There were a considerable number of people in the progressive blogs, people I respect like Dammit Janet, who counselled strategic voting over the past month. I did not. Many of them are understandably upset at the results. Many of them are blaming people like me, who said to go ahead and vote your conscience and damn the consequences. And I’m going to defend my choice here, but my main focus is on how to move ahead. Move ahead together, I mean. We need each other now more than ever.
But the main thing is to figure out where to go from here.
Strategic Voting Wasn’t the Issue
The main problem, and the main thing to think about going forward, is that we didn’t get into this mess through a lack of strategic voting. We lost this election 15 years ago, when the right-wing think tanks began to take over public debate and the corporate media began to centralize. Over 90% of the major print media explicitly sided with the Conservatives in this campaign. More to the point, they also explicitly sided against the NDP. The slew of ludicrous stories that came out over the past week prove that the corporate media will say anything, do anything, to discredit a left-wing party on the rise, even one that seriously compromised on its original leftist roots and never really stood a chance of forming its own government.
That’s important, because the Liberals are a right of centre party under its current leadership, have been right of centre more often than not since the Trudeau years, and there is no way in hell they would accept second place in an NDP-led coalition. There is no way their wealthy backers or their internal right wing would let them. The majority of Canadians oppose Harper, and the majority of Canadians would support an NDP-Liberal coalition. But the NDP and the Liberals didn’t run as a coalition. So the fault lies with them. As someone who did not “vote strategically,” I will not apologize or accept responsibility for not choosing an option that was never genuinely presented to me in the first place.
And if the present-day Liberals recovered (which they would have), they would have eventually pushed away the NDP and gone straight back to the mold originally imagined by Martin and Ignatieff, a right-of-centre pro-business party with basically the same goals as the Conservatives but with a little bit more tact and finesse, and a few less jackboots and clubs. I wouldn’t mind some respect for the rule of law in the short term. But in the long term, we’d be in just as serious trouble. Hopefully the Liberals will take advantage of this opportunity to clear away their top-heavy deadweight and get serious about representing Canada again. Otherwise they really are done. And so are the rest of us.
Why We Lost the Election
There are five things you can blame for this outcome. First, the NDP and Liberal leadership put their own interests ahead of those of the nation. We now have a brief period in which we can demand a better showing from the opposition in this country. This country has had a left-wing party, a centrist party, and a right-wing party competing for space for most of the past 90 years now. Historically there have been only a few glitches (read: Brian Mulroney) in making sure the right-wing party is kept firmly under wraps until the present. That can be chalked up entirely to the collapse of leadership in the Liberal Party in 2004, and the rightward shift of the NDP to take advantage of that fact. If Jack Layton had been the leader of the Liberal Party, he would be Prime Minister right now. If the Liberals can dig deep enough into their corrupted, exhausted core and find someone with that level of charisma and rapport with the Canadian people, they can be the government again. It’s very simple.
Second, around 25%-30% of registered Canadian voters apparently feel that our country should not have universal healthcare, should not have a government that has at least enough ethical strength not to attempt to plant false stories in the press, should not have the rule of law, should not have fair and free elections, should not have a public broadcaster, should not have public pensions, should not have a government willing to hand over billions of dollars in tax credits to its rich corporate friends while ordinary Canadians are in dire need, and should not do anything at all about the greatest threat that faces our generation, climate change. We now have four years to begin convincing those people that they are mistaken.
Third, it is fiendishly difficult to challenge a government in power when it is supported and endorsed by 90% of the media. The reasons for the media’s complacence vary: rich corporate owners favour low-tax Conservative governments, and lazy journalists favour cheap and easy stories based on press releases and innuendo rather than genuine but time-consuming investigative journalism. But the polls show conclusively that 90% of the media only speak for about one-quarter of Canadians. That’s a problem, and it’s a problem that we can do something about. I’m going to return to that in a moment.
Fourth, Harper was elected because around 40% of adult Canadians don’t care enough about the current fragile state of our country to even vote in elections. That’s an enormous number. If Harper had won them over, he could have legitimately claimed a majority government, instead of his current mandate from a small minority of Canadians. If Ignatieff or Layton had won them over, then we would not have needed any talk about strategic voting. It would have been a progressive landslide and the Tories would have been blown off the electoral map. That’s literally how wide the range of options would be if someone could figure out how to get people to vote. Of course, they’d probably be just as mixed in their preferences as the actual voters were — I’m using these scenarios to illustrate just how comparatively large non-democratic Canada has now become.
