Respect, not Contempt, needed from Ottawa for Idle No More

My MP in Ottawa is an earnest young man from Airdrie named Blake Richards. He’s a backbencher with the Conservative Party, and I get a lot of mail from him extolling the virtues of his efforts on my behalf in Parliament, and those of this Party.

It’s pretty rare that we agree on much of anything. We’re both in favour of open, accountable government, but he isn’t a part of one. The F-35 fiasco has proven that beyond a doubt. Apparently we’re both in favour of responsible spending, but the Conservatives hand $1.4 billion dollars every year to oil and gas companies in Canada, which in turn record massive profits at the expenses of our environmental and health: hardly a wise investment.

Otherwise, I find that my voice is completely absent from Ottawa as my MP could really care less about someone like me: fish-kissing, gay-rights supporting, pro-democratic-reform whack-job from Wildrose.

Now I’ve found something else Mr. Richards and I can staunchly disagree on: I am one Canadian who has NOT grown “increasingly frustrated and disappointed with the actions of those who blockade highways and railways” as Mr. Richards suggests in his January 18 “Richard’s Report.”

“There can be no doubt that Canadians have had a lot of patience with the recent Idle No More protests taking place across our country,” he says in his Report.

I’m pretty sure that the First Nations people he’s referring to are also Canadians; the First Canadians in fact.

The MP then goes on to say that thanks to the dedication of the Conservative Government, 80 land claims have been settled and 10,000 units of housing built on reserves. This is all well-and-good, but it doesn’t seem to have helped the poorest people in Canada pull themselves out of poverty, nor does it address some of the fundamental concerns that have lead to the Idle No More movement across this country.

Bill C-45, among other pieces of federal legislation, is at the centre of this dispute. The massive omnibus bill threatens to further destroy Canada’s environmental protection by gutting the Navigable Waterways Act. Already the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act have been reduced to shadows of their former selves. The Species at Risk Act is next. First Nations people argue that the federal government has a duty to consult them on the most recent desecration of Canada’s environmental safeguards, and that destroying those provisions amounts to a violation of their treaty rights.

Mr. Richards concludes his newsletter by saying this:

“Our government respects the rights of all Canadians to legal, peaceful protest. In the case of Idle No More, this movement has done a lot to engage our First Nations citizens. This sort of awakening can be useful in helping us make progress on matters of mutual concern like economic opportunity, housing, education and accountability.”

So true: what the Idle No More movement has come to realize is that as Canadians we can have our awakening and “make progress” until the cows come home, but it’s not solving the problems that lead to the moment of reckoning in the first place. The rest of us Canadians should be out there in the cold with our First Nations colleagues, neighbours and friends fighting for what makes Canada great: the vast beautiful green land that until recently was considered one of the most pristine on earth, but is rapidly becoming a toxic sewer, ever fast now under the Conservatives.

Mr. Richard’s government is running Canada into the ground. We’re an international pariah on the environment, deliberately sabotaging any effort to curb green house gas emissions and make meaningful progress on other important global issues such as poverty and meaningful aid to developing nations.

And meanwhile, this nation’s First People’s are still living in government sanctioned squalor. Yes they have problems; some of their fiscal management is almost as bad as our federal and provincial governments. But for ten thousand years these First Canadians lived good lives on in this extraordinary landscape of prairie, forests, lakes, mountains, tundra and sea-shores and in the last two hundred years all of that has been ruined for the sake of profit and the progress that Mr. Richard’s espouses. Nobody expects First Nations people to live as they once did; but nobody should expect that when our country continues to break promise after promise made to them that they will sit still and say thank-you for building a few houses and settling the occasional treaty.

What the Idle No More movement seems to be saying – at least to me, an outsider who shares many of their concerns – is that respect is as important as anything else that we can share with our First Nations countrymen and women. And what Mr. Richards makes clear on behalf of his government is that he has very little of it when it comes to his relationship with this country’s First Peoples.

The End of the World, and Other Equally Improbable Things

As REM used to sing, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

I’d be okay if the world as we knew it ended today. For clarity, I could do without the earthquakes and tidal waves and the Yellowstone caldera erupting in a tower of molten rock and fire. I’m also fond of the people on the planet – most of them, at least – and the wild critters that we’ve seen fit to leave alone. But if the rest of the world ended today – the human-made parts that, in a spasm of fear and misunderstanding we have crafted to create an ecological, humanitarian and economic crisis, I’d be fine.

