BY IAN PATTISON

Transparency. It’s all the rage. People say they are eager for truth, for plain speaking, especially among politicians. And yet, when truth is staring them in the face, some people don’t like it. They prefer the status quo because that’s what they’ve been told is reality.

Social media has millions of people believing things that aren’t true because they don’t have the patience or the wherewithal or even the interest to verify what’s real and what’s not.

On Facebook right now there’s an account of an event outside Thunder Bay’s Finlandia Club last Thursday where Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay was speaking.

A local party official is said to have “confronted” people demonstrating against MacKay who’d posted a tweet indicating he was pleased to see a rail blockade in Edmonton peacefully dismantled by “a couple of Albertans with a pickup truck” -- the Facebook post called them “settler men” -- while the federal government continued to struggle to find a wider resolution to a pipeline protest by Wet'suwet'en chiefs that has inspired blockades nationally, snarling transportation.

The party official is said to have yelled at a demonstrator after she said, “You support somebody who supports violence.”

Let’s break this down.

The demonstration was called by Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins to protest MacKay's post, which Fiddler described as, "inciting vigilantism" against Indigenous people.

The fellows in Edmonton were disgruntled, but not violent. They weren’t looking for a fight. They drove up to a blockade, behaved politely, pulled some pallets and a sign off the tracks, tossed them into the back of a truck and drove away. Is it illegal to pull down an illegal blockade?

For this MacKay’s been widely vilified though he was probably cheered by most Canadians tired of weeks of illegal rail, road, bridge and building blockades on behalf of a handful of unelected B.C. chiefs whose own band council is on board with the gas pipeline in question. No wonder. Coastal GasLink estimates that its project would pump $115 million during a 25-year period to five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils and generate more than $60-million in construction contracts for local Indigenous businesses in the region.

A weekend meeting between federal and Wet'suwet'en chiefs that everyone thought was to solve the impasse turned out to be about how to deal with future land issues. Blockades continued but were finally removed by week's end. MacKay told a truth held by most Canadians -- the “vigilantes” did what the entire federal government could -- would -- not do.

By the way, the reason the local party official went outside the Finlandia was to offer MacKay’s request to meet with Fiddler. The grand chief wouldn’t take the meeting. How do we reach “reconciliation” if one side won’t talk?

Here in Ontario, the Conservative government has just signed an agreement with two First Nations to get a road built to them and on into the rich Ring of Fire mineral belt that will finally lift thousands of people out of poverty. Neighbouring Neskantaga and Fort Albany First Nations are opposed because they say there wasn’t sufficient consultation. Truth is, government and miners have been trying to consult with Northern Ontario First Nations for 10 years on this opportunity but there’s always some who say it isn’t enough. Will Neskantaga and Fort Albany join in or be left out?

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney blamed Ottawa after Teck Resources pulled the plug on its Frontier oil sands mine. Kenney claimed the feds’ failure to deal with the Wet'suwet'en mess sealed Teck’s decision.

For its part, Teck cited political discourse over climate change as a reason for withdrawing its application. Sagging oil prices didn’t help. It said it strongly supports “Canada’s action on carbon pricing,” which Alberta has challenged in court. Teck blamed this disagreement for a lack of clarity on the climate question. So it’s not Ottawa’s fault. Truth is, Canada must do its part for climate cleanup.

In the United States, half the country is perfectly willing to support a pathological liar who invents his own convenient truths. Donald Trump is so good at it that there’s a decent chance he’ll be re-elected in November and then, watch out.

Right now he’s got his flunky vice-president Mike Pence in charge of the novel coronavirus file. Pence, who once said smoking doesn’t kill people and climate change isn’t a threat, is running point on a health crisis that’s this close to being a pandemic.

Pence’s first substantive act was to tell Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to not appear on five Sunday morning talk shows to discuss the coronavirus. Well, that’s making certain the American people get the truth. Transparency be damned. Trump doesn’t want this thing impacting business interests and Pence says, ‘yes sir.’

If and when coronavirus gets really bad, the American health-care system is going to fail, and fail badly, because it’s a business. There are 331 million people in the United States but fewer than one million hospital beds. As Mark Sumner wrote this week in Daily Kos, “ . . . health care is subjected to the winnowing of the marketplace — just barely enough health care, at the highest possible prices people will tolerate without demanding a change.”

Bernie Sanders wants to usher in that change but he’s being head-butted by the claim that public health care is “socialism.” The American people are actually terrified at the prospect of saving money because they’ve been told that the marketplace is how their country became “the greatest” on earth. True, American innovation has built an impressive empire. But it’s been corrupted by greed that creates billionaire CEOs while their employees go broke trying to buy health care when they are sick.

Many Americans are so brainwashed they can’t see that “socialism” is all around them. It’s their schools, emergency services, roads and bridges, their beloved military for heaven’s sake. A Facebook meme this week put it nicely: “Socialism is when the fire department shows up at your (burning) house. Capitalism is when your insurance company refuses to pay.”

“Lifted by a hasty unity among center-left Democrats disinclined toward political revolution,” as The New York Times put it, Sanders is losing steam to his one remaining rival, Joe Biden, who comes with performance shortcomings that Trump will exploit. Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank said the race boiled down to this question: “Is the electorate more afraid of government than they are of inequality?”

A coronavirus vaccine is in the making. When it’s ready you can count on one thing: Big Pharma will buy it and jack up the price to whatever the market will bear. And to hell with the casualties who can’t afford it.

With Sanders, what you see is what you get. No bafflegab, no bromides. Just the truth. But, as Jack Nicholson might tell Republican voters and moderate Democrats seeking to derail his momentum, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.

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