Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Assessing Options for Canadian Political Movements and Parties Stuck in the Mud





To all of you out there waiting for someone else to come along and improve things, listen to this lady - "We don't need another hero"

 
With the death of Jack Layton, everything on the opposition side of parliament is suddenly up in the air.  There is  nobody who can immediately fill the void left by him, not only as leader of the opposition in Parliament, but as a legitimately elected leader who people across the nation are excited about and supportive of.  With the Liberals in disarray and being "rebuilt" by a former NDP Premier (?!), calls for the two parties to merge were coming out of many informed quarters even before Jack's death. Bob Rae, considering you will be forever haunted by the baggage of your tenure at Queen's Park, not entirely just baggage I am aware (see "Failed NDP Premier" conservative attack ads), why are you putting all your eggs into this doomed and irrelevant basket?  I'm not sure, but I am sure the people advising you are way more delusional than me.   

 
Ragging and ball-busting aside, the burning question surrounding these two political parties today, like two resolutely platonic single opposite sex childless BFFs in their late thirties is "Why the F not?"   It is clear that they would have won the election based on their plurality of votes had they been together, which is why I agreed with veteran Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella's declaration in the Walrus last month that merging was a logical and necessary step that needed to be taken.  But, it was not.  Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.  All I can tell you is that scanning the headlines today across the country, business as usual will no longer cut it.  Jack's death and ensuing national mourning was a week long media and internet extravaganza for one reason: He didn't care what people thought of him.  Whatever you thought of the man's views, his personal life, his political calculations and his life, he is the only man in Canadian Politics right now who always said what he thought and wasn't scared to take on stuff most people didn't care about or were ignorant of.  What that got him was thirty plus years of relative obscurity and not even three months of glory which ultimately went unfulfilled. People noticed that.  A man who speaks his mind and communicates the plight of those less fortunate to the masses, not because its good politics but because he genuinely cares, is rare.  That is why media columnists and pundits who simultaneously scratch their heads at Canadian cynicism and apathy toward the political realm while they write non stop about politician talking points, focus groups, staying on message, tactics, strategy, and calculations didn't have a problem figuring out what to talk about this week.  The outpouring of affection and sadness even from unlikely quarters was due to this guy being real.  His life was laid bare and anyone could see it for what it was. For him it was never about figuring out what to say and what would look best in the paper and that is refreshing.  People have enough bullshit from advertising, society, their employers and the law telling them to keep their head down, stay in line, shut up, and consume.  Is it any wonder they gravitated toward an unpretentious, fun-loving guy who didn't have the look and charm of a lame ass middle aged stuffed suit reporting results to shareholders at a quarterly meeting like most of his colleagues?

 
It's not to say that the guy was the messiah or didn't dabble in the whole PR-marketing side of politics.  But the media and the government don't see the writing on the wall from all this.  It's over and now they're ready to see politicians re-enter the delusional, sad mental spheres they previously inhabited, in which they believe their success hinges on lying to people, talking trash, bribing the public and being generally remote, alienated and unavailable.  The only thing is that people have had it.  Not because their lives suck. Not because of social media.  And not because of one guy's death.  Because the kleptocracy or idiocracy or whatever you want to call it has been experiencing a slow slide to redundancy in the public mind.      Arrogant leaders who hand pick a small circle of trusted cronies, ham-fist through ill-considered and ill-advised policies, and expect their caucuses to be obedient batallions of yes men and women are about to become an endangered species in Canada, and that model happens to closely resemble the operations in the offices most visible premiers, the prime minister, and several mayors in Canada.

But what about the "massive majority" the Conservatives just won in May, you ask?  Or that Fordzilla in Toronto who has already kicked away light rail, the waterfront, community housing and who knows what else away like a bull in a China shop?  Haven't the gang of four Premier of Canada's four largest and most populous provinces all been vindicated with massive majorities since 2007? Aren't these evidence that people love the tough guy, the strong man, the clever strategy wonk who outwits his opponents to fight another day?

