More Discussion of Diversity Is Needed:

Open Letter to The Sunday Edition, CBC Radio, December 22, 2016
BY Jim Harding Ph D

Your recent radio panel on diversity just scratched the surface. This is important stuff so please do more.

It was predictable that you would get some blowback, for most of us are still using terms that come from racializing other people. Even the victims of racialization can inherit this way.

Language matters and it, too, has to evolve for diversity, multiculturalism and human rights to become the global norm. And I am not talking about being “politically correct”.

For example, while we know that there are no “races”, only the human race, we are still talking in terms of “race relations”. Even Obama does this. We are all still somewhat caught, even a bit trapped, with the baggage of language that arose from colonizing and racializing (othering) people.

We are still very much immersed in this language. Just today, as I wrote this to you, two news stories revealed this. One was on CBC TV’s The National. It spoke of South Africa’s Apartheid system “separating white from other races”. But there is no “white race” and there never was; nor has skin colour explained anything about people’s ethnic and cultural heritages. Just because the Apartheid regime used racism to maintain oppressive control does not mean we should still talk in these terms. Who was overseeing that CBC story?

Certainly, collective heritage that involves the racializing of colour can become part of a cultural or political identity. Black Lives Matter is a response to brutal policing that stems from the history of the racialization that persists from slavery and segregation. But we’d never refer to everyone else as being “non-black”, from a black supremacist perspective? There is no “black race”, just like there is no “white race”.

Continuing to talk of a “white race” or any race at all just confounds discourse and encourages supremacism.

DNA research will continue to show our common and overlapping heritages, regardless of skin tone or any genetic variation that affects appearance. Lots of identity politics is going to go the way of the Flat Earth Society. All supremacists of whatever “shade or colour” or ethnic nationalism should take a DNA test to find out their evolutionary roots. It’s an exciting time, a time to wake up.

But the racializing language can be subtle.

There was also a story about how a Mohawk community has banned “non-indigenous people” from living there. If a woman or man considered Mohawk married a person who is not of Mohawk background, they can’t live there. Offspring will be shunned, as were those of Metis heritage in Canada’s darker history. This is a reactionary reversion.

Referring to people as being “nons”, never works. We won’t tolerate the use of the term “non-white”, but somehow being referred to as “non-indigenous” is in vogue. Hopefully this is just a stage in embracing Reconciliation. It would be much more fruitful to call all of us, indigenous and settler, from all continents, as Treaty People. That would be the language of inclusion, not othering.

None of us can be respected or understood if we are treated as a “non”. To get past the colonializing, racializing language we all need to be referred to in direct terms, not as an “other”.

Being referred to as a “non” or “the other” is a path to ethnocentrism and even chauvinism. It reinforces the dangerous “us and them”. We presently see the Conservative Party grappling with whether it is going to continue to play the Trump-like politics of “us and them”, regarding “Canadian values”. This can become a path to protecting the “purity” of one’s culture or nation or even “race”. This will go nowhere good. Canada needs to keep moving on.

I refer to myself as a settler, as my great grandparents all came from Ireland or Scotland. If asked I explain I am of Celtic-Canadian heritage, though DNA tests will likely reveal much more. Our self-identity as a “Canadian” already acknowledges the relationship of us all to indigenous history (“Kanata” was an Iroquois-Huron term for “village”).  I am not “non-indigenous”, or “non-English”, for that matter. I am not a “non-anything”, any more than someone from an indigenous or visible minority background (not a very revealing term) is “non-white”, or “non-Anglo-Saxon” or non-anything.
Supremacy and chauvinism can be two sides of a coin. All of us have to shed the baggage.

Perhaps we can also learn from the Kiwis. Their citizens who have European, so-called foreign ancestry (it was mainly English at the start) are often called Pakeha, which is a Maori term for people who came by boat from afar. They are not called “non-Maori”. Many street signs in New Zealand’s capital have Maori-indigenous names; we should do a similar thing here.

In our search for post-colonial identities of self and mutual respect we still get stranded by terms that have racializing-othering connotations. To learn to live with our evolving diversity we will need to move on to find terms that affirm all of us; that build our relationships, as one race, the human race, and can steadily move us towards reconciliation.

Perhaps you could explore this aspect of “diversity”; it will bring more of us into the important conversation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

INSIGHTS FROM OUR SPLIT BRAIN: Part 2, EVOLUTION, NEUROSCIENCE AND OUR QUEST FOR SUSTAINABILTY

BY Jim Harding Ph D

We now know that our evolved brain is somewhat split, with a right and left hemisphere. Interconnected and always communicating through the corpus callosum, these hemispheres nevertheless nurture different qualities of consciousness. The right hemisphere is more linked to visual and spatial orientation whereas the left is more linked to thought and speech. Meanwhile, each hemisphere coordinates the other side of the body; it is an exquisitely evolved system.

