Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Conceit That Is Being “Centrist”

I’m seeing a fair number of former Progressive Conservative (PC) supporters in Alberta yammering away about being “centrists” now, and it’s actually making me quite angry. 

This particular brand of “centrist” isn’t working from a starting point of a “centre” per se, so much as starting from a presupposition that the NDP is “too far left”.  They’re positioning themselves as “centre” relative to a United Conservative Party (UCP) that has come under the thrall of a far right group calling itself “Take Back Alberta” (TBA).  That isn’t “centre”, that’s a relative position that still puts you firmly in the far right - because the Notley-led NDP policy platforms are consistent with Peter Lougheed! (remember that name, we’ll come back to it)

I see a number of complaints about the NDP from these people:  

1.  “Oh, they are influenced too much by the unions” 

2.  “Their economic policies are unrealistic” 

3.  “The provincial party is subservient to the Federal Party - look it’s in their constitution” 

Let’s take a look these in more detail, shall we? 

“They are influenced too much by the unions”

In order for this to make any sense, you have to assume that there is something inherently bad about trade unions. There is no question that in Alberta politics, conservatives have spent decades demonizing unions. This is mostly an outgrowth of the period in the 1970s when some unions really did overplay their hand, and of course, who can forget the tale of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, where the union fell under the sway of organized crime? 

But that isn’t the situation today, and frankly from a political organizing standpoint, why shouldn’t workers have a political voice?  Let’s face it, other groups do - businesses exert enormous political influence through everything from donations to organizations like Chambers of Commerce.  Religious groups form coalitions all the time to influence political parties.  Community organizations with specific issues they want addressed form and attempt to engage in political lobbying / influence all the time.

It’s not secret that conservative parties in particular are influenced, if not controlled outright, by combinations of these various groups.  The NDP is, in this regard, more transparent than most about it. They have long said they are the party of workers, and they walk that by specifically engaging with organized labour. 

If you have a problem with this, then perhaps you have a problem understanding the role of unions, and the importance of workers organizing both at the workplace and political levels. Businesses do it all the time, why shouldn’t workers? 

“Their Economic Policies are unrealistic”

They are? Frankly today’s Alberta NDP policies aren’t that far removed from what the PCs were advocating when Peter Lougheed was running the show. Yes, that’s a good long time ago now, but since Lougheed continues to cast a long shadow in Alberta politics, it’s worth pointing out that many in Alberta still point to him as a high point in our governments. 

If their economic policies are now so unrealistic, the NDP’s critics are shockingly unwilling to say the same of those policies under Lougheed. Frankly, most policies are a matter of political will. If investing in healthcare, public education, and post secondary education mean that we have to raise government revenues by doing things like setting tax rates at reasonable levels, or *gasp* impliementing a Provincial Sales Tax (PST), so what? We would be doing what every other province in the country does. 

It seems to me on this front, the so-called centrists are far too often those who are “fat dumb and happy” in the course of their own lives, and have little or no insight into the importance of investing in the lives of others for the future of all. 

“The Provincial Party Is Linked To The Federal Party”

This one gets a “so what?”.  Until the 1990s, most political parties in Canada were hierarchical, with the provincial parties openly affiliated with their federal counterparts. Rachel Notley showed us quite clearly in her time from 2015 to 2019 that she was perfectly willing to tell the Federal NDP to take a hike if their policy direction was detrimental to Alberta.  The idea that Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh could “order” a provincial Premier to do anything is laughable.  

But, let’s be clear, there are connections between the Federal and Provincial wings of any political party movement. They might be “on the table”, as they are with the NDP, or they may be more indirect.  It’s perfectly clear that the conservative parties in Canada all collaborate with each other, sharing people, strategies, and tactics. We would be foolish to think that anything less is going on right now.  I don’t believe Poilievre is dictating to Danielle Smith, Scott Moe, or Doug Ford per se, but it’s perfectly clear that they are coordinating their efforts through more than happenstance. 

The Conceit

Far too often the so-called “centrist” sits there and tries to make it look as if they are somehow above the fray. “Oh, but there are good policies on both sides, I just happen to think the left is too extreme”, they’ll say.  

The problem is that they refuse to acknowledge that the right has moved ever further right over the last 30 years. The centrist tries to claim that they are “critical thinkers”, and they see “merit” in conservative policies, while quietly ignoring the impact of conservative policies on social issues.  

Policy - whether it is economic or social in its focus - always has impacts both ways. Yes, increasing taxes has direct impacts on individuals, but when those monies are used for education or health care, or even to repair roads, there are social impacts that we should not ignore. Similarly social policies such as non-discrimination laws result in greater economic activity because more people feel like they have a legitimate right to participate in society. 

Especially as conservatism in Canada has drifted from being “hard right” under Harper into a much more extreme form today, it is a position of privilege to sit there and say “oh, but we’re good, we can criticize both sides”. No, actually what you’re really doing is reinforcing your existing biases and endorsing the increasing extremism of the conservatives by decrying “the left”.

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