at the very least, we can stop celebrating the memory and morality of those who perpetuated these crimes. That, at least, would be a start.

Categories
Health Leadership

The Snowbird

Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips should resign, but he probably won’t, and he won’t be asked to.

In Canada we have this tradition of the snowbird. That’s a person who enjoys our beautiful summer months (often at their cottage by the lake) and in the winter packs their bags and moves to a warmer climate for several month, migrating, just like a snowbird.

It’s thought of as a tradition, but of course, it’s also a status. Not everybody can move south for the winter; you have to have a certain level of privilege and wealth. Most of us can’t move south for the winter.

And this winter, especially, the fiction has been that you’re not allowed to move south to escape the snow. The fiction has been (along with “we’re all in this together”) that unessential travel is prohibited, that we shouldn’t be taking a winter vacation at all. Heck, I can’t even go to Quebec, which is about 50 kilometers from here.

So it takes a certain about of hubris to do it anyway, and of course there’s a lot of nodding and winking all around because as we all know the rules about the pandemic don’t really apply to the sort of people who have the privilege and wealth to be snowbirds. No doubt Rod Phillips is just one member of a very large flock.

But he is also the finance minister for the government of Ontario, the same government that has instituted those restrictions, and more recently, even more severe restrictions, as the pandemic has worsened. Yes there’s a vaccine, but just as we saw with masks and personal protective equipment in the spring, it takes a certain amount of time to produce and distribute these. And meanwhile, people die if we don’t follow the rules.

So when the finance minister doesn’t follow the rules, he is showing a certain disregard for the people who die. And it leads us to suspect that this disregard applies to other aspects of his work and life as a finance minister, the sort of disregard that would, say, cause him to wait until after Christmas to implement a much-needed lockdown, instead of two weeks before, when it was apparent to everyone that otherwise we would see the record levels of new cases we are seeing today.

That’s bad enough. But the finance minister knew it was wrong to fly south for the winter, did it anyway, and then covered it up with a series of tweets and videos designed to make it look like he was still living and working out of his home in Ajax. We can see him patronizing local vbusinesses, participating in interviews, even sending a Christmas message from in front of his fireplace – all while he relaxed on the beach in St. Barts.

So he should resign. If he had any sense of decency and propriety he would resign. The last thing we need is that sort of deception in a finance minister.

But he won’t resign, and he won’t be told to resign, because despite what he said as the story broke, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, knew all along his finance minister was a snowbird, just as he knew when his finance minister also took a vacation to Switzerland in August. Ford says, “I can tell you I’m very upset. I’m very frustrated with the situation. I stand out here every single day and tell people to stay at home,” he said.

But who is he frustrated with? Phillips? Well, no, because he knew Phillips was on vacation and was fine with it. If he’s frustrated with anything, it’s that Phillips got caught. And now he will have a “tough conversation” with Phillips, probably along the lines of “you got caught, you can’t do it again.” And we’ll go back to the same sort of decision-making that puts the interests of his and Phillips’s business friends above the lives of the people of Ontario.

Overall, Ford has done a good job with the pandemic. But the cracks are beginning to show.

Update: Phillips resigned a few hours after I posted this.

Categories
Leadership Political Parties

The Mailing List

I’ve just unsubscribed from the NDP mailing list.

Explaining why, I said that it had become an unending stream of requests for money, with no engagement or consultation, while meanwhile the party can be hijacked at a convention.

This needs to be fixed. There needs to be a way to enable to have the party represent its membership. It’s almost 2020; there are ways to do this. And they would be a lot more effective and democratic than an in-person convention.

What would make this work?

There are various ways to design online forums, and we could try some different models, with the caveat that participants must be registered party members. That does not (necessarily) mean that every comment must be signed, but it does mean that we can conduct our conversations without the input of botnets and trolls from outside.

Within such a structure, we should be searching for the consensus that unites us. I think sometimes that political parties lose sight of what matters in the pursuit for power. That does not (necessarily) mean a statement of principles or any such thing – too much is lost in the search for exact wording.

