Does Canada Need to be Occupied?

SCOTT THOMPSON
The Hamilton Spectator
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

With the removal of the Occupy Toronto camp from St. James Park last week, and similar actions in other cities in Canada, the U.S. and around the world, the question becomes, was it all worth it?

From a sheer exposure standpoint it was, and still is.

The message got out over all media platforms - try searching ‘Occupy’ on the internet - even if some are still unclear what that message is.

The message is quite simple. It’s about economic inequality.

It’s about the 1% who control most of the wealth leaving the 99% to suffer hardship through tough economic times. It’s about bailouts but not giving back, the shrinking middle class and lack of opportunity for our youth. What’s not to get? That’s a pretty broad brush that appeals to most.

Perhaps we’re spending too much time trying to decipher the central message from the Occupy movement and missing the true meaning of what is happening?

It’s not so much about what the Occupy movement wants or what its message is, but rather the fact a group so large can be mobilized so quickly and command so much attention. We’ve seen it with the Arab spring, in Europe, the U.S. and now here.

The message can be different in every city depending on the individual economic and political environment, but the underlying theme is the same. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the gap between the two is ever increasing, thus consuming the middle class.

‘Occupy’ protests are similar to the ‘sit ins’ of the 1960’s, in which it was as much about being heard as it was about what you were saying. Occupy is a verb, not a noun.

Some may have a hard time feeling sorry for those who demonstrate in a country of which much of the world is envious (such as Canada) but Giri Kanagaretnam from the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster said on CHML the movement has, “resonated with people and created awareness of the difficult economic inequality of the middle class.”

However, “the banks and financial institutions are focused on their stakeholders” says the business professor, and not those protesting outside the building on Wall or Bay Streets. “Leadership won’t come from the financial industry; leadership will come from political institutions.”

If the economy continues to be sluggish and youth unemployment remains high, the movement will gain momentum. There is a direct correlation between the two. With the economic forecast looking bleak, we could be seeing more of the same unrest.

Does this mean more youth will get out and vote? Kanagaretnam says, "That's a real possibility.”

On the other hand, there is also less pressure in Canada to reform as there are already safeguards in place. Some are questioning whether it’s enough, while politicians will say our system “does not encourage extreme inequity.”

Tom Cooper, head of the Hamilton Round Table for Poverty Reduction, agrees it’s about turning this into a political debate. “We’ll see if the movement can hold on but I think it’s a trend that governments, to their peril, do not listen to. We have to wrap our heads around it as a society and come to grips with the fact we have to start investing in people again.”

Cooper hopes people will let their politicians know at the ballot box where they think their priorities should be.

This thus raises a bigger question: Will this movement that has attracted so much attention and mobilized so many citizens across North America, be enough to move a generation to occupy the polls on election days instead of a park?

Until we see more in this country casting a ballot, most citizens may have a hard time showing any interest in an occupation in Canada.
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The Scott Thompson Show airs weekdays noon-3pm on News/Talk AM900 CHML. www.ScottThompsonTalk.com