Unethical and Illegal

We hear the words, “honest” and “transparent” coming constantly from the lips of our elected representatives. Almost as consistently as support for “small business” and working hard for “the middle class” as the backbone of Canadian and American society. Unfortunately, these words have lost all meaning when our politicians continually lie, spread fake news through social media abuse, and engage in illegal activities.

The other sad trend is the partisan bickering that takes place with each side throwing charges of illegal or unethical behaviour at the other. In American politics recently, one camp was accused of illegal and unethical behavior for engaging in research on the other side during the presidential primaries. It turns out that his kind of research is done by both sides and is neither unethical nor illegal.

On the other hand, when Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 with the express purpose of getting information the Russian government had supposedly acquired on candidate Hillary Clinton, that was both unethical and illegal.

This can also happen right in our own backyards. For example, if an elected member of a local government holds a public meeting and deliberately spreads misinformation that incites the rabid minority into a “burn the witch frenzy” and has them flooding social media with this same misinformation, that is unethical. If an elected representative of a local government reveals information at a public meeting that was discussed at closed in-Camera meetings, that is definitely unethical and should be illegal.

Here is how one Municipality’s Code of Conduct views the sanctity of private Closed/in -Camera discussions:

7. Use of Information and public Communications

  1. 7.1  In their decision making process, Members of Council or a Committee are sometimes privy to information which may be confidential or controversial such as, but not limited to, “Closed/In-Camera” meetings, and may include e-mails and correspondence from staff, Members of Council or a Committee or third parties.
  2. 7.2  Members of Council or a Committee have a duty to hold in strict confidence all information concerning matters dealt with at a “Closed/In-Camera” meeting or that is determined to be confidential by the Clerk/CAO or specifically declared by Council. It is expected that Members of Council or a Committee will:
  3. 7.3  Use confidential information appropriately so as not to benefit themselves or others or cause detriment to the Corporation, Council or themselves or others.
  4. 7.4  Respect the status of confidential information (ex.: personal, legal, property acquisition, labour relations) until after the matter ceases to be confidential as determined by the Clerk /CAO or Council.

If other elected members of local government are in attendance at a public meeting when such an unethical breech occurs, and say nothing to correct the misinformation or stop the disclosure of confidential information, they are equally guilty of violations of their Municipal Code of Conduct and subject to censure by their Integrity Commissioner.

If this kind of behaviour crawls out from under a rock in your Municipality or Province or Country, the only thing you can do is to make sure those local politicians never get into the win column in your next municipal, provincial or federal elections. And it’s time to send their rabid followers off on a nice long meditation retreat wearing sackcloth and ashes.

If we want good governance, we have to elect intelligent, articulate, well-informed and well-prepared candidates who can follow the rules of their Code of Conduct, be respectful of the rule of law, and grow in their positions. We don’t expect them to be perfect. We do expect them to be ethical and honest. The transparent ones we can see right through.

Skid Crease

Before the Flood

 

A version of this review was first printed in the King Sentinel newspaper, October 19, 2017

***

“If you consider the vastness of this universe, this Planet Earth is just a small boat. If this boat is sinking, then I think we will all have to sink together.” 

Ban KI-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations

 

This somber message was delivered to a rapt audience of King and Caledon citizens in King’s magnificent Country Day School Performing Arts Centre. The occasion was a viewing of Leo DiCaprio’s film Before the Flood presented by National Geographic on Wednesday evening, October 11, 2017. A partnership consisting of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, the Arts Society of King, and the Country Day School brought the movie and Chris Ballard, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, together to learn and to dialogue.

The movie opens with a story and a painting that hung on the wall of Leo’s childhood bedroom. It was titled “Before the Flood” by Dutch Renaissance master Heironymous Bosch. The original was on three hinged oak panels that closed to reveal an unusual outer painting of Earth as a single globe, an amazing intuitive feat when you consider that Magellan had yet to complete his first circumnavigation of the planet. The three inner panels depict the innocence of the Garden of Eden, the Seven Deadly Sins of humankind, and the wasteland that follows our overindulgence and consumption.

The film expands on that theme as DiCaprio takes us on a journey of celebration and degradation. We see the magnificence of this gift of life called Planet Earth and then we bear witness to the squandering of resources that our very selfish species has inflicted on all of the other systems with which we share this Home Planet.

This journey is inter-spliced with clips of DiCaprio speaking with Ban Ki-moon and taking the podium at the United Nations as their UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change. He also meets with Pope Francis when the Earth Encyclical was enacted, and talks with President Obama in the heady days of environmental hope following the world’s commitment to the Paris Accord.

The movie is a cautionary tale, much like the British TV series “Black Mirror” is to the dangers of the electronic drugs of cell phones and flat screens. Before the Flood shows us the garden of Eden that we inherited and what we have done with it in a few short millennium. Will we descend into social chaos as the many without food, water, health care and shelter turn their anger towards the 1% who seemingly have it all? And like the ancient Romans that didn’t get it until the Barbarians really were at the gates, will we realize too late that we could have turned the tide?