Maybe what the Mayan’s intended for the 21st of December 2012 was that the world was going to start anew, and not merely end.

But that’s not going to happen either. It’s equally unlikely that the world will turn some critical page in its history today as it will come to a crashing halt. And let’s face it; it’s not the world that needs a reboot; it’s just us. You and me and the rest of the seven billion of us who are making a catastrophic mess of things.

Maybe the world has already ended and we haven’t noticed? Maybe we’ve living in a slow-motion end of time that the Mayan calendar-makers couldn’t possibly have foreseen.

I think very little is going to come to an end today, and very little will start over. Humankind is too distracted to press the restart button; we’re caught up in our own small, insular experience of the world, busy texting each other pictures of our cats, or playing the latest Xbox 360 game, to notice that things could really use a do-over. Those distractions keep us from both the pain and the joy of life on this planet; we’re slowly weaving a cocoon around ourselves.

So the end time will come to pass today without significant incident. And that’s too bad, because we need a serious kick in the pants if we’re going to end the world we live in, and start building a new one.

The root of the sickness

“The time to address gun control laws in the United States was Thursday.” This statement, made to a CBC reporter when he asked a question of a Newtown, Connecticut resident yesterday, will almost certainly dominate the debate over the most recent mass shooting in America in the coming days. And while I think this conversation is vital, there is a deeper, more radical question that must be asked.

The predictable and often repeated debate over gun control in that country will once again be replayed in the wake the death of 27 people on Friday, December 15. On one side of that debate will be advocates for gun control arguing that without the easy access to guns, madmen like the one who killed innocent children and their teachers on Friday in a Connecticut school would not be able to take as many lives. On the other will be the zealots from the National Rifle Association and other industry funded “right to bear arms” groups saying that possessing firearms is protected by the US constitution and that Americans should preserve that privilege in order to defend themselves. Never mind that in any one of the twenty mass shootings in the US in 2012 nobody has successfully defended themselves and their fellow citizens with their own weapon.

This debate is bound to reach a fevered pitch in the US, and elsewhere, in the wake of the most recent school shooting. I predict it will reach its apogee just before Christmas, and then, as it always has, will fade from our minds, replaced by more mundane concerns, and by the holiday season.

And if that happens, twenty young children, some as young as five years old, will have been gunned down by a madman in vain. There can be no sense made from such violence; there can be the impetus drawn from such malice to cure what ills us as a society and has, this year alone, claimed sixty-eight lives in mass-shootings (The FBI defines a mass-shooting as one where there are four fatalities, not including the gun man) and 543 since 1982.

If you use the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence’s statistics, the story is even bleaker. They report that since 2005 there have been 431 incidents where more than one person has been shot at a time in the US alone.

The gun law debate aside, we must address another question: what is it about the human condition that makes the sickest among us want to pick up a pair of handguns, walk into a school, shoot your own mother and then proceed to kill her students? What makes someone want to walk into a crowded theatre and randomly shoot strangers?

There is a profound illness that underlies these acts of random violence and has made them the norm, not just in the United States, but here in Canada, in Europe and elsewhere. Psychopathy – the mental illness that renders a person unable to feel empathy for others – must surely be part of the root of this predilection of mass violence. But there must be more.

If our communities are like giant, interactive living organisms, these people who emerge to cause such unspeakable violence are the symptoms of a vast illness that permeates our being. At the root of this illness there is a lack of value for the sacredness of human life, and a fundamental failure to grasp the interconnectedness of all living beings. Every day as a society we cause great violence to one another and the world around us. These gunmen are simply the most obvious – and most disturbing – outward manifestation of our illness.

There is an anger and a fear that lies just beneath the surface of humanity that every now and again finds an outlet through these psychopaths and sociopaths and just-plain deeply disturbed individuals. We live in a way where our desires can never be satisfied, because what we want – more – is never enough. We seek our fulfillment from without – from things, from other people – and not from our own peace and well-being, and that frustration simmers below the surface of our everyday lives like a cancer waiting to metastasise.

