Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Time to learn from Cuba, China, Quebec.

Stephen Harper is playing on people's fear of socialism and separatism. But when American neoliberal extremists and their disciples talk about "socialism," the word has a different meaning than it has when it is used by the rest of the world. The slightest departure from the neoliberal dogma of deregulation, privatization and liberalization of capital accounts is seen by these ideologues as "socialism."

Confusion about the meaning of sovereignty movements and the portrayal of them as treasonous separatism is an even more twisted rhetorical strategy.

Still, it has to be said that the signing of a coalition government agreement between the Liberal and New Democratic parties and a complementary agreement with the Bloc Quebecois is not undemocratic, unconstitutional, illegal or even childish. It was unexpected and, in Canada, unusual. It was also exhilarating to see politicians doing their jobs for a change and doing it in public. That is one of the benefits of minority government. More openness.

The Liberals have finally stopped hiding; the NDP has discovered a more natural ally than the Conservatives; and the democratically-elected Bloc is now poised to take its rightful place in the public eye. In my opinion, this is better than finding a charismatic Messiah like Obama. We are still a long way from electing an aboriginal PM, but the looming debate about a country of many sovereign nations will eventually pave the way. Maybe later than sooner.

For its part, the press will have to mature. For decades, factions and disagreements inside a party, such as Paul Martin's aspirations to become PM, were hyped by the media as terminal revolutionary fractures. Parties played the game by putting forward an image of absolute--even totalitarian--party discipline. The result is that political parties have a had a stranglehold on Canadian democracy. However, this coalition introduces several new layers into the model.

There will be disagreements between the parties to the coalition proper--led perhaps from outside by the Bloc whose relation to the coalition we should expect will be something other than the welded-at-the-hip vision Harper is trying to frighten everyone with. Like it or not, we will begin to get used to a more pubic (transparent) politics, maybe with more grownup acceptance on our part of disagreement and compromise. Some of us expect it and, knowing that it must exist, often find the public statements of sitting MPs routinely unbelievable.

In time,the parties themselves may come to take a less rigid approach to party discipline. Nothing about democracy requires the pretense of solidarity. Party discipline is a pragmatic, short-term recognition that the time is not right for complete democracy. Solidarity is more reliable and, therefore, more meaningful when it is based on real common ground and not just lip service and wishful thinking.

At the moment, we can hope that Canada's traditional tourism to Cuba may be translated with NDP help into a connection with a source of physicians who might eventually relieve the shortage in our ailing medical system--and help Cuba break the American blockade. We might also learn something about organic agriculture from them. The list goes on. They certainly weather hurricanes better than the Americans.

The Free Tibet campaign and the whining, grinding of the Canadian media against pollution in China may have led us to forget that Canada and China have a long-standing, left-leaning friendship largely because of Norman Bethune--and the Canadian Wheat Board. Since neoliberal avatars like Alan Greenspan have admitted that the paradigm is broken, maybe now we can remind ourselves that China has demonstrated the possibility of an economic path which takes a selective approach to liberal capitalism. Complete liberalization, for example, of the capital account is not a prerequisite for staggering levels of foreign direct investment. Other forces are at work.

Forces other than separatism are also at work in sovereignty movements, not only in Quebec, but also in aboriginal communities; not only in Canada, but around the world. Countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are far ahead of us. Cultures that we often derogate as "Third World" have much to teach us. Several values that play little or no role in the neoliberal cosmology come to mind: respect, humility, and generosity for openers.

For one another, for the earth, for the declining number of creatures strong enough to endure sharing the same toxic space with us.
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