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It Will Take More Than One Election to Fix Canadian Politics

10/14/2015 05:54 EDT | Updated 10/14/2016 05:12 EDT
Steve Russell via Getty Images
OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 10:The Centennial Flame, lit in 1967 by Lester B. Pearson burns on Parliament Hill. Preparations are under way War Memorial on the eve of Remembrance Day. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Yeah, well.

As a couple of friends have pointed out, some of my recent blather about voting may seem inconsistent with my "brand." You know, civic engagement, the responsibilities of citizenship, the obligations we have to society and to each other ... yawn.

Can't be too surprised that that's not a huge part of the conversation these days. There's a lot invested in making sure it isn't, and that shouldn't be much of a surprise either. The more wound up and angry and yell-y and distracted people are, the less energy and attention they have to focus on the underlying stuff. Fill the window with dead cats wearing niqabs and all that.

But once again, maybe we step back and view this within a longer historical context. Let's reframe this over the course of the last 20 or 30 years. What's been happening?

The gutting of the public sphere.

The devaluation of civil society.

The emasculation of public institutions.

The dismantling of the social safety net.

Austerity, privatization, deregulation, outsourcing -- yada, yada, yada -- all served up with noxious sides of deficit hysteria and tax cuts, not to mention the attendant knee-capping of government's ability to act.

All predating Stephen Harper, nasty though he is. Again, think back a few decades. Brian Mulroney. Jean Chretien. Paul Martin. Running through it all, like a river of toxic slime: the successive implementation of the same agenda. "Free trade" regimes that concentrate more and more wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands and leave us with less security, less control over our own country and less ... well, pretty much everything.

Nods to the knuckle-draggers aside, Harper's just peddling more of the same. Seriously, can anyone point to a substantive change in the country's direction over the past few decades?

All of this has been encouraged and paid for, of course, by the CEOs, the international investor class, their flunkies and their cheerleaders in the corporate media, along with the Serious and Responsible People™ who guard the parameters of conversation and gaslight everyone else into thinking that whatever's left of the "middle class" shares the same values and interests as the business elites.

And always with the same themes: need to compete and obey the diktats of the market. Trade barriers need to come down. Labour flexibility. Capital mobility. Safeguard the rights of investors lest they take their money elsewhere. Anything that interferes with the accumulation of private profit becomes a target.

And what's the effect? Well, what happens to anything that's consistently attacked, demeaned, belittled, stripped of resources, and corroded? Gradually but steadily, the fabric of society wears away because the things that hold us together and allow us to act with common purpose are systematically undermined.

We are isolated, exhausted, and/or distracted in the face of economic precariousness. What's the point of acting collectively? What happens to our expectations of ourselves, our society and each other? What can we accomplish in the face of impersonal global forces which, we're told over and over, are inevitable, immutable and irresistible?

Is it any wonder that the notion of citizenship starts to mean less and less? Is it a coincidence that the avenues for meaningful engagement are closed off while we're distracted with the latest shiny-shiny?

I'm not necessarily suggesting there are no differences among Harper and the opposition leaders in terms of policy or commitment to democratic ideals. But I do fear that the sustained assault on the things that hold us together has gone on for so long, and that the damage to our body politic has been so profound, that it may be too late to restore it.

This has been going on for decades. Does anyone really think a mere change of government is going to fix it?

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