Is Fairness Enough?

Is Fairness Enough?

Canada has evolved over the years, our voting system hasn’t

By PAT CARL

I walk a great deal. It’s my exercise. While walking, I sometimes meet my neighbours.

They are older couples, mothers pushing babies in their prams, students on their way to school, bicyclists and runners. Some are dog walkers and, when encouraged, I pet the dogs and talk with their owners.

The other day, I spoke with one man out walking his dog, with whom I’ve talked before. He asked me how my retirement was going.

“I don’t feel retired,” I said. “I’m busy with a local group getting the word out about the referendum to change our voting system coming up in November, so I’m pretty busy.”

Just as I said this, a woman with her dog came up and stopped. I thought she knew the man I was talking with and was stopping to say hello. Slow on the uptake, I didn’t realize until a bit later that he didn’t know the woman at all.

Maybe the man sensed what was about to happen and that’s why he didn’t even say goodbye as he scurried away. He knew somehow, as I didn’t, that I was about to get an ear-full. It went something like this:

“My friends and I want to know what the question is going to be,” she said. “I get that proportional representation is fairer than first-past-the-post. But that’s not enough for me and my friends. We like things the way they are. Some of my friends are Conservatives, but I’m not. But I agree with them. Just because first-past-the-post isn’t fair, well that’s not enough.”

Fairness isn’t enough.

I admit I got stuck right there, but she continued.

“We think the question should list all the different types of proportional representation and put first-past-the-post on the list too and then everyone votes and whichever type gets the most votes, then that’s what we’ll have. But just saying that proportional representation is fairer than first-past-the-post isn’t enough for me and my friends. Fairness isn’t enough.”

I had difficulty getting a word in edgewise because the discussion was less a conversation than a lecture. Besides, I really don’t think quickly on my feet. That’s one of the reasons I write, so that I can carefully consider my thoughts and consider carefully how I express those thoughts.

Consider this: Canada, like all Western democracies, is governed by the rule of law. In turn, the rule of law governs our voting system, the way we select those who govern the provinces and the country.

As a young colony, Canada inherited the rule of law governing its voting system from Great Britain. Not only did that rule of law include the overarching system informally called first-past-the-post, but it also included legal guidelines that, for all intents and purposes, restricted the vote to wealthy white men,

As a country matures, what is defined as legal changes. Some countries develop values that are fairer. For example, Canadian voters now come from all ethnicities, voters include women as well as men, and, while many of us voters have barely two cents to rub together, lack of wealth no longer prevents us from voting.

I think we can agree that Canada, as a nation, and Canadians, as its citizens, are overall more concerned about values which acknowledge human rights, justice and equality than we were even 100 years ago.

And what is justice and equality but fairness when you boil it down to its essence?

While Canada and Canadians have changed, our voting system hasn’t changed since first-past-the-post was adopted. First-past-the-post does not match what we value as a society because, dare I say it, it isn’t fair.

We teach our children in kindergarten to be fair – to share their toys, to play nice in the sandbox, to give others an equal chance, to listen when others speak. All of these guidelines teach our children to be fair. Why don’t we expect the same of our voting system?

While fairness may not be enough for some people, it’s a damn good start.

Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley and a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

A caregiver’s hard decision: help wanted

A caregiver’s hard decision: help wanted

Is it okay to strap a loved one into a wheelchair?

BY DELORES BROTEN

So we have come to a point where my love is walking … meandering, staggering … around with his eyes sometimes closed. His legs are buckled, he leans sideways or backwards and it is truly scary. It looks like he could fall any minute, and he could. Not all the time but a lot. And he sometimes does fall, and quite often nearly does. He usually won’t sit down for long.

The care home aides and nurses want … or suggest, that he needs to be strapped into a wheelchair. To prevent falls. They are as terrified as I am when walking beside or behind him. He could hurt himself or them.

And he has fallen a few times … kind of sliding to the ground in confusion when his legs don’t work. No injuries yet. “I don’t know what is wrong with my leg,” he says.

