If you’re poor, young, disadvantaged, or progressive, Stephen Harper doesn’t want you to vote.
In the maelstrom of Big Corporate Media coverage on the 2011 federal election one key element is missing: the impact of 20 years of right-wing trade and economic policies from first the Liberals and now the Conservative party.
These policies have left most Canadians poorer. Family income has declined in real terms for the middle-class and the decline has been even greater for the poorest of Canadians—younger Canadians, those with less education, people with disabilities, and aboriginal people. As family income declines, most Canadian families have landed in a debt crisis. The debt-load of the average Canadian family is now double what it was 20 years ago.
During this same period, the wealthiest Canadians have seen their incomes skyrocket. The economy has been turned backwards and income inequality is now where it was during the 1920s. In what can only be described as a stunning reversal of Canadian values, we have regressed back to 90 years ago—back to the painful days of profound income inequality that marked the period prior to the Great Depression. Back then, this inequality was finally reduced by strong pressure from the CCF (the NDP’s predecessor party) and its backers. Thanks to the NDP’s predecessor, greater income equality led to the most prosperous economic period in Canada’s history.
This effort for more economic equality came from real pressure from citizens. Political and activist involvement was at an all-time high and that made a fundamental difference. There was also a greater diversity of views in Big Media at that time. In one case, one big chain daily newspaper was even so balanced that it endorsed the NDP!
In response, Stephen Harper and his predecessors worked to ensure that citizen participation—particularly among the most disadvantaged groups—was reduced to much less than that of more privileged Canadians. Perfected in the United States by the Republican Party, the strategy uses attack ads and right-wing shock jocks slinging mud to make politics mean-spirited and nasty and turn off younger voters and those looking for real solutions to their problems. This cynical strategy clouds and obscures fundamental issues that should be discussed, such as increasing economic inequality, social justice, and environmental stewardship.
It is that obscuring of real issues that has allowed the Harper Conservative government to waste vast sums of Canada’s collective resources on Conservative pet projects such as mega-corporate tax cuts ($60 billion), F-35 jet fighters ($30 billion), and new prisons ($10 billion). These vast sums are thrown away with little public benefit and a terrifically high cost. While Harper’s corporate friends and insiders get rich, our society suffers from high rates of homelessness, record levels of student debt, a record number of seniors, aboriginal people, and Canadians with disabilities living in poverty, a deteriorating health care system and public infrastructure, and a declining environment.
So, how do we get Canada’s prosperity and equality back? All of us, as activists and concerned citizens, must re-engage in the political system. We must stop the take-over of our public policy and public decisions in the interests of the few at the expense of the many. That means exposing the lie that all politicians and all political parties are the same. They’re not. No political party is perfect. But the Canada’s New Democrats are made up of strong activists for social justice, economic equality, and sound environmental stewardship.
As a proud New Democrat, I ask you to surprise Stephen Harper by doing what he doesn’t want you to do: vote. Canada will be the better for it.
Peter Julian is the NDP candidate for Burnaby-New Westminster.