Here are three separate stories that have been making Canadian news of late. Note that none of them have a particular sporting theme.
- After three months of student protests, many of which have become violent, Quebec's Minister of Education resigned yesterday. While the protests have been prompted by a proposed $325 increase to tuition rates, the University of Quebec student who has become the public face of the protests, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, has suggested that the protest is the cusp of a popular rebellion against "the wave of neo-liberal ideas" that have dominated popular debate.
- Political activists in British Columbia are openly musing about renaming the governing Liberal Party prior to the next election, or forming a "free enterprise coalition party" , in an attempt to counter the NDP's significant polling advantage in the lead-up to the provincial election which must be held during the next year.
- Federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair has prompted responses from western Canadian Premiers by describing the resource-industry inspired strength of the Canadian dollar as "the Dutch disease" and as the cause of manufacturing job loss in Ontario.
There is, however, a common thread which binds these events into a broader story about the changing face of Canadian politics. It is a story that Cardus told after the 2006 federal election. The politics of consensus has passed and we are now moving into the politics of dissensus. It's about creating a wedge in the middle of the spectrum, focusing on defining difference and making the opposition seem scary. It has moved away from the way the game was played a generation ago, where parties involved tried to brand themselves as the best representatives of a nation-wide consensus.
Of course this isn't the whole story. There are other factors to consider when giving an account of the events cited above, and I must admit that they don't by themselves make a prima facie case for a change in Canadian appetite regarding their political sporting preferences. One may rightly question whether the student protest in Quebec is really representative of the general student population, just as one can question the extent to which the BC Liberal's problems have to do with the BC voters' tiredness regarting a party that has held power for 11 years. It might also be true that both the Conservatives and NDP have common cause to eliminate the Liberal brand from contention in the next election in order to further their own partisan causes. But it would be myopic to ignore the fact that, just as increasing numbers have taken a liking to extreme sports over the more team-oriented sports, our collective political appetites are undergoing a similar transformation. The politics of the extreme has increasing resonance on all sides, even if isn't quite yet acceptable enough to admit in polite company. More attention is being paid and more reward given to political bungee jumps than to the teamwork and strategy required for behind-the-scenes compromise and middling consensus. It's too early to say that this problem has become the new norm, but whether extreme politics is here to stay, or just another extreme sport fad, it's not an encouraging development.