Category Archives: Politics

The Legacy Of Jack Layton

Like many Canadians, I was horrified to hear the news that federal NDP leader Jack Layton had passed away from cancer on the morning of August 22nd. As the outpouring of emotion continues throughout the week, and his absence begins to sink in, I found myself thinking about the amazing legacy he left Canada, and how things changed in his 8 year stint as leader of the federal NDP.

His accomplishment is remarkable considering the shape the NDP was in during the early 2000s. Barely at official party status, it was marginalized by being the fourth party, and between the larger narratives of the Liberal-Reform/Alliance horse race, or the horse race between the Liberals and the Bloc in Quebec. Nobody gave the NDP much chance. In the summer of 2002 Layton, then a Toronto city councilor without much of a national profile, jumped into the race to replace Alexa McDonnough. Not having a seat in the House of Commons would prove to be an asset, as being on the outside allowed him to mobilize support and bring in the people who would lay the groundwork for big change at a time when the party craved fresh energy and ideas.

Layton’s hard work would pay off, as he won convincingly on the first ballot, despite not having a seat and Bill Blaikie having overwhelming support from the Caucus. And even though the NDP would remain small numerically, Layton was able to force the spotlight onto the NDP, first when the Liberals were predicted to win big under Paul Martin, then later on as the dynamic moved towards a Liberal-Conservative polarization federally, and his breakthrough in Quebec.

How did Layton pull this off? He put the tired clich� of “doing politics differently” into practice. He focused on the core issues that Canadians constantly tell opinion pollsters are important to them, but never implemented federally, bringing the “results oriented” approach to the federal scene, and to work with other parties to push forward the agenda, as is done at the civic level where formal partisan arrangements are often absent. When Harper and Ignatieff were asking for majority governments in the 2011 election, Layton knew that an NDP majority was not in the cards, was fine with that, and said so, and this earned him respect.

I argue that the seeds for the Orange Crush phenomenon were planted on April 21, 2005. The Sponsorship Scandal had engulfed Parliament Hill and was threatening the Paul Martin minority government. Martin took to the public airwaves to plead his case, and all the opposition leaders demanded responses. While Martin, Duceppe, and Harper all focused on the scandal, Layton touched on it but lamented that Parliamentarians were not working on the serious issues facing the country, and calling out the other parties for digging in their heels in their partisan trenches. I remember my respect and admiration for Layton going up, and Canadians were relieved by this breath of fresh air. Layton would go on to extract concessions from Liberal and Conservative governments. When the intransigence of the Harper government reached a head following the 2008 election, he played a key role in the coalition negotiations that proved unsuccessful at removing Harper. The inclusion of the Bloc showed Quebeckers that the federal Parliament was capable of putting their social democratic values into action, and that they could be part of the federal system to make that happen.

The road forward was a long, difficult slog, but Layton was very patient and committed. He pushed forward in the face of great odds, even when it didn’t apparently make sense at the time and the NDP remained stuck at the 15-20% range in the polls. His first test was how he would respond to not having a seat in the House of Commons. Rather than muscle aside an incumbent in a safe seat, he followed through on his commitment to his home community by waiting for the general election to run in his home seat. As this was held by Dennis Mills of the Liberals, there was a great risk, but he won in 2004, and was able to put a positive spin on a campaign that hadn’t netted as many seats as he had hoped. He was ridiculed for opening the 2008 campaign by asking Canadians to elect him Prime Minister, but came out of that election with MPs in 8 provinces, effectively cementing the NDP as a national party. Locally, I appreciate that this commitment took him to the staunchly Conservative rural Manitoba riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette in the November 2010 round of by-elections. It never made a dent in the Conservative vote, but did vault the NDP as the clear alternatives to the Conservatives in that riding, and I can only hope that these efforts will bear fruit somewhere down the road.

Above all else, he reminded us of what was important, and taught us to dream, and encouraged us to break old habits.. I can think of no better summary for Layton’s legacy than his own words which concluded his final press conference:

“If I have tried to bring anything to federal politics, it is the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart. We CAN look after each other better than we do today. We CAN have a fiscally responsible government. We CAN have a strong economy; greater equality; a clean environment. We CAN be a force for peace in the world.”

