Friday, May 07, 2010


The other evening I sat in a lecture theatre listening to a stalwart of the old guard Canadian progressive left talk about the issues of today. The audience, as usual at these things, comprised a mixed bag of well-meaning 20-somethings in skinny jeans, with canvas satchels and unkempt hair, and grey-hairs who would have looked probably much the same as the 20-somethings 40 years ago. This latter group were weaned on Tommy Douglas in a period of hope and dreaming in Canadian social and political realms.

Their disillusionment with today's stand-for-nothing political environment was palpable. Comments to the effect that their party, the NDP (and at times the Trudeau era Liberals), once the progressive hope and dreams of progressively minded Canadians, now had no coherent platform and had largely reduced itself to the blinkered role of critic of one of the other Opposition parties (hint: not the Bloc), met with loud applause.

The only activist party in Ottawa are the Conservatives. There is no effective opposition. When we do get hints of such a rare creature as that now, they are quickly dispelled by later parsing and equivocation. Contempt motion! 'Yes! Finally, the Opposition does it's fucking job,' we think. Only, when the deadline is near the Liberals show signs of collapse. I don't know their rationale but the Ignatieff doctrine seems to be based running a campaign of perpetual feints and never ever following through on an attack, no matter what their odds of advantage.

And now, after reading Don Newman's recent editorial,
...if Stephen Harper is defeated on a contempt vote and is subsequently re-elected, even with another minority, the convention may be established that a prime minister and his government can stand above parliamentary censure. That is assuming, of course, that he is seen to have won public backing for his position that there are certain confidences a government is entitled to keep from a parliament's demands. In that event, parliament would have no effective control over what the government and a prime minister can do, unless it is willing to plunge the country into more confidence votes and election after election.

Something else. We're a society I think that has taken to heart the idea that we can have anything we want with little more effort that a bit of elbow grease. We're blissfully unaware of the social, political and economic structures that underpin our capacity to chase baubles. Some of my graduate research explores social contexts where these structures have suddenly been eroded. Time and time again, despite some clear signs in advance, my participants tell me events were a surprise to them. The process of coming to terms with game-changing circumstances is painful and chaotic. Some people and communities never recover and terminal decline sets in. There is no going back and the way forward is uncertain and dark.

The actions of Stephen Harper's government are altering the core structure of Canadian democracy and our political environment into something unrecognisable to most of us. The current situation is alien for Canadians steeped in national operating language of rights, democracy and justice, and an Opposition accustomed to a status quo of certain untouchable norm. They are confronted with a government pursuing an agenda of cruetly, vindictiveness, and violence against the other that uses the very structure of checks and balances to sabotage the system.

And maybe we won't quite recognise that we've crossed the threshold mark until things are irreparably altered for the worse. It must not come to this.

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