When that illness finds the perfect host to express its rage – the utter lack of caring for the holiness of all life, of humanity, of the pure unbridled potential of a child – it can have disastrous results. The combination of a society without an understanding of our interconnectedness, and a mentally ill person with easy access of guns and you get Colorado, Columbine, Connecticut and too many other examples of list, or even make sense of.

We can, and we must, (but likely won’t) address gun control, not just in the United States, but everywhere that firearms are so easily available. But as a society we must also consider the underlying illness that makes it possible for sick individuals to fester up like a lesion and destroy lives so wontedly. Until we view all life as sacred, until we see ourselves not just as individuals who are isolated from one another but as a part of all life, we can justify perpetuating great violence against each other, and against the earth and its creatures. We are not separate, and when we harm our so-called enemies, and when we rip into the earth and poison it, we are slowly killing ourselves too.

The death of so many children and those who loved them and were sworn to their care yesterday is just another deeply painful example of why we must seek to find peace in our own hearts, and teach that peace to one another and our children. It’s for the sake of our future as a species that we must bring an end to this terrible suffering that we have created.

Dependence Day

Happy Independence Day America. As someone who spends a huge portion of his working life traipsing around your environs, I feel like I am getting to know you. And seeing how we’re all this – whatever the hell this is – together, I think I’ve earned the right to ask a simple question:

What exactly are we celebrating our independence from?

In 1776 the United States of America declared its freedom from the United Kingdom, earning the right to make its own laws and govern itself: of the people, for the people and by the people.

Two-hundred and thirty-six years later, we seem to have developed a few unhealthy dependencies.

White the first War of Independence was fought against taxation without representation; the next War of Independence will be fought against more complex, self-imposed forms of repression.

The next War of Independence will be fought against our reliance on dwindling fossil fuels that have chained our economy to the health of petroleum companies that by default rule much of the world;

The next War of Independence will be fought against our predilection to pick a fight with anybody and everybody, especially if our reliance on dwindling fossil fuels is at stake; and the defence companies that quietly urge us on.

The next War of Independence will be fought against our dependence on a handful of genetically engineered food crops and the companies we’ve allowed to take over and slowly destroy our heartlands, the greatest food producing region in the world.

The next War of Independence will be fought against our insatiable hunger for resources that no law, no park, no promise will ever protect our land, our wilderness, our wildlife, skies, and water from.

The next War of Independence will be fought against our fear that we will never have enough, and that we must always be accumulating more in the vain hope that somehow our homes, our cars, our smart phones and our grown-up toys will protect us from the inevitability of life, and death.

The first War of Independence was fought with muskets, swords, and pistols; with military cunning, bravery and courage. The next War of Independence must to be fought with courage too, but with our hearts and our minds and our love for one another, for our families, our future, and our nations.

The next War of Independence will be fought within ourselves: this revolution begins inside, and in the spirit of independence and the thirst for freedom that characterizes a nation with such extraordinary promise, blooms outward to create a world liberated from the factors that are leading us to destroy ourselves.

The next War of Independence will be fought hand-in-hand, across the borders that segregate us. None of us are independent from one another, and so we must wage a war of peace with love for our liberty from our self-imposed oppression.

Follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault

Gone Dark

1st anniversary: Stephen Harper’s war on nature

I was wrong.

One year ago I wrote a blog post in which, among other things, I advocated trying to find a way of using the ancient Chinese philosophy of “capturing whole” to minimize the damage a Stephen Harper majority government might do to the environment.

Here’s what I said:

We’re going to have to, as Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, suggests: “capture our opponent whole.” That means moving carefully to make it so our values, our vision, our passion, slowly becomes their own. We must find what they respond to – be it positive reinforcement or public accolades, as difficult as that may be to stomach – and exploit them as an opportunity to advance a progressive vision for Canada.

If we do not, we’ll find ourselves on the outside looking in, and watching all that we cherish about this beautiful nation slipping from our grasp. And we will only have ourselves to blame for its loss. Every moment in life is a choice. This choice is clear: accepting the reality of a polarized politic and gaining what we can, or raging against it, and losing it. It’s that stark a dichotomy.

Reading those words now, today, on the first anniversary of the Conservative’s majority government election victory, makes me feel both naive and foolish.

