The Jagged Aftermath of Harper’s Defeat

I must admit I was pretty damn fearful that Sleazy Stephen would somehow manage to sneak in and win another four or five years to do further serious damage to Canada. My wife Carmen and I had planned a four day holiday in Parksville on Vancouver Island at a nice Resort overlooking the prettiest little cove you ever will see. Arriving in the restaurant for a late dinner on election night, we sat down amidst buzz and excitement. Results were pouring in already from eastern Canada, and with trepidation I asked our waiter what was happening.

Well, he told us that thirty-one seats in Newfoundland and the Maritimes went Liberal. All thirty-one! And the Red Wave swept across Quebec and Ontario: the Liberals under Justin Trudeau were heading for a majority victory! They needed 170 seats for a majority and won 185. They even won all 46 seats in Toronto, blitzing New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair’s anointed advocate of the balanced budget Andrew Thompson, formerly from Saskatchewan. He picked up 6% of the votes. A few tears trickled down my cheek.

Wow! The Harper Conservatives had imagined that if Justin, the sexy hunk, managed to get his pants on straight for the debates that would have been a major accomplishment. They had published ads displaying a tee-shirted and tattooed Justin with the caption: “Can he really run Canada’s economy?” The Harperman ran it into the ground; maybe Justin the Hunk can run it with verve and panache. The dour and unimaginative Mulcair cruised into the centre and told Canadians they would get a balanced budget.

The skillful Trudeau knocked him out of the ring by asserting that he would invest in infrastructure and get things rocking. It didn’t help the Timid Tom when Harper lured him into defending the wearing of the niqab in public in Quebec. Only problem is that Quebecers have adopted the French approach to secularization: religious symbols must be kept in private spaces. Whoosh went his support…washed away down the drain. Poor old Mulcair neither had Justin’s hair nor his flair.

The Cons got their asses seriously kicked as top-echelon Minister after Minister (including frothing-at-the mouth Chris Alexander, the Minister of Immigration) went down to flaming defeat. Perhaps we should call him the Minister of Disintegration.

The CPC (no, not Communist, Conservative Party) fed us a smarmy ad informing us that “Justin was just not ready.” I saw it 412 times. Justin, our 43 year old PM, turned it on its head and countered with an ad that had him marching toward us, telling us in no uncertain terms that he was not ready to “stand-by as our economy slides into recession; not ready to watch hard-working Canadians lose jobs and fall further behind.”

The ad also proclaimed that Trudeau would do what his opponents won’t: “ask the wealthiest to pay more taxes, so our middle class can pay less.” The moaning mainstream press has already scolded Trudeau that it is hard to provide public services. It sure is all right, if the corporations pay so little that the services cannot be provided.

I was so happy that I went to the restaurant’s bar where people were talking animatedly and told a few of them that “Canadians don’t know how dangerous the Sleazy One is.” One woman told me forthrightly, “Don’t include me! I am one of the muzzled scientists.” Damn—of course, of course—people silenced by the Harper dictatorship are everywhere. I had better not forget that! I had better not become a smarty-pants professorial know-it-all, either.

Justin the Hunk has replaced Stephen the Clunk. Already Trudeau wants Canadian fighter jets withdrawn from Syria. Let’s hope he has enough of his father’s liberal genes and guts to follow international law, UN guidelines and Canada’s Charter of Freedom and Rights (Pierre Trudeau’s major accomplishment of 1982). But boy oh boy does Trudeau the Younger face some mighty issues on the geo-political scene.

The US Empire of Chaos will just assume that Canada will fall in line with their agenda to smash up the Middle East and permit Palestine to dribble into the dust (justified one phoney way or another). Fortunately, former PM Jean Chretien (who worked in the elder Trudeau’s cabinet) is encouraging Justin to talk to the world leaders. Talk not scorn. Talk not boycott. And that includes the mighty Putin! No more silly stuff. Justin had better be ready to do justice and talk to Vlad. Hey, Justin, we Canadians do not want a war in the Arctic. Have you seen Putin’s military at work in Syria? We don’t want a war there, either. And, Justin, I wouldn’t challenge Vlad to a kick-boxing match, either!

