Calling out the bullies

Who knew that – weeks after the world gathered in Sochi – we would be watching in dismay and confusion the worrisome developments in Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine. Like images of the bombed-out remains of the Olympic stadium in Sarajevo, current events in Crimea are a reminder how fragile are peace and democracy.

Crimea has now been formally annexed to Russia. Canadians, who have lived through their own painful and drawn-out separatist referendum might have raised eyebrows over the sheer speed of the Crimean referendum to separate from the Ukraine and join Russia.

Viktor Yanukovych – widely viewed as a Russian puppet – finally fled to Moscow in the face of escalating public protest, and within days the map of Russia was being redrawn: the Crimean separation referendum was rushed through, Russian troops were taking Ukrainian military facilities by force, and the annexation of Crimea to Russia was formalized with a vote in Moscow’s Duma and the signature of Vladimir Putin.

Putin has been able to push the annexation of Crimea through at lightning speed based on several factors.

First – notwithstanding the flagrant betrayal of treaty obligations with a neighboring nation state, and notwithstanding the longer-term consequences that his actions will bring upon the people and economy of Russia – Putin has successfully positioned himself to the Russian public as an experienced hand providing strong, stable leadership of the national economy.

Let’s take a closer look at that assertion. Over the last decade, Russia has become the world’s largest exporter of petroleum, with oil and gas exports accounting for almost 70% of Russia’s export earnings, and covering half of the federal budget. As an authoritarian leader with a disdain for regulatory barriers, Putin has exploited the global boom in demand for energy as the basis for his credentials as a sound economic manager.

Secondly, Putin pulls hard on the levers of propaganda. Consider the bizarre photos of the Russian leader – bare-chested on horseback… or looking masculine and triumphant in what turned out to be a staged tiger shoot. Those photos may be the butt of humour for the Jon Stewart crowd, but we should remember that group is not the majority even in western democracies like Canada and the US, much less Russia.

It’s a bit spooky in retrospect to recall that Garry Kasparov ominously observed: “Sochi is to Putin what what Berlin in 1936 was to Hitler”. That is, the Olympic display in Sochi was an extension of the cult of personality surrounding an authoritarian leader: a kind of “he who shall not be challenged” message to his own bureaucrats as well as to the world.

It’s not surprising then, that his message strategy around the annexation of Crimea — a message that was all about “protecting” the ethnic Russian population there – has a kind of Orwellian tone to it. It’s even more worrisome considering the Russian populations in other countries that surround Russia’s present boundaries.

Thirdly, Putin has been, from the start, ruthless and methodical in “gaming” the legislative and judicial limits to his control.

When constitutionally mandated term limits dictated that Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive term as President in 2008, he found a convenient work-around; Dimitry Medvedev won the 2008 presidential election… and obligingly appointed Putin as Prime Minister.

Just in time for the following election, the law around terms was changed, and Putin announced that he would seek a third, non-consecutive term as President in the 2012 presidential election. And so Putin is President once again.

How does he keep such an iron grip on his people and on power? Well, Putin talks a good story about a “law and order” agenda, but critics point out that many of his innovations with respect to surveillance of civilians, judicial appointments, and weakening of institutions all serve, mainly, to concentrate power in his own office. The same critics note that an inner circle of politicians and bureaucrats who exhibit great loyalty to Putin, operate with seeming immunity from the laws that are applied ruthlessly to anyone who dares to oppose him. This habit of gaming any limits to power invites comparisons with other methodical bullies who have, through history, made a mess of countries… and sometimes a continent or two.

Newly minted Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland (Toronto Centre) speaks fluent Ukrainian and Russian, and was one of the first representatives to speak with the new government in Ukraine. She tells a worrisome story about the fragility of peace in what remains of Ukraine: as Russian troops now gather on their new border of the annexed Crimea.

What do we do when leaders are bullies? How are those who are governed exercise their own free democratic rights, and how does the world outside their borders respond?

Given what we know about this authoritarian – his progressive concentration of power in his office, his skill with propaganda, his methodical dismantling of legislative and judicial boundaries to his power, and his ruthless treatment of opponents – Canadians might need to brace themselves for sterner sanctions. But the alternative – to allow a bullying leader to run amok with power – will never be the honorable course of action.


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What would Agnes say?


