Game Changers and Tipping Points

This past week a campaign to encourage young people to vote in the upcoming federal election kicked off in Winnipeg. The “Game Changers” tour is part of a Council of Canadians effort led by Brigette DePape that is responding to the fact that in the 2011 federal election, youth turn out was extremely low. This is particularly significant because the election results in many ridings were determined by very few votes. Point being, young people can swing things substantially if they mobilize.1 By numbers, in the last election only 38.8% of people aged 18–24 voted compared to 75.1% of those aged 65–74 and 60.3% of those 75 and older.2 The logic behind getting young folks to vote seems pretty sound, but the emotions and motivations that underlie political engagements are as complex as human behaviour.3 Currently there is widespread unrest in Canada because of the Harper governments flagrant environmental destruction in the tar sands, increased militarism abroad, ongoing colonial violence at home, exploitation of migrant labour, a general disdain for a working class that doesn’t fit with its extreme neoliberal vision and the criminalization of political dissent. This unrest exists within the context of broader geopolitical events such as Obama’s recent veto of the Keystone Excel pipeline, the election of an exemplary, anti-austerity government in Greece, and the general realignment of global power structures in Latin America, Russia, China and the Middle East.4 The point is, that Game Changers is tapping into what could actually be a tipping point in Canadian society and the everyday practice of politics. In a recent interview in Winnipeg, Depape recounted how her own cynical feelings about Canada’s failing democracy have led her to come to think of the vote itself as a critical and strategic step toward emergent and much broader systemic change. 5 In the super successful pop-psychology book “The Tipping Point” (2000) Malcolm Gladwell distills a great deal of social-cognitive psychology along with analyses of fashion and marketing trends to demonstrate how “little things can make big difference.”6 When the conditions are right, or in the case of Canada, when they are so bad that everyone can tell they can’t be sustained and must change, it only takes a seemingly slight umph to push things over an edge. Once the threshold of public opinion and popular feeling has been breached, cascading events follow and can change every aspect of day-to-day life, like ice beginning to thaw once the spring has finally come. Such is the threshold that Canadian politics is teetering upon and DePape and the “get out the youth vote tour” are actively pushing the weight of public opinion toward key pivot points and the promise of overturning the much-too-long era of Canadian political apathy. The need for such a decisive shift is glaring in light of the current historical context in which hyper-capitalist production is literally sacrificing everything along its path of endless growth. Death and life become endlessly interchangeable according to the dictates of an economic calculus. Equally important to this shift in momentum toward a tipping point is the vibrant indigenous resurgence and diverse social movements that have long been planting the seeds, laying the ground work and prefiguring the networks needed for different forms of politics and communities to find fuller expression and more positive relations. Whereas Harper relies on fear of change and fear of the ‘other’ to harness public opinion, Game Changers engages the broad based sentiment that transcends particular movement identities and mobilizes around the hope for a state of affairs in which the strangle hold of colonial capitalism is broken. 1. ( 2. 3.( 4.( 5.( 6.

Growing Indigenous Mobilization for the 2015 Federal Elections

A number of youth-led, grass-roots campaigns are encouraging aboriginal peoples to vote in the upcoming federal elections. A Facebook page entitled, “Winnipeg Indigenous Rock The Vote In The 42nd Federal Election Oct 19 2015” already has around 800 members 1. The “Indigenous Rock the Vote” movement is building on a successful “Rock the Vote” campaign during the recent Mayoral Elections that saw the election of Winnipeg’s first Metis Mayor, Brian Bowman. While young people are taking the lead in mobilizing indigenous voters, this should not be read as an implicit endorsement of the Canadian system of governance. Rather, it is one part of a broader strategy to fend off continuing colonial dispossession as it manifests in particular areas. This includes ensuring that people who do decide to vote have the proper documentation to cast their ballot, including proof of residence. This is a particular issue on some reserves where there are no formal street addresses. In the past, this did not pose such a problem since there was an accepted process that allowed community members to “vouch” for the residency of other members of the community. This practice is no longer considered valid by Elections Canada. An indigenous youth organizer from Saskatchewan described the consequences of such procedural shifts as both depressing and confusing. “The most heartbreaking stories that I hear are the elders who found a ride, go where they needed to go to make a vote and then they get turned away and they don’t understand why,” she says. “They’re crushed because they made it out and then they get turned away and it’s a hard thing to explain to them” 2.


British instincts and feelings: John A. Macdonald at 200

January 11th marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of John A. Macdonald. On the eve of a federal election, the ambiguous legacy of the country’s first Prime Minister speaks to ongoing issues that actively shape the emotional landscapes of the nation. Macdonald is revered by many as one of the nation’s founders, a symbol of the hardiness of Canadian settlers and the source of Canadian values. However, the historical evidence gives clear indication that underlying Macdonald’s politics were racist ideas and crass political expediency, and that these features characterized the nation’s earliest relations with both indigenous peoples as well as non-white migrants. For instance, “while debating the 1885 Electoral Franchise Act in the House of Commons, legislation he later called “my greatest triumph,” Macdonald proposed that “Chinamen” should not have the right to vote on the grounds that they were “foreigners” and that “the Chinese has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.” He then claimed that the Chinese and Europeans were separate species: “the Aryan races will not wholesomely amalgamate with the Africans or the Asiatics” and that “the cross of those races, like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be.”

Macdonald also demonstrated a consistent disdain for indigenous peoples, writing that it would be “extremely inexpedient to deal with the Indian bands in the Dominion as being in any way separate nations,” despite the original nation-to-nation nature of the treaties signed by indigenous peoples. He also was responsible for the creation of the residential school system – now widely recognized as genocidal in both its intent and its practices.

As the election nears, to what extent does the appeal to “British instincts” and “British feelings and aspirations” that MacDonald referred to continue to influence the popular narratives that flourish in different areas of contemporary Canadian society?

Emotional numbers and Canadian political divisions

Making predictions about elections often involves political scientists and pollsters using various numeric indicators that apparently represent what matters to people. These numbers, based on information gathered either through surveys conducted over the phone, internet or – rarely – in person, are supposed to give a sense of how demographic factors impact voting decisions and reflect changing trends among clusters of potential voters. Of course, as is evident in Trish Hennessy’s column for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “A number is never just a number.” That said, the force of statistical prediction is not only its ability to accurately reflect what people think and feel, but numbers can also be used to produce impressions about what one ought to think and feel. For instance, these numbers provide an illusion of what marketing psychologists call “social proof” which influence people in the same direction. Below are the links to Hennessy’s index of Canadian political divisions, the environs poll where she got the numbers, as well as the link to Robert Cialdini’s wikipedia page on influence.

Click to access environics-iog%20-%20americasbarometer%202014%20final%20report.pdf

Election 2015 Canada

This blog is a place to begin to explore feelings that people have about the upcoming Canadian federal election which is scheduled for October 19th 2015. I will be posting articles from mainstream and alternative news sources and linking to relevant online discussions happening in the hope of providing information from different perspectives and on a broad range of issues.