The blogosphere is an interesting space from a political point of view, for it is highly unlikely that anyone would write about matters political who didn’t have some internal drive or passion toward it. What this means is that we are far more likely to find partisans online — both as writers and as readers/commenters — than we are in the broader public.
Writers, of course, write because they want to be read. So they look to join blogrolls and communities. These help bring new readers their way. But they often come with a price: one of converging upon the general view of that community. Add a few overt partisans to that mix, and slowly that community will become almost a reflexive mouthpiece for one party or another.
For those with active or independent minds, such communities can seem a straight-jacket.
Moreover, no community exists in isolation. The community itself will have a site, and feeds, which must be managed. Perhaps this effort is donated as a labour of love, but, more likely, it must be funded, by donations or by advertising. The net effect is that the community has a vested interest in reinforcing itself around its sources of income. How expulsions from the community can then occur isn’t hard to see.
I don’t — and have never — belonged to such a community. The reason for this is that I believe, deeply, that we should decide each issue on its merits. This can lead us into conflict with those who subscribe to the community’s position, “right or wrong”.
As an example of this, take the recent issue of Dan McTeague, MP, and his RESP tax deduction private member’s bill. Perhaps this is a worthy measure (I don’t happen to think so; I prefer simpler tax systems, and this is yet another complexity) but fundamentally my opposition to it stems from the bill’s disregard of Parliamentary tradition. Tradition matters to me: while it does change, it should change by express deliberation and consideration of what is being given up, not backed into in a fit of partisan excitement. I believe the Speaker erred in allowing this bill to proceed: while he might have been able to find no explicit restriction upon which to hang a denial of a bill like this which is all about restriction of revenue planned for in the budget, our tradition is that it is the budget which is voted up or down, and that such a measure should have been an amendment to the budget itself.
Does this then make me a Government supporter (as in last Thursday’s Ways & Means vote, which included an explicit repeal of the previously-passed RESP provision)? Obviously, yes, but as someone who shared an issue, not someone even who is necessarily doing it for the same reasons (the Government’s stated reasoning is that this would threaten the stability of the budget to remain out of deficit, which is also a truth, but only if no move is made to accommodate the new provision as a choice; the Government did not choose to challenge the affront to Parliamentary tradition, as it ought to have done).
Men and women of good will and engaged, active mind can disagree with one another without any sound and fury at all. My fellow writer — and one whom I respect deeply — Werner Patels, the author of Ideas and Issues, supported the RESP provision. Promoting post-secondary education and tax relief are also things I support; we disagree as to the methods to accomplish these (to some extent), and we obviously disagree about the value of hewing to Parliamentary tradition and the Canadian methods of responsible government. But we can share these, even commenting on each other’s writing, and the voice is never raised.
Compare that to the partisan! Both the Liblogs (the self-identified Liberal Party supporters) and the Blogging Tories (the self-identified Conservative Party supporters) wrote reams on this whole tale — opposed to each other, naturally — and both echoing the sound and fury occurring in the House. Here there was no cross-engagement, just a closed world encountering another closed world.
Most Canadians, as well, although they might vote for the same party again and again, do not identify themselves with one enough to actually sign up and become a member of a riding association, or be a regular financial supporter. (I have done the second, but for three different parties at various times Federally, and for three different parties Provincially, sometimes for years at a time.) One can share a great deal with a party and its policies — motivations might differ, but the direction is roughly aligned — and thus feel that supplying them with either the mother’s milk of labour or of cash makes sense. Parties, too, do not operate for free: in the words of the old Spanish proverb, “take what you want, and pay for it”.
Still, those of you who have followed my writings here and elsewhere know well that I prize the independent candidate, the person who will stand against both their riding and their party when needed. In other words, I value independent thinking and a willingness to trust that I, the citizen, will engage when we differ rather than simply shout you down unthinkingly, and try to encourage it. This is the legacy of Chuck Cadman’s last term as an Independent MP representing Surrey North; the thought of electing more such is why I support STV as a voting mechanism (there are times to consider changing traditional practice, and this is one of them, as I have argued earlier this month.
In the recent past it has been necessary to support the new Conservative Party. Canada needs more than one party of government. Much of my writing in the past month has criticized the Liberal Party, but not with the intent to say “Conservatives right; Liberals wrong”: it is because it is clear to me that the tearing apart of the old Progressive Conservative coalition during the second Mulroney Government has also deeply crippled and hollowed-out the Liberal Party, to the point where it is adrift. (In other words, the Chrétien years represented a period in which they didn’t need to be competitive and the inter-necine warfare that replaced external competition broke that party, too.) I have chosen to write about the Liberals rather than promote a new alternative in large measure because Canadians are deeply small-c conservative when it comes to parties: refreshing a known name gives that party a leg up, at least for a few decades.
But I have also — via the comments on my piece yesterday about how Toryism (which is not at all the core of the Conservative Party) and Greenism (if I can be permitted this abysmal neologism) are a natural pairing with many congruences over issues — been made to realise (thanks to my readers) that it is time for me to look more closely at whether I ought to be stepping forward more clearly for new alternatives in the Canadian political landscape, and broadening my public support where helpful. This may lead me to eschew the money side of politics for a while — the NDP’s insistence that one is simultaneously a member of both the Federal and Provincial parties simultaneously simply by being a donor drove me from continued support, for instance (although we needed and continue to need an ability to alternate parties in BC — and here the NDP is the Opposition — I ultimately could not stand with Layton’s Federal NDP), and I simply will not, any longer, give blanket support to any party that ties me down in this way. But the pen (or the pixels) still await.
I had said, earlier, that I might not vote in tomorrow’s by-election here in Vancouver-Quadra. On that score I have changed my mind. I shall vote. I believe that at this juncture I have managed to find enough commonality on issues to feel I am voting “for” rather than “against”. To that end, I shall, tomorrow, cast my ballot for Dan Grice, and hope that it is enough to push him past the other candidates to take his place on March 31 in the House, as the Green Party’s Deborah Grey.
Periodically, there comes a point where the Augean Stables of Canadian politics need a good cleaning. We have been there for a long time now. The Bloc and Reform were false starts. May this one turn out to be better.