Elections in Canada, 2008: Rewind, Replay, Return, but with Some Change

Why Post Now?

Frankly I do not expect anyone to read this, and I can afford to be brutally frank, and hopefully coldly analytical as well. I have posted absolutely nothing about the Canadian federal elections which came to a conclusion just last night (October 14, 2008), mostly because I expected no real change to result from the expensive, $300 million exercise of people going out to preserve the status quo: another minority Conservative government. In addition, I did not want party politics to pollute this blog, and to allow myself to be drawn into “party blogging,” posting every minute detail about the party campaigns and taking part in the scooping ambitions of elements of the Canadian political “blogosphere.” Moreover, I had planned to not vote. Plans change. Change can also happen in the midst of continuity.

What has Changed?

As mentioned above, the Conservative Party “won” another minority government: they form the next government by virtue of having won more seats than any other party, even if it is still a minority of seats. Once again, most voters voted for a party other than the Conservatives, and yet they see their wishes frustrated once more as the Conservatives rule over all of us.

Nonetheless, some important shifts took place. First, the main opposition Liberal Party was the only party to suffer severe losses as a result of this election: they lost 19 seats and fell to a new total of 75 seats in Parliament. This continues the Liberal Party’s decline, going from an uninterrupted succession of governments in the 1990s to the early 2000s under Jean Chretien, to a minority government under Paul Martin, and then to opposition, and now a dwindled opposition. In the meantime, for the sixth straight time, the Bloc Québécois won a majority of Quebec’s seats, and seems to have increased its holdings by one seat. The New Democratic Party (NDP) also significantly advanced its share of seats in Parliament, rising from 30 to 37. Even the new Green Party, which won no seats, still gained 9% of the overall vote.

For those not familiar with where Canadian political parties fall on the political spectrum and what these results may show, let me explain this by showing the range of parties from left (left wing) to right (right wing):

GreenNDPBloc QuébécoisLiberalConservative

(For American readers: the Conservatives are mostly like your “moderate Republicans;” the Liberals often represent what your media would represent as the left side of the Democratic Party; the Bloc is largely to the left of the Democrats, with some former Conservatives, but also some former Communists, and is anti-federal; the NDP is closer to resembling Ralph Nader’s political orientation; and the Greens are similar to most Green parties elsewhere in the world.)

To the extent that the Liberals formed a “middle ground,” and indeed repeatedly stressed that they were the only credible opposition to the Conservatives (the Bloc and NDP won 87 seats together, more than the Liberals’ 76, so the facts seem to challenge the Liberal view), it seems that the middle is falling apart. The centre cannot hold. That is not just an indication of the growing polarization in Canadian politics, it is good news in my view to look forward to a politics without the buffoonery of buffers, of meandering middle men who promise a bit of this, some of that, and really do neither in the end. The hoped-for departure of the Liberals will be the first step toward routing the Conservatives.

Another important change is that despite seemingly all the news media proclaiming that these would be the most important national elections in a long time, a gigantic minority of voters decided to not vote at all. Indeed, it was the lowest voter turnout ever. Typically the argument against non-voters is that they do not count. I say, “Nice accounting system you have there.” Of course they count, and their non-vote is a significant, that is, meaningful and valuable display of disinterest, rejection, and non-participation. It is a vote against politics as is.

Some have argued that the new identification rules quickly put in place disenfranchised many voters, especially students who lived on campus and away from home and had no bills with proof of their address. People at Dalhousie University reported that many if not most students were turned away, and doubt that many or any of them returned.

I myself was turned away at first, for simply wanting to vote where I lived, rather than where I worked (for some reason my electoral card was mailed to my university). It took some work to get the election monitors to take notice of the fact that my ample documentation showed precisely where I lived, and that it was unreasonable to deny me my vote, late in the day, in the very place where I resided. It took about an hour, but I got through eventually.

