Saturday, February 23, 2013

DOA RIP (?); plus the political future of Joe Keithley

Joe Keithley by bev.davies, taken at the January 18th DOA "Vancouver farewell," not to be re-used without permission

Barring reunions or one-offs, tonight - at Wild Bill’s in Banff - will see the last of the last of DOA shows, the very final gig of their farewell tour. When I spoke to DOA leader Joe Keithley at his home in Burnaby earlier this year, there was already the sense that this final tour was a bit of a formality - that Keithley was thinking past the tour, counting down the gigs in anticipation of what he hopes will be a successful bid to win the NDP Nomination to run as MLA for Coquitlam - Burke Mountain. Though my Straight feature focused on the band, much of our conversation, in fact, focused on politics, and his preparations to win the nomination.

“I knocked on doors for two and a half months, and I talked to a lot of people, and I listened to a lot of people too,” Keithley explained to me, sitting at his kitchen table -- a nice big solid piece of wood with big weird gouges in it, and arguably the most “punk rock” piece of furniture on display. “One of the things that I found is that a lot of people either had not participated in democracy, or had stopped. A lot of people under 30 went, ‘I never voted before.’ And a lot of middle-aged people went, ‘I stopped voting 20 years ago - I don’t trust any of you guys.’ Generally I signed up about 60% of those people. I said, ‘Look, I’m not coming from a political background. I’m a guy with my band, and we’ve tried to stick up for regular people our entire career. And the big thing here is - democracy is not just going to the ballot box every four years. If there’s an issue, if there’s something you believe should be corrected, you should take that issue to your Mayors, your MLA’s, your ministers.”

Keithley tapped demonstratively on the table with his hand. “Because people power trumps everything else, right? People always think that change comes from government or big business or big media, but it really comes from a grassroots level. If you’ve got a problem or you’ve got a good idea, you start in your neighbourhood with your friends and relatives and the people on your block, and maybe it spreads from there, to your city, your region, your province. Maybe across Canada, maybe across the world, if it’s a good enough idea. So rather than the tail wagging the dog, the dog can wag the tail, if the people have their say.”

The issue that rose to the top during Joe’s door-knocking was education. “The number one thing where everybody liked what I was talking about was education. Everybody from 20 to 80 got it right away, because they either had kids in school, or they were taking post-secondary school, or they had grandkids. And they were like, ‘my kids can’t get a break here.’ One of the party points that I’m really behind is $100 million dollars a year in grants for helping people with their tuitions, or at least part of it, for people in need. If you’re parents are making half a million dollars a year, you’re not going to qualify, but if you’re coming from Prince George or somewhere like that, with working class parents, it’s really hard to get down here to go to UBC, or SFU, or wherever, right? Those people need help.”

Another issue for him is the need “to get more people involved in trades and skills training. This has really been emphasized by this mine that required the workers to have command of Mandarin. This is stupid,” Keithley observed. “Obviously we need to be training people here in BC to do these jobs; it just makes sense. Because - here’s the bottom line here - an educated population is a wealthy population. And at the same time, we’re going to create jobs that pay more than $10.25 an hour. Which is the big thing - because a young person, living by themselves, they can’t survive on $10.25 an hour, and a young person with kids - it’s not even close, it’s a joke, right? With more education, we’re going to be creating more wealth, and we’re going to be creating more wealth, and we’re going to get better jobs for people, that pay more, so people can actually make a living and get by.”

This situation applies equally to the many immigrants living in Keithley's riding, who shared their troubles with him during his door-knocking. “There are a lot of Asian people, a lot of Iranian people in my riding that are really highly skilled that are working at McJobs,” he observes. “It doesn’t make any sense! You got a doctor driving a cab, you got a civil engineer working at Tim Horton’s. We need these people to help build Canada, and we’re not giving them a chance. So it’s a matter of the provincial government working out a deal with the various professional associations. And this all goes hand-in-hand. It’s just going to bring up the entire society, to a higher level of education and wealth, whether it’s immigrants, everybody. The country, except for First Nations people, they all come from somewhere else - whether it’s China or Ireland, they’ve all adapted and made the country grow, that’s the Canadian way, right? But there’s all sorts of barriers in the way of that.”

At one point, I asked Joe who would be the target of the DOA classic “Fucked Up Baby,” the last word of which has seen a variety of replacements; the last time I saw DOA play, it was “Fucked Up Harper,” though the most famous variant was undoubtedly “Fucked Up Ronnie,” about Ronald Reagan. Keithley told me then - as people who attended any of the farewell shows already know - that the band was going to go back to Ronald Reagan, for old time’s sake (as he said onstage, “you may be dead, but you’re still fucked up.”)

That’s not to say that Keithley is particularly fond of Stephen Harper, however. ”You know what, the guy is verging on being a tyrant, I think,” Keithley offered. “He’s not a fair-minded guy. Anybody who comes up with a different point of view, he’s ready to put down; there’s been a lot of stuff like, scientists that worked for the fisheries department or environmental agencies within Canada, if they’ve been dissenting, they’ve been given a rough ride. It’s criminal, I think. It’s like - “oh, you disagree with us? You can’t work here!” And the omnibus bills - the one that took away all the environmental protection in Canada, that was a travesty.”

Keithley had spent the morning of our interview talking with The Province’s Stuart Derdeyn, before picking me up; yet he showed no sign of being tired or out-of-focus during our conversation. At one point I commented on his stamina - “you really do have the oratory skills for a career in politics!”

It was really an offhand remark, but Keithley seized the opportunity no less: “I like to talk, and I like to talk about issues,” he replied. “I’ve been doing that in DOA all my life.”

If I lived in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, I'd be happy to vote Joe Keithley into office. Best of luck to him at the NDP nomination meeting March 3rd!
Joe Keithley by bev.davies, taken at the January 18th DOA "Vancouver farewell," not to be re-used without permission

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