Canadian Elections 2011, Part II: My Epiphany

Something dawned on me recently: I have some heavy prejudices when it comes to politics. (Warning: Di-atribe.)

It’s not that I thought I was completely free from bias, but I try to be as open-minded and critical-thinking as I can. Though I am white, female, educated, middle-class, anglophone, straight, and born in Canada, I try not to harbour any preconceived notions about people who are not these things.

But tell me you vote Conservative, and a whole bunch of ideas will pop into my head about you – ideas I’ve only just recognized are there.

The epiphany came when we were talking about the upcoming federal election in my school staffroom and one of my co-workers said she votes for Harper. I was truly taken aback; teachers who vote Conservative are rare, especially in Ontario, where the whole teaching profession was raked through the mud (to put it mildly) by the provincial Conservatives not long ago. And even if I have colleagues I would suspect of being right-wingers, I never would have pegged this particular teacher as one of them.

Then, I was surprised at my own surprise. If this person seemed so un-Conservative to me, then what am I expecting Conservatives to look like?

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Sorry to stoop, Steve, but I was looking for a good campaign pic... and this is actually the best I could do.

I have to admit that if I’m totally honest with myself… in the unsophisticated knee-jerk region of my soul… I’m picturing: white men who make more than $80K per year, drive gas-guzzling testosterone trucks, bitch about public school teachers, spout cliches about “the troops”, poison their lawns, feel threatened by immigrants, and won’t stop whining about taxes.

Oh sh*t. How can I possibly call myself a critical thinker with an attitude like this?

I know I am not alone in being a political bigot… but I’m not comfortable with it. In accordance with the way I would grill my students if they made bigoted remarks, I have begun to force myself to acknowledge and question my prejudices.

Where am I getting these biased ideas?

Well, I think most of it comes from discussion, mostly online. For the last three elections at least, I have read and participated in more than a few political message boards, commentary lines in newspapers, Facebook arguments, etc. Of course both sides have their stereotypes, and re-hash similar arguments year after year – the battle between left and right is eternal. Both sides are constantly saying, “How can you possibly trust the other guy??” But the main arguments I’ve read from Conservative supporters have to do with money – more specifically, taxes. They say, “The Liberals steal my money.” They say, “Harper is going to put more of my money back where it belongs – IN MY POCKET.”

If voting preference comes down to the things you care about/prioritize in life, then I deduce that Conservative voters care about MONEY.

Don’t get me wrong. I care about money. I wish, at the moment, that I had rather more of it than I do. But that is precisely why I don’t want the Conservatives in power: I DO trust them, more than I want to. I trust them – to do things I deplore with my money. If Harper fulfilled every promise he made, he would be spending my tax dollars on precisely the things I don’t want him to: development of tar sands, tax cuts for large corporations, megaprisons, and fighter jets.

On that last point, I also am under the impression that a lot of Conservatives care about something else: THE MILITARY.

I have a complicated relationship to this one: as a Quaker, I’m a pacifist, and utterly disapprove of people shooting at and bombing other people. But I’m not against Canada’s Armed Forces as a group. I want them to be out there doing what they used to do – peacekeeping (even if they weren’t always quite as peaceful as they could have been). To that end, I want them to be well-equipped and well-prepared. But I roll my eyes every time I hear someone spout off about the our military “keeping me safe” and “protecting the freedoms I enjoy”, since at the moment it’s doing exactly the opposite. Seriously, when you send soldiers to the Middle East and they participate in violence, the locals don’t like it. They get mad, and they know what flag they’re mad at. Making enemies = not good foreign policy. Not gonna keep us safe.

Stephen Harper has even gone so far as to screw up our reputation in other regions abroad. When I was travelling in Europe ten years ago (sheesh, time flies), everyone loved Canadians – I even met Americans who put Canadian flags on their luggage in the hopes of being treated better. In the last few years, though, Stephen Harper has alienated the international community at every summit he has attended with his regressive stubbornness on climate change – to the point that the U.K. was calling for a suspension of Canada’s membership in the Commonwealth. It truly pisses me off that “my” Prime Minister has embarrassed and disgraced us to such an extent that it is no longer recommended to admit that you’re Canadian abroad.

Also, the “freedoms I enjoy” that I want protected include: a safe public water system, clean air to breathe, commercial-free public radio, not worrying about getting shot, and not having to go into debt in order to get surgery or prescriptions – ALL things that are threatened under the current Conservative government.

Right now, I’m wondering what it is the Harper Conservatives have done to benefit you and your family lately. (I got a card in the mail today, promising me a “family tax cut”. Sorry dude, you’ve had like five years to come through for families, and you’ve done diddly-squat. The child tax benefit we get may look cute, but it doesn’t make an appreciable difference in child care costs. Actual subsidized day care, on the other hand, would.)

I’m asking this question seriously of Conservative supporters: what is it that so earns your devotion? Have you actually stopped paying taxes under this government? Do you love the HST? Do you have a soft spot for man-made lakes meant to impress ambassadors? Are you suddenly, magically richer, thanks to Harper? Do you get a kick out of watching the police get all violent towards the public in peaceful demonstrations? Ooh, maybe it’s all about the weapons, like the fighter jets and the long-guns. For all you folks who need to compensate for the, uh, gifts you lack, with stuff that goes BOOM. Or are you still harping (HA – get it?) on how Harper got us through the recession? Because if he’d had his way, our banks would have been deregulated long ago, and we would have gone down the toilet along with our neighbours. So I ask again: WHAT IS IT?

Maybe if I can get a real, considered answer to this question, it will help me revise the picture in my mind of a Conservative voter. Obviously, there have to be lots who are generally nice people, people who love their kids and drive politely and bring their own bags to the supermarket. They could help me understand.

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Here’s what I want. I want Canada to be a country where:

  • I can go to the hospital to have my babies without worrying about insurance loopholes or financing;
  • my kids (and their kids, etc.) can play outside in the summer without smog alerts;
  • our freshwater is not being bottled and sold right out from under us;
  • we don’t wonder whether we should own a gun because all the neighbours have them;
  • our military is known for actually keeping the peace;
  • people who need help can get it, whether it be through financial assistance, individualized help at school, subsidized day care, correctional rehabilitation – or proper water treatment facilities in First Nations reserves;
  • I can trust that the food I buy will not poison me;
  • the government is called the Government of Canada, and
  • I’m proud to discuss my nationality.

I pay my taxes so that we can work toward this. Does this sound like such a bad place to live? Is this so much to ask?

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