When Stephen Harper chose, for the second time in a year, to prorogue the Canadian Parliament to silence critics of the Afghan detainee torture scandal, I decided I needed to write up some of the ideas underpinning my regular use of the #CanadaSucks hashtag on Twitter.
I’m doing this for two reasons. The first is to spread the word amongst other progressive people, the-world-over, who have long held Canada as a hallmark of socialistic principles, that they need to re-evaluate this assumption. The second is to demonstrate to my fellow Canadians that our democracy has been waning for considerably longer than the Harper government has been in power and it’s important that we acknowledge this if we hope to establish something better.
The progressive’s archetypal image of Canada (another blog is needed to examine where this came from) is of an egalitarian, peacekeeping, socialistic and generally-benevolent nation, to the North of the crude, brutish and imperialistic American empire. I’ve found the key to this image lies in the referential nature of the above statement; our frame of understanding, as Canadians (which we have shared with much of the world), is ‘how much better we are than Americans’. Though I wouldn’t disagree with this statement, from a social welfare perspective, I think we, as a nation, can do better than compare ourselves to the lowest rung on the Western democratic ladder and boast about how much better we are than them. When it comes to most European standards around public benefit, social good and general well-being, Canada can no longer hold its own and this is what we need to address.
Rather than dismiss our current democratic deficit as the result of the semi-fascistic peculiarities of the Harper junta, Canadians need to acknowledge the slippery slope of neo-conservatism that has held the the country’s national politic for the past 25 years.
There – I said it! We don’t have Harper to blame (exclusively) for our current mess – we have had governments since the Orwellian hallmark of 1984 which have – party-politics aside – pursued an almost singular agenda of deregulation, slashed public spending and increasing presence of big business in the corridors of power.
Like liberal Americans holding-up a false positive legacy of Bill Clinton’s presidency during the Bush II years, many progressive Canadians have taken a similar line on the Chretien/Martin governments of 1992-2004. But it was during those ‘Liberal’ years, that public spending was slashed more heavily than it had been during the previous Conservative Mulroney administration (the pre-Harper ‘baddies’ on whom we would blame our country’s problems). But don’t forget about the impacts on public healthcare of 12 years of ‘Liberalism’ through the ’90s…
The unintended consequence of denying the crimes of any ‘slightly-less-bad’ bad government, is that it allows people – of any nationality – to hide behind the false notion that current problems are just a matter of ‘a bad government’, rather than acknowledging the much more fundamental ‘bad system’ which has allowed the current government – and its predecessors – to do what they do.
I find it unlikely that if the current opposition parties managed a snap-election and successful coup when Parliament returns in March, a Liberal government would go about returning the country to the Tommy Douglas socialism, or Pierre Trudeau liberalism of yester-year. Nothing fundamental in the Liberal party suggests to me that it is committed to reversing the fiscally-fetishistic neo-liberal policies of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
What would likely happen under a Liberal government, is that many of Harper’s more recognisable critics would retreat, with the comfort that some of the starker, more newsworthy attacks on democracy and social equality would be put on hold for at least the next electoral cycle. But it seems unlikely that the continued slashes to healthcare and the arts, and the ongoing investment (of money and life) in an un-winnable Afghan war, would fundamentally shift. And those policies – as can sometimes be ignored from a place of particular privilege – mean lives. When I talk about the impact of Liberal anti-deficit hysteria, I talk about the hours additional waiting times at a hospital Emergency Room; I talk about the closing down of public hospitals; I talk about the clawing-back of social security benefits that have allowed people at the margins to get by, which Liberals made sure steadily disappeared on their watch… For a strong critique of the 1990’s Liberal government, read Murray Dobbin’s book on Paul Martin.
But I want to do more here than bash the Liberal party; I want to look at Canadian identity, challenging some of the assumptions we think make us who we are. Lots of writers have looked at Canada’s strengths; traditionally our healthcare, our Human Rights Act, the decision not to invade Iraq; but I think it’s long overdue that we acknowledge the seedy underbelly of Canadian politics that has gradually taken-us to the place we are in, with Harper and Co. running the country like the post-Soviet oligarchs of Eastern Europe, who view democracy as a ‘optional extra’, to be used (or not) at their convenience.
But first I want to know if there’s interest out there – I’m a firm believer in ‘asking the internet’ if something has value, so these are my questions to you, the people who inhabit the internet:
Canadians! Do we need a fundamental deconstruction of our national identity if we are going to create a country that really does deliver the values we so happily espouse to the world?
Everyone else! Are you interested in a counter-narrative to the one you heard from the bubbly backpacker from Toronto (well, just outside Toronto…) with a maple leaf badge at the youth hostel in Frankfurt?
Is it worth my getting into the details of Afghanistan, homelessness, the environment, treatment of aboriginal peoples, racist policing and any of the other systematic stains on the progressive Canadian’s conscience?
…Or are we still not ready to look at these stains?
Just give me the word! I will trust your judgement…