IDC Newsletter 2020-10-07
Welcome to the October issue of the IDC newsletter. We missed the usual first-day-of-the-month publication date for this issue because we wanted to report on an IDC event that took place last weekend. The Super Dialectacular Spectacular was a two-day conference where various Canadian lefties made a case for the issue they see as most important for the left to be working on. You can watch all the presentations from the conference here (or read our summaries below) and vote for the ideas you like best here (there are prizes). We also have newsletter contributions from Jonkle and Loljapes.
Nora Loreto – Co-host, Sandy and Nora Podcast
Loreto began her talk by laying out some of the problems she sees with the contemporary Canadian left. She pointed out that most left spaces in Canada are dominated by white settlers who don’t practice what they imagine to be the solution to colonialism. Loreto sees the NDP as an example of this phenomena, saying that the NDP prefers to operate within a colonial framework rather than opposing it from without.
Loreto stated that while she thought unions could be effective institutions to fight colonialism, the left shouldn’t expect to be led by higher-ups within the union movement. In her view, unions can be forces for progressive change but only when forced to be by a muscular left. She argued that much of the current-day institutional left in Canada has its origins in the nineties and said that she feels the mentality of the left is still stuck in that era too.
Loreto said she saw value in the fight for Land Back for indigenous people and said the most important input people could have in this fight is to do what Land Back organizations ask of them. When asked by the host if there were any international organizations that she found promising, she said that there weren’t. However, she did cite her experience working with an Occupy group to provide mutual aid to victims of hurricane Sandy as a more constructive form of political action than lobbying for government intervention.
James Wilt – Author of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?'
Wilt began his talk by saying that, although he was here to promote the idea of free transit, in the real world we need a push on all fronts in order to create a more just society. Whether this was a touching call for solidarity or a polite way for Wilt to say he rejected the very premise of the Super Dialectacular Spectacular we will leave for the reader to decide.
Wilt’s proposal is that the government should make public transport of all types free at the point of use. He pointed out that transit fees are an incredibly regressive way to fund transportation services and critiqued more generally the current model of funding transportation where the federal government is responsible for splashy capital infrastructure investment while municipalities get stuck with day-to-day operating costs.
Wilt pointed out the following benefits of free transit:
- It increases ridership and efficiency of transport (in terms of energy use per person).
- It allows even the most marginalized people to participate in transit services, which can fail to happen when fares are levied, even if the amount charged is nominal
- Removing the need to collect fares increases the speed of service for certain forms of transport (especially buses)
- Removing fare collection also decreases the number of unpleasant confrontations between transit workers and members of the public as fare collection often creates flash-points between these two groups.
He also responded to some of the common critiques he hears about instituting free transport (e.g. “But what if homeless people use it?").
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq – MP for Nunavut
Qaqqaq began her talk by giving a short introduction of herself. She pointed out that while she is commonly thought of as purely Inuit, she is actually mixed race (her mother is Danish) and she said that this background helped her see the grey areas in issues which other people regard as black-and-white.
Qaqqaq moved on to give a brief rundown of the various persecutions indigenous people in Nunavut have faced at the hands of Canada in the last hundred years. She mentioned RCMP violence in majority indigenous communities, the government killing of sled dogs, the sixties scoop and the forced relocation of Inuit people from North Quebec to Nunavut in the 1950s. She also touched on present day issues such as indigenous healthcare and the government’s treatment of Wet’suwet’en protesters.
In response to viewer questions, Qaqqaq spoke about what it was like to take her seat in Parliament. She said that in the beginning the experience was so overwhelming she would take the elevator between floors instead of the stairs to get some time alone. She also recounted the experience of having someone in the streets of Ottawa shout racist abuse at her when she was with her family and said that even as an MP she still feels unsafe when traveling alone in Canada outside of Nunavut.
When asked of international examples she looked to as models of how to handle indigenous issues, Qaqqaq mentioned programs in Greenland and New Zealand that she thought had been well handled. She also asked people interested in these issues to follow her on social media, listen to her podcast and contact her office.
Aidan Jonah – Co-founder, The Canada Files
Jonah began his talk by explaining how he came to found The Canada Files. He said he had started in journalism by writing pieces for other news outlets but had become frustrated when he was blocked from covering a student strike because his piece was deemed to be insufficiently neutral.
Jonah said he thought the left’s top priority should be creating a network of left-wing journalists that could support one another and cover Canadian issues from a left perspective. He pointed to right-wing projects in America that he believed were able to effectively mobilize people around conservative issues as a potential model. He also highlighted the creation of Harbinger Media Network as a positive development in the podcast space and bemoaned the lack of a similar organization for lefty written media.
