Faced with persistent Conservative dogma, we may be hooped

During this election campaign, we have been subjected to minor details wrapped in a pastry of fear, racism, and intolerance

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VANCOUVER, B.C. Oct. 15, 2015/ Troy Media/ – If it feels like we’ve been suffering from excessive democracy for the summer and a third of the fall of 2015, it’s because we have.

As the seemingly non-stop debate among the political leaders runs down to the vote on Oct. 19, I am left wondering when the truly big issues – coping with climate change, the structure of the non-carbon next economy, and funding the looming cost of boomer retirement health care – will be addressed.

The recent debate about what two women want to wear to their citizenship ceremony and the creation of the Barbaric Cultural Practices hotline has sucked all the rationality (and altruism) out of the room. Instead of thinking about the big political picture, we have been subjected to minor details wrapped in a pastry of fear, racism, and intolerance.

We’ve also had to learn new campaign language about “dog whistle” politics and have become more familiar with the details of Muslim woman’s traditional dress. Last week at local Tim Horton’s across the country, I envisioned hundreds of tables of “old stock”, rural “Caucasian” pensioners trying to work out the distinguishing design characteristics of niqabs, chadoors and burqas.

In my imagination, none of the local experts had ever been to a Muslim state and none were well-versed in cultural anthropology. It was pretty clear, too, that they were all going to vote, and that Tom, Justin and Elizabeth’s parties were not on their radar.

My imagined subjects matched the descriptions of the voter base that the Harper government relies on for its plurality majority. The pundits say that it may consist of as much as 30 per cent of the registered voters in Canada and that its age and ethnicity belies a rock-hard loyalty, and a staggering capacity to vote Conservative in every election, come hell or niqab.

They are predominantly Christian, rural, of boomer age, and less formally educated than other Canadian voters. They favour small government, lower taxes, and strong talk to the leaders of the old communist bloc countries who haven’t got religion. For the past decade, their party has ruled the roost because of first-past-the-post electoral tallies. Thirty-nine per cent of the 2011 vote earned 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, and all the power for the Conservatives.

The other parties, meanwhile, compete for voters who have obligations stemming from young children, demanding urban jobs, five term papers to complete, running and cycling clubs, and numerous religious and volunteer activities that make demands on their time. When 35 per cent of the voters polled state ‘Liberal’ as their voting preference, as compared to 30 per cent stating ‘Conservative,’ the Liberal party knows that winning is not a given – success is totally dependent on their voters taking the time to vote.

Progressive voters may also be vexed by what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, calls the Tragedy of the Horizon. Issues like climate change and the creation of the next non-carbon economy are distant on the political horizon.

Many climate change scientists give the world until 2070 to become carbon-free to avoid more than a 2 degree Celsius increase in average temperature. That is 55 years from now, at the end of most Millennials’ life spans.

The Conservative party, on the other hand, is serving up policy pies for 65-year-olds: a balanced budget next year; no niqabs in the federal civil service this year; and an annual slap in the face for Putin. It’s long-term planning to deal with extremely complex issues versus immediate gratification by “sound fiscal managers”.

The cultural anthropologist in me is not hopeful about our common future. As a species, we were taught by experience to avoid present dangers first. We evolved with the idea that it was always possible to escape – from Africa to Europe; from Island South-East Asia to Australia; from Beringia to Tierra del Fuego.

Faced now with a finite earth and persistent Conservative dogma, we may be hooped. There is nowhere to flee and our biggest dangers are long-term.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery.

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