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The Return of the Ruling Class

Written by Sharyn Sigurdur Tuesday, 14 February 2006

In a public letter, NDP'er Corky Evans, slams David Emerson's defection to the Conservative camp, only days after Emerson was elected to his riding under the Liberal flagship.

by Corky Evans

February 12, 2006

Last Monday I had occasion to speak to a Political Science class at University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops. I used my hour with the students to try and argue against cynicism about politics and political activity. I have long believed that cynicism is the path to hopelessness, and hopelessness is the excuse to take no action to improve our collective experience. Academic life sometimes encourages students to confuse cynicism with intelligence, and faith with naiveté. I wanted to refute that assumption and convince the students that the world as they would inherit is theirs to design or abandon and the appropriate way to make that choice was to make it consciously.

I told them that political parties are elemental institutions in our system and encouraged them to join one and participate in the construction of policy and platform. I explained the idea of "mandate" and how you get one and what it means. I talked about how the "Estimates" process works and how that allows us to track money and avoid the kind of theft that is the norm in so much of the world.

Finally, I tried to show the difference between British Columbia where (at least for now) the people still own the land and universities and hospitals and gas and ore and salmon and rivers and dams... and other jurisdictions around the world that had lost control of these assets. I begged them to participate in the choosing of candidates and governments that could be trusted to cherish and sustain what we inherit from earlier generations of citizenry and leadership.

Then I got into my truck and drove home. Somewhere around the Monashee I heard that David Emerson had jumped from the Liberal Party to the Conservatives to retain his Cabinet portfolio. I wanted to turn around and go back and apologize to those young people in Kamloops. I was angry with David Emerson for what he was doing to the work that I believe in.

Cops don't like dirty cops.

Christians despise priests who use their collars to abuse children.

When I logged nobody made me madder than loggers who high-graded land.

And now I do this work and defend it and need to find some way to help Canada get past the likes of David Emerson before those students decide that I am a fool and that cynicism is necessary armour with which to protect themselves against the arrogance of leadership.

Everyone, I presume, knows the facts. David Emerson is a business leader who ran as a Liberal in the riding of Kingsway in Vancouver. The Conservative Party had not won that seat for half a century. David Emerson told citizens to vote for him to help stop Stephen Harper from forming a government. Conservatives came third in Kingsway, receiving just 18% of the vote.

David Emerson received the most votes and was elected as a Liberal. Last Monday he became a Conservative and was reappointed to his previous Cabinet position in charge of Trade.

Mr. Emerson used to be the CEO of the largest forest company in B.C. I doubt if he knows how to fall a tree or could tell the difference between a hemlock and a Douglas Fir but he knows how to manage money. He is part of that ilk of leadership that John Ralston Saul calls "Voltaire's Bastards" because they know nothing well enough to do the work, but know everything about how to manage the people and money and resources that produce the work. Such people believe that they are part of the business elite that can run a company or a country with equal skill.

In the old days of Marxist vocabulary we used to call such men representatives of the "ruling class." (I try my best not to use such words anymore since I noticed that my children's eyes used to glaze over whenever I talked that way. It is an archaic language, the language of class. It sounds like Latin to anyone younger than I am.)

Mr. Emerson has indulged in such an excess of arrogant class interest that he invokes the old language as surely as if he had called it up like a ghost to a séance. It reminds me of the monumental extravagances of the rich in the 1920's that provided such fodder for the organizers and the poets and the protest songwriters of the 1930's.

In the last election I had some difficulty convincing voters that there was no difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Sometimes, truth to tell, I even doubted my own analysis as our country became captured by the notion of "strategic" voting and the two Parties that had a chance to govern were portrayed as somehow not the same people with the same interests and the same financial backers and the same consultants writing their advertising and taking their polls.

Now, though, Mr. Emerson has rekindled my faith in the idea that there really is a ruling class and their belief in their right to "rule" (as opposed to govern) is absolute.

Because, Mr. Emerson, you can now "rule" for sure. But you cannot govern. Not in the sense that those young people in Kamloops need you to govern in order that they might believe in the democratic process and participate in it's institutions of debate and selection.

Nope. You messed up that chance before your (almost) government was two weeks old. Now you can only rule by force of law.

In the old days people used to talk about the need to "heighten the contradictions" in capitalism in order that we could all see clearly what was going on. In the old days, Mr. Emerson, you would have been a hero of the Left for your magnificent contribution to our understanding of the world.

These are not, however, the old days. For the sake of the planet, the people and the country, we need democracy to function, not just educate.

I will not forget what you have done to the work I believe in. I am not alone.

You can quit now and save your class further embarrassment, or keep the job and give citizens the pleasure of creaming you (and your new leader) at the polls as soon as they get the chance. If I were a banker I would demand that in the interest of your class, you leave now.

For the rest of us, it hardly matters. One real good antidote to the apathy that comes from cynicism is anger, even fury. For all I despise what you have done to the reputation of elected persons, I nevertheless thank you for seeding the wind so transparently. And I dare you to hang around for the harvest.

They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. Hosea 8: 1 - 14

(Disclaimer: This is a personal note from Corky Evans to his friends, who may do with it what they wish. If it is printed or distributed in any way, please ensure that it is clearly identified as a note from Corky to his friends by retaining this disclaimer.)

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