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Know Thy Activist

Photo: Tasja via Wikipedia

On Carrots and Sticks in Parliament

I’ve been an activist for too many years to count. In earlier times, I’d catch hell when my Establishment mother heard me rant on the radio, but knowing her love of nature, I think she was secretly a little proud! Do I support protesting Kinder Morgan and the proposed LNG refinery on Squamish? You betcha, on both counts. I’ve watched activism become more acceptable to more people. Sadly, some activist groups have much to learn about the subject for which they claim expertise – and about basic honesty. That’s what this article is about.

First, let’s remind ourselves why there is activism.

Merriam Webster defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”

Jesus was an activist and an extremely effective one, such that it cost him his life. His throwing money-lenders out of the temple and the giant rallies he held were substantial threats to the elite, and, as the scriptures tell us, they lay in the weeds until they could nail this dangerous activist and put him away once and for all.

History teaches us that every single right that we possess came not from the generosity of the king, but by the threat of force, as in the case of the Magna Carta in 1215, or actual force as in America in 1776 and France in 1789.

Rights we now take for granted, such as the male franchise, the extended male franchise, the universal franchise of males, the partial enfranchisement of women, and the eventual franchise of all adults, coming as late as 1991 in Switzerland, only came by force, real or threatened.

Rights of British workers were nonexistent as late as the 1830s, and it was a serious offence to form groups to pressure an employer to alleviate the appalling conditions and increase pitiful pay. In 1834, a group of Dorset agricultural labourers known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, even though the society’s rules showed it was clearly structured as a friendly society and operated as a trade-specific benefit society. They were banished to Australia and their case became a flashpoint for a struggle for basic reforms that took 100+ years, during which virtually all improvement in conditions and pay were gained by force or threat of it.

The notion that people should run their country’s affairs was considered idiotic until Thomas Jefferson’s July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence made this a sacred principle, yet women and slaves were not included, and both groups say to this day (with justification) that this hasn’t happened yet. I’m always surprised to hear women oppose civil disobedience when without it, they would not yet have any vote, much less an equal one with men. Again, basic civil rights had to be extracted by activism, often extreme. Oppression by the elite, far from going away, keeps emerging from stacked legislatures and loftily imposed under the guise of the “Rule Of Law.”

Do I go too far? I think not when you consider, for example, the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Do you recall any debate, much less approval by Parliament or the BC Legislature, of this project? How about the Woodfibre LNG plant? Tanker traffic in Howe Sound? Increased fossil fuel exports? Masses of tankers in Burrard Inlet and the Salish sea? Just for starters.

Enterprises clearly not in the interests of those hurt by their operation are shielded by laws passed by the elite, supported by the elite, and paid for by the elite. Those adversely affected are powerless unless they disobey the laws in which they had no say. Our legislatures and parliament have the trappings of democracy but little more, and opposition, with nowhere else to go, must find other methods.

In spite of these struggles for democracy, a vacuum exists in our system of governance that activist organizations have filled. In raising funds they declare goals to be met. Money being limited they must therefore be effective – and honest – for if an organization raises money through deceit, deliberate or not, they’ve effectively stolen it from other activists that know their business and only state goals with a decent prospect of success.

Sadly, not all achieve that reasonable standard.

Take, for example, Leadnow, an activist group into political reform. Leadnow opposes CETA, a proposed trade deal with Europe, and wants to stop it by imploring MPs to vote against it.

From their pitch for funding a proposed ad:  “With the final vote on CETA just days away, we need to send an urgent message that MPs can’t ignore. […] The [Hill Times is] holding space for a hard-hitting CETA ad in Monday’s paper – but we need to raise $4753 in the next 48 hours to get the ad published. Can you chip in to get this powerful CETA ad in Monday’s paper? It could be the last thing MPs see before voting on the deal, making Liberals think twice about supporting it.”

This is utter deceit. Leadnow and the many groups using similar tactics know or ought know that no Liberal member would vote against any government bill no matter how sincerely they opposed it personally.

To understand the way the system really works, one must know that since 1867 only one majority government has had to resign. In 1873, before true party discipline had evolved, Sir John A. Macdonald, with a tiny majority and perceiving he could lose a vote over the Pacific Scandal, resigned. All prime ministers since have, through strictly enforced party discipline, kept ironclad control over their members.

The method, simplicity itself and 100% effective, only requires some carrots and sticks.

The carrots? It starts with little things like promising to visit the MP’s constituency, and perhaps attend a rally; or sending the MP to a tropical isle for a useless convention in the middle of an Ottawa winter. Even better, there’s cabinet, double the money, a car and driver, first class travel, a permanent Honourable in front of his name, and the virtual certainty of a cushy job when he retires.

Now the sticks: the PM can demote or fire a minister or a parliamentary assistant, but if the MP votes against a PM in a major vote, here’s what happens, as Liberal MP John Nunziata in 1993 and Tory Bill Casey in 2007 found when they broke ranks. By the time the Liberal MP gets back to his office from his fatal vote, he’ll have an email from the PMO expelling him from the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party, meaning he can’t run under the Liberal banner again. In short, the political version of capital punishment.

Read that again and ask yourself if a single Liberal MP, let alone enough of them to defeat CETA, is likely to throw his political career away?

Then ask yourself, why the hell are groups such as Leadnow seeking my money to put into a newspaper’s pocket when it couldn’t possibly accomplish a damned thing? And last, ask yourself if there isn’t a better place for that $4,753? Such as left in donors’ pockets? Or with a group with a good enough understanding to use it effectively?

The only effective protection against oppression by the elite is an activist organization – just make sure that they know what they’re talking about before sending your cheque.

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