Friday, 6 November 2015

Middle Class...Middle Income?... Canadian Federal Election a Battle for Democracy Consumers


Image:Stephen Harper (Official Photo).jpgTom Mulcair

All these Canadian politicians have shared a lot in recent months. Not just the media spotlight but the language they used when in it. Class made a comeback in Canada's recent federal election, after many campaigns which had seemingly subscribed to the belief that history was over and with it class differences. One class, the idolized "middle class" has made a grand return to the spotlight in Canadian political discourse. The others? You could be excused for thinking they had disappeared because they were barely mentioned. And thereby hangs a  tale.   

But certainly one of the most "middle-class" obsessed of the 3 leaders challenging for the recent federal election brass ring handily won the election, so the phrase must have some appeal to those who voted. So appealing have become the middle class to the victor, the new prime minister, that other traditional classes were assigned a kind of middle class wannabe status, or as he calls them "those striving to be "middle class". Sounds way more positive than being poor or shiftless, or working for that matter. As for the rich, they didn't seem to exist much either, because apparently to even mention them might deflect from the populist approach adopted by all three parties vying to unseat the unashamedly pro-rich Conservatives.

Among  the many tedious semantic details lost in Canada's federal election discourse is the fact that middle class is not what the politicians were really talking about: middle income earners. Though middle income earners may ultimately get some of the possessions of the middle class, what they will usually never get is the habit of power, i.e. being in charge. It is with that, not simply the middle income that middle class status goes. Some workers may acquire "middle" incomes if, in these times of dwindling membership, they are fortunate enough to be unionized and in a non-precarious trade (preferably a profession) but they will know they belong in a different class the first time they try to walk into the local golf or squash club. 

What the Canadian election proved then was that all the talk of class actually obscured real class divisions.The party that triumphed was the one that more effectively sold a youthful political brand to the middle income electoral consumers campaign strategists recognize as their target. Don't worry, was the mantra, be happy if you can buy stuff like other middle income earners. And if you can't all you have to do is strive harder to be like those who can. Class status is not so easy to acquire if you have the money but not the habit of power.                    

And until the social enterprise we support at TorontotheBetter is better able to supply goods and services in forms those outside the middle class can acquire it will experience the consequence of targeting and winning middle income earners without changing a class structure that perpetuates inmequality. Whole Foods still means, unfortunately, pretty much "whole pay packet".    

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