Still, there is hope. 60% of Canadians who voted, voted against Harper. Two-thirds of Canadians consider themselves broadly progressive, not conservatives. The fifth reason that Harper now has power is because we live with a useless, decrepit, obselete First Past the Post system that not only wasn’t designed for a multiparty system, but wasn’t designed for a political party-based system in the first place. You can have bland faceless MP-spokesmen and a proportional representation system, or you can have actual individual politicians representing their specific ridings in a First Past the Post system. But you can’t mix and match these things — you can’t now, and you couldn’t in the 1990s, when Jean Chretien was the one benefiting from it either. We need electoral reform. Now.
The Need for Credible New Media
I can’t do much about the above at the moment, but I do want to return to the third problem. We’re reaching a point where the mainstream corporate media is so unvaryingly compromised and corrupt that it is mostly useless. They opposed the NDP by reflex, they endorsed the Conservatives because they were pro-business, and we can count on them to do the same for the next four years. The majority of people in this country are not politically active outside of election campaigns and are mostly trusting of the media, mostly because there are no trustworthy alternatives and because finding those alternatives would take effort.
Is it ridiculous for the blogosphere to try to advance a credible alternative? In some ways, absolutely. The number of screaming partisans with blogs is exponentially greater than the number of genuine party insiders in the corridors of power in Ottawa. The general level of quality of the discussion on the Internet is low. But to be frank, it is also genuinely diverse right now, whereas the print media, the television media, and the talk radio sectors in this country are not diverse at all. For the moment the Internet is considerably more democratic than the rest of the media. That gives us some room to move, and about the only good thing about a majority is that we can say for certain we have time to work with. There will be at least one more election in Canada — contrary to what some scared people are saying, there will probably be many more. This is good, because the core Harper team is so demonstrably, inexplicably corrupt and incompetent (batting one for three against the weakest Liberal leaders in generations) that there is a very real chance this party will spectacularly self-destruct in the future, much like the Tories did in 1993 and in 1935. We’ve got until that happens to change the political climate of this country so that whoever replaces him is forced to make real reforms, not just mouth platitudes and turn his back on the electorate like, say, Barack Obama.
I don’t want to understate the magnitude of the problem. It’s very serious. The media are openly arrayed in favour of Conservative government because it is pro-business and because it has mastered the art of simple, misleading, headline-driven stories. The polling system makes coordination vital, to an extent that progressive and centrist Canadians are going to have extreme difficulty. And we’re running out of time, probably no matter what Canada does. Some time within the next century, we’re going to move from global abundance to global shortage on multiple fronts — oil, fresh water, fertile topsoil, copper, lithium, helium, platinum, phosphates… And then there’s climate change, of course. To the south, democratic institutions are crumbling even more rapidly than they are here, and it will be the 2020s before any responsible action is taken — unless by then they’ve rotted away entirely, in which case nobody will be left with both the power and the understanding to act at all. We’re in the last stages of a decades-long crisis, and right now we’re losing badly. But if we pass the point of peak resource availability without restructuring our economy to cope with the new realities, our species is toast. There won’t always be a new invention coming along to save us.
But I also think it would be wrong to underestimate the tools we have available to us. Right now it is a trivial matter for me or another blogger to build a site that could be read by every politically conscious Canadian on a regular basis. Not that every politically conscious Canadian would want to, of course. But it could be done. When it comes to information and communication, the technical disparity between elites and dissidents is now lower than it has been in literally thousands of years. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the failed revolutions in Iran, Bahrain, and several other countries, are a testament to this. And we don’t have to worry about the army shooting at us, like they did. The problem we have is coordinating our efforts and getting people to notice. Those are big problems, but not as big as the problem the Internet solved for us in the first place.
Internet freedom is going to change, too, as the result of the death of Internet neutrality. But we have an unprecedented window, and while it is closing, for the moment it’s still open. And I continue to believe that a large majority of Canadians do care about democracy, about healthcare, about the health of the planet, even if they’ve been temporarily dazzled by tax breaks and bamboozled by scaremongering about separatist coalitions. I have to believe that. There is no other choice. I refuse to believe that this country has raised multiple generations who are ignorant enough, selfish enough, and narrow-minded enough (not to mention in brazen denial enough) to genuinely support the government they just voted for.
How do we go about seizing this opportunity? Haven’t a clue. But we have four years to find out, and now’s a good time to start.Tweet