Responding to host questions Jonah also gave a critique of mainstream media outlets such as CBC and Global News and gave his advice on how to consume media critically.
Christo Avialis – Writer and Youtuber
The main thesis in Aivalis’ talk was that leftist content creators on sites like YouTube (which use algorithims to deliver content to users) need to get a lot cleverer about gaming these platforms to get their content to the biggest possible audiences. He pointed out that independent channels covering political news on YouTube are already disfavored by the Youtube algorithm, which preferences videos from mainstream media sources such as cable news channels. Avialis said that right-wing creators had found ways to get around this by cross-promoting one another, as an example he cited the fact the Candace Owen will often appear of Ben Shapiro’s channel, which allows the audiences of both hosts to cross-pollinate.
Aivalis offered his advice as to the sorts of lefty media he thinks could succeed on Youtube. He said the top consideration must be creating something people are actually interested in watching, and said that he saw a gap in the market for shorter (4-10 minute) leftist content on YouTube. He pointed to the Gravel Institute as an organization he thinks could do a good job at counter-programming content from right wing channels such as Prager U. He also gave a number of ways content creators can maximize the chance that the Youtube algorithm will deliver their content to viewers, including tips on how to name videos.
Shawn Vulliez – Co-host, SRSLY Wrong Podcast
Vulliez’s idea to save the world will be familiar to anyone who’s listened to his SRSLY Wrong podcast: library socialism. Vulliez started with the observation that when we think about capitalist institutions that bring people the most enjoyment in their lives, such as shopping malls, we realize that what people like isn’t paying for things or participating in the ‘free market’, but instead the ability to get access to things with relative ease. Vulliez pointed out that the humble institution of the local library is in some ways an improvement on the mall as it allows people access things they want free of charge.
Developing his idea, Vulliez said that the current ecological crisis we face is actually a social crisis, underpinned by the fact that we have privileged a particular type of property relation in most of our institutions and laws; namely the idea that someone who possesses something has the right to dispose of it in any way they see fit. Vulliez would prefer us to build institutions around the principle of ‘usufruct’, items (or information) would be held in common ownership by library-like organizations with people given the right to use, and perhaps even profit, from them, but not the right to destroy them or deny other people the use of items not currently being used by anybody else.
Vulliez detailed his vision for how the left could organize around achieving library socialism. He said the left should embrace ‘an ecology of tactics’ (i.e. attempt many things and see what works). He was eager that the left build the institutions now that will protect the vulnerable through turbulent times, be it ecological collapse or revolution. He also touched on his concept of ‘sweetie-pie’ politics, saying it was useful to engage with existing social institutions in a non-cynical way in order to highlight the gap between the stated goals of given organizations and the actual actions they take in the world.
We need police abolition and an end to the way law enforcement forces the vast majority of non-white and well-off people into far more dangerous lifestyles than they deserve. It’s important to organize around these issues not just in at-risk communities, but also in those white and well-of areas, because of how much more attention institutions and authorities will give to voices coming from the latter communities. Essentially, the system’s racist, so we’ve got to use that to our advantage.
At a viewer’s request Semir also described the contradictions between healthcare rhetoric and working conditions. While doctors’ classroom years insist students are connected to a community, their rotations and residency grind that messaging away in favour of extracting as much cheap labour from them as possible. It is a very difficult environment to get by in due to it being illegal for healthcare workers to strike, and desperately needs organization.
The Canadian Left lacks financial capital to implement its ideas, but can compensate for that through the effective use of social, cultural, and emotional capital. Social capital is social status—essentially where one is in society. Someone prominent in their community, like a celebrity or representative, would be someone who could use social capital. Cultural capital is one’s connection to and understanding of culture—being able to talk about “the game last night”, or local goings-on, or any other cultural keystone that can create a connection with someone. Emotional capital is just how much people like you. If you’re a likable person, or people enjoy being around you, then you have emotional capital. While financial capital can definitely make it easier to achieve these other forms of capital, it is not necessary, and thus these forms of capital are the best tools the Canadian Left has available.
The Left is too insular and needs to get out more. They propose NormalQuest—a gamified campaign to get leftists to go outside and talk to people just, y’know, like normal people. “Quests” and objectives are very, very simple—go for a walk without headphones, say hello to people, get to know your neighbour. As time goes on, leftists can acclimatize to more social interaction. Asking their neighbours for help. Making friends with the bus driver. So on.
It is important to realize that we do not need everyone to be full-fledged socialists. We just need people to like us, and in liking us, help build community through a wider net of people who like and live alongside each other. We need to understand that solidarity is, essentially, seeing people and yourself as resources to be used or deployed at necessary issues. It’s a little iffy, yes, but that’s really what “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” means. We don’t have to be cold and calculated about it, but we need people to be able to count on us when we’re able, and to be able to count on others when they’re needed.