What Has Not Changed: More Mass Mediated, Middle Class Illusions

None of the existing political parties present an option I would endorse without reservation. Each of the five parties in this general election essentially peddled lies and illusions to the public: that Canadians could continue to live, or achieve, a suburban middle class dreamland with high paying jobs, vacations, trips to malls, nice clothes, fat pensions, and high consumption, at little actual cost to the individual. The most “radical” parties premised their visions on increased involvement of the state in public affairs, and increased spending — thereby making their thousand compromises and pacts with the devil. They each took the capitalist system for granted; spending was premised on high gains from a capitalist economy; “more jobs” was more jobs in capitalist enterprises.

I am tired of hearing about “jobs.” The talk should be about independent access to resources, and not the usual system of resource-less individuals depending on others to provide them with employment. The talk should also be about “work” as something that should be viewed as repugnant. The talk should be about the reality of this “democracy,” when most people spend most of their waking hours as servants to bosses. The talk should be about how after generations of automation and computerization, we still have 40 hour working weeks, and less time for leisure and personal development. This system generates fraud after scam, and we rush to those who promise more “jobs” in such a system.

None of the parties challenged Canadians to think differently. None of them told Canadians that they would need to think in terms of austerity, restraint, sacrifice, self-reliance and lowered expectations to bring about real change. None of them told Canadians that their way of life is fundamentally sick and unsustainable. None of them told Canadians about the fact that their system has an expiry date. None of them told Canadians to be very cautious about producing more children, when the future promises extreme turmoil. Instead we heard about more child care and more tax credits for children, and more plans to “help families.”

Canadians are stuck in a nursery mentality: they are told that the only things they have to care about are getting more milk, more pillows, and more nurses. These are not citizens in the end, they are patients. The political system seeks to infantilize them, and appeals to selfish interests, premised on unspoken dreams of mass consumption. Addiction and dependency are the roots of public politics governed by the state and the market.

A Personal Change of Plan: Why I Voted

The first, and until yesterday the last time I ever voted was 20 years ago in the 1988 elections. Both that time, and this time, the Conservatives won, and the party I voted for made remarkable gains as well. Let me explain why I have consciously refused to vote for such a long time, aside from the fact that I was away from Canada for most of those 20 years.

Party politics impressed me as among the least democratic options I envision when I think of what democracy means. First, the vote is a distilled one, not a direct vote: your vote can appear to be wasted in the “first past the post” system we have, where the candidate in a riding who wins more votes than another, wins the seat, and unless you voted for the winner your vote is, for all intents and purposes, tossed aside. (Some counter argue that no vote is wasted, because each vote a candidate gets earns their party $1.82 for its next campaign. I have not fact checked this.) You are now being represented by someone you did not select. You lose a say. And your very vote legitimates the process of your own effective disenfranchisement. I did not want to vote again until we had two conditions in place in Canada: proportional representation, so that all votes count, and parties are allotted seats in Parliament on the basis of their percentage of the popular vote, and, provisions to recall elected representatives who fail to keep their promises. Without these, democracy is a sham, and it still is in my view.

Secondly, I abhorred the system of representation itself. I do not agree to surrender my power to a stranger, especially one who does not represent my interests. I can speak for myself, and I insist on doing so. With the advent of the Internet especially, we now have the infrastructure in place for more direct forms of democratic participation. To have elites, from parties that rarely reflect my own orientations and were created without my input, select themselves and present themselves to be placed in power seems to be a travesty, a violation of voter sovereignty and autonomy, a mock democracy at best. I would much rather have a one party state, but one in which I am daily given a say in governance, than what we have now and here.

Thirdly, voting in a general election is a personal act of recognition and endorsement of federalism. I reject federalism. Simply put, I do not believe that “Canada” has any right to exist as such, and that far too much power is lifted above and over, and against, the mass of the largely disempowered citizenry by a swollen state. I think that “Canada” is a domestic empire, an imperialist entity, and I cannot accept it.

