My colleague Michael Den Tandt recently wrote: “There is no left or right or even a middle, per se, any longer” in federal politics. Conservatives champion gay rights and New Democrats are vaguely pro-trade. The policy differences are minor, so it all comes down to personality, attack ads and gimmicks.
That’s true, most days on Parliament Hill. And the smartest columnists and analysts tend not to be cheerleaders for either the right or the left, so those of us immersed in the daily news tend to see that consensus over-represented in what we read. We see, as Den Tandt described, “a single, homogeneous Canadian political culture.”
That’s a culture that accepts the basic tenets of capitalism, in principle anyway, without questioning the right of universal access to health care and education. It lumps tax hikes and deficits into the category of occasionally necessary evils. It accepts that climate change is a real danger. It’s a socially progressive and largely secular culture, at least in comparison to most of the world.
It’s a culture that happily quibbles, while holding a vast number of truths to be self-evident. When REAL Women of Canada chastised Canada’s foreign affairs minister for his support of basic rights abroad, Conservatives joined in the condemnation of REAL Women. In fact, the statement was so outrageous that there was speculation in social media that it was all a false flag to make the Conservatives look tolerant.
A conspiracy is possible, I suppose. But the simpler answer is that ideology is not quite dead, that there really are honest-to-goodness social conservatives left in Canada.
Criminalizing homosexuality is abhorrent; it was also the law in Canada until the year my boomer parents got married. So REAL Women’s attitudes are a generation behind the times; that’s implied by the term “social conservative.” They’ve been well behind the times when it comes to women for as long as they’ve existed, and that’s never surprised anyone before. That’s their defining ideology. And given that Canada legalized same-sex marriage only a decade ago — amid acrimonious debate — I find it hard to believe REAL Women are the only adherents of that ideology left in the country.
When my colleague Mohammed Adam and I met recently with representatives of Canada’s new megaunion, Unifor, I was reminded that there is still ideology of the left, too.
In fact, Gaetan Menard, secretary-treasurer of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, described the current relationship between the labour movement and some conservative politicians as “an ideological war.”
If there’s a consensus that free trade, foreign investment and market forces are good things, someone forgot to tell the unions.
When it comes to whether and how Canada should allow Verizon to operate, I am fairly agnostic, given the tangle of policies that got us to where we are today. But I come to the table with a set of assumptions, including that consumer choice and competition are self-evidently good things.
Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, comes to the table with a different set of assumptions. Instead of asking why a company like Verizon shouldn’t be allowed to operate in Canada, he asks why it should. Can it prove that prices will be lower or services improved?
“If [the government] wanted to, they could actually regulate the cost, regulate the profits that come out of companies. I mean if they really wanted to talk about consumers, they could do it through CRTC,” Coles said.
Of course, one could argue that these are union veterans, stuck in pre-NAFTA attitudes, in the days when the Canadian political culture was defined by its willingness to embrace stuff like CRTC regulation and Crown corporations.
It might be difficult to see much heterogeneity in federal politics, as the parties try to appeal to as many voters as possible. The parties might be, as Den Tandt wrote, “several feuding clans, each flying its own variant of the same essential flag.” But there is still some ideology out there in the culture.
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