11 October 2015

I have voted. Have you?

This is a long post, and that was an understatement. Apparently even after two months of election ranting (and another week to come) I still have more to say. Do bear with me…

When this election campaign started in all its infamy — longest campaign ever in Canada and all that — I was pretty sure that I would vote NDP. Along the way, there have been various twists and turns, dérapages and scandals, a bunch of “withdrawn” candidacies from all parties due to current or past statements of their now former candidates, and I have done a lot of reflecting on how I would vote, beyond that first impression. Care to join me on my reflection tour? (I promise to tell you at the end who I decided to vote for.)

It will not come as a surprise to you, especially if you have explored elsewhere on my blog lately, that I never had any intention of voting for the Conservative Party. In fact, I have given myself the task of enumerating one thing they have done wrong since taking power for every day of this overly long campaign. It was frighteningly easy to come up with 78 Tory Wrongs, as I like to call them, and there are others that surged forward in the course of this campaign that I didn’t have time to cover or that I wrote about in posts outside the list. The summary of the 78 Tory Wrongs, complete with links to each article, can be found here. The disgusting diversionary “debate” on the niqab I wrote about separately and in French here.

So, Mr. Daniel Gaudreau, for whom I have seen a grand total of ONE poster out there on the street, don’t wait up for my support. Oh, and it’s interesting that you didn’t bother to put up any posters of your leader…scared of the inevitable defacing?

At a certain point in the campaign, the media started buzzing about how Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were outflanking the NDP to its left. What? The party that voted for Bill C-51, the sacrifice of our individual rights in the name of fighting the illusory terrorist threat on our soil, and holds some other distinctly centre-right views (like the privatization of public services, namely in the form of public-private partnerships of major infrastructure projects, as outlined here).

The supposed outflanking took place on the issue of incurring or not a deficit to invest in infrastructure projects. I’m not sure that I have seen anything else that might have been characterized as “left-wing”, so that’s a whole lot of “credibility” to be hanging on a single issue. During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau has sought to exploit this perception by painting the NDP “obsession” with balancing the budget (I’ll get to this when I talk about them) as being a plan to cut social spending. I’ve never heard that from the NDP. It actually troubles me more that the Liberals seem to think balanced budget necessarily means cutting social spending, something they did with gusto in the 1990s. So when Mr. Trudeau promises that they will come back to balancing the budget by the end of their term in office, is he promising cuts to social services? Track record (of the party, for sure, not his personal one) says yes.

Another illustration of ideological bent can be found in the party’s approach to childcare. Mr. Trudeau thinks the NDP plan (which is largely based on a rather successful, if underfunded, approach in Québec) is unrealistic, and his critique of what the Conservatives have done revolves around their sending those cheques out to everyone. His solution is to means-test the sending of those cheques. Means-testing is a potentially humiliating approach to the delivery of assistance, compelling people to prove they are underprivileged in order to get help. Some people won’t do that (pride) and will not get the help they deserve to get. When a benefit such as this is distributed universally and taxed back through a truly progressive tax system, the wealthy don’t get to keep it, but no one has to beg for it.

I have some character and democracy concerns about Mr. Trudeau, too. When the Senate spending scandal was heating up, the Liberal Party took a funny turn with Mr. Trudeau announcing one morning that the Liberal Senators were no longer members of the Liberal Caucus. The Liberal Senators themselves seems to be rather taken by surprise by the announcement. Now, I’m no fan of the Senate, and certainly not of those who seem to be milking the system for a lot of money in reimbursed expenses, but in my mind, leadership is not about going into your own corner, making a decision and then imposing it on everyone else. I thought that was the thing we all detested the most about how the Conservative government seemed to be working over the years, although there are many rival characteristics in the contest for “thing we detested the most”.

And then along came the niqab “debate” during the campaign. Yes, I will acknowledge that Mr. Trudeau said some of the right things about issues of personal freedom and protecting minority rights, but you have to admit that he mostly kept his head down and let Mr. Mulcair take the heat for his stance on the issue. Standing by quietly mouthing an unpopular, but correct, opinion is also not leadership in my eyes. Also, what’s with suspending (actually removing) a candidate for saying something positive about marijuana when your platform says you want to legalize it? Nonsense!

I will confess that I have never once in my life voted Liberal, but there has been nothing in this campaign or in the recent positions they have taken that moves me to think that they alone can offer something that I can’t find elsewhere. In fact, when the Liberals and the NDP are referred to in a single breath as “the progressive parties”, I choke a bit. The Liberal Party might be very progressive on a number of issues, and especially in comparison to the Conservative Party, but on the whole, they are as aligned with Canada’s business elites as the outgoing government, and that is not good news for the poor and the working class.

Ms. Christine Poirier, with your fresh new baby and your goth-vampire posters (but they do look lush), you, too, can catch up on your sleep in relation to my vote. I can’t imagine how difficult it has been for you to campaign with a newborn, so I’m sure that the sleep will come in handy.

