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)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Canada's election: child refugees, civil war and our middle-class crisis

Canadian politicians do not shape our emotional responses to news from the real world. They cater—dignifying our anger and promising to do something when something terribly bad happens.

However, following us isn’t always easy. And the news this summer must be creating headaches in the brain-banks of our national parties.

Pre-tax wages and permanent full-time jobs in Canada have not been growing the way they were a generation ago; and they aren’t catching up with the top 1%. Consequently, it’s been driven into our heads that this election will be dominated by their material grievances and concerns.

All three campaigns have been offering basically the same time-tested response: help for the struggling suburban "middle class." It doesn’t have intense emotional appeal, but it can work, when it feels kind of reasonable: in effect, it is a concern that should be preoccupying the waking hours of our next Prime Minister.  

However, families today are not gathered around their mythic kitchen table working on their budgets or arguing about what should be done for them with next year’s looming fiscal surplus.

The dreadful news from the Middle East and Europe will make it awkward for the national campaigns to merely double-down on earlier themes about that tiring habit of climbing escalators the wrong way or the unjust pace of income growth among those who aren’t yet rich.

To my mind, the words "middle" and "class" are bland, static, and impersonal. Today, the abstract term "middle class" also feels rather classless against real news about refugee classes, dead children, sex slaves, and medieval executions.

So far, one candidate at least has altered his language, if not his driving message. Thomas Mulcair closes his latest get-to-know-me television commercial by promising simply to “help families get ahead.”


  1. You are right Les. These days, "middle-class" has a rather quaint 1950s white-picket-fence ring to it, at best. Promising to "help families get ahead" is going to make a lot more sense to the army of double-income parents racing back and forth between home, the workplace and kid appointments each day.