IF 2018 can be called the year of disappointment, will 2019 be the year that people’s quest for meaningful change is met? There are signs that a fundamental shift in the status quo is underway.

The most telltale sign to date has been the rise of the political right. Many people, if not most, are shocked when right-wing populists are swept into offices traditionally held by the sorts of politicians we are used to. The ones who promise a lot, deliver on some, but mostly keep to the centre of the road. They try to please as many people and interests as possible and fear offending the power brokers who rule the roost by doing anything that is positively radical.

The large middle class — pandered to in words but not so much in deeds — has risen up in countries throughout the world. So great is the thirst for recognition of long-standing grievances that a majority of voters are willing to overlook serious lapses in judgment by those who speak to their frustrations.

And so we have the likes of Donald Trump and Doug Ford while in South America and many European countries, more radical rightists are clamping down hard on the rights of minorities.

Immigration is a flashpoint wherever the poor and downtrodden try to find a better life that is clear to them through modern communications. Troubles arise when the worst in human tendencies — to resist “others” — is given voice by those who seek office in part to erect borders.

This is beyond cruel in cases where genuine refugees want only to build a new life in a new homeland. Where the dividers find political support is when immigrants enter countries with unwillingness or inability to live by the rules.

Racial division is by far by biggest challenge facing Thunder Bay’s new city council, none of whom, it must be said, have stooped to capitalize on it. But it is hardly council’s challenge alone. For the city to begin to find some semblance of harmony among its established and Indigenous communities there must be recognition that frustration with troubles that arise from racial tension is not necessarily racist — a term that is far too often lobbed into the conversation.

Most people in Thunder Bay simply want this divide to end. They resent being Canada’s “murder capital.” They don’t hold malicious intent against the other community. They do lament the mayhem plainly evident on the streets and the court docket and they regret that it can be used by some to paint an entire community as troublesome.

The police service that must deal with all of this is labelled as institutionally racist while the police services board stands accused of failing to rein in this tendency. The general failure of reports making these allegations to avoid any suggestion that Indigenous leadership or citizens share any responsibility in this dreadful situation is rightly seen by the majority as one-sided and unfair.

There is clearly much ill-will everywhere and it is incumbent on leaders of all the people of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario to set examples of respect and fairness. Let’s not ignore the realities around us but rather, dig deep and set personal and institutional goals to eliminate the distrust that keeps us apart.

That said, the will of people to do right must surely send the larger political pendulum back toward a middle that does, finally, acknowledge that the usual way of doing things isn’t working. While various economies — in Ontario, Canada and the U.S. — are said to be doing well by traditional measures, rates of poverty are rising while jobs — the primary means of survival and success in a modern economy — are being shrunk, downsized, shipped elsewhere or eliminated. The rich do get richer in the form of obscene executive salaries while the poor really do keep getting poorer, falling behind in a race to prosperity that is nearly impossible to win.

Therein lies the heart of the problem that sends hucksters and boffos like Trump and Ford to office. People in hopeless situations are willing to entertain any offer of betterment, the more preposterous the better, apparently.

And so we have a new set of leaders who not only act against fair play but literally imperil the planet by ignoring the grim evidence of pulverizing climate change. They do this in favour of continued reliance on and encouragement of the fossil fuel, mega-agricultural, rainforestry and other industries that are quite literally ruining Earth.

Maybe the collective will of people to vote for change will begin to elect those who actually understand and effectively answer their frustration with enlightened ideas. Which leads to some predictions:

Justin Trudeau will be re-elected with a thin majority this year, not only because Andrew Scheer and whomever leads the NDP (and it won’t be Jagmeet Singh) are less effective, but because a smarter Liberal response to Canada’s harsh middle-class realities is no longer avoidable.

Elsewhere, not even his blind base will be enough to protect Trump from his own dysfunction which will soon put the lamentable Mike Pence into the White House. That might last until the 2020 election but certainly not beyond as a promising Democratic presidential contendership takes shape.

By the time Ontario next votes in 2022, Premier Ford’s bad habit of tearing things down without regard to the effects on lives and livelihoods will be his undoing.

And in Thunder Bay, a mixture of experienced wisdom and fresh approaches on council will combine to set a tone of expectation and optimism among citizens. From here on, all political partners must frankly acknowledge the issues that have put us under an unwanted national spotlight, and work relentlessly and reasonably to root out what’s wrong and make it better, if not yet entirely right. Here’s hoping.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.

(Originally published Jan. 5, 2019)


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