Sean played a pre-recorded episode of Waffle to the Left that looked at Canada’s history of economic planning during World War II and the post-war period, through the speeches and literature of the CCF. Those lessons are then applied to the dual crises of COVID-19 and climate change with examples of how we can organize in decentralized co-operative structures that deliver basic human needs while regenerating ecosystems.
Class is a global characteristic that can extend beyond cultural differences. He cited a time where he tried to unionize his co-workers at a Newfoundland hotel—a hotel where the owner flew in on a helicopter to check on them, while the workers were making just barely minimum wage. He also offered an international perspective on class and social media, which was again that both are a great tool for reaching across previously difficult divides in the working class.
The Canadian left is severely lacking in the field of media. There’s not enough of us and we’re far too disconnected from each other. That’s why Andre, plus partners, affiliates, participants, etc. have come together to form Harbinger: a coast-to-coast network of Canadian podcasts that will all work to amplify each other and form a more coherent leftist media landscape. In time Harbinger will include YouTube channels and other sorts of media as it grows. Right now it has partnered with Passage, and all new subscriptions to the news outlet will have 50% sent to Harbinger until the end of October. A year-long subscription to Harbinger is $30.
The very first Super Dialectacular Spectacular was a rousing success. Overall the message seemed to boil down to three main ideas:
- We have to understand our history, and the history of others, and move past binary black-and-white thinking when tackling issues or having conversations.
- We need to get off the internet, go outside and talk to people. To be good at that, we have to stop trying to turn everyone into perfect socialists and instead form community solidarity—where we act as per our ability, and request as per our need.
- We need to collaborate and amplify each other. We are a community united in common cause, and can’t keep going on in insular communities across the country.
Alongside these tenets there were a number of initiatives proposed and suggested, and we need your help to decide which one to focus on first. Watch the panels yourselves and then go to joinidc.co/vote to cast your vote for which idea you thought the best.
On September 17, 2020 a Mik’maw community in Nova Scotia launched its own moderate livelihood lobster fishery, as is their proven treaty right under R v Marshall (1999). The fishery launched outside of the typical Nova Scotian lobster season, which starts on the last Monday of November, and under the excuse of conservation Nova Scotian lobster fishers blockaded Mik’maw boats, stole their traps and gear, and threatened anyone who was suspected of buying their lobster by sending mobs to their houses, and most recently set a Mik’maw boat on fire. Gas stations also refused to service Mik’maw customers. The Mik’maw Chiefs declared a state of emergency.
For reference, there are 985 licensed lobster vessels in Nova Scotia, each of which are limited to 375 – 400 traps, making a conservative total of 369,375 lobster traps. The Mik’maw fishery has 10 licensed vessels using 50 traps each for a total of 500. These numbers reveal the argument about conservation to have just been another mask hiding Canadians’ racism towards Indigenous people.
The situation between Mik’maw and Nova Scotian fishers has been covered by far better journalists than myself. It is a clear case of anti-Indigenous racism thinly veiled by cries of conservation. My own takes on these events would be pretty redundant.
I’m instead going to look at why this situation happened now, 21 years after R v Marshall. The reason the moderate livelihood fishery launched this year, rather than in 1999 or 2000 or any other interim year, is that the Mik’maq were trying to come to an agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the definition of a “moderate livelihood.” The DFO was hesitant to do so after the collapse of the codfish industry and tried multiple roundabout approaches, like establishing economic development, training and lending programs in Mi’kmaw communities. But those programs fizzled out and “moderate livelihood” remained undefined.
I think this becomes a bit clearer when we look closer at R v Marshall. Alongside the phrase “moderate livelihood”, a key line is the clarification that, whatever moderate livelihood meant, it didn’t mean “an open-ended accumulation of wealth.”
Taken on its own there’s nothing wrong with the phrase. A moderate livelihood that does not pursue an open-ended accumulation of wealth actually sounds pretty good. Why, then, would the DFO struggle to define the term?
It’s my own thinking that the DFO was and is reluctant to define “moderate livelihood” because any definition they make will exist in contrast with the average Canadian’s livelihood. If Indigenous people are living moderately, then how are Canadians living if not excessively? What is the Canadian approach to the accumulation of wealth if not open-ended? By defining the conditions of Indigenous livelihood, the DFO will in turn define the conditions of Canadian livelihood, and in that definition reveal the systemic inequalities the government makes such an effort to pretend don’t exist.
