Whenever you hear politicians talk in the run-up to an election, everyone already knows the sorts of things they’re going to say:
“No, you would be a worse fiscal manager! The state of the economy is your fault!”
“No, truly, you would be a worse fiscal manager! The state of the economy has always been your fault!”
What they say is always so disconnected with what I feel is important, that I made a list of things that I wish we could start talking about honestly as a country. These are my “dream election issues,” and with a few exceptions, they’re not the things that politicians (of any party) really like to talk about too much. I’ve divided these things into four broad categories, and I have included a “tl;dr” at the bottom for those who don’t want to read my very wordy ramblings about Canadian politics.
Broadly speaking, I wish that we could be talking about human rights, the state of Canadian democracy, corporate influence on politics, and a guaranteed basic income.
1. Canada’s human rights record, and what can be done to help make things better for our country’s First Nations
The current government is embarrassingly bad at these sorts of issues, despite Canada having a reputation to the contrary.
The Harper Government’s reaction to the Truth and Reconciliation report, for example, was shameful. Canada is a country that literally committed a genocide against a racial group, and the minister in charge of that portfolio decided to stay sitting during a standing ovation for a call for a national inquiry on missing missing and murdered aboriginal women. The lack of movement with regard to an inquiry is inexcusable.
The government’s passage of C-51, with the help of the Liberals, has also recently been deemed a human rights problem by the UN. Naturally, the Tories have shrugged off any such criticism.
And as long as we’re talking about human rights, trans rights are human rights. Considering how smug we as Canadians like to be about LGBTQ+ stuff, (“We have gay marriage, so everything is perfect here, right!”) we’re pretty bad at actually making things better for trans people. A promising trans rights bill was killed by the senate, because … “Meh. Can’t be bothered.”
(Don’t get me wrong, gay marriage is great and all, but if there was such a thing as a Maslovian pyramid of Things that LGBTQ+ People Need In Order To Be Equal To Everyone Else, gay marriage would be pretty much at the top of it. Sure, it makes things better, but mostly for people who have got things pretty good in the first place.)
It would be healthy to finally have an honest national conversation about what kind of a place we want Canada to be. How do we want history to judge us, when they look back at the way that we have treated our First Nations? Wouldn’t it be better if we were talking about the details of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, or even making plans to help preserve the culture of the First Nations, by making their languages official?
Or maybe we should sit down and talk about what kinds of powers we want to grant to a peacetime government. Do we want to be constantly at war with “terror,” or to have a government that demands 3 terror-related statements per week in order to keep us properly terrified? (How about this for a rule regarding the powers of the police and our country’s spies? If a police officer in 1950 would have probably needed a warrant to get access to that detail about your personal life, spies and polices officers in 2015 aren’t allowed to scoop it up in mass surveillance, or obtain that detail of your life otherwise through electronic means.)
2. Re-establishing some semblance of democracy in Canada
Over the past little while, democracy in Canada has gone downhill, fast. Before some neckbeard tries to say, “We are a democracy. We have elections, and that makes us one,” democracy is something that a country has in degrees. Just because a country has elected leaders doesn’t make it an ideal and perfect democracy. There are a number of institutions, practices, conventions and expectations that all work together to ensure that a country has a government of/by/for the people. The simple fact of an elected government, while a cornerstone of democracy, does not exhaust the meaning of the word.
This means that a number of changes to things that seem to be unrelated to whether or not Canada is a democracy can become real threats to Canada as a democracy. For example, the muzzling of Canadian scientists. If Canadian scientists can’t communicate their findings, or if only findings that can be spun to support the government of the day are released, then that eliminates a legitimate means that Canadians have to make their own opinions about how the country is run, what they communicate to their representatives, how they vote, etc.
Further, our prime minister is inaccessible to reporters and journalists. This is actually a problem for democracy itself. The media exists in part to hold the government of the day accountable, and the less accountable a government is to its people, the less democratic it is.