Neither does anyone. It is a guess but probably it is a possible bout of sciatica, part the pain meds, possibly the dementia closing down another segment of the mind, but mostly because he can no longer orient vertical, up and down. That was an early problem. Now he doesn’t know where is upright and can’t tell his legs what to do. The dementia is taking away even that.

Top photo: Don Broten at Miracle Beach in better days. Above photo: A more recent image

So it is a safety issue. But I cannot see the advantage or the care in strapping him down like the worst kind of tortured prisoner and I am refusing to sign the paper.

It is illegal to restrain him without my okay.

And I am NOT okay with this.

Over the two-and-a-half years we have been there I have seen this. The patient starts strapped down for safety but is taken out and up on their feet for a walk 20 minutes a day. At most. Soon of course they can’t walk at all and life becomes a Brody chair. Where they lie swearing and trying to get out, while the care machine rolls on around them and staff gossip and go for breaks.

Then, unlike when they were mobile, the patient-victims really ARE swiftly parked and ignored. Oh fed and cleaned and cooed at from time to time, but that’s about it. No interaction except with family. Even the recreation aides don’t have much to offer once they are parked.

I want to puke. This is not humane.

Many of the parked recognize that I am a friendly face and make some kind of happy contact. But like everyone, I walk on by, with other things to do.

Part of me thinks wildly that i could bring him home, transform our house … foam on the floors and clear out the furniture such as it is, and extra care aides. Let him wander and fall safely in his strange fragmented world. Bring him home.

But foam doesn’t clean well and it is not that simple. It is the 36-hour job.

We don’t have family willing or able to take shifts and we don’t have that much money to get a suitable house, transform it and hire help. That is for the one percenters. For us, we are beyond lucky to have public care. Many don’t.

There is also my own slowly eroding remnant of a life to consider – although at moments like this it doesn’t count for much, and those who depend on my work. That must count too.

On the other hand my own mother was strapped in a chair because she kept trying to walk when she was totally paralysed on the left side, with resultant dementia. And there was no other choice. But she was not drugged and never parked. She had my father with her 24/7.

I have no idea what kind of love and determination that took. After she died he regained a huge amount of mental capacity and resilience. He did see what was coming for my love and me and told me not to do as he had done.

Comments and advice are welcome, here (on her blog), on Facebook, or by personal email. I need some help with this.

Delores Broten is one of British Columbia’s many thousands of unpaid caregivers. She is the editor of the award-winning Watershed Sentinel magazine published in Comox. She wrote this for her blog “CaringCV,” and is reprinted here with permission. She may be contacted at editor@watershedsentinel.ca. 

 

FURTHER READING: Read Delores Broten’s blog, “CaringCV”  

 

Game changer, but not a game winner

Game changer, but not a game winner

If voters pass electoral reform, the work just gets started

By PAT CARL

I’m a big-time college basketball fan. Men’s or women’s basketball, it doesn’t matter. If a college game’s on, I’m glued to ESPN. Other big-time fans know that a basket at the buzzer won Notre Dame the 2018 NCAA Women’s National Championship on April 1. What a way to win the game!

Unlike Notre Dame’s game-winning Hail Mary basket, if the majority of voters support electoral reform in BC’s November referendum, we will have only a game changer, not a game winner. In fact, the game would not be over at all because the hard work would just be beginning.

Why?

If electoral reform passes, British Columbians must learn to trust those who have worked hard to maintain the first-past-the-post status quo. Supporters of the status quo must, in turn, learn to trust those who supported proportional representation. Beyond that, legislators must learn to collaborate, to find common ground, in order to complete government business.

That won’t be easy.

Let’s try to understand how difficult that might be by using a personal example: my family.

Like some of yours, I’m sure, my family is split down the political middle. For years, my parents were confirmed Democrats (most like Liberals in Canada) because they loved Franklin D. Roosevelt and his necessary social reforms. Later, they became Republicans (most like Conservatives in Canada) because they couldn’t morally support a woman’s right to choose.

