Alberta Tories win, but Wildrose rise part of ominous right-wing shift
And while the concerns of Quebeckers are generally poorly known or respected out here in the West – but front-and-centre where I'm from in western Quebec – British Columbians ought also to worry about Smith's tough talk around Quebec: “I think we need to have a tough conversation with Quebec.’’
Decrying the province's universal daycare program and equalization payments which have long been a sore point for Albertans, the would-be premier raised the spectre of a new constitutional crisis across the country, alienating Quebec and calling federal unity into question.
On these four key areas – climate change, federal unity, LGBT rights and respect for racial diversity – many of us roll our eyes and lament the state of politics today.
A lurch to the ultra-right in Europe
But the reality is that the far right has been making substantial gains worldwide, particularly in Europe.
In France, for instance, Marine Le Pen's proto-Fascist, ultra-right National Front reached record support at third-place in the country's first round of presidential elections yesterday. After toning down some of her party-founding father's anti-immigrant rhetoric, he embarrassed her by joking at a large party event that President Nicolas Sarkozy's initials were the same as the German Nazi party's: “NS: national socialism,” Jean-Marie Le Pen quipped. “Oh sorry! I thought when I watched that square the other day that it was Nuremberg.”
His daughter did not apologize for the remark – merely distancing herself from the “bad joke.”
Sarkozy is now reaching out to the ultra-right National Front voters, in hopes of carrying himself to victory on their support.
Across Europe, the far right – with vestiges of Nazi rhetoric, racist anti-immigrant fear-mongering, and growing electoral success – has been rising for a decade. Whether you look at the increasingly mainstream British National Front, hardening racism against Muslims from Norway to the Netherlands, or France's mass deportation of more than 11,000 Roma in the past three years, the trend is toward a harder right -- and it is disturbing.
While neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Alberta's Danielle Smith are neo-Nazis by any stretch, the increasing acceptability of overt racism – such as Leech's white “advantage” comment – homophobia and anti-immigrant views in the political field should raise more than eyebrows.
They are, in fact, part of the same trend that has led to dramatic gains for the ultra-right across Europe – a trend equally behind the federal Conservatives gradual rise to power.
That trend – fuelled by anxieties of the financial crisis, opportunistic political leaders, and increased societal dissatisfaction with the powers-that-be – may well put a few gay-hating bigots into power in Alberta, and it has already begun filtering into the federal Conservatives' anti-immigrant legislation – which mandates automatic, indefinite detention for refugees, and implicitly threatens to incarcerate increasing numbers of Indigenous people under the rubric of law-and-order in its omnibus crime bill.
Implications of Wildrose surge to Canadian politics
So what does tomorrow look like?
Some breathed a sigh of relief at the Wildrose loss.
Alberta under Wildrose would definitely have raised tensions between Canadian provinces, take us backwards on tackling climate change and regulating the oil sands, and almost certainly roll back programs aimed to reducing homophobia, racism and the environment.
But the broader question is what the rise of Wildrose means for the rest of Canadians. Even with Alberta's Conservatives pulling off a surprise victory and holding onto power, a growing right-wing movement will pull the entire political spectrum in its direction. Look at the U.S. Tea Party movement, which has caused as much turmoil in Republican circles as it has Democrats'.
When that happens, public debate becomes shifted to how far to the right our policies are – how many we deport, how tough our prisons are, how many billions we spend on fighter jets.
Progressive Albertans were, tonight, in the bizarre position of worrying about the prospects of the Tories -- but those same progressives will surely jump into their under-reported everyday struggle to present a sane alternative on social and economic policy. That struggle continues under the Conservatives, who are still decidedly pro-oilsands and dangerous to climate action.
But before we point our fingers at Alberta, let's take a critical look at whether Canada itself is headed the direction of Europe. The good news is that, at the same time the ultra-right is on the rise, Europe has also seen millions of folks take their fight to the streets, the courts and the legislatures and stand up in greater numbers for a sane, sustainable and just world.
Let's learn at least that from the Europeans.