How to save the Canadian left

Image via shotinvancouver.com

I wrote this in a single night, with only a few hours’ notice that I would have to get it done by the next day, so it’s not, admittedly, the best column I have ever written.

The simple thesis is this: it’s time for a New Left.

As examples below I cite Glenn Greenwald and George Monbiot. If I had more space I would have included Johann Hari, an outstanding columnist for The Independent.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

April 14, 2011

The left is weak.

It doesn’t matter how many orange banners fly at an NDP rally. It doesn’t matter how many red flags are raised to support Michael Ignatieff. The Conservatives maintain a stranglehold on the polls and the left-leaning parties pose very little threat.

There’s no getting around it. In Canadian politics today, the left is as weak as the port side of the Titanic.

How did it come to this, one wonders? How did one whole side of the political spectrum that used to prop up Prime Ministers and keep the Liberals in power drop off so sharply?

As with everything in politics, there are innumerable reasons.

Stephen Harper is one. With an iron grip on his party, he has forcibly held together a loose coalition of Progressive Conservatives and Reformers, stifled any public dissent against him and, quite successfully, put forth the impression of ideological unity.

The attitude of Canadians is another. Economy remains the top priority for voters despite few people being able to understand it. Environment, foreign policy and culture may figure in some people’s minds but they stand a paltry second to job creation and the ability to make a profit.

But there is yet another reason that the left remains so weak, and it’s a facet about which something can be done: the lack of a credible, intelligent left wing voice in the mainstream media.

Look at any of the major publications and you’ll see precisely what I mean. The Globe and Mail, the National Post, Maclean’s.

I’m unconvinced that all commentators for said outlets are all raging, spitting-mad Tories, but writers such as Andrew Coyne, Margaret Wente and Terence Corcoran all regularly pen commentary that while not exactly endorsing Conservative policy certainly help to legitimize it in the public’s eye.

These publications do contain commentary that could be considered sympathetic to a left wing perspective. Doug Saunders, the European correspondent for the Globe and Mail, regularly challenges rightward thinking, though one would hardly call him an outright left wing commentator.

Paul Wells at Maclean’s, meanwhile, strives hard to be objective, castigating Liberal policy on one hand while taking impertinent shots at the Sun News Network on the other.

These aren’t the only voices out there, but I’m a keen observer of the news and they are the only two names that come easily to mind that bring a credible perspective from the left.

Let’s look at a list of commentators who might describe themselves as speaking from the left side of the political spectrum:

Gerald Caplan – An academic, policy analyst and organizer for the New Democratic Party, Caplan contributes the odd piece to the Globe and Mail but he is by no means a full time columnist. He is an internationally-recognized authority on the Rwandan Genocide and his expertise on Africa is unassailable. But when it comes to Canadian politics, he leaves something to be desired. His March 25 column “Oh God, not another election” communicates effectively his frustration that we’re in our third election in five years but it contains no thesis, no evidence, no real argument to begin with. You’re left wondering why you bothered to read it at all.

Heather Mallick – A Toronto Star columnist, formerly of the Globe and Mail and CBC. A self-righteous commentator who rightly gained notoriety for saying in a column that all Republican men are “sexual inadequates.” Her columns express nothing but dismissal and contempt for the side of Canadian politics that doesn’t agree with her.

Murray Dobbin – Not, by any means, a mainstream commentator, Dobbin used to write for the Financial Post and the Winnipeg Free Press and now writes for Rabble.ca. A longtime activist and progressive political commentator, he sees nothing redeeming in conservative thinking. He makes grandiose statements that most Canadians want electoral reform without the data to back such a claim. His columns are angry, miserable and their arguments strain credibility.

I write this, not because I’m a conservative or a liberal, but because I’m genuinely concerned that one ideology can be allowed to dominate political discourse. A credible left wing voice in the media is what’s needed to legitimize progressive policy and the left is not offering enough people who can do that with any influence.

In the United States and the UK, examples abound of left-wing commentary that is both influential and credible. Glenn Greenwald is a former prosecutor who writes for Salon.com. A left-winger by American standards, he is a forceful, articulate advocate for human rights around the world and a meticulous critic of both Democratic and Republican policy.

The United Kingdom, meanwhile, has George Monbiot, a columnist for the Guardian. When the government there made massive cuts to the public sector, Monbiot analyzed the cuts carefully, noticing that corrupt departments supporting corporations went uncut and unreformed by the Prime Minister.

I raise these examples because they show that good, credible, influential left wing commentary is possible.

Isn’t it time to see the same level of discourse in Canada?

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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2 Responses to How to save the Canadian left

  1. This is something that I fully agree with, however I wouldn’t just limit this to the media, I would put this forth to the politicians who make up the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party.

    Political governance and direction should be able to flow left and right. If the political direction of a country has leaned to one side left, right or centre for too long then it will fail in being able to represent and offer services to a large amount of citizens. Whether these services come in the form of government aid to allow a social program such as Sisters in Spirit to operate, or a reduction in the GST or other taxes when the government has seen its revenues grow due to strong levels of economic output.

    There are many areas of our country that need to either have government aid given as a transfer or incentives need to be provided via tax breaks if individuals either donate or operate a non-for-profit for these specific areas.

    Anyway I’m kind of rambling about random things and well I guess if I could say one thing its that I’m tired of the empty words that is spoken by our current political leaders, MP’s and MLA’s. Their words are vague and empty, and the provide no concrete path for their policies. “We need to increase early childhood education, we need to invest in our young people, we need to reduce poverty, we need to…”

    Perhaps we could all sit down as a Nation and watch a few TED talks such as the Khan Academy. Then we could figure out how we can adjust our current educational system to improve how it functions.

    Good article, even if you wrote it quickly! Perhaps you found your calling…go forth and defend the left with facts not emotions!

  2. The Analyst says:

    I’m not too sure about how much of the left’s problems are solely due to “poor voices in the media”. The Left in America has much less influence on public policy (just recall how single payer healthcare was off the table in the Healthcare Reform debate) despite seemingly better commentators. Much of the Left’s problems are structural – with a decline in unions and increasing costs for electoral campaigns, it just doesn’t pay to swing Left.

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