Monday, May 9, 2011

"Bring back attention to individuals" (recipe for Liberal Party)?

By Andrew Steel, Globe and Mail, May 5, 2011
Liberals must abandon the fantasies of denial that have been our curse, really since 1984. The proud reality is that we are the party of minorities, be they religious, linguistic, cultural, gender or economic.

We held the West when they hated those Toronto bankers, until they got rich and became bankers. We held Quebec until francophones stopped thinking of themselves as minorities in Canada, and started thinking of themselves as majorities in Quebec. We held rural and Northern Ontario until they began to see us as too elite and downtown. We held the cultural and ethnic minorities of the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal and Vancouver until we stopped defending them and the Charter.
Now we are left with a handful of seats held through incumbency and organization and tribal loyalty, but without a regional base that unites them. The best choice for Liberals is to return to our core principal to protect the sanctity of the individual to be themselves.
In the past, we protected vulnerable people from government excess with the Charter and eliminating the deficit, and protected vulnerable people from economic catastrophe with pensions and medicare. We legalized same-sex marriage and produced a Canadian flag and introduced multiculturalism, acts that infuriated many people at the time, but made Canada a country where you can be proud and free to be yourself, as a minority or not. But mythologizing our past has made us forget the values that underlay it.
Being a Liberal is hard. We speak for the rights of minorities. Sometimes minorities are unpopular. But all of us are minorities, in some way. That makes our party the biggest tent possible.
The future of the Liberal Party comes from these values, this timeless defence of a person’s right to be themselves. That is our foundation and the beginning of our path forward.
Entitled, "The Culture of Defeat," Steele's piece is an inspiring call for a re-visiting and a re-implementation of the Liberal (liberal) value of paying attention to the individual without getting lost in the mythology of the past.
However, there is a thoroughness, and an intimacy and an authenticity to the pursusit of the opportunity of the individual that seems to have vanished from the social, political landscape today.
With the digital information technology, and the superficiality of human "faux-relationships" dedicated, for the most part, to climbing the ladder, and "what can you do for me next" the question poses itself: "How many people can even hear the argument for individual opportunity and individual responsibility?"
Michael Ignatieff attempted to articulate the idea, without really catching on. One could argue that the fault lies with the messenger, not with the message. But wait. Is the message really "relevant" when there seems to be a deliberate attempt to wage a "class war" by the Conservatives (obviously favouring the economic elite) and the NDP (obviously favouring the 'little guy'). How is the individual going to find his/her voice, opportunity, or even life mission, when work is disappearing for the bulk of the middle class, and when even a university education is no longer enough to qualify for the jobs that are available and when most attempts to give workers a voice in the economy run afoul of the "right wing" of all political groups and parties.
Clearly, work is not the definition or purpose of life. However, putting food on the table and paying the bills seems to require more and more of our attention, time and physical effort, especially in a climate where workers are valued about as much as yesterday's raw materials become today's sludge heap after the extraction of the most treasured part for "the purposes of making a profit" in the business.
Worker's rights, like environmental protection, do not interest corporate leaders. Both would increase the cost of doing business, and both the government and the culture worship at the altar of reducing the cost of doing business, at the expense of both workers and the environment.
Individuals are mothers, fathers, workers, coaches, tax-payers, volunteers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and citizens....and there is a case to be made that political parties that pay attention to the needs of individuals will be swept away by those paying attention to the interests of "groups...especially "interest groups" that can afford to pay lobbyists to argue their case before specific cabinet ministers, and even before the PM.
With the Harper government commitment to remove all  state funding from political parties, he will with one stroke of the pen and one vote in both the Commons and the Senate, place his own party at the front of the line for fundraising given the growing intimacy between the largest bank accounts, corporate investments and holdings, and his own party.
The Liberals, in attempting to sell "the rights of the individual" will be met with "we did that with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms" as if that political fight is over, done, finished and needs no more attention or dollars.
School drop outs, while they are individuals, are not going to have any political resonance individually, because the specific cause of the specific drop-out is considered unique, and while those dedicated to lowering those numbers can detect nuances and clusters in the reasons, at the political level, the issue has no sex appeal.
Neither does the plight of single mothers.
Nor does the plight of First Nations peoples living on reservations without adequate clean water supplies, and without adequate health care, or adequate housing. Of course, they are individuals, but their cause lacks political sex appeal.
Workers who die or suffer injury on the job, are also individuals, whose pain and whose families' pain does not have any political clout, because to bring such an issue to the front pages would require a change of attitude in the corporate board rooms where profits continue to flow, without paying attention to such annoying issues. And governments, consequently, do not have to pay attention to them either, or do so at the risk of being considered "marginal" because such issues are not at the heart of the national debate.
Foreign policy, that greatest of all abstractions, in the Canadian government's file cabinet, concerns how Canada acts, reacts and inter-acts with the rest of the world. And while those positions are formulated in some deep dark recesses of the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa, they do affect individual lives, both here and abroad. However, covering our international relations with the misguided purchase of F-35 Fighter Jets is not going to eliminate our national indifference to the nuances of foreign policy, foreign policy debate and diplomatic discussions.
Health care affects every individual living here. And yet, it is the policy wonks and the economists who will make the decisions about how much money will be directed to the negotiations moving forward toward 2014, when the agreement with the provinces has to be renegotiated. And their individual concern for the individual at the end of the system, the user, will be very small compared with their attention paid to government deficits, and government debt, and balance of payments. And the politicians will merely echo the selected policy wonks and the selected economic theorists who "fit" their picture of the kind of health care they would like to see for the nation. And where will the individual be in that debate, if there even is one.
And let's not turn a blind eye to the media, and their contribution to the political life of the nation. This most recent election demonstrates the thin veneer of coverage that policy details generate, compared to the "horse race" of the polls that anticipate the victor and the loser. If the individual party leader's ability to "connect" with voters, according to the media, trumps the intellectual depth and nuance, along with his capacity to lead, (as different from completely controlling a Cabinet) then we are subject to a continuing reduction of our political life to the lowest common denominator.
And, while that too has an individual component, it will never see the light of day, except perhaps in a courtroom, with bags of cash to fund the petition, under laws written and promulgated by those whose interests is primarly, if not exclusively, selfish.
Everyone of us is more vulnerable today then we were even a decade ago, and vulnerable to forces that we perceive governments have less and less capacity to influence. Consequently, we live in a state of anxiety and uncertainty about those things like jobs that we took for granted for decades, provided we performed at or near capacity. And yet, our interests as individuals, have never mattered less to our governments.
And bringing back a real authentic interest in the issues facing real Canadians that can and does find adequate and articulate expression in our national political debates seems like a far-off dream, in a far-away land of never-never.

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