By Barâa Arar

Between Maxime Bernier’s new populist-pandering People’s Party of Canada and the irresponsible pipelines threatening the sovereignty of Indigenous nations and our climate, Canada was not spared from the political blows that plagued 2018. 2019 rings in a federal election year for Canada on unmistakably unstable grounds.

The election will take place in a context where human rights are increasingly threatened by decisions from all levels of government.

Two years after the horrific Quebec mosque shooting, a constant threat of violence informs the daily experiences of Canadian Muslims. When Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six innocent worshippers on Jan. 29, 2016, I understood the violence to be a glaring symptom of systemic racialized discrimination against Muslims. Unfortunately, recent data seems to align with that view.

The Trudeau government’s attempts to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum satisfies neither, creating an ironic situation wherein both the left and the right are deeply disenchanted with its policies

At the end of November 2018, Statistics Canada released hate crime data. As many activists suspected, the number and severity of incidents has risen in the last year. As I detailed in a article, these statistics show the increased targeting of Muslim, Jewish and Black communities.

These hate crimes match up with disturbingly common public perceptions. A summary of Abacus Data studies by Bruce Anderson and David Coletto shows that 25 per cent of those polled say Canada would be “better off with no Muslims” and 22 per cent believe the country would be “better off if it was more white.”

These are staggeringly high numbers associated with deeply bigoted statements. As Anderson says, although these are a minority of opinions, they still represent “more than a tiny fraction” of our society. The data seems to tell a disturbing story, but one that is aligned with lived experiences of marginalized communities in Canada – especially Muslims, LGBTQ+ folks, and Black and Indigenous people.

Barâa Arar at Carleton University. Photo: Ainslie Coghill

Anderson and Colleto’s article also traces the correlation between those same statements to the Trudeau government’s disapproval ratings.Those polled who distrust the news media, have anti-abortion views, and who are “fed up with all the emphasis on women’s interests” tend to disapprove more with the Liberal government. Right-leaning voters perceive Justin Trudeau as a loyal figurehead for the left.

Yet Trudeau is not the progressive that many on the right and left hail him as. The gender parity cabinet, renaming of Aboriginal Affairs, and Twitter-fuelled welcome for some refugees are all hallmarks of Trudeau’s “sunny ways.” However, throughout his tenure, he has pandered to the left with optics alone.

The Liberals won an election, with the least experienced candidate as their leader, on the promise of these “sunny ways.” Yet, once they begin to govern, their supposedly left-leaning election platform was replaced with one that affirms the status quo.  Look at how they dropped proportional representation, or the way Bill C-59 entrenched surveillance and the curtailment of civil liberties from the Harper-era Bill C-51.

The Trudeau government adopts an all-talk and no-walk approach. Their attempts to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum satisfies neither, creating an ironic situation wherein both the left and the right are deeply disenchanted with this government’s policies  – just look at the Trans Mountain pipeline.

On the other hand,  the Conservative Party of Canada has a stubborn proximity to anti-Islam organizations and far-right media, as shown by journalists Evan Balgord and Steven Zhou for VICE News (Dec. 6, 2017). Politicians like MP Michelle Rempel adopt strong anti-migrant rhetoric and inflammatory fallacies under the guise of national and economic security, to appeal to the mobilized far-right faction of their voter base.

And the political opposition to the Liberals and Conservatives is meek. Jagmeet Singh, who as of yet has not been elected at the federal level, has not taken a particularly firm stance on any topic since he become the leader of the New Democratic Party. His heavy social media presence, paired with a lack of firm platform to back it up, makes it hard to accept him as a robust alternative for those of us aching for truly progressive politics.

These Canadian socio-political realities will inform the course of the 2019 election. I fear that if we continue in these tracks, fabricated social divisions will be exploited for political gains, from all major federal parties, and used to draw exclusionary lines of citizenship.

In the search for courageous, bold politics, let us look south to the newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is a shining voice for the progressive movement in America, associated with the group Justice Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez’s successful nomination campaign, wherein she beat a long-standing Democratic candidate for her Bronx district, earned her global attention and admiration. She is unapologetic in her political opinions and actions. Only days after she started at Capitol Hill, Ocasio-Cortez participated in an activist sit-in in Nancy Pelosi’s office. (Pelosi was about to become speaker of the House of Representatives and is also a member of the Democratic Party with Ocasio-Cortez.)  

Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest Congresswoman in American history. And her popularity among young voters in America and abroad is reflected in her growing digital platform.

Her election shows us not just a demographic shift in the seats of power but that there is a craving for her courageous way of doing politics. She is not just progressive in her talk. She backs up her democratic socialist ideals with action, facts, accessible language and a deep passion for grassroots organizing.

With the backdrop of a global climate change crisis and rising white supremacy, domestically and abroad, many young voters like myself want real change. We want consequences for high corporate polluters, taxation on those accumulating wealth at the expense of workers, and evidence-based policies that protect minorities.

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