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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Maybe we should start that fire

Canadian politics is desperately lacking in anyone with as much fire as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that's a problem.

Confession: I follow a lot of Americans, many of whom have an interest in politics, on Twitter. So I've been hearing a lot about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rookie new Democratic member of the U.S. House of Congress. She has been getting a lot of pushback from the elements of American society who can't handle the fact that a young, opinionated, competent, dedicated, socialist woman of colour has actually been elected to Congress, let alone is now following through on her lofty promises not to immediately succumb to the system of corrupted checks-without-balances that is emblematic of that institution. As a Canadian, it has been interesting to watch this happen against the backdrop of the U.S. federal government shutdown (in a horrified, "what the hell are you doing to your own federal employees" kind of way).

But I'm not American, and so this got me thinking more about politics back here in Canada, especially because we are actually in a federal election year now. And watching the furor over AOC south of the border, I just can't help but … yearn for something like that here.

I'm 29 years old, and this will be my fourth time voting in a federal election. I like participating in this part of our democratic process. Yet I'm definitely not alone in feeling like the choices are far too similar for my tastes. Keep in mind that while Canada's political centre is definitely far to the left of America's centre, all three of our major political parties are in the blandest possible race to that centre position. Even the NDP, originally born as a labour party, has consistently moved centrist every time an election looms—despite the fact this never seems to work for them, demonstrably, because hey, the Liberals are already there.

I'm farther left than either of those two parties (so I won't even talk about the Conservatives), and I don't feel any attraction to either of them. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about either Jagmeet Singh or Justin Trudeau. I don't think they're necessarily as scary as Andrew Scheer, but I don't think they really care about changing our country all that much. Or, to be more fair and more accurate: I think they are too mired in our system, which rewards not-rocking-the-boat, to ever want to risk anything important. Progressive politicians in Canada have perfected a certain type of political rhetoric where they incant the freshest buzzwords while they tone-police anyone who dares to call them on it. Nevertheless, when pushed to actually commit to lasting change—like electoral reform, or respecting Indigenous rights—they balk at taking action.

I'm not here to lionize AOC; she is far from perfect. (But then again, we only ever expect women and minorities to be perfect in the public eye, right? White men can go around saying overtly racist and misogynistic remarks and no one bats an eye.) We cannot deny, however, that she has fire in her. She has built her entire platform on making radical change, and although she hasn't been on the job that long, she is already devoting herself towards that change.

I just wish I knew of a young, rookie MP who had the same kind of fire and zeal as AOC. I wish I saw other Canadians rallying around young, radical political figures like people are rallying around AOC.

Our political system is far more stable than the Americans', and for that I am very grateful. Yet it is also very stagnant. It's hard to be a "maverick" in our House of Parliament, and while that tamps down the would-be Nazis and white supremacists for sure, it also means that a certain type of person makes it into leadership and positions of power. A certain type of person who, no matter their political ideology and party membership, will only rock the boat so much. Speaking as someone who has a fair amount of privilege in this society, though, I've tried to listen more and more to the people who don't. And what I'm hearing from them is that we don't need to rock the boat so much as capsize it and build a new one.

I'm not looking forward to this election. The Conservatives are going to drown in dog whistles, especially when it comes to Singh, while the Liberals and NDP are both going to make promises that neither will likely follow through on if they form the next government. And our media's political commentators will offer up the same tired, bland analysis they do at every election. And all of this works on us, because while we might make fun of Americans' ignorance of their political system, we Canadians are not much better ourselves, especially when it comes to engagement. Our apathy is what lets politicians of all stripes get away with this.

So, yeah, I really want to see young, radical people running for political office. But it's up to us to work to shape and change the way we talk about federal politics in Canada too. If anyone is going to be on fire, we are the ones who have to start it.