Part IV, WE STAND ON GUARD FOR THEE

In Part 3, I explored the corporate agenda that drives Harper’s politics. In the last of the series, I discuss what we can do to get the federal government back in the hands of the Canadian majority.

Harper is taking Canada towards more centralized, authoritarian government. He is using his majority to advance legislation which will result in widespread social injustices and a shift of more power to the corporate sector. With opposition votes divided, he is positioned to take Canada further in this reactionary direction after 2015. Those who care about Canada and our citizens must now co-operate to create an alternative future.

Harper’s politics are devious, although demonizing him won’t help; he’s exploiting a situation that’s been in the making for decades. We will have to rely on Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to help limit Harper’s arbitrary rule, but it was Trudeau himself who started centralizing power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Harper has built on this to create his “government within government”. It was Mulroney who made the big shift towards economism, where the corporate marketplace trumped everything; this has been a precursor to Harper’s desired corporate state.

However, Harper changed the “game”. His Ministers’ justification of any action because the party “got a mandate in the last election” ignores the fact that less than 3 out of 10 eligible voters supported Harper. Obsessed with power, he cares little for the implications of his devious methods and policies for Canadian unity down the road. When he pleads “smear campaign” over charges of vote suppression during the 2011 election, remember that the Harper Conservatives have already been convicted of electoral fraud from the election that first brought them to power.

THE NEW VISION

Harper accumulated votes by driving wedges between Canadians. The Reform Party used the bilingual wedge between French and English and then the energy wedge between West and East to build its base. Harper then compounded tensions between town and country over gun control and now wants to accentuate tensions between provinces over Medicare and between generations over old-age security to try to hold onto power. His wedge politics sow disunity. This can be a successful short-term tactic, but it can’t build bridges of understanding and compassion across groups and regions. The answer is not more of the same; attack ads from more parties will drive even more people from the voting booths. Such polarization and de-politicization will give advantage to Harper.

The challenge is to build a new basis of unity among Canadians with a vision that resonates across the majority. To do this the Liberals will have to update their heritage of human rights to defend the freedoms that Harper is undercutting. The New Democrats will have to update their progressive heritage to advance the social justice that Harper is undermining.  And the Greens will have to find more successful ways of moving ecological sustainability to the centre of Canadian political culture.

OVERCOMING TURF

Harper exploits political “turf wars”, but he didn’t cause them. Both Liberals and New Democrats embraced some of the myths of neo-liberalism and globalization. The Liberals couldn’t have picked a more vulnerable leader than Ignatieff for Harper to target with attack ads; Ignatieff was a political outsider and an elitist. Former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow advanced many of the ideas of Tony Blair’s New Labour, abandoning the values of redistribution for neo-liberal economic growth. Predictably we got more inequality and more environmental toxins.

The climate crisis gains momentum as Harper fiddles with how to defend the fossil-fuel economy. This mounting crisis is already bringing the movements for democracy, justice and sustainability into better alignment. The renewed political vision has to challenge Harper’s simplistic view of capitalist economic growth “at all costs” because perpetual growth is untenable. The market must be put back into the larger context of society and society must be placed in the context of natural systems. There is a spiritual dimension to this shift in paradigm. Participatory democracy has to be strengthened, not undermined, as Harper is doing, to help bring the required changes.

BOTTOM UP

Parties habitually stand in the way. The timing of its cumbersome leadership race led the NDP to “drop the ball” with its vital new role as Official Opposition. As the Liberals came up in the polls there was a return, among some, to the mentality that they were entitled to govern. Putting all their eggs in one basket, electing their leader Elizabeth May, the Greens lost some hard-won traction with the public.

All three parties could contribute to a Harper re-election in 2015. Political realignment to end vote splitting is going to be required and leaving this to “strategic voting” is not an option. Co-operation between the opposition parties must be strengthened if Harper is to be soundly defeated at the polls. It may be no accident that the favoured new leader of the Liberals, Bob Rae, was once in the NDP and that the apparent front-runner for NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, was once in the Liberals. But can they see the forest for the trees?

B.C. NDP leadership candidate, Nathan Cullen, has called for party co-operation. He has sometimes been attacked as disloyal by party stalwarts, but his message continues to resonate. Prior to the March 24th leadership vote he has had the largest number of contributors and has been running just behind Mulcair and Brian Topp in total fund raising.

Cullen is proposing holding run-offs among parties to select the candidate to challenge sitting Conservative MP’s.  Another suggestion is working for an electoral alliance in the seats where the vote has split three-ways and where Conservatives were elected by a small margin. We have to be aware that Harper’s handlers will likely want to launch attacks on this, much as they attacked “the Coalition”. Fear and deflection are Harper’s preferred ways.

ONE APPROACH

What about the views of the skeptics of co-operation? Electoral reform is ultimately needed but is not going to happen before 2015. Criticisms that party co-operation would have prevented the breakthrough of the NDP are not relevant, now that Harper has his majority rule. Further, if opposition parties are willing to consider co-operating after the next election, why wouldn’t we be proactive and more effective and do this before the vote?

There will be no short-cut to the “majority” taking back the Canadian government. But what if the grass-roots took charge? What if opposition parties, where Conservative MP’s got fewer votes than the combined vote of the other three, voted to hold a joint nominating convention? All members of all co-operating parties would be eligible to vote, and members of all co-operating parties would be eligible to run; all co-operating parties would agree to support the candidate that won. Each party could have a member on the campaign committee to help bring the basis of unity rather than disunity into better focus.

Think of it: the proponents of democracy, justice and sustainability in a common campaign. Creative development could percolate out into the communities and up the three political parties. I have already witnessed a similar process in non-partisan community forums defending the farmer-elected Canadian Wheat Board. Held in “Harper country”, where no NDP MP’s were elected, these prairie forums will raise more money than any federal NDP leadership candidate raised across all of Canada. This illustrates the potential of the grass-roots democracy-in-action required for voter realignment.

Would party leaders dare overrule such a bottom-up approach? Would Harper be able to attack ordinary Canadians standing up for their country? We’ll see, but the conversation must begin! Sensitive and skilled brokers from all political traditions must now step up to the plate. Harper is a wake-up call to Canadians.

The full four-part series is available at: rtownonline.ca, or http://www.crowsnestecology.wordpress.com

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