Yes Jack, you did. Thank you. Rest in peace.

The Consent of the Governed

I’ve take some criticism for describing the harpercon majority government as “illegitimate.” This criticism tends to come from empty-headed morons whose opinions I have as much regard for as I would a huge, steaming piece of dog-shit on my front steps.

There seems to be some inexplicable confusion regarding the justification for my categorization of stephen harper’s government.

I arrived at my conclusions about harper from my positive reaction to Brigette DePape’s protest in the Senate Chamber during the Speech From the Throne. You see, while I endorse the use of extra-Parliamentary tactics and occasional law-breaking, I’m actually very much a Parliament-respectin’ kinda guy. As flawed and compromised as our democracy is, it’s all we have, and we should work to improve it rather than tear it down.

So, why then, do I have an unvarnished sympathy for Ms. DePape’s action? She renounced her oath of non-partisan professionalism, took advantage of her privileged place at the centre of our political system, and expressed her partisan views before a national audience. What sort of democracy would we have if our Parliament was to be opened to everyone who wanted to storm out onto the floor and protest or pontificate?

What sort of democracy would that be?

Well, what sort of democracy do we have now? Let’s leave aside the capitalist class’s domination of our democracy for a second. Let’s focus on the kind of democracy stephen harper would give us:

Government power requires maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. However, if the majority of the people’s representatives have lost confidence in your government, what you do is you turn to the anachronism of the Crown and ask it to shut-down Parliament before the people’s representatives can vote you out. You can do this whenever necessary.

We are governed by the Rule of Law and inspired by our respect for human rights. However, if you find yourself in a war, and you’re too cheap to provide proper prisons for your detainees, and you hand them over to the US-Americans until they’re found to have tortured and killed too many of their prisoners, forcing you to turn them over to another band of torturers, you must do the following:

– Accept no responsibility for as many prisoners as is possible. If you take some prisoners, make sure there is a representative of the torturing home government standing nearby and IMMEDIATELY hand them over to that person. No paperwork = No legal responsibilities!!! (Hopefully.)

– When you’re not able to do that, hand the prisoners over to the torturing home government and then delay, delay, delay, telling the International Committee of the Red Cross about them, so that they’re unable to keep tabs on their treatment. No evidence = No legal responsibilities!!! (Hopefully.)

– If you have pesky oversight bodies like the Military Police Complaints Commission, frustrate them at every turn and refuse to renew the mandates of chairpersons determined to do their job.

– If the fucking legislature of the pain-in-the-ass representatives of the people try to investigate this issue, call up the Crown and tell Him or Her to shut-down Parliament again, and then give the country some bullshit excuse for killing a year’s worth of legislation.

The US-Americans fought their revolution to a great degree based on the idea that there should be no taxation without political representation under the British Constitution. Members of the British Parliament at the time said that they were correct in that assertion. But here in Canada, we have a prime minister who believes that we can have representation, but it should be powerless when it comes to controlling what the government does with the taxation! Parliament should be a rubber-stamp for the government’s spending initiatives. If you find yourself with a pesky Speaker of House, who believes that it is Parliament that is the source of power in our democracy, and not the Prime Minister and Cabinet, shrug your shoulders and hope for a more compliant Speaker in the future. Then you can have your “Supreme Soviet” or your “Reichstag.” Rely on your shit-head supporters and a large bulk of the rest of the population to regard these essential fundamentals of democratic accountability to be arcane and “boring” details that only political geeks need to care about.

True democracy requires honest and transparent government. (Especially since promising that sort of Accountability was a huge part of your initial rise to power!) However, if the mood strikes you, you should tamper with official government documents to make them say whatever you want them to say, in order to justify whatever it is you want to do. If a Cabinet Minister deliberately lies to Parliament about this, well, that’s okay too. This time it was Bev Oda pretending that her staff recommended that KAIROS not be funded. Tomorrow it could be Vic Toews saying that violent crime is shooting through the roof and that the experts recommend the death penalty as the only effective deterrent. Whatever is necessary, once the principle of forgery and lying has been established.