We should also be seeking consensus on the issues of the day. Surely we can do better than a ‘pipeline versus no-pipeline’ debate. It was a significant failure that we could not have found common ground on an issue like this, one that recognizes the legitimate needs and aspirations of the people of Alberta, while also recognizing the need for safety, indigenous rights, and the environment.

The failure – in my mind – wasn’t simply the lack of a vision here, it was that we didn’t even try. There was no national dialogue on this, no attempt to draw upon the collective intelligence of the party as a whole. Rather, it was simply a retreat into media statements and political posturing.

We can do better. The party needs to use its online media to get members to talk to each other, to engage, to come up with ideas, and more solutions forward, rather than simply ask people for money.

The convention system of party governance should be abolished, the delegate system ended, and mechanisms put into place for the membership to reach agreement, point by point, on a comprehensive platform and strategy.

The majority of people in Canada are progressive-left. Yet we are constantly governed by parties from the right, because they have addressed the issues of engagement and identification with an idea in a way that we have not. The only way to change this is to bring people in, and make them part of the solution.

Categories
Leadership

What Justin Trudeau Should Do

1. Own It

Yes, the testimony by Jody Wilson-Raybould on political pressure applied to her on the SNC-Lavalin matter is devastating.

While maintaining that he has his own truth, Trudeau should accept Wilson-Raybould’s testimony as a valid perception of the events and admit that maybe he didn’t see how his actions could be viewed this way.

The sort of pressure exerted by SNC-Lavalin is, after all, politics as usual. And it’s pretty easy to fall into line and try to help the corporation through a rough patch, even if it’s a rough patch completely of it’s own making.

But there is a point of view where this could be seen as wrong, especially when it crosses into the conduct of the Attorney-General’s office. It was wrong in Wilson-Raybould’s eyes, and in my eyes, and in the eyes of a lot of Canadians.

Trudeau should acknowledge that, own his actions, and admit that there is this other point of view, and that it is valid.

2. Turn It Around

What has bothered me most about the entire SNC-Lavalin matter is that it is a manufactured crisis, created by the Conservative Party and their political allies, the Globe and Mail.

How did the Conservatives know all this pressure had taken place behind the scenes? Because that’s what they would have done. And as I suggested in a previous post, the matter would have quietly gone away.

That may still happen with the Liberal party. As one commentator said on today’s CBC political panel, they would wait “a decent interval of time”, and then give SNC-Lavalin everything it wants. But as another commentator notes, that would be an admission of guilt.

Trudeau should turn the crisis around, and make it clear that this demonstrates one of the strengths of the Liberal Party.

He should say that this is what distinguishes the Liberal Party from the conservatives. The Liberals have strong and independent voices in Cabinet, bolstered by diversity of representation, and that what happens in this sort of environment is that politics as usual is disrupted.

Trudeau should say that he appreciates the presence of strong caucus members and ministers, that they serve a valuable purpose in correcting mistakes, and that the fact that he ultimately left the decision up to Wilson-Raybould is proof of this.

And he should be very clear that this never would have been a scandal in a Conservative government because none of this would have happened, and corporate influence over the judicial process would have happened quietly, in back rooms, with nobody in a very quiescent cabinet to say no.

3. Make It Right

Jody Wilson-Raybould has established her position as a moral authority. Whether or not you believe her (and, frankly, there’s no reason not to believe her) and whether or not you agree with her position (though, as I have said, many Canadians do) you have to agree that she would not put political convenience ahead of what’s right.

That’s somebody you want on your side when the other side seeks to paint you as unethical. Especially when the other side is probably even more unethical themselves. Yes, you can have a very strong disagreement with her. But – you want to make clear – that’s why she’s in cabinet, and even more importantly, that’s why she’s a Liberal. And not a Conservative.

The shuffle to Veteran’s Affairs was a bad look, and granting SNC-Lavalin its wishes would be an even worse look. Continuing down this path will, ultimately, undermine the credibility of the Liberals.

So you make it right. You agree that the positions of Justice Minister and Attorney General should be separated. You do that, and then you appoint Jody Wilson-Raybould as the new Attorney General.

This firmly entrenches the idea that you agree there should be no political interference in judicial matters. You’ve put the one person in place who guarantees this. You also right the wrong that was created when you moved her out of Justice, without leaving her in the political position she may not have been comfortable with.

