“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” - Emma Goldman
There’s been much talk of late about uniting the main opposition parties in some sort of delusional effort to defeat the Harper Regime come the next faux election either as a one-time strategic plan or by way of a more long term relationship. Here’s a reality check for those fantasizing about such a possibility.
1) First of all, not one of the parties is really progressively left, though all three like to spin that they are when it suits them, especially if they espouse support for social programs. Every single one of them unequivocally subscribes in varying degrees to the core neoliberal tenet of market fundamentalism, continuing to promote implicitly through policy the financialization of the economy at the expense of the real productive economy, though the latter is occasionally paid due lip service. Practising politics within the neoliberal bubble disqualifies them immediately in my mind.
The LPC has always been neoliberal (remember the austerity programs of the 90s?), and so it could be said - perhaps ironically - that the LPC is less reprehensible than, say, the NDP with its major shift away from traditional progressive thinking to the centre during Layton’s reign and now its bold shift to right of centre with Mulcair and all his talk of “free trade,” “polluter pays” mechanisms (internalizing “externalities”) of “sustainable development” (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and sanctioning of the tar sands under the right conditions. This is spun as modernizing the party of course, but it’s really about swinging votes. The GPC seems, at first glance, to be the most progressive, but a closer look reveals that its so-called green economy policies are really green-washing of good old market based solutions, a strategy recognized long ago by Naomi Klein among others. (Cap and trade - with which each party has flirted at one time or another - is of course another form, albeit diluted, of green-washing grounded in market fundamentalism.)
At best, then, the opposition parties can offer only a tinkering with a system that needs to be completely transformed. No one, so far as I can see, can even offer serious reform let alone the major transformation required aside from a less than satisfactory motion adopted at a GPC convention to restore the Bank of Canada partially to its original function but apparently with a series of inhibiting attached caveats.
2) Then there is the party dynamic itself to consider. How can one support, as Vaughan Lyon in his book Power Shift reminds us, any party given the deep partyocracy of all the parties whereby party discipline has eroded the very core of Parliament as an institution? What kind of power does an individual MP really have as a representative of a constituency or as a conscientious individual? Can anyone honestly say we have vigorous, honest debate and discussions in standing committees, cabinet, caucus, or question period? Is parliament only a divisive, adversarial cock pit? Can anyone honestly say that MPs themselves are really doing anything about this horrendous democratic deficit in our key political institution that is supposed to express the will of the people except mouthing off to the media occasionally from within their own partisan party bubbles? I mean, seriously, does anyone, aside from political junkies, really pay that much attention any more aside from the poor journalists and talk show types who are obliged to cover this pathetic mockery of parliamentary democracy?
3) So called representational government is failing us in the context of increasingly irrelevant, dysfunctional parliamentary and party systems, but it is also failing us in terms of real democratic representation. What’s fair, what’s democratic, about a first-past-the-post system in which an unsubstantial majority - achieved only because of a faulty riding distribution system - can exclude the representational values of the rest of those who voted? What’s the direct pay-off for our vote? What’s the incentive to vote? Next to nothing unless you’re a member of the winning team. Yet people continue to vote out of some sense of moral obligation even though, if they really thought about it for a minute, they would realize it’s like playing the lotto numbers.
Despite its messy challenges, proportional representation as an electoral system whereby power is distributed through negotiations and coalitions based on a share of the vote is clearly far more democratically representational than our current electoral sham, but don’t expect any party with power - namely, the big three - to push for it any time soon. For them, party power and its substantial perks come first.
4) In terms of fundamental democratic representation, then, the electoral system itself is deeply flawed, but so too is the structure of riding distribution on which it sits whereby the less densely populated rural ridings of Canada, especially in Ontario, carry as much representational weight as those ridings in urban and suburban areas that have much higher populations. Such a disparity favours the Harper Regime of course because these rural ridings tend to be politically dominated by C/conservative old white bread men who on a daily basis read the Sun newspapers (distributed freely in such establishments as McDonalds and Tim Hortons) and never miss the radio talk shows. There are also a considerable numbers of the 10% of Canadians who are evangelicals in these ridings too, a major strategic component, as Yves Engler reminds us, of Harper’s voting base. And since the Regime, being good little neoliberals, treats voter constituencies as strategic marketing targets, this demographic and the conservative immigrant “ethnic” market of the suburbs, now enhanced with the proposed riding expansions, are key marketing terrains for growing another Regime victory.
And so it will be very difficult for real progressives to participate in the next election without some sort of moral compromise. So what does one do? Vote while holding one’s nose, absent oneself from the system and not vote at all, continue protesting in various ways from outside, or begin the process of hollowing out from within somehow? Action of some sort is required. Apathy and indifference are not options, for they play significantly into the Regime’s hands - a Regime which continues to wear us down day after day with an extraordinary accumulation of appalling actions. Some days one can be forgiven for speculating that the daily grinding down is a strategy in and of itself.
Illegitimi non carborundum
As Engler suggests, the rationale for Canada’s defense of Israel right or wrong is less to woo the 1.3% potential Jewish Canadian voters than the evangelicals, who have a deep ideological stake in the preservation of Israel as the “Holy Land.”
2) Interesting to note the following about the four party leaders: Harper is a former Alliance and before that a Reform party member, Ray a former provincial and presumably at the time federal NDP member, Mulcair a former provincial Liberal MPP, and May may have been a Progressive Conservative during the Mulroney era.