The Harper Conservatives are already prepping for the next election. This article from CBC pretty much says it all. If we don't want to end up living in the United States of Canada we're going to have to come together to fight the great blue wave. Read more!
Last week the citizens of our great neighbour to the south elected the first African American ever to their highest political office, as well as solidifying control of their left leaning political party over the entire government. Watching the election results roll in on TV from a bar on Queen West I was taken, not just by the level of emotion on screen, but also in the bar I was standing in. It's true that Barack Obama does have that inspirational aura about him that we in Canada haven't had floating around one of our national leaders since Trudeau. Still, one has to wonder, why we were so much more excited about this election than the one we had in our own country just a few short weeks earlier.
Of course seeing a person of colour elected to the top slot in the world's most powerful country can provide a slight glimmer of hope to all those around the world who have felt marginalized for who they are. And though it's good to know that not just rich white men can be president of the United States (since as of November 4th, 2008 Rich Black Men can also fill the same role) I don't think that was the thing getting people so excited either. After years of tyranny under the rule of the Bush administration the American people finally managed to elect a government that will hopefully be responsive to the needs of all of its citizens, not just for the exceedingly rich. And the tears of joy shed all over left wing strong holds of Canada that night were a tribute to the dream that we share of returning our own government to the way we think it should be run.
During the last election in Canada there were a bevy of union groups, arts advocates, and environmental organizations that actively campaigned against Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. For the average person on the street in our great liberal bastion of Toronto it seemed unthinkable that old blue eyes could possibly get anyone in his party elected yet alone form a majority government. Yet when the ballots were counted he came in with 143 seats, 16 more than he had the last time, but still 11 shy of that majority he wants. With another election likely two years or less in our future, Harper has precious little time to cultivate that support he needs, but that's actually okay for him. He doesn't need to do that much to get his majority because all us left wingers are just going to hand it to him if we don't get our shit together.
Perhaps the single greatest problem facing advocates of left leaning political policy in Canada is the fact that of our five federal parties, four of them (the Liberals, the NDP, the Greens, and the Bloc) are on the left, while only one (the Conservatives) are on the right. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if we on the left are going to split our vote between four different parties we don't have a hope in hell of electing anything other than a Conservative government. We got lucky this time in the fact that Stephen Harper managed to secure only a minority, but rest assured he's going to keep trying for that golden apple of a majority. And when he finally gets it (and he will if we don't stop him) all of us artists, enviromentalists, advocates for women and minorities, anti-poverty activists, gun control advocates, and anyone else who else on the left, are fucked. Period.
In the last election the conservatives took in just under 38% of the popular vote, meaning that almost 62% of us did not want to see them in power. Why are they the governing party then? Because we on the left made the decision to split our vote between four different parties, only three of whom that ended up with seats in the house. Now I'm certainly not calling for a return to a two party system, but we need to seriously rethink how we're doing things if we want to avoid disaster. We have a lesson that we need to learn and the people who we need to learn it from are the top brass in the recently defeated Republican Party of America. What could we possibly take away from a bunch of gun toting, gay hating, anti-abortion, oil tycoon bigots you might ask? Well, for one, they like to work together.
The success of the right in the US (up until now anyway) has happened in large part because those on the right have unified their agendas. The Evangelical Christians are big supporters of the gun lobby and are fond of teaching their children that global warming is a liberal construction. Oil companies donate to anti-gay and pro-life organizations in an attempt to make themselves appear more "family friendly". And the poor in America, who have without a doubt suffered the most under the Bush agenda, have consistently voted Republican because that party claims to support the Christian values they espouse. It seems a bit ludicrous that these disparate groups whose agendas should be in opposition to each other (Pro-Lifers are FOR guns?!) have managed to come together and maintain a conservative hold on their government for the last eight years, but they did it and so can we.
We need to start looking outside our own communities to build a stronger support for the left wing political agenda. I'm sad to say I don't have a magic formula for how to do this, but I will say that we have to start talking among our different groups to figure out a plan. Artists need to start talking to environmentalists. And anti-poverty activists. And women's rights advocates. We in Toronto need to start talking to the rest of Ontario and we in Ontario must start talking to Quebec, which is great a stronghold of left wing support. There has long been a rift between rich English Ontario and poor French Quebec, but we have to start healing those wounds if we don't want to be forced to bow together to the will of the great oil rich west. If Ontario and Quebec alone had a national party that represented both of them we could have a sufficient number of seats to maintain control of the House of Commons.
For most of its history Canada has had a progressive government in power, so we can assume that sooner or later (perhaps when Justin Trudeau becomes the leader of the Libs?) that things will return to the good old days of Liberal Majority. In the meantime however, we must continue to fight against the Harper Conservatives and the leaders of our left wing parties must start working together. It's probably worth taking a moment here to remember that it was Jack Layton who brought down the Paul Martin Liberals by making a deal with the devil (aka Harper) and who owns a lot of personal responsibility for the situation we're in now. I'm pretty sure Jack isn't reading this, but in the off chance that he is I will beg him "Please do not sell out your comrades on the left again for the sake of personal gain and vanity!" Layton will have to learn to play nice with Gilles Duceppe and whoever takes over the leadership of the Liberals after the convention next spring. And I think I might just get over my current hate-on for him if he'd be willing to somehow bring Elizabeth May into the fold.
