I am a conservative. My political allies are conservative. But we don’t know we are. And so we make mistakes. Lots of mistakes.
By “conservative” I mean that my politics are centred on a nostalgic defense of an irreversibly collapsing social order that was already in decline when I came of age politically. I believe in twentieth-century Cold War welfare states with universal social programs, large middle classes and a commitment to social equality.
We New Democrats are the only true conservatives in Canada, cowardly, nostalgic and willfully blind. Often too frightened to open our eyes and see that not only is the old, industrial, unionized, universalist Canada collapsing, the material and political conditions that enabled it to exist in the first place are no more. Welfare states were creatures of the Cold War, polities whose social contract was necessitated by the Communist Threat. It was necessary for global capital to make a lie of communists’ claim that capitalism magnified inequality, impoverishing, brutalizing and marginalizing the majority, rendering them less secure, physically, materially and socially.
That need has passed. There is no global order challenging capitalism and so its expensive advertising campaign trumpeting its socially just, redistributive nature can be dismantled, either slowly, by Third Way parties or quickly by neoconservative parties.
We true conservatives, as distinct from the radical, triumphant social movements and parties of the far right who have taken on the name “conservative” as a means of obfuscating their agenda of radical social change, know what our job is: slow the dismantling of the welfare state and mitigate the excesses of the market to the extent that the investor class, financial institutions and bond raters permit.
For this reason, we instinctively leap to the defense of any Cold War institution that comes under attack. And so, today, we come to the Broadcast Consortium. Most of my friends and allies in the NDP, Liberal and Green parties are outraged that Stephen Harper is going to boycott the Consortium’s leadership debates in favour of cherry-picking broadcasters and formats that play to his strengths.
Because the Consortium is part of the institutional framework of the Canadian welfare state, we naturally assume that this body exists to safeguard the public trust and maintain our democratic institutions. It does not. The Consortium is just the three Cold War-era Canadian TV networks, two of which are private, for-profit corporations, and the third, the beleaguered CBC, dying of a thousand cuts, its board stacked with Harper appointees.
In other democracies, debates are run by organs of the state, charged with fair and equal election coverage, based on transparent values encoded in law and regulations. If Canada truly had a system of fair election debates based on our democratic values, such debates would be administered by the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) or Elections Canada. But that is not the Canadian way. Big communications companies run our election debates based on the needs of their shareholders, not of Canadian voters.
If Canadians on the left really are to snap out of our conservatism and stand for something other than things getting worse slower, these debates are as good a place as any to do so. Instead of defending the Consortium controlled by Bell-Globe and Shaw-Global, the media giants who endorsed Jim Prentice’s re-election bid, let us call, instead of an end to leaders’ debates where big money calls the shots; let’s call for debates under the aegis of Elections Canada’s Elections Advisory Committee or a new committee of the CRTC. Let’s talk not just about defending the older, gentler plutocracy of the Canadian state; let’s call for something better than a corrupt, broken Cold War theory of electoral fairness.
In recent months, New Democrats have begun to shake off our conservatism with our commitment to bold and novel social reforms and new programs like the national child care plan. Let’s keep that up and use our position as the official opposition to set out competing terms to Mr. Harper’s for a national leaders’ debate, rather than simply defend a broken status quo.