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Democratic Reform and Cross-political issues in Canada

By: James Di Fiore

Canada appears to be changing, segmented between traditionalists, progressives and radicals. This opinion is nothing new, but the evidence has finally caught up to the theory, especially in politics and social issues. Sprinkled in the middle are Canadians unfettered by ideology and partisanship, but they are surrounded by a growing number of ideologues who are being prodded and influenced by media hell bent on making money by evoking emotion instead of dispensing facts.

These new sects of extremists (the opinionated kind, not the violent kind), are still far less in numbers than the reasonable folks but they shout at a much higher volume, creating the false idea that they are speaking for the majority. But this is Canada, where the majority of people remain apathetic and frustrated with the system as a whole.

So, born out of apathy comes new ideas by Canadians who are beginning to wake up from their political slumber. Some of their ideas are gaining traction and discussions are finally taking place. For example, many Canadians are starting to talk more about our connection to the British monarchy, openly stating their disdain for what they see as an out of date relationship. An easy way to break open that conversation is to ask how Canadians feel about the prospect of Prince Charles on our currency. Traditionalists are just as eager to talk about our history and the vital role the Brits played in our progress as a nation. Both have valid arguments, but the real caveat is the stark differences not in philosophy but age. If you are a younger Canadian you are far more likely to want to disown our British stepparents, but if you are a senior you can’t fathom the idea of breaking ties. Age is actually the number one barometer in different political opinions, and the slight erosion of apathy among younger people is making the conversation a more interesting one.

There are also good arguments for changing the Senate procedures, creating term limits and even abolishing the upper house. Provincial powers are currently being tested both by federal legislation and pressure from municipal governments who feel burdened by legislation irrelevant to their riding. Conservatives are finding it difficult to balance their long held notion of abolishing the senate with the current conservative government’s partisan appointments to the upper house. A widespread opinion that appears to also be gaining traction is the eventual implementation of an elected senate. In either case we are years away from any significant changes now that our country is in a constant state of political campaigning. Time will tell what kind of ideas will eventually surface and if those ideas are from the people or government officials.

Interestingly, questions are now being raised among a wide spectrum of Canadians pertaining to personal liberty and privacy. The Ron Paul candidacy in the American GOP primary has forced the conversation. Americans and Canadians alike are finding common views with people who are politically opposite, fostering a new discussion between Canadians who do not normally debate the issues gracefully. The most glaring examples of this common ground are foreign policy and the war on drugs, two subjects that are yielding universal support and capturing the conversation among Americans. This kind of cooperation is leading some Canadians towards reopening the debate on proportional representation as ideas and philosophies become more complex and less ideological. The terrain is strange in Canada. As apathy shrinks, ideology grows. There is a debate as to whether or not they are related, but the end result means Canada’s political class is shifting.

As Canadian parties adjust to their new placement in popularity, Canadian people are becoming more savvy in who to follow, creating a potential new shift in the landscape and a continuation of a newly awoken Canadian electorate.

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Canadian Politics: Mind the Middle

The decimation of the federal Liberals provides new hope for Canadian moderates

By: James Di Fiore

Canada is becoming a very strange place. Historically, our political landscape was shaped by the apathetic, sprinkled with some conservatives, liberals and socialists. Policies were drafted and negotiated based on the reality that ideologues did not yield power in this nation. Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien – all of the most significant leaders this country has seen over the past 40 years have governed from the center, their base providing a lift and moderates providing their political survival. The apathetic played their role too – they stayed out of it. Canada had a brilliant international reputation as being fiscally prudent peacekeepers who brokered free trade agreements, hosted Olympic Games, milked internet bandwidth for all it was worth and extremely potent marijuana. It is cynical, but today we have a growing portion of our electorate who know how to say words like ‘socialist’ or ‘fascist’ but clearly have trouble defining either term. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is running rampant in the great white north.

How did we get here? When did we go from affable to laughable, and who is to blame for our new trot towards the mindless recitation of talking points from talking heads? The Reform Party may have been the first domino – a stringent, ideological crew from western Canada made from a mix of Libertarian and Evangelical roots. They successfully dismantled the federal Progressive Conservatives, turning a reasonable right-leaning party into an ideological posse ripe with partisan beliefs and an unwavering philosophy. Former prime minister Joe Clark, once seen by his political rivals as a conservative stalwart, seemed not only tame but reasonable by his former opponents on the Hill. Alberta, disgruntled by Trudeau’s energy policies which cemented an air of resentment within the province, yearned for a voice better suited to the narrative being recited for decades. That narrative was stark, a sort of provincialism reminiscent of Quebec separatists only without tales of an unfair confederacy nestled inside the rhetoric. Of course, Albertan conservatives would disagree, claiming decades of injustice had passionate reactions among regular folks, but in Canada this was brand new: a dismantling of a Canadian political institution and the beginning of the new conservative indoctrination project.

The new Canadian conservative movement has been fueled by two incontrovertible facts. The first is an easy pick: Liberal Party incompetence. While Liberals tend to blame member infighting for their woes, the Chretien vs Paul Martin beef is propped up by residue from the sponsorship scandal and most recently exacerbated by two leadership conferences that produced two lackluster leaders. Meanwhile, the NDP has collected the scraps from the Liberal table and now sits at the head, creating a polarized Canada and the perfect storm for the Conservative Party.

