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We must start 'shaming' those who lie to us, destroy our climate

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During a flight from Montreal to Halifax I missed a chance to carry out an act of defiance --"shaming" -- against a person who has greatly abused his position of authority in Canada.

Given how powerless ordinary folk and public interest groups have become, I would like to see people embarrass the hell out of those who take advantage of the public by lying to us, cheating us, or destroying our priceless environment.  

As I made my way down the aisle, I spotted the square jaw, the glasses and the prematurely-balding head. I was going to get my chance to walk right up to the Right Honourable Peter MacKay.

MacKay has lied to us enough times that cartoonists depict him with a Pinocchio nose. As Justice Minister, he lied that he didn't know information ignored by the Department would mean a law the government passed violated the Constitution, and worst of all, in 2007, he misled the House of Commons over what he knew about the possible torture of prisoners handed over by Canadian troops to the Afghanistan government.

As I got closer to MacKay, who was already seated, our eyes locked. I squinted angrily, and then. . . .  I walked right by, not saying a word!

Damn! Opportunity lost!

I should have told MacKay what I think of him. I'm sure he would have been embarrassed. Some folks would have been shocked, but perhaps a few would have felt empowered just a little.

Democracy is broken

MacKay is leaving politics and, of course, he is only a tiny cog in a well-organized system that is taking advantage of millions of us.

Democracy is broken, leaving ordinary people next to powerless.  

  • In politics, Stephen Harper couldn't be stopped from destroying the country because he has a majority in Parliament even though 61 per cent of those who voted selected another party.
  • In business, powerful corporations dominate practically everything and reign over us with their right-wing, neoliberal policies.
  • Lastly, mainstream media promote a right-wing agenda and seldom carry liberal-minded articles that would give the public a balanced view of important issues
  • This stranglehold has resulted in outrageous imbalances:
  • Canadian corporations are sitting on more than $630 billion they won't invest, but the average household in the country owes more than they own by a ratio of 163 to 100.
  • While the rich send their kids to a growing number of elite private schools, parents in Prince Albert, B.C. have been told they are going to have to pay $100 to have their kids bused to school.
  • Many thousands of adults are working in shameful slave-like conditions for as low as $10.20 an hour when the top 100 highest-paid CEOs in Canada now make, on average, $9.2 million.

Unfortunately, the so-called left, unions, the liberal-minded community and sectors such as the environmental movement in English-speaking Canada have failed miserably to build any kind of a movement to slow the endless right-wing advances. Even if the NDP is elected in the fall, it will be restricted in what it can change by entrenched, iron-clad economic policies tied to neoliberal policies and international banking practices.

After three decades of outrageous exploitation it's clear that the powerful people who control our lives are not going to change unless forced to do so.  

I know there are thousands of people who feel just like the character Howard Beale in the movie Network who bellowed out the window: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Nothing wrong with expressing anger

Today, when people are being treated unfairly, I see nothing wrong with us expressing our anger. It's the powerful in society who have engineered the belief that expressing anger over social issues is, well, not nice. Remember when the Occupy movement scared the hell out of them?

Unfortunately, as individuals we have felt there is nothing we can do to help bring change. But, if thousands of people join in, there is one way we can have an impact.

We can begin shaming and embarrassing those in powerful positions who lack decent values and who are ruining our country.  Many of them know they are guilty.

The idea of using shaming to guilt organizations over their criminal behaviour was given a big boost in the U.S. with the recent publication of Jennifer Jacquet's book, Is Shaming Necessary?

"The power of shaming is that it can be used by the weak against the strong," says Jacquet.

Shaming individuals works for the California Tax Franchise Board. It shames the top 500 individuals and corporations who owe at least $100,000 in state taxes. The list received a lot of attention a couple of years ago because it included celebrities such as actress and model Pamela Anderson. Many, including Anderson, paid up.

There are many American shaming lists, including the Corporate Hall of Shame, The Customer Service Hall of Shame, and the Public Eye Awards.

In Canada there's far less shaming of the people who have disgraced themselves. Consider the nauseating way mainstream media and many prominent people have catered to Conrad Black since he was released from prison in the U.S.

Canadian companies on 'shame' list

This magazine publishes an impressive annual Corporate Hall of Shame Edition listing more than 25 irresponsible businesses. The 2014 list included CP Rail, Enbridge, Bell Canada, McDonald's, and many more.

While it's good to shame corporations, they are soulless structures that do not themselves decide anything. It's the Executives and Board Members who authorize unethical and illegal activities behind the cover of the corporation that we have to expose.  

As a start, we can stop bowing and braying in the presence of so-called leaders who betray us, whether a slippery politician such as MacKay or an unethical "captain of industry."

When they come into our communities, there should be no handshakes, no smiles. We should walk away, or go the extra mile and tell them we don't approve of their behaviour.

There are thousands of people in Canada who can be targeted who head organizations that create and carry out unconscionable and immoral actions.

Just about anyone involved in two of Canada's most powerful business groups could be singled out. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives  and the Canadian Bankers Association are bastion of neo-liberalism and greed. They are responsible to a considerable extent for the inequity in society.

But right now it would be appropriate if we focused on shaming the people behind the giant corporations that are destroying our environment and contributing to global warming.

I would like to see the people who head these companies -- accumulating great personal wealth at the same time -- publicly shamed so strongly that they would move to a more honourable line of work.

I would like their families, their neighbours, and the guys at the club to be aware of the damage they are doing to our country.

Target the people behind tar sands

A good idea would be to target the people behind the corporations that mine the tar sands.

In January an international study said the tar sands -- the dirtiest of all non-renewable energy -- must remain in the ground if we are to meet the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius and avoid unknown environmental catastrophe.

But Canada's tar sands mining companies and governments are paying very little attention to the worsening environmental situation. Canada's tar sands oil industry is producing record volumes of crude despite prices that have been slipping.

The number 1 tar sands enemy is Suncor Energy, headed by Steve Williams of Calgary, who is president and chief executive officer. Suncor produces the greatest amount of bitumen from Alberta's tar sands. Williams has worked with Suncor for 13 years. He's also a member of the powerful afore mentioned Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Executive demonstrates social responsibility

To demonstrate his commitment to society -- at the same time his company has been helping to destroy the climate -- Williams was chair of Suncor's United Way 2011campaign and a board member of the Northern Lights Regional Hospital Foundation from 2003 to 2007. To no doubt demonstrate Suncor's commitment to a clean environment, he is the Founding Chair of the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative.

Another enemy if the public is Syncrude Canada. Ryan Kubik of Calgary is chairman of the board of Syncrude and president and CEO of the company's Canadian Oil Sands Ltd.

Kubik keeps a fairly high profile in the community as Canadian Oil Sands gives millions of dollars to "the more vulnerable" in the Calgary area. Since 2005, the company has funded about $24 million for projects for those who can't afford housing and the working poor.

Kubik has won his personal war on poverty. According to Bloomberg Business, his total annual compensation in 2014 was $2,900,640.

As we know, the natural instinct of many Canadians is to be polite. But where has this gotten us when it comes to protecting the things we need and value?

We must wake up and realize that people who are, in reality, national criminals are lying and cheating us, and destroying the air we breathe.   

You may not think that shaming an unethical person in a position of power will make much of a difference. But sometimes -- when people who are angry take the important first step -- the smallest of actions can be the needed spark.

Nick Fillmore is a freelance journalist and a frequent contributor to rabble.ca He worked for close to 30 years in mainstream media, and now says he is finally free to write articles that don't fit the mould of corporate media. Feedback welcome: [email protected]

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