Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Canadian politics has become an unusually shrill, partisan and intransigent affair"

This week's Economist takes a look at Canadian politics. Politics have become more aggressive and petty since 2006, it notes, which was roughly the time I noticed Canadian politics more or less consisted of people debating small differences in loud voices. For a long time, maybe a century, Canadian politics have more or less coalesced around the Liberal party and its likeable if not lovable leaders: Laurier, King, St. Laurent, Pearson and Chretien.

When Jean Chretien was replaced by Paul Martin, then Stephane Dion and then Michael Ignatieff, the centre collapsed and a vacuum ensued. It's not to say that I support the Liberals, but in the absence of competent leaders, Liberals have become more shrill and more partisan. This is partly because they have been outwitted by the Conservatives, who are following American Republicans in their tactics. Whatever you might think of them, they play the game very well.

Having lived outside of Canada for most of the last three years, I have to admit that most of my knowledge of Canadian politics comes from angry, indignant attacks on the Conservative government for relatively small issues: cuts to women's and arts programs. The Conservative Party's lack of appeal to the sort of urban voters who skillfully use Facebook and Twitter is a biased echo chamber. Granted, it's better than the appeals to God and country from the Conservatives, some of whom seem as though they wouldn't be upset if Canada regained its Dominion status, but it's certainly not a fair approach to politics.

Enter the weekend's (well, the weekend here anyway) news about Jack Layton having been found by police in a massage parlour in 1996. His wife Olivia Chow released a statement admitting that he had been found by police, but that he had gone there for innocent purposes. Jian Gomeshi wrote on Twitter that this was "a shamefully cynical reading of the [Canadian] public". This may or may not be true. Is it still shamefully cynical if both sides do it?

I don't have a great memory of what Gomeshi has or has not written on Twitter or elsewhere. I do know that there are websites such as Shit Harper Did and the related video "Canadian Women's Favourite Pick-up Line, the former portraying Harper as something of an ogre and the latter portraying him as not just uncaring, but unsexy and unattractive to women. Apparently women's concerns, represented only by hipster women 20-40, boil down to things like advocacy, Status of Women offices and other things that most Canadian women had never even heard of.

This is not to say that none of these aren't true, but why should women get furious over something that they haven't heard of? A great case could be made about the Harper government having contempt for women, who make up the majority of the electorate, by abusing Parliament. This would be a situation where women would actually have heard of the institution in question.

When opponents of the Conservatives have to resort to cherry-picking of this sort, is it any surprise that Conservatives accuse Liberals of "just visiting"? Or that a 15-year-old report about Jack Layton surfaces three days before the election? If the shoe was on the other foot and the people at Shit Harper Did had received the same information, what would they have done? What would Gomeshi have done if he received that information about Harper? I'm not asking these people in order to receive a denial from them, I'm asking others to imagine the likely outcome.

It's not as though Canadian politics have always been perfectly respectful, but it's hard to muster interest in one side that doesn't care about democracy and another that doesn't care about fairness. This certainly helps to explain a lot of the support for Jack Layton and the NDP. Many of their ideas might not be the best, but they are liable to do what they say. Electing someone for honesty is a bad choice, but it makes sense for people subjected to ad-nauseam debates and ad-nauseam imperatives to vote.

Ultimately, another coalition government might be the best result for Canada. Clearly, this is a system that has been in flux for almost a decade now, in the absence of a capable leader acceptable to all regions. Until the system has one such leader, it would be best if all the inadequate actors in the system were checked by the shrill, indignant voices of the other actors.


Shan said...

One of my major reasons for wanting Harper out isn't on that list; the Omar Khadr case. It's just an example of human rights being a low priority for the Conservatives.

Chris said...

the center is dead in Canada like the liberal republican is dead in the US. welcome to partisanship, sir.