They raised four children. Two of us strongly believe in social justice, economic safety nets and environmental stewardship, while the other two believe just as strongly in individualism, growing the economy and small government.

I don’t know how to have a conversation with two of my brothers.  They don’t know how to have a conversation with me.

Sound familiar?

Now take that family dynamic and apply it to BC. How can we avoid creating an unbridgeable divide between first-past-the-post supporters and proportional representation supporters?

For one thing, during the lead-up to the referendum vote, both sides could refrain from exaggerating how wonderful its position is and how terrible the other one is. There’s enough of a difference between first-past-the-post and proportional representation to simply state the unembellished facts and let the voters decide.

Why not embrace nuance rather than exaggerated claims that sound like first-past-the-post and proportional representation are characters in a Shakespearean tragedy?  

We need to ask: What portion of the first-past-the-post arguments and what portion of the proportional representation arguments are true; what portion is exaggerated to the point of being untruthful or divisive?

Finally, the general electorate must take seriously the gift we enjoy and the responsibility we have living in a democracy. We must challenge ourselves to become politically literate by investigating the issues, by understanding that issues are seldom black or white, and by voting thoughtfully and wisely.

We and our legislative representatives will be far more likely to work collaboratively post-referendum if, during the lead-up to the referendum, we honestly and civilly discuss the issues. The less baggage we accumulate as we debate electoral reform, the easier it will be to accomplish good governance after the referendum.

Remember: Unlike a game-winning basket, if electoral reform happens, the game changes, but it’s not over.

Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley. She wrote this for Decafnation’s Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

DND tried to save it, Town of Comox allowed it to be destroyed

By LOYS MAINGON

Comox has just lost the last remains of the 6,000+ year-old Cape Lazo Garry oak prairie.

Until last year when the Department of National Defense took an active interest in this site, it was a poorly- stewarded one- to two-acre corner of land at the bottom of the Comox Valley airfield fronting Knight and Kye Bay Roads. This original part of what must have been Dr. Walter Gage’s father’s farmland, was converted on the eve of WWII into the airfield that we know today as CFB Comox.

Before 1860, most of that was a rich traditional Pentlatch Garry oak meadow. It was together with the lower Tsolum Valley “Comox Prairie” the original wealth of the valley in which British pioneers settled. These last two acres was all that remained of 65 square kilometres (25 square miles) of a northern Californian flora and fauna, that we know today as “Garry oak ecosystem,” and it even had some stunted wind-blown Garry oaks.

From a floristic point of view, this site was a charm. It was a site I regularly took visiting botanists to. They came from the USA and Victoria, to view the native flowers and grasses amidst the Comox garbage and vandalism.

Top photo: The prairie before it was destroyed. This photo: What it looked like after clearing for development

New plants, often not found anymore in and around the rest of Comox and Courtenay, such as red maids (Calandrinia ciliate) which are otherwise only found locally on Hornby, would be spotted about every second year. So we are still uncertain as to what lay hidden in the site’s soil seed bank.

A one day count in April 2017 identified 28 species of native flowers ( camas, harvest brodeia, Hooker’s onion, Chocolate lily, Scouler’s popcorn flower, and the list goes on) a carpet of purple and gold. Nobody had time to study the pollinator populations, and the Western bluebirds have been long-gone, probably with insects unknown.

Again, we will possibly never know the full extent of our children’s losses.

For years, everybody, including DND who put signs up to limit trespassing, thought that this was DND land. For conservationists, this was a boon, although it limited access, DND has an excellent record of responsible stewardship. Indeed, last year when it was pointed out that the site was being vandalized by ATV’s and was becoming an unmanageable and illegal dumping site overgrown by broom, DND mobilized soldiers to remove broom and garbage, and the erected a gate to limit illegal access.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox fines resident $10,000 for pruning Garry Oak trees

We had every reason to hope that with responsible stewardship, this site would one day be an important regional conservation legacy.

As it turns out, the land is private. And it is within the administrative boundary of the Town of Comox, whose uncontrolled development policies have laid waste the Lazo Sand Dunes ecosystem area over the past two years.

