#Elxn42: Electoral indigestion and the danger of personality politics

Justin Trudeau’s election is no half-victory for the left; it is a staggering failure of epic proportions.

It’s easy to see cause to celebrate this morning. Stephen Harper, our much maligned and seemingly unbeatable former malevolent overlord, was finally handed his pink slip thus putting an end to nine years of terrifying regressive politics.

In his stead we have gotten a younger, charismatic, not-a-robot hottie who is kinda hard not to like, especially if you don’t spend your every waking moment deeply entrenched in the nitty-gritty of federal politics, as well as the depletion of what was undoubtedly the most progressive, feminist, labour-friendly caucus in modern Canadian history.

Powerhouse NDP MPs who fought tooth and nail on issues of climate justice, income inequality, gender violence, lgbtq+ rights, and civil liberties fell victim to the collective “Oh shit, anybody but Harper” angst that has been growingly present since his ascent to the Prime Minister’s office in 2006.

I get it, political cynicism is on the rise (for good reason) and people struggle to maintain the semblance of a healthy social and family life under the constant strains of neoliberalism and untethered capitalism. This makes it difficult to actively engage in democracy, electoral or not.

It leads us to simplistic notions of such as, “Harper is bad. Not Harper is good”. But as Halifax activist Mary-Dan Johnston noted on Facebook last night, it turns out “anything but Harper” is a pretty low bar.

With have handed Justin Trudeau’s liberal a strong majority. A party that supported C-51, favours the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, is against corporate tax hikes, and has refused to set any green house gas emission targets.

Hell, even the Conservatives half-heartedly presented a 14.5% reduction target. That’s right, Trudeau’s Liberals presented a plan that lagged behind Harper’s Conservatives on fighting climate change. Hashtag real change!

This is the danger of personality politics. In constantly focusing on the container instead of the content, we’ve created the space for a shinier container that is nevertheless filled yet another mouldy rotten sandwich. Except this time, it’ll be that much harder to convince our peers that the sandwich will likely make them quite sick.

Stephen Harper’s calculated Mr. Roboto-dness made it easy for us. and even then it took us 9 years. Trudeau is a beast of an entirely different nature. He is calculated humanness, and it will be extremely difficult to rally people to oppose the policies he purports. Why? Because for far too long we concentrated too much of our energies on heaving Stephen, and now that he’s gone, the semblance of victory is an easy escape hatch for even more political disengagement.

There will be plenty of think pieces that will dissect the NDP’s defeat. This is not one of them. I became a member to stop Mulcair’s leadership bid and let my membership elapse over the course of his leadership. Was the campaign as left wing as I’d like? No. Was it less bad than I thought it would be? Absolutely, I’d even argue it was moderately more progressive than the 2011 campaign that swept Layton into the position of leader of the opposition. Sadly, there is something to learn about the dangers of personality politics there too.

Onwards, friends. The struggle to topple systems of injustice has a long, trying road ahead of it.