RIGHT AND LEFT HEMISPHERES

Without oversimplifying this, our logical and more linear left hemisphere tends to nurture awareness of individual identity, including our orientation through time. This can shape a consciousness of separation, which in turn leads us to query or makes assertions about “I”; “What am I? I am what?”?” For simplicity let’s call this the “existential hemisphere”.

The right hemisphere tends to nurture awareness about the present moment, to process the sensory explosion and field of energy within which we all exist. This can shape a consciousness of connection, which leads us to query or hold beliefs about “this”; “What is this? This is what?” Again for simplicity let’s call this the “environmental hemisphere”.

After brain scientist Jill Taylor suffered a hemorrhage in her left hemisphere she watched her awareness of the separate “I” disappear and finally had to surrender to the cosmic “we”. After surgery it took her eight years to recuperate. See her 2008 Ted Talk “A stroke of Insight”.

AVOIDING EXTREMES

Our self-awareness about our unique existence can take us in very different directions; it can go from “I am nothing” to “I am everything”. Both extremes are dangerous to us as individuals and to our communities. Whether we separate or merge our identity, we are setting ourselves and others up for surplus suffering. Compassionately respecting each other’s human rights is very different than dissociation or, on the other extreme, merging with totalitarian-like rule.

Right hemisphere awareness is more free-floating and thus linked to music, creativity and belonging. We have always needed awareness of our tribe-community and our habitat and this awareness can keep us from being self-absorbed. In an evolutionary sense we have clearly needed both kinds of awareness – as a vulnerable, individual organism and as an interdependent social being.

Once we evolved into a fully mobile, bi-pedal social animal we had to scan the immediate environment for food and danger and to build and maintain our essential social support networks. However, the human infant is the most vulnerable and dependent of any primate and must be cared for at length while our “big brain” grows and develops. Without our big brain we can’t become fully human; in that sense our big brain and our need for society are inextricably linked.

Yet as a highly socialized animal we are also vulnerable. Rather than having an open, probing, scanning awareness, we can become conditioned to believe that “this is what the groups says it is”, or “this is what authority says it is”, or “this is what the belief system I was born into says it is”.

HUMANITARIAN WISDOM

The combination of the two brain hemispheres created the capacities for human survival, expansion and the quick (60,000 year) colonization of the planet. However, this also created the conditions for subservience and mass delusion. Climate denying is one big example. The crucial question now is, can the revolution in neuroscience encourage the self-awareness and self-regulation required to be sustainable as a species?

Wisdom can be seen as finding balance in the orientations – the verbal and visual, the logical and artistic. I think it is helpful if we think of this as balancing the existential and the environmental. This is not at all straight-forward, for the reactive or reptilian brain and the emotional and memory-shaping mammalian brain are always influencing our thoughts and behavior. While we are inclined towards existential and environmental awareness, we are also being pulled between arousal (amygdala) and foresight (neo-cortex). It is indeed quite a balancing act.

BALANCE DESIREABLE

If a child grows up to feel and believe that “I am threatened” and “this is a dangerous place”, then finding balance will be much harder.How society is ordered, one’s formative experiences, and the depth of the human support one has, will all shape how one feels about “I” and “this”. We can all be distracted and even immobilized by strong beliefs about the “I” or the “this”. And yet, as we learn more about our complex selves, our interdependence and how the two brain hemispheres can work together, we can all move towards balance.

Our beliefs matter. We can tend towards the narcissistic and/or delusional. We are always being challenged to maintain our orientation in time (mortality) and space (presence); our personal and communal wellbeing depends on this. The power of the “tribe” can lead us to merge the “I” with a restrictive view about what “this is”. We can racialize or demonize others, relegate others to another status, gender, class or nation. And we can even embrace and violently defend such limiting self-other identities. We see this aggressive parochialism in our midst; I’ve seen it in local politics.

CARRYING ON

But our two brain hemispheres somehow got us to where we are. Deepening our awareness about these evolved capacities, and how we can go off the rails, is vital for our sustainability. Even in the midst of the turmoil in the present world, clarity about how our complex brain operates and can pull us in differing directions, can help us steer ourselves in a more careful way.

We are always somewhere between arousal and self-regulation, between animalistic survival and curious inquiry. When we are shut down and resigned to habitual beliefs about what “I am” or what “this is” we become more self-annihilating. But we all know that we have a higher capacity, upon which we can continue to build. Mindfulness and compassion, together, can be seen as a way to balance the existential and the environmental awareness that comes with the push and pull of the left and right brain hemispheres. The prospects are exciting.

In Part 3 I’ll explore what we can learn from our hominoid ancestors.