On this day in 1922 – exactly 92 years ago – a determined young woman from South Grey took her seat for the first time in the Parliament of Canada.


By a stroke of remarkable coincidence, that day was already marked in many countries as International Women’s Day. In the early, tumultuous years of the 1900s, women were launching campaigns around the world for such basics as reasonable pay, shorter working hours, and – especially – the right to vote. By 1913, several countries were already marking a day to draw attention to the demands of women. But another issue quickly rose to the forefront and drew together women from around the world. The first widely recognized International Women’s Day was exactly 100 years ago – in 1914 – with women around the world campaigning for peace… as the Great War was erupting around them.

It was fitting, then, that on that International Women’s Day in 1922, Agnes Macphail would find her place as the first woman ever to sit as a Member in the Canadian House of Commons.

In finding herself in the House, Agnes took a road that had never been traveled. Agnes came from a modest farm family, and although she was an excellent student, she had to fight at age 14 to persuade her parents to let her go to high school in Owen Sound. Secondary school was considered optional – and a luxury: especially for rural girls.

Throughout her twenties, as a young local teacher, Agnes became an outspoken advocate for farmers, and it was the men in the community who urged her to put her name forward as a candidate for election.

The General Election of 1921 was the first election in which women had the right to vote. Of the four women that ran as candidates in that election – generally for small, progressive parties – only Agnes was elected. She won by a landslide. It was only one small riding in an unknown corner of Ontario, but it was a political cataclysm.

As she walked through the halls of the parliament buildings, Agnes recalled thinking of the many footsteps of women that would follow her. As it turned out, however, Agnes was the lone woman in the House for fourteen years.

The flood of women, in fact, never materialized. Today, women represent 52% of the Canadian population, and less than a quarter of the MPs in the House. And if you think that doesn’t sound bad, keep in mind that we’re experiencing an unexpected high-water mark based on the surprise election in 2011 of a raft of young NDP women in Quebec. It’s great to have that bump in numbers, but we need to acknowledge that our current numbers are not part of comforting and stable upward trend. We rank a dismal 45th out of 189 countries for representation of women in government. That puts us behind Iraq, Afghanistan and Rwanda, to name a few.

What would Agnes say?

I grew up on farm in south Proton: just a few farms from the birthplace of Agnes Macphail. This high, flat part of Grey County is unremarkable and not particularly picturesque (although it’s beautiful to my eye because it is home). We didn’t have much to boast about in Proton… but we did have Agnes. I was aware of this famous Proton girl from a very young age, and remember marveling that she would know the very same fields, creeks, barns and landmarks that my sisters and I did. I was second-oldest of eight sisters – no brothers – and I knew that Agnes had done something extraordinary for women and girls like my sisters and me. Women could vote. Women could be politicians.

So where are we, all these many years later? After a century of International Women’s Day?

The fight for democratic representation continues, unabated. Women have their hard-won right to vote – but Canadians of both genders (and especially young Canadians) often don’t bother to exercise their right to vote.

The fight for enfranchisement – to recognize the equality of women in all matters civil, political and social – has not brought women equality in pay. Women in Canada still make about 78 cents per dollar of a man’s pay.

In the absence of any kind of rational coordinated scheme for childcare (a program which died within hours of the Harper government taking office) women also lack the kinds of job opportunities that could help level the playing field.

And what about the vote? In front of parliament right now is a bill ironically called the Fair Elections Act which seems designed to further disenfranchise whole groups of voters: young people, the poor, our First Nations, immigrants. The bill would make it illegal for Elections Canada to run programs to encourage people to vote, for example.

The presence of such a bill in the House of Commons should be a clarion call on International Women’s Day – that our work towards equality and enfranchisement of all Canadians – is not yet done.

We need to take a moment, today, to remember the fight of women for the right to vote. We need to remember the perseverance and strength of Agnes Macphail: who insisted on her own right to education, and her right to represent her community in the House of Commons (her Party briefly tried to get her to stand down… after she had won the nomination).

And we need to remember the things that Agnes stood for. Our first woman member rose to prominence as an articulate and passionate voice for farmers: especially the small farmers who comprised the communities in which she was raised. But once in Parliament, Agnes became a powerful and formidable advocate for other injustices that she saw around her. She helped to craft the Old Age Pension Act. She marched headlong into the battle for better conditions and pay for the coal miners in Nova Scotia. She supported countless farm cooperatives. She waged her own personal war on the state of Canada’s penitentiaries and championed prison reforms designed to rehabilitate prisoners. She helped to form the Elizabeth Fry Society. She was compassionate, and she was fierce in her defense of those whom society would discard.

