Thursday, 27 October 2011

Letters: Why does Toronto protest lack Canadian content?

Walkom: It’s polite, but Toronto protest lacks Canadian content!

By Thomas Walkom,  Toronto Star, National Affairs Columnist,
October 18, 2011, 

In style, the Occupy Toronto protest is almost stereotypically Canadian. Those camping out in a downtown city park are polite and respectful to all, including police. The campsite itself is meticulously tidy, with protest placards lined up for inspection along the pathways.

So far, the protesters have shown no tolerance for thugs or vandals. In content, though, the Toronto demonstration seems curiously divorced from both the city and country in which it is taking place.

Maybe I missed it. But after a day at St. James Park, I didn’t find many talking about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to aid corporate interests by banning Air Canada strikes.

Nor did I find any talk about the radical moves coming from Toronto City Hall — such as contracting out city garbage collection in order to break the public sector unions, or selling off assets, or slashing library hours or cutting back transit services.

On the Ontario government’s ongoing moves to hand over public electrical generating capacity to big private corporations there was radio silence.

Ditto on the Bank of Canada’s decision to keep the dollar high at the expense of manufacturing jobs in Ontario.

For a movement focusing on distribution of income between the wealthiest one per cent and the rest of us, there was little mention of such basics as the minimum wage and income tax rates.

Nor was there discussion of how Canadian employers have used both globalization and high unemployment to ratchet down wages.

The Alberta tarsands? That’s a tough topic for a movement claiming to speak for 99 per cent of the population, since cutting back heavy oil production to protect the environment would lead to more joblessness.

But you would think the topic might be addressed.

And maybe in some places, it was. But not in the discussions I listened to. Instead, the criticisms were vague and derivative.

During a session with one small group that graciously allowed me to listen in, the most coherent complaint had little to do with Canada. Rather, it was levelled against the U.S. Federal Reserve, that country’s central bank.

Indeed, most of the language of the Toronto protest appears to have been imported verbatim from the far more famous demonstration on New York’s Wall St.

Thus bailouts were condemned. But which ones? Unlike, the U.S., Canada didn’t bail out its banks. It did, however, help bail out auto giants GM and Chrysler.

Do the protesters object to that? If so, they are probably offside with 99 per cent of Ontario’s autoworkers, who were happy to see their jobs saved.

Occupy Toronto opposes corporate greed. But what does that mean? Do those in the 99 per cent whose pensions are invested in corporate equities think it greedy when stock prices rise?

All of this is not to disparage the protest. There is a real energy at St. James Park among people who think something is wrong with the world the way it works now.

Security guard Jarret Maxwell, for instance, says that while his life is good he finds it intolerable that so many across the globe are so poor.

He also freely admits he doesn’t know much about how government works but figures he has to find out — since, he says, that’s the way to change things.

With luck, he will. With luck, the Occupy Toronto protesters will eventually coalesce around a series of concrete aims.

But first they have to address reality as it is — in this city, in this province, in this country. We are much affected by the U.S. But its situation is not ours.

Thomas Walkom

October 27, 2011,

After reading the above by Thomas, I am moved to write this post, one i've been thinking about for the last couple of weeks since Occupy Toronto set-up camp in St. James Park.

So here is my take on things. There are some people that simply hate! They hate our banks. They hate our Provincial and Municipal governments. I get that. I am not thrilled with all banks or all Provincial and Municipal government decisions either. And let’s face it, if I were this would be a rather mundane blog. But the Occupy folks seem to think our banks and recently elected Provincial and Municipal governments are good for nothing. I read things like 'bankers are greedy' or 'there is nothing the Provincial and Municipal governments do that is good'. I hear statements such as “I didn’t vote in the last two recent Provincial and Municipal elections or the ballot is a "worthless piece of paper and doesn’t give either government the right to do anything for me or to me”.

But wouldn't these folks be further ahead to Occupy Congress...that's where the 1991 decision was made by President Clinton to abolish their Glass-Steagall Act from 1934 that had placed controls on bankers for causing the Great Depression. It was Congress that voted to provide taxpayer dollars to finance the purchase of homes folks could not afford and then, forced to rescue the same banks when folks didn't repay their mortgages. So, I was a little confused about why these folks saw fit to camp in our park in inclement weather!

When I looked for suggestions for the heading of this post, I got cliche answers that try to trivialize my point such as “oh, so if someone steals my TV, I should abandon my house?” All of these things baffle me because I am not saying these things at all.

