Take me to your leader

I’ve had a bit of time to float back up from my post-election depression and re-assess whether things are as bad as they seem. For all you non-Canadians, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about other stuff going on in the world. But at some point in the next few years, I have a feeling you’re going to hear increasingly more about us Northern folk. And I’m not confident that it will be positive news.

Positive or negative – these are pretty interesting times. So the morning after a thoroughly riveting federal election, I was horrified to see that the most popularly read article on Toronto’s CityNews was ‘In Photos: The Royal Wedding’. It was the first time I heard myself say that war should win over love. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Canadians – especially those in the Greater Toronto Area, whose votes really swayed the results – weren’t glued to the election news. Despite an election that generated a huge amount of buzz on social networking sites and in the public sphere, only 61% of Canadians voted. This figure was only slightly higher than the previous voter turnout. What the hell, Canada? What happened? Were we left blind by the glitz and glam of the marriage of the monarchists or too excited about (or perhaps terrified by the ramifications of) Osama Bin Laden’s execution? I suspect Canadians would have voted (or not, rather) the same way had it been just a regular day.

I’m still pissed off. I hate seeing Stephen Harper contort those cold, reptilian lips into what barely qualifies as a smile. But that’s not what pisses me off. I’m pissed off at Canadians. I’m pissed off at the Liberals who handed the Conservatives a majority government by failing to realize that if they’d sucked it up and voted strategically for the New Democrats (as NDP supporters have been forced to do for them so many times), the Tories may not have been able to manipulate certain ridings (very cleverly, I’ll admit) to their advantage. And I hope that the people who woke up at 4am to watch the royal wedding didn’t vote. Firstly, because I wholeheartedly believe that there’s something wrong with people who care that much about something that has zero impact on their lives. And secondly, because if I find out that any individual was willing to sacrifice their precious sleep for the British royals but couldn’t be bothered to vote in what was arguably the most exciting federal election in Canadian history, I will get mad. Again. And I really just want to go back to being my old chipper self.

I was, on the other hand, impressed at the amount of political commentary from many illustrious thinkers such as Michael Moore, Judy Rebick and Naomi Klein. Much like during the G20 summit, I found Twitter to be a valuable source of news, info and opinion by concerned citizens, media outlets and NGOs. It’s encouraging to see so many people using social networks as a legitimate tool for social change. Social networking is becoming an increasingly powerful force precisely because we’re deciding how we use it, and in so doing, we find new opportunities for not only expressing ourselves but also connecting with each other in a way that even casting a ballot can’t achieve.

People talk about voter apathy. I’d like to think that so many people didn’t vote simply because they’ve lost faith in the process. They have a point when 39.7% of the popular vote produces 54.2% of the seats. Further to that, the Tories won a majority despite the fact that the only other party with any real clout snatched only 9% less of the popular vote. “WTF?!?” was a ubiquitous reaction. So is it really the case that a large faction of the population doesn’t care? Or are they too insulated, brainwashed, selfish, etc. to consider the fundamental nature of right-wing policy? And not just in Canada but throughout the world, in the form of alliances such as NAFTA, the WTO, G8, G20, etc.?

North America is now comprised of a citizenry that has little hope in its governments’ will to represent its needs and even less faith in its own ability to subvert a system that has become so corrupt and inaccessible that change seems impossible. Add to that a public which has been beaten into a stupor, sensitized to fabricated threats and desensitized to what should cause outrage. I suspect our problem isn’t so much that our convictions are wrong or that we lack conviction in the first place. It seems to me that the media machine has simply been very successful at perpetuating confusion, fear and distraction. So I refuse to believe that in this election particularly, Canadians expressed a belief that gutting funding for social services and programs and increasing corporate wealth is going to trickle down into some sort of windfall for the little people. We couldn’t possibly be that dumb. Could we? The fact that we’ve elected a government that among many other things scrapped the access to information database in order to decrease its transparency suggests otherwise. I’m worried because not only will we have a government in power for the next 4 years (minimum) that’s going to do shit like this and worse – but if our lack of basic civic participation is any indication, we’re going to let them do it.

One important fact that this election made obvious is that our first-past-the-post electoral system sucks. Proportional representation is the way to go, although it sounds like people have as much faith in that changing as Harper showing up at the House of Commons in a clown suit – which would probably land me in a straight jacket, since I have a morbid fear of clowns.

Where do we go from here, Canada? I suggest we start by asking what the hell is so bad about a party that stands for reducing poverty and promoting gender/sexual equality, environmental protection, public healthcare and education, Aboriginal rights, workers’ rights and a foreign policy focused on peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.

How we as a country fund all of this is another issue. But is it a question of fiscal management (which the Right likes to say the Left is so terrible at) or is it a question of whether a socially just and balanced society is economically sustainable? Herein lies the crux. If you’re saying that left-wing parties are bad at cutting waste and fundraising, is that endemic to their policy or just a reflection of whichever leadership governs that party at any given point in time? Are people suggesting that right-wing parties are only comprised of accountants and MBAs, or that there’s something about them specifically that makes them better equipped to manage our tax dollars (but Lefties are just a bunch of pot-smoking hippies)? Or is the assumption that post-industrial democratic societies actually can’t afford to ensure that all of its people are employed, in good health and that their rights as well as those of the environment are respected? In which case, why don’t we all just quit our jobs, party all day and night, and watch what happens when the haves and have-nots face off? You don’t hear people talking in the mainstream media about capitalism much anymore – it’s like everyone has been lulled into submission. People just take it for granted that it’s the only economic option, the only system that will ensure ‘prosperity’, even though we have never had more wealthy people on this planet while poverty increases at an astonishing rate. At what point do we wake up and realize that what so-called developed nations have been doing these past decades is not working? And if the Left doesn’t hold the solution to our problems, then why is it that the problems we’re experiencing today happened with the moderates and Rightists at the helm, but they’re the ones we keep electing in our hopes of overcoming poverty and war? We need to question our basic assumptions about what kind of society we want, what truly is ‘possible’ and who is responsible for effecting that change. Hint: it’s us.

With the election over, hopefully Canadians won’t just watch the shit hit the fan and point fingers at each other because we have the biggest decision of all to make over the next few years. The fact that we’ve elected the NDP as the official opposition clearly confirms that Canadians want change. But as soon as the Liberals appoint a strong leader, we’ll be right back to their middle-of-the-road approach, which keeps us breathing but never gives us enough oxygen to rise above our despair. So are we ready for change? I mean, real change? The vast majority of human beings don’t proactively elect to change. We change when we’re forced to. We’ll tolerate all kinds of unbearable situations – bad jobs, unhealthy relationships, corrupt governments – before we face our fear of change and uncertainty. Will the NDP dash what may be their last chance at proving that they can form a viable government? Or will they show us that there really is a legitimate alternative to the status quo?

I leave you with a quote and a video:

“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

– Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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