Salsa Fuerte, Vergüenza Profunda

Yesterday was Ontario’s provincial election, a frustrating event for this American citizen.  Even if Canada were just enough to enfranchise its permanent non-citizen residents, that would not give me a say in how this peculiar country runs itself.  My status in Canada is, for now, temporary, and my voting will continue to be in the far more globally significant Florida, where a handful of badly filled ballots or a rash of felony convictions can be the difference between a drawl-feigning warmongering theocrat or an environmentalist deciding what the world’s largest army will do.  As it was, Ontario’s Liberal Party sailed into a majority government with no particular difficulty, a source of both elation and disappointment for Ontario’s progressive constituents.

Canada’s parliamentary system affords a much larger niche for third parties than the United States’s legislature.  In Canada, if one party’s candidates get 35% of the seats, a second party gets 40%, and a third party 25%, that 40% party will have to form a coalition with one of the others, and that coalition will select the Prime Minister and otherwise set the government’s agenda.  If a particular attempted coalition cannot get along well enough to form the government, the coalition dissolves and another one tries.  This entanglement between the executive and legislative branches means that the leaders of Canada cannot, usually, afford to ignore people who didn’t vote for them, and it means that third parties that manage substantial segments of the vote don’t necessarily disappear behind the ones that got slightly more, because they can become necessary coalition partners.  A system like this one still eventually converges on two parties—it takes a much more complicated system to preserve more than two poles indefinitely—but it takes much longer and affords those third parties and their constituents a much greater voice in the meantime.

Suffice to say, there’s a much greater possibility to vote one’s conscience in Canada, even if some situations demand voting for whoever stands the greatest shot at keeping the Conservatives out of a particular seat.

So it was with curiosity and interest that I surveyed the pamphlets and cards that the various candidates and advocacy groups kept leaving in our mailboxes.  Most of them were political boilerplate, a series of minor promises next to a candidate putting on the best trustworthy-and-not-smug mug xe could manage.  But I had to give one of them a lot of extra attention.

Did you know Canada has a Communist Party?

(The US does too, by the way.  But third parties in the US are functionally irrelevant except as occasional spoilers and sometimes at local levels, so we don’t hear much about them.)

Ontario’s chapter of the Communist Party left pamphlets at every door in my apartment complex, presenting an agenda I could not ignore.

Scan of Communist Party Ontario brochure, listing Communist platform and candidates

It’s like they read my mind, or at least my Facebook timeline.

The agendas of the other left-leaning parties are small potatoes in comparison.  They all have good ideas, including a shared emphasis on new and better public transit options and on enhancing Ontario’s healthcare system.  They have platforms full of generally agreeable, if bland, promises to improve what previous Ontario governments have already provided.  But they don’t have a vision.  They don’t have a concept of how much better their home province could be and a commitment to making that desire manifest.

Only the Green Party even comes close to the sweeping scope of the Communist Party of Ontario’s agenda.  Only the Green Party also remembered that Ontario’s four-way public school system, half of which is Catholic, is a load of hot steaming exclusionary bullshit and needs to be remade in secular terms like the other two Canadian systems that used to publicly fund Catholic schools.

That’s the thing about Communists.  They weave a good yarn, they are full of idealism and promise, and their motives are, far more than their conservative and libertarian counterparts’, fundamentally benevolent.

They take an aggressive and repeated stand against sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia.
They take an aggressive and repeated stand for pay equity, reproductive freedom, and socialized childcare services.
They take an aggressive and repeated stand for environmental preservation.
They take an aggressive stand for a large-scale employment program that would remind us all of the various agencies that rebuilt the United States in the 1930s.
They want a single universal education system all the way to the university level and more vocational schools, all taxpayer-funded and free to attend.
They want to nationalize Canada’s resource extraction industries so that their revenue, like the revenue of the oil industries in Venezuela, Russia, and South Sudan, at least nominally goes to the people from whose land the resources are removed, and who lose out when massive, destructive operations like these are allowed.  (This one, they don’t get quite right.  All of that belongs to the native peoples of Canada, not to us.)
They extend explicit and unequivocal support to Idle No More, the above notwithstanding.
They take an aggressive and repeated stand for self-determination for the Inuit, Cree, Anishinaabeg, Québécois, Métis, Mi’kmaq, Acadians, and other small-scale nations of Canada whose nationhood is often ignored or set aside.
They want to rearrange Canada’s Senate as a House of Nationalities so that these Canadian nations can be explicitly acknowledged and their interests consulted directly, alongside the population-based Parliament and instead of the weird, anachronistic current Senate.