Many times, I have made the point to different folks that being in Canada is a choice and a responsibility. The response is usually hostile and often taken as I am telling folks to leave the country. I am not trying to kick someone out of the country. But I do believe that in a world like this one, it is a shame that folks have horrible things to say about a country that offers the best opportunity to live free. So I wanted to take a moment to discuss this rationally, without any emotion and without directing it at anyone so that no one gets their feelings hurt thinking I don’t like them.

Is our country ideal? Unfortunately, that is not always possible....but is there a better alternative? Not that i'm aware of. I understand that the Provincial government has let it's spending get out of control. I understand that during the G20 riots, there were examples of individual rights being taken away or trampled on by folks who refused to leave the scene of the crime. I understand that Canada doesn’t offer the complete individual freedom that some folks crave.

But I believe we are closer to ideal than any other country out there. Let’s start with this blog. In many other countries, I would not be able to be as critical of any government as I am here. In many other countries, I would be locked up or even killed for simply speaking out against the government. I have more freedom in Canada than most people in the world have. Freedom to practice the religion that I choose, regardless of what it may be. Freedom to demonstrate peacefully. Freedom to leave the country should I choose to, which some countries don’t offer.

I didn’t commit to voting either. But I recognize our freedom as a great attempt to create the best order out of mass confusion possible. I find it amazing that the right to vote was created so that citizens could provide guidance to our government, creating a charter in 1867 that is largely still relevant today.

So whenever I read of folks who seem to absolutely hate our banks and government and would prefer both didn’t exist at all, I am always baffled. Because I don’t believe that a country without financial structure and guidance would work. I simply don’t believe that a Canada without financial structure and an elected government can provide the opportunities that we enjoy.

So I make the statement to folks that it is a choice and a responsibility to live here. Because ultimately it is just that, a choice and a responsibility.

One of the beautiful things about living in Canada is we are free to leave if we want to. If we believe that the Canadian government is the worst on the planet, we can move to France or Costa Rica or Ghana or China or wherever we choose. We even have the free will to choose to live in Somalia under shariah law if that more fits what we think is right and fair.

I have that choice and responsibility and I have chosen to stay and do my part. I do so because I think I have a better opportunity for a good life here than I would somewhere else. I have chosen to stay and do my part because I think I am more free in Canada than I would be in other places (and I have thus far visited 14 other countries).

By choosing to stay and do my part, I am making the statement that I think daily life is better here than other country. I am choosing to stay and do my best to change what I don’t like as a citizen by exercising my freedom that serves as a blueprint for our government. By staying, I am choosing to be a part of what Canada is, the good and the almost good enough.

So when I say that you are free to leave, it isn’t a threat. It is simply a reality. If folks hate it here as much as some folks seem to, they have the individual freedom to choose to leave. However, if folks choose to stay, then they are choosing to join a cast of over 30 million, and that means that they are choosing to vote and pay taxes to our government for what they provide and they are choosing to abide by the will of the majority of the people. That is what being in Canada means. We are free to work and to vote in order to make it a better situation than it currently is, and we are also free to find a better situation elsewhere.

I am not mad at any of the Occupiers who hate our banks or our government, I merely don’t understand why they choose to stay, if what they feel is they're in the worst country on earth. Nobody has to stay. Anyone can move to Sweden if they think it is better there.

You can go anywhere.......but you are not. And you aren’t going to. And you know why? Because deep down, you know that there isn’t a better gig for you. You know that despite all of its flaws, Canada is still the only place where you have the opportunity to do what you do. The freedom to write in your blogs, to demonstrate on our streets and congregate in our parks was won on the backs of many of our grandfather's and great-grandfather's who fought; and some died for the freedom you now enjoy! And you aren’t going to leave because in the end, you know that many of the ideals that Occupy leaders, like that graphic artist and founding editor of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn espouse so fervently, even you know they cannot work.

And in that way I think that many of the Occupy leaders who espouse such hatred for our banks and government are hypocrites. They hate the very thing that on this planet gives you the right to protest...Freedom. I understand the ideal of personal freedom and that you want to reach for as much of it as possible. I also understand that despite contrived rantings to the contrary, you know that you have it better here than you would elsewhere. Because if that weren’t true, you would have left already.

So please allow me to be clear. I don’t want to kick any of you Occupiers out. You are more than welcome to stay. My statement that you are free to leave isn’t meant as a threat or an easy way out of any argument. I am not trying to insult you in some way. I am merely stating the obvious fact. And regardless of what cliche you throw at me next, that fact will remain and other readers will understand that it is merely a smokescreen meant to hide the reality that no matter how much the Occupiers complain about the our banks or government or complain that individual freedom doesn’t exist here, it rings hollow. Because the rest of us can see through that smokescreen and we understand one fact that cannot be ignored… you are still here.

You don’t have a better option. If you did, you would have taken it.


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