Five Ethical Problems that Should be Election Issues

Posted on April 6, 2011


The campaign trail has been fairly disappointing thus far. While all Federal the parties have brought forward a few token policies, the election issues we have seen thus far have revolved primarily around coalitions, debates, Stephen Harper’s fear of criticism and Michael Ignatieff’s character. These are not the discussions we need to be having if our country’s next government is going to be any good. The platform points that have been released have been mostly about a few token spending initiatives. Given that our country’s deficit is not just financial but environmental, ethical and democratic as well, this smacks of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. There is some big stuff that has to change if Canada is going to progress into the twenty-first century, and thus far we have not discussed any of it.

The following list is by no means comprehensive. I encourage you to add your own thoughts in the comments. These five issues (because five is the magic number of list-based editorial journalism), are just the ones that immediately come to mind. Each one is important enough to warrant a national discussion before we choose our next government. Here, in no particular order, is the list:

1) G20 Justice

If you read my blog this past July, you would know how I feel about this: Something went very, very wrong at the G20 Summit in Toronto this past summer. I’m not going to spend too much time arguing that the actions of the police were, in fact, unjustified because I’ve already done that. If you believe that the Toronto police actions were, in fact, appropriate, or that the arrestees deserved their treatment, then you should have a look at You Should have Stayed at Home, a very well-done documentary on the weekend put together by the Fifth Estate. If you don’t require the veneer of objectivity offered by the Main-Stream Media, then just do a YouTube search for “G20 Toronto” and watch any of the videos that appear.

The policing objectives for the weekend were firstly to protect the city from violence, and secondly to protect freedom of speech. The Integrated Security Unit failed at both, and so long as they are not brought to justice for their actions, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will exist in a state of significantly undermined authority. What is needed is a public inquiry, empowered to subpoena witnesses and press charges. This will have the dual purpose of restoring faith in Canadian civil liberties, and highlighting the police conduct that actually was praiseworthy.

Any policies on this matter should extend beyond the G20, because there will be large public order events in the future and the police who deal with them should be held to a much higher standard. We need (Partisan bias alert: This is in the local Green platform I wrote) a system which automatically initiates a process to hold police offices accountable for their actions, regardless of whether there is sufficient public opinion to initiate such a process using political channels.

2) Climate Change

If (god forbid) this election results in a majority government, then there will probably not be another election until 2015. This is a somewhat useful coincidence, because the United Nations has warned that global climate emissions must peak by 2015 if we are to have any hope of getting this global crisis under control. Any majority government, then, will have a huge ethical responsibility to introduce policies which provide strong incentives for Canadian citizens and businesses to curb their emissions.

Unfortunately, Canada’s record on the matter leaves a lot to be desired. We have backed out of our obligations as set forth by the Kyoto protocol, have been named Fossil of the Year for two years running, and we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry to a frightening degree. This is not tree-hugger issue. Reducing carbon emissions is an ethical responsibility which will have a massive effect on the livelihood of future generations. If we don’t set up some kind of cap and trade or carbon tax system while also stepping up to the plate on the international scene, then we will have failed not only our planet, but our grandchildren as well.

3) Democratic Renewal

Our first-past the post system awards fifty-one seats to a party that received ten percent of the popular vote, but no seats to a party that received five percent. Our head of government has assumed unilateral powers to suspend the elected assembly which is supposed to keep him and his ministers accountable to the people of the country. Our population has somehow been convinced that a party with thirty-seven percent of the vote has “won” the election and has the absolute right to govern at the expense of the other sixty-three percent. Our government is the first in the history of parliamentary democracy to be found in contempt of parliament, and our major media networks feel that they are entitled to unilaterally exclude a Federal leader from the election debates. Small wonder that even the Australians are commenting on the decline of Canadian democracy.

We need to re-structure our election system, we need to establish public debates, and we need to accept that coalitions are a fair and frequently desirable outcome of a multi-party election. Perhaps most importantly, we need to turf the government that has been found in contempt of parliament.

4) Afghanistan

This one is a quick one. There is evidence that our military has been complicit in torture. This is totally unacceptable. It needs to be investigated, and if there is anything to the allegations then the people responsible need to be charged with war crimes. We will also have to seriously re-think our involvement in the poorly conceived War on Terror.

5) Income Inequality

According to Statistics Canada, 23 percent of full-time Canadian workers earn less than than 65 percent of the medium income. This puts us second only to the United States in terms of income inequality, and it is by no means inevitable. In Germany, this number is 13 percent. In Sweden, it is only 5. The old cliche that you have to spend money to make money has a tragic flipside: If you’re making money, then you probably already had money. This does not bode well for those who do not already have money. Redistribution of wealth is a favourite bogeyman of the right, but what is never acknowledged is that the wealth of this country is already heavily redistributed through our capitalist status quo. There is no reason why people who are particularly good at business deserve to be ridiculously wealthy at the expense of everyone else. For more on that, see The Trouble with Billionaires.

This would be the least popular issue to solve, because it involves tax hikes. You needn’t fear, however, unless you are rich. We need higher tax brackets, we need an inheritance tax for the wealthy, and we need a higher rate of taxes on capital gains. We also need to reverse the Harper corporate tax cuts, and crack down on tax evasion by the wealthy and the corporate sector. This extra government revenue can be used to pay down the deficit, and improve social services in the country to solve dozens of issues that are only issues for want of funding.

At least one party has made its position clear on these issues: The Harper Government wants to cut corporate taxes, and force the burden of the deficit on to the little guy by slashing social services, while continuing to distort our democracy and ignoring the issues of climate change, torture in Afghanistan, and G20 police abuses. Let’s hope that at least one opposition party offers an alternative that addresses these problems.