Monday, October 24, 2016

What's a Progressive to do?

As much as I would like it to be otherwise, I really think that any optimism that the Liberal government would be significantly different from the Harper government on some of the most substantive issues, has turned out to be misplaced. I understand why a number of progressives are having a hard time letting go of their hope for Trudeau, but that hope is beginning to look increasingly naive. There is no doubt that Trudeau brought a different tone to government, and on foreign policy, though he has yet to face a significant test, he certainly seems like an improvement on Harper in a number of ways. However, on healthcare, energy and the environment, native issues (and this a particularly painful one to face), and on the neo-liberal trade approach, Trudeau is really so close to Harper that there is little to choose between them.

Here are some interesting stories concerning this difficult dilemma -

On the Economy - Thomas Walkom has some interesting observations.

On Progressive politics - Tom Parkin has this to say.

On the Precariate - Bill Morneau (who is married into one of the richest families in Canada) tells the rest of us we just need to suck it up.

On Native issues - Dene Moore reminds us that indigenous leaders are already giving Trudeau a failing grade. And you can hear Murray Sinclair saying that Trudeau is breeching the "Indian residential schools" settlement.

These are just the articles I found in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, to see a startling example of how the Liberals are mimiking the Conservative's arrogance and total lack of concern for real people's lives, we only have to look at what Liberal MP Nick Whalen had to say.

I know a few progressives are desperately trying to give Trudeau and the Liberals the benefit of the doubt. But in my experience, governments veer further away from their promises as time goes on, not closer. I think it is little short of folly to imagine that Trudeau isn't another neo-liberal who, despite his smiles and selfies, is quickly making it clear that three years from now, working-people, indigenous people, and the environment will be little or no better off than they would have been under the Conservatives. (Granted, of course, that the Conservatives might have gotten considerably worse if they had actually won another election)

I am willing to give kudos to Trudeau for steering us away from the racist rhetoric that the Cons were, and still are, spew. On the issue of democratic reform, we will just have to wait and see.


The Mound of Sound said...

Much as I regularly and freely criticize Trudeau for his failings, freeing Canada from the tightening shackles of neoliberalism is a Herculean task. It's hard to even imagine the sort of visionary government we would need to chart and place Canada on a new course. Part of that is because global economies have become so integrated. Part is because that enough incidents of national sovereignty have been surrendered that political power has also become globally integrated. Freedom of action, effective independence, as we knew it prior to the Mulroney/Reagan/Thatcher era has been lost. Today we herald Chretien's avoidance of the Iraq War as a breathtaking feat. That's how far the bar has been lowered.

I fear that we don't even have a common understanding of progressivism today. Some, like Kinsella, as devout a neoliberal as any, believe that by virtue of his Liberal Party membership card, he's a progressive. These types see anything to the right of today's Conservatives as the Progressive Left.

I've long argued that progressivism isn't the exclusive preserve of the far-Left or the centre-Left. Most progressive principles have been embraced by conservative movements at one time or another. Even Edmund Burke held beliefs that were quite progressive.

Today's Conservatives are far to the right of anything Burke would have considered conservative. The Liberals, who draw so close to them, are often merely more genuinely conservative than our Conservatives. Canada's political keel is listing hard starboard.

I only came upon it a decade after its release but I find the logic and analysis of Thomas Homer-Dixon in his book, "The Upside of Down," quite compelling, even moderately inspirational.

Homer-Dixon's approach is that modern civilization is in the grip of four or five seismic forces, neoliberalism being one of them. He considers these forces are inescapable. At this point we're along for the ride. His focus is on how this all ends. If we refuse or fail to recognize what is happening and where we're heading then we may succumb to Jared Diamond's notion of societal "collapse." However if we do recognize what is happening and begin to define the civilization we want to build, then we can avert collapse and accept something akin to a crash landing in which society survives, released from its shackles, and can rebuild. It will be our last, best opportunity to jettison our outdated modes of organization - social, political, economic, industrial and geopolitical - that have lost all or most of their utility to implement, in their stead, new modes. This will mean stepping back to the regional and national levels.

I, for one, see the signs everywhere that neoliberalism is a dead man walking. Like classical economics, burdened by endless "externalities" necessary to relieve itself of its inconsistencies and contradictions, neoliberalism is dependent on our willingness to believe in a state of affairs that no longer exists. Neoliberalism, as envisioned by Hayek and Friedman, never contemplated a world wrenched by climate change or its knock-on destabilizing forces. Their theories were based on a fairy tale world that has rarely existed for more than 20 to 30 years at a stretch. We've had a better run of stability this time but at the cost of deferred consequences and obligations and that bill is now coming due.

Interesting times indeed.

Kirby Evans said...

Thanks for the comment Mound. I actually suspect that our dilemma is more or less unsolvable. Even if we put the impending environmental disasters aside, we would need a significant moral growth in humanity in order to save ourselves. This transition we are seeing from the post-war generation to the millennial generation is the only promising aspect I have seen. There is a lot less racism and other bigotry in this generation and my hope is that this will translate into a new outlook. I really see Trudeau as someone who, in many ways, stands in the way of this change because he holds the old economic views in a socially more progressive package (or at least image), and this creates the dangerous illusion that we are getting somewhere, while the inequalities are going merrily on. I suppose we might need to wait for millennials to actually start showing up as leaders because their empirical experience of the precarious life that capitalism is creating is what our new leaders need to understand. And that is something Trudeau can never understand.

I don't know the Homer-Dixon book but I will look it up, thanks.