Entries from August 2006 ↓


Cheeks. Crockett. Sparky. Daddy-O and Miss Nadine. The names are emblazoned on the back of black leather vests, just below the winged crest with the screaming eagle in the center.

We stand around in a parking lot behind a Tim’s on Highway 25, smoking and sucking on coffees. Dave is the road captain tonight – shaved head, red goatee, swept-back sunglasses. He moves through the small crowd of two dozen bikers, all of them in variations of the same uniform – black jeans or leather chaps, leather jackets, black gloves missing fingers, heavy riding boots, shades, and those vests.

Behind the disorganized and chaotic gaggle of bikers, now attracting looks of fascinated horror from the minivan families inching to the nearby Timmy’s drive-in window, are the motorcycles. By design or divine intervention, they’re lined up with military precision. Every massive front tire is in concert with the next. Above the rubber, chrome gleams and saddlebags exude a horsey patina. Every fork is left, as if the road stallions are turning their heads in rest before belching, snorting and leaping to life.

Dave climbs a few steps up the grass embankment, and the setting sun lights up the back of his neck and head in an orange light matching the flames stenciled on the sleeves of his shirt. He gives instructions for the ride tonight – through the industrial park, onto the highway, over the 401, into town and along Main Street to the destination.

The format is regimented. Road captain rides in front, tailgunner in back. Riders are parallel at stop signs and lights, staggered when moving. Road captain gives hand signals for turns, speed, road debris, single file and tandem. In motion, each rider is expected to repeat it.

Road captain finishes, moves to his bike – a silver behemoth with an engine studded with deep blue neon lights. He hits the engine run switch and the Tim’s lot erupts in a heavy symphony. It’s a sound unlike any other, exciting and exhilarating those in control of the beasts, attracting the attention of everyone in range and doubtlessly troubling those who see twenty motorcycles and the leather-clad misfits on them as society coming unglued.

We move out. Road captain waves me up to the shotgun position with him. A singular honour. The sound is now deafening as every cruiser lines up behind us. Road captain’s wife climbs on the back of his bike and as we accelerate out of the lot she undulates her arms, sways her body and embraces the wind.

When we hit Main Street the pace is slowed to a thunderous crawl, with the bikes stretching out a full block. Traffic slows and pedestrians stop. Contrary to Dave’s parking lot instructions, more than a few throttles are revved, filling the space between the 19th Century brick and stone buildings with that distinctive sound. Easy rider, baby.

We arrive. The bikes once again line themselves up in perfect order, and rest. Helmets come off, cigarettes appear and, led by the road captain, the groups swaggers towards two women in dresses standing by their car. He takes a brown envelope and hands it to them. Inside is a cheque for $3,181.76, from Chapter 464 of the Southern Cruisers to the Halton Women’s Place, a shelter for abused women and their children. The cruisers all break into applause, and out comes a sea of digital cameras. Thirty minutes later, the light gone, the pack moves on in tight formation, and I head for home in the opposite direction.

As I ride along in the dark my thoughts are about stereotyping, first impressions, our unspoken class system and the leatherless elite who think they run this country. The people I moved with tonight are unorthodox, and revel in it. They chose to ride powerful, open machines and take big risks in return for freedom, speed and presence. They may well be the antithesis of the folks I look at when I walk into the caucus room, the floor of the House or a party meeting.

But they are indeed representative of our society and the voters who populate it and elect governments. They’re political at election time, opinionated all the time, constantly cynical and, unlike most leaders, actually creating value in our community. Halton Women’s Place needed that three thousand bucks. There are 58 women taking shelter there tonight and dozens of kids, the oldest being five years. The cruisers felt powerful, of course, taking over Main Street on a Wednesday night. But that was just rumbly foreplay to the cheque.

It was a good night. There is much hope.

Free advice, and worth it

“Oceans lash our coasts. Deserts Burn. The sky provides no shelter. Turmoil of Biblical proportions threatens not just our weather but life itself. Global Warming is upon us.” SOUNDS LIKE GARTH!

You hear it everywhere. Global Warming is a fact. It is here. It is now unstoppable. The Polar Ice Cap is melting. Polar Bears are endangered. Greenland is actually turning green! Hurricanes are blowing with more force. Tornadoes are growing in numbers. Water levels are increasing, threatening to flood New York City. Human existence is threatened. And, of course, the deserts are starting to burn. We are assured that scientists are in near total agreement with the assessment.

The media is in a frenzy, rushing to report the latest news release from special interest groups with the latest report or prediction. Al Gore is rushing his hi tech docudrama to the theaters to whip up more frenzy. Corporations are being forced to turn “green” to show their “corporate social responsibility” in the wake of the coming disaster.

Global Warming has become a euphemism for a political agenda. There is Socialism, Capitalism and Global Warmingism.

You’ll notice a spate of similar comments in response to my post yesterday about the Greens and their new leader Elizabeth May. There are obviously a lot of right-winger conservatives crawling over this blog who think global warming is junk science and the Greens are commies. They see a left-wing conspiracy in this, and a political agenda which will lead to more government, a crappy economy, fewer individual liberties and a standard of living that Mennonites would find tough.

This is one big challenge in our path.

Another challenge was much on my mind as I drove home through Cow Country this afternoon after a special Ontario Caucus meeting in Owen Sound. While a great deal of the talk was (understandably) about agriculture and the crisis facing our rural farm economy (and toss tourism in there, as well), enough time was left for some colleagues to rip into me over the events of the last two weeks.

