The Unstoppable, Viral, Political Change of the People

The recent passing of Bill C-51 is a significant legislative step down a pretty freaky road. That is to say, it opens up the legal space where the Harper government, through CSIS, has increased powers to secretly disrupt, manipulate and detain people based on arbitrary designations of “terrorism” (to view the text of the bill go here 1).

Obviously this bill is not popular with the majority of Canadians, and has been trashed and decried by the legal community, civil society, indigenous groups and just about every half-right thinking group out there. However, as bad as C51 may be, it is part of a larger pattern of of legal, political and financial manipulation used by the Harper government to advance a very particular variety of “the Canadian National Interest.” Fittingly, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians released a scathing report on May 8th – the day after C51 passed – called “BROKEN COVENANT: HOW STEPHEN HARPER SET OUT TO SILENCE DISSENT AND CURTAIL DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION IN CANADA” chronicling how the Harper government has systematically set about re-engineering the Canadian political landscape (see the report here 2).

Harper and his special interests groups have had to rely on ridiculous legislation, backroom dealing and fascistic policing practices because they are, at a fundamental level, losing their power. I don’t simply mean they’re going to be voted out – which I hope they are – but, rather, that their capacity to harness and work with the social force of the people is increasingly negligible. The fact that bills like C51 are borne out of the fear of the governing WASPs and a handful of Richie Riches  demonstrates their desperation in the face of a global surge that is changing the nature of power relations.

Movements like Idle No More, the fight against pipelines and environmental destruction, new Immigrant Deportation rules, and resistance to a series of totally lopsided free trade agreements is spreading virally. The intersection of all these movements is natural. People are not blind, nor are our feelings totally turned off. We can see that these issues are all benefiting the same select few and that they have absolutely no problem using whatever means necessary to make their money and keep their power, no matter what the consequences. We can feel hope in communities, in the energy of art and music, and in the victories that are happening when people come together and to fight as a diverse but unified movement in touch with itself, connected to each other and responsible to the earth.

A recently published report by APTN indicated that the “Idle No More is like bacteria, it has grown a life of its own all across this nation.” It continues that, “It may be advisable for all to have contingency plans in place, as this is one issue that is not going to go away.” 2 Of course, the report suggested that this could escalate to direct violence – which is the same rhetoric that underscores much of Bill C51 – but in fact what is most telling about this is that it reflects the government and the po-po’s inability to control a natural spread of ideas and actions that not only unite people, they have the capacity to create a very different social and political reality. The viral spread of communities organizing in non-hierarchical ways which are healthy and positive is the greatest threat to a plutocratic system of corporate governance that is both boring and sick.

Whereas the Harperites try to structure things for their own benefit through laws and economic investments, the new politics is fluid and creative, it’s really compelling. Harper’s agenda panders to greedy soulless demons who already have way too much money and power, and continue to do far too much damage. The current political momentum is being spurred on and guided by the people most affected by the colonial-capitalist machine, and they’re creating something at once new, while also remembering and reconnecting with teachings and truths that are very very old. The Harper regime is extractivist, it takes away life and leaves devastation. The new movement is activist, it gives life, cultivates, plants and nurtures seeds.

Of course the powers-that-be have a long history been of labeling internal threats to their power “bacteria,” “germs” and “insects.” Canada’s new laws enable racism and have handed over the state’s “legitimate” power to some of the most violent and unjust people in society. These laws are made in service of corporate finance, they rely on bigger industrial projects, more infrastructure to ship oil, and more jails to keep people locked away. The spread of resistance and creativity is natural and spreads through culture, touching individual hearts and minds and speaking truth to power.

It’s not a fair field of play for those staunch old bastards. They cannot win, and they have less and less real power than ever before. They are fighting a losing battle and they know it. Resistance is fertile.


Obstructing Colonial Capitalism (part 2) CPR Strike

While the February 13th #shutdown Canada protests failed to significantly hamper the Canadian economy as planned, a legal strike by some 1,800 locomotive engineers at Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) represented by the “Teamsters Canada Rail Conference” (TCRC) union.1 Although there is no explicit connection to this strike and MMIW protests, it reveals an interesting overlap of issues as well as a shared recognition of a key pressure-point in the Canadian economy. Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour and the Status of Women, who recently intervened in attempt to salvage negotiations between CP and TCRC tweeted that the strike would impact the economy to the tune of $205 million USD per week. Other estimates put the cost of the strike to the Canadian economy would be upwards of $504 million per week.2 Leitch also stated that the government would “take swift action to protect our economy,” pointing to the likelihood that back-to-work legislation will be introduced by the government at the start of the week.3 Leitch is also one of two federal cabinet Ministers (along with Bernard Vallacourt) who will be meeting with Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde to discuss MMIW on February 27th.