Some of these initiatives – the right to vote, to be treated equally, to age with dignity, to negotiate fairly, to judge humanely – were the fights of the women who came before us.

It’s time to take up the mantle, and to keep up the fight. In a century of International Women’s Day, we’ve come a long way, baby. But we haven’t come nearly far enough.

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Run Jane Run!

Less likely to run. Less likely to be successful. What’s the problem with women in politics? And does it really matter?

Today (Saturday, November 16, 2013) there is an event in Chesley called Run Jane Run: a Municipal Campaign School for Women. The brainchild of the local Women’s Liberal Commission, this day of educational workshops is adamantly nonpartisan, but reflects a commitment to support women in political life at all levels.

The facts are that women are less likely to run for political office. They’re less likely to be successful when they do. So what’s the problem with women in politics? And does it really matter?

I attended a municipal campaign school in Waterloo region back in 2005. At the time, women were woefully under-represented in local government in the area. Furthermore, they weren’t even stepping up to run for council.

The idea of a Municipal Campaign School was hatched… and for one very full day, women who were curious, or “kicking tires”, or hoping to support another great woman they knew… came out to learn more about what is involved in being a councilor, how to gather a team, and how to run a successful campaign. It was an enlightening day.

We learned, among other things, that women were far less likely to see themselves as candidates. When men were tapped for public office, they accepted that it was a natural – even inevitable – evolution of their work in the community. Women did not. In fact, we learned that women were usually surprised, or a little horrified. They didn’t really know what was involved in either the job or the campaign, and often felt they probably were not qualified – although most were at least as qualified as their male counterparts.

There’s a little “chicken-andegg” situation happening here: when they don’t see themselves reflected in local government, they are not inclined to make that choice themselves. As an aside, then, if you know a woman politician, thank her… on behalf of all the young girls you know. Because our daughters are watching.

So why don’t women win at the same rate as men? I always found it a little unsettling that – even when we manage to close in on parity with the number of women running for office – they tend to be less likely to be elected. That’s hardly an incentive to encourage women to put themselves “out there” in an election campaign. The good news is that – at the local level – women’s results are closer to their male counterparts than at the provincial or federal level, where women are often chosen to run in ridings that are deemed unwinnable. As Agnes Macphail put it so eloquently: “There are some ridings the men don’t want”.

But let’s accept that – traditionally, anyway — money fuels campaigns. And men – especially if they have not interrupted a career to have children – will often have a better developed network of professional contacts and people willing to write cheques. This doesn’t always break along gender lines, of course. But even when it does, women can learn to build effective campaigns using the resources available to them. One “graduate” of the 2005 campaign school won the mayoral race the following year; and she did it with a shoestring budget compared to the well- connected men she ran against. She developed campaign strategies that played to her own strengths and those of her team. It worked. It turns out that a little education can be a powerful thing.

So, here’s the burning question: does it matter? Do women and men care about different things? Do they bring different styles to political life? Why can’t good men – and there are lots of them – adequately represent the interests of women? Does it matter if 52% of the population is not reflected in the gender balance of our governments: municipal, provincial, and federal? Why can’t men just do the job on behalf of women? Well, that’s the argument that was once thrown back at women who were fighting so hard – exactly a century ago – for the right to vote.

It’s not that gender matters. It’s that lack of representation matters. The fact is that when half the population is under-represented in their own government, we’ve got a democratic deficit. Especially at the local level – where councils have the power and responsibility to shape the communities in which we live – it’s very worrisome when women are not equal partners in envisioning and building the places where they and their families live, work and play. Women have their own deeply vested interest in the health, wealth, and sustainability of their communities, and they often bring a different perspective.

As background reading to the 2005 campaign school, I came across a fascinating account of a study that asked men and women to talk about “infrastructure”. There was clear gender bias in the responses, with men consistently referring to roads, sewers and water mains — and women generally adding what we would call “social infrastructure”: internet access, libraries, childcare, safe school crossings, parks and seniors services. It was an “aha” moment; you’ve got to imagine that councils would have a fuller, and more rounded perspective on their community and their work if there’s a good balance of men and women at the council table.

