What's Happened to Politics?

By Djukic, Irena | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

What's Happened to Politics?


Djukic, Irena, Canadian Review of Social Policy


What's Happened to Politics? By Bob Rae, Canada: Simon & Schuster, 2015. ISBN: 9781501103414

In the newly released book, "What's Happened to Politics?" former politician Bob Rae sets out a critical analysis of the current state of Canadian politics. In this non-partisan examination of Canadian politics, Rae discusses the history of certain Canadian policies and practices and provides an in-depth critique of the inadequacies of present day politics and the overall political atmosphere in Canada. Rae provides a critical understanding of how the historical evolution of Canadian politics impacts current concerns and everyday life for ordinary Canadian citizens. Regardless of political affiliation, this is an essential book to read, as it reveals the impact that simplistic ideologies have on public policy issues, but it is especially relevant for social work students who will be encountering these ideologies in their future work. As the field of social services is heavily intertwined with Canadian politics and policies, and, especially, social policies, "What's Happened to Politics?" provides a comprehensive and succinct examination of how current issues in Canadian politics are impacting service delivery, administration, policy and everyday life in Canada.

Bob Rae presents his analysis of the shortcomings of Canada's current political framework in six chapters, addressing 1) Canadian politics in general, 2) leadership, 3) policy, 4) Aboriginal peoples, 5) democracy in Canada, and 6) the role of Canadian politics in an international context. Rae argues that the current fractured state of Canadian politics is evidenced by a disengaged and distrustful population, an economy that works to concentrate wealth among the rich, and a health care system that is deficient. Overall, we are given an extensive account of the evolving history of Canadian politics, and how it is related to current issues in politics and practices. Rae also offers recommendations to revitalize our present-day political system.

In Chapter 1 we are given a brief, yet comprehensive, history of Canada's economy. The end of the Second World War was a hopeful period, when Canadians experienced full employment and a steady increase in the standard of living for average families. By the 1970s the Canadian government had increased its spending and taxes, and Canadians were experiencing high unemployment rates and rising interest rates as a result of free trade agreements. This lasted until the 1990s, when Canada experienced growth and then the financial crisis of 2008, in which Canadians faced the realities of a global economic crisis and forces outside their own control. Rae claims that the latter period led to our current situation wherein, despite economists' predictions of state stability and taxes being under control, many Canadians are now working from "paycheque to paycheque" (p. 6). Rae argues that this economic climate has negatively affected Canadian politics, claiming that political parties have become full-time businesses, as opposed to being concerned with real governance. This, in turn, has helped to create a fractured electorate, in which Canadians are divided and disengaged. In support of this claim, Rae highlights the extremely low turnout of young voters, reflecting their philosophy of "What's in it for me?" He argues that underpinning this philosophy are the dire realities faced by young Canadians, such as precarious work and high education costs. Another contributing factor to this fractured electorate is how political parties interact with voters, such as the Conservative Party's reliance on robo-calling, which results in an emphasis on the breadth of a party's reach as opposed to the depth of its conversation with citizens (p. 13). To address these realities, Rae calls on politicians to shift from speaking to Canadians to once again speaking with them (p. 17). Moreover, Rae critiques the power that lobbyists and interests groups have in influencing political decision makers and campaigns, which further impacts citizens' relationship with voting. …

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