Thursday, January 7, 2010

Uniting the Left

EKOS Research Associates has released a poll about Canadian voters' intentions after Harper's decision to prorogue parliament. Looking in detail at the poll, there's little that surprises me and, as i suspect, much that angers me.

What angers me is this: we currently have a government doing what it can to redraw the political map of Canada, destroying the goodwill and image Canada enjoys internationally, and doing so with, at the moment, the support of less than one in three Canadians. To call this scandalous is to say too little.

What really concerns me, though, is the fact that the increasingly conservative face of Canadian government is occurring at a time when Canadian society is not at all becoming more conservative. The media love to play up parliament as a tug-of-war between Conservatives and Liberals, and when the LPC was under Stephane Dion, some of us on the left even allowed ourselves to fantasise that the Liberals were a left-wing party, but the reality is that the LPC is determinedly dead-centre, and Canada can never be anything less than a three-strain society (without the elimination of the Liberal Party, I should say, à la the UK or, functionally, BC).

And that being the case, the left is kicking ass in Canada right now. It's just tough to see it. I believe that Canada has three progressive parties: the NDP is the benchmark by which Canadian progressivism is measured, the BQ (despite the English-Canadian media's obsession with painting it a one-issue party) is explicitly left-of-centre, and the Greens (despite Jim Harris's wrong-headed attempt to turn it into an economically and socially 'neutral' party in order to grab Sierra Club types) are eternally the natural allies of the left. These three parties have an overwhelmingly large common ideology and, between them, are currently polling 39.2% nationwide, significantly more than the CPC's 33.1% or the LPC's 27.8%. I think, to a certain extent, you can also look at the Liberals' 27.8% and acknowledge that it includes (a) people who might vote for a progressive party if they thought one existed that could reasonably form a government and (b) Dionist Liberals who, let's face it, have been usurped by their party's pragmatic wing and hung out to dry.

I love the NDP, have voted for it all my life, and consider Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent personal heroes. Which is precisely why... I'm starting to wonder if it's time to give up on the NDP. I think the left really needs to reorganise, and while it's the perpetual NDPer dream that the left reorganise under a New Democrat banner, I'm starting to think that's unrealistic. I know that the Greens get votes from people who see the NDP as 'just another traditional(ist) party', and the BQ get votes from people who could never stomach voting for such a staunchly federalist party (this also makes the NDP a dismal fourth in Alberta). I kind of think the left needs a reboot in some way, and we need to take some lessons from the governing party (a coalition of two very different right-of-centre parties) that, in a first-before-the-post system, the things that unite voters need to be stressed among the things that divide them.

EKOS says that the CPC's decline in fortunes in Québec has to do with Afghanistan, climate change and the gun registry. The tendency for us to insist that Québécois politics revolve solely around constitutional issues is frustrating, given that Québécois themselves regularly consider a whole panoply of issues when voting federally - issues that tend to be the natural playing ground of the left. All three of those issues ought to be things that a united progressive voice can keep in the public eye nation-wide. No united-left voice can exist in Canada without Québec (I think that the NDP's dismal historical performance in Québec is perhaps its single greatest handicap), so I think... and it might be a bitter pill to swallow... but I think that a united-left party would have to get rid of the NDP's staunch commitment to federalism. That might drive the federalist vote in Québec into Liberal hands, but it's kind of already there. The Left in Québec tends to be philosophically seperatist. The Left in the Rest-of-Canada needs to get over that. The only way the Conservatives have been able to take power in Canada in, well, my whole life has been by courting seperatists. I think that a United-Left party needs to affirm its commitment to a united Canada and to a Canada where certain fundamental rights are guaranteed to all citizens by the federal government, but otherwise one that respects the rights of each province toward self-determination. And above and beyond that, it needs to stay out of the Constitutional arena (or - my wet dream - turn Constitutional politics into discussion about the Senate and about the monarchy, as opposed to about Québec's role in Canada). When the media knee-jerks their response that the party is in bed with 'those who seek to destroy Canada', it would (instead of dragging its tail and hiding) turn this lie right back in the face of the media - it would make a deliberate point to play up its Québec connections and say that alienating the Québec vote does nothing for Canadian unity, and that inclusion is the only way to keep Canada strong. It would demand that the media stop dragging up old emnities and allow the left to move forward in Canadian politics.

A United Left party needs to be very strongly environmentalist. And - this is key - it needs to constantly keep the message that European Greens know, the message that green politics are indivisible from red politics; that environmental self-sufficiency is only possible in a context of greater fiscal and social equality. I fully respect the right of Green parties to exist, but I think the GPC needs to consider the extent to which it has constantly Ralph Nadered progressive interests here in Canada. The world ought to have Green Parties, but the world ought also to have proportional representation, and without the latter, I'm not sure how practical the former are. Especially one that recently has gotten way to deep into bed with the Liberal Party. I would actually dearly love a United-Left party to nominate David Suzuki for Prime Minister. How exciting would that be?

A United Left party would proudly be partners with organised labour. It would start by adressing the fundamental lunacy of unions in Québec voting for a different party than unions in the rest of the country. It would also, however, grant that its unflinching support of the Canadian worker means that the party's public agenda and public image ought to be driven by other factors: I love the union system dearly, but I think the NDP's emphasis on the Canadian worker gives it an outdated, behind-the-scenes image in the minds of many young Canadians, which is in no small part why the Greens are outpolling the NDP in under-25s by fully three percent.

Additionally, a United Left party would not be a party that preaches 'tolerance' of diversity, of immigration, of equality of gender and sexuality. A United Left party would say that 'tolerance' is for Liberals and Conservatives to argue about: a United Left party would actively embrace diversity. A United Left party would say that diversity is a defining part of Canada. Diversity is who we are, and the social progress that the Conservatives are dying to cut back is the very essence of Canadianism. A United Left party would actively seek to pull the immigrant vote away from the Liberals, something the NDP, for all their efforts, has not been able to do even as well as the Bloc. It would do this with real policy: with pro-immigration platforms and realistic efforts to adress the needs of New Canadians as much as old. It would put full, unequivocal equality of gender and sexuality directly in the preamble of its party constitution, and it would never in any way hide that or step back from it or see it as anything less than a point of strength. It would campaign even in rural Alberta with rainbow flags flying, if need be.

A united, ascendent, ambitious Party of the Left in Canada would pretty much immediately have the youth vote. It would, I think, be able to keep most of the traditionalist lefty vote too (not all, admittedly: the NDP has always had the support of certain social conservatives who might drift to the CPC as a 'grassroots' alternative). It could, I would hope, convince seperatists and environmentalists alike to give it a try (it could also, incidentally, make an immediate commitment to Proportional Representation, acknowledging the long-term value of a federal Green Party, under the right circumstances). It could quickly be a major force on the Canadian landscape, one that truly allows the Progressive Majority in this country the voice it deserves. Dogmatically, it's 95% possible, and the 5% of policy differences that might cause problems could, I hope, be deferred for later, once Canada's current Crisis of Democracy has passed.

It's so tantalising. It's so attractive. It's so obvious. Could it happen? Sigh. Well... I wouldn't even know where to start.

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