Despite these strong views against voting, I nonetheless voted. I decided that I could not complain about the results as a bystander. I also decided that I would be waiting an eternity for one day a party to appear that adequately reflected the range of my opinions and goals, and I do not have the energy or ability to create my own party. I wanted to explicitly vote against Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan. I found a candidate in my riding who highlighted four, and only four, facts about his political campaigning: he was a protester at the 2001 Summit of the Americas; he organized demonstrations in Montreal against the war in Afghanistan; he worked actively in QuebecKyoto, supporting Quebec’s adherence to the Kyoto protocol; and, interestingly, he was a co-founder of the Green Party of Quebec, the other party that attracted me. That made up my mind. I could not criticize the war in Afghanistan and then sit back and not vote for those trying to bring an immediate end to it.

In these 2008 federal elections, the NDP has won its first ever seat in a general election in Quebec, right in the centre of Montreal itself. The NDP has seen its support among Montreal voters rise by 60%. The NDP in my riding doubled its share of the votes compared to only two years ago. And I can say I played a small part in that.

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6 Responses to “Elections in Canada, 2008: Rewind, Replay, Return, but with Some Change”

  1. 1 RJ
    October 16, 2008 at 2:26 am

    That was a really boring post. Did you have a point? It reminded me of political speeches, editorials, blogs and sermons that seem to be structured to do only one thing – speak as long as possible with as few interesting points as possible.

    That is my point. Delivered much more succinctly than “your no points at all” diatribe.

  2. October 16, 2008 at 3:44 am

    It was a diatribe…but had no point? You sound very confused. I am sorry you could not follow, especially the fact that it sought to make no ONE point. Next time, look at the title and headings…they are meant to make things easier to follow, even for “readers” like you. Thanks for being interested enough to comment nonetheless.

  3. October 20, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    The Green Party of Canada is not a left party. They are clear on that. They are fiscal Conservatives. Elizabeth May is clear on her position of having been/ worked for the Conservative Party. You cannot reduce this party to a simple Left position. Further, the Canadian Green Party is not similar to other Green parties around the world. Further, the Liberal Party is not Left either, in this sort of simple Left/Right binary and continuum that is no longer applicable in today’s neoliberal world of predatory capitalism and militarism. The Liberal Party of Canada is socially liberal but neoliberal in fiscal policy; they were the ones who got us into Afghanistan, thanks to Paul Martin et al. The Conservative Party of Canada is neo-conservative and neoliberal and militaristic and morally fascist. The old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was socially progressive but fiscally conservative — today’s Liberal Party resembles them in some ways, and not a left liberal party.

    please get your facts straight so you don’t confuse non-Canadians.

  4. October 20, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks Taina. I definitely agree, as the post that comes after this argues, that there is no way one can argue that the Liberal Party is a “left” party.

    The Greens are a lot more ambiguous: you focus on May, but in Quebec where I am they have taken stances that are sharply at odds with the two main parties, and have endorsed “left” stances against corporate polluters, the war in Afghanistan, etc. It’s interesting that you look at her as a Conservative in disguise, when many have instead focused on her deals with the Liberal Party in this election. It’s also interesting to note the many places where, in the published platforms of both the NDP and Greens, they virtually mirror one another.

    I have heard the label of “neoconservative” being applied to the Conservatives: I think that needs a lot more work. That label is derived from the U.S. and from the Project for a New American Century, and while there are affinities (and one could make the same point for Blair’s Labour Party in the U.K. and its support for neo-con policies), I doubt that the Conservatives in Canada are either disciples, clones, or full partners. So while I am not trying to suggest radical differences between the two, I think it is a mistake to just import our terminology.

    I agree that the rough “spectrum” I provided is rough and simple. It was largely meant to position Canadian parties in comparison with American ones. I am not entirely sold on the idea that we have “facts” to get “straight” in matters of political interpretation, or that you have clearly presented those facts. I decidedly agree with where you’re coming from overall, and sadly you could not seem to tell that I was coming from the same place.

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