Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Fortress West

So I won't sugar-coat it. The great Trojan Horse has finally made it past the gate, it has lumbered in and been celebrated and garlanded, and it is ready to unload its malicious oily cargo as its own cheerleaders retire for the night sated and inebriated. It's a credit to Canada that it took so many years of effort to roll it up that hill, despite all of the wealth and power propelling it.

But roll in it did.

Unfortunately, this moment was rather difficult to avoid. Stephen Harper and Co. had a near total lock on a huge block of seats the western parts of Canada. With that huge and consistent starting advantage, all they needed to do was keep trying to pick the lock of Canadian democracy; it was inevitable that with enough tries, the tumblers would all fall into place to give them a majority.

And there's the rub, the elephant in the room: the lock that the Cons/Reform has held on the West for what is now quite a long time, thwarted only by vote-splitting and an Ontario voting pattern that no longer exists. That was the problem with the strategic voting approach, leaving aside the issue of the unreliability of the Liberal Party leadership: for every voting strategy to keep them out of 155 ridings, there was always a feasible Reformatory counter-strategy to gain the MUCH smaller number of seats required for a majority government. Put that way, it's a miracle that it has taken so long. Canada as a whole has said DO NOT WANT repeatedly for a long time...until now.

So the real, lasting solution to the problem is obviously to break the lock that Reform has had on a large number of Western seats. But (obviously) that's easier said that done, because of the way that the underlying Great Animus that supports the Reform lock has been constructed. It was built from the remnant of a legitimate historical set of grievances against a certain elite in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal axis. Now in this world of interconnected finances, this elite is now entirely and intimately connected with the resource-extracting class of the West, and with that connection has been able to co-opt the grudge and turn this Great Animus against a strange holographic image of an "elite" that the hapless Liberal party has been all too eager to supply in recent times.

This was wonderful for the oil-and-finance elite that has been lately riding this Animus: every time the Reform/Cons movement was prevented from reaching maximum victory, it was easy to turn it into a rejection by the hologram-"elite" of the West Itself. This has fed back again and again into the Animus and the rest is history.

I just promised optimism, so here it is: with a Conservative majority government, progressives and the left-wing of Canada have an opportunity to deflate and redirect this Great Animus if they have any organization or wit to seize it. "Western Alienation" was manufactured from a substrate of real and justified feeling; it has manifested itself in a different way, but it has the same character and root as sovereigntist feeling in Quebec. And if the NDP can make progressive inroads into Quebec when it became clear that the BQ was no longer serving the regional interest it claimed to serve, so it should be if anything easier to seize the moment when it becomes clear that the Trojan Horse of Stephen Harper really doesn't solve the problems of the ordinary people of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and so on. That control over the energy-extraction wealth is illusory and is not going to make better lives for the public in those provinces.

That the full-throated majority rule of the warmed-over Reform movement is not at all what it was cracked up to be.

In the end, this will require not snooty counter-regionalism and not a polite wish for "reasoned debate", but for an unbridled and blunt populist truth-telling that the NDP can provide far more credibly than the recent Liberal Party can, or perhaps ever could. Now is the time to shove every victim of the Enormous Pit of Toxic Waste and every misappropriated dollar in the face of a public who might think that this is being done for their own good: it isn't. Now is the time to start saying, sarcastically, "Tell me: is this what you really wanted? Do you understand what is happening now?"

Because if the answer is "yes", well, then, at least we'll know the answer.


croghan27 said...

Not sure how justified the voters of AB are in their animus toward the east. On the hard drive of a long dead computer I used to have a picture of Lalond (Liberal Min of Energy) and Laugheed (Premier of AB) hoisting glasses of bubbly to celebrate the National Energy Program

The most obvious result of the act was manifest in drilling in 'Canada lands' - the north. (I know a Liberal that became a millionaire supplying food to the rigs.) Since then there has been a realization that environmental considerations must be taken into consideration.

Trudeau brought it in after the shock of the first oil embargo, that caught the entire western world off base - it was that bad that France/Italy began a love affair with Qaddafi that only lately ended.

I recall being told how unfair the Program was as oil was different than the metals of the east - this while I read about three mines I had worked in were shut down as being uneconomical to operate.

That there is a more immediate need for oil than there is for, say, nickle or iron, gave them a lever not necessarily deserved.

Most of the animus I saw while living there was of the "I got it, you ain't." variety.

This, of course, is an unproductive position - hold this idea forth in a bar in Calgary will get you in trouble - in Fort McMurray less so because most of the denizens would be from Newfoundland.

It has becomes one of the myths that operate in the west and that is what will have to be dealt with.

Pseudz said...

Hello Mandos,
Of the many schemes that will ensue, yours has an attractive logic . . . and beautifully put. I wonder whether you might shine your light on a way to move the goalposts to proportional representation. Perhaps in a provincial venue first.

Thor said...

"an unbridled and blunt populist truth-telling" - Yes. I subscribe to this, But the trick is to get them to listen.

I like the plan. Get out into the West and start opening minds.

Alison said...

The biggest problem for the NDP and Liberals will be getting the information out there. The MSM is completely in the pockets of the Cons and you can bet they will either dismantle the CBC or threaten to severely defund it to keep it towing the party line. Harper is unlikely to let out any details of any negative report. I am thinking, for example, of the G8 report, which has not yet seen the light of day thanks to the NDP. I'm still waiting for an explanation for that Jack!

ck said...

