But I don't think political orientation is very relevant anymore. In our current system, the only metric that actually appears to determine a politician's success is his or her willingness to promote policies that serve short-term corporate profits.
Take Bill C-51, Stephen Harper's new anti-privacy bill touted as a tool for fighting terrorists, since Canadians didn't buy it when the Conservatives claimed they needed to destroy our civil liberties in order to fight cyber-bullying, or when they said the same powers were necessary to stop pedophiles.
Among other things, C-51 would give CSIS the power to remove extremist posts from the internet. That's quite alarming, since Canadian security agencies now seem to consider environmentalists extremist.
The Liberals, Canada's nominal left-wing party, also support bill C-51. So what's the commonality here? How can we explain two parties of ostensibly different political stripes supporting the same invasive bill?
To answer that question, we have to ask another: is increasing surveillance really about protecting us from terrorists, or is it about making money for corporations?
Well, for starters, we know that mass surveillance doesn't actually stop terrorism. There is ample evidence for this, including a report by Europe's top rights body, which found that not only is mass surveillance ineffective in fighting terrorism, it also threatens human rights and violates European privacy laws.
We also know that increasingly, spies are leaving intelligence agencies for lucrative private industry jobs. We know that telecoms like Vodaphone and BT in the UK charge spy agencies lots of money for access to their networks. We know that the NSA's Utah data center cost $1.5 billion, paid by American taxpayers to private corporations. And we know NSA contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton, Edward Snowden's former employer, make billions yearly from surveillance contracts. Our diminished civil liberties are their increased profits. (Source.)
In the article I just linked Cory Doctorow calls this "policy with a business model," and it's the sort that governments tend to focus on nowadays. Not policy that evidence shows will benefit the public. No. Instead, policy that, in Doctorow's words, creates "a large pool of wealth for a small number of players, enough money in few enough hands that there’s some left over to lobby for the continuation of that policy."
Another example of left and right no longer mattering is the fact that implementing a carbon tax gets such little political traction.
Climate change will create untold suffering for billions of humans in the near future. Seems pretty cut-and-dried: limiting our carbon emissions would be extremely beneficial for the public. It's based on sound science and research - we know this would work.
What's more, a carbon tax would fundamentally be a right-wing, conservative, market-based solution. So why are so-called conservatives among its most ardent opponents? I'm sure you already know why: it's because their corporate backers don't want it.
Unless a piece of legislation enriches a small number of people - unless it's "policy with a business model" - it's unlikely to get passed.
There are other ways to get sensible policy out of government. One is to build a months-long, sustained campaign of activism involving millions of people every time you want to see positive change.
Or we could change our political systems so that the will of the public, not corporate money, decides who gets elected and what policy gets made.