Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Canada’s loyal progressives

The iconoclasts in our public parks will not win Time Magazine’s award as news-maker of the year. Their ambitions are not as dangerous or as audacious as those building pro-democracy movements in Middle East autocracies. Further, it is not clear whether they wish to reform or undo the existing order, whether they will propel our politics forward—or back. 
Nevertheless, progressive, anti-establishment voices in Canada and the United States are getting greater attention. So far, in Canada, however, a sad pattern of mimicry and separation is repeating itself.
Young Canadian progressives haven’t missed a beat: their distress with the existing political and economic order matches American sentiments, sound bite for sound bite. They too have been taught recently to fear for their economic security and the survival of the planet.
It was a dare by the Vancouver magazine Adbusters that launched the OWS movement. (You’d probably have to live in mellow Vancouver, if not California, to imagine telling people in New York, Chicago, and Toronto to occupy park spaces from late September on through to “victory.” Napoleon certainly didn’t wait until the end of the summer of 1812 to get started for Moscow.)
The latest American symbols of discontent have infiltrated Canada’s political culture. “Vote mobs” are organized to excite university students to vote. The Liberal Party—the party of competence—now wants to be called a “movement” and may adopt the US primary system to pick a leader, bottom up. The New Democrats and everyone but CEOs and Stephen Harper now imagine Canadian society as 99% middle-class and 1% unconsciously rich.
The leadership that is striving to mobilize young activists, however, is often strikingly conventional. When the best of them reach 40, they’ll likely be wearing Order of Canada pins.
For example, read Gary Mason's report on the “whip smart” young drivers of the 60,000-member political action organization. Its co-founder, Jamie Biggar, has a perspective that is is inclusive and politely overwrought.
““I think there is a sense, particularly among young people, that a lot of the systems and institutions in our society are really broken,” Mr. Biggar told me. “And there is a deep desire, I think, to work not just on becoming more effective within the system we have today, but also starting to look at how we can make it better, how we can create a more equal society, how we can achieve deep sustainability.”
Mason reports that this movement has modeled itself on the 5-million-strong in the United States., however, is more straightforward. Since its birth in 1998, it has campaigned against a Republican president and for a Democrat, Barack Obama. It has worked the two-party system with a vengeance; it’s not waiting for electoral reform. It recruits volunteers and registers voters year-round. It’s out to influence the outcome of national elections; it wants more progressives in Washington, where progressive issues are best advanced.
Instead of rediscovering Washington, as Canadian progressives did in the 60s and in the election of 2008, doggedly focuses on Ottawa.
On every objective from greater social justice to environmental sustainability, health to education reform, and environmental sustainability, it looks to Canada’s federal Parliament. It seems to want to get back to updating Jean Chretien 1990’s Throne Speeches.
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They’re missing the mark. The two battlefields that should matter most for progressive Canadians are Canadian provinces and Washington. Ottawa is a cul-de-sac for great ideas. It’s a center of escapist politics, if not the capital of a conservative country. 

Progressives can make Canada a little more civilized. However, Canada’s Parliament can’t deliver any strategic gains for this continent—or for the globe. Big changes worthy of the rhetoric of the new radicals can, however, be secured through direct participation in American federal politics.
Will Canadian progressives ask again: can the Canadian Dream of the 19th century serve their dreams for the 21st?  

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