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LOEWEN: The “poetry” in Canadian politics

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
March 04, 2015 - 8:06 AM

For those that follow Canadian federal politics closely, we live in exceptional times.

We live in a time when it is becoming increasingly clear that the governments that accommodate the day-to-day business of the world’s most powerful economies are doing just that: Accommodating the interests of business.

A cursory glance at the news coming out of every advanced democracy would seem to suggest that government pays little or no heed to those that are not a part of the global business class. And Canada is no different in this regard from other advanced democracies.

The current federal government’s style of governance is not unique to Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada.

The complete lack of transparency and accountability, the steamrolling of contestable policy objectives over the voices of those in opposition, the increasing emphasis on militarizing national economies and local police forces, the ideological hard-right turn: Canada is in lock-step with the United States, England, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and others.

So what is Joe and Jane Citizen to do in response?

PM Harper seems like a dude who’d delight in shooting Surrey’s feral cats between turns at the piano and the policy table. And his main contender, Justin Trudeau, comparatively youthful but barely at the cuddly-kitten-stage in terms of political experience and strategic savvy, is dropping in leadership-poll popularity quicker than the price of oil or the Canadian petro-buck.

Well, this Joe sometimes feels the need to retreat into Art, Poetry, Philosophy. All those anachronistic disciplines that seem to hold so little value for so many, most notably the majority of the folks that sit in government.

Because sometimes the Poets get it right, you know, Sometimes politics needs a time out for us to take a measure of where it’s at, baby — and it ain’t “two turntables and a microphone." It’s much more depressing than that.

I’m thinking about the beleaguered banker-poet, Thomas Stearns Eliot, this morning. About 90 years ago, and coming out of a near-nervous breakdown, he scanned the geopolitical horizon of his day (Europe lay in tatters following the Great War and the detestable Treaty of Versailles would auger ill for the continent for years to come) and penned his tight and trenchant homily, “The Hollow Men.”

We  are  the  hollow  men
We  are  the  stuffed  men
Leaning  together
Headpiece  filled  with  straw.  Alas!
Our  dried  voices,  when
We  whisper  together
Are  quiet  and  meaningless
As  wind  in  dry  grass
Or  rats’  feet  over  broken  glass
In  our  dry  cellar

T.S. Eliot was no dumdum. The poet had immense learning and erudition. And as a student of history and literature, schooled in the great canon of humanistic arts and sciences that seem to be so undervalued in our present day, he believed it his duty to subsume into his own writing the traditions that had come before. His essays and poetry bear witness to this.

And the utter destruction of European culture and tradition is what he saw in the ruins of London and the great cities and wee villages of the continent across the Channel. And these are the chilling intimacies that the poet conveys to us still to this very day.

In many respects we are history’s latest “hollow men.”

We ask too little of those that lead us. We are too afraid to speak up and hold our minders to account. When our federal or provincial party leaders screw up, we seem unable to mount a criticism that would keep them mindful of the traditional goals of our democratic project, Canada.

The sycophants that surround young Justin Trudeau should be ashamed of the way their leader manages to stick his foot in it every time he opens his mouth to flip-flop on yet another policy directive. Too many yes-sayers and too few experienced nay-sayers to hold his Tourettes-like ticks in check when the latest poll prompts him to jump in front of the camera with yet another un-thunk thought.

The same can be said of the grumblers in the back-benches of the Harper-led CPC government. They are the very embodiment of “headpiece(s) filled with straw,” so dry are their conveyances of the day’s talking points from the “kids in the short pants.”

We learn nothing of consequence from our Valley representatives on the federal scene. So much so that most journalists don’t care to even ask their constituency offices for interviews because they know that the Cannans, Albases, Mayeses, and McLeods of this party will say nothing singular and unique, nothing deviating from the shadow of the Party whip, to enlighten their readers with that couldn’t just as easily be derived from the PMO’s latest version of the news.

But in the end, it’s us, isn’t it? Too many do not want to dig in the dirt of it, the political thing, right? We too ape the rest, our unused voices “quiet and meaningless/ as wind in dry grass.”

Perhaps, like the narrative voice in Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” conjectures, we will need to disappear, and a new generation take our place.

Counter-intuitively, I still have hope.

Politics is a serious game that is played with ever-increasingly high stakes; and I believe a time will come that the electorate, motley crew that we are, will rise to challenge those we place into positions of consequence. But the times will become more dire still. And what will follow? Who knows. It will depend on the Vision that we come up with.

I hope fervently that the right crisis will emerge to snap people to attention. I would have hoped that the draconian Bill C-51 might have been just this clarion call to action from the rest of us; but the response so far echoes the gloom of Eliot’s haunting final lines:

This  is  the  way  the  world  ends
This  is  the  way  the  world  ends
This  is  the  way  the  world  ends
Not  with  a  bang  but  a  whimper.

— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based blogger who works at playing music by day and playing politics by night.

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