Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Canadian Votes From New York

[ed. Congratulations to Justin Trudeau. And good luck.]

The inevitability of moving to America, if you grow up in Canada, is a benevolent ultimatum: will you or won’t you? Will you stay in Canada, your home and native land, a country with the kind of social infrastructure that (in theory) respects the life and health of its citizen, that gives communities and their individual inhabitants (in theory) the rights and support necessary to live their lives as they please? In doing so, will you resign yourself to swirl in a drain of repetitive platitudes and ineffective yet unimpeachable traditions that never stops moving but seems, somehow, to never move forward?

Or will you move to America—a default term so often compromising only New York—to take advantage of the wide spaces and vast resources (in theory), the promise of unfettered financial opportunity and limitless professional acclaim (in theory)? In doing so, will you admit to callously abandoning your neighbours, your family, the very lifeline that provided the privileges necessary to even reach out and touch such a Northern Hemisphere-specific dream, without so much as a culturally obligatory apology?

Canada is a country constantly defined by opposition. Often (almost always) this opposing contrast comes from America, a neighbour close enough to cast a country-wide shadow. Canada, as seen from America, is an eerily similar counterpart, close enough for scrutiny but not far enough for perspective: either a nearby nirvana or a malevolent microcosm. The promise of our cheerfully praised globally recognized political characteristics, such as socialized healthcare or Drake, suggests a welcome respite from what are America’s less-favourable globally recognized characteristics—the cynicism, the capitalism, the crushing pursuit of no less than complete control.

One of the truest clich├ęs about young, career-driven Canadians living in Toronto is that the “upwards” in “upwardly mobile” refers to the ascending ninety-minute flight to New York. There is, my peers and I tell ourselves, simply more in America: there are more schools, more people, more jobs, more money. There is, our friends back home remind us, simply nothing better in America: nothing secure, nothing guaranteed, nothing given. To leave one for the other is to address the unanswerable question at the root of choosing Canada or America: why leave? The response—why stay?—is maddeningly unsatisfying for both the asker and answerer. In any case, I left Toronto for New York six months ago.

Today is a federal election and my first time voting as an ex-pat. Canadians vote for candidates in their electoral district (called a “riding”), as per the regulations of Canada’s electoral system; there are currently twenty-three registered political parties candidates can be affiliated with, but the predominant parties to watch are the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the New Democratic Party (known as the NDP), as well as, to a slightly lesser extent, the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois. Candidates who win a riding represent that district as a Member of Parliament (known as MPs), and the party with the most winning candidates becomes the ruling government and their leader the Prime Minister. The risk of splitting the vote is high, and real, particularly between the two left-leaning parties, the Liberals and the NDP. As voters, we can vote for the candidate we think would be best for our neighbourhoods, or we can vote for the candidate who belongs to the party we want to become the ruling government, or we can hope for a candidate who fulfills both those requirements. It is…confusing!

Recently my friend, Nicolae Rusan, told me he was helping to organize the #NoHarper event for Canadians living in New York: together with some of his friends from McGill University—often referred to as “Canada’s Harvard”—they were fundraising for an independent advocacy group called Leadnow currently running a campaign to ultimately defeat the sitting Conservative government and Stephen Harper—often referred to as “Canada’s Richard Nixon”—by educating people to vote strategically in the ridings with the most contentious campaigns for MPs.

His former classmate, Marie-Marguerite Sabongui, sits on the board of Leadnow. She had the idea for the event while drinking beers at Ontario Bar in Williamsburg (it is an Ontario-themed bar). They were, according to Sabongui, “disenfranchised and angry” about the recent Ontario Court of Appeals decision to uphold a rule that prevents Canadians from living abroad for more than five years to vote. Originally put into place in 1993, most Canadians retained their right to vote simply by visiting the country every five years—even a connecting flight through a Canadian airport counted as a visit—until 2007, when the ruling began to be strictly enforced in the most literal terms: if you didn’t have an address on Canadian soil, you could not vote. A 2014 lawsuit restored the original interpretation, but this was overturned in June 2015.

As a direct result, approximately 1.4 million Canadian citizens are not eligible to vote in the current federal election. As an indirect result, the comparison between Harper and Nixon has become particularly apt. Harper’s party has been directly implicated in the push to disenfranchise as many voters as possible, alongside a multitude of other sins. In The Guardian, Nick Davies recently outlined some of the most recent and egregious offences:
In the 11 years since he became the leader of the country’s Conservatives, the party has been fined for breaking electoral rules and various members of Team Harper have been caught misleading parliament, gagging civil servants, subverting parliamentary committees, gagging scientists, harassing the Supreme Court, gagging diplomats, lying to the public, concealing evidence of potential crime, spying on opponents, bullying and smearing. (...)
Last year, in an essay published on n+1, Marianne Lenabat quoted Harper in 2006: “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it.” His point, punctuated for dramatic flourish, is often cited to underscore the one-sided mirror of a relationship between Harper and his constituents. There is an “I” in Harper and a “you” in us. But this statement suggests that Harper was taking for granted Canada already had an identity that is both easily recognizable and internally accepted, a firm identity with leftist leanings that he was reorienting towards a more austere path, a face only a fellow Canadian could love. I am not sure that that identity ever completely existed or if it is, like other forms of nostalgic reference, a past fantasy used to foster present frustrations: yes, we’re supposed to think in the simplest terms possible, clean up this place, which is so messy I don’t even recognize it anymore! (...)

In that same Guardian article, Davies mentioned one of my favorite anecdotes about Harper: while his brothers became accountants, he pursued a pre-political career as an economist, claiming he did not have the personality to become an accountant. This aligns with the Stephen Harper public persona I know best: the man I’ve seen represent my country for the last nine years is known for his dullness, his dryness, his perceived disdain for other people. It is hard to reconcile the idea of a man who felt himself antisocial enough to choose the kind of career that would allow him to work in solitude, yet wants to represent millions of Canadians to the world; the kind of man who self-identifies as most comfortable when unobserved, yet also decorates his office with self-portraits. And yet this is an equation that continues to add up in Harper’s favour, as befits an economist who knows his calculations. Harper has won three elections. Despite the best efforts of multiple parties, activists, and lobbyists to convince Canadians to vote otherwise, multiple polls leading up to the election were consistently too close to accurately predict which party will pull ahead and with what percentage of votes, suggesting that, at the very least, Canadians were not ready to declare their firm opposition to Harper, but had not settled on their other, singular option. This is, I think, a symptom of the confusing messages dispersed across our wide and disparate land mass: vote, but vote with caution. As a result, Harper’s version of divide-and-conquer becomes not so ominous as it is elementary: for him, Canada will be a long division equation to solve, and he will keep breaking down the numbers until there are simply no remainders left.

by Haley Mlotek, The Hairpin |  Read more:
Image: uncredited