When, at an open meeting, our Prime Minister was questioned by one person who claimed that Muslims “want to kill us” Justin Trudeau gave a perfectly fine answer — so don’t get me wrong about what I’m about to say.
It was absolutely awful that people in the audience frantically applauded when the Prime Minister simply stated the historical fact that Canada “was built by waves of immigration.” It was terrible they felt it was urgent to clap when the PM pointed out that escaping misery and war elsewhere to the refuge of Canada is what “generations upon generations” have done, resulting in this diverse Canada.
News stories about the clip quickly became among the top shares.
The PM’s response was fine. It was the audience’s response I find concerning. Have some Canadians’ expectations in our leaders fallen so far they feel the need to applaud a statement of historical fact? Are we so worried about a small xenophobic minority who believe in race war that we need to over-enthusiastically affirm our agreement with historical facts for fear they might get erased? Have we been massively gaslighted by the far-right and immobilized into clinging to history, rather than making it?
My suspicion is the weakness of the Canadian left is not because progressive Canadians go ga-ga when the PM says something that should be the minimum expectation of a PM. Rather, the ga-ga response is a symptom of a weakness — particularly a weakness of analysis and vision.
Without an analysis of how things stand and a vision of what we want to create, the left is a force of reaction, not change; of the past, not the future; or surrender, not advance.
For Canada’s first 100 years, the left, whether in or out of government, was pointing the way in Canada. Others responded. And perhaps even the Upper and Lower Canada rebellions of 1837 and the 1870 Red River and 1885 Batoche rebellions were in this same historic arc — the story of people demanding government respond to them, that Canada reflect them, that history be made by them — not the other way around.
But in this age of neoliberalism, the left is trying to cling to old gains. Some even try to protect themselves with supplications to the neoliberal elite, hoping to become the well-fed dog closest to the master.
So we applaud statements about history as if we were afraid the far-right was about to break into our homes and steal it. But history cannot be taken — only the power to write it. And when we spend our time guarding the truth of the past, we are diverted from creating our own power through writing the story about the future we want.
To use that horrible hockey analogy — you don’t score goals when you’re skating backwards.
The immobilization of the broad left is the empowerment of the far-right. It will not go away because we clap very, very hard in affirming the past. The far-right will fade when the power of narrative switches back to a story about a future that is guided by hope for ourselves, and away from the recitations of hatred of others.
More than any political model or set of rules from the past, the political left is always about people writing their own history, reaching for a tomorrow that is an improvement from today.
It is the interminable challenge of the left to build consensus around people’s hopes — because, unlike the right, the story isn’t handed down from a think tank. That is the job of every person but especially leaders of political parties and movements. That ability to create a consensus of hope — and the confidence to try — is the difference between true leaders and placeholders.