The first year of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been the worst 365 days for Canada’s environment in our nation’s history. It’s been that bad. If Stephen Harper and his Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver have their way it’s going to get a lot worse. While I still hold with the philosophy of capture whole – of defeating your opponent without a fight – I must remember one critical disclaimer from the Art of War: avoid a fight if you can. If you can’t, fight hard, and fight to win.

It’s time to fight: to fight smart, to fight clean, to fight fair, but to fight to win. What we’re fighting for is far more than we could have imagined one year ago today. We’re fighting for the soul of Canada: our National Parks, our magnificent wilderness, our wild creatures, our natural heritage: our future. That might sound like hyperbole, and maybe it is. Looking at what we’ve already lost after one year of the most neo-conservative government this country has ever seen, I believe a fair statement. Apparently my friend Tzeporah Berman thinks so as well but then, like me, she’s a radical environmentalist too.

Lets consider for a moment the damage that this government has done in 365 days. As Elizabeth May points out in her widely circulated story “How the conservatives stole the environmental protection in broad daylight,” they have waged an all out war on nature, and on those who protect it. They started by withdrawing from the Kyoto Accord, something that must have burned Prime Minister Harper’s gut during his five years in a minority government. Then they attacked environmental groups, focusing their wrath on those who were opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline, but tarring them all (pun intended) with the same brush: radicals, suckling at the teat of US based lefty-foundations.

Never mind that much of the money used to promote the whole-scale sell off of Canada’s petroleum resources, in the tar sands and everywhere else, comes from the US, Europe, and China. If you take foreign money to continue to narrow Canada’s economic development and destroy the environment, you’re a patriot; if you take money to advocate for the protection of the environment, First Nations cultures while diversifying the economy, you’re a radical, bent on destroying Canada.

Now the Conservatives want to re-write of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, making it easier for industry to win approval of mega-projects like those in the tar sands, and gut the Fisheries Act to remove the scant protections we currently have for nature. Rumour is that the Conservatives have their sights set on the Species at Risk Act, a law that is particularly close to my heart as I dedicated more than five years of my life to its passage.

Budget cuts are a convenient way to disguise the Conservative war on nature. Stephen Harper and his Ministers have cut positions that monitor and clean up oil spills, research the impacts of climate change on the arctic, and most recently, present and safeguard our national parks.

And this is only the first year.

But it’s not. Not really. Stephen Harper is the wiliest and most strategic Prime Minister Canada has seen in a generation. He’s a patient man. He waited. Five years of minority governments and he waited. It must have tried his considerable fortitude not to push ahead with his offensive, but he waited. And when he seized – stole — complete power in May of last year he was able to reshape Canada in the image crafted by the elite, far right wing of Canadian politics who funds his party.

It was almost as if the Prime Minister himself was a student of The Art of War: his war on nature could serve as a text book example of how a superior army confronts an inferior force. His opening attack, delivered by Joe Oliver, and escalated with Senate hearings and the allocation of an additional $8 million to Revenue Canada for “education” and other Orwellian indoctrinations of Canadian environmental charities, is a perfect example of how to use a strategic strike to weaken your opposition in advance of an all out assault.

If I wasn’t so livid I might almost be in awe of the man’s strategic prowess.

What to do? As I said a year ago, and I still believe, there is no time for hand wringing. Capturing whole isn’t going to work either; there is no room to “exploit an opportunity to advance a progressive vision for Canada.”

Many are already acting. Dr. David Suzuki left the board of directors of the organization that he founded a quarter century ago so he could speak with impunity. Forest Ethics, one of the most ardent and outspoken organizations in the environmental community has made the calculated move of splitting in two: one organization will continue to undertake charitable work while another will go head-to-head with those who are destroying Canada’s environment. I say power too them.

But there is more work to be done. The Conservative war on nature has just started. And while I no longer believe we can find a way to capture this enemy without a fight, we must be very careful in how we confront them. They hate us and what we stand for, and they will use every resource at their disposal to eliminate us as an opponent so that their greed and nepotism can endure.

If Stephen Harper is a smart strategist, we must be smarter. If it appears as though his Conservative government has torn a page from the Art of War and is using it against Canada’s environment and those millions of Canadians who stand to defend it, we must learn how to beat them at their own game.

