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How progressives help erode Canada's progressive identity

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Photo: flickr/Mike Beauregard

rabble readers are more likely than most Canadian citizens to understand the steady erosion of our nation's progressive institutions and values. However, now is more important than ever for progressive Canadians to acknowledge that we play a pivotal role in our crumbling national progressive  identity.

When we understand how we are the cause of the problem, we can better understand how to implement a solution.

Canada contains one of the most forward-thinking, innovative and educated populations on the planet. We have a well-established history of peacekeeping, environmental advocacy and have pioneered innovative social safety nets.

And yet, we elected one of the most socially and environmentally destructive federal governments on the planet.

To better understand how progressives in this country are complicit in Stephen Harper's wrath, let's explore the Ontario provincial politics. It is hard to find a government in the western hemisphere that has curbed more greenhouse gas emissions than Ontario’s Liberal Party. When I tell this to my progressive friends their eyes roll.

One simply needs to look at the numbers to understand the scale of Ontario's impact.

A decade ago 25 per cent of Ontario's electricity came from coal. This year Ontario shut down our last coal fire power station. As a result of this achievement Ontario's electricity sector has curbed greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent from 40 million tons a decade ago down to 10 million tons today.

To replace the electricity generated by coal the Liberals introduced the green energy act, which has been responsible making Ontario a presence on the global renewable energy stage.

In 2005 Ontario implemented one of the most progressive urban sprawl prevention strategies in the world by establishing the Green Belt. Ontario also introduced a cosmetic pesticide ban in 2009.

Of course, progressive values extend beyond solving climate change and addressing environmental issues. Progressive Canadians by my definition generally also value wealth distribution, health care, equal rights for all, labour rights, justice, and peace both here in Canada and abroad.

For those who grumble and groan about the Liberals it is important to ask how our movement would be faring had the Conservatives won the latest provincial election.

As a climate change activist and member of Ontario's bustling, new renewable energy workforce, I would have been deeply remorseful over a Conservative victory.  Conservative leader Tim Hudak made a career of undermining the Green Energy Act and spoke about cancelling renewable energy contracts and promised to introduce a moratorium on wind energy.

Progressive activists require more of a pragmatic approach to combatting the political forces that threaten to undermine our respective causes. The progressive vote is split among the Green Party, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. Nobody benefits more from this division than the Conservative Party.

Our divisions are exaggerated by the first-past-the-post system. If you don't vote for the party that wins in your local riding then your vote has absolutely no impact on the shape of the government that is formed. Conservatives know that they don't need to beat the entire progressive vote in a riding, they simply have to beat the most popular progressive candidate, which is easy because the progressive voting bloc has already been split into three or, in Quebec, four major chunks.

Progressives are responsible for politicians like Harper because we are scattered and disorganized.

Interestingly though Kathleen Wynne won her majority government with only 38 per cent of the popular vote. Ontario is an interesting case study because some contribute the unlikely Liberal win to Unifor's unconventional strategic voting endorsement.

Few human influenced events can be more impactful on our welfare than an election victory.

If we want to combat climate change, peace, fair wealth distribution, health care, labour rights, or many other virtuous achievements then we'll need national and international leadership and cooperation. We'll need to win elections 

The Peoples' Social Forum this weekend is an unprecedented gathering of Canadian progressives. If we flock there with blinders on focused on our narrow agendas, then we will go home without making any progress. I've already exposed myself as a climate change activist. As important as I think climate change mitigation is I don't think it's the glue that will pull progressives together.

Progressives know that we need to remove Harper in the next federal election. And if we strategically co-operate then Harper doesn't have a chance. But what comes next?

Governance & Democracy is listed as one of 17 official key themes of the Peoples' Social Forum. However, it should be considered the most important and necessary foundation upon which all other progressive values are based.

To reference back to the occupy movement, what better reflects the interests of the 99% than a democratic system that is fair, participatory and representative.

A properly functioning democratic system is a foundation upon which all of our respective values can become law. 

A call for democratic reform benefits all Canadians, and so a campaign for democratic reform would appeal to progressives and also voting blocs who exist outside of our community.

With a fair, competitive electoral system I am confident that Canadian policy would quickly transition to something we could take pride in.

Dante Ryel is a seasoned climate change activist, an organizer with Leadnow London, is studying Energy Systems Engineering at Mohawk College, and currently holds a co-op position at an internationally competitive renewable energy corporation.

Photo: flickr/Mike Beauregard

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