05 December 2008

A brief political interlude

Woke up this morning at 6 to a starry sky, glittering with that brilliance which is unique to cold, clear winter nights. City dwellers never get to see this spectacle – another good reason for living in the woods. Maybe that's why politicians, who are nearly all city people, have such a shortsighted view of the world …

Here in Canada, political history was made yesterday when the Governor General agreed to shut down Parliament for 7 weeks at the request of the Prime Minister. (The technical term for ‘shut down’ is prorogue – a verb suddenly in wide use by millions of people who didn't know what it meant a week ago.)

Here's my perspective – broadened by starlight, i hope – on how this situation came about.

All over the world, and most notably in the United States, the political trend is finally turning toward a more sustainable economy. The recent bursting of the credit bubble and stock market crash has reversed the trend toward deregulated, free-swinging, robber-baron capitalism. The Friedmanite Shock Doctrine (as Naomi Klein calls it), which has destroyed so many lives, seems to be on the way out. This is a first step toward waking up to the dangers of the consumptive economy, which widens the gap between rich and poor while degrading ecological systems. But the government of Canada continues to distinguish itself by lagging behind the global trend toward economic accountability and democracy.

PM Stephen Harper – a ‘lite’ version of George Bush, you might say – is still at the service of the wealthy and the big corporations, fighting a rearguard action against socio-political-economic reform. In the recent election, the Liberal platform included a carbon tax, while the NDP campaigned for a cap-and-trade system. Without getting into the question of which is better, it's clear that one or the other is essential to any policy that will be viable over long term. But Harper managed to pull the wool over many voters' eyes with fraudulent claims that the Liberal plan would take money out of their pockets. Both Harper's Conservatives and the NDP made gains in the election, at the expense of the Liberals (the Green Party was also a factor in the election but didn't win a seat in Parliament).

After the election Harper, who didn't get the majority he wanted, talked in a vaguely conciliatory fashion about cooperation with the other parties; but his government's first presentation to Pariament after the Throne Speech, an ‘economic update’ as they called it, made it clear that he is more determined than ever to impose his brand of economic ‘shock treatment’ on Canada. The position taken by the government was so extreme that it united the opposition parties, a feat which would have seemed impossible a few weeks earlier. In a matter of days they put together a Liberal-NDP coalition which could have taken power, with the support of the Bloc Quebecois, after the government was brought down by a non-confidence motion to be presented next Monday. So Harper chose to shut down Parliament rather than face the non-confidence motion, and the Governor General went along with that – something unprecedented in Canadian history.

If a more viable economic policy – one which addresses the real economy, not just corporate profits, and looks beyond the next election – comes out of all of this political maneuvering, then it might be worth closing down the business of government for 7 weeks. But i will be very surprised if the Harper government comes up with anything close to that; they will more likely try to break the coalition, or come up with some scheme for clinging to power. And even if the coalition does take over and manages to stay together – which in itself would be quite a political feat – the addiction to economic ‘growth’ will probably still take top priority, in the form of some ‘stimulus package’ which gives insufficient attention to renewable energy sources. Canadians will have to kick the consumption-and-debt habit for themselves rather than waiting for any government; and many will find this hard to do because they are employed in resource-extraction industries. As for the politicians, too many still think – some of them quite sincerely – that ‘growth’ is the solution, when in fact it's the problem. And they are too wrapped up in power struggles to have any realistic vision of the future.

God grant us the serenity of the stars looking down on all this, and a steadier light to live by than the creed of greed.

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