Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” starts off with a line that I feel is apt this election season: “everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.”
As Canadians get ready for what is yet another first-past-the-post election, we find ourselves again playing the odds.
In 2018, voters in New Brunswick set a precedent for the province. They split the vote and placed the balance of power in the hands of third parties, not the leading Liberals or Conservatives. In doing so, they overturned decades’ old voting patterns. Frustrated with the status quo, New Brunswicker’s opted for either Green, or the provinces’ People’s Alliance (not to be confused with Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party). In doing so, voters sent a message to the two dominate political players: we want change and we’re going to get it, whether you like it or not.
The New Brunswick experience is one I think all Canadians should take note of ahead of the October 21st election. The Liberal campaign hinges on enough of us being terrified of Canada taking a hard right towards Andrew Scheer that we vote Liberal to avoid such an outcome. Meanwhile, Scheer is hoping enough Canadians are sufficiently frustrated with Trudeau’s hypocrisy and platitudes to put the Conservatives in government. Right now, Canadians from coast to coast to coast are running the numbers. We do it every election. We don’t want to vote for one party or another cause we’re afraid doing so will just elect the other guy. What’s worse, the campaign war rooms of both the Grits and the Conservatives know it – and conduct themselves accordingly.
How many arguments have you had recently with friends and relatives about who to vote for? How many times have you heard, ‘voting so-and-so will just elect the other team’? It’s the bane of left leaning centrists across Canada to wring their hands with indecision. Afraid that making an informed choice may just lead to splitting the vote and ending up with a sucker’s payout. It’s a systemic flaw of our democracy, and until we find a political leader willing to sacrifice partisan party politics, it’s a systemic flaw we’re stuck with.
So, the question becomes: why not rebel? Why not just throw caution to the wind and vote for an outlier? What do we really have to lose? To answer these questions, we need to look at our options.
My piece in September’s The Sound took an look at the Trudeau government’s missteps over the past four years. I feel now I was ahead of the curve, given the revelations regarding Mr. Trudeau’s penchant for wearing brown/blackface. I had made the point that Trudeau was a hypocrite, a leader who says one thing and delivers the opposite. Electoral reform, SNC and the Jody Wilson-Raybould affair (rule of law), climate change, and now images of the Prime Minister, Canada’s self-appointed champion of identity politics, face painted and singing calypso. It’s a laundry list of hypocrisy.
I believe in second chances, and I commend Trudeau for a contrite apology and taking ownership of a grievous lack of judgement. That said, it was just another incident in what seems to be a pattern of incompetence and contradiction. Unlike the federal leaders, I wasn’t entirely surprised when Time Magazine released the initial photos. My problem with Trudeau is his arrogance and his disregard for coherent policy in favour of quick selfies and empty words. So, the images of him being a privileged ass seemed to me to be just par for the course.
In an article on Rabble, Karl Nerenberg lamented that Andrew Scheer coming to office due to Trudeau’s past transgressions would be a tragedy, ‘in the true original Greek sense’. Horse shit. Nerenberg cited immaturity, being theatrical and mugging the camera as Trudeau’s main flaws. Horse shit. His main flaws are: arrogance, dishonesty and a failure to deliver coherent policy on important issues. Nerenberg’s fluff piece deliberately attempts to play down major red flags, and continues to bolster the narrative that voting anything other than Liberal is a vote for the Conservatives. Again, horse shit.
Personally, I began thinking about what kind of Canada I want, and what party leader would best move the country in a positive direction. Also, what party leader would give this country a swift kick in the arse – something we’re long overdue for. In both the U.S and UK, the swift kick in the arse led to populist governments. So, how can Canadians change the game, while still avoiding the nationalistic, swamp-draining populist politics that are currently ravaging Trump’s America and Brexit riddled Britain?
From my perspective, the only way to start having a serious conversation in this country, and avoid a populist government, is to start thinking Green. Elizabeth May is often cited as the most competent of all the leaders, yet the Green’s have always struggled against an image of being tea drinking tree huggers (not that there is anything wrong with either of those activities).
The Green’s would take a hard line on climate change. This isn’t radical. Politicians and head’s of major investment funds the world over have begun to view continued fossil fuel investment as a waste of money. Even Norway, one of the largest exporters of oil and gas in Europe has taken significant steps to cut it’s economic dependence on the industry. Meanwhile, here in Canada, both the Liberals and Conservatives pander to Alberta’s voters, hoping to score seats. This sort of political double-speak is exactly what climate activist Greta Thunberg blasted leaders at the UN about. It is also not fair to Alberta. The end of fossil fuel is coming, someone needs to tell Albertan’s the truth. Gasp! They may have to go back to paying provincial sales tax like the rest of us!
The Green’s have also promised electoral reform, and a drastic overhaul of Canada’s relationship with it’s indigenous community. On the latter, they propose dismantling the Indian Act. The fact that it’s even called the ‘Indian Act’ should give you a good idea of how archaic the legislation is. In it’s place, the Greens propose a tribunal to fast track land claims and treaty entitlements. I don’t know about you, but that sounds a whole lot better than the lip-service land acknowledgment route we’ve been taking. As far as electoral reform, I have no doubt it would happen under a Green government, and as a result, I would no longer have to write articles like this one.