But the most troubling recruiting tool currently being sharpened by the conservative right is the encouragement of demonizing political rivals by right wing strategists, pundits and politicians. Regular right-leaning Canadians are answering the call with American-inspired attacks on all who lean left. Evidence of this deliberate tactic is everywhere. The caricature is hockey grump Don Cherry who mused at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s inauguration about ‘left wing pinkos’ and ‘bike riding communists’. Message boards and comment sections on newspaper sites contain a treasure trove of vitriolic statements and ideological rants that not just disagree with non-conservative views but vilify and marginalize those who think differently.

Hardcore leftists are equally repugnant in their brief and rather unlettered manifestos, often describing Stephen Harper as a fascist while creating conspiracy theories about his ties to corporations and the state of Israel. Talk of Canada’s national identity being reshaped by fundamental Christians is complimented by maniacal claims of hidden political agendas and treasonous takeovers by oil companies.

And the Liberals, a party who had tried to brand itself as Canada’s only band of moderates, suddenly find themselves pushed aside. They deserve their political demotion, but the need for political moderation has never been more dire. Canadians are being driven towards polarization through the politics of fear, a dangerous yet potent ingredient in mobilizing party support in any country. But this task of extracting reason from panic is an uphill battle for the Liberals who have spent the bulk of the last 7 years focusing on their rivals rather than their constituents. Pundits who muse about a possible merger between the Liberals and NDP are dreaming out loud. Jack Layton is finally reaching his potential and would never relinquish his new found role as leader of the opposition. Nor should he. Nor could he. Ideologically, the NDP and Liberals are worlds apart, mostly because the Liberals do not have a well defined ideology.

Perhaps the old adage of finding opportunity nestled inside crisis is too idealistic for Canadian moderates, but the prospect of throwing in the towel would spell disaster for the nation. The Liberals are a blank slate – bruised, beaten and bloodied – but they have wiggle room. Without any real influence over their conservative and socialist counterparts they have no choice but to redirect their gaze towards the very people who voted them out, while simultaneously engaging the only constituency who continue to be unrepresented – the youth. Incorrigible as they seem, not since the 60s have we seen a climate where young people are finding their voice. Their sloth-like pace is a frustrating testament to the outdated method of engagement undertaken by politicians stuck in an ancient ritual of long expired recruitment methods. It may be a colossal challenge, but without young people there can be no base, and without that youthful base there can be no party.

It has been the better part of a decade since Liberals engaged honestly with Canadians, and the better part of two decades since they last showed an alliance with them. Canada is not the United States…yet. But the symptoms of drifting towards a two party system are ripe, and without the emergence of a new centrist manifesto we could be in for a dark age in federal politics.

Loughner Killings Spotlight Left vs Right Dogma

Tragedy spawns new low in American civil discourse

By: James Di Fiore

The polarization of politics in America has been a thorn in the side of its democracy for decades. While Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were able to overcome most dethroning attempts from their party’s opponents, the current state of rhetoric and behaviour displayed by political ideologues has reached a possible tipping point. The idea of civil discourse in America seems as likely as Mike Hucklebee presiding over a gay marriage ceremony, and the Left VS Right paradigm is in full swing, much to the discontent of centrists, moderates and proponents of reason.

Shining a spotlight on this predictable ongoing squabble is the case of Jared Lee Loughner, the man allegedly responsible for killing 6 people and injuring 13 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The shooting is unfortunately nothing new in a country like America where this kind of killing spree happens every few years, but the politicization of the event has spawned accusations of influence from the right by the gatekeepers of left wing ideology.

And they say tragedy can bring two sides together.

Politics had an opportunity in the aftermath of this crisis to calm the waters of political rhetoric and take a moment to cooperate and harmonize their messages of condolences, sadness and reflection. Instead, commentators on the left took this tragedy and systematically pointed fingers to those on the right who had used inflammatory language or gun metaphors during political campaigns and speeches. With the finger print ink barely dry on Loughner’s guilty hands, the responsibility of his crimes were being laid on the doorstep of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other right wingers who have a tendency to speak without thinking, or speak with a tone of division and partisanship. Instead of civil discourse the public was being drowned in the typical sound bites all too common in today’s political arena.

The right wing is not innocent in this situation either. After being put on the defensive through the irresponsible comments by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who should have stuck to finer points about the case and the evidence, and commentators like Keith Olbermann, right wingers began to label Loughner as a left wing nut and communist. And the battle of ‘which ideology was the most dangerous to the American public’ was on. Don’t bother trying to find a winner in that unfortunate contest. Instead, try to separate your political leanings from your logic and understand that this Left vs Right battle is the main flame-thrower in the deterioration of discourse in politics. Jon Stewart, who took shots from both sides after his Rally to Restore Sanity tried to take a ‘both sides are equally irresponsible’ approach to help explain today’s lack of decorum, gave an off-the-cuff monologue to start his show on the day of the tragedy. His message: that while today’s political rhetoric is inexcusable and childish, it is impossible to blame the rhetoric for this particular tragedy. He cited blaming heavy metal music for Columbine as an equally distorted viewpoint. Most centrists or non-affiliated politicos would agree with that comparison. As for Palin, she posted this video in an attempt to explain her own version of events, but what started out as sympathy for the victims turned into a manifesto, an over-explanation and underwhelming attempt to paint the left with her ominously partisan brush.

But non-affiliated political enthusiasts are not part of the dialogue in this tragedy. The microphone is being drenched by the mouths of the same usual suspects, wagging their collective tongues at what they see as a chance to score political points disguised with sympathy for the victim’s and their families. Instead of a politician from the right or left coming forward and denouncing the tactics of blame and division, America has to once again look to its political comedian for reason.

In a situation that has no punchline, the rhetoric remains something of a joke.