Sunday, July 19, 2015

On governing alternatives

As David Climenhaga points out, Brad Wall has positioned himself as the heir to Stephen Harper's throne as the voice of the anti-democratic corporate elite. But let's note that Wall and his mindset aren't without some jarring approval within the media.

For example, I've already highlighted John Ibbitson's argument that the federal NDP should be concealing the fact that it's talking to people who can help with preparations in the event that voters choose to elect it. (As an aside, that theory is as politically inexplicable for a party focused on being "ready" for government as it is offensive to the concept of voting by an informed public - but let's stick with the latter point for now.)

But it isn't only the NDP that's being instructed that people should have neither knowledge of, nor input into, the parties running to govern them.

It would be one thing for L. Ian MacDonald to find reason for concern in the fact that one of Stephen Harper's cabinet ministers wasn't well enough connected with her riding to earn a nomination. It's quite another for him to explicitly ask "why wasn’t Yelich protected by the party?" against democratic processes - making the default position one in which members get no say in nominating the candidates who are to represent them.

All of which is to say that Climenhaga is right in pointing out the dichotomy between political actors dedicated to treating the public as a problem to be managed in the service of the wealthy (and their apologists pleading to be cut out of democratic processes themselves), and those who actually see value in serving the public:
Mr. Wall’s frustration reflects the opinion of many on the right, including his ideological fellow travellers in Ottawa, at the challenge mounted by Ms. Notley and Alberta’s new NDP government to their neoliberal approach to governance. No doubt they are particularly vexed by what this might mean for their attempts to eliminate the ability of citizens within the Canadian federation to control the energy industry in their own jurisdictions.

Mr. Wall and like-minded conservatives elsewhere in Canada, including here in Alberta, have long attempted to erect, if readers will forgive me, a Saskatchewan Wall between the public face of democracy and the ability of citizens to influence fundamental policies undertaken by their governments.

In other words, in the neoliberal worldview, democracy is only about the periodic selection of leaders expected to carry out economic policies already determined by an “expert” leadership consensus.
From Mr. Wall’s point of view, building pipelines to all points of the compass and catering to every whim of the energy industry is not just sound policy, it is simply non-negotiable. Asking other provinces – or, God forbid, their ordinary citizens – what they think about it must seem deeply subversive to someone who believes such perspectives ought to be irrelevant.

The idea Ms. Notley was seeking consensus to help Alberta apparently appeared so outrageous to Mr. Wall he let his mask of congeniality slip in public. Well, he wouldn’t be the first person to mistake Ms. Notley’s engaging manner for a lack of steel. This is a serious error, as some have discovered already.

Ms. Notley, by contrast, has a fundamentally different, much more traditional, view of democracy in which political parties are needed to act as brokers of conflicting ideas to build consensus on policies that a majority of voters can support.
Which means in turn that this fall's election isn't only about electing a New Democratic government, but also a newly-democratic government. And in order to accomplish those goals, we'll need to push back hard against people who have no taste for either.

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