Like many of my generation, we grew up believing that our governments would take care of business, while we were free to go about ours.
If anything, the last decade has shown us how dangerous this assumption has become.
Many who were perhaps less engaged in politics, from scientists to youth, from Indigenous peoples to local women’s support groups, and from seniors to artists, suddenly discovered how vital politics are to their livelihoods and to their dreams for a better life.
And so the silver lining in our decade-long dark age is the new activists and volunteers who have understood the critical importance of strengthening our political parties and of coming together through coalitions and national movements to reclaim Canada. I am not only talking about those who have volunteered to support their partisan interests in the election, but also about those who have worked tirelessly and often behind the scenes to make sure that Canadians possess the information that they needed to make informed decisions. In many instances, data, evidence and policy work would have been available from or through the federal government — much of that no longer exists.
There is always a danger in listing those who have been instrumental in raising the alarms and supporting or growing coalitions, if only because many folks will inevitably be overlooked. Having said that, these are the ones I have been most closely involved with, and I believe deserve a special mention on this historic day in Canada.
I must start with the incredible people in the Voices-Voix coalition and the Dissent, Democracy and the Law Research Network, as well as the many individuals and organizations that have supported Voices-Voix over the years.
Organized labour has been an outstanding supporter of dissenting voices at a time when no one else had the courage or capacity to step up and speak out.
Apathy is Boring worked incredibly hard to mobilize young voters.
Scientists in the “right to know” movement, including Evidence for Democracy, helped to open our eyes to the consequences of a decade that has silenced science and muzzled its most knowledgeable interlocutors. Special call out to the indefatigable Katie Gibbs.
People working in civil society, including Alternatives, CIVICUS, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Canada without Poverty, and Amnesty International, and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada repeatedly sounded the warning alarms for NGOs, human rights defenders and international development. Their voices were heard in this election, not as “special interests”, but as the bellwethers for fundamental human rights and for a global understanding of how interconnected we all are. The environmental movement, and the many important Canadian organizations that protect us all continued to speak out despite the public vilification and threat of criminalization. Women’s organizations, veterans groups, immigrant and refugee support services, and a host of others worked hard to change the public discourse.
It has been inspiring to see the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations,Perry Bellegarde, call for engagement by First Nations peoples in Canada in a federal election. Cindy Blackstock stood up for First Nations kids and refused to be intimidated, opening our collective eyes to an injustice in our national system of care for children.
Think tanks like the IRPP, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Broadbent Institute published research that was fundamental to the issues at stake. They deserve our support.
This was not business as usual. I have worked for both conservative and liberal governments, including for the reform Harris government in Ontario, but had never seen anything like the last decade. It is worth remembering, at this time, the words of Michael Ignatieff, who put his finger on the need for the very uprising and “waking up” of Canada that we finally saw last night.
The “conservative values” that Stephen Harper referred to in his concession speech are actually not the values that the vast majority of Canadians support. I do not believe these values, those of division, discrimination and economic selfishness, actually are conservative values at all. Our shared values of tolerance, adherence to human rights, and the rule of law cut across all political parties: that is what has been reclaimed in this election.
But especially now, we need to continue to be vigilant and to make sure that the damage is undone; that urgent issues are dealt with on an urgent basis, and that the promises made in this election campaign are fulfilled.
Everyone who has been involved in this fight needs to continue to be involved, and to stay on guard for this ever-changing and surprising country.