“Never fry bacon wearing a tank top on while sitting in a wheelchair” – Ancient Chinese Proverb
I have always considered myself a political “centrist”. There isn’t a political party that hasn’t presented a few platform I agree with and others I don’t. But that is alright, that is what makes me a centrist and that is what democracy is about. The one ideology I adhere to is my commitment to social justice. My role and my place are consistent on that one. I may not always agree with someones beliefs but I will always defend their right to express it as long as it doesn’t involve violence. If it can’t be settled in a peaceful means, even if that involves agreeing to disagree, then it’s a form of fascism and we are starting to see too much of that in this new evolving political environment.
A common theme among my centrist friends is the diversity of their background and they have all lived in different areas of our great country. They have moved around enough to recognize the wide range of cultures in Canada. That type of diversity breeds centrists, it is hard to get locked into one ideology when you have experienced so many others. It’s much easier to become entrenched with only one way to do something when you have never been more than 200 KM away from your roots.
I was born in Manitoba, grew up in Calgary, have lived and worked in Toronto, Vancouver as well as Vancouver Island. I lived and partied in Montreal for a year before I had to admit that my lack of French would keep me from ever finding work so it was off to Toronto. Each and every time I gravitated back to Calgary. Now I am back in Calgary and I am becoming increasingly aware of the shrinking centre. I believe (and this belief is re-enforced by my like-minded peers) that one’s commitment to being a centrist is directly proportional to their experience and exposure to other areas of Canada.
Without purposely trying to insult anyone, while firmly hammering the message home, anyone who believes all of Canada is alike probably has someone wiping the drool off their lower lip. Canada is a vast and diverse country. Each area is unique while having it’s own issues that require solutions tailored to that culture. This is what makes centrists so important in our community. They relate to solutions and not ideology.
Over the last fifteen years I’ve come to the conclusion that the centre isn’t really shrinking but has more to do with the right and left swinging so far in their own directions that the centre is stretched tighter than a Mae West face lift. And we have political parties that feed on that.
Remaining uninformed on details allows the justification of personal ideologies over what is best for society as a whole. We have a political system that has sunk to the point where politicians think they are speaking for the people while being advised by a bureaucratic buffer zone. A bureaucracy that is more about self preservation than citizen representation. And since it has little direct impact on many of these life’s it is more comfortable to remain uninformed.
When you throw in a new demographic that really doesn’t understand civics, the erosion of democracy begins. When a bureaucracy will spend $15,000 on an appeal to keep a family from receiving $2000 in speech therapy for their special needs child, that’s not democracy, that’s not social justice, that’s a bureaucrats control issue. The centrists I know tend to be more focused on social justice than bureaucratic control while many on the fringe prefer not to know.
Social justice is not something that is just given, it has to be fought for and defended continually. That absence of knowledge or worse, the desire not to know, makes social justice (and by extension democracy) very difficult to maintain. One gets tired of fighting and thats where allies come in. The maintenance of social justice requires informed allies otherwise you just become a “special interest case” and you become “white noise“.
The people I refer to as “fringer’s” are those on the inside fringe of the right and left ideologies. They tend to be at odds these days with their personal desire to remain faithful to a party system that stopped working generations ago but are hesitant to fully embrace being a political centrist. Many become indifferent out fear of abandoning a party process that no longer exists except for fund raising purposes.
When a former provincial NDP Premier (Bob Rae) can become the leader of the federal Liberals, a former Quebec Liberal (Tom Mulcair) become the leader of the federal NDP, a BC Liberal party who came into existence on the backs of a group of disenfranchised Conservative plus a Social Credit Party in it’s death throes and then top it off with an Alberta NDP government that is more reminiscent of Liberals than their new BC counterpart, the party concept becomes redundant. However most people live in their bubble of comfort (silo) and are hesitant to speak out. Activism is a limiting activity.
What we are left with is the lyrics of the Steelers Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle”. “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” (just my opinion but Jason Kenney even looks like the Penguin) and a generation of voters who no longer understand civics. They have been conditioned by TV.
I grew up in a household where one of my parents voted Liberal and the other voted Conservative but joke on the way home that they had just negated each others vote. The bigger point, they VOTED. Most baby-boomers based their civics knowledge on information gleaned from NCIS or Criminal Minds. They tend to be too entrenched in their own silo to really look at the bigger picture and have drank to much of the “you can’t change the system” koolaid.
Why is understanding the centre so important? Well the more right or left one is the more we tend to reinvent the wheel every time a particular ideology wrestles power from their predecessor. Case in point, the Alberta government announce yesterday that they will be striking an Anti-Racism Advisory Council.
Well I hate to bust their bubble but 20 years ago I sat on the Canadian Labour Congress’s Anti-Racism committee. Plans were laid out, commitments were made and strategies were adopted. Why are we doing this again rather than pursuing the groundwork that was laid out in 1999? People don’t pay attention. Since the mid 80’s I have sat on more committees in Calgary focused on access than I care to count and yet as recently as two weeks ago I had to contact my City Council Ward Rep, Evan Woolley, to identify access issues in new builds. If Calgary is truly serious about their bid for the 2026 Olympics, well that includes the Paralympics so access is paramount.
I’ve been fighting that particular battle for over 45 years and every time I think we are making progress a change in government throws a monkey wrench into it. Again reinventing a wheel that really isn’t broken, it just doesn’t align with certain ideologies.
As a Calgarian I traditionally dependent on the wild swings of the rides on the Stampede midway to make me nauseated. These days I don’t have to wait for the Stampede, I just react to the wild pendulum swings of political parties who prefer to inject their ideology into how “they” believe our society should be.
I do like to maintain a bit of humour in everything I do but harder to find some humour in this. Social justice, to me, is not a joking matter but we can’t take ourselves to seriously, take that path and you will go crazy. It is difficult to inject humour into serious ideological debates so in case you missed it, the opening adage wasn’t really an Ancient Chinese Proverb. I doubt they had tank-tops or wheelchair users in ancient China…