Voter Apathy or Leadership Vacuum?

The Globe had an amusing article this morning about voter apathy. Of course the article cited attack ads, message box campaigns and the perception that their vote didn’t count. But from where I sit it, voter apathy is easy to believe in. Despite all the posturing and seemingly endless streams of attack ads decrying their opponents as baby eaters and crooks, politicians seem particularly vacuous in one key area — leadership.

Why should I care about anybody who seems to believe in whatever the polsters have identified as the issues of the day? Because when they get in office they have another agenda and the party platform was discarded as easily as it was picked up. How can one get passionate about issues in a campaign when one knows that these will be abandoned as soon as the campaign is over. Where are their principles? Or more important, do these politicians have a vision for what this country could become that I would be willing to work towards (to say nothing of pay for)? But no, with all the real problems that we have between the economy, official corruption, financial scandals and and endless stream of misery abroad, all I seem to get from my local MP is that he is working hard on getting tough on crime. Oy…

So in the end, why should I or anyone else care? My taxes will go up regardless, the country will still be in a mess, but if politicians are really impotent, maybe solutions would be found by private enterprise and the problems will just go away. Or maybe they will just decide to outsource the whole government to someone, and we will lose even the illusion of control over our institutions? Maybe if ‘none of the above’ had a place on the ballot there would be a way to express our disdain beyond just not voting?

Battle of the Anonymous Wind Mailers

Our mailbox has, over the last few days, become a battleground for the pro and anti wind groups here. First we got an anonymous mailer (from a ‘neighboor’) attesting that anticipated benefits to an area resulting from wind development might not materialize now that the ‘Green Energy’ bill has removed local zoning controls. Then today we got another anonymous mailer — the first part of an article about a Wolfe Island couple who were counting on the $10,000 per year for each of four wind turbines they allowed on their buffalo farm. I am sure there will be more of these coming.

There is a certain sadness to both of these mailings that goes to one of the central problems of the controversy. In Canada, as other places, wind project development has proceeded in an adversarial way. Developers quietly creep through a community and swear everyone to secrecy. Neighbor is pited against neighbor right from day one.  People naturally resent things being done to them without their knowledge — and the change to the character of a quiet rural area by populating them with 500 foot tall structures is significant, to say nothing of the destruction of property values, wildlife habitat damage and health concerns that accompany these projects.

And of course there are the economic issues for the farmer. I personally decry the decline of local agriculture — it makes me sad to drive through the area and see mile after mile of once thriving farmland now fallow (or worse) because it was more profitable for some to bring food in from California and Chile rather than grow it locally. This still seems insane and hopefully can be reversed someday, however reasonable it may seem in some Montreal central purchasing office.

So leasing some land to a developer to put up wind turbines seems like a good idea, and probably is — except for the collateral damage, mentioned above. Plus those folks who bought land for retirement homes from those same farmers are not going to be feeling too friendly when they find that their new home is overshadowed by a huge monolith, or dozens.

Wind turbines by themselves are probably not a bad idea, but parking them in the middle of a populated area, especially a major stop on a bird migration route, probably is. But what really poisons the well is the sneaky and adversarial way the whole thing is being done. And the anonymous mailers are merely the latest attack of a long, slow process that has the potential to tear the community apart. I hope it fails.

Transportation and Nation Building

We recently completed a journey by VIA train from Vancouver to Kingston, ON in the ‘Blue and Silver’, a premium (according to VIA) experience.

The human landscapes we passed through were testimonies both to the natural beauties of Canada and the role of a good transportation network in populating and integrating a country. All along the way we were reminded of how this network is crumbling. Huge areas were settled due to the railways. And a glance at the map or attempt to find an airline schedule will show how limited access is to many of these settled areas through other modes of travel. But the railway continues to distance itself from passenger service — major cities are no longer serviced by rail (My son lives in Thunder Bay — you can drive there or fly but the closest train stop is over 100km away). VIA uses CP trackage for its service instead of CN — which means that many urban areas are bypassed and those that are serviced are conveniently accessed from well outside of town, a great convenience I am sure to the non-car owner.

And if the latest news about bus service (a mainstay of the budget traveler) being pulled out of western Ontario and the prairies is true then some of these areas will simply be cut off.

I suspect this is all a result of the continuing delusion of the market as universal decider . Transportation networks are allowed to drop service to populated areas if that service is not sufficiently profitable. This is national necrosis in action — cutting off circulation to an area means that it will eventually die. If it cannot support (on its own) a less expensive form of transportation, it should come as no surprise that more expensive modes will also not be supported.

What interests me is thinking over the long term what the result will be of this necrosis to the nation of Canada as it allows parts of itself to die off — indeed deliberately killed. How does this impact the national character? And how will this affect our ability to utilize our national resources — no, not the rocks and trees but the creativity and hard work of the people?

I would think that maintaining good, economic transportation links to all parts of the country would be a priority for building national identity and a strong economy. Even if some individual parts of this landscape did not pay their own way. This is certainly the argument around arctic sovereignty — if we leave those areas isolated our argument that they are a vital part of the country is pretty weak. Does this same logic not extend to the rest of the country as well? And by extension to differentiating Canada from the US?