Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Go Vote 2015

Note: Sorry about missing last Tuesday. I find a post out each Tuesday is a lot easier said than done. I'll try to keep the self-imposed deadline for future weeks as best as practicable.

Image Source: Twitter/Steve Ashton
At the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre on May 12, 2015 a Public Forum on Democracy was held in Winnipeg's working class North End. The forum speakers highlighted the excesses of the Harper MisGovernment and how to fight it. Central to their message was the importance of voting.

The forum was organized by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Winnipeg born and raised activist Brigette DePape, of "rebel page"  fame or infamy (depending on your circle) moderated the forum.

 The overarching message was that voting matters and that groups of people need to be mobilized to vote, particularly low voting groups such as the youth, the indigenous and those with low incomes. This is a belief I have long held, noting the low voting of indigenous peoples in Canadian elections and how social inequality affected the municipal election here. In short, when social inequality maps onto voter turnout inequality you get the underprivileged underrepresented.

This presents an enormous challenge for advancing an agenda of economic justice as those with the most stake in it and who are most familiar with a structural lack of opportunity are the least likely to vote. Economic privilege can blinker even the most compassionate middle and upper income voters.

Low turnout particularly serves the Right in this country. Harper's Conservatives consistently has a lock on around a third of (the presently existing) electorate. South of the 49th parallel American wingnuts have long realized the importance of low voter turnout to their fortunes, with Christian conservative Paul Weyrich noting how the religious Right's leverage goes down as turnout increases. So does thee Harper CONs'. A wave of voter suppression laws passed in the United States. In Canada the Harper MisGovernment has pushed through the utterly unfair "Fair Elections Act", a bill that will go a long way to furthering the cause of voter suppression in Canada.

With that said, get out the vote campaigns by activist groups are utterly important. A successful voter mobilization drive could not only halt the Harper MisGovernment's agenda but also radically alter the shape of party competition. With a greater share of the working poor voting, for instance, future governments may think twice before instituting slash and burn fiscal policies or raiding the EI fund.

It is with intense interest informed by these realities that I listened to many of the panelists speak on the state of Canadian democracy and the upcoming election. Voter ID clinics, of course, were one of the positive developments noted.

The videos below courtesy of Paul Graham.

Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow

On Shoal Lake and the third world conditions of the community that supplies Winnipeg it's water.

A sobering list the Harper MisGovernment's "accomplishments".

Indigenous Rock the Vote Co-organizer Sylvia Boudreau

On the disenfranchisement of First Nations and efforts to get out the indigenous vote.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) National President Paul Moist

On the state of workers' right and strategic voting.

Here, I see some flaws in Moist's rhetoric. So Liberals have historically used pleas for strategic voting among centre-left progressives as a reason to vote for them and ... what? It's surprising that a party would hypocritically advocate for something only when it helps them?

The real question is what should progressive Canadians do, not whether or not politicians and their spin-masters are hypocrites (they are). Paul uses flowery rhetoric to urge Canadians to vote for "what they believe in" and not "what they fear". But fear of bad policies is a more than legitimate reason for voting in democracy and all voting, to some extent, is strategic to the point that no politician perfectly matches your vision for society. Strategic voting is a question of the degree of deviation from your political ideals you'd be willing to live with, not if you could tolerate it at all.

Given the Trudeau Jr Liberal stances on pipelines and Bill C-51 their party is waaayyyyy too far from my beliefs for me to vote for them. That doesn't mean I wouldn't consider voting for a different from the NDP and more progressive than the Liberals party or an independent candidate if they had a better shot at unseating the Tory in my riding.

In Moist's account of the 2015 election in Alberta it sound as if, driven by a singular general will, Albertans voted "with their conscience" to wholeheartedly endorse Rachel Notley and the NDP. A reality-based study of the actual election, however, would likely conclude that many red Liberals and even red Tories jumped ship and voted "strategically" (strangely opposed to "with conscience") when they realized the NDP was rising and the PCs were swinging right as Wildrose rose in countryside.

Those "millions who voted for change", in short, included more than a few who voted "strategically".  

Full video of the forum speeches

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair (University of Manitoba professor) and Diwa Marcelino (coordinator with Migrante Manitoba) also spoke. Sinclair discussed the meaning of treaty and Marcelino discussed the abuses precariously employed temporary foreign workers can face from employers.
In response to a question on proportional representation, Paul Moist issued another statement I utterly disagree with. Because Europe has experienced a surge in hard right and xenophobic parties that somehow means that proportional representation sucks. More likely, the radical economic restructuring and just beneath the surface, hardline racist attitudes in Europe deserve more blame.

The manufactured majorities First Past the Post gives haven't been that great for progressives. Just look at the Chretien-Martin Liberal assault on social welfare or the Harper MisGovernment's all out war on public workers, scientists and civil society. 

With those disagreements with Paul Moist aired, the forum was still very interesting and engaging. Hopefully get out the vote drives succeed at changing the shape of this election and future elections in a progressive direction.

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