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Opinion: Cutting the knot



The following article is an opinion piece by Bill Hulet for his publication, the Guelph-Back-Grounder. It was syndicated with permission and does not represent the views of The Guelph Post. Link to original post.

(Guelph Back-Grounder) – Looking at human society over my short 60 odd years of life one thing becomes increasingly clear to me. In many different ways we seem to have painted ourselves into a corner and find it impossible to get out.

I offer in evidence the fact that there are several different problems presenting themselves which objectively should be relatively easy to deal with—but which humanity seems totally incapable of fixing. Let’s look at some of them.


There are systemic flaws in our electoral systems that any first year political science student could easily fix if they had the power to do so—yet seem totally beyond the abilities of our political “elite” to fix.

Why does it only take a little over 40% of the popular vote in an election to form a parliamentary majority?

It’s not quantum mechanics to understand—yet if you ask the leaders of the political parties you’d think that making elections proportionally represent the will of the voters was as difficult as creating a stable, cost-effective nuclear fusion reactor.

Trudeau let the cat out of the bag in the last election when he said that he’d just change the system before the next election without a constitutional convention or referendum (which he could easily do under the law.) But it never happened. Why? 

There are other problems. We currently have a significant problem with social media influencing elections.

Primarily, the wall that used to separate news from political advertising from third party advertising turns out to be quite porous when it comes to things like FaceBook.

We are supposed to have some sort of mechanism to tell us whether or not something is news or paid political advertising but not anymore because of—.

Why exactly? We are also supposed to have laws that prevent people who support political parties from buying adverts without reporting this as “paid for by the campaign to elect Joe Blow” but not anymore because of—. Why exactly? It’s as if society has created a new class of internet business people who are above the law. Why can’t the political class do anything about this?

Even when we catch someone dead to rights trying to subvert the election law—as in the RoboCall scandal—there doesn’t seem to be any penalty accrued beyond the ritual throwing of the minor player under the bus.

Not much happened, even though the judge opined that something obviously much bigger was going on and certain individuals had fled the country to avoid being dragged into court.

Why didn’t the Crown go after these people for extradition? Why didn’t the Conservative party of Canada—or at least the local riding association—suffer any formal consequences?

Isn’t democracy a thing that should be protected? Why exactly doesn’t the Chief Elections officer have the power to punish political parties that attempt voter suppression? 

(I know, compared to the US we live in a paradise. But this leads to the obvious question. Why can’t the US deal with any problem at all in their electoral system?) 

The legal system

It’s become something of a regular event in Canada. A very high-ranking judge retires and gives a speech where he complains how insanely expensive and time-consuming the legal system has become. He mentions that record numbers of people are trying to represent themselves in court because they don’t believe that they can afford to hire a lawyer. At the same time, there just doesn’t seem to be any money to pay lawyers to represent the poor.

It’s a funny thing. Judges and lawyers are very well educated and well-connected people. Supreme Court judges even have the ability to set precedents in the law and give orders to Parliament.

You would think that they could work together to come up with solutions and work collectively to actually fix this mess.

But all they seem to be able to do is wring their hands in public once their careers have ended and they no longer have any power to actually change anything. 

The recent decision to legalize cannabis sets out an especially bizarre situation where police departments all over the country complained that they needed more money and time to deal with the enormous complexity and cost involved in not investigating, not arresting, not trying, and, not incarcerating people for possession of cannabis.

Presumably the new regulations are so insanely complex that they require extensive training to get the police “up to snuff”. If this is the case, then surely there should also have been a lot of money similarly spent on educating the public about this arcane and complex new set of regulations. (Will I get a cheque in the mail?) 

One last thing. We have regulations in Guelph that control the taxi industry. They exist to ensure that when you get a ride in a cab you are not going to be overcharged, that the cab will be properly insured, that car will be maintained, and, the driver is not an obvious psycho.

The number of cabs is limited to a set number, to ensure that we don’t have so many cars chasing a limited number of fares that no one can make a decent living off the job.

It also ensures that there will be a dispatcher on the phone and a cab to pick me up no matter what ungodly hour I get off work. (Many nights it’s 3:00 am.) Into this legal system Uber arrived.

Their brilliant business model? Break the law and dare the police to do something about it. It seems to be working. Yet another way in which the legal system seems totally incapable of adapting to novelty. 

The environment

Here’s a file near and dear to my heart. Our scientific community keeps putting out more and more frantic communiques about climate change. Politicians go to conferences and sign onto agreements.

