Tuesday, March 27, 2007

a new politics is needed

So Quebec has elected a minority government, dominated by right wing ideology. Canada's last bastion of social spending, big government programs, and championing of progressive values has taken a turn.

Much has been made of the rise of the Mario Dumont's ADQ and his defence of Quebec's "traditional culture in the face of calls to reasonably accomodate ethnic minorities - especially Muslims and orthodox Jews."* Apparently voters outside of Montreal feel they have been asked to stretch too far in welcoming newcomers and 'others' into the province.

But although I agree that last night's election results signal a political realignment and a shift in values across the province, I believe the results point to a more basic shift in Canadians' expectations of politicians.

Our leaders lack vision.

In the West, in Quebec, and in Ottawa, the politicians of the day have each been consumed with federal-provincial relations. Under the guise of asking how best to divide tax revenue amongst the regions, which level of government should develop strategic policy, and which should implement it; how best to tackle rising health care budgets, and what type of public schools to fund - politicians have really been asking simply "which of us can have the last say, and which should have the most control over taxes raised?

Citizens should get more from their politicians than debates about division of power and division of revenue. Voters should feel that their elected chiefs are out ahead of them, setting the pace towards bold and ambitious aims. Politicians should inspire young people to dream big, entrepreneurs to take risks, civil society to bridge the gaps where government and business leave off.

During an election campaign, Canadians should get a sense of what Canada's role is in the world, and what their role is in the country. They should feel both that their governments' rhetoric is lofty and that their discourse is supported by a will to experiment with pilot programs, to test new ideas, new models of partnership, and to set examples that more nimble groups can then run with down the line.

I recently had drinks with a new Canadian who spoke at length about the essential role of the extended family, about the kinds of values that should be taught to kids. He had much to say about the ability of film and media to shape individuals and society, and about the destructiveness of military interventions, regardless of their goals. But when asked how policy could influence these areas, or to assess existing parties against his views, he was dismissive. Disinterested. Bored.

In the absence of a politics based on inspiration and leadership, Canadians would prefer that government simply get out of the way. Get smaller, spend less, and give back our money in tax breaks. The rise of Harper and of Mario Dumont is a signal that Canada lacks this vision.

Canadians are tired of waiting for government to lead, and have chosen proponents of government-as-ATM-machines instead.

*CTV News and Canadian Press

Friday, March 23, 2007

revolt, she said

Right now I'm reading "Revolt, She Said" by Julia Kristeva, who is a psychoanalyst and theorist living in France. First, a wee quote from the book:

May '68 in France expressed a fundamental version of freedom: not freedom to succeed, but freedom to revolt. Political revolutions ultimately betray revolt because they cease to question themselves. Revolt, as I understand it -- psychic revolt, analytic revolt, artistic revolt -- refers to a permanent state of questioning, of transformations, an endless probing of appearances.

And now, a description of the book from the publisher:

"In this book, Julia Kristeva extends the definition of revolt beyond politics per se. Kristeva sees revolt as a state of permanent questioning and transformation, of change that characterizes psychic life and, in the best cases, art. For her, revolt is not simply about rejection and destruction -- it is a necessary process of renewal and regeneration."

Okay, so there are fifty million things I could say about how this collection of thoughts on culture, politics, feminism, motherhood, psychoanalysis, language, and the the life of the mind is speaking to me at the moment. But I wanted to take just one throw-away comment/idea that she's raised and pose a question to you.

In talking about psychoanalysis and the theorists who shaped her, Kristeva says that the British approach to psychoanalysis emphasizes catastrophe and psychosis, whereas the French tradition is to privilege the erotic. (eg the Oedipus complex)

I've long been curious about how my parents' people (from the Caribbean) speak English but are Catholic. Shouldn't they be speaking French?* After spending nine years in a proudly WASP private girls' school, I've spent considerable time thinking about how British culture is different from my own. One area of interest has been sexuality. In the Caribbean, our music, Carnival, dance style, jokes, poetry...it's all infused with the erotic. I've usually put this down to a combination of heat - when you live someplace hot, you become very aware of your body - and the legacy of slavery. If you're not allowed to marry legally, you might become less prudish about pre-marital sex.

