In Québec, social democratic politics were poisoned for generations by the decision(s) to pursue hydro power over the objections of the Indigenous people whose lands the dam projects destroyed. Hydro Québec was a sacred cornerstone of the Quiet Revolution, that brought Québecois out of rural, priest-ridden colonial poverty & into the modern world — at the expense of the Innu & the James Bay Cree. Pierre Vallières wrote that it wasn’t worth selling the soul of Québec socialism “pour un peu d’électricité.”
The well of West Coast socialism has likewise been poisoned today. That a mere 20 years after Gustafsen Lake the BC NDP could still have managed to earn the support of a moral giant like Grand Chief Stewart Phillip should have been a miracle we’d defend with everything we had. Instead, he’s been pissed away along with who knows how many generations of Indigenous leaders & activists who have no reason to trust the NDP when it says it has changed on sovereignty, on respecting treaty rights, on UNDRIP.
I feel for John Horgan, who is a friend, because the Liberals left him holding a timed dirty bomb — this decision is one of those that could very well cost him the next election, & could just as easily have cost it if he’d gone the other way. The difference is, making the other decision may have lost him out in the short run, but would have established real respect for Indigenous sovereignty, the right to veto projects on their own lands, as an NDP principle. Indigenous peoples might finally have seen a parliamentary party that, if you squinted just so, could almost look like an ally.
Socialism can’t be built on colonialism. Today, the movement for Québec independence — once second only to the black Civil Rights struggle in terms of a movement of an oppressed people in North America that managed, by its energy, to pull the labour movement & politics as a whole to the left — is a withered ethno-nationalist husk; it stands for nothing. The root of that failure was in its inability to build real solidarity with Indigenous peoples. The ramifications of today’s announcement will be tragically with us for decades to come.
I have been away — from the country, from my phone, and from my computer — for the past 10 days, on a vacation that has been planned for months; if you have reached out to me, messaged me in that time, I wasn’t ignoring you or being callous or stoical. Immediately before leaving, I signed an open letter that has caused many people a lot of pain. Open letters, of course, are never worded or framed as we would put them ourselves, and even as I signed I felt uncomfortable about the asymmetrical framing of the letter; I believe that UBC has wronged all parties, including not only complainants and the accused, but also relative bystanders on staff and among students, and the letter could and should have presented that picture more clearly and more fairly. I don’t believe that anyone — student or instructor — feels safer now after the way in which this unfolding nightmare has been handled by the university. That should have been the starting point. I am so sorry that it wasn’t.
The call to action in the open letter — the demand for a third party assessment of how the school has handled all of this from day one — is one that I stand behind. People whom I deeply respect have reached out to me, or have posted elsewhere, what some of the very serious problems are with the way in which that demand was framed. I agree with a great number of those criticisms. I apologize for the hurt that I have caused.
For the past year, I have assiduously avoided any sort of public declaration on what has been going on at UBC. It has been eating away at me for the entire time. I don’t think that the general public understood, or was able to believe, that we non-tenured instructors knew roughly as much as they did about what was happening at any given point in the process, such as it was. I avoided voicing any denunciations or exculpations; I had nothing at all to add, my longstanding friendship with Steven Galloway having no bearing upon guilt or innocence. Like everyone else, I waited for the outcome of the investigation.
Instead, UBC has offered only enough information with which to be terrified and confused, or to speculate, and so anxiety, confusion, and speculation have abounded. The right of complainants to the highest level of safety and anonymity is of course paramount; the university has at its disposal far greater minds than mine to help sort out a way to navigate the needs of transparency on the one hand and privacy on the other.
I vacillate between wishing I had said something earlier, and wishing I hadn’t said anything at all. I support the right of students and instructors to a safe learning environment, in which especially the former can always be secure in coming forward with their concerns and complaints. I apologize unreservedly to the people I have hurt with my signature for not voicing my concerns with the emphases in the letter before it went up. I stand by its central demand for institutional accountability.
When I was an emotionally broken undergraduate, I did a comic for the SFU newspaper, The Peak, called “Tragicomix.” It followed the adventures of a thing I could draw, a cartoon face (things occasionally got as baroque as a stuffed teddy bear missing limbs as he had no right to bear arms). I have not drawn much besides pictures of batman for my daughter in the 15 intervening years, but I decided to do one this afternoon. Please enjoy?
