Progressives love a happy warrior.
Can you blame us? Progressive politics is, ultimately, an act of hope. It’s founded on the idea that more unites people than divides them — the idea that if everyday people work together, we can build a better and fairer world.
But in 2023, one thing is clear: we don’t live in sunny times anymore.
In a recent poll, only 30 per cent of Canadians felt like the country was headed in the “right direction.” This is more than just pessimism: it indicates distrust of institutions, divisions in society, and a reduced sense of unity and collective purpose.
Inflation continues to squeeze working people’s pocketbooks. Rate increases by the Bank of Canada try to resolve inflation on the backs of workers in the form of monetary austerity. Despite this tightening, rent continues to soar, with the nation’s average rent increasing more than 12 per cent since December 2021.
And if that wasn’t enough, many economic forecasters predict Canada will enter a recession this year.
Canadians are getting angry. And they should be.
What people are reading
In my role as executive director of the Broadbent Institute, I help working-class people get ready to assume leadership roles — whether it’s getting active in their municipality or organizing for community change.
The tenor of these conversations has changed. Gone are the days when people believe the system works in their best interests. Today, people tell me our systems are corrupt and must be fought.
We can see this play out in the success of Pierre Poilievre. The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has consistently sought to channel the sense of despair and anger that Canadians feel, saying that “everything feels broken” and, echoing the slogan of the Brexiteers, consistently promising to help Canadians take back control of their lives.
It’s an attack that has emotional resonance. It’s also an excellent contrast with the Liberals, who, despite coming to power on their leader’s empathy, are likelier today to suggest that working people cope with inflation by cancelling Disney+, a suggestion made by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland that she later walked back.
Poilievre won’t do anything to fix these problems, of course. It is one thing to know the issues, but it is quite another to solve them.
For example, he correctly identifies “gatekeepers” in local government as his nemesis — but his proposed reforms only target big cities while leaving housing-laggard suburbs in the 905 and Lower Mainland untouched and making no movement to reverse the Chrétien and Martin-era Liberals’ draconian cuts to non-market housing funding. His attacks on British Columbia’s safe supply pilot endanger efforts to end the province’s toxic drug crisis.
But we cannot ignore the simple fact: he is channelling Canadians’ anger. And it works.
Progressives, we need to take a page out of his communications playbook. In an angry era, we need to get mad.
Here’s the good news. Although the right is angrier today, anger is historically progressive territory. The left was founded on one simple truth: Working people are getting ripped off.
It’s this discontent that is at the foundation of the labour movement, which channels workers’ anger to fight exploitative bosses. We can look to labour for clues on how to channel people’s anger today.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) launched a new campaign last month called Enough is Enough. In the face of an economy where workers pay the price for a crisis they didn’t create, the OFL demands real wage increases and an affordable cost of living.
The Canadian Labour Congress has given Poilievre competition when objecting to the Bank of Canada’s screw-tightening, as companies like Loblaws see soaring profits during inflation while workers’ wages continue to fall behind.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh seems to have taken this lesson to heart, building awareness of ‘greedflation’ — a way for Canadians to remember that the cost of groceries and other products is up due to corporate profiteering.
Here’s what these campaigns have in common.
They are angry.
They identify a villain.
Their solutions are market interventions that Poilievre could never co-opt.
And they focus on what brings normal people together — a desire for a better life — not what drives them apart.
For too long, progressive politics — in this country and elsewhere — has been built on the foundation of culture wars to create a cross-class majority.
In 2023, that strategy has run its course.
In its place must be a new strategy: building a multi-racial, working-class coalition for progressive change dedicated to real, measurable, material improvement in the lives of ordinary people.
That’s the mission of the Broadbent Institute. That’s what we’re discussing at the Progress Summit this March in Ottawa.
And in an angry era where trust is declining and people look to charlatans for solutions, it’s how we’ll win back trust — and win a better deal for everyone in this country.
Jen Hassum is the executive director of the Broadbent Institute. In the last two decades, Hassum led teams at the municipal, provincial and national levels. She is recognized as an innovator in building an online community and mobilizing users to real-world action. Most recently, as the publisher of PressProgress, she helped oversee its growth into an award-winning national news organization read by millions of Canadians. Over the years, her work has contributed to historic electoral victories, winning new organized workplaces and helping make important public policy gains for working-class people.
Wow, took long enough! Anyone
Wow, took long enough! Anyone who ever thought that our current neoliberal system "worked for them" is certainly not a progressive, and not very bright. Progressives have spent the last 40 years navel gazing, and spending capital worrying about offending everyone or anyone, that they lost track of what is really offensive, the decimation of our society....yes it is broken, by corporate interests who control all politicians, and our minds. They have destroyed the environment, they are destroying civil society, and destroying what remains of our "democracy". All the while progressives worry about using the wrong language, or hurting someone's feelings. Those previous generations who FOUGHT for equal rights, healthcare, pensions, and all the other benefits we are giving away.... they were angry!
"Wokism" is a disparaging term that has replaced "snowflake" to become WAY too entrenched which IS in keeping with how progressives have indeed become WAY too precious with way too much focus on "special interests" of all stripes, choosing what can be described as arcane posturing. It comes off as holier-than-thou "virtue signalling" that has NOTHING to do with most peoples' lives, although most decent people empathize generally. But it's turned our famous Canadian "tolerance" into an ongoing competition to "out-tolerate" each other so resembles a religious screed, the last thing we need more of when divisions are already so deep. Quite the contrary.
