The election to our federal Parliament of police boss Julian Fantino in Ontario is a Chris Hedges moment in Canadian politics. What does democracy produce when the Liberal class collapses? We elect right wing cops to govern the country.
It is another step also in the relentless advance of American politics into our culture. It is common for Americans to choose generals and policemen as their political leaders; that flows naturally out of a society for which war is a constant condition, and where people elect the sheriff. Our tradition has been to keep the men in uniforms who wield the coercive forces of the state out of politics. We have preferred to elect citizens who understand the necessity of balancing the influence and authority of the uniforms. Now it appears that the immediate past Police Commissioner of Ontario is a likely addition to the federal cabinet, possibly even as Justice Minister.
Mr. Fantino was until July the Ontario Police Commissioner who oversaw the police actions at the G20 in Toronto. He is a hardened social conservative who considers the Charter of Rights to be mostly of benefit to “common criminals and the Hell’s Angels.” Ontario MPP Peter Kormos once demanded his resignation as Police Commissioner for his “pugnacious and bellicose” rhetoric and “Rambo-style policing” over the trial of aboriginal activist Shawn Brant, and there were later accusations over his conduct in the Caledonia native land dispute. His police history is chequered with controversy over rights issues, including gay rights and employee rights within the police force. The Globe and Mail described him on election night as a “polarizing force”. You can see where they are coming from when only a few days earlier he had sent email to the paper referring to the Liberal Party as the “hug-a-thug Ignatieff party.”
Mr. Fantino was chosen by the people of Vaughan, a York region suburb of Toronto, to be their MP, after 22 years of electing Liberals. It bothered them not that Mr. Fantino’s campaign plan carefully avoided debates or media interviews. There was no need for ordinary media attention with the CBC’s bellicose Don Cherry in his corner, promoting the police chief by way of robo-calls to voters. (Remarkably, the CBC is unconcerned by Cherry’s campaign role, giving up the feeble excuse that only journalists or commentators on the CBC are prevented from such partisanship.)
There is no point spinning the results. This was another win for right wing populism. To put the size of the Liberal loss in context, it has to be recognized also that almost every progressive in Vaughan voted strategically, and the NDP vote collapsed from 10% to less than 2%.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges has presented a framework for understanding the rise of right wing populism in the context of the abandonment of the fight for democratic reforms by liberal institutions like the media, academia, liberal parties, the church and labour.
Hedges assessment of U.S. liberalism can not be easily extended in full to Canada. However Vaughan seems to me a Chris Hedges moment because the election of Fantino in a long time Liberal riding is possible only because of the utter failure of Liberals to present a credible alternative to Harper’s conservatism. Can it really be true that the mainly working people in this rapidly growing suburban community now believe that punitive law and order measures are the most important political answers to improve their community and quality of life? Don Cherry is our vox populi and the political endorsement that wins elections? The apparent affirmatives to those questions speak volumes about what Liberals have to offer, and to the present ability of the rest of us to fill in the void.