No longer a matter of public trust: Why Canadians want a truly democratic participatory voice for the future

By Canadians for a Coalition NDP-Green Party Government

Many Canadians from all over the country are increasingly voicing frustration with federal politics.

On social media, in particular, this frustration has generated debate and given voice to increasing dissatisfaction with the “two major parties” traditionally elected to represent Canadians. In fact, the number of self-organizing groups of Canadians online has increased tremendously in recent years, providing an outlet for discussion and provoking many who are concerned about the level of concentration of power in Ottawa to consider alternatives.

From the Occupy and Idle No More movements to the Oppose the Pipeline and Stop Bill C-51 grassroots efforts, we see parallel dissatisfaction to the same way politics have been framed in the United States of America. Perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that dissatisfaction with the status quo is a North American or even global phenomenon.

One response to this frustration, in particular with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, has been an almost desperate “ABC” (Anything But Conservative) plea from those whom we might label the left or central left. To some that feels like a strategy. To others that seems more like a dangerous “vote splitting” approach to choosing our leaders. To a new grassroots movement called “Canadians for a Coalition NDP-Green Party Government” a more riding-by-riding, tactical approach is being proposed; one that hopes to remove the concentration of power historically enjoyed by the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada.

It began with the Liberal Party’s support of Bill C-51 which, according to many, felt like a betrayal to the principles of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the movement was percolating with Justin Trudeau’s support of the Petroleum Industry, a move which many lifelong liberals also found deeply concerning. Even former President George W. Bush expressed that Americans have become “addicted to oil”. While that admission came as he left office, the conservative support for big oil in Canada, particularly in Harper’s own Alberta has begun to backfire with a wave of support for the New Democratic Party in that province recently given the moniker “Orange Crush”.

With a Senate knee-deep in financial scandal, with a palpable mistrust of government to truly represent Canadians with transparency and accountability, and with the further insult of legislation that many feel makes dissent, protest or activism a matter subject to “domestic spying”, this small, growing social and political movement began within hours of Bill C-51’s approval in the House of Commons. It is not a “unite the left” movement, so much as it as align the opposition initiative; one where the promise of true “accountability and transparency” is being re-imagined in the form of forcing a minority coalition by re-framing the electoral process itself. Canadians are no longer willing to place their trust in government leaders who, for example, leverage a federal budget’s introduction to pass sweeping, unrelated legislation.

What Concerns About “Splitting the Vote” Tell Us About the Political Landscape

The existing paradigm has provided a framework with the Liberals and Conservatives alternating like the proverbial “Red or Blue Pill” represented metaphorically in a science fiction movie, and many Canadians are beginning to see the choice itself as fundamentally problematic.

Evidence of this, as mentioned in relation to the “ABC” movement on social media, continues along the “let’s play it safe”, fear-based strategy where those who wish to support either the NDP or the Green Party are warned not to “split the vote”. The fear, of course, is that supporting a party “that can’t win” will reproduce the effect of empowering either of the Liberals or Conservatives.

Let’s deconstruct that fear.

Firstly, the concern itself actually reinforces the original framework. At the risk of wading into a post-modern or perhaps more accurately a post-structuralist debate on the merits of examining the framework, that is precisely what this new movement is demanding. Splitting the vote by supporting, on a riding-by-riding basis, either the Green Party or the NDP might actually have the effect of creating a coalition of any of these political parties. But it might also be what Canada needs, particularly if a coalition of the opposing parties is brought to fruition. The price of transparent and accountable government may have to come at the expense of a majority government. How else will the House of Commons stop future abuses of concentrated power?

Make no mistake – this is not (yet) an endorsed movement by either the NDP or the Green Party. It is also not up to Mulcair & May to decide our fate. We have confidence that, were they positioned for a coalition, they would find a way to make it work. When in our history, after all, have political parties refused to co-operate in the interests of governance? We believe that if they were positioned to form a coalition, mutual diplomatic self-interest would force the parties to form an alliance. We’re not seeking permission to propose, nor to make this effort work by means of a pre-arranged, officially blessed agreement either, because that would mean handing the parties themselves undemocratic powers of conscience, voice, and authority.

Instead, we are appealing to Canadian voters. We’re suggesting that such an alliance would be beneficial to Canadians both in terms of delivering on the promise of authentic transparency and accountability and in terms of sending the message that our dissatisfaction simply must be heard in Parliament. We want a new way forward – one where we take back our collective voice, by-passing the fear rhetoric, and overcoming the de facto “two party” framework.

