A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Congratulations, Canada! You’ve almost made it. In a couple of hours, one of the doziest elections in our history will be over. The signs will come down, the pollsters will put away their pencils and the politicians will crawl back into hibernation. Tonight, Canadian Survivor gets one more 2-hour TV finale (just so we can actually see who gets voted off the public payroll) and that’s it – it’s over. And, with any luck at all, Canadian politics will irrevocably change. Thank God!
As I said in the beginning, Decision 2011 — or whatever journalists are calling it this week — has nothing to do with the people of Canada. This was a political election, pure and simple: engineered by our politicians and for the exclusive use of our politicians. This wasn’t an unnecessary election, per se, it just didn’t have anything to do with us. Our politicians have been wandering around the banks of the Ottawa River, trying to figure things out, for quite some time. For years now, nobody on Parliament Hill really knew where they stood in the political spectrum, and they needed to get re-aligned. They solved the problem in typical Canadian fashion. They held an election among the three opposition parties and today we’ll find out who won. In that sense, I suppose, there is some drama, but we’re not getting very much bang for our buck, considering the money we spent.
Here’s what just happened; it gets complicated, so stick with me. Ever since Stephane Dion got the chop for incompetence in 2008, the Liberals haven’t been quite sure how far left of centre they want their centre-left party to be. Michael Ignatieff is about as close to a Red Tory as you can get without the name; whereas, Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh both ran genuine socialist horde NDP provincial governments. There’s so much political schizophrenia going around on Bay Street these days, it’s a wonder the whole party isn’t in therapy.
Meanwhile, in another part of the political forest, the NDP have been creeping to the right. Jack Layton has introduced Thomas Mulchair, a former provincial Liberal, as deputy leader. This move overshadowed Libby Davies, who is about to retire anyway and take her brand of left-coast-bad-girl politics with her. Layton sees an opportunity to move the NDP from wacky wannabes into the sunlight as a reasonable left of centre alternative in Canadian politics. This is especially feasible since the environment is no longer on the agenda and the Greens, now lost in the wilderness, aren’t chewing on his left wing anymore. Jack set his laptop on “Find: Replace,” retooled his speeches to read “middle class” (instead of “working class”) called it change (a la Barack Obama) and plunged right into the fray. Ignatieff, too proud to battle a “fringe” party like the NDP, set his sights on Harper’s Conservatives, blissfully unaware (until it was too late) that, without Quebec and the West, the Liberals have become not much more than an urban “fringe” party themselves. Two political objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, so the war was on.
All this would have been a minor skirmish, except Gilles Duceppe, probably the most competent politician of this generation, decided to take the month off. He showed up briefly during the French language debate to scold Harper and rhetorically slap Jack Layton, but in general, he wasn’t there. Duceppe is tired and wants to finish off his career back in La Belle Province. He will get a good chance to govern as leader of the Parti Quebecois, when Charest’s Liberals collapse and he wants to take it. Besides, he thought that the Bloc had little or nothing to fear until the old Rene Levesque-inspired sovereignistas start to die out in a decade or so. Anyway, pension secured, Gilles went to bed early most nights and slept late.
And what about the guy who seems to be forgotten in all this hoopla — Stephen Harper? After his five years in power, even the CBC couldn’t make the perennial favourite “secret agenda” label stick to him. Harper’s diehard opponents still think he’s the living tool of Satan, however — just waiting for a majority so he can destroy Health Care, evict widows, stomp on kittens and sell us out to his American masters. (Barack Obama?) The truth, of course, is Stephen Harper isn’t the bogeyman any more than Joe Clark or Bob Stanfield were before him. Conservative politics aren’t the manifestation of evil on earth, and most people can’t tell the difference between the day before yesterday and 2004, when Paul Martin was running the show. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is steady, and Conservative support might not be majority material, but it is deep and it is solid. Besides, now that Danny Williams isn’t around to poison the well in the Maritimes, and if Harper can storm Fortress Toronto, he might just get a majority. Regardless, tomorrow morning he will form the government.
That’s it: six weeks later; no big ideas exchanged; no national vision debated. We can only hope that the politicians have finally sorted themselves out — because if they haven’t, and there’re any loose ends dangling about, we’ll all be back at it, in a year or two.