The hardest part to watch, of course, is the build towards a positive ending with the hope of the Paris Accord being signed by united nations equally concerned about the impacts of accelerating climate change on their countries and the global commons. There was real hope seen in the sincere conversations between DiCaprio and John Kerry and Barack Obama, and in the innocent cry to cast your vote for a secure future.

But as the film concluded, the audience sat in silence, and in the depressed knowledge that the U.S. had just elected a science illiterate as President, who then appointed climate change deniers to head the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. A President who withdrew his country from the Paris Accord, quickly began to dismantle every environmental security advance made over the last decades, and reinstated the glory that was coal to the US economy – a fossil fool for the fossil fuel industry.

Of course, the film is not without its critics either. One of the most poignant segments is when DiCaprio tours Indonesia and meets displaced peoples and animals from the areas that have been deforested. Deforested so that they can grow lucrative plantations of African palm oil trees that provide the palm oil that saturates almost every one of our processed foods. However, it turns out that a lot of the financing for DiCaprio’s movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street” came via palm oil profits from an Indonesian investment group linked to their Prime Minister, prompting cries of hypocrisy and asking DiCaprio to step down from his UN role.

However, for the purposes of raising sensibilities for this move night, those details were kept from the audience. Instead, at the end of the film, the audience got to turn their angst towards our newly appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Chris Ballard. MP Ballard had already fielded pre-film questions from the audience and some very intelligent questions from Grade 11 and 12 Country Day students that left him responding, “Look, I’ve only been on this job for ten weeks. I promise to get back to you.” And to be fair, Chris Ballard’s portfolio is huge. As an educator and journalist, it has taken me 25 years to come close to understanding the science and anti-science surrounding accelerating climate change and its impacts, so we should be more than willing to give Chris a few more weeks.

The realities of energy production – and Ontario can be quite proud that we have no more coal fired power plants – was one of the things that Ballard touched upon, acknowledging the anger that many Ontarians were feeling over high electricity rates. He also explained that part of that increase was due to the fact that the government had to replace thousands of kilometers of aging infrastructure, including the basic wires, that previous governments had simply passed on to the new kids at Queen’s Park.

The Minister tried to calm the audience’s fears about accelerating climate change impact by telling them some good news – that human related CO2 emissions had stabilized. However, he forgot to mention that the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were continuing to rise, possibly because the natural ocean sinks were saturated. Besides fielding questions, Minister Ballard also got a lecture from renowned climate scientist Hans Martin – probably the smartest guy in the room when it comes to understanding accelerating climate change. Yes Chris, a lot to learn, and no time to waste.

This event was a classic in partnership planning between the King City, Country Day School, the Arts Society of King (ASK), and the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust (ORMLT) whose MC, Susan Walmer, was an articulate host. As a special guest speaker, Chris Ballard did a fine job of handling questions as honestly and as completely as he could. Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of King City, was gracious and brief in his welcome to guests, and Mr. John Liggett, Head of School for Country Day School, gave a warm greeting and a strong endorsement to the role that “grumpy scientists” play in our modern world, acknowledging that he preferred hard science to analogies and stories.

Interesting, that meteorological and climate change scientists at Environment Canada contacted me to translate their hard science into analogies and stories that the public could understand. As Albert Einstein once said:

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

We’re going to need both if we are going to get through the next flood safely.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

When did you meet your Harvey Weinstein?

We have all met our Harvey, and Harriet, Weinsteins, at work and play. Sometimes we wonder if we might be one, if we may have crossed the line between friendly banter between men and women into the darker realm of predatory behaviour. And that predatory behaviour usually comes from a power position, where a man or woman has control of money and decisions that can affect your benefits and your career and your life. Research shows it can also some or from a trusted relative or religious figure – a different kind of power that can still change your life forever.

My previously trusted “mentor”, is now disavowed and dead. He guided me into a wonderful career in Outdoor Education in the North York Board of Education from 1968 until its devolvement into the TDSB. Everyone thought he was a benefactor and a gentleman, but he was anything but the “gentleman” he pretended to be.

With gifts of outdoor education trips and bottles of white wine and promises of promotions, he attempted to seduce many unsuspecting and trusting women into sexual encounters. I became aware of this when women he had approached came to me for protection. Which I gave. But no one wanted me to follow up with the abuses. And I felt at the time that, because I was not the woman being accosted, and he was my superior, that it was not my position to report his bad behaviour.

Wrong. I should have called it out then. So dead and buried you may be now, but I hope you are burning in hell for your abuses of power. It is why I didn’t go to your funeral, why I gave no eulogy, why I piss on your grave.

Not Yours Outdoors,

Skid Crease, retired Program Leader Outdoor Education, North York Board of Education

Apocalypse Rising

When a storm is coming, there are usually warning signs. A drop in temperature,  a shift in the wind, a greenish tinge to the sky, and a feeling in the backs of our necks that something big and nasty is coming. If we are aware, we will have been watching the warning signs building, have prepared ourselves for the storm, stocked up on supplies, and taken shelter.