Posted in Culture, R-Town News, Sustainability | Tagged , , ,

EVOLUTION, NEURO-SCIENCE AND THE QUEST FOR SUSTAINABILITY

Part 1 in a Series

BY Jim Harding, Ph D

There’s a new TV series about “the enlightenment”. It’s not about the renaissance and the rise of science after the Middle Ages in Western Europe. It looks back further, to the changes in worldview that occurred across many cultures in the ancient world, around 400-500 BC.

It takes Buddhism out of the context of comparative religion, where it is often placed because of its origins in Hinduism, and places Buddha alongside Socrates and Confucius, associating them all with the growth of reason, insights into natural law and growing awareness about the responsibilities that come with this emerging awareness. All three philosophers lived within expanding urban environments where people were being challenged to outgrow their parochial roots. The new realities gave birth to different versions of what came to be known as the Golden Rule.

This is timely, for our path to sustainability will rely on this ongoing enlightenment. Some believe we are re-entering such a period as we grapple with the challenges of diversity and sustainability, though it’s hard to see this with all the ecological, cultural and religious blowback we are facing. Some political tendencies, especially nativistic nationalism, make it seem like we are in a period of regression and reaction. The desperate migration of humans escaping warfare, failed states, climate change or burgeoning inequality certainly doesn’t seem to display much human enlightenment.

The present clash over whether Britain should or should not, stay in the European Union (EU) reveals the desire of many to consolidate and restrict identity and immigration in a period of growing human encounter. It’s is very different to say “I am and want to stay English” than to say “I am European”. It’s probably time we simply said “I am human”.

If we look beneath all this, we could be on the edge of a leap in human species self-awareness. As in the time of Buddha, Socrates and Confucius, this requires letting go of fixed identities. This time we likely have to discover why we need and how we form identities and to learn to do this in more peace-loving ways. The global human rights movement is a good beginning. There are no guarantees, but if we don’t embrace the enlightenment in our midst, the leap to a more sustainable life will be much harder to make.

PSYCHOLOGICAL ROOTS

In the mid-1960s when I was studying psychology, the field was in a fast transition into physiology. We had a joke at the time that “first psychology lost its soul, then it lost its mind and now it is having trouble with its behavior.” Psychology was leaving behind religious “explanations”, Freudianism was discrediting simplistic views of human consciousness, and many naively thought that we were primarily a bundle of conditioned behavior. The physiological model was still mechanistic, asserting that the “mind” could be explained by brain function and function was mostly reduced to brain structure.

We have now learned about what’s called our neuroplasticity: our ability to relearn brain-body functions damaged through strokes, diseases or accident. In our unequal society, not all patients have equal access to the medical-therapeutic programs required for this profound rehabilitation; I have a friend who suffered from encephalitis who didn’t have access to timely, persistent recovery-rehabilitation. Our new awareness about neuroplasticity, that what “fires together wires together”, is however already inspiring us to try new ways. Insights into PTSD, mindfulness training and advances in neuroscience have all mushroomed. This deepening knowledge has immense implications for us moving forward.

NEUROSCIENCE

We have discovered much about our evolved brain. We don’t have different brains, as some allege, rather our central nervous system has co-evolved through different species-stages. We could say we have a reptilian brain, a mammal brain and a primate brain all wrapped up in our human body.

The reptilian brain is associated with the cerebellum, and is tied to regulating bodily function. The mammalian brain is associated with the limbic system and is tied to memory and emotion. And the primate brain is associated with the neo-cortex and is tied to thought, language and imagination.

We couldn’t be fully human without all these capacities. Our so-called higher functions, which we associate with culture and science, require memory, emotion and bonding, and none of this would be possible without a self-regulated body. Our capacity for sentience and for compassion depends upon this interwoven “whole”. I can’t help wondering why traditionally-religious people sometimes seem reluctant to learn about how such an intricate, interwoven web-of-life has evolved on this planet.

Our interwoven brain has a long and continuing history. The first brain developed with fish starting about 500 million years ago, the second came with small mammals about 150 million years ago and the third came with our primate ancestors only about 2 or 3 million years ago. This interwoven brain has evolved into an integrated system with inter-connected neural pathways. It’s no wonder that we sometimes feel caught between animism and having delusions of human separation and supremacy. Neither view of human nature or human prospects is sustainable; it’s time to let go and move on.

SELF-REGULATION

With this new knowledge we seem able, though probably not quite ready, to better understand what and who we are. Romanticized and other delusional views will continue to erode. And we can become much more content with who and what we are as a human species if we more fully accept how we ended up with, and learn to live with, our capacities and vulnerabilities.

