The art of agenda con­trol

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey richard@glen­gar­

Guns, abor­tion and pro­nouns. Those is­sues re­ally con­cern you, or at least they ought to con­cern you, ac­cord­ing to Pierre Lemieux.

In his cam­paign to re­place Stephen Harper as leader of the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party, the for­mer Glen­garry-Prescott-Rus­sell MP is flog­ging top­ics that few oth­ers are dis­cussing.

Yet, Mr. Lemieux is still in the crowded race, and con­tin­ues to get fi­nan­cial sup­port from peo­ple who ob­vi­ously hope he can steer the Tories to the far right.

Ev­ery­one has is­sues. One of the keys to suc­cess in pol­i­tics is the abil­ity to con­vince oth­ers that your is­sues are more im­por­tant than their own is­sues. All politi­cians en­gage in “dog whis­tle pol­i­tics,” speak­ing in tongues that trig­ger re­sponses from fol­low­ers’ sen­si­tized ears. For ex­am­ple, decades ago, the mere men­tion of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment would make ev­ery­one’s ears twitch.

Mr. Lemieux’s plat­form has a note of nos­tal­gia since it in­cludes some mat­ters that fell off the radar long ago.

Take guns. “I un­der­stand firearm is­sues be­cause I am a firearm owner my­self and be­cause I am reg­u­larly at the range with other firearm own­ers,” boasts the re­tired sol­dier. “The gov­ern­ment needs to stop tar­get­ing law abid­ing gun own­ers and in­stead fo­cus its en­er­gies on stop­ping the crim­i­nal use of firearms.” One of his pledges is to en­cour­age the cre­ation of more fir­ing ranges.

Then there is abor­tion, which he op­poses, by the way. We should be talk­ing more about abor­tion, he tells us. “The next time you hear some­one say, ‘The de­bate is over,’ you need to know that: 1) It is any­thing but over. 2) Only the Lib­er­als ben­e­fit from us be­liev­ing that it is.”

A newer men­ace, warns Mr. Lemieux, is the pro­mo­tion of cer­tain words, po­lit­i­cally cor­rect terms that he fears will usurp free speech.

When he vis­ited Alexan­dria re­cently, he cau­tioned that pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would force peo­ple to rec­og­nize gen­der neu­tral pro­nouns and make it hate speech to ques­tion a per­son's gen­der. Se­ri­ously.

“Peo­ple who feel they are gen­der fluid have come up with a whole lex­i­con of pro­nouns, words you have never heard of, like “zee,” “zer,” “per­self” and a lengthy list of oth­ers,” said Mr. Lemieux. ”Th­ese gen­der pro­nouns are not the prob­lem, rather it’s the move to leg­is­late their use,” he said.

So, you are sit­ting around the kitchen ta­ble, sip­ping on your tea. What are you most likely to chew the cud about? Hockey, elec­tric­ity bills, the weather, sap flow, or the long-term im­pact of trans­gen­der and trans­sex­ual ad­jec­tives on the evo­lu­tion of our free and fair so­ci­ety? All of the above?

“Pop­ulist” politi­cians claim they know what the “meat and po­tato” wor­ries re­ally are.

But one never knows for cer­tain what make the vot­ers tick or gives them ner­vous ticks.

For ex­am­ple, when Stor­mont- Dun­dasSouth Glen­garry MPP Jim McDonell held pre­bud­get con­sul­ta­tions ear­lier this year, a long list of di­verse con­cerns was aired.

Among the top­ics mer­it­ing con­sid­er­a­tion were “ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion and skills de­vel­op­ment,” a pro­posed re­ver­sal of the neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cide ban, public safety, paramedics fund­ing, respite ser­vices for care­givers of phys­i­cally and de­vel­op­men­tally chal­lenged On­tar­i­ans, the need for res­i­dences for phys­i­cally dis­abled On­tar­i­ans with mild or no cog­ni­tive chal­lenges.

Business peo­ple want to be left alone by the gov­ern­ment, un­less the state can help them make more money. Red tape is a scourge, even in a so-called pa­per­less so­ci­ety. Yet we all gain if gov­ern­ments ad­dress business con­cerns, such as the need for skilled work­ers.

The peo­ple told Mr. McDonell that the prov­ince ought to make it eas­ier for em­ploy­ers to ap­ply for train­ing ser­vices by mak­ing on­line pro­gram ap­pli­ca­tions avail­able to all busi­nesses.

