Throwing Canada a right-handed curve, low and on the inside
Date: Tuesday, June 15 2004
by Paul Harris
It seems appropriate, although disheartening, while such a high degree of doting admiration is being showered on Ronald Reagan (all out of proportion with the reality of the man), to see that Canada may finally be catching up with the heavy shift to the right that Reagan represented.
Oh sure, we did have a curiously named ‘Progressive Conservative’ government for much of the Reagan years and it certainly wreaked a lot of right-wing havoc from which we have never recovered. But we didn’t have the full-blown brown-shirtism experienced in many of the countries who fell into lockstep with the Reaganites and the corporatists.
If current polls are anything to judge by, we are about to elect a hard-line hard-right government. The only saving grace for the future may be that a large number of people who are apparently ready to choose the party of the far right are doing so simply because of disaffection with the governing Liberal Party of Canada. It isn’t because they have abandoned the principles that made this a wonderful country.
There is little question that the Liberals need to be publicly humiliated for an abysmal performance over the past decade; but it seems to be a foolish step to throw them over only to put ourselves into the greasy clutches of the Conservative Party of Canada.
It is fair, I think, to acknowledge that all the major parties have some solid and sensible planks in their platforms. It is also fair to say that for each of them, there are a few planks that are pretty wobbly. Frankly, I am surprised at how level-headed and sensible the Bloc Québecois platform is, except for that one little nagging issue, and I think that the other parties could garner some good ideas from the Bloc.
But, as always, the airwaves and print media are filled with the various party leaders talking out of their hats about what they would do and what the other guys won’t do. For people who have a progressive view of what this country should be, there is a real dilemma in how to cast that ballot. Not because the leaders are all speaking drivel, any more than usual, or that they are misleading us about their own or the other parties’ platforms, any more than usual, but because the guy that Canadians all seemed to love just a few months ago is right about one crucial issue. I’ll get to that in a moment.
As always in Canada, people with a view of a caring and compassionate society have a hard choice: the sensible vote for people of good conscience would be to choose the NDP (or, perhaps, the Greens). But we are once again facing a choice where the electorate is more likely to vote against one party rather than to vote for another party. In other words, they will want so desperately to get rid of Prime Minister Martin or so desperately to prevent Stephen Harper from becoming Prime Minister, that they will forgo what might have been a sensible NDP vote.
That, of course, is the danger of our system of government. We have heard a lot of disaffection over the years about unequal representation in Parliament and in this election there has been a lot of discussion about something called ‘proportional representation’. There seems to be little doubt that Canadians are not equally or fairly represented but nothing that any of the parties has discussed in this campaign will ever bring us any closer to an egalitarian level of representation. Personally, I favour some variation of a ‘run-off’ system where the last dog standing is the winner although I haven’t quite worked out the details in my own mind.
But that brings me back to that one crucial issue that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back: Canadians seem poised to punish Paul Martin for his government’s wretched performance but they should consider carefully when they go to the polling place what Mr. Martin has said about Stephen Harper. Because on this one issue, Paul Martin is right.
Stephen Harper is a dangerous right-wingnut ideologue whose vision of Canada is so far right that none of us presently living would recognize it five years from now. He will move us to an American-style system of health care, he will build up our military --- not for the purposes of allowing us to resume our role as worldwide peacekeepers, but to curry favour with the United States. He will commit our troops to the foolish military excursions so much loved by our American friends and he will introduce hard-line unfriendly elements into everyday Canadian life (restricted women’s rights, restricted reproductive rights, a scrapping of environmental measures intended to save our planet, harsh immigration and citizenship rules, and a whole host of other bad ideas). He will do a ‘Mike Harris’ number on all of Canada: social programs will be gutted, taxes for the rich and corporations will be even better than they are today.
Do not be fooled by Harper’s recently smoother rhetoric: all those harsh things he has said and stood for as a Reform Party member and as leader of the National Citizens’ Coalition have not gone away; he’s still the same hard-right brute that he has always been. Those things are just not being talked about right now because it isn’t the message the electorate will wish to hear, even if they do want to punish the Liberals. And unfortunately, the press has given Harper a fairly easy ride on his hard-right ideology and many of them have dismissed Martin’s complaints about Harper’s extremism as just the desperate bleating of a man soon to lose his dream job.
But Martin is right this time. And if a nation-wide taste of Mike Harris is not what voters want, then they better think real hard about whether punishing the Liberals is more important than giving Stephen Harper an opportunity to take this country down the road of perdition.
Better still, let them cast their ballot for the socially responsible NDP or Greens and just reject both Martin and Harper. We don’t really have to settle for the evil of the two lessers.