There are equally warning signs when the collapse of civil society is about to happen. In Syria over the past decade, it occurred when thousands of  people moved from the drought stricken countryside  into the cities and exploded in a civil war. In Europe it happened with the rise of the far right and their fear of “the others” as expressed in their anti-immigration rantings.

In Venezuela it happened in an instant with the sudden rise of a brutal dictatorship. In North Korea, it built slowly over fifty years from narcissistic bombast to nuclear bombs. But the signs are all there: a big storm is coming.

In the United States of America, it is more than obvious in the tragi-comedy playing out daily on The Trump Show. But the irrational tweets and rally rants from a misogynistic, megalomaniac, white supremacist President are only the tip of the iceberg. More frightening are the cheers of support and chants of fanaticism coming from flag waving crowds of “the base”, the deplorables who enable this emperor who wears no clothes to rule over what was becoming one of the greatest democracies in the world.

When 96% of practicing climate change scientists say we’ve accelerated the natural process to catastrophic levels, and the President of the United States appoints climate change deniers to head up the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, a really big storm is coming.

When crowds of chanting Nazis are given a free pass, and opponents of racial inequality are ridiculed and insulted in public, and the mothers of every NFL player who took a knee are called a bitch by the President of the United States, a storm is coming.

When a Stanley Cup winning hockey team thinks it is an honour to accept an invitation to the Trump White House, not only is it confirmation of how serious brain damage concussions are in the NHL, it is proof positive that a storm is coming. That’s right, Sid the Kid, not a lot of white hockey stars getting swept up and shot by police in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Wake up boys, a storm is coming.

When Ball Boy and Rocket Man start trading insults about how they are going to destroy each other’s countries with nuclear bombs, you had better believe that a storm is coming and the rest of us are all downwind and downstream of the chaos that will follow. So, just like Winston Churchill read the warning signs and tried to warn England and Europe about the rise of the Third Reich, take it from an old storyteller. You might want to get  ready for a reallly, big nasty storm.

****

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

Nobody’s Perfect

I’ll admit it. I am prejudiced, judgemental, and tend to sarcasm when I’m waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to speed. I was reminded of this when an article I recently wrote (Caledon Councillors Get Crackin) got widely circulated, causing some audiences to wet themselves with laughter, and others not to appreciate the evicerating humour.

My Dad had a great expression: “Let the person who has not screwed up cast the first snide remark,” … his down-to-earth take on the glass house and stone throwers lesson. My Mom, on the other hand, always went for the jugular, with a lighting speed judgment of good or evil.

I suppose this dichotomy lives in most of us, the constant strain between the light and dark of our characters, For example, when a speeding driver cuts me off, my first reaction is to pursue and get the licence; my wife, on the other hand always counters my sword of justice balloon by saying something like, “Gee, Skid maybe he’s rushing to the hospital to help his sick child.” Deflated, I slow down and take a breath.

However, for some things, I have drawn my line in the sand and picked my hill upon which to die. I am allergic to stupidity and will fight it at every appearance of its “Burn The Witch”  cattle call whenever I hear it. To be perfectly clear, there is a distinct difference between ignorance and stupidity. An ignorant person is simply unaware of the background to a situation and can be taught. A stupid person has been given the opportunity to learn and chooses to ignore that opportunity: the don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up mentality.

I also admit that I am prejudiced against misogynistic race supremacists and nationalists, the KKK, Nazis, and totalitarian dictators. Sorry, but the “good people on all sides” argument  doesn’t fly with the Khmer Rouge, or the Roman Catholic Spanish Inquisitors, or the architects of Canada’s residential school system, or the racists that marched through the streets of Charlottesville. Or the rat packs of stupid white men who daily pontificate their love of the alt-right perspective in coffee shops across this country.

Yes, I will be judgemental here. Your opinion is only valid if formed from valid information – otherwise garbage in, garbage out. Climate Change is real, there is no link between vaccines and autism, there is more danger of radiation from cell phones than cell towers, and Evolution is NOT a theory. The problem in getting to these valid conclusions is that there is a plethora of fake news sites and fake degreed professors who will try to panic you into believing otherwise.

So, I continue to teach and to write and to try my best to bring light into the darkness. Be warned, if I find someone beating up on a woman or child, violating the norms of social justice, denying civil rights, or generally being an inconsiderate, disrespectful, antisocial jerk, the sword of justice will be in my right hand and I won’t bother to ask if you might really, deep down inside, be like one of those good people from Charlottesville who marched proudly chanting ” Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us!”

Sorry, if it chants like a Nazi, and it marches like a Nazi, it’s a Nazi. It may look like a whining old man in a restaurant, or a skinhead with a swastike tattoo, or a well-dressed politician but the mentality is still the same and deserves no place in our civil society. Silence in this case, is not golden – it is consent.

They drew a line in the sand at Vimy Ridge, they drew a line on the beaches of Normandy, Time to draw a line in the communities of Canada.

***

Skid Crease,

Caledon