The Problem with #DenounceHarper: It’s about getting even
There are some major problems with the #DenounceHarper hashtag on twitter. It has been trending on twitter for the last day or so and, for all intents and purposes, it has been quite a silly affair.
First of all, there have been complaints surrounding Mr. Harper’s Conservatives only winning 39% of the vote and landing a majority. On its face the populist within everyone wants a leader that has been picked with more than half of the Canadian public picking them. It gets even worse when you consider how few of us vote and that 39% collapses down to less than a quarter of Canadians selecting a Conservative to run the country.
But this is silly. We don’t select Stephen Harper in our democracy. In each electoral district across Canada we pick the person who has the most votes and, normally, they’re tied to a party. And if enough of these Members of Parliament are from a certain party that party picks a person to be the Prime Minister, and this is normally the leader of the party who has the most MPs. Do you feel that it’s unfair for our democracy to be like this, with parties and with regional representation? That’s fair. And there are definitely alternatives. But, not for a single second, is Harper and his government illegitimate or have attained power wrongly.
Harper was able to cobble together a coalition of people and proceeded to get them out to vote, while discouraging his opponents. Smart, some might say unfair and morally ambiguous (if not outright wrong), but never was his tactics illegitimate. So take a step back, take a deep breath, and cut out the undermining of Canadian democracy and the system we’re in. Because that’s what is happening when you undercut the way we elect our leadership in this country: by repeating the slur that Harper is not the leader of the Canadian people undermines every step in our process of decision making in this country. That turns off people, turns off the integration of new folks in this democracy, and creates a more silent and maligned voting public.
Then, Harper’s tactics in parliament, while terrible in one perspective, are just the extension of previous government’s efforts. The hundreds of pages long budget bill? The Liberals started it first, slowly, and increased the size of budget bills with the inclusion of new things that were not traditionally included in budget bills. Don’t like how the Conservatives are akin to trained seals in parliament? Well, Pierre Elliot Trudeau coined the term “trained seal” to describe his MPs. Harper just wrote a manual and passed it to a bunch of 20-year olds to run parliament rather than its elected leaders. It is just an adjusted degree of control, more pressures, and more control by the PMO, which over the last seventy-five years has been coming to this current point.
To say that Harper isn’t legitimate because of these tactics is a twisted viewpoint and it shouldn’t be a plank for arguments against him and his Tory majority. The New Democrats have passed almost total control of their party to their leader’s office, much to their benefit in the last election with Jack Layton. If the New Democrats ever get in it will simply be a continuation and a deep worsening of the control and domination of those in parliament by a leader. Just looking at NDP tactics in the House of Commons, their filibustering and their denying of Liberals or Greens to be able to speak on issues, it’s no different from the Tories. Those in any of the parties shouldn’t delude themselves to this long term trend and those involved in each of their parties should be aware of this.
Secondly, do you think Harper’s priorities are wrong? Think his minister’s Gazebos for the G20, the F-35 boondoggle, the use and abuse of robocalls, and his party’s run in with Elections Canada are all things that should be hanging around his neck 24/7? Good. Go for it.
He is supposed to be held to account. However, don’t delude yourself for a single moment that he hasn’t been talking about these issues for years, even before the election. He has a majority, that he won from the Canadian public, to be a national and stable government, that pulled away from the personal lives of people and tossing one or two bones to the conservatives in his coalition. To not bother people with another election for four years rather than the turbulence of minority after minority government.
So, if you think the untendered, ballooning budget of the F-35s, with zero accountability and zero openness and transparency, is a problem… good. But process politics, of accountability and tracking documents, is not an issue that the Canadian public cares about. It’s why the G20 funds, put through MP offices and misdirected for local projects some 100 km away from the G20, isn’t an issue. It’s abstract and only appeals to a special few interested in government openness and a slim micro-minority in the Ottawa bubble (see Kady O’Malley).
I care about these issues (I consider myself amongst the micro-minority that do), so it is quite frustrating from this end, writing this blog post and trying to articulate a needed change. But it’s a question of what resonates that’ll allow another party, another group of leaders, and that can push the coalition that Harper has cobbled together off the seat of power in Ottawa.
And it is about getting even. It’s just a matter of how.
It’s not just a matter of writing 140 characters to others on twitter. It’s about being deeply involved in your community and taking on leadership roles in leading people and leading on the issues that are fundamentally important to society. Politics is just an aftereffect of engagement with others. So it’s a matter of building those meaningful connections with your community.
It’s about doing things differently. Parties, as it currently stands, are the way that you can directly impact government. And the major parties, the NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives, are the prime ways to start to do things differently. But there’s a problem with these individual players in the system. The NDP are on a course to just replace Harper and be as ideological, as partisan, and as destructive as he is, and just in favor and against different groups. And they just won a large win (going from third place to second, replacing the Liberals) doing what they’ve always done so it is extraordinarily unlikely they would attempt to change their chosen path.
The Tories are another group. Although Harper is in control of that party now he will not be forever. There’s a fundamental reason why he has his MPs “trained as seals” and a strong degree of message control of the Canadian government: it’s because the Tories are a threat to themselves. Just in the recent election in Alberta the Wildrose found themselves dropping in the polls and from assuming government because of the loss of message control–two of their candidates had their thoughts on LGBT and multiculturalism known. And their anti-LGBT and anti-minority views were shared across Alberta and sunk their assumed government. There will be a point when the Tories have their membership and MPs spoil their majority and sabotage themselves, and then actors from the outside can change and influence the Tories.
The Liberal Party is the third in this trio. With a leadership race heating up in the next year the party, the people involved in it, and hundreds of thousands of that party’s supporters will decide just how they should challenge the status quo. I’m not too sure how it’ll end up for the Liberals. At this point nobody really knows. Not until the leadership race heats up and the dust settles.
So when the twitterverse is angry about process politics and issues that simply wont resonate with the public, two of the three major parties aren’t going to seriously change anything, and the other party is gearing up to do that fundamental and deep engagement to find itself again, it’s a rather frustrating conundrum. But it’s an ongoing process. And it requires a focus on getting even: getting involved in your community, getting a foot in the door locally, and working hard on earning the trust of your neighbors. You can’t flip a switch, send off a tweet, or do a facebook message, and expect Canadians to mobilize for you just because you feel they ought to.
So if you’re angry about Harper it’s just a matter of getting engaged, buying a membership in your community association, talking to your neighbors, perhaps even purchasing a membership in a political party, and getting involved. Start. And, when it comes to the election in 2015, get even against Mr. Harper and his Conservatives. It’s a matter of getting more people to the polls, more people to care about the issues that impact them, and getting even.