“Im­prove aware­ness and lit­er­acy in the fi­nan­cial, re­tire­ment and suc­ces­sion plan­ning field to en­cour­age older work­ers to re­tire,” some­body sug­gested.

Think of this one for a sec. It makes sense. Who doesn’t want to re­tire? The chal­lenge is set­ting aside enough money so you can put your feet up and not have to live in a card­board box, in a bad part of town, for the rest of your life.

We would all be bet­ter off if, as an­other per­son told the MPP, we tack­led any reg­u­la­tory, li­cens­ing or tax bar­ri­ers that make off­shore man­u­fac­tur­ing more at­trac­tive than keep­ing jobs in On­tario.

Other rec­om­men­da­tions from the masses: “Con­sider im­ple­ment­ing a dif­fer­ent min­i­mum wage for new em­ploy­ees in pro­ba­tion or train­ing to cre­ate an in­cen­tive to hire and train. Fo­cus on restor­ing On­tario’s af­ford­abil­ity as a place to do business. Im­prove job market aware­ness among all new and young job­seek­ers to en­sure salary ex­pec­ta­tions are aligned with local job market re­al­i­ties.”

But­ter­nut trees ought to be pro­tected from wind-pow­ered en­ergy in­stal­la­tions, some­body pointed out.

Ru­ral res­i­dents need ac­cess to nat­u­ral gas. This could be huge. “Our farms, busi­nesses and neigh­bours will save over $1 bil­lion per year in en­ergy costs for heat­ing and ap­pli­ances with ac­cess to nat­u­ral gas. It is sim­ply the best and most ef­fec­tive in­vest­ment the prov­ince can make in ru­ral On­tario,” reads the sum­mary of rec­om­men­da­tions posted on Mr. McDonell’s web page.

Cap- and- trade is no good, a citizen de­clared. His sys­tem is sim­ple: Pol­luters’ car­bon emis­sions are capped. If they ex­ceed the limit, they are pe­nal­ized. Pol­luters can sur­pass the cap by trad­ing per­mits with pol­luters that are un­der the ceil­ing.

But Mr. McDonell was told gov­ern­ments should ei­ther re­scind cap-and-trade or guar­an­tee its “rev­enue-neu­tral­ity.” What dreamer came up that hi­lar­i­ous no­tion? You don’t have to be a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive to know that noth­ing the gov­ern­ment does is “rev­enue neu­tral.”

An­other con­tro­ver­sial sug­ges­tion: “Rec­og­nize the pos­i­tive eco­nomic im­pact of En­ergy East and other pipe­lines.”

Here are some fa­mil­iar thoughts: “Sup­port mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties whose tax base has been eroded by de­clin­ing as­sess­ments. Take ac­tion to curb in­creases in mu­nic­i­pal ex­pen­di­tures by fo­cus­ing on mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ abil­ity to pay. Ac­knowl­edge that there is only one ul­ti­mate tax payer. En­cour­age On­tar­i­ans to pre­serve and pro­mote her­itage by cre­at­ing favourable as­sess­ment frame­works for prop­er­ties that host mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing pri­vate ones.”

Oth­ers had a more nar­row fo­cus. “Pub­lish de­sign and in­spec­tion stan­dards for reg­u­lated in­dus­tries, such as elec­tri­cal contractors, boil­ers, pres­sure ves­sels and fu­els and re­duce in­spec­tors’ dis­cre­tion to de­vi­ate from th­ese stan­dards.”

And, “Al­low On­tar­i­ans to choose which of their reg­is­tered names ap­pear, and in which or­der, on their provin­cially- is­sued ID.” There’s ob­vi­ously a good story be­hind that one.

Any­way, the com­ments made at the con­sul­ta­tions fur­ther il­lus­trate that we all have our own spe­cial per­sonal pri­or­i­ties. In fact, there are so many we could eas­ily com­pile an A to “Zee” run­down. Some fret about af­ford­abil­ity; oth­ers sweat over “zer.”

Isn’t it won­der­ful to live in a world where we freely ex­change ideas?

At the same time, we ought to keep in mind the Chris­tian Golden Rule, the quaint, yet of­ten for­got­ten, one about treat­ing oth­ers as one would like to be treated.

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