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Editorial: Life and . . . voting?

It’s easy to become cynical about provincial and federal politicians and governments. All one has to do is pay attention:  to the promises made pre-election, and what happens – or doesn’t happen – after the election. And, sometimes to see the lobbying efforts of industrial and corporate giants result in legislation basically written by and favouring those industries and corporations.

One of the most difficult things for me as a citizen to understand is why there are so many not-for-profit, volunteer-driven non-governmental organizations – NGOs – trying to persuade governments to do the right thing:  to curb life-threatening climate change, to decrease production and distribution of harmful chemicals, to increase safety in industry, to increase health coverage, to ensure that elder-care is adequate, to help populations of wild salmon survive, to legislate protection for endangered species, to ensure protection of precious fresh-water sources, to address systemic racism and other forms of harmful bigotry . . . the list goes on.

And the question remains:  Why are these organizations necessary?  Why do NGOs and citizens have to pressure governments to act in the best long-term interests of our society? Why do governments act in ways that inspire lines like Neil Young’s “Don't care what the governments say;  they're all bought and paid for anyway"  (Be the Rain)

Some people have criticized governments for being bodies that “tax and spend, tax and spend!”  But of course that’s what they do; along with creating legislation to regulate human and corporate  behaviour and keep it within acceptable bounds, taxing and spending is what governments are for. But they are open to criticism for their priorities – for whose benefit are they spending, and for whose benefit are they setting taxation levels?  That’s why people need to vote: to influence those things.

The pandemic is costing many individuals and all governments a great deal of money, while some people – notably the already-rich-beyond-the wildest-dreams-of-most – have become much, much richer.  “Tax the rich” has become a common refrain, and a wealth tax would appear to be a way to recoup some of government’s losses.  Closing some tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthy would help, too.

Governments ought to act, and to spend, in the long-term best interests of the citizenry as a whole, and in the  long-term best interests of life -- biodiversity and ecosystem health.  For example, they should not be bending and ignoring scientific data in order to conclude that fish farms pose minimal risk to wild fish populations in the face of solid data to the contrary; they should not continue to allow logging of old-growth forests in BC in the face of compelling evidence of how little true old-growth remains, and of how much old-growth contributes to storing carbon, and how highly dependent on old-growth certain rapidly-diminishing species are (such as caribou, and spotted owls which have been discovered recently in an active logging area in the Spuzzum Valley).  They should not be continuing to subsidize industries that accelerate climate change. They should not be permitting the broadcast aerial spraying of herbicides on recently re-planted clearcuts. 

We need governments to spend more time figuring out what needs to be done, and less time jockeying for political advantage.  We need politicians in our legislatures and parliaments to spend more time cooperating on achieving the changes needed for the continuation of civilization and – to put it bluntly – life on earth as we know it, or at least retaining as much of it as possible.  We need them to stop wasting time taking cheap shots at each other.  There is no time to waste.  

An Australian climate scientist, Dr Joëlle Gergis of the Australian National University, wrote an eye-opening and heart-rending account of her experiences as a scientist watching the effects of the climate crisis at work in Australia, while the Australian government bumbled on encouraging the coal industry.  Gergis wrote,  “… I’ve gained terrifying insight into the true state of the climate crisis and what lies ahead.” 

She also said, “It breaks my heart to watch the country I love irrevocably wounded because of our government’s denial of the severity of climate change and its refusal to act on the advice of the world’s leading scientists.”

Many people in other countries could say the same. 

Do we really get the governments we deserve?  If we don’t bother voting and end up with a terrible government, then yes, those who didn’t vote – and those who voted for short-term easy business-as-usual-only-with-lower-taxes promises – got what they deserved.  But what about the others, who voted more thoughtfully and with long-term survival in mind?  What about our vanishing wildlife?

Cynicism may be a natural result of government-watching, but it’s not helpful. It’s crucial that people learn about the issues from credible sources before voting; it’s worthwhile to spend some time investigating the credibility of information sources before believing what they say.

Finally, voting is important. It determines how we live.