Secondly, the concern is based in fear; instead of accepting the challenging work ahead if we are to re-build Canada. In the event of a coalition of the “two major parties” our approach will create a stronger, and more united voice of opposition with as many seats in Parliament representing our concerns as possible. In the event of a coalition enabling win, we believe that an NDP-Green Party government will put to rest this idea – hopefully once and for all, that such a victory isn’t even possible.

The basis of the logic presented by those who say “I would vote for them but they would never win” is, again, self-reinforcing rhetoric. Our best thinking has gotten us here and it is failing us. New thinking and, more importantly, a strategy for new ways to consider how to vote are an untested and necessary alternative. As the expression goes: “No matter how far down the wrong path you have walked, you can always turn back”.

Concerns Woven Into the Fabric of Canada

So what is this wrong path?

As mentioned earlier, many Canadians are outraged by Omnibus legislation wherein a majority government pads a federal budget with legislation that essentially circumvents political debate on important issues. Stephen Harper, prior to his election as Prime Minister was a vocal critic of this practice but he has since employed it in the House of Commons. We would like to see this practice end since we believe that it is undemocratic to employ majority status in combination with the purse strings of power to essentially silence debate on legislation in Parliament. To many Canadians, this feels like a form of “extortion” and definitely an abuse of power. We will need a coalition government to make this practice illegal; to effectively change the rules in favor of the will of Canadians instead of one Prime Minister.

Many Canadians share the concerns felt by families and communities of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, an issue that has become embarrassingly tossed around politically in recent years at the expense of these families’ and communities’ grieving and confidence in the RCMP. The Harper conservatives have cut funding to an initiative known as Sisters in Spirit since taking power, forcing the families and communities to self-organize. The Idle No More movement, which is concerned with numerous issues related to Treaty Rights, environmental sustainability, poverty, education and health within Indigenous communities is still a very strong, vocal movement. Most of us recognize our colonial history and we want to build a better relationship but the effort required to do so – the key to communication – is listening.

Many Canadians realize that climate change, as President Barack Obama recently stated, is no longer a matter of reasonable political debate. The scientific consensus is not only evidence of the phenomenon; the desperation of the petroleum industry to employ “fracking” and to propose further northern drilling is testament to an unsustainable reliance on oil.

Many Canadians are distressed by our shift from a traditionally peace-keeping military policy to a neo-conservative “war on terror”; one that is costing hundreds of millions of dollars, furthering destabilization in the Middle East and Northern Africa, creating more poverty, killing civilians, and enabling terrorist recruitment.

Many Canadians, particularly given the recent American court ruling on the “legality” of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, are simply shocked that having the freedom to express their political concerns will now place them at an enhanced risk of being monitored by our own security apparatus. It is clear that both the Conservatives and the Liberals voted to support Bill C-51. There’s no way for Justin Trudeau to try and put “spin” on the vote count. Perhaps Justin was concerned about being accused later of looking “soft on terrorism”, but isn’t that pandering to the neo-conservative policies that have been introduced by Stephen Harper? Isn’t it incredibly naive to think that supporting legislation that will decimate part of his father’s legacy, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, will attract more support than it will cost? Whatever Mr. Trudeau’s thinking was, he has made his position clear; and we disagree with him.

Moreover, many Canadians are deeply troubled by the concentration of powers to the PMO. Canada is increasingly feeling less democratic; a trend that has been created over several decades by both the Liberals and the Conservatives. The power concentration to the Prime Minister’s Office parallels, in a political manner, the concentration of wealth to an elite class of business interests. Canadians are feeling as voters, that we are being treated with less than our share of representation. It feels like democracy has been high-jacked somehow.

In short, many among us are “Fed up” with the way our government is elected. Majority governments shouldn’t be happening without a popular majority, enabling federal leadership that is no longer representing our interests, and those of us who are realizing that elections are indeed won by seats in the House are formulating a new approach.

The NDP and the Green Party might not have considered such a coalition movement since they are typically formed post-election but Canadians have not only have the power to do so, as the voting public they can and should make it happen. We’re appealing to all Canadians to help us take as many seats in Parliament as possible with clear, strategic voting for either the NDP or the Green Party candidate in each riding, depending on the numbers, so that such a coalition happens.

The voting public must reclaim its power with a participatory democracy. In our view, this calls for such a strategy. We are self-organizing to move it forward regardless of the fear, the cynicism, or the rhetoric of nay-sayers. Not only is Canada’s future at stake, the very basis of our system – democracy itself – depends upon the courage to explore this alternative strategy.