Party leaders

Right place, right time? (CP – Sean Kilpatrick)

After a couple of elections tacking (somewhat) to the left, the Conservative Party of Canada has chosen Pierre Poilievre, in a landslide, to be their new leader. Poilievre is widely seen as a pugnacious type who likes to hit on various, not always consistent, right-wing/neo-populist talking points, like the presumed influence of the World Economic Forum on Canadian politics. I think Poilievre’s policies, at least the ones I’m aware of, are mostly bad — making Canada the crypto capital of the world, doing more to promote the fossil fuel industry, appointing “free speech guardians” to oversee campus free-speech issues — but he does seem to be a politician in the modern mold, meaning that he does Twitter well. He is also likely to benefit from a growing sense of anger at the inevitability of Justin Trudeau, a prime minister who has lost the last two elections to the Conservatives in terms of the popular vote. There’s a wave of backlash coming, and Poilievre wants to be the guy to ride it. With the NDP under Jagmeet Singh having thrown in with the Liberals after the last election, for which I think there will also be reckoning, Poilievre has to like his chances.

This same weekend, Lorraine Rekmans, the president of the Green Party, resigned in the midst of the process of selecting a new federal Green leader after Annamie Paul stepped down following the disastrous 2021 election (Paul placed fourth in her own riding).  The Greens in 2021 blew up in part due to in-fighting around Paul: a lot of squabbling which is too complicated and in some cases too petty to bother with sorting out, but revolved around a raft of identity issues. Paul (a Black, Jewish woman) found herself at the center of charges and counter-charges of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.

Well, in 2022 racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism have become old hat, and the latest controversy, the one that led to Rekmans’ resignation, had to do with a letter signed by several party big-wigs complaining of the misgendering of interim Green leader Amita Kuttner, who is transgender and nonbinary, in a Zoom event. This is a bit confusing since: (1) the misgendering seems to have been an accident; and (2) Kuttner had previously responded to an interview question as to what her preferred pronouns were as follows: “They/them. But when I write my pronouns, I sometimes write all of them: they/them, she/her, he/him, because I don’t care. There will be days where I’m not always even aware of what my gender is.” Apparently this was not one of those days, as Kuttner later described the misgendering as revealing a “system of oppression” that led to feelings of hurt and isolation.

In her letter of resignation Rekmans wrote that “there is no vision [in the party] for a better future, but only an effort to look back and settle old scores, while the planet burns.” I share her concern. As I said in my thoughts on the 2021 election, “The environment as an issue simply isn’t a priority for any appreciable part of the electorate.” I get that. What’s depressing is that what is a priority is this gender labeling.

In her resignation letter Rekamans writes that her “optimism has died.” Right-wingers are gleeful at the woke revolution eating its own children, and for good reason. For the left this is a disaster. In fact, I think it’s a disaster for all of us.

There’s an expression you often here among “Never Trump” Republicans that they didn’t leave the party, the party left them. It’s a line that actually predates Trump, with another version of the same phenomenon being “I didn’t change, the party changed.” What’s more, this is something you hear just as often on the left as on the right.

I’ve always voted for leftist parties, but I grew up at a time when the NDP still had its roots in the Co-operate Commonwealth Federation (a Western, agrarian party) and the Canadian Labour Federation. Whatever the NDP is today, its base isn’t farmers and blue-collar workers. I’ve also voted Green (at least on the provincial level), but what is the Green Party today? Is it honestly more worried about pronouns than about pollution and climate change? My priorities haven’t changed, but it seems that in both cases the party’s priorities have.

I can understand having to change with the times. There aren’t as many farmers or union workers today. But these gender issues aren’t big vote getters, and indeed are probably counterproductive in that they turn people away. Given the current status of the Green Party, its latest round of virtue signaling may be  just another twitch of the death nerve, as I’ve suggested has been happening in universities. If so, that’s depressing. Meanwhile, I know many old-school Tories who are disgusted by Poilievre and almost everything he stands for. Unfortunately for them, “firing up the base” is seen as the party’s only way forward. So far, the Liberals have been winning by just standing in place without actually standing for much of anything, but that’s not going to last.

I’ve never felt so personally alienated from politics. I know that I’m not alone, but, like Rekmans, my optimism has died.

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