So it’s Canada Day. Whoo! PARTY TIME! Crack open those drinks, lay out the snacks, enjoy the sun—sigh.
I can’t do it, guys.
Look, if all you want to do with your day off is party, this blog post is not for you.
I can’t just join in this year, for two reasons. Firstly, this year is important, because later this year we are having a federal election. Secondly, I can’t, in good conscience, blindly talk about how great Canada is when there’s a lot of problems we need to get sorted.
What, Exactly, Are We Celebrating?
When it comes to Canada Day, what do we celebrate, exactly? I’m confused. Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a big deal out of nationalism. He wants us to take pride in our nation, Canada, and talk about how great we are. He insists that it is important we celebrate our heritage. But which parts of our heritage?
The wonderful and diverse cultures of the First Peoples, who lived here long before Europeans stumbled across this continent? I think not, given the Harper government’s ongoing disdain for aboriginal affairs and colonial attitude towards indigenous peoples.
Surely, then, Harper wants us to celebrate Canada’s status as a leader in peacekeeping and respected participant in international diplomacy? Except, wait, our peacekeeping role is now next to non-existent. Instead of maintaining our place at or near the top of rankings like the Human Development Index, Harper has overseen our dramatic descent, even as he reneges on our commitments to the Kyoto Accord and other international conventions. (But the Trans-Pacific Partnership is cool, because super-secret treaties negotiated without Parliamentary oversight are just the big-boy equivalent of super-secret handshakes, right?)
OK, so Harper doesn’t want us to celebrate indigenous cultures or Canada’s prestigious past on the international stage. I guess that means he wants us to celebrate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the numerous welfare programs, such as universal healthcare, which help the vulnerable members of our society and contribute to our reputation as one of the most enlightened and fair countries? That must be it!
What, Harper hates those things too? I don’t get it. What’s there left to celebrate? The CBC? Oh wait….
I just finished reading an interesting book called Dismantling Canada. It’s by a former Liberal policy advisor (so, you know, intelligent but also biased), and it’s a deep analysis of the Harper government’s actions in the context of recent political history. This blog post is not a review (I’ll update this post with a link to the review once I’ve posted that). However, the book did provide me with a better sense of how different Harper’s government is from past ones, even other conservative governments. This is not simply the inevitable Tory dynasty following the collapse of an over-reaching Liberal one. Under Harper’s control—and that is really the word for it—life on Parliament Hill has fundamentally changed.
From abusing parliamentary procedure to ignoring it when it suits him, Harper has shown contempt for democracy in Canada. (Literally, his government was found in contempt of Parliament, the first time in our history such a thing happened.) He talks the talk of loving our country and making Canada great, but he walks all over the public officials doing their jobs, and ignores the evidence that says his policies aren’t working. And when his government drafts—and passes, like idiots—unconstitutional laws, he or his Cabinet talk about “activist judges.” Sigh. I’m sorry, is this Canada or the United States? Your Republican is showing, Mr. Harper.
Growing up and learning about our parliamentary democracy, I learned that ours was a model of cooperative governance. Yes, if one party has a majority, it can technically pass legislation without the support of the rest of the House of Commons. That does not mean the governing party has, as Harper is fond of claiming, a mandate from the people to do whatever the hell it wants. The vagaries of our first-past-the-post electoral system—and you can lament or laud it all you want, it’s what we are stuck with at the moment—mean that majority governments are almost always elected with a minority of the popular vote. Harper’s Conservative majority does not have a mandate.
So previous Parliaments have had to work together, to compromise, even in majority situations. Sure, there have been times when a Prime Minister has taken the helm more firmly. But those examples pale in comparison to Harper’s autocratic exercise of executive power. It’s frightening, truly, the way a man who claims to believe in democracy is so obsessed with disenfranchising people and transferring power from the House to the PMO.
And you know who I feel really sorry for? Conservatives.
Not the Conservatives, because fuck those guys. I mean small C conservatives, the people who once voted for the likes of Brian Mulroney or Joe Clark—the latter of whom actually threw in support behind Paul Martin rather than Harper’s Conservatives. The Conservative Party of Canada has hijacked Canada’s right wing. And while I am undeniably leftist and socialist in my views, I totally get why other people aren’t. I respect that, and I welcome our disagreement, because democracy is an agonistic process where debate and dissent play an essential role.
Harper’s government is all about shutting down debate and stifling dissent. In Harper’s world, if you don’t agree with him, you’re not just wrong: either you should be ignored, or you should be discredited at least, perhaps even jailed at worst. Oh, unless you are a Canadian but not born in Canada, in which case we might try to deport you instead.
What’s that, you say? Harper’s even taking away Canadian passports from Canadians who were born here?
Right, so now you can see why people are using the hashtag #NotMyCanada on Twitter to talk about this. I am really tempted to join in, but … there’s one tiny problem.
It’s Totally My Canada
Look, I get it: #NotMyCanada is pithy and trendy, hence the hope it’ll start trending. It’s the hashtag way to express all our pent-up sentiments about a government that has acted like irrational bullies for nearly ten years now.
Yet try though he might, Stephen Harper has not quite succeeded in taking away all the power of the electorate. So the truth is, this is our Canada, and we have a responsibility to do something about it.
I’m talking about voting, of course. Sure, you can complain that first-past-the-post means your vote doesn’t count, or that you’ve voted non-Conservative in all the past elections, and maybe even you have a non-Conservative MP at the moment (I do). Truthfully, the election could come down to a handful of ridings in Ontario. Or it might not.
If your riding is represented by someone other than a Conservative, great. Keep them there (or vote in another non-Conservative, if this one did a terrible job).
If you voted in the last election, great. Vote in this one too.
But it’s more than voting. We have to speak up. We have to be vocal, and we have to get angry. We have to engage each other in these discussions. In particular, we need to call the political parties—all of them—on their bullshit as soon as we see it. I’m talking about statements like, “We’re better than news, we’re truthful.” Little slips that let you know what the representatives of a party really think about the public.
Like it or not, this is our Canada. We only get the one, and unfortunately, no refunds or exchanges after 90 years. So if we aren’t happy with the direction it’s going in, we have to do something about it.
We need to do something. Because it’s Canada Day, and our Prime Minister wants us to celebrate. Except I don’t know how, because all the things worth celebrating about Canada seem to be the things Stephen Harper wants to take away.