Yesterday I received a phone call from a CTV reporter in another part of the country – a friend from the old days. He said he wanted to pick my brains about the Ontario election because he had been reading my recent blogs and wondered if I really believed progressivism was alive and well in this country.
He was basing his argument on the belief that Canada is becoming more Conservative as the years pass, effectively isolating people like me in the process. I laughingly told him he had drunk too much Kool-aid.
Why had he arrived at such a simplistic conclusion? Didn’t Prince Edward Island just finish an election in which Liberals, under Robert Ghiz, were returned with a majority government? What about Manitoba, where the NDP were returned with another majority? Today is Ontario’s turn, but it’s unlikely the Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak will win or form any kind of majority. Why? Because he isn’t a “progressive” Conservative at all, but a slash-and-burn retrofit from the Harris era.
Each party has its strengths and weaknesses, yet in reality it’s getting harder to detect a Conservative sweep across the country. In fact, it appears as though some voters, long dormant, are beginning to fight back against an ideology. The stirrings of a backlash are beginning to make themselves felt. Voters might not take to government or politicians much these days, but they detest even more those who would threaten to take away any remaining vestige of the public space from them. They are tired of a politics of constant attacks, especially when it’s the subtle kind that seeks to suppress voters, turn them into ideological partisans, or ignore their own personal needs altogether in pursuit of power.
The Conservative slant in this country has angled towards what Benjamin DeMott calls “junk politics.” It never demands fair play, a fighting chance for the middle class against corporatism, or the right to call together the various regions of the country. Heck, it’s now at the point where it doesn’t even demand that its political candidates show up for public debates, where they can be tested against other platforms and have their facts checked by media sources. It personalizes issues but never clarifies them. It pretends to fight for the little guy while at the same time rigging the game against him. It pretends to care about the poor while institutionalizing poverty. It finds it real strength in the anonymity of the corporate state and it is determined to prevail, regardless of the national decline.
This isn’t Progressive Conservatism I’m talking about, but its radical, right-wing cousin that is seeking to infiltrate the progressive ranks by introduce rampant ideology. Progressive Conservatives are waking up to this reality and soon enough there will be push back from within their own circles.
When others trumpet the rise of the Right or the inevitable slide towards Conservative ideology, they ignore completely what happened in PEI, Manitoba, or likely Ontario. But they can’t ignore what’s developing within their own cloistered circles. When a true Progressive Conservative like Alison Redford wins the leadership of her party in Alberta, a slow change is afoot. Radical Conservatism’s efforts to effectively dismantle the institutions of social democracy are flying into stiff winds in Canada as compared to the United States. There comes a point where if you continue to kill public institutions you effectively kill citizenship as well. It is too soon to tell whether this rise to progressivism is in fact strong enough to actually become a trend of strength. That will depend more on the desire of citizens than the appeal of political parties. But we have now been at it long enough to detect the feet of clay in the rampant desires of the radicals on the Right. We are in a state of flux, but at least as provinces like Ontario, Manitoba or PEI reveal, there is now a true fight for the heart of the citizen. That, at least, is progress.
Today, I head to the voting booth with my family to vote for a Liberal candidate and a provincial Liberal party that I feel is best positioned to protect my children and those who society has forgotten. You, too, will vote your conscience and for the party or candidate of your choice. But I suspect there will be a growing reticence to opt for an ideology that continues to undermine our public performance. Regardless of the result, it’s game on, and progressives across the land, including those from all political parties are no longer having to struggle so hard against the wind.