Encourage a woman to run. Every four years in Ontario, there’s a chance for change. Wouldn’t it be great if more women decided to step up and run for local council or school board? Not in spite of all the other things they do in their lives – caring for children or parents, or working at home and away – but actually BECAUSE of those things. Because the perspective they bring can make a valuable contribution to creating the kind of community they envision for themselves and their families.

The title for the upcoming Municipal Campaign School for Women is “Run Jane Run”. It’s also the call to action. We hope that women who are curious will come out and learn more. We hope – if you know a woman who’d make a great contribution to local government – that you’ll encourage her to learn a little more about what the job looks like, and what it takes to run.

So how did that Municipal Campaign School work out back in 2005 in Waterloo? The results were nothing short of stunning. In the city of Waterloo, the election of 2006 brought a “rookie council” dominated by women – including a woman mayor making her first run at elected office… against two formidable and well- known men. All the women elected to that council were “graduates” of the campaign school. The following year, the city won the international award as the world’s Most Intelligent Community. For the record, that mayor, Brenda Halloran, and some of the women councilors are still in office in 2013. The council today is almost perfectly balanced: with three men and four women.

Our communities are full of intelligent, articulate, capable women who have a perspective on family life, and on their communities, that is much needed in local government. They are amply qualified to run for council.

A woman you know has what it takes to make a contribution to her local government. Now’s the time to tell her so.

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Harper’s Hunger Games: What the budget says about Canada

So far, the early media commentary has been giving Jim Flaherty’s 2012 budget a pretty easy ride. After all, Canadians can mostly agree on the idea that a government should (try to) balance its books.

But let’s hope the conversation soon advances to the real issue: not whether to balance or not… but how. Prisons… or pensioners? Untendered fighter jets… or jobs? Opportunities for corporations… or opportunities for our youth? A budget is a kind of shorthand that tells us what is important. It’s a reflection of our values.

So what does this budget have to say about Canada and its values?

On regional economic disparity, this budget says we’ll support primary resource exploitation in the west – at the expense of manufacturing jobs in central Canada.

On economic security, this budget says we’ll support large corporations – at the expense of the financial security of ordinary Canadians.

On civil security, this budget says we’ll spend heavily on incarceration, punishment and retribution – at the expense of preventative programming and rehabilitation.

On ecology, this budget continues the puffed-up idea of Canada as a “global energy superpower” – at the expense of Canada’s role as a global citizen on environmental stewardship.

On public policy information – this budget is consistent with a fondness for public policy information shaped by vested partisan or corporate interests – rather than the public interest.

The budget has been sold to Canadians in the context of an assumption that most commentators have accepted without pause: “you can’t have the society you want, because you can’t afford it.”

But is that actually why this budget needs to stick it to pensioners and public broadcasting? The real truth is that we are a nation blessed with a rare, precious and distinct advantage that enrages Harper Conservatives; we have an egalitarian worldview woven into the very fabric of our social, cultural and legislative institutions.

In contrast to the radical individualism that defines America, our Canadian worldview emphasizes social justice: the protection of the weak by the strong, the frail by the healthy, the impoverished by the wealthy.  This “just society”, combined with our natural wealth, our work ethic, our public education and health systems, and our multicultural civility gives us a real shot at being the best place in the world to live a good, if not lavish, life –  at peace with ourselves, and our neighbors near and far.

So is it really true that we can’t have the society we want because we can’t afford it – or is it because we have allowed Harper’s particular brand of conservatism too much political influence over it?

The Harper Conservative spending priorities – on things like incarceration, weapon systems, and unfettered resource exploitation – steers our society in the direction of the republic south of our border. That’s an economy that tolerates sharper divisions between rich and poor, and what we perceive as injustices in the distribution of social benefits to the wounded, sick, unemployed and elderly. It’s a culture with a large segment of the media environment that celebrates what we see as intolerance. It’s a society whose democratic institutions have become even more corroded than ours, by political attack ads, hyper-partisan tactics, and systematic voter suppression. And it is a population with higher rates fear and incarceration, where (as so vividly illustrated in the so-called “stand your ground” law and the Trayvon Martin case) social order is descending into bloodshed, not just in spite of the law, but because of it.

