That’s the question that many Canadians- young, old, east, west- have been wrestling with since Monday’s federal election results declared a Conservative majority. Even with Quebec jumping ship from the Bloc to the NDP, major wins in Alberta, Ontario, and parts of the Maritimes assured the Harper Tories another four years in office.
For me, and for many of the people I know, the election felt about as good as a kick in the teeth. Here was a government that was held in contempt of Parliament three times in a single year, showed more interest in turning Canada into a prison and military state than supporting healthcare and the environment, carpet-bombed citizens with attack ads for months before an election was even called, slashed funding for women’s rights and health groups, scrapped the long-form census to take the critical teeth out of empirical research, stroked the egos of anti-gay hate coalitions, and more. The list goes on. And yet on Monday evening, the perpetually arrogant Stephen Harper was able to state how truly “humbled” he felt by the support he’d received from Canadians. Harper, a man not above ejecting undecided voters from rallys, refusing to answer reporters’ questions, or killing the access to information protocols that help journalists speak truth to power and hold our government to account, was humbled. Quaint.
There were small victories, though, that many have rightly pointed out as potential sites of resistance and change over the next four years. Elizabeth May became Canada’s first elected Green Party MP, more women were elected to parliament than in any previous election, voter turnout cracked 60% (a modest win, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers), and we ended up with a real, critical, social democratic opposition in the NDP.
But the question remains: what now? How do we leverage those victories- those hugely important feet-in-the-door- to make the next election the one that shows just how pissed off we truly are? How do we make it known that 9 million people voted against Harper, compared to only 6 million who voted for him?
In my pre-election post, I wrote that the Left has historically been skeptical of aggressive political maneuvering. Where the Karl Roves and Kory Teneyckes of the world never hesitate to attack, sling mud, and basically shout and shout and shout until we start giving them our attention, more progressive types tend to think of themselves as beyond the fray; operating at a higher level of political discourse. This is noble and important, and again, in no way do I think we should reduce politics to slick ads and out-of-context pull quotes. But as a friend told me last night, “the fuck-yous have to start flying.”
We’re so used to submerging our critiques in wit and narrative that they become, essentially, in-group communication initiatives. Margaret Atwood wrote a stunningly brilliant satirical column for the Globe and Mail just before the election, pleading with Canadians to vote anything but Conservative. It was beautiful and passionate and funny, but I wonder how much of an effect it really had, especially given the Globe’s (not surprising, but deeply gross) endorsement of Harper’s conservatives. While this kind of writing, of course, needs to continue (beauty in writing and art in general is one of our best defences against the input-output, cost-benefit logic of market fundamentalist parties; Lee Stringer says it preserves our right to not be so practical) we also need to make the links between social and fiscal conservatism known, and we need to do it loudly.
For most unengaged voters, the Conservatives are a relatively logical choice. They promise easy decision-making and more money in your pocket. Simple enough. Who doesn’t want a bit of extra spending money? This is the mentality we need to disrupt. Politics isn’t shopping. You don’t go to the voting booth looking for the best deal. For those who don’t follow federal politics, the connections between the “lower taxes” populist rhetoric pedaled by the Conservatives and their very real politices of secrecy, centralization of authority, denial of social rights, and big business back-patting, are obscure. All those tax cuts, all that extra change in your pocket, comes with regressive views on gay rights, women’s rights, social justice, environmental policy, militarism, and law enforcement. A vote for the Conservatives is a transaction: we sell the hope for equality in exchange for enough disposable income to buy more gas for our cars.
These are the links we need to draw. We need to be vocal and relentless and inexhaustible and loud. We need to make it clear that a Conservative majority is not okay. It is not the future of this country. It can’t be the future of this country. At least it’s not the future of my country. Write, shout, argue, don’t be afraid of defending your point of view. Organize, petition, campaign. Small, persistent acts of civil disobedience are hell for whiz-bang neoliberal majorities like the one that Harper now presides over. Make them take account of you. You are not a shopper. You are a voter and a citizen. Make it known.