The Winds Are Shifting

The signs are slow in coming and at times hazy, yet a movement in the realm of Canadian politics seems to be growing and taking shape. From the federal level to the provinces and municipalities—and even beyond Canada’s borders—things are starting to happen that threaten to turn established ideologies on their head.

One of the most notable examples is also one of the most recent. Just this past weekend, Albertans woke up to find that a woman had captured the leadership of the province’s ruling Progressive Conservative party—becoming, as a result, Alberta’s first female premier. Although Alison Redford’s win is notable from a feminist point of view, it is her politics that are really unsettling the establishment. Although a Conservative, Ms. Redford is considered a “red Tory”—firmly in the left wing of her party, holding social views that many consider hallmarks of liberalism. As noted political commentator Chantal Hébert tweeted immediately after Redford was declared winner, “a red Tory has captured Harperland.” It is unlikely that such a rejection of right-wing ideals in favour of more pragmatic centrism in the heart of Conservative Canada went unnoticed.

Across the country in Ontario, the ruling Liberal party and opposition New Democrats have seen a reversal in fortunes from earlier this year, when the provincial Conservatives were projected to win a sweeping majority in the October 6 election. Ontario has a history of voting opposing parties in at the federal and provincial levels, but it has been suggested that the spectre of Tories at three levels of government (including Toronto’s municipal government and the Harper majority in Ottawa) was the straw that broke the camel’s back—and now voters are rebelling.

In the city of Toronto, the one-year-old administration of Mayor Rob Ford has hit deeply troubled waters. Despite being elected by a wide margin on a broadly populist platform, Ford has seen his support—both within City Hall and among the population at large—plummet drastically. Former Ford allies on council have refused to go along with plans that are not only deeply unpopular with voters, but also at times entirely bizarre.

Interestingly, opposition to Ford, as with other governments in the country, seems to be increasingly organized and galvanized against his agenda. An interesting example stems from part of his platform, a plan to eradicate graffiti on the city’s buildings, which has generated the entirely opposite effect: graffiti is not only increasing, it’s becoming more elaborate and sharply critical of Ford and his policies. The mayor’s calls to tackle what he sees as the work of uneducated young people have exposed some of the intricate moral and political views they hold. Graffiti is becoming a form of political protest against what many Torontians view as a broken system—one that allowed a man who doesn’t represent them or their city to take power.

These challenges to the establishment aren’t limited to Canada, though. New Yorkers were witness this weekend to the spectacle of hundreds of protesters occupying lower Manhattan’s financial district and obstructing traffic on the famed Brooklyn bridge in a massive protest against Wall Street greed (and, more broadly, that of the global financial system). Like the movements forming in Canada, this protest and others seems to be in direct response to a long spell of apathy that has allowed politicians and corporate leaders to hijack elements of society for their own benefit without regard to the high price paid by the people at large.

At the heart of many of these shifts seems to be, unsurprisingly, disenchanted young people who are beginning to speak up. With youth unemployment at soaring highs in much of Canada and internationally, the future prospects for young people are bleaker than ever in their lives. Perhaps the pressure has built to such an extent that now they are starting to push back. What will come of all this is unclear, but the trend towards the right in many jurisdictions of politics may see a reversal in the not-so-distant future.

If young, progressive Canadians begin to demand that their voices and ideas be heard, we may very well see the same surge among all levels of government that the federal NDP saw in the May election. Although in many ways a protest against the longstanding elitism of the Liberal and Conservative parties of Canada, much of the NDP’s newfound support came from young people drawn to the professed ideals of optimism, hope and a better country for all. If these sentiments continue to spread and spark action amongst more people, the still not-entirely-formed currents of change may grow into great waves.

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