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Making progress in tough times: Lessons from 2018

In October, I had a moment with my eldest son that really brought home to me the angst that many progressive people were feeling throughout 2018.

It was the day after the release of the incredibly worrisome Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. You probably saw the press coverage. One of the report’s key findings is that we only have a dozen years in which to avert catastrophic global warming damage. My 14-year-old had seen some articles about it on-line and took me aside just before heading to bed.

“Dad: this report is really freaking me out. Is my generation screwed? Can climate change be solved or is it already too late?”

I tried my best to allay his concerns.

I told him that positive change is always possible and it’s never too late to set things right. I told him that one of the good things about getting older is that you’re able to see progress over your lifetime. And that I’ve seen amazing progress on issues as varied as LGBTQ rights and the banning of ozone-destroying chemicals. If we can protect the ozone layer, we can save the climate.

I also referenced the incredible power of people working together, and told him the collective commitment of those around the world who – like him – want to see the climate protected, won’t be denied.

I hope I made him feel better. I think I did. And in the moment, as I was forced to deal with his worry head-on, I realized that my answers to his questions were applicable well beyond the climate change issue.

Yes, progress is possible. And the power of people working together won’t be denied.

I think all progressive people, in their own way, can empathize with what my son was feeling: 2018 contained more than enough difficulty to give any of us pause.

Donald Trump’s terrible record continued, including the levying of damaging penalties on Canadian industries such as steel and aluminum. The far-right made electoral gains throughout Europe, and conservatives throughout the world plumbed new depths in their disdain for democracy.

Here at home, Doug Ford wasted no time in rolling back hard-won environmental and labour protections. GM threatened to walk away from its generations-old Oshawa plant. And Andrew Scheer began road-testing a variety of xenophobic messages that mark a fundamental departure from what has been, until now, an all-party consensus on the value of immigration for our country.

Most horrifying: the hateful rhetoric legitimized by Trump and others emboldened violent extremists. Similar to the 2017 shooter at the Quebec City mosque who told police he was motivated by a fear of refugees, the shooter at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue yelled anti-Semitic slurs as he killed eleven people.

But in the midst of these setbacks and outright tragedies, key leaders and movements across our country fought back with great ideas and even greater energy and resolve.

Movements such as “$15 and Fairness” and #MeToo and Black Lives Matter continued, in many places, to gain ground and ensured that out-dated and damaging attitudes were confronted.

Led by great progressive mayors in cities as varied as Vancouver, Saskatoon and Montreal, municipal councils took action to help their neediest citizens, including critical expansions of affordable housing.

The governments of British Columbia and Alberta, though divided on the issue of pipelines, continued to implement ambitious plans to create jobs including with First Nations, build critical infrastructure, and protect the rights of vulnerable communities, to name but a few of their accomplishments. Right before the holidays, BC announced its widely praised CleanBC plan — probably the most comprehensive Canadian attempt to date to achieve the transition to a low carbon economy

The past year clarified two related challenges for Canadian progressives. The first is the more obvious: Canadian Conservatives are being tempted by the Trump playbook to move right in a way they never have before. We need to be prepared, in 2019, to confront actions we never thought possible (Think Doug Ford and the Notwithstanding clause). The second challenge, though subtler, is equally insidious. Increasingly, excesses in other countries are serving as the newest excuse for Canadian elites defending a clearly inadequate status quo.

How many times, in 2018, did we hear things like:

“Racism isn’t so bad in Canada.”

“Inequality isn’t as severe in Canada as in the United States.”

“At least we’re making some progress in Canada on climate change.”

The intent of these arguments is to sap our ambition as progressives. To convey, explicitly or tacitly, that this is as good as it gets.

We know this isn’t true. Too many of our fellow citizens are being left behind for us to settle with things as they are as opposed to imagining, and working for, a more prosperous, greener, and more democratic Canada.

This coming year, that exciting vision of a better Canada will be put to the test. Facing off against this vision, in the federal election, the Alberta election, and other key contests – both issue-based and electoral – will be increasingly extreme Conservatives and the self-satisfied proponents of the status quo.

At the Broadbent Institute, with fantastic allies like Progress Toronto and Progress Alberta, we’ll be re-doubling our efforts to make the kind of change that Canadians deserve. We’ll be training new progressive organizers and leaders, including through our innovative PowerLab, co-generated with the Atkinson Foundation. We’ll continue to grow the already impressive readership and impact of PressProgress – breaking news and shaping debates across the country. And we’ll be creating, and defending, exciting new policies and approaches to improving the country we love.

Long story short: in 2019 we’re playing to win. I hope you’ll join us.