So, that’s stephen harper’s idea of democracy in Canada. And, thanks to the apathy of almost 40% of the electorate who didn’t vote at all, and 26% of the electorate who either thought that such assaults on democracy were either cool, or boring, or who had no idea that any of that stuff happened at all, but like their parents always voted Conservative and whatever, … stephen harper has won a majority government. (Obviously, with the power of a majority government, harper won’t have to resort to such blatant abuses to get his way. On the other hand, with the power of a majority government, we’ll simply never know about his lies and abuses. It will all be a fait accompli.)

But, again, here’s the rub: If the guy who presumes to write the rules for the rest of us doesn’t respect the rules himself, why should we meekly acquiesce to his nonsense? If he was elected by people who don’t give a shit about our rights in a minority parliament, why should we give a shit about their rights in a majority parliament? If he was elected by people who had no idea what they were doing, and the results of their choice are going to be a disaster for us (to say nothing of conveying a patina of legitimacy to these assaults on the basics of our democratic system), why should we be bound to respect their ignorant choice?

This is not about sour grapes people. I despised the Chretien and Martin Liberals, and, even when they’d help destroy democracy in Haiti, I did not call their power illegitimate. I despised stephen harper’s minority government but I even said on this blog that we have to respect the legitimacy of his minority. It is stephen harper who has made himself unfit to govern us. It was stephen harper who trammelled all over the core of our democratic system. And a vote for such a despot is either a vote for despotism which can then make no claim on our respect, or it is a vote out of ignorance, which, given the stakes, likewise has no claim on our respect.

Drifting Towards Oblivion

I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Humanity (coerced or duped by our elites) is determined to continue along the path to ecological Armageddon. One of the worst offenders was Canada’s stephen harper government. And now he’s got a majority government. Extra-parliamentary protest is a sad joke. Tiny bands of the already converted unite to shout something for an afternoon and if the numbers get anywhere serious, highly-paid pigs are available to smash their skulls in.

The political awareness in this country is a joke. Except for the fact that the NDP, under the radar, appears to be gaining strength. The desperate economic climate, the naked amount of class warfare in this country (instigated by those at the top) must be having some sort of impact on the attitudes of Canadians, far from the editorial boards of the mainstream media, where whole departments are dedicated to providing “Lifestyle” news to the most affluent 30% of the population, besides blathering yet again for Canadians to be “patient” as the “progress” continues in Afghanistan.

Of course, the NDP, being what it is, will probably reinvent itself into some version of the Liberal Party. (Indeed, some people are arguing that this “pragmatism” is just what the NDP needs, and that those fools who made it a “religion” are going to be disappointed as the party leadership “matures.” The possibility that we might have to thank those “fools” and their struggling to keep the NDP as true to their principles as it remains, for attracting voters away from the unprincipled Liberals doesn’t even occur to them.)

I’m simply at a loss. In the 3-d world, I have, over the past month or so, tried to reach out to other groups to come together and discuss possibilities for resistance, only to be met with silence. (Or derision, as “left-wing” political groups turn out to be anti-union, anti-protester, pro-business, middle class dweebs.) I haven’t bothered with my local NDP riding association since two e-mails asking for a group meeting or online discussion in order to send a message to the party leadership have been met with silence. I’m not surprised that I’m expected to be a source of funds for the party and not so much a source of ideas. I am surprised at the depths of irrelevance of party membership though.

The reason I spend time in politics is because our present path is the path to species suicide, with social-economic meltdown as the appetizer. I have no illusions that had I dedicated my life to earning money (within the limits of my patience) that I would have amassed enough to insulate me from the uncertainty of late capitalism. If things are going to be made stable and whole for ordinary people, it is going to have to come from politics, not the capitalist marketplace.

Right now though, politics seems as barren a field as the job market.

The Liberals and the Centre

I think it was in the Martin or the Dion years, when, on Canadian Cynic, I told Ti-Guy that I wanted the Liberal Party of Canada to die, because they deceived progressive-minded Canadians and made them believe that they could have their cake and eat it too.

Ti-Guy replied something to the effect that by giving the centrist majority of Canadians a compromise between the extremist Conservatives and the loopy NDP. Without the Liberals, the majority of Liberal supporters would stupidly migrate over to the Conservatives (with whom they feel more comfortable).

