Now that it appears that Canadians are about to be forced to hold their noses, pick up a pencil stub and mark an "X" beside the name of a person that may or may not be qualified to act as their representative in Ottawa, I thought I'd take a look at Canada's political scene from non-party standpoint. I firmly believe that Canada badly needs a new centrist, populist, non-geographically-specific grassroots movement with a vibrant and electable leader who has the best interests of all of Canada and Canadians at heart. This leader must be palatable to average Canadians and he or she must have a vision for change because Canadians have had enough of the "system" as it has existed for decades. Unfortunately, the four leaders of the major Parties that we have today are driven to seek office with the sole aim of imposing their own personal and political agendas and beliefs on Canada and Canadians. This new party should not be dogmatically centrist, rather, it should adopt policies from both the right and the left of the political spectrum so that Canada has a firm and stable foundation for the future.
Before I rant any further, let's take a step back in time. In 1944, Tommy Douglas, the first CCF/NDP Premier of Saskatchewan and founder of Canada's universal health care system, gave his famous "Mouseland" speech. Historically, Saskatchewan had been governed by an endless succession of Liberal and Conservative/Progressive-led governments that did not necessarily have the best interests of Saskatchewan residents at heart. Rather, like today's politicians in Ottawa, they were looking out for themselves and doing everything in their power to ensure that they kept the system that granted them that control, in place. In brief, in his speech, Tommy Douglas describes a place called Mouseland where the mice had a parliament that elected big, fat, black cats every year. Now on with the story.
Those poor, little, uneducated mice elected cats year after year to represent them and took the attitude that the cats weren't all that bad. They passed good laws, well, let's just say that they were good laws if you were a cat! Eventually, as time went on, things became so difficult for the mice that they had no choice but to vote out the black cats and vote in the white cats. The white cats promised change and change came. Things got even better for the white cats and even worse for the mice. As time and elections passed, the poor, little mice voted time and time again, replacing white cats with black cats and then black cats with white cats ad nauseum. Finally, the mice came to the realization that their problem wasn't the colour of the cat, the problem was that they were governed by cats who had only cat interests at heart. Suddenly, like the conversion on the road to Damascus, the mice had an idea! They realized that they needed to elect a government made up of mice. A government that was composed of cats of any colour was never going to look out for the interests of the mouse population.
Welcome to our world!
In Canada (and for that matter, the United States with their two party Democrat and Republican system), we have a similar political situation to Tommy Douglas' Mouseland. We have been governed by a succession of Conservative (Progressive or by any other moniker) and Liberal governments for the past 143 years. A total of 40 general elections have been held since Confederation; 16 of those elections were won by the Conservatives and 23 elections were won by the Liberals. In 1917, the Unionist Party, a coalition (that most dreaded of words!) of former Conservatives and former Liberals won the only election in Canadian history not taken by one of the two major political parties. The appearance of the grassroots driven Reform Party on the nation's political scene as official opposition in the 1997 election appeared to be a welcome breath of fresh air, unfortunately, Reform policy was driven by Western Canadian alienation and far to the right agenda that simply were not palatable to the rest of Canada. In order to make inroads into Central Canada (Ontario to be specific) where the Reformers needed seats to form a majority government, the Reform Party abandoned its grassroots-based, anti-Ottawa establishment agenda and merged with the remains of the Progressive Conservative Party and ended up becoming a right-leaning sellout to the political mainstream.
While the Liberals and the Conservatives repeatedly campaign on platforms that stress their differences, in fact, it is readily apparent that the differences are superficial at best. Each party seems to adopt whatever policies the other party has proposed as a means to gain votes and retain power. By emphasizing these superficial differences in policy, they seek to divide and conquer Canada. One need look no further than the comments sections found in online major Canadian newspapers (i.e. the National Post (leans right) and the Globe and Mail (leans left)) to see how successful Canada's politicians have been at dividing the country to their personal advantage. The vitriol that is posted is, quite amazingly, quite often hate-filled and partisan to an extreme (for example, the word "libtard" seems to appear frequently). What is rather frightening is that so many Canadians have been duped into thinking that those who lead Canada's current crop of nationwide political parties actually care what the sweaty, unwashed masses think or what they want. As voters, we should be asking ourselves, "When was the last time that I tried to contact my MP, one of the Opposition Leaders or the Prime Minister about any given issue that was important to me?". If you were fortunate enough to actually get a response, even from your own MP, my guess is that it was an automated email response, the "cyberpoliticians" answer to a form letter that only addressed your concerns in a superficial way. As well, what I find particularly galling is that politicians treat Canadians as though they haven't the intelligence to know what is good for them. Perhaps George Orwell was decades ahead of his time when he wrote about the sweaty masses of the proles who were only interested in the lottery and other superficial matters and didn't have any intellectual ability to deal with matters of "The Party".
When I started this blog just over one year ago, I named it "Viable Opposition" because the concept of a better and more representative political system is something that has been on my mind for many years. As a social liberal (I believe in the need for a social safety net for the legitimately needy in our society) and a fiscal conservative (I believe in responsible government spending and balanced fiscal policies), I have found that there is no current political party that reflects my preferences and, from discussions with many people, I know that there are many politically alienated Canadians out there. One need look no further than the voter turnout records for the past 8 elections to see that the percentage of Canadians that vote in a Federal election has dropped from 75 percent to just under 59 percent. Voters are feeling increasingly disenfranchised and disengaged from the political process because they realize that no matter who they vote for, they are just voting for another "cat". As the electorate, we can only choose cats, there are no other viable options.
Canadian history has shown that grassroots driven, third party alternatives are viable and are necessary to balance political power in a two party state. We need look no further than the rise of the CCF/NDP in Saskatchewan during the 1930's and 1940's. We have another great example in Alberta with the recent rise of the Wildrose Alliance Party under Danielle Smith where grassroots dissatisfaction with Premier Ed Stelmach has led to the birth of a new and viable alternative. Admittedly, both of these examples of political rebirth are at the provincial level, but there is no reason that centrists shouldn't have a federally-based political choice of their own that, in some way, doesn't involve the re-election of cats.
It is time for the mice to take charge of "Mouseland". It's time for a new viable opposition party in Canada. Meanwhile, please don’t let those “in charge” divide Canada and Canadians for their own devious purposes.
These links will take you to the history and written versions of Tommy Douglas's "Mouseland" speech as well as an audio file of the speech. I would urge you to read or listen to this amazing speech.