Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Demographic Panic

Image Source: Photo from Braydon Maz twitter account.
WinnipegJules quote here. 
Former Manitoba "Progressive" Conservative Youth President Braydon Maz's racist outburst over the Kapyong Barracks court ruling (which says that the government has to consult First Nations about what to do with the old, decrepit former military base) is infamous by now. What the outburst reveals, however, is a thinly veiled undercurrent of racism that is all too common in our city as well as a hidden, demographic panic.

Obama speaking in Miami.

Image Source:
What's particularly striking, especially if one reads local internet forums or even the comments section of some CBC Manitoba articles, is how a lot of the ugly racial outbursts resemble the panic south of the 49th parallel. There, the prospect of a Barack Obama re-election was treated almost as if it'd be the apocalypse. The elected politicians and party establishment of the GOP swung between dog whistles and foghorns. Republican politicians spoke about the "takers" exceeding the "makers",  responded to welfare questions with statements of "I want black people to help themselves",  spoke of the bottom "47%" as "moochers", and denigrated the 44th President of the United States as the "food stamp President".

Obama won, nevertheless. 

Prior to the President's re-election, Jonathan Chait wrote a prescient feature for New York Magazine. It described the roots of GOP hysteria that year: demographic panic.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states. Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.


In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests.


The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.

("2012 or Never". Jonathan Chait (February 26, 2012). New York )
Former Manitoba PC Youth Presiden
Braydon "Maz" Mazurkiewich.

Image Source: Facebook
(Obtained from CBC
While the Pallister Conservatives haven't made a theme of using racial resentment to win votes (or, at least not during press conferences in Winnipeg),  the toxic are taking root in the dark corners of local websites. Economically underprivileged groups, such as aboriginal Canadians, are just "moochers" and "freeloaders" in the minds of Winnipeg Wingnuts.

Braydon Maz demonstrates this ideological similarity to the rabid wingnuts south of the 49th parallel with his "freeloading Indians" insult. It's odd, as you'd expect someone in an official position within the Manitoba "Progressive" Conservatives to be sane, levelheaded, and somewhat reality-based - at least enough to electioneer effectively. The MB PCs had their heyday under the Red Toryism of Duff Roblin and supposedly still have a Red Tory element. Maz, by contrast, has shown an affinity for the hard Right and doesn't have a Red Tory bone in his body. He delivered numerous tweets in the 2012 US Presidential election that broke with most Manitobans and Saskatchewanians in hoping Mitt Romney won. While this man is utterly out of tune with most Manitobans, he's not the only Manitoban with racist views.

Take LRT (aka "The Purple Rod") onWinnipeg Zoom:

Image Source: Screenshot of Winnipeg Zoom
I'm sure you could construe this post as merely being a political critique of First Nations governments. True, the idea that anything like a Garrison Woods type development would result in Sam Katz's Winnipeg is laughable. Have you seen the suburban developments under his (and Today's NDP's) watch? Not exactly inspiring, glowingly urbanist stuff.

One could also take issue with the idea that First Nations leadership are single-handedly responsible for the poverty and Third World conditions on remote, economically isolated reserves. Indeed, it's my understanding that there's some aboriginal polities doing quite well in certain reserves within BC's lower mainland.

But the true colours are revealed when LRT decides to imply aboriginals aren't hardworking.

Image Source: Winnipeg Zoom

For some reason Europeans happen to be "mostly" hard workers, while aboriginals are just shiftless folks "stuck in the past" - according to LRT. Now I'm starting to see why the URL for his blog contains "purplehelmetrod". This is the same sort've nonsense that completely ignores path dependencies and the role of inherited privilege that one gets from American Wingnuts all the time. There's a whole industry of people south of the border who are glad to lecture ghettoized African-American communities about "personal responsibility"or "moving on" all the time (while trying to suppress their votes). Apparently, the idea that people who are kicked down again and again might take a while to get back up is beyond certain folks.

Regardless, LRT completely misses OldChum's point. OldChum's clearly talking about the starting point - where various First Nations communities were shafted with subpar land compared to what farmers immigrating from Ontario and Europe received. The Canadian Government didn't grant land based on a "work-off" contest or a meritocratic system. Converting the prairies to agricultural lands for the Dominion was a major policy goal of the early Canadian government, displacing pre-existing and hardworking inhabitants was readily accepted by policymakers in achieving that goal.

