The populist movement has legs. It is not going to disappear. It first made an impression on me in the early 90’s. Something more urgent than the generic range of citizen discontent with politicians indifferently kicking election campaign commitments to the curb was occurring.
I’ve been thinking about the moment insistent public demand forced a government with a massive majority to back down and provide a solid footing for populism.
It was 1993. The cornerstone election campaign promise by federal Liberal leader Jean Chretien was “we will ban the GST.” A vow the Big Red Machine rode all the way to the PMO, crushing the sitting majority Progressive Conservatives of Kim Campbell. The PCs were reduced from 156 to just 2 seats. A political tsunami.
Now Prime Minister, Chretien reneged and retained the GST. A still restive public found its target in Hamilton East Liberal MP and deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps. Under unrelenting pressure Ms. Copps was left with no alternative but to fulfill her personal campaign commitment to resign from parliament were the hugely unpopular tax not rescinded following Liberal victory. Populism had tasted political blood.
Populism had long exhibited power and influence in Quebec, but for the rest of Canada,1993 was a watershed contemporary moment, at least from my viewing stand hosting talk radio where the flame of public opinion burned ever more brightly and daily. Talk radio arguably became the platform for political populism in Canada.
Fast forward to the recent past, the present and what may lie ahead for 2017.
Barack Obama won two convincing United States presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, yet out of the ashes of ‘08 rose the populist conservative Tea Party which while ridiculed by political and media elites had major impact and influenced the loss of more than 900 Democratic Party state legislative seats, 63 house seats, 10 seats in the Senate and 12 governorships.
Last November the “deplorables” (Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s panicked descriptor of non-Dem supporting voters) handed the White House to the most unlikely of all Republicans, Donald Trump. Three months later confused Democratic Party leaders are attempting to body surf a populist movement of unhappy Dem supporters marching in the streets.
In Canada, Liberal PM Justin Trudeau has committed faux pas not well responded to publicly. His popularity is dropping and this while the CPC and NDP remain without elected leaders.
Europe will vote this year and at this writing Marine Le Pen who resides at the far right of her nation’s spectrum leads polling in the chase for the presidency of France.
Conventional party politics has, while a restive global populace is fed a 24/7 diet of complimentary opinion social media, had the soap box kicked out from under its feet.