At the time, I wasn’t sure that the thesis was worth the explosion in homelessness, in poverty, in the massive decline in our manufacturing sector, the occupation of Afghanistan and the subsequent war crimes, the increase in inequality, the creeping privatization of health care, the dallying with missile defence, and on and on and everything that Liberal governance represented.

And what if it’s the case that “centre cannot hold”? I realize that for a long time I predicted economic collapse, sincerely believing that the debt-crisis, or the dot-com bubble’s bursting, or something else meant that our economic system had run out of steam, only to be proved wrong. But this latest crisis, I’ve waited, and hedged my bets, but there’s enough weakness, enough elite stupidity, enough hopelessness, that it looks like a collapse is inevitable. About a month ago, some dude was on a business news program, saying with all the confidence in the world “Demand will come back.” I could only wonder where it was supposed to come back from. Seriously, check out those links and ask yourself where demand is supposed to come from? And then, remember that “demand” as he’s talking about it, means “effective demand” to consume more and more useless junk, the production of which will plunder the world’s resources and destroy the environment. Their system fails on its own terms and in the bigger picture it’s going to kill us all.

If that’s the case, what do we need with some mewling bunch of neo-liberal, arrogant, elite dumb-fucks who helped bring us to this sorry pass?

There is going to be a reckoning. We have the worst possible political party in Canada in power to meet it with a majority government. Let’s make the choice for Canadians as stark as possible: the intellectual bankruptcy of capitalism versus the humanity of social democracy. The last thing we want is a political party lying to Canadians that they can “rise up” to the challenge with rhetoric and lies.

Time To Dream: Progressives In Crossroads

Do you dream of a better Canada? Maybe you don’t have a family doctor. Maybe you are concerned about homelessness and urban poverty, or the state of affairs on First Nations. Perhaps you are concerned about the decline of family farms and resource industries, which is killing off rural areas. Maybe you are frustrated with the gridlock that is paralyzing your commute while you continue to pay for gas prices that have already jumped well before the typical summer surge. You want to vote your conscience, and yet you are afraid that your vote won’t count, that you have to vote for someone else to stop someone you really don’t like. Will you ever be able to vote your beliefs?

Now is your chance. For the first time in 23 years, Canadians can vote for something. In a stunning turn of events, the NDP, once thought by pundits to be in danger of losing seats as the Liberals and Conservatives battled for top spot, is now in second place nationally and the Liberals dropping dramatically. The Liberals have long asked people to vote Liberal out of fear of what the right wing would do, only to follow through with many of the same policies. Yet their fear campaign against the Conservatives has fallen apart, and in an unusual twist of events, Harper is poised to win seats around (and possibly in) the liberal/left bastion of Toronto, while at the same time is nearly certain to lose seats in the right-wing bastion of Alberta. How did this come to be?

The seeds of this shift, showing up federally, can be seen in recent municipal elections in the cities of Toronto and Calgarythat happened within weeks of each other. There were similar dynamics. A long-serving incumbent mayor had stepped aside. A far-right city councillor challenged for the post. The main challengers were also right-wing, though not to the same degree. The best candidates, according to public opinion polls, were nowhere near contention.

That is where the similarities end. In Toronto, progressives panicked at the thought of Rob Ford being elected mayor, and loudly asked everyone to vote for the unpopular George Smitherman, who’s only reason for being in contention was that he apparently could win according to public opinion polls. Pantalone was blamed for splitting the vote, but in the end, retained a strong core support while Ford handily beat Smitherman. Regardless of how scary things seemed to be, too many Pantalone supporters saw no reason to choose between 2 right-wingers. Some things, they argue, are more important than the race for first place.

Calgary was a different scenario. Progressive voters, led by young adults, campaigned relentlessly for Naheed Nenshi and built up a base of support, despite a call for strategic voting by one of the marginal contenders. Their hard work paid off, and Nenshi was elected on a wave of high turnout.

Appealing to people’s aspirations proved to be far more effective than trying to scare them away from something bad. The question many progressives had in this election: do I vote strategically or do I vote my conscience?

Both. In 2011, the clear strategic choice is your conscience.

No Matter How Thin You Slice It, It’s Still Baloney!

If I really cared, I could just go over to Brian’s stupid blog and get the pro-war spin on NATO plans to bribe “moderate Taliban” to stop fighting. Or, I could go to Terry Glavin’s stupid blog, and get the same thing with a load of self-satisfied self-praise and idiotic trashing of anti-war types as being members of the leftist-islamo-fascist conspiracy.

