Sunday, December 7, 2008

Protesting in the Freezing Cold

This weekend, I was in Toronto, and found myself at Stephane Dion's and Jack Layton's protest rally downtown without even planning to go. I wandered in, and ended up holding a sign, listening to the speeches of the two party leaders, having arrived just in time to see them both, catch a couple of acoustic songs by a few members of Broken Social Scene (which rally MC Mary Walsh at one point called Broken Scene), and be on my way. The sign is still up in my apartment window, stating that I'm part of the 62% majority.

I had spent the previous Friday, among other events, sitting in a rooftop tent above a pro-actively weed friendly coffee shop in Toronto, laughing myself sick at my friend Chris' impromptu performance of a rant about how, if one interprets the constitution correctly, it would be perfectly acceptable for the Governor General, during a parliamentary crisis, to overthrow the parliament in a military coup. Since the Governor General is the Commander in Chief of the Canadian armed forces and the head of state anyway, this would not even really be a coup, but the Governor General exercising her powers in a time of necessity. I think it was the large number of mellifluously flowing syllables in Chris' explanation. The more I think about this, the more I realize that I would not mind if this happened.

Regular readers (if I have any left) are probably wondering why it's taken me so long to rant about our current political situation. Well, it's because I have so far only been briefly excited about the idea of a coalition, and I'm now fairly concerned about it. I'm not worried about the coalition itself. I endorse the idea of Canadian politics being more open to multi-partisan processes. And every policy the coalition has put forward is a perfect blend of the most sensible Liberal positions with the most sensible NDP positions for what this country needs to do if we're going to ride out the global credit crisis. Canadians should not fool themselves into thinking that we are immune to serious economic problems, like the over-inflation of housing prices.

Conservative party economic policies will only work for magical fantasy worlds where markets are run not by an aggregate of several billion humans buying and selling things, but by the miracle-like dictates of the ghosts of William F Buckley, Milton Friedman, and Barry Goldwater. They are practically photocopies of the Reagan/W economic approach, which values only sustained growth of Gross Domestic Product statistics, ignoring the growing numbers of poor people domestically and throughout the world. Nothing would make me happier than to see this government thrown back to Alberta, where they belong.

And there is my major worry about this country right now. There is something rotten in Canada, possibly the most serious political division in our history since the Quebec referendum. I would say it is moreso, because a nationality can be bargained with, and federalist Canadians have bargained quite well with separatist Québécois. Ideological enemies cannot be bargained with, because they want to destroy what the bargainers are not willing to give up. Contemporary Québécois have largely been satisfied with the greater level of inclusion in the Canadian political process, and increased recognition, at least in the public, of Québec's distinct nationality. They did not want to destroy the economic institutions of federalism. A separate Québec would have had all the same welfare state institutions as Canada.

Albertans do not want this. Contemporary Albertans are beacons of intolerant conservative ignorance. They are a frontier state, settled by a culture of independent farmers and ranchers; individualists distrustful of anyone other than themselves assuring them that they the outsiders know best. Before oil wealth made Alberta a major engine of Canadian economic growth, the people had political leanings that could be called socialist: individuals who have worked hard for their property banding together to protect that property, whether from an invasive federal government or capitalist robber barons.

When Albertans were able to become the robber barons, their tune changed considerably, if not the basic distrust of outside interference, which is often seen as a kind of theft. That was the Albertan response to Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program. It goes to show that even though Trudeau was an effective strategist against Québécois nationalism (why Trudeau had little to do with the 1995 sovereignty referendum is a post for another day), he knew nothing about Alberta. The intolerance toward outside interference has mutated into an intolerance for any dialogue with outsiders. Most immigrants to Alberta quickly change their political beliefs to match their new home. I've seen examples of left-leaning Ontarians and Newfoundlanders going to Alberta to work, and returning as virulent fiscal conservatives.

Now that extreme wealth was the order of the day, principles of sharing that wealth disappeared from the Albertan idea of self-reliance. When a self-centred culture becomes rich, the concerns of their people change to reflect their wealth. If wealth was going to be given to other people who were not Albertans, then Albertans were opposed to this. The bill for a welfare state is paid by those citizens who have enough money that they do not need welfare state services themselves. If those people can understand that the poor are unfortunate and need help, then there is no problem. If those people see the poor as lazy, then the welfare state is institutional theft from hard workers to feed bums.

The values of hard work and just rewards are strong in Alberta, and I admire that. I am disgusted by the self-centredness seemingly ubiquitous in that province which blinds them to the idea that hard work does not necessarily lead to wealth. Albertans believe that their wealth is a necessary result of their hard work, and that people who are not wealthy do not deserve to be so. Albertan conservatism is the greatest threat to Canada's wider prosperity in history, because the Albertan political goal is to destroy every means of protecting people from the injustices of greed in growth, or poverty in depression.

No compromise is possible because they seek to destroy the institutions that I wish to protect. I don't think there is any way to solve this political crisis other than marginalizing the conservative movement in Canada to the point where it withers and dies. They must be kept out of government by a united front of all Canadians who believe in economic justice. The centre-left campaign of the next election must show the suffering poor of Canada abandoned by the Conservative government, and showing Ignatieff (because he'll win this), Layton, and yes even Duceppe standing with people putting factories back to work and marketplaces buzzing with Canadian farm goods.

Some matters of politics are non-negotiable, because we refuse to give them up. Do not buckle down to Conservative demands.

1 comment:

chriis said...

Interesting to here anti conservative speech coming from a Newfoundlander. King Danny has about the strongest hold on politics of anyone in the country. Right up there with Ralph Klein. Well i guess Ralphies gone but you know what i mean.

And you caught me off guard, i thought i knew where you were going talking about Quebec separatism and the idealogical difference's of Alberta. But western separatism never came up...

Alberta's only the most known case. BC, and the parries hate On-terrible too. Just ask the (ex)factory workers in Winnipeg or the loggers in Prince George.

But this is a debate to be had over beers not blogs, so until then, all the best.