We don’t want to misunderstand or mystify the interwoven brain as though it is like a programmed computer; it is not. We are a hormonal, social and spiritual being all at once and we are highly challenged straddling all these dimensions. We sometimes “go off the rails”. We know that we can go off the rails collectively, as we’ve done with genocide, preparing for nuclear war or with climate denial. Our increasingly interdependent species, which has the technological and economic prowess to alter the bio-physical processes of evolution itself, now clearly needs to make a big leap.

Next time I’ll explore what our “split brain” may suggest about our species’ capacity to become more sustainable.

Posted in Climate Change, Culture, Ecology, Human Impact, R-Town News, Sustainability | Tagged , , ,

THE FORT McMURRAY MEGA-FIRE: WE ARE WAY PAST WAKE-UP CALLS

By Jim Harding, PhD

Nearly 90,000 environmental refugees in once oil-rich Alberta; who would have imagined? A seemingly endless cavalcade of frightened people in vehicles spewing more carbon as they escape an inferno! And the outpouring of support from fellow Canadians, who might have once believed that Alberta was going to be the engine of Canada’s economic future.

By Mother’s Day there were already 200,000 hectares of forest turned into more carbon going into the steadily warming atmosphere. The fire zone was doubling daily. There were huge oil-storage tanks at the tar-sands which some worried were at risk of exploding. Memories of Kuwait!

No science-fiction here.

The mass media naturally focused on the human drama and largely ignored the climate crisis, comparing the devastation, with 2,400 buildings gone up in flames, to a “war zone”. The only war here is on nature with humans everywhere now facing blowback from human-induced, evolutionary-scale changes occurring on the planet.

Fly-in journalists look for compelling stories of crisis, courage and compassion. One oil-worker who had escaped the flames simply said, “we’ve got some good clean air to breath today, that’s all you need”. This was his animal self talking. Another woman calmly said it’s “the scariest thing in my life” and described the “mad panic, the panic on everyone’s faces” as people drove ferociously to get through the fire. There will be much trauma along with damaged lungs.

Meanwhile satellite images showed the smoke rising from the 200 foot flames already making it to Florida. I checked to ensure I had some good masks here in the Qu’Appelle Valley to be able to walk our dog and work in the garden if we were to get a smoke inversion, as we did for nearly a week last summer from the northern fires.

POLITICAL BUBBLES

Is this going to be our new normal? There shouldn’t be anything normal about not being able to take clean air and water for granted. What have we done? And why is it taking so many people so long to catch on?

The bubbles of many Albertans were already bursting when the price of oil collapsed. Some political bubbles have also burst, most importantly around Harper’s centralized control of the Canadian state. No one saw a NDP government coming in Alberta. No one saw the Leap Document moving to the political mainstream as social democrats, easily mesmerized by their own version of “jobs at any cost”, started to seethe bigger picture.

NOT A SURPRISE

Environment Canada’s senior climatologist didn’t respond with naïve shock when asked if he was surprised by the scale of the wildfire. He simply said “not really” and reminded us that in the prairie provinces it’s been an all-time record dry winter, an earliest ever and record dry spring and that the winter was the 2nd warmest on record. He referred to the conditions as “desert like”.

We can’t attribute any particular fire to climate change, and El Nino and Alberta’s aging forests increased the chances of such a catastrophic wildfire. But, let’s not be naïve, for these influences all occur with the backdrop of steadily rising global temperatures.

Meanwhile politicians from Edmonton to Ottawa will continue to express solidarity and promise support. There will be much praise for the volunteerism; already over $80 million has been raised for the Red Cross, to be matched by both levels of government.

And there will be some heart-felt identity politics: “It’s a tough day for Albertans but we will persevere”, said interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.

But our special identities aren’t going to matter much or save us from the path we have placed ourselves on. It’s going to take something much deeper than reactive care or talk of “returning and rebuilding”. If the billions spent rebuilding is done in an ecologically-responsible way it will expand renewables to make Fort McMurray less dependent on fossil fuels. Then we’d know that Premier Notley means business.

NOT KARMA

Alberta’s mega-fire might surpass Quebec’s 1998 ice storm as our all-time record insurance bill. Calgary’s 2013 flooding is also on the short list. Alberta is clearly getting more than its share of the blowback from the extreme weather that is coming with fossil-fuels and global warming.

One NDP member got into trouble for tweeting that the firestorm was karma for the tar-sands. Not really; climate change won’t punish high-carbon areas as it devastates and traumatizes humans and other creatures on the planet. Most of the environmental repercussions will occur in low-carbon, impoverished regions of the world. Whether you blame El Nino, climate change or more accurately, both, the droughts presently ravaging east Africa and interior India are creating millions not thousands of environmental refugees.

The compassion for the Fort McMurray refugees may yet grow into global compassion and understanding, such as occurred over Syria’s refugees, many of whom were environmental as well as war refugees.

