Canadian Politics: Best Alternatives?
For those foreign nationals not in the know when it comes to Canadian politics, the Canadian parliament is in a minority situation. The Liberal Party, who had a decade’s worth of majority governments, still hold the reigns albeit somewhat tenuously. In many ways this is an ideal situation for Canadians, and like many Canadians I had hoped for the very best of the situation (which is to say unrealistic) - that this would be a time of inter-party cooperation, a chance for all sides to truly have a say in government. But of course, overarching ambitions, tender egos, and the petty nature inherent to many politicians are threatening us with another election.
Not that any party wants to seem too anxious and actually topple the government themselves, that would result in loosing the ensuing election. The Liberals are tired and need to sit it out for a while. They have been able to hold power, though, because they are the consummate politicians. The Liberals are very good at reading the pulse of the Canadian public and shifting their policies accordingly. With the rise of the CCF (later the NDP) the Liberals took the elements from that party’s platform (like a national healthcare plan) and incorporated it into their own.
The old Conservatives, while supremely unpopular by the time of the 1993 election, had failed to take the fledgling Reform Party seriously and it cost them. The Liberals, while scoffing at the Reformers in public, looked over their policies and put the things they assumed would fly with the general Canadians populace into their infamous “Red Book”. (a popular complaint amongst the Reformers, I must add) The Liberals chart the middle course, steering to the left and the right when the current calls for it. It keeps the electorate at large in check and it has worked well for them. The question on my mind is that if/when the government falls, who is the best alternative?
The Bloc Quebecois is obviously a non-option, unless you live in Quebec and are a separatist. (there are better protest vote options in Quebec for non-separatists) So, realistically, that leaves the Conservatives, the fledgling Green Party and the NDP.
Aside from their calls for greater government accountability, the Conservatives have not endeared themselves to me. Brian Mulroney did much to try and drag this country into the same orbit as the American government, compromising our sovereignty in a number of areas though the FTA and NAFTA – and that element still exists as a minority within the new Conservative Party. (Belinda Stomach and Peter MacKay) Then you have the Reform/Alliance faction of the new Conservatives.
Frankly, the issues that concern these people just don’t concern me in the same way. I do not think their ideas on tax reform are going to make life better for the average Canadian. I know their argument “I think I can spend my money better than the government” and it looks good in theory, but it only makes a real difference if the individual in question is well into the upper tax bracket. For the majority, the government really can make our collective cash work for us when said cash and the government are actually dedicated to doing so. Sadly, many Canadians are living an illusion that they are much better off than they actually are.
While I do believe that we should increase military spending, (another reason for needing a solid tax base) I am not down with missile defence. This was an idea that G.W. Bush tried to push before the 11th of September and then again the evening of and it was shot down (no pun intended) as a bad idea - even within his own party as I recall. It now seems in vogue in the States and Stephen Harper's Conservatives want this country on board, despite the fact that the majority of Canadians do not want anything to do with it.
Another strike against the new Conservatives are the biases of the majority Alliance faction within the party. While it is true that the old Conservatives and the Liberals had (and still do) looked out for Central Canada first to the detriment of the rest of the country, the Alliance faction don’t seem all that eager to redress the situation as much as reverse it. Even then, while they have claimed in the past to be looking out for Western Canadian issues, values and concerns – we are talking about the issues, values and concerns of their grassroots supporters and not the Western region as a whole.
While the Conservatives have held the majority seats in the West for a while now, the margins of those wins have not always been spectacular. My Dad’s MP, Conservative Paul Forseth, almost lost his seat to the NDP. In fact, I seem to recall reading that his margins for victory have been slipping with each election. In Alberta there were some surprisingly close races, with the Liberals and NDP showing strongly in ridings I would never have expected.
I could go on but feel that I should move on at this point to the Green Party. The Green Party have come a long way in a short time. Don’t let their showing at the polls last time around fool you – people laughed at the Reform when Deb Grey won their first and only seat in a bi-election and looked what happened at the next actual election. Whether you could support them or not the Greens are a party to stand up and notice of.
At this point I will admit to the casual reader that I share much in common with the Greens in their concerns for the environment and the health and welfare of Canadians. We are past the certain points of preventative action and need to start looking to damage reduction and control. The environment needs to taken seriously by our government. The Liberals pay lip service to the environment but have not taken any serious and meaningful steps to doing anything about it. The Conservatives will quickly mention it like an afterthought and the NDP’s platform for the environment is hardly what I would call comprehensive.
The Greens do have some interesting ideas that merit closer attention, but then take a look at the total amount of issues the Greens want to tackle. They have a lot of issues that they want to tackle. In fact, when I read through the candidate literature from various ridings across the Vancouver region it struck me that they don’t seem to be various focused as a party. All the candidates had their own agendas in their literature.
Now other candidates will always make reference to their particular interests and areas of concern, but each Green candidate made their issues sound like an issue of paramount importance to their party. In the corporate world you’ll hear about ‘action item lists’ and if you apply that idea to the Green Party – that’s one hell of a list. Then there was the tone of some of the candidates’ literature. Certain candidates came across as enviro-fascists and food-Nazis. The way to win the populace over is not to enforce your ideas on them, and frankly that is how the Greens came across to me.
So what about the NDP? I would probably end up voting for the NDP, though I am still not happy with the party. The NDP started of as a working class party, a party concerned with blue collar issues. Over time the party lost focus and started to try and appeal to the white collar, urban liberal. (a.k.a. the yuppie) They became a milquetoast party, especially after the departure of Ed Broadbent as leader. Political correctness and sensitivity ruled the day. The NDP stopped being concerned with the working class because it, like much of the rest of our society, had wrongly believed that we no longer lived within a class structure.
They tried to chart the middle course in order to run in the same waters as the Liberal Party. They lost big time. As I remember it, political rivalry between Bob White and Dave Barrett kept Barrett from taking the leadership position. White, unable to best his rival, withdrew from the race and threw his support (which included the weight of the Canadian Auto Workers Union) behind McLaughlin. I believe Barrett would have kept the NDP from becoming so irrelevant.
The NDP suffered from lack of focus, poor leadership and repeated embarrassment from the loose cannon that was Svend Robinson. Svend kept them in the headlines, but often in the worst possible ways. As I had stated before, they had tried to go after the urban liberal vote. That works when times are good, but the late eighties and early nineties were unsure times with events like the recession, Glasnost, Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a friend, E.B., once said “When times get tough, liberals do the Reich thing”, which is another way of saying they vote with a clenched pocketbook. The drift away from the party’s grassroots probably also helped in the shift to the political Right, as disenfranchised members of the forgotten working class started to look for other alternatives. But I digress.
I did not expect much from Jack Layton and was disappointed that someone like Roy Romanow did not run for leadership of the party. Layton has surprised me though and he has brought the party back to some of its old core values, namely looking out for the working class and lower income families. It is a good start though I would like to see them doing more to distance themselves from the party of the nineties, namely to leave social issues like gay marriage, abortion, etc to the courts where they belong and concentrate only on the core issues that had made them a party worth taking notice of once upon a time.
Bloody hell, three pages, I am tired. Maybe I will pick this up another time. Maybe.
http://www.blocquebecois.org/ (for those who are so inclined and can read French)