They want to call for a new Constitution that would enshrine Canada’s vaunted socialized healthcare and this assortment of reforms and make them that much harder for any future government to reverse.

Up to here, they are the progressive’s progressives, going even farther than the Green Party to promote the exact agenda that, in many left-leaning circles, is the exact reason why mainstream parties, especially the ones we vote for to keep the Conservatives at bay, fill us with such disappointment.  I can almost forget that they’re a tiny niche party that got about 140 votes, total, in the Ottawa South riding.  I can almost forget that they’re the Communist Party of Ontario, with the load of baggage that implies.

But then they remind me.

They spend nearly an entire chapter of their mission statement on the achievements of Soviet Russia, and leave only a thought or two for the millions upon millions of people starved to death in engineered famines, murdered for speaking out, delivered around the country in ill-conceived and genocidal “repopulation” schemes, and shipped to frozen wilderness prisons for trumped-up crimes.

They mention in passing a few times “socialist Cuba,” as though a country that went from the gem of the Caribbean to a tourist apartheid state where the local currency is worth nothing and everything is rationed is a model the rest of us should follow.

They invoke the idea of “workers” taking over the “means of production” so often that I start to wonder if they don’t share the old Communist plan of outlawing private business altogether, and with it the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit that has made North America such a vital part of the world’s economy.

They just sort of leave out the millions of dead Chinese and completely closed Internet that have come with Communism in the world’s most populous country.

They imply strongly that “socialism” all over Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America fell purely because of American interference, and not even in part because actual, honest-to-goodness Communism is a terrible, terrible idea and a lot of people did not want to die in its service.

They see the people that blacklisted Ania’s father and forced my grandfather to rebuild from nothing in a new country, and hold them up as examples.

I know that kind of totalitarian surveillance-state horror show is not intrinsic to the agenda described above.  I know that the Canadian Communists were a huge part of Canada’s labor movement, much as America’s much-hated Communists helped get the United States health insurance and pensions.  I know that even the parts of the Ontario Communist plan that I approve of without shame or reservation are, tragically, not universal opinions, so even an ascendant Communist party that gets enough seats to matter won’t be hamming on about the “means of production” or nationalizing the entire economy without the approval of at least one mainstream party.  Heck, this iteration calls for shuttering the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the body in Canada that could most easily transition to a role as secret police in a hypothetical Soviet Canuckistan.

I can almost forget the soul-draining nausea that comes with having anything at all in common with the people whose ideological idols are the reason I will probably never look across el malecón with my father and grandfather and share their long-faded memories of a warm, sunlit, beautiful, vibrant, musical, independent, democratic Cuba, where Spain and the United States warred over a land that ultimately gave both a one-finger salute and said, “This place is not yours, because it is ours.”

It is ours, but because of the people and the regime you have the gall to hold up as examples for the rest of us to follow, it will never be mine.

Panoramic view of El Malecón beachfront in Cuba.

This is one progressive vote you will never have, Communist Party of Canada, not until you recognize the monstrosity that hangs over that name like a wraith and what that history means to people like me, to people like my grandfather, to the millions of us around the world for whom Willy Chirino’s Nuestro día ya viene llegando is not just the sound of home, but a promise.

Not until the idea that that name ever appealed to you is a stain of such utter shame that you repudiate ever being associated with it.

Until then, I’m a social democrat who will vote anything lefty if it means the right loses another seat, in the United States or in Canada.

Until then, Communist Party of Canada.

Until then, Cuba.
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Salsa Fuerte, Vergüenza Profunda

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