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In Canadian Politics, Shadow Deals Aren't So Easy Anymore

06/19/2015 04:04 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
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Something's happening in the political world that smells intriguingly like reform, it's no longer content with just nibbling around the edges of democratic debate.

Those individuals and groups pressing for sweeping change in the political order are suddenly winning some significant battles that many thought were a foregone conclusion the other way. North and south of the 49th parallel, Canadians and Americans are behaving in a manner that not only provides the jitters to politicians, but opens the door for news ways of thinking that draw power closer to where citizens live and away from the plush hallways and chambers of the political elite.

Somehow President Obama, for all his political acumen, picked up on this new wave too late to save the initial round of his Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P). Even high profile leaders in his own party effectively took him to task for being willing to push through a deal, the details of which were hardly open or transparent. Remember his moving words in that rousing speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 in Boston?

"We have more work to do for the workers ... who are losing their union jobs and now they're having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour."

The language of corporate and the political elite never wavers: trade is good, free trade is even better, and in a globalized world we require such deals if we are to succeed. But who succeeds with such arrangements? We can't doubt that fabulous amounts of money are generated as access is gained to other markets, but for three decades now the suspicion has grown that the wealth never worked its way through the societies of Canada or the United States, but remained largely out of reach for the average citizen. We benefitted from such arrangements, it's true, but we also lost much in the process.

Economic traditionalists will argue otherwise, but what matters right now politically is that such trade arrangements, worked out in secret, away from the peering eyes of the citizenry or the media, are becoming increasingly toxic. Voters are turning away from what they regard as machinations of a political order that hasn't really connected with the average person for decades and effectively creates the conditions for someone like Elizabeth Warren to stand tall in the middle of such subterfuge, or for Senator Bernie Saunders to make a serious run for the American presidency.

In Canada, this somewhat subtle democratic uprising has befuddled the efforts of the iconic Tim Hortons chain, as it first posted ads supporting the Enbridge pipeline in its locations and then had to take them down due to the hue and cry of citizens. The coffee chain complied, only to be hit with another boycott from oil industry and tar sands supporters for doing so.

Things are becoming unpredictable and the electorate is stirring just in time for major national elections north and south of the border. Something is in the wind that just might have more sustainability than we have seen in years. There is no particular brand to it, nor one particular voice or cause, but politicians are sensing the insecurity.

"Canada used to be pretty to easy to manage," said a former Conservative MP to me recently, "but I just don't know what's going on with people these days. It makes the outcome of the next election more uncertain." Perhaps that is because people are tired of being "managed," as they watch the wealth Canada is generating moving ever upward and overseas as Canadians struggle for jobs and opportunity. The truth is that Canada was never easy to govern, but it has now become unpredictable.

When Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, announced this week that his party was intent on doing away with the present first-past-the-post form of elections in Canada, the commitment came across to most as a sincere attempt to tackle the inequities of the present political system. Such initiatives wouldn't take place unless something was seriously wrong, not just with the electoral process, but with governing and politics in general.

This is the world we live in at present, a world where politicians continue to work on big financial deals yet fail to acknowledge the dislocation and damage that will likely occur among the citizenry as a result. People are just tired of being at the wrong end of an equation that rewards established wealth while hollowing out the opportunities for the average citizen. It's not so easy to govern anymore behind the veil of complexity and secrecy, and that's just as it should be in a democracy.

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