We continue to see new, high global temperatures and recently, each month the rise has been edging upward. Once climate changes become non-linear and the “feed-back loops” kick in, like more mega-fires releasing even more carbon, we are going to be in greater trouble. Reactive crisis management, even with great waves of compassion, will not be enough; our resilience needs to be shored up with awareness and commitment to make big changes. Unfortunately there are still a lot of people in denial, making ill-conceived incremental decisions that contribute to the crisis.

Simply put, we do not have a lot of time to face up to what greed-oriented industrial growth is doing to undermine the conditions of complex life on a planetary scale. We are well past the time of wake-up calls.

Perhaps outgrowing our nationalism and parochialism and waking up as a species is what is now required. And it must happen quickly.

Next time I’ll start a series on how neuroscience and our growing knowledge about evolution may help us get on a more sustainable path.

Posted in Climate Change, Ecology, Human Impact, R-Town News, Sustainability | Tagged , , , ,

WHY WE DON’T CELEBRATE EARTH DAY MUCH IN SASKATCHEWAN

BY Jim Harding Ph. D.

We didn’t hear a lot about Earth Day in Saskatchewan this year. There is a reason why.

I had the honour of speaking at a Multi-Faith/Multicultural event at the Natural History Museum which awarded art created by Saskatchewan students on the theme “caring for the planet”. Regina’s Community Radio station also did an interview on how the environmental movement was doing. CUPE and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) promoted Earth Day.

But we didn’t hear anything from the government.

WE’RE DEAD LAST

There’s a huge elephant in the room. It was there throughout the provincial election, but even the NDP opposition refused to speak of it. It’s probably time we faced the music; Saskatchewan is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to caring for and protecting the earth.

Yes it’s true.

We like to think of ourselves with our rural background and open spaces as being close to nature. Many residents even harbor some kind of identity about liking to spend time in recreation in “natural settings”. But the indicators are clear; we’re abusing the earth and we don’t stand up well in Canadian or global terms.

The Conference Board of Canada ranked Saskatchewan “dead last” in its just released 2016 Environmental Report Card. We were dead last among the provinces and “among all 26 jurisdictions” surveyed. The Conference Board talked frankly of how the resource-driven economic growth about which the Sask Party brags comes “with a hefty environmental price tag”. We got a “D” on 8 of their 10 indicators.

As they said:

“Saskatchewan relies heavily on fossil fuels for generating electricity, and so earns a “D” on low-emitting electricity production. The province also does poorly on the air pollution indicators, earning a “D” grade on SOx emissions and “D–” grades on NOx, VOC, and PM10 emissions. Saskatchewan earns “D–“ grades on the remaining climate change indicators because primary industries compose a large proportion of Saskatchewan’s economy, resulting in a high energy intensity and a high GHG emission rate.”

ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. If we look honestly at a wider range of indicators we find our ecological footprint is among the most destructive on the earth. And that’s probably why we don’t like to acknowledge Earth Day

*Radioactive Footprint:

Saskatchewan extracts around one-quarter of the uranium on the earth. We have been a main source since the nuclear arms race began in the 1950s. We are a major supplier for nuclear power plants worldwide, including those at Fukushima, Japan. From mining and milling, to refining and enriching, to nuclear plant and weapon wastes, there’s a huge radiological footprint.

There’s no other jurisdiction that has contributed as much to the accumulating global radioactivity which starts with mining uranium. Much of this radioactivity remains at “home”, and it’s mostly “out of sight and out of mind”, though the awakening northerners don’t see it this way.

It’s hard to find accurate figures on the build-up of uranium tailings here. This is not something the government wants to be on the tip of the tongue of our students and youth, who do care and worry for the environment.

But by 2008 there were at least 43 million tonnes of uranium tailings left at the nine mines that have been closed or are still operating. That means that by 2008 43 tonnes of radioactive tailings have accumulated for each of us alive now. And they continue to amass and will be radioactive for thousands of generations.

Both NDP and Sask Party governments have bragged about the royalties and jobs from uranium mining, this is largely spin. After the uranium boom the north remains where it was before – still the second poorest region in Canada.

But our province is No. 1 in the world when it comes to the accumulation of toxic uranium tailings.

*Chemical Footprint:

Not only is the northern environment being abused; with the expansion of industrial agriculture (mining the soil) we’ve become the biggest users of toxic chemicals. This, too, is an elephant in the room; it’s not yet discussed on coffee row, though it should be.

Our chemical footprint is huge, certainly the highest in Canada. In 1997 Saskatchewan used at least 18 million kg of pesticides, 36% of the whole country. We are only 8% of the population. From 2001-2003, partial records which excluded some agricultural and all domestic pesticides, showed us using 7 to 10 million kg of these toxic chemicals.