To the extent that Canadians have a different experience than Americans, that experience rests, in no small part, on decades of federal policies and budgets that institutionalized priorities reflecting the centre of the Canadian political perspective. And as Paul Martin showed, it is difficult, but possible, to rein in spending without discarding those priorities.

Since the Harper Conservatives have finally grasped their parliamentary majority (albeit under, for Canada, unprecedented circumstances of voter suppression), they have won the right to pass a budget according to their priorities.

But let’s be clear about one thing. This was a budget about Mr. Harper’s priorities, not Canadian priorities.

Following more than a decade of Liberal balanced budgets and debt reduction, the Harper Conservatives ratcheted up the national debt at a breathtaking pace. And now we are to believe that our poor, our jobless, our seniors, our youth… must do with less.

Institutions that support and celebrate our sense of nationhood – like Katimavik and the CBC – were gutted for ideological reasons, not economic ones.

Stephen Harper revealed in a 2009 interview, “I tend to watch mainly American news because I don’t like to watch Canadian news.” With the 2012 budget, the Harper agenda –  to reshape Canadian institutions, Canadian elections, Canadian media, and eventually Canadian values according to this strange “Fox News” worldview – continues its step-by-step march.

The direction of this march communicates a central, false assumption that our treasured “just society” – that geopolitically distinctive aspect of our values and national identity – is unaffordable.

There is an alternative view though, and that is that – if we are to have a Canada – we cannot afford to give so much power to Harper’s brand of conservatism. What we cannot afford is a government with priorities (megaprisons and untendered fighter jets) which are wildly out of line with the priorities of Canadians. What we cannot afford is any government which is prepared to run roughshod over what should be two non-negotiable ideas about Canada: unswerving respect for democracy, and the pursuit of a just society.

I believe that Canada is resilient enough to survive this budget and this government, but I also believe that Harper’s brand of conservatism – evidenced in the recent federal budget – does not belong in the centre of a politics that deserves the name “Canadian”.



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A Bold Idea for EI Reform: Inspired by the Peninsula


EI reform would benefit Peninsula, says Love.

Posted on April 15, 2011

Imagine how “flex” EI benefits could level out our seasonal slump

For people who don’t live on the Peninsula, it must be hard to imagine how the rhythm of the Chi Cheemaun’s seasonal run could have such an impact on so many things. With the coming and going of the ferry, the economy here also rises and falls.

The ferry schedule is like a switch: turned on in May, turned off in October. And with the flip of that switch – signaling the important summer season on the Peninsula – a large proportion of the area’s jobs begin and end.

As a kid, we loved Sunday drives up the Peninsula from our farm in Grey. My own kids now love the same trips: the views are gorgeous, and the place is bustling in the summer months. But while the Peninsula has many of the challenges of northern communities (and is mostly above the critical 45th parallel) it is lumped in with southern Ontario – and misses out on some of the support that its neighbours “over the Bay” can take advantage of.

And so, without Employment Insurance, places like the tourist-magnet “Tub” would hardly be possible. Fortunately, the combination of seasonal employment, and a minimum 20 weeks of EI coverage is almost enough for a small army of seasonal workers to put together an economic life that makes sense.  Almost.  That’s the problem.

The EI system has been debated often in Parliament, but I wonder if we should send the politicians to the Peninsula for a first-hand look and a chat with some of the locals. I’ve certainly found it enlightening in the time I’ve spent here over the last few years.

So I’ve come up with a radical idea to pitch to Ottawa when I become the MP for the riding here:  I think we should allow EI recipients to collect their benefits for 20 weeks  with the flexibility to choose which weeks to collect over the eligibility period.

In other words – if you have the chance for, say, three weeks work when you’re scheduled to get your EI, then you accept the work opportunity, and delay collecting those three weeks until later (as long as it’s within a one-year eligibility period).

The upshot: You can pick up work – a day here, a week there – without losing your benefits. It provides an incentive to work (good for productivity), it helps recipients boost their income during their period of seasonal unemployment (good for the local economy), and it costs the government almost nothing extra (good for the national economy). This is about an adjustment to EI policy that doesn’t change the amount paid out – but offers seasonal workers more flexibility in when they draw upon their minimum 20 weeks of benefits.

