Sunday, June 27, 2004
After a tight election, it is still not clear who has won. Eventually, constitutional bodies that are expected to be non-political play a pivotal part in deciding that the right-wing contender is victorious, tossing out the centre-left party previously holding the reins of power. Corruption and dishonesty played a pivotal role in the old party's demise. The new leader promises unity, but finds himself staring at a country deeply divided by the electoral experience.
Yah, I made it ambiguous because I'm not sure if I'm talking about the US election of 2000 or predicting the upcoming federal election tomorrow. The fact is that the Liberals and NDP have been trying to outdo each other in whacking the "Harper's hidden agenda" straw man and portraying the Conservatives as being a hair's width away from selling the country to the United States. This could mean that, even if Stephen Harper and the Conservatives win the plurality of seats tomorrow and forms the new government, the leftist parties have already planted the seeds for a divisive political climate.
I'm from British Columbia, and a form of this sort of coalition of non-elected interest groups determined to undermine and discredit the government has been happening for years on the provincial level. Labour unions, determined to save their own cushy jobs from the light of fiscal reality, are joined up with environmentalist hippies and guillble youth in attacking every attempt by the BC Liberal government to curb back on their sacred turf.
But while the BC situation (Ontario as well) did not assert itself until one of these groups actually found their self-interest actually restricted, the trash talk and fearmongering has already begun without the Conservatives having done anything in government. This is one of the few times an election has been painted as running against a party that isn't the incumbent. The well-established labour-led anti-right groups at the provincial level in BC and Ontario is one reason for the head start, but another, more important reason is the wholesale import of the left-right conflict of the United States across the border.
With the exception of health care, most of the demagoguery against Harper has been on the basis of tax cuts, social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, and foreign policy, including US relations, military rebuilding, and the Iraq War. In this sense, the Canadian left has borrowed the entire playbook of the American left in their relentless mudslinging against the Bush administration. The left-right conflict, on the Canadian provincial level, is more related to economic issues, but it plays a smaller part in the attacks on the federal level, because our economy is, arguably, not too bad. Similarly, America's booming economy has made the economic debate there irrelevant as well (with the exception of tax cuts), but social issues and foreign policy are bread and butter for the left-right conflict there.
But the debate in the United States has become shrill, illogical, and based less on reason than jutxaposing pictures of simians and government officials.
We're on the path of this sort of ridiculousness as well, thanks to the shameful lust for power of the Liberals and NDP. Avril Lavigne sees herself as Canada's Barbra Streisand, at least in the political sense. The election campaign seems to be about running against George W. Bush more than about running against any Canadian politician. We even have our own version of the political "third rail", in the non-discourse on health care reform. Not surprisingly, American social security and Canada health care are both lumbering statist dinosaurs, about to collapse under their own weight.If we are on the path towards becoming more like America, then the left, by making the very worst of the political discourse in the US its standard reportoire, has only itself to blame.