A friend mentioned the other day how surprised they were that the Liberal government in Ottawa had not introduced many new sources of revenue in its latest budget. And I think the probable reason for that is important to think about if we would prefer to see a progressive future in which things broadly get better rather than worse.
So, consider Canada’s anti-prostitution law. Canada’s past and present anti-prostitution laws have repeatedly been found to be themselves illegal. Any anti-prostitution law is likely to be unconstitutional for a variety of reasons. Chief among these will be the consideration that, like so many other “morality” laws, criminalization of sex work makes the situation, whatever you might believe about it, worse. The law, its enforcement, does in the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, “disproportionate harm.” Despite this, when the old (illegal) law was struck down, the Harper government replaced it with a worse, and it turns out equally illegal law.
And I am pretty sure the current government, the PM and his cabinet understand this. So why don’t they skip the part of this process where the government faces expensive appeal after expensive appeal until the law is inevitably struck down?
Even if you personally do not have strong feelings about the wrongness of prostitution, I would be shocked to find that you do not know people who do. It is quite probable that the choice of this example is on some level upsetting to most people. And that is why I chose it. Because it is so easy to see how taking a right, legal, moral stand on reforming laws governing sex work in Canada would outrage lots of people. It would likely hand the next federal and indirectly some provincial elections to Conservatives who would have a field day with such a policy.
So, why no new revenue in the federal budget? Because one of two things is going to happen after the next federal election in Canada. Either the Liberals are going to form the government or the CPC are. That is the truth of it. The current government needs to fear the easy outrage Conservatives can expect from their supporters. Reforms that hand the disloyal opposition the next election are absolutely no use. And so, a political climate where so many voters are so easily manipulated, outraged and gulled into supporting extremist parties is one in which neither reform nor democracy have much of a chance.
Justin Trudeau was asked, when the government moved to decriminalize marijuana, if they intended to follow the successful Portuguese model and decriminalize all recreational drug use and possession. To which he answered, “no.” Because Canadians would not support that policy. So, doing the right thing was impossible.
And you may squeal that things would be different if we dumped FPTP for something else. But what is really going on here is more fundamental. It is not FPTP that is our problem. It is Canadian voters. As long as enough voters are willing to support extremists and populists, so long as so many thoughtless regressive people can be so easily manipulated by stands taken on inflammatory issues, as long as there is a threat of such people giving such parties power, no party can be free to act progressively.