Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Still A Distant Third

I can still vaguely recall the very beginnings of my political socialization. I remember that my parents, before they took me along to the polling station, explained the Canadian political system in terms that my 5(?)-year-old self could understand. They said something about political parties: there was a Red one, a Blue one, and an Orange one. Being my younger self, my assumption at the time was that the Red party could do no wrong. They had chosen the best of the colours, hadn't they? That night, as we watched Jean Cretien's government secure a majority, I rejoiced in the tide of Red washing over the House of Commons.

Times changed. In the next election, I remember supporting Jean Charest's Progressive Conservative party (Parents: "I thought you wanted the Red party to win?"), for reasons I can no longer remember. Given the guy's subsequent reputation in Quebec (as a Liberal, no less), I think that has to go on the record as one of my more regrettable opinions. Not long after this election, the extremely damaging education cuts of Progressive Conservative (Ontario) Premier Mike Harris put me off the "Blue parties" for good.

As put off as I am from Conservative politics*, the problem in this country is that the likely alternative - that is to say, the Liberal party - is hardly inspiring. At the outset of this campaign, I would have said that Michael Ignatieff was decidedly preferable to Stephen Harper. If you ask me today, I'll tell you the same thing - but I'll say it in that voice; that "I'm-really-not-happy-saying-this" voice, that "I-am-contractually-obliged-to-tell-you-this voice". Every day, I'm losing a little more faith in the man. Every day I wonder why the Liberals agonized so much about getting this man onto the ballot. Oh, wait, we don't directly elect people to the ever-more-powerful** office of Prime Minister - I had us confused with a real democracy for a second***. Regardless, he's beginning to remind me a little of Paul Martin, the guy who managed to wait 20 years to be Prime Minister...without developing any strong vision for the country. I've had more profound political visions waiting at the dentist's office. I'll break it down:

* Big-C and small-c alike

**Since the Trudeau era; I won't say it's all Harper's fault.

*** Ok, so there's three branches of Government: Legislative (ie. House of Commons), Executive (Presidents), and Judicial (the Courts). Technically, our head of state is the Queen/Governor General, but they're figureheads, not functionaries. Other countries (America and France, to name just two) get to elect a President (head of state = executive) who is separate from the Prime Minister, who nominally serves as the head of government. In Canada, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has taken on the role of both Prime Minister and President, and yet is an unelected office****. Neither Judges nor Senators are elected in Canada, either. Out of three branches of Governments, Canadians may vote for only half (three quarters, if we're being generous) of JUST ONE BRANCH.

****Yes, you can elect the individual party leaders as MPs, but that is not the same thing.

No Support for Coalition Governments

It's bad enough that Stephen Harper - an enthusiastic supporter of a coalition that would have put him in charge - has renounced and denounced the notion of a legitimate governing coalition. What's worse is that Ignatieff doesn't seem too happy with the concept either. He seems to be of the opinion that he can restore the Liberal hegemony that predominated throughout the 20th century. After the corruption that has been exposed in both the Liberal and Conservative parties, however, It's unlikely that we are going to see an end to minority parliaments any time soon. What we've seen so far is a lot of brinksmanship from the Conservatives: by making a judicious use of confidence motions in the house, they force Liberals into compliance (and, largely, absenteeism) by dangling over them the threat of an (implied: unpopular) election.

Coalition governments suggest to me a different way of ruling, one that is more democratic than the present one. We have, time and again, elected a very divided House of Commons. What that suggests to Stephen Harper seems to be "I have the most seats, therefore I call the shots". To me, those results say: "Many Canadians desire Conservative policies, but MOST DO NOT". The obvious answer should be some sort of compromise, but of course this seems to sit well with no party's support base. And why would it? A good compromise - as Bill Watterson's Calvin observes - leaves everybody mad.

Everybody, of course, except for the 2/3rds of Canadian voters who find themselves alienated and ill-represented by the Conservative party's agenda. Those of us who are ashamed Canada's increasingly regressive stance on the environment, aboriginal rights, and birth control/abortion*****. The majority of Canada's most recent parliament was comprised of members of center-left parties. To me, that should mean a center-left agenda, even a center-left mandate. When Michael Ignatieff tries to distance himself from this idea of a coalition government, when he tries to present the Liberal party as the only credible alternative to Harper's conservatives, he seems to hearken back to a Liberal party that rules not to give the people justice - but for the sake of ruling. After ten years of Cretien and Martin, after six years of Harper...I'm getting tired of this shit.

Oh, yeah: I'm tired of this shit about disregarding the Bloc's voice in parliament on the sole basis of their separatist agenda. They also exist as duly-elected Members of Parliament representing the Citizens of Quebec; they should be allowed to participate in a government - and that is that!

*****Harper's Conservatives made it clear that none of their foreign aid money earmarked for improving the lot of women/mothers would fund abortions. They have yet to challenge abortion rights at home, but the double standard evinced here strikes me as cowardly, striking out at those who had no power to vote him out of office.

"Caring, Compassionate, Liberal Government"

This goes back to something my mom says, every time the Liberals play up the "compassion" angle. She says that it's all so much bleeding-heart bullshit, a meaningless appeal to the emotions. It sticks with me, because now it's all I can do not to retch when I hear Ignatieff say the word "compassionate". I hear "condescending". I'm a political liberal (note: small-l) because I believe in an inclusive social and cultural framework. I reject the toxic jingoism and intolerance of social conservatism. I'm not a liberal because I want people to be mollycoddled or looked down upon with pity. People who struggle to get by don't seem to want "compassion"; they want action. When I hear people speak at social justice events, I don't hear them demand a more "compassionate" form of top-down, hierarchical government. What they DO demand is empowerment, reform, revolution. The Canadian Liberal party is in many ways what American conservatives accuse the Democratic party of being. I had hoped, perhaps, that Ignatieff could have brought something new to the table...but all I see is more of the same.

(Dis)Respect for Parliamentary Institutions

Ignatieff has been trying to gain the high ground by pointing out that Stephen Harper is the first ever Westminster-style Prime Minister to be found in contempt of parliament. He says that Harper does not deserve the trust of Canadians, because he does not trust Canadians. I tend to agree. But Jack Layton was quick to point out in the leader's debate that Ignatieff has the poorest attendance record in the whole House of Commons. I can understand that the Liberals did not want to force an election they did not see a chance of winning...but to resort to chronic absenteeism strikes me as a kind of political cowardice. Either they support the Government's policies, or they do not. If they were afraid of going into an election having supported Conservative policies in order to stall an election (which, by inaction, they did), perhaps they should have DONE THEIR JOB as the official opposition and attempted to affect change in Conservative policy?

With his cowardly voting reputation, I'm afraid I don't think Ignatieff has even one foot to stand on. He only has himself to blame

In short, while I don't think I will ever vote Liberal in this country, I'm used to thinking of that party as the one I'd rather have in power, if it's going to be either them or the Cons. I thought that maybe Ignatieff's leadership (if one was to believe the hype) could have upgraded them to "meh, not bad", or even "a decent second choice"...but the fact that he has not managed to do even that, well, that's just another sign of Canada's crippling drought of political vision.


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