Our election or theirs: government in abdication
Date: Monday, November 21 2005
Canada is on the eve of another federal election and the political parties are in a self-indulgent jousting match as to the exact timing with each trying to milk the advantage.
With modern-day elections the question arises: Where does ownership lie with the politicians or the people? Ideally an election is supposed to be a dialogue between the electorate and the candidates but more than ever this dialogue is a one-sided bombardment of sound bites, photo ops, well placed platitudes and sloganeering; all managed by clever campaign managers and pundits strategizing in back rooms.
As former prime minister Kim Campbell noted, an election campaign is no time for the discussion of serious issues, but of course it should and must be as it is the crucible where we find out a party’s position on critical issues.
The problem is compounded by the fact that elections are poll driven. Polls taken during the campaign become an issue in themselves and the parties are in turn directed and driven by their standing. Polls are a blight on the modern electoral process as political parties pander to pollsters instead of addressing issues of substance. In a more perfect world polls would be banned from the time the writ is dropped. Politicians would have to deal with matters of substance rather than ephemeral percentages.
Increasingly, elections are becoming exercises in political deception rather than elucidation. Bamboozling the electorate is the name of the game.
We the electorate are complicit in the degradation of our electoral process as we are much too passive. We deserve the government we get. We have the means at hand to take back the agenda and insist that issues be addressed in a substantive manner. We can dispense with trash talk and hold politicos feet to the fire. We can with some modest effort steal the agenda from the spin doctors, the backroom strategists, and the pollsters; especially if the media is willing to assume its rightful role-now largely forfeited.
We must never forget that political parties, though they are supposed to represent our collective will are still self-serving entities. They are quite capable of serving their own interest ahead of the larger public interest. They all too often go off topic and the public needs to jog them back to relevance, accountability, and yes, reality!
A voter’s shopping list might include the following issues:
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale has a big package of tax breaks to win votes as the centre piece of Liberal campaign window dressing. But if this means starving our education and Medicare systems do we really want to participate in this ruse? Bribing voters with their own money has always been a dubious concept and Goodale should know better.
The cost of higher education in this country is formidable and an issue that must be addressed.
One reason this election has come about at this time is that NDP leader Jack Layton and the prime minister could not agree on protections for the Medicare system. The PM failed to allay Layton’s concerns about the privatization of our universal health care--one of the best and most cost-effective systems in the world yet we seem intent on destroying it!
What protections are necessary should be a matter of public debate--and what better time? It has been suggested that there should be an annual report on Medicare--just as the auditor general reports to Parliament.
Right now there is a bill before Parliament that will allow police and security agencies to snoop into our personal lives without any legal protections. This is a gross incursion of our civil rights and our right to privacy.
Anne McClellan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, claims such bills are necessary to be compatible with changes being made in other countries and to effectively deal with the threat of terrorism. The real agenda though is that the Canadian government is under great pressure to bring our law enforcement practices into line with the shameful US Patriot Act, a huge omnibus bill, just passed into permanent statute and a naked hijacking of American civil liberties-in the aftermath of 9/11 never have so many enforcement agencies been so amply rewarded for their incompetence- and never have so many nitwitted politicians been hoodwinked into such heavy-handed and superfluous legislation.
Similarly, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is willing to oversee the Americanization of our justice system. He is willing to buy into the discredited and utterly futile US war on drugs. Numerous US enforcement agencies, the CIA, FBI, USDEA and Texas Rangers are operating freely on Canadian soil. It would seem that our justice ministry cannot distinguish between “cooperation” and “capitulation.”
This Liberal government has a hard time mouthing “Canadian sovereignty” as it lapses into the deceitful and insidious expedience of deep integration.
When the Chinese oil giant CNOOC attempted to buy the American owned oil giant, Unocal, the US Congress was swift and decisive in blocking the sale-claiming(and rightfully so) it was not in the US national interest to see ownership of one of its major oil companies pass into foreign hands.
When Canadian owned Terasan Gas was sold to a US conglomerate there is not so much as a murmur of discontent from this felonious Liberal government. Even though oil is a rapidly diminishing resource and global demand is skyrocketing Canada does not have a stated energy policy. Our government’s only response is to sell off our resources as quickly as possible--an odd posture for a Northern and highly resource dependant country to take.
Political parties prefer to slide through elections without accumulating any political IOU’s. Assuming office with a blank slate is an ideal world. Making promises, all too often discarded, are something of a nuisance. They deal in vapid cliché’s and platitudinous doggerel only because we let them get away with it.
Prime Minister Martin has stated that he sees the economy as the central issue in the election. From his standpoint, this is a rather succulent red herring as it avoids the real and pressing issues and is utterly contemptuous of the electorate. The economy is doing just fine for the most part, but addressing the real issues requires real commitment and intellectual and political vigour. Instead of a retreat from governance a stated platform is required--maybe even a mission statement! Under present circumstances this surplus cash becomes the measure of abdication.
Having the economy as the central issue in this election serves not only the governing Liberals but also the aspiring Conservative Party of Canada. While the Liberals would like us to forget they have been playing fast and loose with the public purse, Stephen Harper would like us to forget that his greenhorn party, born out betrayal and political expedience, has not exactly gelled into a daunting political juggernaut. His tenure as leader of the opposition has, to be kind, been lack luster and marked with his personal petulance. The big tent party that was supposed to be a home for all conservatives has purged its Red Tories. The CPC, like the former Alliance, is haven for a ragtag group of closeted disgruntled wannabe Republicans of the neoconservative persuasion lacking the political courage to out themselves.
Whenever this election comes our political landscape is cratered with undesirable choices. Canadian political culture needs rehabilitation and this responsibility falls to the electorate. How this is addressed is a daunting conundrum but a good starting point is to let our politicos know that we expect a nationalist vigor, higher standards, and greater candor and accountability.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 21, 2005]