If we assume we use at least 15 million kg a year that would leave a pesticide footprint of 15 kg for each man, woman and child in Saskatchewan. That’s a lot of chemicals going into the environment year after year, to find their way into watersheds, food chains and the web of live. And that’s just pesticides!

*Habitat Footprint:

Mining the soil and resource extraction has degraded prairie habitats; unbeknownst to many residents the prairies are the most transformed eco-region in all Canada. We’ve already lost 80% of our native prairie and 50% of our wetlands. With deregulation and off-loading by the Sask Party government, and the passivity of the public, the ecological carnage will continue. The Harper government off-loaded nearly 2 million acres of PFRA community pastures to the province. With its disposal of crown land, without public consultation or environmental assessment, things do not look good.

On a per capita basis we are No. 1 in Canada for habitat destruction.

*Carbon Footprint:

The Conference Board rightly gave Saskatchewan a “D” for GHG emissions and lack of action on climate change. But they didn’t give the figures. Our carbon footprint is outrageously and embarrassingly huge.

Canada has a large footprint; over 20 metric tonnes (mt) per person per year. This is much higher than Europe which has gone down to 12 mt because it has embraced renewable energy.

But Saskatchewan is off the scale. In 2000 our per capita emission was 61 mt per person. By 2005 we had caught up to Alberta and by 2011 we had surpassed Alberta, now having the highest carbon footprint in the country of 68 mt for each of us per year.

This was more than 3 times the Canadian average and nearly 6 times the average for the industrialized world. Again we are No. 1 for this ecological abuse.

*Water Footprint:

The Conference Board has some work to do before its next Environmental Report.

In 2016 it gave Saskatchewan top grades for water protection, saying “The province doesn’t use much water and provides adequate treatment for most of the wastewater collected, and so earns “A” grades on the water withdrawals and wastewater treatment indicators.” I’m not sure what it means by “adequate” but this grade will not go over well in the Qu’Appelle River Valley, where Regina sewage still flows. Meanwhile the government stands ready to greatly industrialize the use of surface and aquifer water for potash solution mines.

With our huge radioactive, chemical, carbon and habitat footprints, water quality will inevitably deteriorate. And avoiding Earth Day won’t make any of this ecological abuse stop or disappear.

Posted in Ecology, Human Impact, R-Town News, Sustainability, Uranium Mining, Water | Tagged , , ,

QUALITY OF LIFE (Q of L) UNDER THE SASK PARTY

BY Jim Harding, Ph. D.

I’ve heard the premier speak at several Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) conventions. He has always claimed that his open-for-business resource policies are a means, not an end, to improve the quality of life (Q of L) of Saskatchewan people.

It’s a good populist line and Wall is a good salesman. And with him re-elected it is fair game to look closely at Q of L indicators since he took power in 2007. We know that resource companies have had record-breaking profits. But do we really know whether the “boom” has enhanced the Q of L of all our neighbours?

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

The Sask Party restricts itself to narrow economic indicators, stressing our lower unemployment rate. However, even before the April 4, 2016 election there were warning signs. In February the National Post reported “Saskatchewan unemployment rate skyrocketing as population grows faster than job creation”. Statscan reports that unemployment was up to 5.6% from 4.5% a year ago; this translated into 36,000 people who had lost jobs. If you look at seasonally-adjusted March 2016 figures just before the provincial election, our unemployment was actually 6.2%, not that far behind the national at 7.1%. And this is an underestimation, as those who stopped looking for work aren’t counted.

Q of L must include the total picture. Wall has greatly oversimplified things for political purposes: for example, what do we do with the 2014 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) finding that temporary foreign workers here increased from 3,690 to 9,995 between 2008 and 2012, the fastest rate in Canada. How did that contribute to overall Q of L?

What about Wall’s claim that our youth are now doing so well? Statscan’s 2013 report “What has changed for young people in Canada” found that “Men age 25 to 34 living in oil-producing province’s had mixed results – in 2012 their full-time employment rates were slightly lower than three decades earlier, but their unemployment rate was similar and their wages were higher.” Some youth get high-paying jobs; most don’t, and the precariat keeps growing. Without pay equity legislation, Saskatchewan women get lower pay across the board.

Our post-secondary students know full well that the resource boom hasn’t trickled down to reduce student debt. According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Saskatchewan has the third highest tuitions in Canada, after Ontario and Alberta.

INCOME DISTRIBUTION

The Sask Party simply avoids hard indicators of Q of L and perhaps the most important is how wealth is distributed; under Wall’s rule the rich continued to get richer. In 2011 the CCPA reported that “Saskatchewan’s distribution of income remains steady since 2006. In 2009 the richest 20% held 43% of total after-tax income and the poorest 20% held 5%”. And this excluded aboriginal people living on reserves.

