The kid’s got charm (top photo – original image UPC Chris Swartz
(from the excellent Ryerson Image gallery exhibition of American press images of Canada)

Canada is having a federal election soon, and it seems the left is determined to shoot itself in the foot this go-round. Frustrating, but not surprising. I’ve done my best to act on (test and prove) leftist ideas and philosophies my whole adult life – but the loosely defined political left, which has always had special talent for infighting and well-meaning incoherence, has had an up-swelling of indignation-over-reason recently, and it’s past embarrassing now – becoming outright hazardous. There are several large cities in Canada which concentrate our special haughty (profoundly bourgeois) brand of leftism powerfully, and I know I’d offend other right-fighters elsewhere, were I to claim Toronto the outright capital of this mode of thought – but we sure do it awfully well – and this is the particular version I’m most familiar with (born in the belly). Tilting ought rightly to begin at home. But considering the timing, let’s start here – just what exactly is a Justin Trudeau, anyhow?

Justin Trudeau represents a popular political fantasy which was always a pleasant-feeling lie, designed to flatter pampered westerners – but a lie which, in fairness, used to be much easier for rational people to accept. He has “Nice” ideas, and policies with very good intentions (absolutely none of which are even close to original – strictly neo liberal and progressive boilerplate). He smiles a lot and tries for happy compromise in a public and demonstrative way, which looks like much more of an accomplishment than it actually is, while we are seeing daily examples of bullying stupidity and nastiness on far too large a podium, elsewhere. Has his character been tested and proven in any serious way? Is there a great accomplishment around which we have gathered? (Even Ignatieff had a few superb philosophy books). No – quite the contrary, a great deal of his popularity comes down to the fact that he has, for someone from a powerful political family, lead a surprisingly normal and mild life. He has a bachelors of art in literature, another in teaching. Dropped out of Engineering and Environmental science programs at two different universities after the first year. Worked as a teacher, camp councillor, snowboard instructor – even a bouncer for awhile. A charming (Chauncey) everyman – a blank slate upon whom hopes could easily be projected.

Has he been trying to please everyone, by developing polluting resources for economic benefit and simultaneously instituting a carbon-tax to salve the national conscience, even as pollution keeps increasing steadily? Yes he has. But here is the question which a whole lot of Canadians, like so many who like to think themselves ‘good guys’ arbitrarily, never ask. Are you so sure that he’s not representing you truly, in doing that – even though you are in stubborn denial?

Have you ever met someone who can afford to pollute but absolutely does not? Anyone with plenty of money who never drives or flies? (The numbers strongly suggest NOT). Because if you haven’t met that person (or more usefully, several hundred thousand of them, all very happy to do it and to organize to promote it, as a viable and happy lifestyle) then you haven’t ever met a leftist who seriously opposes the tar-sands. I’ll back up a bit, to be clearer – it is a leftist commonplace (and also a geostrategic fact) that the oil from the middle east has come at the cost of generations of lost political freedom for citizens there, and vast sums of money paid out to dictatorial and barbarian psychopaths (which they have used to corrupt and harm themselves and us – just as our rapacious consumption has done harm to us and them – fair-play of the very worst sort). The military industrial complex is also a part of this large network of corporate and government relationships. An old, deeply corrupt and very foul game – into which we keep eagerly pouring our money. But there are alternates, right? – fracking and shale – but now we’re talking about massively increasing oceanic pollution and even causing earthquakes – very hard to describe these as ‘kind’ or ‘ethical’ approaches. And then you’ve got filthy tar-sands and arctic sea oil – which not only create a nightmare for our kids future, but do it at a special accelerated rate – and (tar-sands) kill vast volumes of increasingly precious fresh water, in the bargain. That (in quantity terms) is it.

THERE IS NO GOOD OIL. Just military oppression, ocean pollution, earthquake screw-the-kids (to death) oil. That’s the only kind they make a lot of, folks. Sorry. Biofuel is even WORSE!  “No corn for you starving kids to eat anymore – you see, I’ve got to fill my SUV for commuting.”  So – the people who say “I oppose the development of the tar-sands” but still drive and fly regularly, are actually saying – “I oppose our system of voluntary democracy – I want more force to be used against everyone, starting NOW!” They are demanding that a government compel others who don’t even agree, to obey a philosophy that they are themselves unwilling to choose to follow. That they are also among the first to oppose most direct government coercion, just makes their formulation even more contradictory. Don’t say it – DO IT!

The extra difficulty is that the self-described leftist party in Canada, the New Democratic Party (to me, the party that has for decades coopted and destroyed real worker representation) is all about comforting myth, self-deception and feeling like good-guys by disliking ‘worse guys’ – without actually committing to serious sacrifice, principle or intellectual rigour. Just ask anyone with orange on their lawn (Orangeman link?) – the first thing they will tell you is “The NDP is why we have health care.”