If an opportunity comes up to take on a short contract, or work a few days in the bush, or start up a new venture, wouldn’t it be smart to let seasonal workers take those opportunities, without penalty to their EI benefits? I think that it’s just good common sense to encourage workers to work.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the business world examining problems and building solutions. It doesn’t matter what table you’re sitting around – whether it’s in the kitchen, the boardroom, or a parliamentary committee. You build solutions by working cooperatively. Doing your research. Listening to other viewpoints. I think that this kind of EI reform is worth a good discussion.

If you’ve got some more ideas, get in touch. I think that this region deserves better. I have lively discussions with my Liberal colleagues and they’d be interested in hearing about what we need right here to build the best opportunities for the people here on the Peninsula.

Kimberley Love is the federal Liberal candidate for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. She participated in the development of the Liberal rural policy platform in 2010.
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April 30/11: A Vote for Prosperity

Posted on April 30, 2011

For many people I’ve met at the door during this election campaign, what’s top of mind are deep concerns about democratic issues: what constitutes right and wrong behaviour in Parliament, whether the Senate should refuse to debate bills passed by Parliament, whether the RCMP should be trolling Facebook  looking for government dissenters, and ultimately whether Mr. Harper can be trusted with the very institutions of democracy.

For others – what’s top of mind are topics like jobs, healthcare, the direction the economy is taking, and who can manage public finances most effectively,

The way these issues will work out at the local level has a lot to do with the perspective behind the policy platforms of the leading parties.

Here are some areas where differences in perspective between the Liberal and Conservative parties are sharply drawn – and where the election of one party versus the other predicts sharply different experiences for people living here in Grey and Bruce.

Jobs: The Environment is an Opportunity

The Conservatives repeatedly state that protecting the environment is something that needs to be traded off against the economy in a zero-sum game.  This is essentially what Stephen Harper says each time he kills a policy commitment that will produce real action on climate change. By contrast, Liberals see re-tooling of the economy towards a post-carbon clean energy economy as the basis for the next generation of jobs.  To bring this home, right here in Owen Sound – we have a mothballed glass factory that is begging to be retooled to produce solar glass for the rapidly growing global market in photovoltaic solar panels.  With the combination of highly-skilled glass workers, a local supply of raw materials on an island in Georgian Bay, the rapidly growing PV module industry in North America – and an international harbour blocks away from the plant – that’s an optimistic, but  practical vision, and one that just needs a kick-start.    Federal incentives to make that happen  – in connection with the Liberal’s policy to increase green-energy production –  would be a more targeted use of our public  funds than across the board corporate tax cuts  — dropping from last year’s 18% to 16.5% – or the $1.4 billion   invested by the Harper government in carbon capture and sequestration schemes that do nothing for climate change, and which only further subsidize the carbon-based economy and the massive oil companies that profit from it.

Families:  Make Social Investment an economic stimulus

Where the Conservatives see social investment as a costly drag on the economy – the Liberals see social investment in areas such as higher education, childcare, public health, home-care, mental health and public pensions – as a way to help people achieve their potential, improve our productivity and competitiveness  – -and contribute the most to their families and community.  To bring this home, the Liberal Federal National Daycare program had plans for new federally-funded daycare spaces to be constructed here in the riding. Unfortunately, it was cancelled by the Conservatives after their election win in 2006. Had that daycare opened under the Liberal plan, how many young mothers in our communities would have been able keep their place in the workforce, helped to support a partner running a farm or small business with that income?  Some of those same mothers will soon be caring for elderly parents at home.  How many of these will have to sacrifice their place in the workforce to do so?  A Liberal view on social investment is that prosperity is served by helping these caregivers keep their employment position, and maintain some income while taking on these very important and meaningful roles.

Health:  Strengthen Healthcare

Canada’s publicly funded health care system has come under fire from Conservatives both inside and outside of government, who have argued in the past that we need greater privately funded care options.

Both parties have acknowledged that quite a lot of money will be required to fund health-care.  And both include in their platform incentives to recruit more family doctors to rural ridings  — the Liberals in particular have proposed a strategy of student loan payment holidays for young doctors who elect to practice in rural areas.

But there are key differences in how we can continue to make healthcare affordable.

