12/27/2012 08:15 EST | Updated 02/26/2013 05:12 EST

2012: Canadian Politics Was a Game of Tomato, Tomahto


You wouldn't know that the next federal election in this country is still nearly three years down the road by the way Canadians have made 2012 the year of the self-reassuring partisan clique.

"I'm a Conservative... a Liberal... a New Democrat... a Green." From the way we threw around such narrow-minded signifiers this year when describing which political party best embodied our ideals, you would think there might be some substantial distinctions between the various party's platforms.

Regrettably, 2012 has shown us that there aren't anymore. Due to an unfounded speculation that garnering votes means emulating the party in power -- which took under 40 per cent of the vote in 2011, these days partisan politics in Canada seems to be nothing but a general convergence alongside the Conservatives at the centre-right.

Think about it. Liberal leadership candidates have been preaching more and more conservatively this year, at times advocating for policies that the party once spoke out brazenly against. Frontrunner Justin Trudeau recently scrutinized his own party's now-defunct long-gun registry, asserting that guns are part of Canada's identity. He even went as far as to lament Harper for not permitting more foreign investment in Canada's oil sands, a direct contradiction to his father's infamous manifesto of economic nationalism.

What's more, fellow Liberal leadership hopefuls Marc Garneau and Martha Hall Findlay have begun to blast government interference in the technology and dairy industries, proposing instead what they called "smart government" (a favourite buzzword of the Tories), while Findlay continued to relentlessly lobby for increased investment in Alberta's oil sands and the proposed northern pipelines between Alberta and BC.

In the case of Canada's once proudly left-learning party in 2012, any vestiges of the NDP's eroding social-democratic values have all but vanished. By advocating that the party needed to adjust with the times, newly-elected leader Thomas Mulcair succumbed to the indicative "Blairite temptation" -- the impulse to garner votes by shifting sharply to the centre as Britain's Labour party did under former leader Tony Blair.

Of course, this year's shift in NDP policy could be attributed in part to Mulcair's politically muddled Liberal sensibilities, a remnant from his days as a Liberal Cabinet Minister for Charest's Quebec government. Nevertheless, through his visionless pursuit of power this year Mulcair has rendered the New Democrats doctrinally invisible to long-time supporters by making it impossible to differentiate the NDP from the Harper Conservatives.

Even the Green Party, which began as a home for the politically disgruntled and the environmentally concerned, has has embraced a more pro-business agenda that is utterly fiscally conservative in addition to its ecological foundation.

Now, thanks in large part to this swing from eco-centrism, natural constituents of the Conservative Party would feel almost as comfortable amongst the Green Party ranks. An unsurprising shift considering party leader Elizabeth May, who Maclean's named 2012 Parliamentarian of the Year, served as a policy advisor to the federal Minister of Environment between 1986 and 1988 when Mulroney's Conservative government was in power.

Thus while on paper Canadian voters had four different options in 2012, in reality nothing drastic will change regardless of which party wins the next election; social services will continue to deteriorate, corporate taxes decrease, and military spending increase. For the Liberal party has shifted right to meet the Tories, and the NDP has quickly followed suit. As for the Greens, they have become a fringe version of the Conservative party, with less of the experience, and even lesser of the seats.

Yet if all the party platforms this year have become so similar, why all this mindless bickering amongst them?

The answer is simple. The manifestation of variance amongst Canada's major political parties is a carefully constructed illusion sustained by what Sigmund Freud called "the narcissism of small differences."

The Tories, the Grits, the NDP, even the Greens, they are all guilty of making 2012 the year of the rhetorical language game, a game where each party magnified a superficial sense of uniqueness in order to mask Canada's underlying partisan ubiquitous-ness.

After all, it wouldn't make for a very interesting election if all the candidates conceded the fact that they offer little in the way of real alternatives to one another. Moreover, that if we continue on our present course, this country's political culture and economic development will change very little regardless of who ends up taking Parliament Hill. If they admitted to this, voter turnout in Canada would probably sit even lower than it already does.

For example, besides a few minor schoolyard squabbles when it comes to G.S.T., the once-great rivalry between the Grits and the Tories has all but evaporated over the past few years into an indivisible mess of centre-right policy consolidation. The war in Afghanistan, stimulus spending, gay marriage, abortion, healthcare, slashing social services, at one time or another both parties have maintained relatively similar platforms regarding these issues and many more.

In short, if voters sit down and scrutinize the political and economic policy proposals put forth by each party in 2012, it becomes apparent that it is nearly impossible to tell where one party stops and another begins.

So unless you sit slightly to the right -- in which case every party embodies your politics -- the next time a canvasser, pollster, government official, or public figure asks, "which political party do you support?" consider responding "none of them."

While such a non-partisan response may be met with charges of apathy and political lethargy from those who've drank too much of the Kool-Aid, what's really more apathetic?

Choosing for the sake of choosing while reifying a centric status quo? Or flexing your democratic agency by voicing to those who determine party policy that egalitarianism is supposed to be about distinctive parties embodying the diverse wants and needs of different levels of citizenry, not merely conforming to the ideals of those in presently in power?

For the sake of the more marginalized, a group of Canadians which continues to grow drastically in size and scale each year, let's hope the 60 per cent of us who didn't vote Conservative choose the latter in 2013. Furthermore let's hope that next year, the politicians who claim to represent our interests decide to listen.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article called Elizabeth May a "recent Tory convert." She was never a party member.

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