So, when looking at the goings-on in Nova Scotia, I don’t expect to see a clear and concrete definition of “moderate livelihood” anytime soon. At best I’d predict an ambiguous, liberal definition of moderation that focuses on an individualized moral obligation not to take too much but avoids any comparison to the “middle class.” Otherwise, a concrete definition of “moderate livelihood” will force any Canadians aware of it to look at their own livelihoods and find in the contrasts the truth about our horribly racist and unfair relationship with Indigenous people.
With COVID case numbers undergoing a worrying up-tick, it looks like most Western countries will soon be considering whether or not to enter into a second lockdown, similar to what we all did back in March, in order to once again ‘flatten the curve’. I’ll predict now that in the speeches we’re about to hear from politicians and civil servants there’s going to be a lot of discussion about what ‘the data’, ‘the evidence’ and ‘the science’ tells us to do about the ensuing COVID surge. In narrow terms, I don’t have an issue with this approach to pandemic management. Our previous experience and knowledge should obviously guide our future actions. However, throughout the COVID crisis I think talk of ‘the science’ has had a duel nature. Sometimes, science has been invoked in an honest way, an individual or organisation has generated some piece of data and genuinely wants to draw attention to this knowledge so that it can inform decision-making. However, science has also been invoked as a rhetorical cudgel. Politicians like to pretend that unpopular decisions, or actions undertaken for partisan benefit, simply ‘had to be done’ because ‘that’s what the evidence demanded’.
Anyone following the management of the pandemic in Ontario might have had doubts early on as to whether the provincial government was being led in its actions solely by disinterested scientific empiricism. Both Ontario and Quebec went into lock-down on March 24, with each province publishing a long list of exempted ‘essential’ industries. As neighboring provinces in an industrial first-world country one might have expected that these lists would be more-or-less similar. However, as it turned out, Ontario was much more liberal in what it deemed an essential industry. Almost all construction was allowed to continue through the lock-down in Ontario whereas in Quebec construction was mostly shut down. Similarly, in the mining industry, Quebec chose to shutter most activity except for aluminium production whereas Ontario allowed most existing mining production and even mineral exploration efforts to keep going. Perhaps there are rock-solid, evidence-based explanations for why Ontario had a lighter lock-down than Quebec, but I have my doubts. I have a feeling that if you were a concerned exec hoping the province would allow you to stay in business through the lock-down, the date of your last donation to the Progressive Conservative party, or the ability to get on a call with Doug Ford, was probably more important than the number of peer-reviewed epidemiology or economics papers you were able to cite. The examples of political expediency trumping evidence-based policy aren’t confined to the early days of the pandemic. Just in the past week the government of Ontario announced that individuals will not be allowed to gather in groups of more than ten people, unless, that is, those individuals are children attending reopened schools, in which case they will be allowed to gather in “cohorts of approximately 15 students".
While it’s fun to skewer the Ford government for its contradictory and ascientific COVID policy, I think there’s a deeper issue with how society has been able to respond to the COVID crisis. The truth of the matter is that ‘the science’ only gets you so far. Scientific investigation can answer narrow questions about, for example, the usefulness of mask wearing, or the efficacy of a vaccine. But pandemic management is not simply about collating lists of interventions that work and don’t work. Almost every intervention has some cost associated with it and the cost of any given intervention may not be borne by all people equally. I think its possible that one society, looking at the costs associated with keeping children out of school for upwards of a year, might decide they were willing to tolerate the greater risk of transmission associated with class cohorts of 15. Another society might value safety and education equally highly and decide to bear the extra cost associated with hiring extra teachers to reopen schools with cohorts of 10 students. Nearly all the decisions that need to be made regarding pandemic management are political decisions, and we normally believe that political decisions should have some sort of democratic input. However, at the moment, in almost every democratic country, the leaders making political decisions about who will be exposed to what amount of risk were elected before the COVID crisis.
Of course, once elected, politicians always end up making decisions without further democratic input that profoundly affect people’s lives. The COVID crisis has merely raised the stakes of these decisions, and made the blatantly partisan decisions more viscerally objectionable. But once we’ve concluded that this happens, and is unfair, where do we go? I think people’s slow realisation of their own voicelessness, even in nominally democratic countries, has caused a lot of diffuse anger and resentment over the course of this year. I think one way to remedy this would be to create new democratic processes to give people direct input into decisions that impact their lives. In next month’s newsletter I’ll try and explore what these processes could look like.
- Super Dialectacular Spectacular – Day 1 - loljapes
- Super Dialectacular Spectacular – Day 2 - jonkle
- Why 'moderate livelihood' may never mean anything - jonkle
- COVID and Democracy: Part 1 - loljapes
- Web support - snoe, yogthos
- Typesetting - loljapes
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