(Through Rose-Coloured Glasses)
Folks, this article is by Margaret Atwood, the famous Canadian author. Enjoy.
Being a writer, I write frequently. It’s a nervous habit. The other day I was writing on a paper napkin, having rashly left the house without a notebook. What I was trying to figure out was the kind of country I would like to live in, and thus the kind of party I’d vote for if it were likely to encourage such qualities.
Like many swing voters, I want to vote for values, not for labels. I don’t much care what parties call themselves or what they say they will do. I care about what they really have done, and the values they’ve demonstrated by their actions.
What I was looking for were qualities we swing voters might be able to agree on, no matter what “party” we may have voted for historically. Suppose we had a party called the Common Grounds Party, or maybe the Common Decency Party. It might begin with the list on the paper napkin. Here it is. As you can see, there are pairs of opposites.
And, since you probably can’t read my writing, this is what it says:
Where do you want to live?
Open/closed; leader/dictator; inclusive/excluding; generous/mean; listens/does not listen; takes responsibility about mistakes/it’s always someone else’s fault; humanly imperfect/always right, like God; humility/arrogance; works well with others/one-man band.
There was a second page, which included things like “Fair/unfair (laws and enforcement),” “Allows initiative/control freak,” “Governs for the welfare of all citizens/non-party members are enemies.” But then I ran out of space.
Maybe my paper napkin is more like a description of what you might wish in a prospective roommate or a best friend. Fair enough: I’d agree that a government, as opposed to an individual person, does need additional desirable characteristics. So here are some of the things I might add to the paper napkin.
The ability to count, plus fiscal transparency. Parliament fell on a motion of non-confidence triggered by the Harper government’s failure to disclose the real costs of budget items such as fighter planes and mega-jails. But voters need to be told what things will cost, since they pay for them. It appears that the planes may cost ten times what we were originally told. Why would taxpayers endorse a blank cheque for an astronomical ongoing expense with no ceiling?
Either the government knew the cost and refused to tell us — thus no transparency — or it did not know, and thus cannot count.
On women: plain speaking, no double-talk. This government is deeply traumatized by women’s reproductive organs. At the G20, Harper claimed to be concerned about “maternal and child health,” noting that “500,000 women die each year in pregnancy and 9 million children die before the age of five.” But his government is defunding Planned Parenthood, an international organization that works with the poorest and most marginalized women and children to improve their survival chances. (Yes, I know, Bev Oda says she just hasn’t got around to the Planned Parenthood application for the past 18 months; but as Miss Manners says, no answer is an answer.)
In addition, the Harper government’s Senate appointees effectively squashed Bill C-393 that would have facilitated cheap AIDS drugs to 2 million children in poor countries; which calls to mind the A.H. Clough poem, “The Last Decalogue:” Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive/ Officiously to keep alive.”
Harper says he will not allow a debate on abortion. But he should allow it. All aspects of this troublesome question — and it has been troublesome throughout history, as there are no lovely answers — should be thoroughly discussed. There should be clarity on Harper’s attitude to women and children and their well-being. Let them die of malnutrition? Supply adequate diet, public support if there’s no income, protection from rape and enforced prostitution, improved adoption procedures, education, better hospitals and access to drugs, new orphanages, enforced chastity, unwillingly pregnant women locked up in mega-jails, payment per baby if baby-making is service provided to the state, pace Napoleon?
What’s it to be? Spit it out. Let us know what may be coming soon to a neighbourhood near us.
Respect for parliamentary democracy. The Common Grounds and/or Decency Party would, I think, still assume that democracy — for which people in other parts of the world are risking their lives — is a good thing. But it could be that not every other party shares this view. Is Parliament just a fly making a bothersome buzzing noise in the ear of the El Supremo who dictates in secret from within the closed castle of the PMO’s office? (This trend did not begin with the Harper government — it goes back at least to Trudeau — but it has been taken to an extreme under it.)
And if we don’t need Parliament, why not prorogue it indefinitely? Then we wouldn’t have to be troubled by these pesky elections, which Harper assumes Canadian citizens fear as a fate worse than death.
The Common Grounds/Decency Party would think we should have the right to vote in free elections — as often as it takes to get a government that has the confidence of the House.
So there’s my checklist. You probably have items of your own. To qualify for the Paper Napkin, however, they should be things you think we swing voters might mostly agree on. Check the parties off against the common list.
Then vote, and — as they say — cherish the moment. People elsewhere are dying for it.
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than 35 volumes of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her most recent novel is The Year of the Flood.