We on the left have some big questions before us at this moment in history. Can our community groups unite their agendas and stop vote splitting among left leaning parties? Can our politicians start working together to prevent the Conservative minority from ruling like a majority? Can we return our country to the great place we always believed that it was? In the words of the African American president of the United States of America: Yes We Can.
Summer is over. Winter is on the way. There is yet another conservative minority government in power. Once again, people whom I did not vote for are running the country, although it’s not quite as bad as it could have been. I have just been rejected for yet another grant. If I’m lucky in the future there will still be grants to apply for. But right now I have to look for work. I have a pile of laundry to do. I have to clean my apartment.
I am one of those ordinary people who practice art. The kind Stephen Harper believes doesn’t exist. I am even from Alberta, originally. I grew up in Calgary, where all the theatres are named after oil companies. Culture is booming in Calgary right now, thanks not to the government but to the enormously rich oil companies. As more and more people move to the city to work in the oil & gas industry, the sponsorship departments of these companies ensure that there will be something for their employees to do. They also want to offset their bad reputations as planet destroyers and land rapers. So they give money to theatres, symphonies, dance companies, galleries, even individual artists. They help fund projects that would never happen if they relied solely on government support. They have funded the cultural revolution in Alberta.
Now, I am one of the biggest detractors of Alberta oil companies. And yet here I am praising them for the contributions they have made to culture in my former hometown. This is because, unlike Stephen Harper’s conservatives, they recognize that people can’t live without art. Compared to the elected leaders of this country, the oil companies are a godsend to the arts. This is bad.
But I am still an artist. I am an ordinary person, and my life gets more and more ordinary with every grant rejection. Every time I try unsuccessfully to get funding from the government to create my work, my life becomes a little bit more banal. I didn’t get the grant - now it’s time to look for catering work. I didn’t get that endowment - now I have to find a temp job. So I spend my time looking for ways to survive, rather than spending my time making this country a more interesting place to live. I can’t stop being an artist just because no-one will give me money to do it.
So what now? For me? Well, I have to go to the laundromat. While my clothes are spinning, maybe I can jot down a few ideas for my next project. Then I’ll go home and look on “workinculture.com” for a while, see if I can find something vaguely related to my passion, something that will pay me actual money. Then I’ll call my catering company and see if there are any gigs coming up. Then maybe I can squeeze in a bit of writing before bedtime. This is the life of the ordinary artist.
Katherine Sanders is a Toronto based actor and writer.
Before ‘what now?’, another question: what is going on now? A couple of days ago, the federal finance minister announced with mock-sadness that Ontario is officially ‘a have-not province’. Moments later, in a press conference with the provincial finance minister, reporters asked for his comments not on the impact, but on the symbolism of his federal counterpart’s statements. Maybe this could be called out-sourcing: the reporters (or more accurately, their editors) could once have been relied upon for such comments on symbolism, which is to say, potential conceptual impact; now these comments are the very subject of the inquiry. Is this the news? (I am not even talking about the U.S. election.)
There is a principle at work here and my guess is that it has to do with the fact that there is now more digital space than mental space, meaning that there is officially more information than there are human minds to hold it. One side-effect is that in this terrain, the ‘news’ is not the appearance of new subjects – which are beyond count already, and so, a poor investment – but the appearance of new modifiers: the massively unpredictable tectonics in the unlimited continents of information. The “have-not province” story is one of its cruder manifestations, but it reflects what, to me, is a serious problem about mental space, and overcrowding, and the selection of ideas and language, and history, and survival.
Because I am a human who wants to survive, and I want other humans to survive, and I think that this mutual survival requires some cultural survival too, I think the study of information tectonics is vitally important, but I wonder if the reporters are going about it wrong by emphasizing understanding over being. To be in space, particularly a potentially infinite, virtual space, one needs an equivalent kind of time. If I look for this time-making in performance, it’s not because it’s more common there than in other places, but because I think the possibility for direct transmission is greater when I’m with others; also, a room or a field of people listening and watching is an efficient distribution network for home-made time. A relaxed and disciplined body doing something real, with precision, can transmit this virtual time – for a moment. People seen to be engaged with the work of being themselves alone can actually accomplish this – even if just for a moment. That moment however, is all we need, if we can get access to it, if it can be retrieved. So I want to have access to that time – I want it to be available to myself and everyone else. I think this is why I find myself increasingly looking for, and engaging with, and thinking about stories, and particularly the kind of stories that are bigger on the inside than on the outside. Because these stories are memorable, they’re good containers for experience. They resist infinity.
In other words, it’s possible that the sense of time that comes from being relaxed enough, oneself enough, might be made more available (as memory) if it’s located in language, if it’s wrapped in a story. Which is about as new and revolutionary as breathing, but also, maybe, given the world, as necessary.
Evan Webber is a Toronto-based writer, performer, and producer.