Not really.  The people in charge of the political system are confident and comfortable because it suits, well, them.  In a First Past The Post electoral system with voter turnout oscillating between 55 and 60% it usually ends up being something like one in five citizens who actually support a "massive majority".  People think we are so advanced but these results that do not reflect the will of the people are symptomatic of a system (Athenian democracy to Westminster Parliamentary to American bicameral) that has, with each succeeding system over the course of two thousand years, has managed to be a variation of whichever undemocratic and unrepresentative exclusive boys club that preceded it. A system originally designed for slave owners, property owners, males, and finally, “universal suffrage” is still undemocratic by refusing to follow up on the 35-45% of voices that repeatedly go unheard. A charge on the tax return would go a long way to discouraging abstention from casting a ballot and thus, eliminate a lot of the political discourse's farcical nature that has already kicked in full force with weird indecipherable attack ads in Ontario in anticipation of the Oct 6 provincial election.

What we are seeing outside of Ontario, however, in Canadian jurisdictions that are less inclined to care what the elite central Canada Ottawa-Toronto political business axis thinks of them, are moves to populist and citizen democracy. This is precisely due to alienation from arrogant and unavailable leaders who think it suffices to brush off reporters and citizens with dismissive, sarcastic and meaningless remarks every few days, and who think the sole purpose of the 100+ elected members at six figures a pop they are supposed to lead is to to be as small, invisible and submissive as possible. People see this and that is why in Quebec, there are now seven (7) upstart movements of cut from varying ideological cloths attempting to coalesce into broad-based movements to replace the sclerotic and tired provincial liberals, who despite having two majority and one minority mandate under their belts seem to oscillate between being grudgingly tolerated and violenty reviled in the province's media/public opinion.  B.C voters have just overturned the HST they got unexpectedly snowed with at the beginning of their now-resigned former premier's last majority government. The media has mocked them for this, because it is corporate run and obediently serves the “axis” I mentioned above. Citizens who stand up and say that they don't want to pay extra taxes so that businesses can be more “competitive” are dismissed as silly, stupid, and having lost their way. The real problem with the rolling back of the HST is that citizens made a decision for themselves, for better or for worse, in a democratic way, themselves. They were so outraged at having a decision that wasn't supposed to be on the radar dictated to them that they got it repealed. Although the globe and mail gravely cautioned against “rule by plebiscite” and assured its nervous readers that “this can only happen in BC”, it is clear that this is a big step to citizens rediscovering and reasserting their power.
 
I think you see where the need for this article comes from. Widespread cynicism, apathy, antipathy and dislike towards ruling parties and their cult leaders do not scare them. Radical change in the financial system, the way natural resources are extracted and distributed, and the organisation of education and communities is required, and we cannot count on a comfortable and disconnected political structure and class to give it to us. The media will continue to tell the public that they “must go through the proper channels” and “stay the course” but never in history has the government been more out of touch with reality. It's not a left-right thing - More people than ever are tired of stupidity, incompetence, and being told it is this way because it has to be this way without justification. They are also sick of the folly of being told that no sacrifice or pain will ever be required when they can plainly see that its not true. These people need a movement, and they don't need a messiah or a cult leader to come out of wilderness and start it for them. Start writing, talking, discussing and putting all the bullshit you see going on on the internet if you haven't already and when the time is right, we will all step into the vacuum. Its not about conventions and pep rallies and fundraising anymore. Work to change whatever you can in the system around you. Its not going to be much longer before the hollow pronouncements of our elected leaders turn into complete jokes.

I would not be as cynical perhaps if I hadn't seen the latest slate of Republican Presidential Candidate in the states. Or was gearing up to report on the dearth of talent and options in the upcoming provincial election. So now you know the subjects of my next two columns coming up very soon.

***Exciting News – You can now follow me on twitter at @lckingcrdenshul and I am going to be a community correspondent blogger for the Toronto Star for this fall's provincial election. I'm not happy about the twitter but I had to get it to apply for this position so frick off :) Thanks for reading***

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