What was shocking for people throughout the first three weeks of the campaign, before the strange, detached euphoria of the NDP surge, was that so many Canadians -- hovering near 40 per cent -- could support a government that was not only conservative in policy terms but virtually a rogue government in terms of its blatant and unapologetic trashing of democratic institutions and conventions. It did not seem to matter a whit that Harper harboured thugs in his inner circle, was found in contempt of Parliament, and lied without hesitation whenever it suited him.
Progressives need to come to grips with that fact that despite
consistent results from surveys suggesting two-thirds of people hold
socially progressive values, something profound is cancelling those
values out, neutralizing them. We live in society that is increasingly
conservative in its behaviour and actions. Forty-five per cent of people
in Ontario where a third of Canadians live, voted for Harper.
In the absence of community, in the absence of government that works
for people instead of against them, in the absence of strong, robust,
imaginative civil society organizations, people will turn to an
alternative that seems profoundly, frustratingly irrational on its face:
one that will dramatically roll back their quality of life. People will
find comfort and meaning somewhere, anywhere, if we don't provide it.
Progressive forces need to do a lot of soul-searching in the next
year. There are countless questions to be asked and answered -- or at
least addressed. My generation, more than any other, let this happen. As
much as we may lead the wailing and despairing over our country's
immediate fate, we never took the task of protecting it seriously. The
left-wing political class is middle class -- a way too comfortable, too
complacent and in my experience too lacking in a sense of urgency. It is
as if we think we can stop these powerful, frightening forces by
working at it part-time; by doing what we always do; and not giving up
any of the perks of our individual success.
If this election result does not shake people out of this
self-satisfied stupor then we are really in trouble. Why is it that the
Christian right gives till it hurts to destroy democracy while we think
we can defend it with a few pennies donated to good causes? Maybe what
we need is a Five Per Cent Club -- people serious about social change
willing to publicly commit to giving five per cent of their pre-tax
income to fight what is coming down the road.
We will need it. This will be a very long-term fight, a generational
fight, rooted in a serious and thoughtful collective examination of
where we have been, what we did wrong and what we need to do right. It
will be very, very hard as we will be trying to build a vision of a
better future, one that can truly inspire and engage people, while
conditions are getting dramatically worse and many people suffer the
consequences of this election. But there is no other way. Rebuilding a
progressive will be challenging, exciting and invigorating -- in other
words, something completely different.