Why I Won’t Be Voting on October 19

Graphic Laura Lalonde

We’ve all heard it before. Voting is the most important thing that we can do in a democracy; choosing our leaders is something our ancestors fought and died for. If we don’t like what the government is doing, then we can always kick them out four years down the road for someone who will do better.

What happens when no one represents your values? Worse yet, what happens when the parties competing for leadership become virtually indistinguishable from one another? What happens when no politician is willing or able to propose a concrete alternative to the status quo?

This is the mess that we’ve found ourselves in this election year.

Blurring the Lines Between Left and Right

Despite the intensity of this year’s campaigns, there aren’t many significant differences between the three main contenders for Prime Minister. All three represent colonial capitalism, further climate chaos and varying degrees of fiscal austerity.

This is most visible in the case of the tar sands and its associated transport infrastructure. Thomas Mulcair has spoken publicly in favor of Alberta tar sands expansion and the Energy East pipeline.

“I want companies like TransCanada to succeed,” he has said. “I want the energy sector in Alberta to succeed.”

Of course, a “success” for Alberta’s energy sector means further climate disruption, further destruction of indigenous communities and further violation of the treaties with First Nations on which Canada was founded. Justin Trudeau and (especially) Stephen Harper are even more visibly pro-tar sands.

No party is even willing to discuss the possibility of reining in the abuses of Canadian mining companies whose operations are rife with serious human rights abuses—especially in Latin America, where Canadian companies are regularly accused of hiring paramilitaries to murder resisters to their mega-projects. A member of the NDP put forward an independent-members bill of (mainly symbolic) measures to encourage Canadian mining companies to act “socially responsible,” but the bill was killed shortly afterwards. The NDP has since changed discussion towards strengthening the mining industry.

The NDP has also expelled candidates from the party who spoke out against Israel’s war on the indigenous population of Palestine. Justin Trudeau has criticized the rights of students to engage in speech against Israel. Stephen Harper is one of Israel’s most vocal supporters in the world.

Issues of social spending are where the differences between the parties are most visible, but loud debates about minor reforms do not equal radical differences. In fact, all three parties are (to varying degrees) in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the largest trade deal in the history of the world, which would give transnational corporations the power to sue governments and have national laws removed through investor-state dispute settlements. Debates about social spending are irrelevant when these policies—as well as labour and environmental standards—can be overridden by corporate bureaucrats in international tribunals.

Electoral politics: a dead end

“If none of the parties present real change, why not form a new party?” Well, because that has been tried, and it has consistently failed. For proof, we need only look at recent events in Greece.

Greece has been taking a beating by the global market since the economic crisis began in 2008. This has led to a resurgence of popular movements and, occasionally, full-scale insurrections. As the movements grew and anger deepened, would-be politicos formed a party: the
Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza. This was a party whose base was in social movements, and whose mandate was to turn back the austerity economics that had been pummelling the country into a depression.

Syriza won last year’s election and took charge of the government on a clear mandate against austerity. They were the darlings of the global left for a few months. Social movements, which had built the power to make change without the backing of the state, were demobilized. Then, in their first negotiations with their creditors, Syriza were completely unable to prevent a new austerity budget. The structure which they were working within—the state—simply did not allow for even a modicum of change. Not only is austerity continuing in Greece, but social movements have lost significant ground. It will take time to repair the damage that Syriza’s failure has done to these movements.

Cutting out the middleman

It might seem like I’m a defeatist. That I don’t believe that real change can take place. On the contrary, I think that acknowledging the failure of the state as an agent of change presents us with real opportunities to take our future into our own hands. This is made all the more urgent as climate change advances with alarming speed and threatens to destabilize the ecosystem which we depend on for survival.

In order to do what we need to do, we have to re-learn that we have the power to make change ourselves. We need to remember what direct action means. We need to organize together, and build up community-based power outside of and around the state. We need to practice mutual aid that does not respond to market forces. We need to reclaim our collective imagination, and we need to build the society of our dreams from the ground up.

Radical change is coming, whether we want it or not. Climate change is going to make sure of that. What that change will look like is up to us.