My crime was this quote, uttered to a Canadian Press reporter just a day after I discovered silver-tongued homophobe, televangelist and Defend Marriage Canada boss Charles McVety was behind a serious move to scoop my job. I said: “Am I supposed to change my mind and all of a sudden hate homosexual people because I’m facing a challenge in my riding? Of course not, I’m not going to change.”

This was widely interpreted in socon circles, and by a number of my colleagues, as my belief that everyone who opposes same-sex marriage hates gays. That, of course, is bunk. My anger at that time was focused 100% on McVety, who I think gives us a definition of intolerance and who I’ve personally heard call homosexual people, “abominations.” So much for Christian charity.

In any case, we clearly have a tussle within the Conservative Party, as we do within Canadian society, between those who want this government to turn up the moral dial, and those who wish for social ‘progress’. This is not unlike the gulf between those who wish for environmental activism even when it costs more or is inconvenient, and those who equate the green agenda with socialism, big government and an assault on the laws of the free market.

A wise prime minister, of course, has to navigate this minefield of public and caucus opinion. Not easy, given the passions now raging. A same-sex marriage vote is coming. So is a new federal green plan. And a second budget. Obviously the next months will do much to define who Stephen Harper is, register his ability to satisfy competing demands and lay flesh over the bones of the government’s five basic priorities.

Were he to ask me for advice (stop laughing back there, will you?), I would say this:

Hold the same-sex marriage vote immediately when Parliament resumes, to prevent a giant media buildup, and pray the result is the same as last time. The last thing Stephen Harper (or any PM) needs is to have a new mandate mired in an issue – like abortion or capital punishment – that is a bottomless pit of disappointment and debate.

Second, hire Elizabeth May on a contract to be a Special Advisor on the new green plan. Hell, if you can abscond Wajid Khan, who has a whole elected Liberal caucus to answer to, she should be easy to pick off. Lots of your MPs would gag, but this is the kind of bold move that would win public admiration and expand the voter base. Besides, I think we could use the help, or at least the optics.

Third, make sure you underscore your conservative principles and roots with a commitment to less government through more tax cuts. Bring in that capital gains deferral (assuming the finance gnomes have had time to sweat the details). Set up a serious study of flat tax. Allow income-splitting for single-income families and pension-splitting for seniors. Set up the after-tax retirement savings plan Conservatives have already endorsed.

Finally, reaffirm the Tory commitment to individualism by setting the stage for the restoration of the right to own property – possibly your single greatest long-term, gift to the citizens of Canada. Remove power from politicians and bureaucrats while restoring it to voters and taxpayers. Give people the right to defend what they own, within the context of a society that will never give anyone the right to pollute or possess restricted weapons.

It’s all about balance, between right and left. Learned that on my Harley.

Enter Liz

A number of years ago I was asked to be a national director for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. This Vancouver-based organization is dedicated to the monitoring, upholding and strengthening of laws protecting the environment. I agreed in a flash, and enjoyed the association, although my name was used more to raise money than to scare off corporate polluters.

As I got to know them, the SLDF folks were driven by passion and consumed by their goals, but also eminently practical and realistic. They may want a perfect planet, but they also understand we live in a real world where people drive cars, consume disposable everything and buy things they don’t need wrapped in plastic they don’t want. So, the Sierra people quietly write credible reports, shame governments and business into doing better and lobby for creatures at risk who can’t make it to Ottawa.

Elizabeth May

I thought of that winning combination of passion and reason when I heard of the election of Elizabeth May as the new leader of the Green Party. Haven’t met the woman, but she sure comes across as being charismatic, political, savvy and connected. Those are skills a leader needs, even if most of her supporters have long grey ponytails, wear sandals and worry about fair trade coffee beans.

The fact is, Greens are on a roll. Party membership has doubled to almost 9,000 in the last seven months. The leadership convention was not only populated by reporters for the MSM, but actually made it live onto TV. And, yeah, they picked the right person. May is articulate, engaging, telegenic and, best of all, she is a Maritimer, albeit a transplanted one. Rumour has it she even was a PC once upon a time, as a policy advisor to Mulroney environment minister Tom McMillan.

Meanwhile a new poll shows that fully a third of people who vote Conservative now hold the Greens as they second choice. No wonder May is making bold noises about getting some Green MPs into the House of Commons soon – something which was only a wild dream back on the night of January 23rd.

So, what has changed in that flash of time? Lots, actually. The climate is obviously screwed up, and people notice. Forty degree summers, more freak weather, more prairie drought, punctuated by flooding. The Arctic ice cap is melting and polar bears are drowning. Suddenly the power system is balky and Ontario is building new nukes. We are wallowing in garbage and actually exporting trash to the States. Kyoto is toast, and that worries people who have no idea what Kyoto was. Overall, it seems like there is no cohesive plan – and I haven’t even mentioned Al Gore.

We are also at one of those unique points in the economic cycle – ten years or so into an up-phase, after retail and real estate spending have been at historic levels – when consumerism turns into altruism. People are just maxed out on DVD players, cars with GPS dashboards, granite countertops and cellphones that take pictures and upload them. Environmental awareness is peaking again, for the first time in almost twenty years, and Canadians are looking for ways to be proactive.

Enter Liz. The timing could not be better. The woman, and the party, could be the sleeping giant of Canadian politics, if the current giants do not heed the growing passion of voters to be part of the solution. May still has granola-snorting enviro-kooks to deal with, but she is well on the way to Main Street acceptance with statements like, you can drive a car and still be green. It’s a simple message of hope. No hectoring. No guilt. Works for me.

The first major political party to see what’s happening here, and embrace this woman, will prevail.