Over the coming months I’m going to continue to write on this topic, and I invite you to do the same. Post a comment, write an essay, send a tweet: if we’re smart and if we work together, we can stop this war on nature in its tracks and reclaim the soul of this great country.

Really Alberta?

My family and I moved back to Alberta about sixteen months ago. Every morning I wake up and am grateful to be back living in the mountains. Alberta is an extraordinary place, filled with extraordinary people, but I will confess that on the eve of a provincial election, I have no ungodly idea what makes Albertans tick.

According to a poll published in today’s Globe and Mail online edition, the upstart Wildrose Party has a nine point lead over the incumbent Progressive Conservatives. Because Canadian political alliances can be confusing, the Wildrose party is backed by the federal Conservative Party, while the provincial PC party seems to have been cut adrift by the mother-ship.

When I moved back to Alberta, and back into the conservation community, I knew what I was getting into. For nearly twenty years I’ve had to go toe-to-toe with the likes of former Energy Minister Steve West, and former environment Minister Ty Lund when they were in Ralph Klein’s cabinet. Being an environmentalist in Alberta was, as author Sid Marty has written, like being a boy scout in Hell.

Hell is going to look pretty good if Danielle Smith is elected on Monday.

But this is what Alberta does; it lurches from one government to another, about once a generation or so. If as the pollsters predict Alberta changes government on Monday it will only be for the fourth time in our 107-year history that this has happened. The Wildrose will form Alberta’s fifth government, and if they do, Alberta’s willingness to protect land, water, air and its ability to combat climate change will be in considerable doubt.

A part of me thinks: it can’t be any worse than the Progressive Conservatives. Premier Alison Redford has been a tremendous disappointment in this regard. While she has talked tough on education and health care, she has been a dismal failure when it comes to protecting the underpinning of our physical health and our economic system: our ecosystems. She’s cow-towed to the oil and gas sector on the tar sands and despite overwhelming opposition to logging in the Castle Wildland in south western Alberta, bowed to pressure from the local MLA Evan Berger, going so far as to put him in Cabinet to satiate the party’s good-old-boy right wing.

I know it could be much worse. Alberta’s protected area’s network is held together with spit and bailing wire. We have scant protection for our parks from industrial tourism, OHV use, logging and oil and gas development; the land base outside of our parks is fair game to just about anybody with a big idea and a few bucks in their pocket. As the party of extra free enterprise and with a Libertarian leaning, Wildrose cannot be counted on to protect these assets that are the cornerstone of our Province’s natural beauty, ecological health, and economic future.

Add to this Danielle Smith’s defence of candidates who are homophobic, xenophobic and want to take our province back decades in its relationship with the rest of Canada and the world, and it would appear as if politics in Alberta are about to go from bad to catastrophic.

When the federal Conservatives won their much sought after majority, I quickly posted a blog entry suggesting that things weren’t so bad, and that all we needed to do as environmentalists was to burrow into the belly of the beast and work from within to convince Stephen Harper’s government to protect Canada’s environment.

I was wrong. Sometimes this tactic espoused in The Art of War and other Taoist manuals works, but sometimes all that happens is you find yourself surrounded by a rotting pile of entrails while the beast is off devouring what is precious to you.

If Danielle Smith wins election on Monday, I won’t be making any entreaties for Alberta’s environmental community to try and “capture the enemy whole” (as Sun Tzu might advise). On the contrary: my advice will be to use whatever advantage we have to safeguard what we hold dear. Capturing whole only works if both opponents are on roughly equal footing and if both are honourable in their undertakings. As Stephen Harper has demonstrated over the last year, this is far from the case. And what is Danielle Smith’s Wildrose but another guise for a political movement bent on eviscerating Canada and Alberta’s environmental laws, protections and safeguards in the name of smaller government and more free enterprise?

Really, Alberta: just as I was starting to think I understood you. In addition to having good common sense fiscal prudence, I thought that maybe we were on the cusp of having a government that reflected the majesty and beauty of this province. But it looks like I was wrong.

