Monday, January 04, 2010

An Election

Will Canada have an election this year? It appears that this is increasingly the case although exactly why is not entirely clear. Perhaps it will, in part, be the embarrassment of different party leaders: cooperating with each other would seem something akin to cooperating with the Devil. Perhaps this or that leader and his coterie will spy an advantage that they believe will either allow them to attain a majority government or to rest power from another party. In short, if Canada has an election, it will likely be for political reasons.

And, I say this because there appear to be no substantive policy issues that will be "on the table" in an election campaign. The Conservative, for instance, have discovered that they can stay in power only by ... well ... not being conservatives. Their self-made national economic disaster is a bit of a God send for them. Conservatives, these days, always feel better preaching restraint. If they have budget surpluses -- particularly surpluses created by liberals! -- they don't seem to know what to do with them because their long-held "cut the waste" mantra does not work (witness the arts cuts and the fake cuts to the Status of Women). We might, therefore, have some debate about what to do to re-balance the national budget. But, that debate will be technical. The substantive issues that it should involve will not be discussed, at least by the Conservatives because they would lose an election if they did so.

On the other hand, the Liberals are in the embarrassing position of having won even while they have lost. Basic tenets of liberalism seem safe: regional economic development, bilingualism, equality for gay and lesbian citizens, multiculturalism. Yes, the Conservative have been messing around with the way in which university based research is funded in Canada and in my gig that has some important implications but ... is anyone going to fight an election on this issue. Economically, it would be difficult to find significant differences between the Harper Conservative economic platform and the Liberal economic platform of the 1990s. In other words, and no one is discussing this, the Liberals are having a hard time generating a distinctive platform not because of a failure of leadership but because many of their ideas are so commonly accepted that Conservatives must necessarily adopt them if they want to remain in power.

What about the Bloc, NDP, and Green Party. Well ... what about them. The NDP's flirting with a re-branding indicates how badly off they are. Their politics should be different. They should be involved in an educational programme designed to build a new type of society organized around a different set of values. At least that is what socialists are supposed to do. But ... what are those values? The NDP has done a pretty poor job of articulating them because, frankly, I don't know what they are. Equality ... well, sure. But, that is hardly unique to the NDP. Support for "small business"? for the "little guy"? How does that differentiate the NDP from the Conservatives? Again, the very successes of the left in Canada -- gender equality, for example -- have undercut its raison d'etre or at least it chances or organizing a different type of discourse.

Add to this a defensive-oriented Bloc, which must necessarily be defensive because of their political aspirations and a Green Party that can't get any traction and we have a potential future election campaign that will likely be an odd re-run of what we've had over the last few years regardless of who wins.

This is a shame. This is a shame because there are important issues that need to be discussed. Canada's approach to environmental protection, the shape of aboriginal self-government, persistent poverty, the gender gap in wages, Canada's role in world affairs, among others. On all these issues and likely more too Canada needs a new political conservations. I doubt we will get it.

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