The Green Partyparty of two at the door to the House of Commons cafeteria — has done some surprising things over the last years. I have some lingering doubts about Elizabeth May that stem from a position she has taken in the past about a woman’s right to choose an abortion, but I have a number of friends who insist I have that wrong, that it is some kind of misunderstanding. I would need a very clear statement on that from her. I will recognize that she seems to have had a positive impact in her time as an MP — she has been lauded by others there on both sides of the house — and she seems to have reasonable positions in the debates from which she has not been excluded. A shout out to her creativity, too, for live-tweeting her participation when she wasn’t invited into the room. Of all the party leaders, Ms. May’s French needs a lot of work if ever the party is to attract my support. She has made an effort and she needs to keep that up.

And here’s where I do that thing I least like about our electoral system: look at her party’s chances of winning in my riding, which are approximately zero (and that's rounding up). I have been proud in the last few elections when the Green Party has placed fourth here, ahead of the fifth place Conservatives, but they may be slipping to fifth this time around. Not a place to park my vote at this time. If we manage to change our electoral system to include at least an element of proportional representation, I will definitely take a more serious look at the Green Party. I should be able to say WHEN we change our electoral system, as all parties save one seem to have included that in their platforms, but after the election, parties that have benefitted from “disproportional” representation seem to develop amnesia or sudden concerns with the workability of such a system. (I’ll be watching that issue over the next four years).

Again here, I am sorry to disappoint Mr. Cyrille Giraud with the news I did not vote for him. He made a valiant effort at expanding the rainbow beyond just green, especially on the posters he put up in our gay village, but I left no colour at all in the space next to his name. Sleep soundly.

It might surprise you to know that this anglophone has been in the habit of voting for the Bloc Québécois, since the 1993 general election and even including the 2011 general election. In a bye-election in 1990, I actually worked for the NDP candidate while Gilles Duceppe was elected for the first time under an unofficial Bloc banner (the newly formed parliamentary party had not yet been recognized). Even while working for his opponent, I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Duceppe, who, in the atmosphere of the death of the Meech Lake Accord, could have stood wrapped in the Québec flag and said nothing else, but instead spoke out about poverty and housing issues, among many other things.

I was proud, too, when he became the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he did a good job of criticizing the then Liberal government from the left, making it move a bit left to compensate. He also travelled across the country to better understand what people in other provinces wanted and needed, without having any electoral interests to defend in those places. I gave him a last vote in 2011, despite the looming orange wave, because I felt like I owed him that gesture of respect for all that he had done.

A few things have changed since then. He came out against the student strikes in 2012 — the massive and admirable mobilization of students to reject the increase of tuition fees. Despite everything their opponents have said at the time and since, the demonstrations were huge, peaceful and creative and really made me proud. Like any social upheaval, there will always be a few people on the margins, or on the front lines of the opposition, who will commit or provoke a few acts of violence, but for me that spring — le Printemps Érable — was a magical and inspiring time. I have never been so proud of our youth. To denounce them, to ask them to return to class and accept the shift of costs that was being imposed by the government, was not worthy of the man I had so respected.

Then came this election. A party that vaunts its democratic values does not live up to those when its leadership can change overnight without so much as a vote. I, like many others in our riding, opined that this election was about something else, about ridding us of a regressive government, and not about the issues dearest to the heart of the Bloc Québécois. And then came the niqab “debate” and I started to understand that my own mean reinterpretation of the Bloc slogan “On a tout à gagner” We have everything to gain (my version “On n’a plus rien à perdre” We have nothing left to lose) was not, in fact, correct. They had dignity, respect and civility to lose and in my eyes, it is gone. It might seem odd, for me, an affirmed atheist who also considers himself a feminist, to defend the right of someone to wear what is broadly seen as a garment that symbolizes the oppression of women in a certain religious or cultural tradition. But unpopular beliefs and despised minorities are exactly what things like the Charter of Rights are supposed to protect, and attacking, demonizing and excluding the supposed victims of oppression in the name of “liberating” them will never be a helpful strategy.

This time, I hope that Mr. Duceppe, who is the candidate in my riding, does lose a little sleep over the loss of my support. I’m disappointed by the turn in the election and what that says about my fellow citizens (that extends beyond Québec to the rest of the country, too). The Tory dividing tactic taken up with such zeal by the Bloc nauseates me.

If you have made it this far, you might conclude that I chose to vote NDP, and you wouldn’t be wrong. At the beginning of the campaign I thought I might be able to vote without holding my nose, but even their campaign has left me wanting something more.

