Citizen Action Monitor

Taking a Globe columnist to task over his article: What happened to Harper’s opposition?

No 402 Posted by fw, February 4, 2012

Columnist, Gerald Caplan, asks What happened to Harper’s opposition? (Globe and Mail, February 3, 2012). (Click on the linked title to read his original piece).

Caplan’s main ideas unfold more or less like this –

  • Recent polls show only 32% of Canadians support Harper’s government. So he has lost almost a fourth of the support he had around the time of the May election
  • Even without majority Canadian support, Harper governs without constraint and, so far, with impunity
  • Caplan catalogs Harper policies and actions around which a populist counter-movement could re-align:

. . . the undermining of many traditional parliamentary and democratic niceties; the indifference to evidence; the embrace of the monarchy, militarism and harsh justice; the denial of global warming, the unconditional commitment to the tar sands; the attack on trade unions; the contempt for the United Nations (though only after it rejected Mr. Harper’s bid to win a seat on the Security Council); the tragic transformation of foreign aid; the intimidation of independent NGOs. All of this began under a minority government. But we ain’t seen nothing yet. Where does an unstoppable majority stop?

  • The Globe columnist ridicules the fractured and feeble public opposition to Harper:

So where are all the angry Canadians hiding? There are those dangerous radical environmentalists – aka Canadian citizens – waiting patiently to have their three-minute turn at the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. There are some trade unionists who have protested the openly class warfare ultimatums presented to unionized workers by the Caterpillar company, Rio Tinto and other greedy corporations. And then there are those really tough, angry op-eds and tweets denouncing the government for its various sins. Fighting words, by god! Mr. Harper and his merry band of right-wing radical fundamentalists are laughing all the way to Dickens’ London.

  • Caplan asks whatever happened to the Voices-Voix coalition of more than 200 organizations that united in solidarity a couple of years ago. This coalition included heavy hitters such as the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Labour Congress, and numerous human rights and civil liberties groups, environmental groups.
  • He concludes his piece with this non-answer to his own question, “What happened to Harper’s opposition?” —

Canadians need a multitude of creative and effective opportunities to make their voices heard loud and clear. We need an extra-parliamentary opposition that Mr. Harper will ignore at his peril. I don’t claim to know where the leadership will come from. But it needs to happen, and soon.

So much for investigative journalism

There was so much that Gerald Caplan could have explained but didn’t. He simply restated the obvious about the Harper regime, ridiculed “all the angry Canadians hiding”, lamented the apparent lapse of Voices-Voix, and ends with this cop-out – Yes, Canada needs a people’s movement but don’t expect me to suggest where the leadership will come from to make it happen.

If Caplan seriously wants “an extra-parliamentary opposition” here is how he could help bring it about —

Hard-hitting, Caplan’s analysis isn’t. Where’s Canada’s equivalent to a Matt Taibbi, Chris Hedges, or Glenn Greenwald? Where’s our two-fisted, go-getter who, with a little investigative zeal, might have at least found out why, for example, Voices-Voix is in a dormant state. And why do Canadians not have much of a track record when it comes to building nationwide people’s movements?

Where’s Canada’s equivalent to British activist and author Tim Gee, who, in his recent book, Counterpower: Making Change Happen, explains what contemporary Canadian activists can learn from past people’s movements? They might learn, for example, what it takes to mobilize a people’s campaign capable of effectively countering government and corporate power elites. Best practices include a multi-faceted mix of tactics: persuasive counter arguments, tightly coordinated non-violent direct action, a show of economic power (i.e., boycotts), and even legal action.  Not to mention the power of sheer numbers who show up for events. (For more on Gee’s book, start here “Counterpower” by Tim Gee – Pt 10: One-stop link to previous posts in this series, and more).

The best recent exemplar of an effective grassroots campaign is the orchestrated action that helped to stall, if not yet defeat, government and corporate backers of the Keystone XL pipeline. This people’s movement was successful because of its focus on a strategic combination of grassroots mobilization, including the use of non-violent civil disobedience, genuine and straightforward communication with the public, a distinctly coalition approach, and a sharp political strategy that consistently turned up the pressure on President Barack Obama.

Make no mistake. Organizing and launching a successful people’s campaign is not easy. The requisite knowledge and skill base are formidable.

I suspect the real reason that the Voices-Voix coalition failed to live up to expectations as an effective leader to a nationwide counterpower movement is the dearth of related experience, knowledge and skills to be able to fulfill the role expected of it.

Absent the emergence (or re-emergence) of a coalition-led, nationwide people’s counterpower movement, Harper’s oligarchy will continue to rule supreme. In this event, perhaps the best Canadians can hope for is that Harper will self-destruct — as did that other arrogant, neo-liberal Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher.

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