Nope – the CCF brought in the first health care coverage in Canada as a provincial government in Saskatchewan in 1947 – followed by the Social Credit party of Alberta, which did the same in 1950. The Liberal majority government of Louis St Laurent passed the first national health care legislation in 1957 – which was supplemented and ‘set in stone’ by Lester Pearson’s Medical Care act of 1966 (with a Liberal minority government no less – an unthinkable parliamentary achievement for social progress, in this day and age).

The CCF did later ‘become’ the NDP (1961) – by joining with the Canadian Labour Congress – but in so doing, they very deliberately watered-down their serious socialist roots – something Ed Broadbent did again in 1975 (touting pocketbook issues, instead of heroic principles) each of these steps, a degradation – away from the vital, powerful, radical and practical – toward the poll-chasing catch-phrasing managerial and intellectual. More crudely – moving from hard working artist to vain and sycophantic art critic. The CCF, unlike the modern NDP, wasn’t a professorial clique – it was created by the union of infinitely more practical and determined farmers, labour organizers and the League for Social Reconstruction – who first witnessed the great recession and then the war, and came out of them organized and determined to make sure that the bottom never was brought that low and desperate again. Yes, those practical and unstoppable people were the driving instigators. Their practical example did force the Liberal party to adopt universal health care as part of their platform, in order to ensure their electoral success – but they have still never once in all history formed a national government. They’ve passed NOTHING EVER folks. They have added ideas, and provided some useful driving critique.

But it’s actually even worse than that now, because the modern NDP – much like the more self-congratulatory (corrupt) parts of the Democratic party in the US – has deep (and shameless) contempt for the actual people who make up the working class – and the working class generally despises these clean-fingernail sanctimonious know-nothing intellectuals even more thoroughly (and with considerably better reason). They just don’t know what’s good for them – is the dinner-party tone. The weirdest part is that the NDP doesn’t even feel ashamed that they stopped showing serious respect for the working class (except as a rhetorical abstraction) almost a half a century ago.

Bob Rae is an interesting case here – he formed a provincial NDP government in Ontario (by fluke, really – he was handed the early nineties macro-economic implosion to deal with – much as any progressive ambitions Obama might have had were pre-empted by the bank-bailout and subsequent emergency). Rae is an extremely intelligent and principled man – he’s written and lectured on grand political ideas, and served as an effective diplomatic envoy. Also soft-spoken witty and pleasant – a “good” Canadian (even jumped bare-ass naked into a lake with comedian Rick Mercer, to make fun of his own appearance of stuffy reserve). The thing is, his government never learned how to communicate with the public – they did do several excellent things (my friends in the construction trades still bemoan the loss of his brilliant workplace safety legislation – also environmentally responsible in a way no later bill has come near). And then his rare leftist government stepped on a land-mine – they asked the teachers (and others making over $30,000) in the province to take a few extra days off per year, so that despite huge budget pressures, he could save the jobs of innumerable non-salary support staff jobs (almost 20,000 fellow workers, all on marginal no contract, hours-only no-benefits employment) – including librarians, special ed, music and art programs – everything that a kid looks forward to, as a highlight in a dreary school day.

This compromise provoked a huge and furious backlash from the (in Canada, unlike the states, quite decently paid) teachers especially – who saw no reason they should offer any concessions at all, not even to help the much poorer comrades who they relied upon to do a great deal of unofficial (and unpaid) support work, for which they were being paid. (I was doing special Ed at the time – and so watched it from up close – with increasing disbelief, as it went on and got steadily worse). Let’s be clear here – a self-described ‘leftist’ union disrupted education, taught their anger in class – organized huge protests parades and pamphlets – mobilized real and lasting RAGE – against a principled leftist government – all because they were offended at the idea of being asked to stand with other workers – people they knew and worked with, every single day. Why should I? In the end – Rae was so unable to communicate those (admittedly few, but non-trivial) things he did get right, and the economic damage that would have been much worse, without his efforts (and yes, it actually would), that for all his trouble he was branded as both business incompetent and unfaithful to labour – a double-loser. Later, he joined the Liberal party (because he wanted to do something besides critique, at a federal level) and now one commonly hears NDP people describe him as no less than a traitor – never really was one of them – which is a truly great way to continue to fail to learn any lessons from that instructive debacle. (Though why exactly that always has to be the goal, I will never understand).

The Premier who replaced Rae, Mike Harris – ran openly on his contempt for the teachers union – and won huge votes for it from an exasperated public (whose exhausted sympathy teachers could really have used very soon after, to counter Harris’ absolutely massive funding cuts, in a time of revenue upswing). But that lesson, if learned at all, was definitely forgotten by the time of the similarly self-wounding Toronto garbage strike – which again raised local exasperation levels to an extreme, then elevated the similarly bellicose (and far more colourful, though proportionally less articulate) Rob Ford into the Toronto mayor’s office. (in case those from afar were still scratching their heads, wondering why and how).

