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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another malignant election

No surprise. The blogosphere is all a-buzz with talk of impending election. Some of its progressive inhabitants are almost swooning with the thought that we might, finally, be able to rid ourselves of Spiteful Steve.

It's a nice thought. And yet ...

I've never claimed to be a pundit, or to enjoy any special insight, or to have access to any kind of privileged insider knowledge. If I've managed to do anything consistently, I'd like to think that I've engaged the issues of the day from a perspective of:

  • non-partisanship
  • thoughtful reflection
  • respect for those with different perspectives (to a point, of course – teabaggers, Foxheads, RWNJs and the like are morons, and will always be morons)
  • dedication to precise and principled use of language, all while making my own biases clear from the outset.

It's in light of those points that I've tried, since last summer's G20 flustercluck, to make some small contribution to the debate. Whether I've been successful in that is for you to decide.

It isn't clear at this point whether the impending federal election is going to turn on the economy and the Harper Government'sTM transparently cynical attempt at a budget, or on its sorry record of secrecy, manipulation, sleazy attacks on its critics, hyper-partisan spin, ethical lapses, and hypocrisy on questions of accountability and transparency. There are legions of strategists, consultants, communications specialists and policy wonks hard at work on things like this right now, and we'll see the results of their dark arts soon enough.

One wants to think that Harper's shortcomings in these respects are so self-evidently obvious that they shouldn't even need to be described, but I've been troubled for several days by Scott Reid's suggestion that for all their sleaze and moral turpitude, the Harperites might just slide through this campaign without any serious trouble on the ethical scorecard. Why? Because no one cares. People don't care if Harper lies to Parliament, or kneecaps the opposition, or flouts election-financing laws, or screws over dedicated public servants like Richard Colvin or Linda Keen or Munir Sheikh. They care if he hurts them. I really hope Reid's wrong, but "no one cares" is an easy, cynical storyline that appeals to lazy corporate-media types, and it has an ugly chance of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Will the opposition leaders be able to convince voters that Harper's contempt for Parliament, the institutions of democratic governance and the infrastructure of civil society amounts to contempt for them? God knows. Given their performance to date, I'm not getting my hopes up.

More fundamentally, though, I'm reminded of the 1997 election. Another cynical campaign that ended up with Jean Chretien winning the second of three straight majorities, the Reform party replacing the BQ as the Official Opposition, the temporary resurrection of the Progressive Conservatives under Jean Charest, some tactical gains for the NDP ...

... and no substantive change in the country's direction. Paul Martin's dismantling of the social safety net, enabled by months of deficit hysteria, would continue. The so-called "free trade" arrangements would remain in place. Deregulation, privatization, austerity, and sustained assaults on the underpinnings of civil society were already well established during Chretien/Martin's watch. It's not as if they started with the Harper regime.

This is why I'm describing this election as "malignant." These things, all encouraged and paid for by the CEOs and international investors and financial institutions, are eating away at the body politic like a cancer. They are designed to diminish the very notion of civil society and public sphere. Anything that interferes with the generation of private profit, in short, has to go. The institutions and mechanisms that are supposed to safeguard our interests and our ability to act collectively for the common good are colonized and captured, surrendering innumerable policy options and closing off entire realms of democratic possibility. And as the fabric of society frays and wears away, the avenues for meaningful citizenship and civic engagement are closed off.

I'm sorry to have to point this out, dear friends, and Lord knows I'd love to be wrong about this. And I'm not suggesting that there's no substantive difference between Harper and the opposition leaders in terms of fundamental regard for democratic accountability, citizenship, or even simple civility. I am, however, afraid that regardless of how things turn out this time, the things that hold us together as citizens, as a community, as a country will be left so threadbare that restoring them may be impossible.


  1. "the things that hold us together as citizens, as a community, as a country will be left so threadbare that restoring them may be impossible."

    That's what I am afraid of.

    Good points today, but a bit frightening.

  2. OB,

    I have expressed similar thoughts. But it is still a great thing that FINALLY, somebody will attempt to put the WORST, most despicable PM we've ever had, in his place.

    Failing that, ... we will finally have a chance to find out what sort of country we are. Are we the apathetic sheeple that the harpercons hope we are? I confess I'm damned interested to find out.

    As bad as Chretien-Marin Liberalism was, harper is worse. Before we fix the problems represented by 1990s Liberal policies we have to walk back to there from the depths of harperland.

    I am hopeful for the first time in years.

    The process can begin now.

  3. You are quite right to worry. During Michael Ignatieff's press conference yesterday, the most refreshing thing he said was, "Canadians are in the driver's seat."

    I worry that a large segment of the population doesn't understand how Parliamentary government works -- and worse -- doesn't care. This election will illustrate whether your worry and mine is valid

  4. Great post, OB.

    The feverish response to this *potential* election from the red/orange corner is kind of interesting. Apparently the mere possibility of an election (writ is as yet un-dropped AFAIK) is considered some kind of defacto victory against Harper...??? Which is surprising since Harper himself engineered the thing, choosing the most opportune timing for the CPC when the likeliest outcomes are either another CPC minority (& another 18 months of shitslinging) or a CPC majority (gasp, scream, faint, get ready to be locked in a concentration camp).

    There are obviously a lot of good reasons to vote against Harper. But even at this late stage the opposition hasn't given the electorate a compelling reason to vote FOR them. So far all I've managed to glean about them is that they're a squalid little cadre of opportunistic invertebrates who swing any way the wind blows, even when it blows in the direction of supporting the "Harper Regime". This doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the Hope & Change they might bring our way. (Especially when, as you deftly point out, successive governments of all stripes have been happily savaging the social side of government in favour of corporate interests for years.)

    It's not the politicians, it's the system.

    Like you, I take no pleasure in these grim predictions, but that's the reality from my somewhat myopic vantage point.

    Then again, anything could happen. Harper could be caught in bed with a live boy AND a dead girl.