A new Liberal government would remain emphatically committed to universal care. We would work towards reducing need and costs through several initiatives:  support for family caregivers who are currently saving the system an estimated $9billion; Currently, Canada is the world’s second-most expensive country for prescription drugs. Canada also has the fastest-rising drug costs among OECD countries: more than 10% per year.  The runaway inflation in drug costs erodes away at our public resources to pay for doctors, nurses, hospitals, and home care. (We already spend more on drugs than we do on doctors!)   This inflation directly hits individuals and families who are not covered or fully by benefits plans.  Given the nature of employment here in this riding, that means we have individuals and families who are forced to choose between filling their prescriptions versus filling their furnace tank or grocery cart.

While the Conservatives view pharmacare as a matter of provincial jurisdiction, I believe there is a federal role in making prescription drugs more affordable.  This would be accomplished through the federal government negotiating as a single-desk buyer for the country to get much lower prices from the big drug companies.  This is a system that’s working to reduce drug costs in Australia, New Zealand and the UK – and one in which everybody wins, except perhaps the shareholders of global drug companies.

Agriculture:  Support small farms and local processing

Where the Conservatives see Canadian agriculture as an international commodity business driven by the relentless pursuit of economies of scale – the Liberals see Canadian agriculture as the foundation of a healthy society.  The Liberal National Food Policy makes the connection between the need to make farming sustainable at a sustainable scale – and the desire of Canadian consumers for safe, high-quality and enjoyable food.  Adoption of the National Food Policy would mean here in Grey and Bruce that we can rebuild local small-scale food processing, that shortens the links from the farm to the plate, and renews the agricultural and small-town economy on that basis  -with more locally grown food, more employment in local processing and more diversity of healthy food choices for local consumers.  To make sure those local farmers, processors and consumers do connect with each other, the Liberal rural policy platform also includes subsidies to make rural broadband services more comparable in cost, quality and speed to those available in urban areas.

Public Safety: Prevention before Prisons
Where the Conservatives see public safety as a matter of tougher punishments for criminals – longer prison sentences and a higher proportion of our population living in jails – the Liberals see public safety as a matter of addressing root causes:  In this riding this means improving services that can detect and treat mental illness earlier and more effectively – before  they turn into addiction problems and the treatment of addiction problems before they turn into crime problems. Ultimately, Liberals want rehabilitation of prisoners before their lives degenerate into chronic criminal patterns.  In areas within this riding we’ve got a dangerous crystal meth problem brewing.  The young people getting involved with this horrible drug are not human garbage to be land-filled in mega-jails; they are our sons and daughters that we need to reach early with interventions that get them turned around and pointed towards opportunities, education, skills and productive lives.  One such local program, at Partners in Progress, achieves extraordinary results, but struggles for funding. Meanwhile, Parliamentary Budget Secretary Kevin Page estimates the “tough on crime” agenda will expand the cost of our prison system from $4.4 billion to $9.5 billion per year.  There are 308 Federal ridings in this country. Imagine what we could do to keep our kids safe and out of jail with an extra $16.5 million/year  – our riding’s share of that increase.
This election really comes down to what kind of Canada we want. One view is pessimistic and combative: it sees life as a zero-sum game where in order for there to be a winner, there must be a loser. The other is optimistic, hopeful and cooperative: where in order for there to be a winner, we need to all win together.

That’s the Liberal vision of prosperity. That’s my vision. And I hope on election day, voters here will give themselves permission to vote for that vision too – because I think that’s, in the end, the defining vision of the Canada we want for ourselves and our children.

Kimberley Love

Federal Liberal Candidate, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound

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Why farmers should be seeing red

Love Home Farm - south field

Kimberley Love - Liberal candidate for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2011 federal election - lives with her husband and two youngest children on her family's original home farm in south Grey.

From the campaign archives – dated April 30, 2011

The Conservatives have rejected Ontario’s farmer-built risk management program – and that could be the last straw for many

Grey and Bruce counties have a long tradition of successful, entrepreneurial farmers – and we’re fortunate that our rural communities still contain hundreds of family farms. But we’re losing those farmers at a rapid rate. In fact, if you were to build policy especially designed to push farmers off their land, you could hardly have done a better job than the last 30 years.

