Friday, December 5, 2008

Nationalism made in Canada

I'm not an expert on the Canadian political or electoral system. I don't quite understand the fuss over the current political situation. The summary goes like this: Conservative leader and prime-minister Stephen Harper asked for elections. Got them, and Conservatives got a minority government with 143 seats in Parliament (House of Commons). The liberals got only 77, the socialists got 37 and the Bloc Quebecois got some 49 seats.

Now all is good, until the opposition parties decide to form a coalition. No big deal here, I've seen coalition governments in other parts of the world, and there's nothing illegitimate about them. But in Canada, it seems there is. No party can ever claim to fully represent the "NATION", simply because in any elections a number of people do not vote (so they are not represented in any sense). People also vote for different parties, which is, again, the whole point of a DEMOCRACY.

In the case of a minority government or a coalition government, what we have is partial representation. If politicians would really take into consideration their voters, then they would always create governments where all elected parties would be represented - then we can start talking of a fully representative government.

But politicians only care about their own agendas. And politicians know that the citizens are easily manipulable. Politics is not about what is right, it is about who frames the problem more eloquently. And nationalism has always been a very successful way to legitimize speakers: "I am speaking on behalf of the nation". The claim, as shallow as it is (who can speak for millions of people with millions of different opinions?), mobilizes, galvanizes and in/excites.

I've been told over and over again that there is no nationalism in Canada. But all it takes is for opposition parties to form a coalition, and nationalism is being brought back to the public agenda by the prime minister itself: this coalition, he basically says, is treason. It is undermining national unity. The Bloc Quebecois is separatist, and therefore the coalition is going against the Canadian nation. The coalition undermines the will of the Canadian nation, who voted for the Conservative government.

Well, excuse me, since when 46% of a 59% voter turnaround represents the will of the nation???
That politicians have always used nationalism is no news. But one needs to ask exactly where do all those journalists, intellectuals and everyday life people buying into this discourse stand? Is nationalism solely a political question? It is solely a top-down ideology which mesmerizes the masses?

The other day, someone I know received a propaganda email circulated at work which asked people (informally referred to as 'friends and family') to resist the separatists and the undemocratic coalition. What does it say about people spreading such propaganda by forwarding it to their address list? Let me spell it out: a coalition is not undemocratic. It represents a percentage of the votes. And it is legitimate.
And let me ask, once again: how is it possible that nationalism holds such a power over our minds? How can we not see beyond the 'national unity' talk? Why do we buy into it? And what does that say about nationalism as a meaning-making process?

Photo credits: Got the photo from AngryFrenchGuy's blog. Don't know more about its copyright...


Toronto realtor said...

Democracy is not a perfect system at all (just better than all other we know| and actual situation here is a painful example.
It's a vicious circle, because a)government should represent the majority b)parties in government should act as they promised and represent voters.
So, the question is - do we have Conservatives standing against the rest of parties? If yes, they are supported by minority, so they should leave. On the other hand, the coalition is no single entity - it's made of parties and all members of this coalition had less votes than the conservatives, so - they shouldn't represent the will of nation!
Vicious circle :)
Take care

Anonymous said...

one of the casualties of this coalition was the NDP's anti-war position regarding Afghanistan:
The good thing about it is that we will see that they belong together the Liberals and No Difference Party.

thinkingdifference said...

I agree, democracy is not a perfect system. But it doesn't 'have to' be the representation of majority. In fact, a democratic state stands for the population - so a government should strive to represent various positions. In theory, it is about representation. In practice, it ends up being the 'lowest common denominator' solution, where the least efficient solution is chosen so that all parties can agree to it. So many problems...

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