Letter from Jail

As some of you know, in addition to being a writer, I work full time on conservation issues in the Crown of the Continent. One of the campaigns I’ve been helping with for the last year is the effort to the protect the Castle Special Place. This 1000 square kilometer wildland north of Waterton Lakes National Park is crucial for the future of grizzly bears in the province, and is a vital part of the local tourism economy. Now logging has started in the Castle, but not before brave local residents protested for three weeks straight, holding the equipment at bay. Last week four people were arrested and the stand off came to and end. Below is a letter they wrote to Alberta Premier Alison Redford from the Pincher Creek Jail.

LETTER TO THE PREMIER FROM THE PINCHER CREEK JAIL February 1, 2012

Mike Judd, one of four authors of this Letter from Jail, speaking to a rally of 150 people in the Castle Special Place

Dear Premier Redford;

Around the World people have been fined and imprisoned for rejecting industrial clear-cut logging and the ecological devastation that it eventually brings to a nation. Here are a few examples: 1200 arrested at Reedy Creek, Australia; 800 at Clayaquot in B.C.; over 100 in Chital, Pakistan; 22 women at Grant’s Pass in Oregon; and over 60 First Nations People in the Great Bear Forest in B.C.; and today, four in Pincher Creek, Alberta.

In his book Collapse, Jerad Diamond delineates how deforestation is one of the major factors that lead to the disappearance of many past civilizations, and Global Forest Watch reports that 13,000,000 hectares of forest disappear annually around the World. Do you need to add this thin belt along the Eastern Slopes of Alberta to that statistic?

We’ve already seen over four decades of industrial logging in the Oldman Watershed and particularly in the headwaters of the Castle-Carbondale part of that drainage. We’ve seen the miles of stumps, windrows of waste wood, eroded skid roads, collapsing stream banks, weeds, escalating off-road vehicle abuse, and of course the 22,000 hectare fire that took place in all of that.

Now you’ve sanctioned removing most of the last small piece of intact forest left in this corner of the province. The place where the Grizzly, the Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Limber Pine and so many unique plants are listed by law, federally and provincially, as endangered. This area is also the study area for Grizzly Bear DNA research to establish how many or how few are left. It is classified as “critical winter ungulate range” where industrial activity is not allowed, by regulation. How have you justified removing those rules?

As you know, 75% of Southern Albertans do not want the Castle logged anymore. You have heard from many thousands via email and telephone messages to your office. Your response to date is to maintain the status quo, which is business as usual. Where is the change in that?

So here we sit today, four old men who have joined the thousands of voices in Alberta and around the World, the voices for wilderness, wildlife, water conservation, forest integrity, sustainability, healthy recreation, and everything that is good and beautiful in the Southern Alberta Eastern Slopes.

Why don’t you make the real change you promised, and that you have the authority to make, and stop this betrayal of the public trust?

Beaver Mines Lake Campground in the Castle Special Place: the new view for campers will be of clear cuts. Welcome to Alberta.

Mike Judd

Jim Palmer

Reynold Reimer

Richard Collier

(If you want to get involved, please call Premier Redford at 310-0000 or from outside Alberta 780-427-2251 and ask that logging be halted and that the Castle be made a Wildland Park.)

I am a radical

Recently Canadian federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver branded those who oppose the development of the Northern Gateway Project as radicals who were ideologically bent on stopping development of energy projects in Canada. I’m one of them.

It’s been a while since anybody called me a name while in a debate over an environmental issue; longer still since that person was a Minister of the Crown. I think the last one was Ralph Klein or Ty Lund.

But truth be told, the Honourable Minister was right. I am a radical.

I want to get to the root of this and other challenges that face Canada, and the world.

And that’s what a radical is: someone or something that “goes to the root or origin.” Mr. Oliver was likely thinking about a couple of the word’s other meanings when he made his pronouncement: “going to the extreme, especially as regards to change from accepted or traditional forms” or “favouring drastic political, economic, or social reforms.”

I’m okay with being labelled with both of those definitions too.

The fact of the matter is simple: radical change is needed in Canada, and around the world, to create a society that doesn’t destroy its life support system while going about its day to day business. That doesn’t mean we have to conjure an unsavoury images of hooded trouble-makers burning cars in the street. The most radical people I know are everyday, average citizens who work hard, pay their taxes, love their children and are trying to make a difference not only with their actions, but also with their hearts.