First off, the apparent obsession with a balanced budget. I understand how the NDP gets pushed into that kind of fixation with proving its fiscal responsibility by the strangely undocumented reputation of left wingers to run up debts. All of the historical analyses of the US and Canada that I have seen show the most right wing governments running up the largest debts, usually by depriving the government of revenues and cutting programs, except for military spending, while the more centre or left wing governments tend to maintain the revenue streams and the programs without going on any war equipment spending binges. At the same time, Mr. Trudeau is not wrong about this being a good time to borrow at low interest rates, and a particularly appropriate time to give the economy a kick start with some badly-needed spending on our crumbling infrastructure. Still, I understand how the NDP cannot allow itself to take such a position, as its opponents and the media would jump all over the “free-spending lefties”.

Another thing that truly rubs me wrong is the removal of a few candidates because of their past statements in favour of the Palestinian people. No one advocated violence, just peaceful resistance and adherence to international law, denouncing the plainly illegal things the Israeli state has done — and continues to do — in its occupation of Palestinian lands, things that make the lives of ordinary Palestinians more difficult and more dangerous. There’s no excuse for this kind of cleaning out of that point of view from the party, and I’m pretty sure the party platform on international issues is more supportive of the Palestinian cause than that.

I have also not been thrilled with the whole issue of the managing of expenses and the censure of the party by a House of Commons oversight committee. While I recognize that that censure was the product of political manoeuverings by the Tories and the Liberals, the whole issue of the satellite offices and their being paid for from public funds, yet mixed with partisan staff as well…this just doesn’t sit well with me. Whatever was done may well have respected the rules, but I don’t feel comfortable with dancing at the edge of legal, especially when one of the big political issues of our time is how we have lurched from the Liberal sponsorship scandal to the Tory bending or breaking of the election rules by various means to the Senate expense scandal that involved entitled Senators from both of those parties. I don’t want even a faint whiff of questionability around a party I would support.

What brings me back, despite the shift rightward toward the centre of the Canadian political spectrum, is the question of core values. On two issues during this campaign, we have seen Mr. Mulcair take principled positions that would not be popular, and he did this because they were right: the issue of the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration and, of course, the niqab.

The Sherbrooke Declaration was a resolution of the NDP to recognize that, in the case of a hypothetical future referendum on Québec sovereignty, a result of 50% plus one is sufficient for a victory. This, of course, in relation to the so-called Clarity Act, adopted after a near miss in the 1995 referendum, which sought to put the goal further out of reach without actually being clear about the acceptable level of a vote that would be required. Despite all the pandering by the other parties (except the Bloc, of course) to the ROC (Rest of Canada), there is an acceptable international standard for this kind of referendum, and we have just seen it play out in Scotland. The rule, accepted by all parties to that vote, was 50% plus one. You might want to be worried about the legitimacy of your united country if the only way to maintain it is to say that more than the international standard of democratic victory has to be attained to go another way.

On the niqab issue, Mr. Mulcair, in my eyes, did extremely well, and the reaction of a population of which I am not particularly proud may well cost him the election. To his credit, he has not backed down from the principled position he took, has not fallen silent, has not backed away or tried to temper it. Setting aside the fact that the court decisions to date have been about the Harper government trying to adopt regulations that exceed their powers under the current law and regulations (and they had plenty of time to do this the right way, but failed to), Mr. Mulcair defended the role of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is (in my words, not his) to protect the most despised minority from the arbitrary will of the majority, even at the height of its unpopularity. However one feels about the niqab (I am no more comfortable than anyone else with the idea that a woman should hide herself for either “modesty” or protection from uncontrolled men), I have to say that banning it and requiring it are two sides of the same coin of telling women what to wear. And if anyone thinks that the women who wear this garment are oppressed, but their answer is to vilify, demonize and exclude them, I’d have to ask if they are not now being oppressed from all sides, and wonder how that might help them. Mulcair gave a calm and rational speech about this the day before the first French debate and I have to say he regained my respect at that moment.

Regained, you ask? I have run hot and cold on Mr. Mulcair for a long time. He was, after all, a Liberal cabinet minister in the Québec government of Jean Charest, a former Tory. That’s not the best start for a politician in my eyes. In the last four years, he has shown himself to be quite effective as the Leader of the Opposition, in the face of a government which seems to know no bounds in its efforts to lie and cheat, suppress information and attack its opponents. A principled but unpopular position on a hot issue in the middle of a campaign is something I can respect. Did I make a decision on where to put my vote based on the leader alone? No. I also trust the party and the caucus to resist any centralizing tendencies, should they emerge. I trust this team to have principles and to live by them. They are not perfect, but in my eyes they are the most trustworthy. And lest I be misunderstood, I know that there are people of principle in all of the parties (but don’t ask me to name one in the outgoing government…partisan shot). As a whole, however, I trust the tendencies of the NDP more than I trust the rest.

Ms. Hélène Laverdière, I would say rest easy, you have my vote, but I want you to fight tooth and nail for another week to make sure you return as my MP.

So yes, I voted. And I voted NDP. Did you vote?

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