of the country’s record on fighting climate change as a national
embarrassment. Part of our outrage over this is no doubt linked to
the manner in which the Conservatives have so blatantly shaped
their agenda around the interests of Big Oil.
There will likely be an election in 2011. And if the coalition of
parties and groups representing the Canadian left is to gain ground,
it will have to capitalize on this sense of moral outrage.
There is no
shortage of ideas for reform. Consider, for example, a slightly more
egalitarian version of Stéphane
lacking, however, are ordinary men and women organizing and arguing
in order to influence change. When the election comes, progressive
politicians will have to act wisely if a coalition is to succeed. In
the meantime, what is needed is an inclusive mobilization of the
people to prepare the groundwork.
recent trend among academics suggests that democracy should be all
The idea is that every person must have a chance to express their
of like a citizens’
writ large, with diligent mediators and all. The notion seems noble
enough, if a little too intellectual. For who would be the central
figures of a deliberative democracy, except for intellectuals
there is no way that the
next social uprising---following
the workers, civil rights and feminists movements of the 20th
take off merely on the basis of rational deliberation. Movements
arise through a plurality of strategies and tactics, with each
participant contributing what they can. A truly exciting democratic
community will involve argument and debate, to be sure, but also
grassroots organizing, educating, protesting, campaigning and a host
of other activities.
beating the Right will require not only an array of tactics but also
vast numbers of groups and organizations---environmental
groups, unions, churches, tenants associations---all
working together. Unifying ideas and projects will be crucial here.
Just as important, however, will be the way in which these groups
interact with one another.
The key is to create a cooperative
environment that actually reflects the sort of society that we wish
to bring about. The left has an advantage here insofar as the
actualization of genuine leftist values, like frankness, generosity
and solidarity, will tend naturally to generate
If these values permeate our activist circles, newly engaged
Canadians are most likely to
us as their
and fellow “comrades”.
So, while a
formal coalition is something that would take shape in Parliament,
there is no reason to think of politics as being limited to this
arena. Most of the important work among leftists happens outside of
Parliament, in various forms of community organizing. Nor should
legislative action be considered the sole form of political action.
Protest activities such as dancing
in the nude
exhibit painted slogans or rappelling off building to unfold giant
banners are also ways of changing public opinion and common
practices. The left needs to recognize, however, that as exciting as
be, there’s no reason to snub the committed work of political
parties and their members.
It’s no doubt true that
parties can have undemocratic tendencies. It’s also true that if
they are not infused with the passion of ordinary citizens, they are
likely to turn themselves into reactionary marketing institutions.
But, really, this is all the more reason to flood the base with
youthful and committed idealists bent on holding the party brass to
account. For it is through parties, ultimately, that great national
projects are first glimpsed and then given life to.
mistake too many activists make is failing to channel passionate
engagement through party politics, a greater mistake is severing the
connection between passion and politics altogether. Of course, there
is no denying that political passions have led to abominations
must never be reproduced. It may in this regard be worth recalling
Yeats’ apocalyptic image
of a “blood dimmed tide” being loosed upon the world.
It’s for this reason that
democratic politics must always be contained with the checks and
balances of a proper constitutional framework. But beyond this legal
foundation, it must also be recognized that democratic politics
cannot be sustained if ordinary citizens cannot engage in the
passionate hope of creating a better world. Utopian energies are a
particularly precious resource for the left, insofar as fighting
against the aggrandizement of wealth and power is ultimately driven
by the passion for bringing forth a more just and democratic society.
however, a corollary to being passionate citizens: we
must cultivate the habit of properly channeling these passions. For
leftists, the most relevant instance of this has to do with feelings
of resentment toward the rich and powerful. In some cases, the
feelings are understandable?as
expressed, for example, by the downtrodden and marginalized who
have had the cards stacked against them from day one.
But it is bad politics to encourage and entrench this kind of
approach for leftist militants would be to promote their ideas and
vision of the world by appealing to the “better side” of each of
fellow Canadians, regardless of who they are. It remains, however,
that those who actively campaign against our vision of, say,
environmental and egalitarian reform, must be treated as rivals that
the left must defeat. But the question of whether the citizens we
come into contact with (and whom we’re trying to convince of the
importance of our national program) are somehow affiliated with the
wealthy and powerful should ultimately be a matter of secondary
instance with regard to
which political passions must be checked has to do with regional
tensions. This is particularly relevant to the matter of coalition
politics in the coming election. If a coalition government were
formed, ideally it would not depend on the Bloc Québécois for
support. But whatever the configuration of support may be, it’s
crucial that the coalition remain thoroughly pan-Canadian
in scope and focus. It is especially important, in this regard, that
Ontarians and Quebecers don’t get caught up in a dynamic of
it to the West”.
In any case,
there’s no reason to think that a Liberal-NDP coalition can’t
rise above Stephen Harper’s tendency to pit
one region against another. Added
effort will no doubt be required in persuading certain regions of the
importance of a coalition project. But this is work that should be
taken up with enthusiasm and perseverance. No doubt the best place to
begin would be in rallying the support of the tens of thousands of
Edmonton-Strathcona voters who elected NDPer Linda
the only MP in Alberta who is not
that passion, if properly channeled, is a legitimate aspect of the
political process. This goes hand in hand with another argument: that
a real danger of our times is a democracy devoid of passion
altogether. A political system run by party administrators and
pollsters puts democracy itself at risk. There
was a time when the Liberals and Conservatives seemed purposely
taking an impassioned stand on as few issues as possible so as not to
offend voters. This kind of “brokerage
may have been useful in stitching together the fabric of citizenship
at some moment in our history. But the time has long come for
Canadians to taste the full fruit of democracy, the essence of which
is to inspire and empower citizens.
inspiration is called forth in the pursuit of great national projects
Medicare, Canadian peacekeeping and, potentially, the green economy.
problem today is that any project inspired by the left would have to
be cobbled together from the platforms of various parties at once.
There is little chance that a coalition will come together before the
election, and maybe that’s for the best. But Canadians should be
prepared for a post-election coalition government. After all, holding
an election with a highly divided House of Commons after two minority
Conservative governments means that a coalition is both a likely and
perhaps it isn’t so far-fetched to imagine a Liberal-NDP coalition
coming up with an ambitious national project, born out of their
combined realism and stubborn idealism. Consider, for example, a
project of “opportunistic egalitarianism” that would link the
urgent need to introduce green
taxes, as a matter of efficiency, with progressive fiscal reforms
that would at once bring about an overall more egalitarian society.
a coalition might even be an excellent opportunity for concerned
citizens as well as passive members and part-time supporters of these
parties to get involved in the shaping of such a project. Here’s to
hoping that at least some of these men and women will hear the call.
Gibson is a postdoctoral student at the UNAM in Mexico City. He has
been researching the democratic transition in Mexico within the
framework of a study on the role of social critics in international
politics. His doctoral dissertation examined the Canadian social
criticism of philosopher
He has recently been involved in setting up an internship for young
Canadians focusing on sustainable development in rural Mexico.