Through the curiosities of circumstance, Nigel Clarke finds himself marooned in Ottawa, the capital of the socialist haven of Canada. Thanks to The Progressive Army and co-conspirators who must remain nameless, Nigel is able to smuggle his thoughts on life behind the curtain to the outside world each week.
Within the sterile and dignified neighborhood in which I am holed up stands a curious sight. Attached to a YMCA fitness center is a low-income, government housing complex. I like to stand at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the front door and speak to the residents as they huddle around in the cold and smoke their cigarettes – the true proles of this socialist utopia.
Yesterday it was Cliff, a recently homeless man of about my age who was beginning to look the worse for wear. He seemed inclined to chronicle his experience living in the residence. He spoke of the tangible benefits of having a roof over his head, and his interaction with different programs the residence offered.
He was also extremely critical of the rules and regulations imposed on residents. He railed against the nightly curfews and the no-alcohol policy, becoming near teary-eyed as he recounted an unopened bottle of alcohol he had bought “for the weekend” being poured into the sink by a building supervisor. I think it was more the degradation than the loss that got to him. He also lamented that smoking was prohibited on the premises, including within individual suites. I suppose, selfishly, this is to my benefit, as I then stand to speak with smokers forced outside.
Cliff ended the conversation with what I took to be a semi-satirical endorsement – “I have been in prison … and this is … better … I guess.”
(One can only imagine what kind of forced labor gulag he was referring to.)
I suppose it is not difficult to understand the genesis of the types of rules and restrictions Cliff was denouncing.
The residence is certainly situated well. It is across the street from a museum and a park, and within walking distance of schools, grocery stores, a library, and a public healthcare facility where people utilize their socialist healthcare. Residents are mostly new immigrants, at-risk youth, recovering addicts, and the recently homeless.
For most people who live there, the cost of lodging is paid by the government – socialized housing for the marginalized.
Residents are invited to use the YMCA facilities – the gym, the pool, basketball and squash courts, sauna, etc. – and given access to WiFi. There is free child care, as well as kids camps and sports leagues. There is an on-site nurse, a family counselor, and an employment counselor. New immigrants are provided with language programs, addicts are given treatment, and at-risk youth are offered skills workshops.
It is perhaps inevitable that with such an extensive assistance program a certain type of voice would pop up in opposition. The voice saying If I’m going to spend my tax dollars on this program, then I don’t want these people staying out all night on my dime, I don’t want them drinking and smoking on my dime.
These are the type of people who give a dollar to a panhandler then make a speech about what they expect the recipient to be spending it on.
On the surface, it seems like an issue regarding the dominion of charity. But I can’t help but think that on a deeper level it reveals a vital insight into the fundamental difference in the structure of debate between Canada and the United States.
Noam Chomsky says, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
In much of the United States, and on the national level specifically, the spectrum of debate is defined by establishment political ideology – ‘establishment’ in an unofficial and derogatory sense, to describe the neoconservative, pro-corporate, pro-fossil fuel, pro-Wall Street ideology to which many Republicans and Democrats alike subscribe.
Establishment ideology sets the preconditions of the debate, with progressives left to fight over stipulations.
Remember the healthcare debate that created Obamacare. It took place, even with a Democratic President and Democratic Congress, within the framework of very specific preconditions: No matter what system was to be constructed, it would first protect the profits of insurance companies and the prices and patents of drug companies. Beyond that, progressives were free to debate.
What is interesting is that in many cases in Canada this paradigm is inverted, with progressives setting the preconditions of a debate, and neoconservative and corporate opponents left to argue over stipulations.
Canada’s baseline in the healthcare debate is universal socialized health care. Opponents are free to propose all the provisions they like, so long as they operate under that precondition.
While America creeps slowly forward with concessions on the criminality of marijuana, Revered Leader Justin Trudeau announced last year the legalization of pot in Canada; with opponents left to debate over the production, distribution, and sales of the industry.
When the prior Canadian government proposed to spend billions of dollars on new fighter jets for the military, the debate was over whether or not to buy the jets. When the United States military wants new toys, the debate is over how much the military budget can be increased and what programs can be cut to save money.
And so it is with the low-income housing here in this neighborhood.
The baseline is a compilation of robust social programs aimed at the root causes of poverty, homelessness, and addiction. Opponents are left to argue how late residents can stay out on a weeknight.
Perhaps these ideas can be of some use to those in the United States.
Not the elimination of opponents or a bloody proletarian uprising, but an inversion of the paradigm of the debate.
Perhaps this has already started in places like Seattle, or Portland, or other areas which have felt the creep of socialism.
My friends, which here I presume would be called “comrades,” Canadian socialism has not silenced or stamped out its dissidents, it has merely left them to haggle over stipulations.
Until next time,