by Chris Berger
The New Year is conventionally a time for fresh beginnings, but these have certainly taken an unorthodox, bewildering, and frankly ominous form in 2017. At three levels of consideration, politics is headed into territory we probably wouldn’t have expected a year or two ago.
Here in Alberta, the “Unite the Right” movement, led on the one side by Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Jason Kenny, and on the other, more recently, by Wildrose leader Brian Jean, threatens to swamp the centrist remnants of the PCs for the sake of toppling the New Democrats. Rachel Notley, on the other side, expresses confidence that her government can win a second mandate. Three things are to be watched for here.
One: Alberta risks more than mere flirtation with right-wing populism, and the big-tent, centre-right politics that has prevailed since Lougheed may see its days numbered.
Two: Notley’s NDP may continue to deliver on pleasant surprises as circumstances force an ideologically moderate course on what has heretofore been a distinctly partisan agenda in other iterations of NDP governance. So far, we’ve got progress on pipelines and a fairly promising outlook on alternative energy – if this marches on to a pragmatic platform in two years’ time, their hopes may prove naysayers wrong.
Three: The centre hangs by a thread, as things currently stand. Far left and far right, at this moment, dominate the landscape. Whether they moderate is an indeterminate factor for now. But given what we’ve seen, it looks bleak for the old-school PC’s, with Stephen Khan leaving the race (following Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans), while Richard Starke has deemed it necessary to accommodate competing forces to an extent. The Liberals have never been a force here provincially, so if the PCs do indeed opt to “unite the right,” does the Alberta Party have what it takes to step up and fill the centrist niche?
Trump mini-mes Kevin O’Leary and Kellie Leitch are vying for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, and by far, they’ve attracted the most attention. But as rival candidate Michael Chong pointed out via Twitter, these would-be demagogues are merely echoing the fear-mongering of certain other opportunistic populists and ultra-nationalists in the Western political scene. Prime Minister Trudeau has thus far been vocal in setting a starkly different tone in his remarks regarding the recent Quebec mosque shootings, and how the CPC constituencies respond in the leadership contention will probably decide the race, and quite possibly the future of Canadian government. Will we mirror our neighbours, or strike a distinct path?
Politics south of the border, sadly, has become a distasteful cliché in polite discussion. President Trump took office on January 20th, and one after another, ill-conceived executive orders and petulant diatribes against anyone and anything that crosses him have assaulted the institutions not only of the American constitutional tradition, but of Western liberal democratic principles as such. There is nothing I can say about the travel ban or the border wall here, in this small space, that has not been said in much more substance elsewhere.
But I will say this: the first days of the Trump presidency represent an insult against truth and public discourse that I, for one, cannot recall ever seeing in my lifetime. KellyAnne Conway’s “alternative facts” comment says it all – truth no longer matters in politics, if that administration has its way. It’s the quitessential formula for domination and control, as Masha Gessen puts it in her piece in the New York Review of Books on Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin: “It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.” This is perhaps the gravest threat posed by recent events, and one every democratic citizen must monitor closely and, whenever and wherever possible, oppose.
When truth and reason no longer have a place in politics, the basis even for resistance is eroded. I hope to write and talk more on this in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned.
Visual courtesy of Wikimedia Commons