Canadian Thanksgiving 2010: who’s afraid of “the failure of the left”?

Oct 10th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving 1956 from the paws that refresh. Compliments Phil Mooney, The Coca-Cola Company's Archivist and historian.

It is a strictly parochial contest. But on this Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend (some six-and- a-half weeks before the real Thanksgiving in the USA) the competition among the four daily newspapers that Canada’s largest city is still so lucky to enjoy may have been won by the Toronto Star.

For me at least two particular articles would do the trick: “Walkom: Recession and the failure of the left”; and “Travers: Harper majority closer than it appears in political mirror.” (And then, as a vaguely related honourable mention, I’d point to the Globe and Mail’s “ Douglas Coupland … A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years.”)

As strictly local as the sources may be, the overarching theme here has a broader interest in more than a few parts of the global village today. The “left” or great “progressive” cause, or call it whatever else you like, is getting the short end of the stick at the moment, even though the sort of alleged objective economic conditions we are currently alleged to be suffering through have traditionally been linked with rising left-wing fortunes.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving by Ming chai, I, eastern Greater Toronto Area (GTA), autumn 2010.

The big question of course is why? Thomas Walkom offers two explanations in his Star article. First (in order of analytic importance at least?): “Ironically, one reason for the left’s failure in this slump is that its traditional solution – to spend money – worked. The decision by G20 leaders to stimulate the world economy prevented a catastrophe.”

Walkom’s second explanation is less ironic : “this is perhaps the biggest difference between now and the ‘30s. Then, unions were seen as the way forward for workers who wanted a better deal … Today (with a few notable exceptions) unions tend to be viewed as bastions of privilege, latter-day versions of medieval guilds that exist only to protect the lucky few.”

“Thanksgiving Pumpkin Patch” in “the sunny Okanagan, Vernon, British Columbia,” 9/25/2008.

Whatever the full array of reasons for current progressive political weakness may be, its biggest real-world manifestation immediately ahead will most likely be the widely anticipated right-wing-conservative-Republican surge in the November 2 US mid-term elections, now less than a month away. As James Travers’s Canadian Thanksgiving weekend Star column underlines, however, the main political impact in northern North America has been to bolster what perhaps ought to be the much more risky and less promising brand of “Canada’s new politics,” which minority Conservative PM Stephen Harper has “largely invented,” all by himself.

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Like others, no doubt, I remain more sceptical myself about what Travers urges in his last sentence: “In less than five years this Prime Minister has reduced once dominant Liberals to a rump and is closer than it appears to the majority he covets.”

Happy Canadian Thasnksgiving by Ming chai, II, eastern GTA, autumn 2010.

To start with, the Liberal Party of Canada was in big trouble quite a while before Stephen Harper became minority prime minister. (That is one of the reasons he became prime minister.) And then the notion that Mr. Harper “is closer than it appears to the majority he covets” strikes me as too much self-fulfilling Conservative spin to be taken altogether seriously – until and a big IF it does actually happen. (Which, I do agree, all opposition parties ought to be working harder to prevent!)

As a final vague thought in all this, Douglas Coupland’s Globe and Mail piece on “A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years … 45 tips for survival and a matching glossary of the new words you’ll need to talk about your messed-up future” also strikes me as another kind of broad explanation for what Walkom calls “Recession and the failure of the left.” A lot of us seem to be giving in to the kind of despair Mr. Coupland is selling lately. And it makes any hope for a serious progressive politics over “the next 10 years” seem just hopelessly naive.

Melanie Sonier’s Canadian Thanksgiving dress-up outfit, autumn 2009.

I at least find five of the 45 tips here especially guilty – and quite empirically problematic as well: “1) It’s going to get worse … 6) The middle class is over. It’s not coming back … 17) You may well burn out on the effort of being an individual … 35) Stupid people will be in charge, only to be replaced by ever-stupider people … 41) The future of politics is the careful and effective implanting into the minds of voters images that can never be removed.”

If you really want to believe this kind of thing, go ahead. But it still seems to me essentially childish – just a confession of a lack of political will and courage: a sudden failure of the energy that has made the USA, eg, such a forward-looking force for hope in human history in the past – for widely shared economic progress, and the growth of our still highest achievement of the free and democratic society.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, October 7, 2007.

The real future belongs to those who are made of bolder stuff. And if we in North America can’t still find this inside ourselves in the early 21st century, others in other places certainly will. What we Canadians should be most thankful for in 2010 is that neither Stephen Harper’s coveted majority government (with still much less than a majority of the Canada-wide popular vote) nor the more far-reaching demise that Mr. Coupland seems to be predicting has actually happened yet!  And there are still various good reasons to, as Jesse Jackson used to say, keep hope alive.

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