You can do this without saying that you were wrong, because you have already agreed that, ultimately, it comes down to a matter of different perspectives, and you want to find something that values that. This values that, and allows that you still had a valid perspective.

As for SNC-Lavalin, maybe they get their wishes, maybe they don’t. Who cares? They are charged with breaking the law. There’s no way for you or me to buy our way out of a criminal record; there should be no way for them either.

Categories
Leadership Political Parties

Andrew Scheer

This name that you don’t recognize is the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. His obscurity creates a challenge for him: he has to attract the attention of the media in a world of people like Doug Ford and Donald Trump.

There was a time when sharp and incisive criticism of the government would have done the job. Standing in Parliament day after day and pressing the government with an even-handed but ethically and logically sound series of questions designed to demonstrate that you understand the issues, and the consequences of policy, better than your opponent.

That’s not what Andrew Scheer is doing. His approach is instead to go for the headline and pander to his party’s baser instincts. If there’s a conflict between nations, his approach is to inflame the conflict. If there is a prejudice against a particular minority, his approach is to stoke that prejudice.

I have never agreed with conservatives but there was a time when I could respect them. But this approach – misleadingly called ‘populism’ in the media – doesn’t require thought or principle. You don’t need to wait until the facts are in or calculate the merits of different approaches.

Scheer has demonstrated this tendency for some months now but two cases in the last week lay open the bare bones of this strategy.

In one case, “Scheer says if he was prime minister he would fire Canada’s Ambassador to China John McCallum over his most recent comments on Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.” McCallum suggested to a Chinese-language audience that Wanzhou would have a good case against extradition to the United States.

We are being told in the media that the comments undercut Trudeau’s position that the government does not interfere with the administration of justice in Canada. Maybe it did, or maybe it represented a subtle way for the Trudeau government to underline its position and to recommend to the Chinese to trust the rule of law. We don’t know, and Scheer didn’t wait to find out, choosing instead to keep the chasm between China and Canada as wide as possible.

In a second case, following the RCMP arrest of two people in Kingston on terrorism-related charges, Scheer said it’s “clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined.” One person, a minor, remains in RCMP custody. The second person, a Syrian refugee, was not charged, has been released by the RCMP, and is to all appearances innocent.

We don’t know anything about the youth, because as a minor he cannot be identified. We can wonder, however, what enhanced refugee screening would have revealed about a teenager. More to the point, in cases like this, it is more common for youth to be radicalized in their new country. Refugee screening would have done nothing to prevent this.

But all of this is moot because Scheer didn’t even wait for the dust to settle to speak as though he already knew the outcome of the investigation.

In both cases, Scheer is taking the unthinking and  irresponsible route in an effort to attract attention and gain media clicks. In doing so he is debasing not only his own party but conservatism in Canada in general. And he is making the re-election of Justin Trudeau more likely, not less.

Categories
Ethics Leadership

Moral Leadership

What prompted me to start this site (after, admittedly, thinking about it for a while) was the realization that I didn’t really have any platform where I could write this:

To imprison a seven-year old child and hold her without water until she dies of thirst demonstrates a complete lack of any moral leadership.

I refer, of course, to Jakelin Caal, who died December 8. And then on Christmas Eve, it happened again. This time, it was an eight-year old boy named Felipe Alónzo-Gomez.

I would have taken this as an obvious point, but apparently it hasn’t registered yet, that there are no excuses that justify these deaths. And any sort of moral or ethical argument that leads to this as an outcome is bankrupt.

And I think that these cases illustrate a general loss of moral leadership on the part of those very people who claim to be moral leaders, the politicians, by virtue of their offices, and their supporters, by virtue of their values and beliefs.

If your morality allows this, then you cannot come to me with any sense of or claim to moral leadership. Period.

That’s all I wanted to say – and I realized I needed a place to say it. Because someone has to say these things.

Categories
Leadership

Reason and Reasonableness

When I want to comment on an issue of the day – whether it’s a response to something the government has done, or a rebuttal to some argument that’s being floated in this media, this is where I will do it.

The birds, by the way, are twittering sparrows playing in the Forbidden City in Beijing.