Garry oaks on private land have been extirpated and native flora replaced by Kentucky turf. That is largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care, or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism, which they seem to have a well-honed reputation for. Sadly, they are the town’s “representatives.”

In either case, DND learnt indirectly that it was not the owner of this piece of land, and was unable to buy it from the new owner, who it seems had no problems obtaining building and development permits from the Town of Comox on what any other town would have classed “ecologically sensitive habitat.”

Comox, after all, has no real tree by-laws or special environmental permitting requirements that would encourage landowners to manage land responsibly, for the benefit of other Canadians. If the political leadership is lacking and only exhibits a tendency to systemic ignorance, reckless vandalism, and disregard to the public interest, one should not dare expect private landowners to meet a higher standard.

So the new landowner did what every almost every other landowner in the Comox Valley before him has done: he hired an excavator to strip the topsoil and “improve” the building site, undoubtedly assuming it was a valueless field, and never having been told otherwise. He is not to blame. We all do it, and he sought permits and guidance from the Town of Comox.

We have lost the last remnant of our native grass prairie. At a time when this planet is experiencing a species collapse unmatched since the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), this is more significant than it seems. This prairie survived all the insults we threw at it since white settlers arrived, and stole it. It is proof that we have been the worst stewards imaginable.

Even those of us who claimed to care, myself included, did not care enough to check the title, we took for granted DND ‘s claims, and what local environmental organizations told us. So we failed all those other species whose DNA we share, and handed our trust and future over to Comox Council and staff.

It is exactly that ill-placed trust that drives mass extinction, and climate change, every day.

Loys Maingon is the Conservation Chair of Comox Valley Nature

 

FURTHER READING: What is a Garry Oak?; 

 

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

Christy Clark supported PR in 2009 CKNW broadcast

By PAT CARL AND MEL McLACHLAN 

Upon winning the BC Liberal leadership, Andrew Wilkinson, a long-time party fixture, lost little time in reminding his people that the party’s most important goal is the defeat of proportional representation in the upcoming provincial referendum.

While Liberal opposition to proportional representation is no secret, there is a BC Liberal insider whose thoughts regarding proportional representation they probably wish didn’t exist in the public domain. But they do exist, and the words are from none other than Christy Clark.

Yes, you read that right. Clark articulates a thoughtful, informed case for changing our voting system and, at the same time, levels a powerful indictment against the politicians who are fighting tooth and nail to keep first past the post.

FURTHER READING: Listen to Clark’s 2009 broadcast

In this rather confessional 2009 CKNW radio broadcast, Clark, who at the time was not in politics, admits, that while in the Gordon Campbell government, she avidly supported first past the post because it worked for her, was in her own interest. She confides, though, that since she has “left politics my views have changed,” mainly because she hears from her CKNW listeners who are “sick to death of the way our political system works.”

She agrees with listeners’ grievances, which include having their votes “thrown in the garbage,” politicians who “ignore what their constituents want” and an “relentless vitriolic” war of words during question period that “poisons us all against our democratic process.”

Clark’s indictment of those who fight against proportional representation is stark:

“When I look at the people who are actively campaigning against [proportional representation]” I see “people whose interests and, in many cases, whose income is dependent on keeping our system the way it is. People who … relish the ugly realities of the first past the post system.”

Clark believes that electoral reform actually frightens them.

Clark continues by saying that in proportional representation, all politicians will need “to compete for all of your votes,” they’ll need “to listen to their communities first and their leaders and their parties second,” and that voters can choose a representative they “think is the smartest, the one you think is most ethical.”

Further, according to Clark, “all politicians will have an incentive to get along,” which means a return to “civility in politics.”

Listening to this broadcast for the first time is like stumbling into an alternate universe. Certainly, not the same old, same old Liberal position.

We never thought we would say this: Listen to Clark, and vote for proportional representation.

Pat Carl and Mel McLachlan are members of Fair Vote Comox Valley

FURTHER READING: Fair vote BC; 

 

 

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