Almost invariably, there is nobody less politically-minded than somebody who gushes, “I’m a total political junkie!” What they usually mean is that they are thrilled by the horse-race aspects of politics, the wheeling and dealing; they can’t get enough of the panel shows that parse strategy and tactics without ever really getting into who will be affected by a particular set of policies, or how, or in whose interest they’re being advanced. In this West Wing view of the world, triangulation and chess-playing are everything; the possibility of genuine political feeling among people who aren’t already players is precluded.
The big, unprecedented federal breakthroughs for the NDP came in 2008 & 2011 — two years of cataclysmic financial crisis & worldwide popular turmoil. 2008 was the year of the crash, the biggest crisis in world capitalism since the Depression which happened to have been the crucible for the NDP’s predecessor, the CCF; it was the year of candidate, then president-elect Obama, and the seemingly unprecedented mobilization of formerly-alienated voters who raised him up. Slavoj Zizek called 2011 “the year of dreaming dangerously,” for Occupy, Tahrir Square, & other massive street uprising around the globe.
Despite itself — despite taking Jack Layton, a leader from the party’s genuine left, to the tepid centre — the NDP benefited from the Canadian franchise of what was clearly a global desire for change in both years. In 2015 — the year of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, the election and re-election of Syriza in Greece — they were well-positioned to get lucky one more time.
But the people who run the NDP are political junkies. The clutch of strategists who steer the party, incapable of thinking politically or historically, were convinced that the breakthroughs in 2008 and 2011 owed to the fact that they’d suddenly gotten better at sending emails, were suddenly running more efficient campaigns. They favoured what was not only a purely national explanation for what was clearly at least partially an international phenomenon, but one that even more specifically rested on the story of their own personal genius.
The election of a federal social democratic government (whatever’s the NDP’s vast shortcomings) would have been an historical blow to the country’s age-old electoral framework. Instead, the NDP rushed to make the prospect seem like the most modest thing in the world. Strategist Brad Lavigne spoke in an online video about how daunting & impossible Justin Trudeau’s path to victory would be, how many more seats he had to win, compared to the tiny hop, skip and jump it was to an NDP majority — this despite the excitement of 2011’s “Orange Wave,” of which Lavigne had been an architect, and which had completely upended the electoral map, especially in Québec, making a mockery of early polls or the seat count at the time the writ was dropped. At some point, late into the summer, Justin Trudeau’s team figured out that Thomas Mulcair wasn’t going to run as the Jack Layton of 2011. So he could.
There are two explanations for what briefly catapulted the NDP into the lead over the summer: the election of Rachel Notley in Alberta, and the party’s initially unpopular but principled position on Bill C-51. Each instance obviously played a role, but which one a person decided was the more important almost always reflected their values: political junkies universally saw Notley’s election, the proof that the NDP were responsible and ready for prime time, as the fount of the party’s polling successes. For the world-weary apolitical political junkies, who like the pundits wear their cynicism on their sleeves as a matter of pride and tribal belonging, the alternative — which relied on genuine, semi-sophisticated political feelings on the part of a large swathe of the general public — was silly. It is to Trudeau and his team’s great credit that they were willing to give the public the benefit of the doubt: Trudeau was wrong on C-51, and Mulcair was right, and only the former learned the proper lesson from the the experience.
By the time it came down to deficits versus balanced budgets, Mulcair had already painted himself into a corner, not only fiscally but temperamentally. He had kicked off the campaign by shit-canning a handful of candidates for their statements on Palestine (reminding many of us of the time he hounded Libby Davies; for some of us in the West and in the left our introduction to Mr. Mulcair), and then, when video emerged of him praising the political economy of Thatcherism, he shrugged. Candidate Obama would have taken the opportunity to deliver a defining, inspiring speech about the way we change as individuals and societies, what the left could learn from the right; Candidate Trudeau would have said something vapid and sappy and vaguely evasive. Mulcair shrugged.
Canadians have elected a Liberal majority that, as many observers have suggested, looks strikingly like something out of the 1990s — the decade when the federal Liberals invented Canadian homelessness, gutted the CBC, and devastated federal transfer payments for health care. An historical opportunity for Canada’s parliamentary left has been squandered, and the parliamentary caucus has been so decimated that even some of the bright young lights that could possibly have been part of finding us a way out of the darkness, like Halifax’s Megan Leslie, no longer have the job. The NDP will be in the wilderness for the next several years at least.
Oh well, that’s politics.