But how best to explain this difference between France and England?

*Or being Protestant - okay, that, I can't even imagine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

cool magazine, cool business idea

I recently received my second issue of Good Magazine, billed as a magazine "for people who give a damn". I came across it during one of my Saturday jaunts to Chapters, where I lounge about drinking Tim Hortons coffee and reading magazines that I'm too cheap to actually pay for. (Current faves: Harvard Business Review, the Economist, Walrus, Macleans, New York Magazine, the New Yorker, Heeb, and Tikkun. probably in reverse order.)

Anyway, I call attention to Good Magazine for its interesting business structure. The magazine makes money from ads, of course. The latest issues have had some protest-inspiring ads from Marc Jacobs, a shout out to the documentary about the Newark, NJ campaign for mayor, and ads for an innovative graphic design house.

But the interesting part is that all the subscription money goes to one of twelve admirable non-profit groups. I guess the magazine gets the money back as a tax break, while you can feel good about having made a contribution.

The issues focus on a range of themes, like community activism, media, politics, travel, religion and the like. Issue one revealed that Hilary Clinton had fund-raised $33,180,949 by June 2006 - $3,533,740 from lawyers and lobbyists.

The next month featured a creative series of portraits on people doing inspiring things. The next, a spread on photojournalists and their work, and also a write up about a travel site called Couch Surfer that organises people with free places to stay around the world. I think the Couch Surfer founder is lurking somewhere in Montreal's Plateau.

This month's interactive reader project - Good invites readers to alter the front page of your local newspaper to add your own depth and commentary to the day’s news. An exhibition of the work will take place on Friday at the Felissimo Townhouse in NY.

Maybe if enough of us subscribe, they'll bring some events up here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

wee hee!

So it seems that our firm is on fire at the moment. This is just a little shout out to our accomplishments over the last three days:

First - securing several hundred million dollars for a major - and socially responsible - client in today's federal budget.

Second - making it into a skit on a national political comedy show (apparently they mocked our reach and influence...listing all the clients we've worked for, who's joined our firm from Cabinet...and generally wishing they they had the impact we do.)

Third - we've now locked up every former chief of staff to every minister of health from every major jurisdiction in the country by hiring them to our team.

March madness indeed.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

ambition is good

I sat in on Stephan Dion's speech to the Canadian Club today. He outlined a three point economic plan for the country, and threw in a few points on his social justice agenda as well. His ideas (okay, so they've all been discussed in the Economist before) were pleasingly broad. Big picture. As my boss said - "high brow".

But applause was stilted. Enthusiasm, muted. Like lemmings, no one wanted to be the first to admit they liked the man's ideas. But who doesn't care about building a competitive tax system, investment in research and education, and diversifying our export markets to establish a broader approach to international trade?

Also, as the only black person in the room (I think I spotted three other people of colour there), I suspect I was one of the few cheering for Monsieur Dion's emphasis on improving the status of women and First Nations.

Pundits and voters mock this man because he is stiff and cerebral. Me, I like the geeky intellectuals. It's worked for New Yorkers - what's wrong with us? I'm encouraged to hear that Dion has a plan to help the country move forward, compete with other middle powers, and advance the interests of the next generation.

So he's no showman. Please. I'll take Malcolm Gladwell over Arnold Schwarzenegger any day.

intellectual is the new black

I received an email from the Barack Obama campaign on Tuesday. Apparently Barack is "waiting to hear from" me. I'm waiting to hear from Michelle - that she's decided to set that man free.

Alas, Barack wanted to let me know that "[t]he special-interest industry in Washington has only grown since the last election, and it will spend more money than ever this time to try to own our political process and dictate our policies in Washington. We're not going to play that game. We're not taking any contributions from Washington lobbyists or political action committees."

And yet...this is precisely the game I play. But hey, I'm not in Washington - can I come volunteer on your campaign?