NDP surge means more than a political shift – it completes the national polarization process
By: James Di Fiore
As far as Parliamentary systems go, Canada once had an international reputation of demonstrating fiscal prudence, strong social policies and a peacekeeping military. It wasn’t too long ago when our national identity was predicated on our ability to differentiate ourselves, respectfully of course, from our American cousins. Canadians, a patchwork of various political leanings, had a reputation of not letting ideology trump civil discourse, even while their politicians took cheap shots or when Question Period looked like Romper Room. Americans, by contrast, treat politics like a blood sport, a tug of war between polar opposites fueled by cable news, conspiracy and the tendency to vilify opposing views. And while the two countries are easily separated by this political distinction, that gap is shrinking ominously.
The 2011 election has been preempted by deliberate tactics of aspersions meant to reinforce political differences rather than spotlight honest disagreements. This reinforcement seems logical on the surface; after all, this is an election of partisan ideas and genuine dissimilarities between the parties. But the tactical trends indicate an increase in hyperbole, demonization and vitriol between regular people, not just the leaders they support. Evidence of this new mindset among voters can be seen on social networking sites, the opinion sections of news outlets and in pubs and coffee shops across the country. The two sides are drifting from the center, espousing far right and far left ideals while warning their fellow Canadians of the perils of political views opposite from their own.
By attacking Stephen Harper on military spending, corporate tax cuts and perceived government secrecy, the Liberals and NDP are inciting reactionary rhetoric from their loyalists rather than a frank discussion on policy differences. Rooted in these talking points may be reasonable concerns, but the conversation is routinely fertilized with fear mongering and allegations of conspiracy.
The far right, disciplined in their ability to robotically stay on message, firebomb the left with labels like ‘socialist’, ‘fiberal’ and ‘anti-Semite’. The latter smear is telegraphed and eerily reminiscent of Evangelical America, the slur being delivered arbitrarily and deliberate. The term socialism, as the Obama era has demonstrated, is now the political equivalent of calling a person a Brownshirt, stoking a reaction among those conservatives who still cynically dub Canada ‘Canuckistan.’
Identical to American politicos in tone and delivery, these two groups have become the loudest voices during this campaign. Television broadcasts may not espouse or endorse the same kind of language, but journalists and pundits quietly recognize the behind the scenes trend of tar and feathering political opponents. As the Conservative base digs in, the rise of the NDP marches on. Ideologies are continuing to drift farther apart. The rhetoric provides the kind of cover that helps avoid the effective discourse needed to reconcile opposing views. You might never hear Stephen Harper publicly utter the word Canuckistan, but you can hear his base cackle enthusiastically when the term is used. Jack Layton probably won’t point and yell ‘Fascist!’ if Harper wins a majority government, but many of his minions are already wearing t-shirts bearing the message.
The chances of further polarization among Canadians is high. Engagement in politics is rising, moods are shifting and party strategists are encouraging an ongoing spirit of anger among their respective loyalists. Torches and pitchforks have been replaced with internet trolling and reactionary, inflammatory language.
Disinformation. Relentless name-calling. A dangerous and tragic replication of American discourse is being born, and many Canadians are unwitting, tragic accomplices.