And yet, we still elect deniers to high office (with only a little over 40% of the popular vote—a strong majority wants something done, which is part of why proportionality is so damned important.)

Doug Ford’s Conservatives rip up a complex cap-and-trade agreement seemingly on a whim. Some voters and business people complain bitterly when reasonable people suggest that perhaps—if we are really serious about getting off the carbon economy—we shouldn’t be building more capacity to ship off tar sands oil and maybe it might be a good idea to divest from fossil fuel stocks altogether.

It’s as if there is a big chunk of the voting public and the leaders who pander to them simply cannot adapt to this new information about what is and isn’t feasible.

Instead, they have responded by shoving their fingers in their ears and yelling at the top of their lungs. Can the human race survive if so many people’s reaction to an existential threat is not much more than to throw a temper tantrum? 

I really had this brought home to me when I did my three-part “deep dig” on solid waste issues.

Looking at the various elements of the system—including “eco-fees”, coffee pods, and, Stewardship Ontario—it became abundantly obvious that all the various players in industry had zero interest in actually ending the avalanche of garbage that they were creating.

Indeed, by fair means and foul, they repeatedly sabotaged every attempt by the government (Conservative or Liberal—it didn’t really matter who was in power) to make businesses pay the full cost of disposing their waste.

Indeed, much as they often whine about wanting to let “the market decide”, any attempt to put a cost on garbage made them turn into raving Marxists seeking government subsidies to prop up their way of making money.

Why does our government allow these goons to get away with this behaviour?

Here we are in a new year and I’m doing the same old, same old. It takes a lot of work to create this blog and even if the last few posts have been opinion versus investigative journalism, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy behind the scenes doing research. The new stories will be coming out this year. And to be fair, I think that I was really productive in 2018. Anyway, if you want to keep getting opinion, and, investigative reporting both, people need to be willing to support it financially. That means putting a little aside in Patreon or the Tip Jar (don’t worry about the “Daoism blog” bit—that’s how I set the account up for my other blog.)
If you don’t want to use your credit card on line, you can also send me a cheque c/o 124-A Surrey Street East, Guelph, N1H 3P9.   

Growing up

I am usually the first person in any group to suggest that there are few simple solutions.

The whole “raison d’etre” of this news blog is to point out that there are a lot of very important details that need to be considered when we talk about public policy.

Indeed, for years my email signature was a paraphrase of H. L. Mencken‘s dictum: 

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong. The ancients, in the case at bar, laid the blame upon the gods: sometimes they were remote and surly, and sometimes they were kind. In the Middle Ages lesser powers took a hand in the matter, and so one reads of works of art inspired by Our Lady, by the Blessed Saints, by the souls of the departed, and even by the devil.

But having said all of that, there is something deeply important in the story of Alexander and the Gordian knot.

That is to say, sometimes leaders just have to lead. This is different from trying to “finesse”, or “take baby steps”, or “find market solutions”, or “build a consensus”, or “do work a-rounds”, or “check your poll numbers”, or “defer to staff”, or the myriad of other ways politicians refuse to stick their necks out on important issues. It might be that in doing so a politician may destroy her career—but if in doing so they end up making a long-lasting positive impact on society, why should they care? Politics, like life, always ends badly. All anyone can hope to do is add to the small store of positive improvements in the human condition.

And for all that, sometimes the bold move is the only move that will bring you success anyway. Remember the last federal election where the NDP played the “safe” move over and over again—as when they suggested that the government should decriminalize cannabis?

Trudeau—to his credit—cut the knot and said “No. Make me prime minister and I’ll end the debate once and for all by legalizing it!”

It worked, he got elected, and, I suspect that in doing so he has gained the support of many people who will vote for him in the next go around.

And if he’d done the “usual”, “normal” thing we’d have one of the usual dodges: a referendum, a blue-ribbon committee, or a very long time frame.

Instead he just said “here’s the time line and that’s when it’s going to happen. If things aren’t all in place by then, then it’s your fault, not mine. And if there are problems, we can fix them as we go along.”

Yes, there are problems, but they will get resolved. But on the whole a stupid problem that no politician seemed capable of fixing got fixed. And it seemed to take a lot less fuss than we had repeatedly been told it would. If a politician can do this with one issue, they can do it with the others.

The following article is an opinion piece by Bill Hulet for his publication, the Guelph-Back-Grounder. It was syndicated with permission and does not represent the views of The Guelph Post. Link to original post.

Image of scissors from Pexels stock photos.