Speaking of real life, political strength in particular is in numbers, so why is there no more talk of uniting progressives? There used to be, which provided that all important HOPE referred to in the article, and also provided credibility to both Liberals and NDP as the parties that DID care about people first and foremost, but the ongoing luxury of indulging in the narcissism of small differences is no longer acceptable. The current confidence and supply agreement is a tantalizing precursor of what most progressive people who are not players in the political game actually WANT rather than the usual tedious displays of male ego OR small-minded tribalism currently on display.
Actively and shamelessly stoking anger and division for political power, especially among all the young people very much bearing the brunt of end-stage capitalism has another effect as well; it creates a constant, frantic election mode like in the States. This is demonstrably one of the most destructive and effective strategies of a malevolent right wing that now actively threatens not only our democracy, but all of us with the sidelining of the existential climate crisis. These greedy corporate guys running the show? We could sideline THEM if we shelved all the piecemeal protest solidarity for the GENUINE solidarity of walking the walk of true collaboration, of union. We really should know better on the left; this should be fish in a barrel. It's embarrassing.
To blame is not a solution.
To blame is not a solution. Although there are deep thinkers who say there are no solutions, I think there are but we cannot control them. To engage in society on a large scale, to be a leader, is to give up on blame, to not seek the "other" and expect they will be interested in your point of view. Our problems will not be solved by accusation if we leave it at that.
Love is inclusion. It's admitting that everyone must be included in the "us" category. The world is a mess because civilizations have been successful in creating pecking orders where the top are loved and fed, and the bottom are blamed and hated, and the rest of us focus on raising ourselves on the next level up.
Let the status quo go. We all have something to give, kindness, ability to think, to care for friends and family.
The purpose is not to fix every problem but to engage in community. To take your particular talents and create inclusive community.
"To blame is not a solution"
"To blame is not a solution" sounds very much like Michelle Obama's "when they go low, we go high," a.k.a. turning the other cheek, which, again, sounds religious. But throwing their lot in with the millions of evangelicals in the States is what has propelled the Republicans and the cons here forward. So placating them and tolerating their delusions is what has placed us all on the knife edge we're currently on where we're just barely keeping them at bay.
They're comparable to Putin at this point, and anyone who doesn't think they are wholly to blame for the unprecedented deterioration of our politics simply isn't being honest or hasn't been paying attention.
We would love to be more
We would love to be more involved in the Broadbent Institute, because we believe in what they do and we are activist by nature and nurture.
But when all conferences are in eastern Canada, and when there is no place for genuine discussion of issues, not even on National Observer, (where I'm free to say whatever,no one will ever respond).....we tend not to send money.
WE AGREE WITH THIS ARTICLE....but if the Broadbent institute is serious about building such a coalition, it might consider opening some forums where the genuine working left can exchange ideas and learn from each other.
For certain sure........pundits on the lecture circuit aren't gong to achieve much on their own....and from my many years in education, I never found that one way transmission much interested the over worked working class.
I think the time for
I think the time for discussion is past anyway. At this point it's just self-important and self-indulgent (that narcissism thing) because, like those pundits on the lecture circuit, it's just more pointless preaching to the converted. I fail to see how the NDP thinks they can be taken seriously when their recurring bid to lead federally just ends up splitting the progressive vote as it has for decades, since their inception. But since they can't roll in with the big, bad Liberals hopefully the plan is to continue with the current agreement indefinitely? It's the perfect solution until the next election when I guess we all have to cross our fingers and vote strategically AGAIN so all these tribes/parties can be kept whole. Is this really the best we can manage?
Finally, a comment I can
Finally, a comment I can (largely) agree with.
The article was written from the warmth and comfort and secure salary of a think tank office filled by a cadre of like-minded people.
This progressive septuagenarian has had his fill after decades of progressives claiming anger and fists pumped in the air is the way, only to see variations on the same disappointing election results every time. Mimicking Poilievre? Get me outta here. The Left started the shouting and pushed the sales of megaphones into record profits. This is not general strike territory. The article seems a bit naive, like the author hasn't listened to her elders to find a practical political strategy and structure among the debris of anger.
If the federal NDP wants to affect true change, then it requires a serious lesson to learn to work with other parties beyond shouting, heated rhetoric and signing a piece of paper with The Kid, then ultimately retiring on the nation's most generous pension plan. Namely developing policy with the Libs and Greens and forming a true coalition with MPs that are willing to learn the art of building consensus. If young, angry fist pumping NDP MP ravers cannot imagine themselves working on policy with other parties, then they'll doom their party to always be on the periphery of power and never have a seat at the cabinet table where the actual power rests.
Most strategic voters on the Left and Centre worked this out a long time ago. It's terribly sad even the 2023 Broadbent Institute see no other way than to cast blame and shame on other parties from the comfort of their armchairs. Those same parties and MPs could, in another world and another mind set, be malleable enough to influence from the principles of consensus building instead of fostering division and acting like partisan politics is sacrosanct, protecting their party at all costs, including losing election after election after election and never seeing MPs placing the common good above their own interests -- except in those very rare circumstances when the NDP briefly acted with maturity and did great things with the Liberals.
And yes, it takes two (or a green three) to organize major policy changes in society, but the NDP seem not willing to try to influence the others with better ideas backed by growing a spine to actually pull the plug on the minority government's top priorities.