Saturday, February 13, 2010

A moment of political inspiration - Norm MacDonald

The other day I watched the BC Legislature on the web (you can post your comments about my dorkiness below), and was entirely surprised and indeed delighted to watch Norm MacDonald, MLA for Columbia River - Revelstoke, rise and deliver an inspirational speech on public services and the political process.

I've never heard anything about Mr. MacDonald, but certainly will pay more attention from now on. Anyone who champions the value of the reasoned and productive debate is deserving of our respect. I really recommend watching the video of his speech. He was calm yet passionate, and his belief in the political process was evident.

The full transcript is available here; this post highlights Mr MacDonald's views on the democratic process.

It is over eight years that this government has been in place, and what you saw with the very short throne speech that we had is a government that really has run out of new ideas — ideas about how to deal with the very serious problems that British Columbians face.

We are uniquely fortunate in this province, and I think whenever we go forward, we have to keep the problems that we have here in context. The problems that we have are manageable. There are solutions, but nevertheless, there are real issues that need to be dealt with.

The philosophy that I have, and the philosophy that those that are in the NDP share with me, is the idea that the wisdom of this province sits within the communities and with people on the ground, and that our job is to take that wisdom and bring it into this House and generate policy that is going to reflect the wider wisdom of the people in British Columbia.

Yet what we see is a government that has centralized decision-making and does not share the information in the way that it needs to with the wider population. It does not allow them to participate in the way that they need to. There are real issues that need to be dealt with.

We have a province where more and more children are slipping into poverty. That's a fact that is year after year after year. That poverty ties directly to policy decisions that are made in this House.

It's very easy to stand up and brag about the fact that there are tax cuts. This is something that the wider public embraces, but there are consequences to that. The consequence for this year is that we have a deficit. That deficit is a deficit that you cannot disconnect from the fact that taxes have been lowered. You have taken away some of the tools that taxation allows you to redistribute wealth so that you don't have large parts of your population falling into poverty. That's sound public policy.

Now, it is something that Canada has in the past done quite well — making sure that you don't allow children to fall into poverty. But it's six years in a province with all the wealth, all the potential wealth that British Columbia has, where child poverty is highest in this province.

Now at the end of the speech, in a very strange choice for this government, there was a quotation from Nelson Mandela. Now Nelson Mandela is an incredible individual. I was in Lesotho in the 1980s, '85-86, and Lesotho was surrounded by South Africa at a time when a picture of Nelson Mandela was illegal to have in a South African newspaper. To write his name was illegal. What he has accomplished is pretty amazing.

To lift a quotation and to choose to paraphrase what he said and put it into the throne speech just seems particularly inappropriate. I mean, he has a pretty clear set of standards that I think wouldn't synchronize with the direction that this government goes.

One of the things he said that I think is a direct quotation, rather than to paraphrase it, is this: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way that it treats its children." Now that's a quotation that is exact from Nelson Mandela. When you look at government policy, what you see is — certainly, with the poverty piece — no effort, no sincere effort on behalf of this government to deal with a very real problem.

You have Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who has called on the Premier — has called on the Leader of the Opposition as well — to meet with her to work together on a poverty plan, asked legislators here to work on dealing on that poverty issue. Yet the Premier will not participate in dealing with that.

We heard nothing in the throne speech that really talks about that issue at all, because it's not a priority for this government. Yet if you're going to quote Nelson Mandela, to be true to what he believes in…. He says very clearly that you have to deal with the issue of child poverty, but year after year I've come to this House and it is never dealt with in a meaningful way. That's fundamentally wrong.

Well done, Norm MacDonald. Take note, Gordon Campbell; that is the way to quote Nelson Mandela. And that is how you should approach public policy, as a tool for improving the lives of British Columbians.*

* Thanks again to Paul Willcocks over at Paying Attention for this simple idea.

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