The SNC Lavalin ‘affair’ is another example of impassioned arguments on all sides, earnestly pretending the world outside our borders doesn’t exist, let alone record changes from theory to proof, over time. Great power politics, like macro-economics, is simply not a lever that a player at our piffly size can pull (not nationally – and really not provincially), like other mid and small powers, we respond (at best dance deftly atop the unstoppable waves as they come rolling-in from afar). In an international playing field where trade has been outright weaponized, we can’t be transferring billions of Canadian dollars for domestic infrastructure projects to foreign conglomerates – not for five years, not even for one. Jobs lost by SNC, typically go to Bechtel – and any leftist who likes the idea of sending billions of Canadian dollars their way is too ignorant of history, to be able to represent the side respectfully. Yes there was truly gross incompetence shown – in the hiring phase. They went so far as to pass a bill in parliament to make an exception under law for the company, because doing this was in the glaringly obvious interests of the national economy. The idea that the discretion of the attorney general includes a free option to choose economic treason ‘on principle’ during a time of economic warfare – when even our closest ally is now a fierce and entirely untrustworthy opponent, is ridiculous. Simply not how sound governance works, in practical real world terms.

And let’s be ‘morally’ clear here – Gaddafi wasn’t a nice guy – but under him many women were doctors professors and lawyers – now, thanks to ‘well meaning’ and ‘principled’ intervention (violence) from intellectual idiots in the West – many can’t even leave the house anymore!

Is Trudeau a racist? I don’t know, and you don’t either. But speaking as someone who has worked in a few educational environments, I do recognize a goofball provocateur. A guy enjoying being a jerk, just because he finds it funny that he can get away with it – definition of the ditziness borne of cozy privilege, if naught else. (I’ve watched teachers using unbelievably unacceptable language in class even very recently, then smirking and pausing, waiting and hoping for someone to object – a tasteless social-transgression tease).

Is the guy a brilliant cool-headed real-politick hard-hitter? Nope, no evidence of that as yet – but thankfully, Christia Freeland really does seem to fit that bill, incredibly well (a future PM?)  Just for the record, in case you didn’t notice (which is itself a part of her art, to be sure) by hanging our heads and acting like Trump beat us on the renegotiated trade deal, she was able to remove much of what we Canadians all hated about original Nafta, sovereignty-wise, from the fine print. BIG strategic win! (but only accomplishable, if underplayed in public).

Did he promise to work on proportional voting? Why yes he did – and his wimpy abandonment of this promise (too complicated, not worth the capital) is resented with weird malice. Reasoning on best-case scenario only (like we presume Obama must have been, to institute a regular no-scrutiny flying kill-bot program), one can understand the frustration. “I wanted to see more people like me represented.” More of the general public, given voice in the people’s house. But you know what? I don’t want to sound like a jerk here, but I bet you really really don’t want that as much as you think. The most important point on this file is this – every serious analysis that has ever been undertaken on this issue suggests proportional voting would benefit the Liberals, every single time – help them skate up the middle to hold power (their best trick already). So his leaving it aside is NOT self-serving, nor a sign of corruption – it would have advantaged him the most by far. That being said, with proportional representation, some things would definitely change, and fast. We would have outright racist “Right honourable members” in parliament – whose sole platform was their hatred – same goes for a whole range of other very popular passions at large now – gun advocates – anti-science campaigners – only a very small curated selection of which would make any progressives cheer. Whole percentages of voters now go far stranger places than you’d think! (UFO party, maybe? Give the spoilers a fun option again – like when the absurdist Rhinoceros party ran Jean Drapeau’s famous moustache, as their candidate?)

Elizabeth May (Green party) runs circles around Trudeau intellectually and on clear principle – but in terms of Canadian political history, she first has to completely destroy the NDP electorally (have a feeling this is the election it’ll happen) and prove that the voting left are themselves capable of change – being practical, forward thinking and scientific – not just critical, wishful, self-congratulatory and foggy-mirrored.

In the meantime, what Trudeau does still somehow represent, despite his godawful lack of a firm anything, is the one truly profound good thing about our crazy Western consumption levels; surplus in the middle – under great pressure though it is, in this latest phase of data-capitalism. You know what’s deeply good about surplus in the middle? That’s where legislative advances for those at the bottom get turned into firmly accomplished political reality (from the first great middle class in the rich trading Netherlands, onward through history). Only comfortable people can create generous majorities – looking kindly to the unfortunate (yes, even hundreds of years ago ‘white liberal guilt’ though always a somewhat arbitrary construct – was a force with genuine moral energy to contribute to social progress).  The rich do not do this, and the desperate can’t.

There is of course a ton of double-talk, hypocrisy, creepy monopolist trade dealings and wishy-washy meaningless virtue signalling – none of which polishes the brand, or sweetens the medicine. To me, the real question is who is going to be able to rally adequate popular support to accomplish (not just suggest) a huge practical change in an environmentally and economically useful direction.

Or, if the answer is – no one running is viable for that role right now, the project still needs social prep-work, then – who breaks the least of our best stuff in the meantime?

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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