On decisions that matter most, how much say do you and I really have?
On New Years Eve, in addition to looking to a new year like the rest of you, I started my ninth and likely last decade.
Before going on, let me thank all of you who helped celebrate my roast back on Nov. 24. It was a night I’ll never forget and I spent the lot of it shuffling through tears and laughter.
(In the laughter department, as well as in the teary part, the editor of this journal, David Beers, brought the house down!)
Sadly, the Vancouver Island group, including Mike Smyth and Moe Sihota, were kept away by high seas and no ferries. I was especially sad that Dr. Gordon Hartman, one of the celebrated “dissident scientists” from the DFO, who helped so much to win the Alcan struggle with his honesty and integrity, was stuck home in Nanaimo.
Gordon fashioned a beautiful walking stick for me, to be presented that night, made from a rare B.C. willow and an even rarer African hardwood. On the cane itself he has etched many of the environmental battles I’ve been in over the years — the Skagit, the Nechako (Alcan), Fish Lake, fish farms and private power. If you chance upon me in your travels — I mean this — ask me to show it to you. It means a great deal to me.
It’s traditional at this time of the year for loud mouths like me to look into the crystal beer glass and pronounce upon what is to come.
Since the beginning of time, the struggle has been between them that has and them that hasn’t. This goes back, I daresay, to Uncle Uglug’s time, as he fought over hunting grounds. I know that what I’ve just said seems trite but it is especially worth pondering as we look ahead to 2012 and beyond.
The less advantaged levels of society have always fought for whatever they could nip from the pie, always securely held by those who control the treasury and the law, controls that largely pass from generation to generation.
History, largely written by the “haves” (of which I and my family are a part), tells us that the progress from feudalism through the Renaissance/Reformation, the 100 Years War and the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries has brought a steady supply of positive change to lower income groups and that things changed.
Looked at objectively, that’s a hard case to make. The Reformation didn’t break the power of the church, just made a few more of them. Powerful priests remained, moderators and archbishops replaced cardinals, and took a little power from the Pope and spread it around a bit. The 30 Years War made countries into nations but scarcely ended wars, which, as always, are soldiered by the “lower” classes; the Industrial Revolution brought even greater prosperity to the rich (rather it created a whole new rich class) while devastation for labourers who lost their jobs to machines; revolutions came and went leaving little to show other than grudging extensions of the franchise, gradually to women and to men who owned property; revolutions or fear of them forced western “Establishment” to recognize, grudgingly, some rights for others; slavery was abolished in the U.S., 80 years after their lofty Bill of Rights was passed — in actuality it wasn’t really abolished, it was just that “massa” had to pay (pitiful) wages and he couldn’t sell his labourers.
It’s hard to detect any comparative change — if the poor did improve their lives, the improvement of the richer class was proportionately greater.
What was created was a “middle class,” which to the poor was indistinguishable from the upper class.
Rights grudgingly granted
But didn’t 19th-century democracy bring the trade union? The vote? The right to property for all? The right to seek the justice of the law?
After uprisings like the Tolpuddle martyrs, the blood of the Peterloo massacre, The Haymarket massacre and the fear of worse, the Establishment grudgingly expanded rights, always keeping their hands on the till, on the justice system and the tools of governing. In fact the yielded rights did nothing to erase the caste system and the “rule of law” meant laws set down to preserve the status quo. The inner cities of the Industrial Revolution have been replaced by the ghettoes and homeless in that part of our cities the nice people choose to ignore.
We are witnessing the “Arab Spring” as millions, here in the 21st century, seek, in the same way as in olden times, equality and freedom, the right to prompt and just justice, the right to vote and have that vote count. The Establishment will, maybe, ease the burden of the poor by gently transferring chump change to the poor from the rich without them fussing too much. The reality mostly being “same old, same old.” My point is a simple one. The powerful, be they Uncle Uglug, Henry VIII, Napoleon, or the evil dictators of the 20th century or the governments of so-called democracies — the names may change but political and economical reality hasn’t. If you have the bucks you get what you want.
What do we have in Canada today?
Much better freedom and justice than, say, Pakistan, North Korea or Saudi Arabia. But do we have a democracy where everyone counts and justice is free, prompt and just?
