As the election nears and the Liberals look to be the only party that can take Harper's place, many leftists and progressives are now wondering if this effort to oust Harper at all costs was worth the effort. Seeing a return to the Party of Paul Martin's austerity seems a pale and disappointing replacement. And I share that sentiment. However, it seems to me that as progressives we need to be careful to remember what is at stake. When it looks like a chance that he could be gone, is easy to forget just how poison Stephen Harper as been for this country. As much as the Liberals have stood for economic inequality in the past, they have also represented important progressive efforts as well (and I say that as someone who is quite a bit left of the NDP). Much of what Harper has destroyed, the disappearance of which we sorely lament, have been things that the Liberal Party of Canada began and supported for a long time. Though Trudeau made a big mistake supporting Bill C-51, let's remember that they are the Party that brought us the Charter and they have defended it many times while Harper has done everything possible to undermine it. Let's not forget that though Mulroney created the Court Challenges program, he later tried to kill it and the Liberals under Chretien saved it, only to see Harper kill it again. The Liberals funded a number of important women's programs that Harper has killed, as well as adult literacy programs which are now almost gone in this country. Though the Liberals sometime played a little fast and loose with the traditions of the House of Commons, they basically respected the process. Harper on the other hand has nearly destroyed it altogether and what we have now is a pale shadow of the Westminster system of government which, for all its faults, was something that could have been expanded into a much more active process of democracy and citizenship.
Some on the left might argue that the Liberal Party is just a 'kinder gentler' group that is going to screw the weak and the vulnerable. And there is a sense in which that is true. But here's the thing - when you eliminate the rule of law (as Harper is doing), when you eliminate the ability for people to protect themselves against the arbitrary power of government (as Harper is doing), when you make the House of Commons entirely unaccountable (as Harper has done), when you gut Elections Canada and make Election Fraud de facto legal (which Harper is doing), when you destroy the freedom of information system (as Harper has done), when muzzle scientists and eliminate fact-based policy efforts, when you do all these things then it really doesn't matter what you believe because you really can't change anything. And this is the trap that Harper represents. Sure the Liberals are not that progressive, they represent Bay Street far too much, they represent little change on climate issues, they won't bring much justice for the poor or even Indigenous people. But at the very least they represented a system in which we could legitimately fight for positive change with some degree of hope. And that really means something. Revolutionary defeatism can be an attractive ideology for the cynical and the angry, but in the face of genuine fascism, the struggle for real justice disappears and the progressive are forced to just fight for survival.
The Liberals may not become the progressive government many of us were hoping for, but HarperCons are a threat to the very system itself, to a system in which we can meaningfully fight for justice and equality. Harper represents a dark, American-like (Pottersville) sort of future where the justice system is a pawn of the government, where the police and the Army are an extension of a political party, where racism is institutionalized, where guns are everywhere, where the Charter of Rights is distant memory, and eduction and healthcare is reserved for the rich. Justin Trudeau may not be a progressive wonder-boy, but I will take a man and a party that represents the possibility of change than one who represents a dark, goose-stepping future any day of the week.
I leave you with a timely quote from the English Sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock
"If we continue to make any sort of social progress, I suspect that the political battle line of the twenty-first century will not be between socialism and capitalism but democracy and paternalism. The answer to paternalistic socialism…is not laissez-faire capitalism, or centralized corporatism or monetarism, with all their attendant ills and intrinsic injustices, but real equality under the law - where all of us have equal voice, equal access to our democratic institutions and equal responsibility. Sadly, some of the democratic infrastructure in our society seems seriously under threat at present - is often attacked in the name of "freedom" (by which is usually meant freedom of choice of washing powder or telephone company or porn video) - and it is up to us, I think, to examine those institutions, remember why they were developed in the first place and perhaps protect them."