We don’t just need to stop a pipeline from being built across some of the most amazing landscapes in North America to belch bitumen into tankers that could foul some of the most pristine waters in the world; we need to address the underlying reason why humanity feels the need for the products that this filthy oil produces.

If that makes me a radical, fine. If that makes the vast majority of First Nations in BC, along with the diverse coalition of activists and community members who oppose the Northern Gateway project radicals, so be it. My fellow radicals and I are in good company. Ghandi was a radical for wanting to peacefully harmonize post-English India; Martin Luther King Junior was a radical for working for civil rights. Jesus Christ was a radical for teaching peace, and that the one true way to know God was through direct communication through prayer; Lord Buddha was a radical for teaching us that there is an end to suffering.

I am a radical because:

  • I think that Canada’s natural resource wealth, and in particular our tar sands, shouldn’t be liquidated so that wealthy corporations based in the US, Europe and China, can get even richer;
  • I believe that if we’re going to use tar sands oil, it should fuel a transition from a petroleum based economy to one that is sustained by sun, wind, tides and most importantly based on conservation, and
  • I believe we need to address what underlies our insatiable thirst for the dirtiest energy on earth. I think we need to address the very root of this problem.

I know: radical.

I believe that the root of this challenge is that humanity is destroying the earth’s precious life support system to fuel a pell-mell consumerism in a vain effort to placate basic human suffering. It’s not the sort of suffering that can be cured with a trip to the doctor; it’s a spiritual hole that exists in every human being that we mistakenly try to fill with things.

Until we address this underlying issue we will continue to fight pipelines, tar sands projects, fracking, clear cutting, strip mining, damn building, and the inevitable degradation of natural ecosystems and creation of green house gasses that result.

Maybe the most radical idea is that every single one of us suffers, feels alone, fears death, is afraid of the unknown, mistakes the basic reality of human existence and has desires that can’t possibly be fulfilled with a bigger house or SUV or a new iPhone 4S. Instead of wondering why, we just keep on gobbling up the earth’s natural capital, hoping to ease our pain, necessitating the building of pipelines to pump more and more filthy oil to more and more hungry, unquenchable markets.

If wanting to put a stop to that makes me a radical, then I wear the moniker with pride.

Further reading:

The real foreign interests in the oilsands, Terry Glavin, The Ottawa Citizen.

Cozy Ties: Astroturf ‘Ethical Oil’ and Conservative Alliance to Promote Tar Sands Expansion, Emma Pullman, the DeSmog Blog

An open reply to Joe Oliver’s Propaganda for the Petro State, Andrew Nikiforuk, the Tyee

For updates follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault.

Goodbye Jack

I met Jack Layton only once, but that was enough. It was six years ago or so, in Calgary. He was speaking at several events and I met briefly with him between sessions and we walked down the Stephen Avenue Mall together chatting about how to engage people in the NDP in a more systematic way. I don’t really remember much about the conversation; what I do recall is the character of the man. As a friend of mine who knew him very well told me yesterday: “He was the real deal.” And in politics, that is not always the case.

When Jack Layton died yesterday morning he left a gaping hole in Canadian politics. Soon there will be the predicable questions about whether the NDP and the Official Opposition can survive without him. That’s not what I am asking: What I want to know is who will step up and remind us through his or her every action, every word, that “love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair?”

The space left behind by Jack Layton is simply one of kindness, and of love. One of the quotes in the sound montage used by the CBC yesterday had Jack proclaiming that there were so many familiar faces in the room that he just wanted to wade in and hug everybody.

Really? Is it possible to imagine another Leader of the Official Opposition speaking like that? Maybe in time Jack’s true legacy will be that our leaders will see that if we’re trying to build a country, we can’t tear each other down in the process.

This morning my heart goes out to those who truly knew and loved Jack. His partner Olivia, his children Mike and Sarah and grandchildren who didn’t yet have the opportunity, but will in time know of his legend; and his colleagues in parliament and his myriad friends. Nothing ever really ends; nobody really dies: we just change. And maybe from this change, inspired by his final words to Canadians – “So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world” – we can learn that by wielding lightness, not the dark, will allow us to build a better word.