Same thing goes (in principle) for Question Period. The nearly comic performance of “Crocodile Tears” Calandra wasn’t just an exercise in partisan buffoonery. The whole point of parliament is that one of the mechanisms by which laws are made in our system is by talking about them. This is why omnibus bills are also fundamentally un-democratic. The process by which bills become law is supposed to be one where a government has to answer publicly for why it is making the rules that it is. An omnibus bill skips over that whole process, and is antithetical to democracy itself.
3. Corporate influence, intellectual property and protecting the public domain
As long as we’re talking about omnibus bills, let’s talk about what the Tories slipped into the last one and hoped we’d never notice. Up until recently, recordings were protected by copyright in Canada for 50 years after the death of the artist. Harper has quietly upped that figure to 70 years after the death of the artist. There was no debate on this issue. I have never heard a good justification for it. But now it’s law.
For books (at least for the time being) copyright still only extends to 50 years after the death of the writer, and after that point it falls into the Public Domain. (In the US and the UK, it’s already 70 years for books.) The fact that books eventually become Public Domain is why Project Gutenberg can exist. Project Gutenberg is an initiative to make available online—for free—books whose copyright has expired. You can download them, share them, edit them, make fanfiction, whatever. The books are free in every sense of the word.
The fact that copyright expires 20 years earlier in Canada is why Project Gutenberg Canada can exist. Authors like Ian Flemming, CS Lewis, George Orwell, etc., who died more than 50 years ago, but less than 70 years ago, can be downloaded legally for free in Canada, since there are no laws here protecting their copyright. THIS IS A GOOD THING.
There is absolutely no reason, other than corporate greed, to extend copyright after the artist has died. I mean, if copyright is protected for 70 years after the artist has died, everyone that artist ever loved or ever knew would also likely be dead before the copyright expires. The rationale, I take it, for copyright is to encourage new creative works. I am extremely sceptical that the profits of recording or publishing companies, decades after an artist’s death, is a motivating factor for any artist.
Copyright extensions are just one fairly minor issue, but they are like the canary in a coal mine. Copyright extension laws don’t try to pretend to be about the public good. They are absolutely not about the public good, and they are so transparently against the public good that they have to be snuck into law through the use of omnibus bills. The reason they are being legislated is because of corporate influence on our politics. There is no other reason. And that’s why they should be opposed—not just because I like free books (although there is that too), but because as a law that has absolutely no basis in the public good, they stand as a really simple metric for how corrupt our politics are.
4. Guaranteed basic income for all Canadians
I would love to see a guaranteed basic income as a part of a party’s election platform. To me, the phrase “make a living” is absolutely abhorrent. I just can’t justify in my mind the idea that if a human being doesn’t contribute enough to our economy, then that person literally deserves to die of exposure or starvation.
We act like poverty is an intractable problem that we can never solve. Meanwhile, the city of Medicine Hat recently eliminated homelessness by just … giving houses to those who need them. It’s supported in principle by the current mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, and by economists from all political stripes, including ones as far to the right as Milton Friedman. Basic income is not some lefty fantasy.
A few decades ago, Canada didn’t have socialised medicine, and now it’s a point of national pride that no Canadian has to stress about going broke from a healthcare emergency. I would love to see a party campaign on a promise to introduce a guaranteed basic income for Canadians, so that in a few years, it’s a point of national pride that no Canadian has to stress about going broke, ever.
The things I’d love to see become “election issues” for Canada in 2015 are the following:
- Missing and murdered aboriginal women
- First Nations languages as official languages of Canada
- Trans rights
- The powers of a peacetime government against private liberty
- Muzzling of Canadian scientists
- The legality of omnibus bills
- Copyright extensions as a proxy for corporate political influence
- Guaranteed basic income
Edit (2015 July 27): Added item #4, basic income.
Cross-posted to: https://medium.com/moral-and-political-philosophy/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-canada-in-2015-394af9bf7ac9