On foreign policy, the Greens would stick to what Canada can do best: multilateral efforts, and a focus on climate change. The difference being, with a Green government, we may actually be able to point to meaningful domestic policy to back-up our international arguments. It’s hard to be taken seriously by other countries on climate change when you’re dropping $4billion at home on a pipeline.
On non-climate geopolitical issues and foreign policy, I have not seen any indication that Trudeau, Scheer or Singh would be any better than May. In fact, I think they would do far worse. Between Trudeau’s India trip, and his hypocrisy being noted at the international level (lecturing Beijing on rule of law while breaking it at home), I have been less than impressed.
As for the Conservatives, they have recommended moving Canada’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is beyond stupid. Moving our embassy would signal Canada is not interested in peace in the region, and that we cannot be relied on to uphold international law that recognizes long-standing Palestinian claims to the city. I also do not trust Scheer to demonstrate both restraint and respect when dealing with Iran. With a young and highly educated population, Iran could be on-track for massive reform from within. Playing into Trump’s anti-Iran rhetoric only strengthens extremist views, and may derail efforts for a more democratic and internationally engaged Iran – something much needed for the region.
The Conservatives have also proposed withdrawing from China’s Asia Infrastructure Bank. The West has always struggled to understand China, and such a move as leaving the bank would just confirm what China already suspects – we don’t respect it, and we will do whatever it takes to keep China, ‘in it’s place’. The problem with this thinking is that China is well past any such attempts at containment. Engagement is now the only option available to influence Beijing. In short, Scheer’s China policy is about 40yrs out of date. Considering our current diplomatic tensions with China, we don’t need any further complications a Conservative government could bring.
Both the NDP and the Greens support scrapping arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with the Greens going even further and suggesting an outright ban on importing Saudi oil (that’s called backing up your rhetoric with meaningful action, btw). Such a move would be a far cry from the current Liberal tactic of waiving ones finger in disapproval of Saudi human rights, while simultaneously hoping Canadians forget that we have a lucrative arms contract with the regime.
In the arctic, a major climate flash-point, the Greens are also more likely to be stronger advocates for Canada’s sovereignty in the region. What many Canadians may not realize, is that much of our legal case regarding the arctic rests on Canada’s history of passing environmental legislation that encompasses the disputed area. In order for a government to back down from arctic sovereignty, they would have to back down from environmental protections – not something I can see Elizabeth May doing.
Speaking of sovereignty, the job of any federal government is to maintain Canada’s national unity. The resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois should give us all pause as to how effective Trudeau has been. Here is a party that was all but dead, and is now gaining in the polls. A strong/resurgent Bloc signals a weak Ottawa. How the leaders of all three major parties responded to questions regarding Quebec’s Bill 21 on religious symbols is beyond disappointing. Both the NDP and Conservatives said they would not bring a federal challenge, while the Liberals simply left the door open to the possibility. Pierre Trudeau would be sorely disappointed that not even his own son is willing to take a strong stance in defence of his legacy of individual rights entrenched in our constitution.
We desperately need to shake things up in Canada. However, we can’t afford to follow other jurisdictions in going down the populist path. Many question the Green’s ability to form government. I myself have been uncertain of the party’s internal infrastructure that would be needed to govern. But, I am reminded of 2011’s ‘Orange Crush’. No one thought Jack Layton’s NDP would surge as it did, not even some of the party’s own candidates. NDP MP, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, was in Las Vegas when she was given the news she had just been elected. Despite the surprise, the NDP was able to organize and form an effective Official Opposition. Brosseau herself has gone on to hold her seat, and is regarded as an example of what it means to rise to a challenge. Perhaps, under the strong leadership of Elizabeth May, the only current federal politician who could hold a candle to Jack Layton, 2011’s ‘Orange Crush’ can be an argument for 2019’s ‘Green Wave’.
Mentioning the Orange Crush of 2011 may leave some readers wondering why I am not making the case that the NDP should be the party of change in 2019. The sad reality is, just as Justin is no Pierre, Jagmeet ain’t Jack. Since Singh came to lead the party, the NDP has lagged behind in both fielding candidates, and raising money. His recent media exposure has been the result of a clueless 29yr old Justin Trudeau – not the result of his own ability to command national attention. As mentioned, despite having the opportunity to weigh in and challenge the nationalist Bloc Quebecois on Bill 21, he has chosen to ride the fence. Simultaneously trying to play the multicultural card AND the provincial sovereignty angle. His performance as a leader is further diminished by the recent loss of NDP executives to the Greens in New Brunswick (there’s that New Brunswick again!). If he cannot inspire his own party faithful, how can anyone expect him to inspire Canadians?
Many Canadians are finding themselves frustrated headed into this election. As in elections past, there is a sense of being underwhelmed by our options. Currently, we are forced to live with an electoral system that only reinforces the status quo. A system that rewards mediocrity, and discourages innovation. Our political leaders are, by and large, just a reflection of the system in which they operate. In other words, the dice are loaded. The two major parties count on Canadians playing the numbers game when casting their ballots, not for the party with the best ideas, but for the party they think is less of a gamble. As a result, we are not having important discussions about the nature of our democracy, and the kind of country we want to be.
I suggest, Canadians not play the odds when rolling the dice this election. Let’s forgo the usual attempts to read polls like some back ally fortune teller. Let’s follow the example of New Brunswick, and use our vote to do what a vote is intended to do – create change.