Of course we don’t — and our so-called justice system is none of the above. Judges are selected by the “haves” behind closed doors, the time the system takes as it mosies along at its leisurely pace is contemptible and the cost puts the system beyond the reach of all but the rich. What is or is not a crime — and the punishment — often militate against the poor and often forgive the well off.
Do we have a stratified system?
Of course we do and any who strays outside the acceptable bounds of dissent is “sent to Coventry.” The Mainstream Media is owned by the Establishment and those who work in it either self-censor or are censored. The “journalist” doesn’t need to be told what to say or write. As the wise man said, “You cannot bribe or twist / Thank God the British* Journalist. / Considering what the man will do / unbribed, there’s no occasion to.” (*Put in any nationality to suit.)
Ask anyone who’s been jailed for defending ordinary citizens against the bulldozers of the large corporations how fair the system is.
Ask those who want to protest conferences or other gatherings of heads of state and government who, in a just world, would be behind bars.
Ask those who protest the building of a highway through pristine natural preserves.
Illusion of democracy
What we have in Canada is the appearance of democracy, but as the scales fall from our eyes, we see the sham. In the U.S. we see millions being spent to elect a governor who makes $250,000 a year, hundreds of millions to elect a president who makes half a million. Are we to assume that no payback is expected for this, ah, generosity?
In Canada it’s no better. We spend hundreds of thousands electing MLAs and MPs who have exactly zero influence on what government does. We say “let’s vote for Bloggs, he’ll make a great MLA” — even though he goes to Victoria as a slave to the premier. Indeed the premier likely pays more attention to his barber than poor Bloggs or any one in his caucus (Maybe he should!).
Think upon it. If you are a Canadian voter, in your hand is the ballot paper, the key to power and the exercise of that power, right? Permit me to put a few questions,
How much say have you in permitting salmon farms? In their proliferation? What say do you now have as the licences increase?
How much say did you have in saving BCRail? In fact, Premier Campbell promised not to sell BCRail but did it any way. Did you have any say, Hell, knowledge, of the criminal aspects to how it was sold?
How much impact have you had on an energy policy that devastates our rivers so that private power companies can sell the power to BC Hydro, which though it doesn’t need it must buy it for double what they can re-sell it for? When did you vote to change a public-power system into a private one? What power do you have to save BC Hydro from the bankruptcy it’s technically now in?
How much say will you have stopping pipelines carrying tar sands gunk to Kitimat to be sent by tanker down our coast, at the same time the most beautiful and treacherous coastline in the world?
Here it is in a nutshell. We, the people of B.C., have not had and never will have the slightest impact on these decisions, which will destroy our way of living. They’ll all be made by CEOs, approved by a paid-for premier or prime minister, who having no one to stop him will have it approved by a captive cabinet then by the lickspittles on the government backbench.
We have never needed democracy more than now and the lack of it will cost us dear. For unless there’s a sea change in how we’re governed, we will have violence. The public knows that our environment is in serious jeopardy because our governments are so in thrall to the corporate boardroom that they dare not fight them. The public sees that the democratic option is gone.
End of their tether
Now we see Premier Photo-Op surveying the scene, pronouncing that she will have no opinion on the Enbridge pipeline and the consequent tanker traffic until the Environmental Assessments — the “rubber stamp” process — is complete!
Any damned fool, with the exception of Premier Clark, knows that pipeline ruptures and tanker spills are not risks but certainties waiting to happen. By approving the pipelines and tanker traffic we will have certain disaster… not perhaps, not maybe, not only if we have bad luck, but certain catastrophe.
What can the enraged and neutered populace do?
Do we allow these desecrations to our home take place without a fight?
When an all powerful autocracy emerges, history teaches us that the resultant combination of frustration added to anger turns good men and women to civil disobedience,
You tell me, Madam Clark, Mr. Harper — what are we to do?
Depend on Parliament/legislature? Depend upon the courts to back us up on our quest to save and return our heritage? Uphold the rule of law when it has been reduced to that which suits the powerful only?
I put it to the captains of industry and their purchased politicians — read your history! See what happens when the public has reached the end of its tether. Then ask yourself, what’s different today?
And how long do you think the public will take this shit without fighting back?