And if the NDP can make progressive inroads into Quebec when it became clear that the BQ was no longer serving the regional interest it claimed to serve, so it should be if anything easier to seize the moment when it becomes clear that the Trojan Horse of Stephen Harper really doesn't solve the problems of the ordinary people of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and so on. That control over the energy-extraction wealth is illusory and is not going to make better lives for the public in those provinces.

A columnist for the Tyee believes Canada will rue the day the Bloc collapsed. I agree 100%: First from the Tyee:

It would be foolish to think that Quebec separatism has ended and indeed I would argue that the extent of the BQ loss was bad news. While they were in Ottawa in some numbers, separatism could be handled by dealing with the BQ across the floor. Now it is leaderless even though their twin, the PQ, seems poised to win Quebec provincially. It is as I said in a speech some years ago: "If there were not a Bloc Quebecois we would have to invent one."

Separatism will be different in Quebec. Although Stephen Harper has representation, sovereignists will be looking at Jack Layton to express their ambitions and he won't do so. Prime Minister Harper will use the public purse as best he can as is traditional, but I foresee a great deal of ferment ahead.

Yep, there will be. With an unchecked majority, the NDP will be neutered. No, this isn't any partisan talk. It's reality. Anyone sitting in offical opposition would be reduced to window dressing. Harper made clear today, that the West will be his pet.

Harpercons have also expressed in no uncertain terms how unhappy they are that they a) lost seats, including some prominent cabinet ministers and b) but for 6 seats, they were basically shut out of La Belle province.

Jean Charest is running at an all time low in the polls these days and not likely to get back up. Polls are consistently saying that if an election were held now, Pauline Marois and the PQ would easily get a majority. Today is no different. Charest's majority is fragile; only 2 or 3 seats. IF any of them retire, or leave for whatever reason, he could well end up gone before his mandate. Marois and the PQ have made one promise coming out of their convention a few weeks ago--they plan to be a royal thorn in the fed gov't side. Believe that campaign promise from them.

Plus, Quebecers are not going to put up with Harper. I'd say the winning conditions for a referendum are well on their way.

Námo Mandos said...

Croghan: I was referring to things older than the NEP, which I understand to be the more genuine roots of Western alienation.

Pseudz: That's a difficult question. It's really hard to excite people about process issues. You have to find a way to connect it to some way in which someone is hurt materially, is my feeling.

Námo Mandos said...

ck: The danger that you're talking about is as real as any and it now depends on whether Jack, even as powerless minority opposition leader, can hold it all together. The PQ will inevitably at some point take Quebec government and it will be up to the opposition to do the fancy footwork to represent Quebec without representing sovereignty.

Scotian said...

BTW, I might add that ck's point about the way the BQ went down and the NDP rose with soft nationalists within its ranks and Mandos question about how well can Layton manage such is over very real concern to me. As my alias denotes I live in NS, one of those Provinces whose future is very much impacted by the realities of Quebecois separatism and who seem to get forgotten about by those that feel Quebec can leave without it causing much harm to Canada, which since 2 of 4 founding Provinces are in this area including my own is something I tend to be a bit touchy about. As it is since the rise of the PQ we have had significant economic damage from that uncertainty reducing investment by businesses not knowing if there was going to be stability (and this in a region where getting investments is hard enough for other reasons is no small matter I might add) in this region and whether they can still ship their goods to the rest of the country without problem in the event of a separate Quebec nation.

There is a lot of eastern alienation down here too you know, but since we only account for 10% of the population and have little economic clout you don't get to hear about it. On of the main reasons I've stayed as active as I have in politics despite having some serious health issues is because of issues like these, and one of the main fears I had of a Harper majority was how it could fuel the rage of separatism in Quebec and help create those infamous "winning conditions". What good does it do for Canada if by the end of the Harper majority government we have Quebec on the verge (or actually having voted to) separate? This is not as unthinkable as it may seem to some, and it is not meant as scaremongering but a very real concern by someone whose home is threatened by this who has no control over it since the decision is in Quebecois hands and they most certainly are not going to care what happens to us. After all we not francophones (aside from the Acadien, and they aren't any happier with their Quebecois cousins than the rest of us seeing as at best they get regarded as poor country bumpkins when they get any consideration at all, at least that is how the Acadiens I know tend to see it) so why worry about us?

As to making those inroads in the West, somehow I doubt it is going to go as easily as all that, it is too bred in the bone to hate those latte sipping city dwelling socialists for the NDP to miraculously do what the Libs could not so quickly IMHO (it would be nice to be wrong about this, but I doubt it) and by the time they might be able to make that difference I suspect it would be far too late for the country to recover from the great reshaping Harper is about to put us through.

No, while it is a nice thought Mandos I am not sanguine about the chances for it. Cynicism may be a cold place to live but alas it usually has a stronger connection to reality than most of the warmer ones, especially where politics tends to be concerned in my experience.

deBeauxOs said...

Alison said... the G8 report, which has not yet seen the light of day thanks to the NDP. I'm still waiting for an explanation for that Jack!


Okay, what's your reason for blaming the NDP for the AG not releasing her report? Does they have supra-Parliamentary powers only you know about?

Post a Comment