But those guys are delusional dunces. They’ll just say that this is more of the same sort of successful policy like bush II’s “surge” and the resultant “Anbar Awakening” that saw Sunni Iraq repudiate the Taliban and stop fighting the USA. Of course, anyone who says that the USA’s occupation of Iraq was a success is nobody we should be expected to take seriously. The Sunnis accepted the reality that they were out-gunned and out-numbered and it therefore made sense to stop fighting in return for money, money, lots of money, from the USA. But Iraq remains a hell-hole and the government is employing the same torture and oppression as did Saddam Hussein’s.

All the media reporting on these overtures to “moderate Taliban” mentioned that the Karzai government’s corruption and incompetence drove these Afghans into the insurgency. Well, bribes from NATO to angry Pashtun farmers isn’t going to make Karzai’s government any less corrupt, incompetent, brutal or unelected. The existence of these “moderate Taliban” also shows the non-Taliban nature of the much of the insurgency.

I mean, can we, at long last, connect the dots here? Okay: NATO is hoping to enter into talks with “moderate Taliban” to try to get them to stop fighting the Karzai government. This involves paying them money not to fight. The media reports that these “moderate Taliban” are mostly driven by the “incompetence and corruption” of the Afghan government. Toss in brutality and criminality and there’s your whole picture right there.

“Oh that’s the wingnut, leftist, anti-American Guardian newspaper you’re quoting from!” bleat the delusional, pro-war idiots. Okay, fine. NATO wants to go into talks with “moderate Taliban” who only want to throw diluted acid into school-girls’ faces, who only want punish really, really unchaste Afghan women by throwing smaller rocks at them than the original Taliban did, and who only sorta want to impose a kinda totalitarian religous semi-fanaticism on their people and the rest of the world.

Nah, let’s go back to reality and sanity. The puppet-Karzai heads an unpopular, unelected government that is incompetent, corrupt, and brutal and which has alienated scores of Afghans (mainly among the Pashtun, the country’s largest ethnic group). At the end of eight bloody years, it is just as incompetent, brutal and corrupt as it was at the start. Being so unpopular, bloody and criminal, it has produced a growing insurgency comprised of people we admit we have no other quarrel with. That’s why we’ve decided to call them “moderate Taliban” and enter into peace-talks with them.

If they agree and only a sliver of support remains with the genuine Taliban, that doesn’t detract from the fact that for eight long years, just as us critics on the left have been insisting, we have been fighting and killing and dying for an ignoble cause. Not only that, but blithely, stupidly, betrayed our supposed values and become complicit in war crimes! Our governments could have spent more money on creating a stable, honest government in Afghanistan. Our governments could have spent less on killing Afghans and more on providing them with jobs and incomes (just as I was prepared to accept that we might, but correctly doubted).

If, after eight long years, our fearful leaders decide that they’ll change tactics slightly, and provide money to people abused and robbed by our incompetent and corrupt puppet-government, that’s no real cause for celebration. It’s an admission of complete failure. It’s an admission that the country was a mess, is a mess, and will stay a mess, despite our latest policy of bribing people not to fight. If only a sliver of the insurgency is genuinely fanatical Taliban, then we’ve driven tens of thousands of people into their arms through OUR brutality, corruption, and arrogance.

That means that those Western governments who were quite happy to have their soldiers fight, kill and die to defend a corrupt, brutal puppet-government are directly responsible for the sufferings and deaths of their military personell, because they could have (at any time!) stopped with the expensive air-strikes and other military “solutions” and instead addressed the genuine grievances of the people we are fighting. But the reasons they didn’t do this FROM THE START are the reasons why, after eight goddamned years, they’re doing such a half-assed job of things now. And that’s the reason the reconciliation will be only a partial, tentative affair. Our leaders are psychopaths, completely detached from the most obvious connections between their actions and their consequences.

And the fact that there existed throughout and exists today, a genuinely sane, rational, alternative viewpoint to this campaign of waste and slaughter, and that it continues to be denigrated as “unserious” and unfit for power, is a testimony to the complete insanity of our present political culture.