Saturday, March 21, 2015
The Three Eras of Canada's Democracy or How We Got to Where We Are Today.
I first voted in the 1968 elections when Pierre Trudeau and Trudeaumania led the liberals to a massive majority and I've watched Canadian democracy evolve, not always in a good way, ever since.
I've witnessed three political eras in my lifetime.
There was an Era of Rights and Freedoms, the years of Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau. Some might not realize it but Diefenbaker was a true champion of human rights. Pearson brought Canada to the world stage as honest broker and peacekeeper. Trudeau, of course, patriated the constitution and left us with perhaps the most important legislative enactment in our country's history, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That was the zenith of liberal democracy in Canada. It truly was our Golden Age.
Although few of us grasped it at the time, Mulroney ushered in the Era of Neoliberalism in the guise of free trade and the incremental surrender of national sovereignty to the forces of market fundamentalism. The era of neoliberalism represented the years of Mulroney, Chretien and Martin. Neoliberalism became our orthodoxy until it was even embraced by the New Democrats.
The third era is upon us. It is the Era of Illiberal Democracy marked by the rise of the authoritarian state and the ascendancy of the state over the individual. This is Canada under Stephen Harper.
I don't single out Canada for criticism. Illiberal democracy is spreading fast throughout the world. We are just following suit. It's marked by a general shift to the Right, a skewing of the democratic restraints on government, and the emergence of new power structures.
Ignatieff recast the Liberals as Conservative Lite with his endorsement of a "muscular foreign policy", petro-statehood, and his unbalanced support for Israel. Layton and Mulcair likewise embraced neoliberalism as they abandoned the Left and Blairified the NDP.
Harper has left no shred of doubt that he holds liberal democracy and especially the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in contempt. He has sought to flout the Charter over and again, only to run afoul of the constitutional guardians, the Supreme Court. They alone, not our opposition leaders, have ensured we have something left to fight for.
Illiberal democracy is evident in the workings of the authoritarian state. It is manifest in voter manipulation and fraudulent elections. It is the vehicle for rising inequality. It is masked in secrecy and deceit. It is the modern surveillance state. It is the advancement of corporate interests (i.e. pipelines) over the public interest (i.e. action to thwart global warming). We're even seeing the early onset symptoms of a permanent warfare state, outsourcing much of our foreign and military policy to another nation.
This is where we are today, the era of illiberal democracy. Left unchecked it will worsen and our democracy will continue to be degraded. We only have to look at America's "bought and paid for" Congress and its corporatist Supreme Court.
How to get back to real democracy is the puzzle. It certainly cannot be achieved with Liberals as Conservatives and New Democrats as Liberals. We cannot even the political keel under that reality and the country can only continue to list to the Right.
I fear the only antidote is progressivism, genuine bare-knuckle progressivism. Liberals need to restore their near-dead progressive wing. New Democrats have to curb their centrism and return to their indispensable role of anchoring the Left and becoming the conscience of Parliament. Who even speaks for labour any more? Mulcair? Spare me.
If we don't realize where we came from, everything great that we had accomplished, where we are today and just how we got here, we become party to ensuring the perpetuation and expansion of illiberal democracy in Canada. We have a choice but we take it for granted at our and our children's peril. Our freedom hangs in the balance.