One of the perks of living in Milton is that we get to watch the antics of MP Garth Turner up close and personal.
Since I'm a brand new member of the Liberal Party (although not quite as new as Garth) and since I'm working towards becoming more politically active, I thought it might be a good idea to attend Turner's 'Town Hall Meeting' in Milton last night. I had a few things to say about the environment, and a few questions about why the Liberals are letting the Conservatives make them look like a bunch of pussies in the media.
So I went. Interesting.
Turner is about what I had expected. Smart. Well informed. Accessible. And yes, he is very, very into himself. He doesn't talk much like a politician, which is not to say that he doesn't duck and dissemble with the best of them. I lost track of how many questions he responded to with, "That's a very interesting question" and then failed to actually answer. But at least he was willing to say "I don't know" when he really didn't know, instead of just pretending he did and talking out of his ass. And he did about as much listening as talking, which was refreshing.
Frankly, I was expecting the same kind of vitriol at the meeting as I've seen in the comments on his blog, which are mostly along the lines of "You traitorous lying floor-crossing BASTARD!" There were a few comments and complaints about his party switch, but they were all surprisingly civil and the conversation soon turned to actual issues.
Make no mistake. Turner is still a pro-business, tax-cutting, NAFTA loving fiscal conservative, so on matters economic we will likely never agree on much. He talked a lot about income splitting (his pet project) and a bit about capital gains tax changes the Cons want to bring in that (amazingly) he is against because they only benefit the rich. Ok, I can get on board with that. I would really like to get him in a room and ask him point blank about his take on deep integration and North American Union, but I somehow doubt I would ever get a straight answer.
The environment seemed to be of the most interest to people in the room, which kind of puts lie to the notion that it's just a politically manufactured bandwagon issue. This being Milton, the biggest concerns revolved around land use and development, which are not strictly speaking federal jurisdiction. However, several people rightly pointed out that in matters like transportation, all levels of government manage to play a role and coordinate their efforts, so why not urban sprawl? This is a huge issue right now with the Halton mayors balking (somewhat belatedly) at the huge infrastructure costs of the province's 'Places to Grow' plan, so it will be interesting to see if Turner actually decides to wade into the battle.
My environmental question had to do with whether or not the Liberals were ever going to address the big fat stinking elephant carcass in the Canadian climate change room: the Alberta oil sands. I came well armed with numbers and information, and I kept at him when he tried to duck with his "very interesting question" response. He finally acknowledged that it was a political hot potato but that the Liberals would eventually address the issue... gingerly.
One woman spoke about her concerns about the warming of ground water due to developers stripping off tons of insulating soil and foliage and replacing them with heat absorbing asphalt. She apparently owned a farm and had documented a 1 1/2 degree increase in the temperature of her well water over the past few years. I have no idea how legitimate her findings or conclusions were, but it was certainly interesting.
Another guy spoke about urban and suburban planning and the importance of trees and green space. Turns out he runs a tree farm, but he was obviously well informed and had some interesting ideas.
Other questions ranged from the irrelevant to the downright bizarre. Several had nothing whatsoever to do with the Federal Government, but Turner had the good graces to politely re-direct the questioners to more appropriate authorities. One of the more surreal moments came when someone asked what Turner was he going to do about the CRTC's approval of seven new Chinese language stations that were actually puppets of the Chinese government and were planning to air political propaganda against the much oppressed Falun Gong sect.
During the talk, Turner mentioned that Stephane Dion would be in Milton next Wednesday for some sort of mini-environmental summit. The tree farm guy was invited to attend this otherwise closed meeting, and then so was I.
Yes, yours truly was approached by Turner's constituency office manager and asked if I would like to come to come and hang out with Turner and Dion next Wednesday and talk about the environment and stuff since I seemed to know something about it and might find it interesting.
Uh. Yeah, I think I can fit that into my calendar.
(and yes, I am aware of how much of this is designed to give the appearance of public input, but I'm happy to play along just to see how far I can take this)