A blog that wants to start conversations about policy in Canada. Email: politiquepolicy [@] gmail. com
In the event that you are confronted by someone on a policy topic you happen to now a lot about and it is evident they do not, what do you do?
Get red in the face and bite your tongue? talk their ear off about how they are wrong? subtlety undermine everything they say?
Whichever avenue you choose, it may be useful to consider casual social advocacy as your method of persuasion. This isn’t rough, or mean or even competitive - it is advocacy with jeans on.
In my experience, when I’ve spoken to individuals about what I do for work, or what I have studied I typically encounter that stereotype ‘isn’t that dangerous?’ or ‘are your clients unstable?’ you get the idea. The problem I find with a lot of advocacy is that it is a bit too in your face, and for the polite, non-voting, unengaged Canadian having someone tear-your-ear-off will certainly turn-you-off. Not to mention, most advocacy does not allow for any sort of conversation to be had. No disrespect to those who take on the hard work of being in the public eye, and advocating for their cause, this circumstance is not their fault!
In grad school, I felt that I constantly had to clarify the difference between some made up notion of the state of social welfare and the realities of how precarious it is to be living on social assistance. Even now, part of building relationships with stakeholders for me means re-directing their frustration, anger and judgement about clients in a way that teaches them the difficulties of their journeys. Arousing empathy in another person seems to be the easiest way to get that point across.
So, at this point you are probably wondering what this magical thing casual social advocacy is? It is a matter of getting to know who you are talking to, and being comfortable with hearing their prejudices. Don’t get thrown off, or worked up over what you hear because that person, like every other person is learning for the rest of their life. However, make what you are trying to enlighten the person with easy , simple and not argumentative … like a real conversation.
On Thursday March 27th 2014 I attended the Truth and Reconciliation Event in Edmonton. It was a powerful experience in both a political and emotional way.
The who’s who of Aboriginal Politics were there: Justice Sinclair, Sean Atleo, Thomas Mulcair, Joe Clark and the Governor General in addition to a host of other leaders.
The survivor stories were moving, and the mingling of hope and pain was intense to say the least.
The projects and support that are tasked with addressing the impacts of Residential school system range from education grants, addictions treatment to memorial projects.
I was not clear on the why there were honorary witnesses, and why they were such high profile politicians. It started to make the TRC seem like a highly political institution, that was guided by showing face rather than impacting real change. For example, Mayor Naheed Nenshi had tweeted about being honoured to hear the survivor stories;. although, throughout the survivor speeches he sat engrossed in his I-Pad.
I tend to be skeptical of the pomp and pretentious of politics. It is so easy to post tweets, photos, and comments about political support or even show face at an event but to actually act in the spirit of reconciliation, and the intention of building new relationships is a deeply unsettling notion. I don’t know how long the concept of reconciliation will take to catch on, but it is now up to the general public to take on the challenge of addressing the prejudices and injustices that Aboriginal peoples experience on a daily basis.
Where does politics intersect with policy here to make the road to reconciliation real?
Is this a sign of successful indigenous advocacy? what are the policy measures following from this that will create tangible change?
In the past few months I have been observing the politics of housing unfold in on of Canada’s most sprawling cities - Calgary, Alberta.
As much as prosperity brings a slew of shiny new audis, 4-bedroom homes in bedroom communities and some semblance of economic security it hasn’t in a capitalist economy style improved the quality of living for everyone. What ‘improved’ means here is undefined, and for the purposes of my observations let it mean living a standard of living that includes : enough cash flow for rent, groceries, cloths, public transportation and occasional social outings.
A recent Ipsos-Reid poll that asked the question ‘What would end homelessness?’ resulted in this popular response: give people clothes. Clothes? really? Anyway, I digress.
One swirling issue is that of ‘Secondary Suites’ where a house owner applies to re-zone their house from a single tenancy to a double tenancy status. These secondary suites are typically basements - which for the most part are ‘illegal dwellings’ according to City by-laws. The main planning argument for not approving an increasing in double tenancy homes, would increase the number of people parking on the street and this congestion would just be too much for bedroom-communities to handle.
The congestion argument, as you can imagine, is cloaked by a sense that housing Calgary’s low-income population is nobody’s problem but those who cannot locate reasonable and safe housing.
Post the June 2013 flood, safe and affordable housing has become a hot-button issue that is on the top of Naheed Nenshi’s mind. As well as the Calgary Residential Renter’s Association, in addition to various non-profit organizations supporting the project to end homelessness.
These are all observations, so far, sorry I will get back to my main point.
If a City that requires all kinds of people employed in low and high end positions requires all of these people to be housed to keep it’s great big economic engine going, why not make it easier to live here?
Are people actually afraid of that new basement neighbour and their street-parked pick-up truck? or are they nervous that they are living in a Calgary that they didn’t plan for?
On a broader scale - how should citizens be involved in shaping Housing Policy? Should governments (municipal, provincial and federal) step in the way they did in the 70s and create low-income housing opportunities ?
Who knows - I will be interested to see how this pans out and is used for political meat in this upcoming elections. *puts on the popcorn and turns on my non-existent tv*
In it’s most junior form, capitalism was thought to bring order and peace to society. As capitalism increased across the western and eastern world, way back in the day, large-scale war fare reduced. Civilization needed to be combative through trading resources rather than trading sword wounds.
What I do think is interesting is how policy - the operation of politics - has the potential to act as a grounds for consensus building, re-visioning and maybe even peace-making.
There are conferences like Model UN, Defence Consortiums and even the Couchiching Institutes upcoming conference “Coming Together as One: Navigating the Relationship Between Indigenous Peoples and Canada”. These venues promote the idea that they uniquely provide a space for policy capacity building and knowledge sharing to improve relations amongst competing parties.
One could argue that policy conferences have very little practical application as they are often lead by professors, and other public intellectuals who may not understand the lived-experience of many issues. This may lead one to believe that the discussions are only useful in that context.
Do policy conferences have the power to bring peace?
The fraternity of federalism is what characterizes the Canadian political structure.
When conceptualizing that fraternity, James Madison sought to create a collective out of many particulars. In doing so, our founding myths and sense of nationalism are the sinew that binds us together as a nation.
On the eve of Victoria day, and in the midst of renaissance of Indigenous activism I begin to wonder how well as a federation we care for each other.
The components of modern federalism include - fiscal arrangements, political and legal responsibilities, and myths that instruct the why behind the -because I am Canadian. To be honest, the programs and administrative function of the federal government don’t always seem to be the most relevant to daily Canadian life.
Are we a compassionate nation for our brethren because we redistribute wealth through taxation? because we like the idea of public education and health care? because we share some history as a colony?
I am still not sure, but in my experience with the study of federalism the piece of the puzzle that makes us all Canadian quite often seems untouchable or irrelevant. I am also puzzled how a nation, that hopes to build relationships between Canadians, new immigrants, Indigenous communities in the spirit of nation-to-nation partnerships expects to do so using a framework that doesn’t allow much room for empathy and understanding.
Is it time to start practicing a federalism of compassion?