Monday, July 26, 2010

Michael Ignatieff and the Man from Shawinigan

I have to be honest, I never voted for Jean Chretien or Paul Martin. I guess as a long time PC supporter, I still held onto the old prejudices, somehow believing that they were the enemy.

But since then I have come to respect Mr. Chretien as a statesman, and recognize his contribution to our country.

I've also realized that things are not always as they seem, and as Joe Clark once said about Stephen Harper, and the PC's fall from grace; that for those who didn't want to stick it out and rebuild the party, the "alternative was frightening".

And we are now learning just how "frightening" the alternative really is.

I called my blog Pushed to the Left and Loving it, because when I felt that there was no longer a party in the centre, only an extreme right-wing neoconservative option, and I lost my home; I discovered that the other side of the fence wasn't so bad after all.

For decades the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives battled for that coveted centre position because that's where most Canadians hang out. But once elected they worked toward consensus building.

But neoconservatism is the exact opposite. They don't want to build a consensus, they just want everyone to get out of their way.

Stephen Harper's former campaign manager, Tom Flanagan, once suggested that their biggest challenge was convincing Canadians that they were moving to the centre, when they were not. Harper even managed to fool us for awhile, but his latest actions in regards to the G-20, the 16 billion dollar military jet contract, closing the prison farms, Fox News North, the census debacle and his "white's only" hiring options, have blown his cover.

He's still the same right-wing extremist that defined him in his Reform Party days.

So despite all the rumours, Michael Ignatieff's visit with Mr. Chretien was a hit. I knew it would be. Both man are intelligent and genuinely care about this country.

My journey to the place where I now promote Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party, was not an easy one. I inherited the gift (curse?) of skepticism from my dad, who always reminded me to question everything, to arrive at my own truth.

The best example of this was in high school, when we were given an assignment to write a political essay, choosing from democracy, monarchy, communism, etc.

I chose communism because I thought it would be easy, given the headlines in the middle of a the Cold War. But when I completed my first draft, my dad handed it back and said that it was not an essay based on anything other than rhetoric, and to be fair I had to at least learn what communism really was. (he was certainly not a sympathiser, but a life long Liberal)

So every day I headed to the library and asked for the Communist Manifesto. It was not allowed to be out on the shelves at the time, and I felt like an adolescent boy asking the druggist for condoms.

But I worked my way through it, and while I decided that I preferred democracy, I reached that decision based on fact. My paper was more balanced, showing the pros and cons, rather than just falling back on the popular opinion of the day, that everything was a "commie plot".

Michael Ignatieff is no communist either, but also drew his own conclusions about political and social structure.

From his Massey lecture series ( The Rights Revolution, 2000, Anansi, Pg. 19-20):
"... some civil inequalities between men and women, between gays and straights, between Quebecois and English Canadians, have been addressed by rights talk. But what about inequalities between rich and poor? One of the strange features of rights talk has been that it makes visible some inequalities — sexual and linguistic inequalities, for example — while obscuring others — such as those based on class and income. I'm no Marxist, but I am astonished that social and economic inequality, the focus of so much socialist passion when I was a student, has simply disappeared from the political agenda in Canada and most other capitalist societies.

This disappearance has something to do with rights talk. It can capture civil and political inequalities, but it can't capture more basic economic inequalities, such as the ways in which the economy rewards owners and investors at the expense of workers. The economic system may not infringe anybody's individual rights, but the whole machine ends up reproducing enduring types of social inequality. Rights talk not only fails to capture this kind of inequality, but also diverts the attention of the political system from it"

So in the past thirty years, we've talked about women, aboriginals, gays, and lesbians. But what about the workers? What about the way their union rights have been eroded? What about the economic insecurity of our poorest fellow citizens? Why can't our politics address this? It can't be because everyone has shared the fruits of our recent economic boom. It can't be because the poor don't exist. It must be because they have become invisible.

He wrote that in 2000, without a political agenda, and it was after reading the Rights Revolution that I realized that we share common ground. I'm no Marxist either, but I know that our current system isn't working and neoconservatism is only making it worse.

The gap between rich and poor is growing and unfortunately our most vulnerable citizens are still "invisible".

I am not anti-corporation and recognize that we need a healthy business structure if there is any hope for success. But I don't believe they should be pandered to in the way that this government is pandering to them. Massive corporate tax cuts, while they are telling the rest of us that we have to suck up the recession, caused by the greed of the corporate sector in the first place.

The rights of the workers must be considered. A neocon vision is low wages and a free market. But what they fail to consider is that the reason businesses are doing well is because of good union jobs, that create buying power. If everyone is making minimum wage, who will be left to purchase anything other than essentials?

We need someone with a vision that encompasses all citizens, and I really believe that Michael Ignatieff is that person. And I also believe that he has the best team, that he will not silence and keep chained.

And I know in my heart that my skeptical dad would have voted for him, and that's good enough for me.

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