Evidently the current government is perpetually ready to take swift action to protect the economy, promoting the same forces that are directly implicated in violence to Indigenous women, communities and the environment. The fact that Leitch is advocating for the economic bottom-line over and against both Unions and Indigenous peoples is not surprising. Colonial-capitalism requires both class-based and race-based violence in order to push for its endless objectives. What is somewhat remarkable (fortunate?) is the overlap in timing of the MMIW actions and the TCRC strike, and the fact that they both identify the shared tactic of putting economic pressure on the government and corporations by disrupting the business-as-usual flow of capitalism. The President of the TCRC Union, Doug Finnson calls the failed negotiation a “Crucial wake up call for Canadian workers…” he continues,

“No one is more disappointed in this situation than us. At the late stages of bargaining the Minister [Leitch] became involved in what we hoped would result in a positive development, it wasn’t. Blame became the practice and the workers are once again being blamed for not accepting the US style of labour relations imported into CP. Apparently, Canadians who express their rights to collective bargaining are subjected to different set of standards and expectation than the corporate friends of government. It seems lost on the Government that the Supreme Court has supported workers rights in this area and it seems lost on the Government that the workers at CP are under attack every working day. Disappointment in our Governments clear favouritism towards the corporate position is only exceeded by our determination to never give up the fight to protect the rights and working conditions of our fellow workers.”4

Based on this statement, Finnson’s position resonates with the Women leaders of MMIW by indicting the “US style of labour relations” whose neoliberal governance model of “public-private-partnerships” includes back-to-work legislation as well as increased policing powers that “serve and protect their oil, land, and resource assets.”5 Of course, Mr. Finnson does not take a stance against environmental violence or the fact that the rail lines have been carrying an increasingly large amount of bitumen from the Tar sands, a key part of the Harper government’s economic action plan. The question of racism is also left un-addressed in relation to the CPR strike. Again, this is a foundational aspect of colonialism and the ongoing prejudice that has served to create substantial social divisions. However, might the commonalities of these struggles be a way to begin to heal the problems that still exist? Could indigenous communities and Unions find a new basis for alliance in the current political climate?


Shaping Canada’s Mood

Former political advertising consultant Bruce Anderson on how the Harper government is using media campaigns such as the war of 1812 commemoration and the threat of marijuana to shape Canadians’ emotional perceptions of the current state of affairs.

“…these days the government seems addicted to spending our money to shape our mood. They want voters to feel good about the way things are. And worried about how they would be if another party was running things.”

Managing the message: Managing emotions

Over four years ago, it was revealed that the Conservative government was taking steps to micro-manage and streamline the government’s messaging at all levels of bureaucracy. By using what are called “message event proposals” or MEPs, the government has been able to influence what topics are covered by the press. MEPs also give the government the advantage of staging performances, carefully planned spectacles, that are sympathetic to particular political positioning within announcements. This extends all the way from high-profile events to local level government officials appearing at community events. All events require an MEP and requests are run through the Privy Council Office to be vetted.1 Although not all events are heavily staged, others are. Like in a theatre piece, the MEPs allow for extensive intervention so that events are designed in ways that elicit particular emotional responses and prepares the audience to receive a particular message – both intellectually and emotionally. Perception management is built into the very delivery of the information content itself, and this is achieved through exercising meticulous control. For instance, “An MEP template typically includes the following subtitles: Event, Event type, Desired headline, Key messages, Media lines, Strategic objectives, Desired soundbite, Ideal speaking backdrop, Ideal event photograph, Tone, Attire, Rollout materials, Background, and Strategic considerations”2. The intentional use of such tactics go far beyond managing straightforward information. The fact that these strategies attend to very subtle aspects of messaging (backdrop, tone etc) speaks to how carefully considered emotional portrayals are taken in this process. The use of such strategies provides a window in to the level of emotional manipulation involved in governmental narratives, and the techniques that are deployed in political messaging campaigns. Examples of MEP forms for a number of issues are included in the CBC article here 3.