In September 2013 Prosperity Saskatchewan reported that the “Rich are getting richer, but income gap growing.” In 2014 the CCPA issued “A Living Wage for Regina”. It calculated that a living wage required a minimum wage of $16.46 an hour. This was needed for a two-earner family to have a decent Q of L, which the premier implies he supports.

Meanwhile, going into the 2016 provincial election the minimum wage here was $10.50 an hour; only B.C. was lower at $10.45. Both our sister province’s, Alberta and Manitoba, were at $11 or higher. Saskatchewan’s low minimum wage provides a hard-working, two-income family with only $34,600 a year, nothing near that required to support children with a decent Q of L.

The CCPA report notes “Those left behind during periods of economic prosperity, such as children, aboriginal peoples, single parents, disabled persons and recent immigrants could all benefit from the adoption of a Living Wage”. Could it be that the low voter turnout of 57% was because our neighbours who have been left behind saw no reason to vote?

FAMILY KILLINGS

There are many indicators that the premier ignores and those about family violence are compelling and heart-wrenching. Statscan reports that between 2000 and 2010 there were 58 domestic homicides here, the highest rate of “homicides by intimate partners” in Canada. This wasn’t a priority after the Sask Party took power; as the CBC reported on May 29, 2015, “This past year has been particularly deadly…with three murder-suicides in the past eight months leaving nine people dead”. More interested in the price of oil, the Sask Party has seemed indifferent to this carnage during stressful boom times. There were no inquests or reviews about domestic homicides from 2007 to 2015, yet reviews have occurred in Ontario since 2003 and in our sister provinces as well as B.C., New Brunswick and Quebec. It appears that in this regard the Sask Party has also been “left behind”.

After the recent rash of killings, Saskatchewan’s coroner said, “We have not seen this level of violence in Saskatchewan – I mean deaths – in my history here. It is certainly a wake-up call”.

ABORIGINAL INCARCERATION

So, just what might the premier mean by Q of L?

The rate of aboriginal incarceration has continued to spiral here during the resource boom. The federal Correctional Investigator speaks of aboriginal incarceration as “a critical situation”. While only 4% of Canadians are aboriginal, aboriginal inmates make up 25% of federal inmates. Sixty-four percent (64%) in Prince Albert’s Penitentiary and 56% in Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre are of aboriginal background. The prairies lead the country “in double bunking, lockdowns, self-harm, inmate homicides and assaults”. That’s certainly a wake-up call about the lack of Q of L.

Saskatchewan’s jails are even worse. The April 5, 2013 Globe and Mail reported that Saskatchewan “has the highest native incarceration rate in the country”. It continued, “Aboriginal people, who represent 11% of Saskatchewan’s population, have made up as much as 80% of the jail population in recent years.” (I know this research well from when I directed Prairie Justice Research at the University of Regina.) Wall clearly wasn’t thinking of aboriginal residents when he claimed we can’t go back to the dark days of the NDP. Poverty Free Saskatchewan reports that one-half of aboriginal children here live in low-income families. For many aboriginal residents things have become much darker under the Sask Party.

THE NORTH

The resource boom has benefited some, especially corporations and the richer groups. But it has excluded others. This is predictable and it’s time we stopped fooling ourselves. Prior to the uranium boom in the 1980s, northern Saskatchewan was the second poorest region in Canada. After exporting this toxic substance around the planet for decades, the north still remains the second poorest region in Canada. Meanwhile the north has accumulated millions more tonnes of radioactive tailings and been targeted for a nuclear waste dump.

Premier Wall is espousing an erroneous and deceptive model of quality of life (Q of L). What is happening to our water, to our air, to our natural systems, all matter. What is happening to our social fabric, the growing inequality and the systemic poverty facing aboriginal residents, matters deeply.

While “quality of life” is part of Sask Party rhetoric, it is not part of the reality of many Saskatchewan residents. Could it be that the low voter turnout on April 4, 2016 was because many of our Saskatchewan residents did not feel that they mattered or had any choice in the matter?

Posted in Government, Politics, R-Town News, Social justice, Uranium Mining | Tagged , , , ,

IS SASKATCHEWAN REALLY STRONGER AFTER WALL’S RE-ELECTION?

Up Against the Wall No. 5

BY Jim Harding, Ph. D.

It doesn’t seem like we’ve even had an election; things remain pretty much the same. Wall’s Sask Party maintains firm control and the NDP remains a weak opposition.

The Sask Party ran on the slogan “Keep Saskatchewan Strong” and there’s no doubt that it has a strong grip on power. But is this really what makes Saskatchewan, its communities and environment, strong?

Their door to door leaflets talked about a “strong economy” and we know what this means. They are not talking about a healthy provincial democracy or a resilient environment! They aren’t really talking about “strong” communities.