In the prairies there were actually some aboriginal farms. As âpihtawikosisân notes, they were located on marginal lands and micromanaged (compared to the lax regulation of white settler farms located on much better land) but produced decent yields. The Government of the day decided to chop up communally ran native farms (to induce "individualism"), discourage the use of machinery, and restrict aboriginal farmers from competing with settler farmers.

The story is considerably more complicated than "hard work"

But matters get worse when Edwin comes in (receiving thanks from LRT):

Image Source: Screenshot from Winnipeg Zoom
This gets to the root of the racists' fears in Winnipeg. They realize aboriginals are a large proportion of our population, indeed they form 10% of our city's population and 15.5% of our province's population right now. As James Hope Howard noted, the (younger than average) aboriginal population will form a tremendous share of our workforce in upcoming years.

I've been to the Idle No More flash mobs at Portage Place and Polo Park. There's one similarity I noted between the rallies and telecasts of Obama speeches: the crowds are young. While any talk of Obama's "transformative" nature is overhyped, the Democrat's election and Idle No More both scare an older, whiter, and resentful segment of the population in the US and Canada for the same reason. They both illustrate changing times, changing demographics, and changing political engagement. They both indicate that bigots have lost the future.

Critics are dismissive of Idle No More and it's uncertain endgame, yet the movement has profound electoral implications. Voter turnout on reserves is spectacularly low, only 28% and urban aboriginal voting is likely also below average. A major accomplishment of Idle No More has been to politically mobilize aboriginal Canadians around a shared identity based on common challenges, interests, and values. While it's extra-parliamentary protests and flash mobs at the moment, don't think increased voter registration and participation in party politics is far away.

Tail end of Idle No More protest at
Portage and Main on Dec. 31, 2012.

Image Source: Photo taken by The Analyst.
While making up only 3.8% of Canada as a whole, in the prairies aboriginal mobilization could initiate an electoral sea change. If current aboriginal non-voters have similar party preferences to aboriginal voters, than various ridings that the CONs have a lock on could become competitive or swing orange or red.

The policy agenda might also change. One area we might see change is that the priority given to First Nations flood compensation claims. Giving underprivileged First Nations a voice and rights is a scary idea to the wingnuts, I know, but it's one whose time is coming.

As aboriginals become bigger players in Manitoba politics and major participants in the labour force they'll demand a fair share. They'll be demands for the same opportunities afforded to other Canadians. They'll have the organizational muscle to make it happen. Bigots should be afraid, the prairie kaleidoscope is shaking and the new arrangement will have a more central role for the First Peoples. Some privileged people will just have to get used to a more far and equitable way of doing things, however much it pains them.

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  1. Replies
    1. Aw-shucks! :D

      I started working on the earlier drafts in the last week of December. The "shape" and theme of the article changed over the revisions (and inspired other posts), but the idea of connecting Maz's outburst with a similar panic in the US was the springboard for this piece from the start.

    2. Definitely an excellent read. The demographics are such that 50% of FN populations are under 25 years old and birthrates are not declining. Love the conspiracy inclined racist who thinks Manitoba is some test lab for the coming aboriginal spring and take down of non-aboriginals.

      Unlike the Palestinians who only have some weak UN recognition of their rights, Canada's First Nations have treaties that they rely on to make sure they are not completely destroyed. And thanks to court precedents and the constitution, all other indigenous peoples have rights that are legally recognized and not easily extinguished.

  2. Well at least all us BCers who are envious of and and covet the Manitoban progressive bent have something else to chew on...

  3. @BY, exactly. I've just had a long a frustrating FB conversation with a friend who, while not overtly racist, is on the border. He claims that because 90% of the population does not support IN, it's bound to fail. I keep reminding him that the FN people don't care about the 90%, they have the treaties and the courts on their side.

    1. Fighting for treaty rights is important, but I'm still a bit weary of getting to fixated solely on the constitutional/elite institutions side of things. Murray Doblin's detailed how going down the court-centric path has defused a lot of the potential of past aboriginal rights movements, while the US also provides a cautionary tale.

    2. Link formatting issues.

      First link:

      Second link: