Summer Musings

Summer’s long, lazy days bring us closer to nature. And to God. “Earth is crammed with heaven. / And every common bush afire with God,” wrote Elizabeth Browning. Tiny hummingbirds are fighting at the feeder, a bald eagle drops from atop a mighty fir before his talons slice the water. Canada geese float by in military formation. Mom merganser, babies on her back, skirts a jumble of seaweed. For 30 years, violet-green swallows have nested under our eaves. Impatient shrieks tell of a hungry brood. As night falls, the distant mountains drift from view, the moon strengthens, stars appear and three barred owls add mystery to the deep silence, hoohoo-hoohoo! God’s creation is good. Humans are part of something very big, very special.

But where are the bats? And the western red squirrels? We miss their whimsical antics. And the West Coast salmon, once so plentiful? Thirty summers of decline, fewer birds of all kinds. Double-breasted cormorants, western grebe, belted kingfisher, pileated woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-breasted sapsucker, pigeon guillemot and many more, their numbers sharply reduced. Is our consumer-crazed lifestyle to blame? Does God still wish to walk with us in the cool of the evening as a friend?

The long view
We, too, have changed. Our annual summer trek up the B.C. coast no longer shields us from civilization. Technology intrudes; the plight of asylum seekers, bitter trade disputes and pipeline politics strain the solitude of coastal life. This summer, West Coast dwellers ponder two politically charged public policies – the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and electoral reform. Albertans blame neighbours for unfairly limiting their prosperity and British Columbia will soon hold its third referendum on proportional representation (PR). How should followers of Jesus respond?

Must I join the Kinder Morgan pipeline protest? How many more birds and bats must succumb before I take a stand to save the planet? Do Albertans deserve sympathy? They reject a sales tax and failed to save during the fat years. Why is Norway’s heritage fund bulging and Alberta’s empty? Norway has proportional representation. Voting systems matter. 

Our current system induces governing parties not to think beyond the next election. Proportional voting yields chronic coalition governments; the majority of cabinet seats in successive administrations remain with the same political parties. PR systems do not throw out an entire administration to bring in a whole new lot. Political change tends to be modest, incremental, less polarizing. 

Norway and Alberta have similar-sized populations and economies fuelled by oil. Peter Lougheed made a good start, but subsequent Alberta governments have steadily raided the Heritage Fund. Under our system, the governing party’s self-interest is to spend all that is available to buy another election. PR tends towards long-term stability, whereas first-past-the-post guarantees no stability beyond the next election. 

In Ontario’s election, the Conservatives increased their vote by seven percentage points. Did they gain seven percent more seats? No, they gained 46 percent more seats. It is not the voters but our voting system that produces wild swings in government, tempting administrations not to plan beyond the next election. World-wide, there is more stability and continuity in public policies under PR. PR disperses power, and the best guarantee against abusing government power for partisan gain is to share that power among the many, rather than the few.

Our world needs more co-operation, consensus building and respect for others. Marilynne Robinson writes, “Democracy is to accept the difficult obligation to honour others and oneself with something approaching due reverence.” Due reverence for others: is that possible in politics? It may seem naively idealistic, but the Bible calls us to respect all because every person on the planet is made in God’s image, wonderfully endowed, also deeply flawed, yet loved by God. If PR shares power and is conducive to less polarization and less abuse of government power, should Christians not support such a voting system? Soon, at summer’s end, I need to decide. Doing jail over the pipeline expansion needs more thought, but support for a voting system that promises improved long-term management of squirrels, birds, bats and taxpayer’s money, plus respect and civility, is Christ-like.

This is a summer of record temperatures, wildfires and near-drought in the rain forest. Rising water temperature in the Fraser River kills sockeye. Global warming is here. Mid-August mornings bring a cool, new freshness, autumn approaches, a metaphor for life’s downward slope. We attend a memorial service for Bill, an engineer who upon retirement left the city for the coast to reflect with deepening appreciation on trees, birds and his Creator. Will the redeemed burn fossil fuels on the new earth? Should we? 

At the service in church, the congregation sings with the joyful energy of Sunday school children, in memory of Bill, “If God so loves the little birds, I know he loves me too” and Kinder Morgan weighs on me.  

  • Nick is an occasional contributor, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly and long-time CC supporter. He lives in Richmond, B.C.

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