# 12 – Canada’s middle class and the politics of inclusion

Harper was late again at the Italian G8 meeting. He seems to take longer than any of the other major world rulers to get himself ready for photo ops. Either his logistics people are asleep at the switch or it is just getting harder to comb his hair over as he ages. Or maybe, as an Ottawa writer noted several months ago, Canada’s Prime Minister has discovered middle-class Canadians and thinks tardiness is a middle-class characteristic. He sees this middle-class thing as novel and new (the reporter, not Mr. Harper). Frankly, the reporter seems slow. Canadian politicians have been fighting over the hearts and minds of Canada’s middle class for as long as we have been able to attribute middle-class characteristics to some of Canada’s population.

The reporter actually thinks Mr. Harper should have an advantage with this group because he is himself so middle class. Wrong. Mr. Harper is a right-wing ideologue and the last thing he would ever consider himself to be is middle class. He is likely to consider that description pejorative. He knows himself as a superior person whom others should know to follow.

At the same time, the reporter says that certain pollsters and Mr. Harper are attempting to position Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as “a stuffy intellectual.” Wrong again. While Ignatieff is unquestionably intellectual, he also has a wonderfully wry sense of humour, a self-deprecating style and a very real concern for people that Mr. Harper can never match.

It really is quite funny when the reporter tells readers that Mr. Harper shows that he is really middle-class by having two young children. The news media show clips of him taking his son to play hockey. He is as stiff with his children as he is in the boardroom. He should have taken a lesson from the upper-class Pierre Trudeau, who never allowed his sons to be part of political campaigning, other than the requisite picture for the annual Christmas card.

The reporter builds all this silliness on Barack Obama’s win in the United States last November. That win was achieved, the reporter tells us, by Obama using a positive and inclusive message. The reporter was not up on American history nor aware of the power of new media. It was a lesson Obama learned from the last of the truly patrician American presidents: Franklin Roosevelt. FDR built his politics of inclusion on a new medium of communications of his era: radio. Obama built his inclusion with the new media of this era: the Internet,

When you refer to the politics of inclusion, you are not really talking about the middle class. The middle class of society is hardly a voting block. The politics of inclusion crosses the economic and intellectual lines in society and invites broad participation. Roosevelt built a path out of the Great Depression for Americans with the “New Deal.” Barack Obama opened doors to blacks, Hispanics and white Americans frustrated with the George W. Bush regime with the simple words: “Yes we can.”

More important than the actual words was the positive nature of the message. In an era of vicious, negative attack advertising in politics, Obama reversed the trend. He left the sneering insults to the late night talk shows and the news media and took the high road. He was respectful but firm with his Republican opponent and he kept looking better and better throughout the American election.

Conversely, the campaign in Canada in October was awash in a constant turmoil with scurrilous attacks and mixed messages that put the Canadian voter on a seesaw. The refusal of Stephen Harper to admit there were problems with the economy was to put his campaign in direct conflict with reality. He won a narrow victory in the end by staying with his message and emphasizing the weaknesses of Liberal Stéphane Dion.

But, with the self destructive ideological approach of Stephen Harper, nobody should give this government much time before Michael Ignatieff brings it down. Ignatieff has already laid the groundwork in Ottawa of ensuring that his caucus is not the cause of any disrespect and nastiness in the House of Commons. He is determined that Harper is not going to pull him down into the gutter politics that destroyed his predecessor Stéphane Dion. The difference between the two liberals is that while they are both professors and intellectuals, Ignatieff is also very much a politician.

Canadians are going to start to remember a slogan that was popular after the Great Depression of the 1930s. The slogan is simply “Liberal times are good times.”

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