This past Saturday – over the Easter weekend – was an historic and emotional day for my own family. The last active farmer in my own family held his farm sale near Hopeville. My uncle is 80 now, no one in the family was prepared to take over the farm, and so we watched our familiar, carefully tended equipment auctioned off to the highest bidder. Farm sales are important community events, and they’re generally bittersweet. Communities rally together; we keep track of who got which piece of equipment, and there is talk of both the past and the future here. Thankfully, Glen and I now have possession of the farm where it all started – the original home farm – although we have little prospect of ever farming for profit here.

Five years ago, many farmers here put their hope in the Harper Conservatives, who make much of their commitment to rural Canada. In reality – despite Mr. Miller’s own chairmanship of the federal agriculture committee – things have gone from bad to worse in the Harper years. A gently worded Bill reminding Parliament that any pursuit of genetically-modified crops must take into account “potential harm” was obstructed and filibustered by Mr. Miller’s committee. This despite the very real harm incurred by Canadian flax farmers when a GMO flax escaped the research fields and infected the flax harvest – resulting in the collapse of the European market for Canadian flax farmers. It is hard to see how the Conservative obstruction of this protection bill benefits farmers – though their position seems friendly enough to Monsanto.

More alarm bells: In trade talks with Europe last year, Canada left supply management on the negotiating table – even though Europe specifically took their own CAP programs out of the dialogue. Canadian farmers in supply-managed industries should be anxious about their future in a Conservative government.

Crisis after crisis has hit the farm industry – and in the absence of any sensible policy, we suffer with a poor patchwork of farm subsidy programs: reducing farmers to professional beggars buried in paperwork. It’s an approach that simply hasn’t worked. We now have a system in place that encourages farmers to get bigger fast to maximize their benefits. The current mess of stabilization programs is a band-aid and not a solution.

The final insult? A carefully conceived risk management program for Ontario farmers – built in close consultation with the producers themselves – has been rejected by the Harper Conservative government. It almost defies belief. And it may be the last straw for some farmers here. Five years on, the Conservatives still have no rural policy plan.

A new Liberal government, however, has committed to the first-ever National Food Policy: one that extends from farm to fork. At the consumer end, we want to assure food safety – whether that food comes from Canadian farms or from abroad. At the producer end, a Liberal government wants to work with Canadian farmers from the farm up – not Ottawa down –  to completely review and overhaul farm programs that deal with risk management, research, innovation and sustainability. We like what we see in the Ontario risk management program written by farmers and local organizations.

We also want to open up new markets. I believe that one path to building a stronger local farm economy is to be able to produce and sell different food products, to add value to the commodity approach that the “bigger is better” mentality and policies have created. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for supply management and commodity food. Liberal politicians like Eugene Whelan were the most aggressive defenders of supply management, and we continue to defend those systems vigorously. There are billions of people to be fed and that may be the most efficient way to do it.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for small- and mid-sized farmers who can produce meat, dairy or produce that’s more than a commodity. If consumers want those products – say, rich cheeses from high-fat milk for example –  farmers should be able to produce them without breaking a law or running afoul of a marketing board or government agency.

A new, rural-centred food system would work with provinces to try to restore the band of rural economy that once offered local abattoirs, creameries, cheese makers and small canning plants – so local food could be locally produced, and not shipped over the border for processing. But it requires a radical “re-think” of our food system. Liberals believe that it’s overdue. The tools for profitability for family farms – and safe, healthy, local food – have been missing. We plan to bring them back.

I had the opportunity to participate in the development of the Liberal rural platform in 2010. The challenges that face Canadian agriculture and our local producers are not simple and they will not be solved overnight. But a Liberal government promises to take a comprehensive, national approach to food policy that will benefit producers and consumers. Part of that approach will include strategies to improve the lot of the small and mid-sized producer – not just through safety nets but by stimulating the production and marketing of specific foods that people want to buy. A food policy that makes sense for our region should include an opportunity to profit from our produce – and not be simply the lowest-cost commodity provider: a race to the bottom.

On May 2nd, ask yourself what kind of future you want for Canadian agriculture and for the small and mid-sized farmers in our riding. I believe the Liberal government can deliver on the promise of a national food strategy that makes sense for all Canadian consumers and farmers.

Kimberley Love is the Liberal candidate for Bruce-Grey Owen Sound. She and her husband live with their two youngest children on their 200-acre family farm near Hopeville in south Grey.

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