It never takes very long for the skeptics and critics to start blazing away with their six guns. Celebrity Left intellectuals Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis (“The false prophet Trudeau,” The Daily Beast, October 25, 2015) bolted out of the gate like whippets chasing the rabbit (in this case, a pretty one). Reluctantly (and a tad self-righteously), they admitted that some American friends are happy they can look north again without grimacing. Reluctantly, they acknowledged that under Trudeau “Canada is less likely to be a belligerent, obstructionist force at the UN climate change talks in Paris next month.”

However, Klein and Lewis warn us that the false prophet with great hair “consistently lambasted Harper for failing to sell the Obama administration on Keystone XL. His campaign chair was caught advising oil industry executives on how to win government approval for the new government for the biggest proposed tar sands pipeline in Canada.” Naughty, naughty Justin! They finish their self-congratulatory piece by encouraging us to enjoy our “Obama Lite moment” for it won’t last long.

The old left, remnants of which are still lurking around the World socialist web-site, sees the same old toxic Liberalism at work with the Trudeau victory and the return of the “governing party.” Keith Jones even thinks, interestingly enough, that the Canadian bourgeoisie was unhappy with Harper’s failure to get the Keystone XL pipeline through and was a tad too belligerent around Israel. So they have ousted him. And for Jones it follows logically that the Canadian bourgeoisie can live with Trudeau the Younger. Push him around? We shall see.

Writing in the longstanding left publication, Canadian Dimension, two days after the Harper defeat, Matthew Behrens perceives a kind of “fetishization of voting” amongst lots of Canadians. Political understanding in Canada is so dilapidated that we think it noble and totally cool to, well, just cast a ballot. “But voting does not equal,” Behrens says, “or encourage participation in decisions affecting our daily lives, which is why it is so easy for mainstream institutions to promote it as the noblest of political actions.”

Closely related to making a fetish out of voting, the Petition Left takes too much credit for the overthrow of the devoted disciple of Hayek, Stephen Harper (I would never want to be Hayek’s hack). I now sign one petition a day (defending organic bees one day, the beaver the next). But I do wonder how Castro and Guevara could have stayed in the hills and overthrown the rotten bastard Fulgencio Batista’s government by asking Cubans to sign a petition recommending that Batista leave office.

The Left has vanished from electoral politics. Roger Annis and Murray Dobbin (both CounterPunch journalists) focus on two things: crafting a Left Humanist Project for the 21st century and discovering what forces will be the agents of the new developmental humanist society. Pathos and gloom clutch the NDP spirit: the defeated barely social democratic party can barely imagine offering startling new visions of what the American democratic theorist Robert Dahl called the “third transformation of democracy”: the extension of democracy into the economy and institutions above and below the nation state.

In my view, Canadian society has not seen any new and vibrant democratic imagining for a very long time. Let’s start now! Away with the negativity, exhausted and stupefying politics of the Harper dictatorship.

The Harperman robbed our political institutions “more and more of their democratic substance during the course of the technocratic adjustment to global market imperatives” (Habermas). Harper turned us into a “façade democracy” (again Habermas). Journalist John Baglow (writing in thinks that Harper’s project was “to move a largely unwilling populace towards a reconstructed country where the ‘old stock’ is in charge, and a thoroughly disciplined, docile precariat works long, ill-paid, benefitless hours, tugging its forelock on pain of dismissal.”

“He wanted a nation with ranked castes of citizenship, as Christian as possible under the circumstances. A country ruled by uneducated true believers, where intellectuals and artists are tightly controlled by state appartchiks. A country with ever-increasing state surveillance and neighbourhood informers. A country of almost comic-opera military posturing….”

The tragedy of Harper’s Canada is most certainly not more or less a matter of his controlling and awful personality (as slick neo-con journalists like Andrew Coyne think). It is about the particular stifling and horrible way Canada’s liberal democracy has been systematically, incrementally and stealthily dismantled. That’s why NYT’s writer Stephen Marche (August 14, 2015) can call the Harper years the “subtle darkening of Canadian life.”

Michael Welton retired from Athabasca University.  His recent books include Unearthing Canada’s Hidden Past: a Short History of Adult Education and Adult Education a Precarious Age: The Hamburg Declaration revisited.