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:
- 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.