Their narrative tries to tie a “strong economy” with “quality of life” but the connection is elusive. The wealth from non-renewable resources simply hasn’t been trickling down to communities, including the rural ones that continued to give the Sask Party so many votes. After so many boom years, just why does the province have such a high debt and a growing infrastructure and social deficit?

PROUD OF OIL AND GAS

It was very revealing in Wall’s victory speech when he emphasized that Saskatchewan had “a government that is proud of oil and gas”. He didn’t say he was proud of Saskatchewan having the highest per capita carbon footprint in Canada and one of the highest in the world! Or that he was proud that our drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure was so antiquated that our capital city was dumping untreated sewage into the downstream waterway. Nor was he saying he was proud that there was a shortage of affordable housing or that more and more families had to use food banks. He didn’t say he was proud of our extremely high aboriginal incarceration and domestic homicide rates.

And Wall is not going after $156 million dollars of federal infrastructure money to try to solve pressing environmental and social problems, but to help clean up abandoned oil and gas wells, something that was to be done and paid for by the industry.

It was no surprise that the Harper Conservatives held most of their Saskatchewan seats in October’s federal election. Saskatchewan is pretty much in the same situation under Wall that Canada was heading under Harper.Wall holds on to his version of a Petro State and with his “strong mandate” he’ll continue to push his non-renewable resource agenda. This will continue to tie us to fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal, and the environmental chaos that comes with global warming.

DISTORTED LEGISLATURE

The media always makes things simpler than they are, so Wall’s victory was reported as a landslide. (In the natural world landslides are not good for us.) Leader Post columnist Murray Mandryk even called Wall’s rule a “dynasty”. The dumbed-down commentary we saw from the CBC panel simply reflected the dumbed-down politics in the province.

With 27 rural and 24 urban seats the Sask Party will certainly be able to control the Legislature. With only 8 urban and 2 northern seats the NDP will continue struggling to be an inspirational opposition.

However, to understand what happened we need to consider all the electorate and not just those who voted Sask Party. And Sask Party supporters remain a minority. Yes, the Sask Party got 63% of the votes, but only 57% of the registered voters cast a vote. That means that slightly over one-third (36%) of registered voters selected Wall’s majority government. And if you add in Saskatchewan residents who weren’t registered the percentage drops.

The seats in the Legislature are therefore unrepresentative of Saskatchewan people. The Sask Party got 2 votes for every 1 that went NDP, yet the Sask Party got 5 seats for every 1 going to the NDP. Under a fair PR system the Sask Party would have 41 not 51 seats and the NDP would have 20 not 10. The NDP would then be much more able to launch an effective opposition, which is going to be necessary with Wall’s government now sliding into deficit and the high probability of service cuts.

An effective opposition would make Saskatchewan a much stronger province, but that’s clearly not what Wall’s Sask Party means by “Keeping Saskatchewan Strong”.

VISIONARY LEADERSHIP

Opposition leadership always matters and with such a small caucus, leadership probably matters even more. However NDP leader Cam Broten couldn’t even win his Saskatoon seat. This is the second election in a row where this has happened; NDP leader Lingenfelter also lost his seat in 2011.

The NDP’s popular vote went to an all-time low of 30%. And that’s 30% of 57% or only 17% of registered voters. Clearly, the play-it-safe NDP approaches are not resonating. Saskatchewan voters have not been given a reason to seriously consider returning the NDP to power. And the Sask NDP opposition probably could not effectively challenge Wall’s narrative because it isn’t free of it, itself.

A new leader is clearly required, but a new leader won’t make any difference if the party doesn’t make a big “leap” in their thinking. If they don’t present a coherent, sincere alternative vision and program, then in 2020 there will be a similar result. Mandryk could then be right that there is a political dynasty here.

THE NEW SASKATCHEWAN

But this isn’t likely. The Sask Party likes to brag about the “new Saskatchewan”, and not going back to the days of the NDP. However, going into a third term of Sask Party rule, our province feels a lot like it’s going back to the Old Alberta. With the bias of the voting system, it even feels a little like a one-party state, which doesn’t feel good. That may make the Sask Party feel “strong” and even powerful but it certainly won’t make Saskatchewan a better place to live.

The NDP is finding it hard to make a clean break with the toxic economy, including ending its support for uranium mining, coal plants and environmentally-destructive corporate farming. Perhaps that is why it never talked about protecting our water and waterways. The task of building a new vision, something around which voters could rally, still falls on progressive grass-roots organizations throughout the province. The NDP needs to start listening.

The Sask Party will continue to promote the toxic non-renewable economy and try to keep it strong. The “new Saskatchewan”, an ecologically-sustainable Saskatchewan, has yet to be born.

Posted in Government, Politics, R-Town News | Tagged , ,