I’m a graduate student in political science at York University.
And there are times – increasingly more times – that I can’t believe that I study politics.
And I’d like to suggest that this is precisely what Stephen Harper wants.
Personally, I think that it’s kind of telling that someone like me – a student who has, thus far, dedicated six years and more than thirty thousand dollars to actually studying politics – might be getting tired of what I used to find so interesting, and what I might have, at one time, been passionate about.
After all, if someone like me, who was so dedicated to studying politics, might tire of it, then what of everyone else in the country? Everyone out there who hasn’t spent countless hours and dollars studying politics, understanding the vagaries of political systems, wondering what votes might mean?
But, again, I’d like to suggest that this is what Stephen Harper wants. He wants everyone to tire of politics. And he’s well on his way to doing this.
Using a description written by Javier Auyero, when he was studying oligarchic and undemocratic practices in South America, Stephen Harper probably wants us to think of “politics [as] an activity alien to” the people. Harper probably wants us to exist in a scenario where politics “is defined as an action that is foreign to everyday life.”
And in such a situation, Harper wants the Conservative Party to appear beyond politics. He wants you to think of the Conservative Party as an apolitical, beneficent organization, that does good in the world. And that politics is alien, apart, separate from this.
Why would Harper, a politician of all things, want this?
Because politics has become something alien to all of us. And engaging in politics is then something foreign to us. So we won’t engage in politics. But thankfully, the Conservative Party will be there for us, if we need anything… because that’s not political.
In short, Harper is trying to construe politics – the very processes by which we, as a democratic society, ought to have broad discussions on our priorities and how we might live together – as something that we shouldn’t ever want to get involved in, so that he and his Conservative Party have all the control, all the power, and can do whatever they want.
And when I see this happening, I can’t believe that I actually study politics.
Over the past week and a bit, a number of ridiculous political events have taken place that serve to undermine the concept of the political in Canadian discourses.
(continued after the break!)
First, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over the Minister for International Cooperation, Bev Oda, and whether or not she after-the-fact modified a document, inserting the word “not” into a document that ostensibly approved funding to KAIROS, a faith-based NGO that works in the developing world.
In my opinion, Oda misled the House of Commons twice – first, by implying that it was CIDA that didn’t want the funding. Then, by claiming that she had no idea who had inserted the not. Actually, that last excuse might well have been the truth – I can see Harper ordering the funding not go ahead, and then Oda and her staff scrambling to cover up the fact that they were retroactively withdrawing the funding.
Next, Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney screwed up intensely when his office accidentally sent NDP MP Linda Duncan – instead of Conservative MP John Duncan – a package of information detailing the Conservative’s “ethnic paid media strategy.”
There are any number of problems with this:
- It’s highly unethical – and I believe illegal – to use House of Commons, Ministry, or Government resources for partisan purposes. Yet here we have some poor staffer being “instructed” to send out information packages on “very ethnic ridings” soliciting $200,000 from riding associations for a Conservative Party ad campaign. Said poor staffer got thrown under the bus as Jason Kenney took full responsibility and fired the staff member.
- It’s offensive to see the Conservative Party — or any other party — explicitly targeting “very ethnic” ridings.
- Where did the Conservative Party get the data on the ridings? They have some detailed stuff – I’m willing to wager it came from the long-form census — which the Conservative Party also cut. How entertaining. Did they pay the HUGE costs associated with getting the data from StatsCan?
Then, last week, various Conservative Party executives, including Senator Doug Finley, were charged with breaking the Elections Act regarding the “in and out” scheme that the Conservatives engaged in in the 2006 election.
For those of you whose eyes glaze over at the mention of this – here’s how it works: the Conservative Party hit their spending limit in the election, a limit which they are not allowed to exceed. To get around it, Elections Canada is alleging that the Conservative Party nationally bought advertising, and faked invoices to local riding associations, so that they could then send the extra money they had to these ridings and cover the costs, making the expense appear local when it was actually national. To make things better, the local ridings got reimbursed for expenses that they didn’t actually incur. This strikes me as theft.
To make things better, after admitting that mixing government and partisan work isn’t actually a good thing, it turns out that Jason Kenney has been handing out nifty little Ministerial Awards that feature the Conservative Party logo on them. This is flagrantly stupid, in my opinion.
So… what’s this all about?
Harper and the Conservative Party are trying to do two things at the same time: poison the idea of the political in the minds of Canadians so much that our stomachs turn at the very idea of being involved in anything to do with politics, and position the Conservative Party as the natural place you’d go to when you want something done – without having to get all political about it.
The Conservative Party is in power – they control the government, they can put huge amounts of money into their ridings, vis-a-vis the gazebos in Tony Clement’s riding, the fake lake in Toronto, the Economic Action! Plan money being spent heavily in Conservative ridings… and so on.
They’ve effectively become a cartel party. Political parties are theoretically groups of people with similar ideas and passions that exist to try and get those ideas and passions put into place. They are theoretically coordinating bodies, to bring activists together in a common cause. They’re supposed to be the link between civil society and the state — and that “link” is supposed to be politics.
Instead, here we have the Conservative Party colonizing the state. They are the state. This is why the name change, from the Government of Canada to the Harper Government is so telling. To Stephen Harper, the French King’s pronouncement is so very true: “l’etat, c’est moi.”
After they’ve colonized the state, the Conservative Party is working hard to destroy the distinction between them as a party and them as a government. It’s something the Liberals succeeded in doing – it’s why we called them the Natural Governing Party. It’s something the NDP would revel in doing. But it’s not something I think any party ought to do.
And that “linking” role that was so important, once upon a time, that parties played – articulating their members and public demands into government practice and policy – is politics. And that’s quickly becoming something foreign and alien – and dirty.
So at the end of the day, politics is something that no one in their right mind wants to do. It’s dirty work. It’s alien to everyday life.
So we’ll just leave the politicians to it. And when we need something, we’ll look no further than the Conservative Party.
And when a student in political science, of all people, is getting tired of politics, it shows that it’s working.
So what do we do?
We need to take back politics and the political. We need to rethink how we collectively work together. The concept of a party as being a vehicle to seize state power so that we have… well, power… is something that has brought us here.
We need to find a different way of collectively determining social priorities and projects.
We can look around the world at other examples, that are exciting. That are interesting. Hell, Tunisia – which two months ago didn’t have a democracy – is now “freer than the United States.” Perhaps we can look there.
And we can reclaim politics from the politicians. From the parties.
And make it ours again.
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