Dr. Dawg

Don't mourn, organize

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More than sixty percent of those who voted, a supermajority, spoke yesterday—and our undemocratic electoral system spoke back. A distinct minority elected a majority government.

And 40% of eligible voters didn’t bother to cast ballots at all. First-past-the-post breeds apathy.

So Stephen Harper is now ruling the country, with a mandate from 24% of the adult citizenry of Canada.

He triumphed last night, but democracy didn’t.

Some broad predictions:

First, having taken control of the House of Commons and the Senate, Harper will turn his Sauron-like gaze upon the Supreme Court of Canada.

The recent stunning defeat of farm workers’ rights by that Court contained within it a minority concurring judgement by a Harper appointee, Marshall Rothstein, who went further than the SCC as a whole. He and his colleague Louise Charron (appointed by the Liberals) want to reverse the historic 2007 SCC judgement that constitutionalized collective bargaining in the first place.

The unilingual Rothstein is a staunch opponent of so-called “judicial activism.”

As Adam Radwanski pointed out a few days ago:

Of the nine justices who serve on the Supreme Court of Canada, three - Ian Binnie, Morris Fish and Louis LeBel - will hit the mandatory retirement age of 75 within the next four years. Another, Marshall Rothstein, will come very close to it. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin would be 71 by the end of a majority government’s mandate, and Rosie Abella would be 68.

In other words, Mr. Harper would have an excellent opportunity to shape the country’s top court. And given that court’s enormous role in shaping public policy, particularly since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect nearly three decades ago, that could be a very transformative power.

Harper will also throw his so-con base a bone. Watch for abortion to come back onto the agenda. Harper will narrowly keep his word—it won’t be a government initiative, but some backbencher with a private member’s bill in his mitt will attract government support, and that will be that.

On foreign policy, little will change, but the Canadian presence in Afghanistan, long after the mission was to have ended, will continue, and likely expand back into a combat role. The North American security perimeter is assured. Uncritical support of Israel is locked in for the next four or five years: we might just as well start building our own settlements on the West Bank.

By the way, don’t hold your breath waiting for those Afghan detainee documents. The now-moribund Liberals collaborated for a year with the government to keep them well-hidden. Their services will no longer be required to accomplish that aim.

On the domestic front, look for runaway privatization, deregulation and a sustained attack on federal public sector unionism.

Finally, I am glad beyond measure to see the NDP in major-party, official opposition status. The stand-for-anything-good-for-nothing Liberal Party, with its slippery discourse, opportunism and absence of any principle other than gaining power and rewarding its friends, is no longer a serious option in Canadian politics. Thank goodness.

But:

If you think Parliament was irrelevant before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. At best, it will be a focus group; at worst, simply ignored. Meaningful resistance to the effectively one-man-rule of Harper will have to take place outside the institutions whose rules we progressives have learned so well—to our cost.

We have been lulled by the notion that courts dispense justice, that Parliamentary tradition has force and effect, that we can win the fundamental battles by being part of a system that winks at us and then eats us up. Gaming the system as best we might, we are still trapped in structures of unequal relations that too many of us have come to believe are the natural order of things.

Stephen Harper has, helpfully, just ripped the veil away from that mystification. He is about to show us the concrete reality of unchecked power.

The battle shifts now to our communities, our unions, our other progressive social organizations both local and national. But those formations may have to learn some sharp lessons before they become effective: too often they have become part of the very system they have nominally opposed.

Expect a diffuse struggle, with no clear boundaries or leaders. Central revolutionary planning is dead. Trust the people, not vanguards and party lines and all the historical paraphernalia, with their horrendous body count, that littered the last century.

If we are to succeed, it will be at the kitchen tables, in the streets, in our communities, that the major victories will be won. If we move back, as it seems we now must, to an era of recognition strikes and mass protests, we can also move forward, by cultivating new ways of doing democracy, finding new solutions to old problems, abandoning the pointless, impotent resistance that has marked our efforts for decades.

We can get there if we try, but we need a new spirit of solidarity and mutual respect to do so. We need a politics of inclusion that nevertheless somehow stands on principle. If we can’t manage something so simple and yet so profound amongst ourselves—if we fragment as we usually do into a hundred contending factions and groupuscules—we have nothing to say to the people of Canada as a whole. The time is long past for that kind of self-indulgent intellectual free enterprise on the Left.

While I have nothing but respect for Jack Layton and the New Democrats, let us recognize that he can do nothing in what will shortly become a rubber-stamp Parliament unless we’re pushing in the same direction on the ground.

So let’s push.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 3, 2011 11:33 AM.

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