Yesterday the Federal Liberals were all over their latest attempt to smear a little mud on the Government with the Cadman affair. I’m not going to weigh in on whether this is an attempt to rub two Liberal Leadership candidates together and get a little smoke going, or whether there is a burning fire here waiting to erupt from underground and consume the Harper benches. I don’t think that’s the point.
The point that is waiting out in the wings is this: to the extent that most Canadians spend any time thinking about Federal politics, they expect this sort of slime attack to be taking place. The net effect, if I am right about this, is that aside from a first week blip in the inevitable polls everything will settle right back down to the stalemate we’ve been living with in voting intentions since prior to election night 2006. In other words, a lot of sound and fury, agitated electrons galore carrying radio and television coverage, and another chunk of boreal forest consumed spewing out newsprint, and all for nothing.
The Liberals Need Dirt to Stick to the Conservatives: Auberge Grand-Mère, the APEC Conference, HRDC, $2,000,000,000 for an incomplete gun registry, and then the Sponsorship programme (just to name a few) have collectively established that the Liberal Party is filled with people who treat the state and the assets of the Canadian people as something akin to their personal and party property. We came, under the Chrétien years, to understand that the trough was filled, they were at it, and we could all just get stuffed. Upon taking office, Prime Minister Martin acted against expectations by calling the Gomery inquiry, hoping to stuff the tarnish onto his predecessor and leave his own hands clean, but, as we saw, the tarnish was on the lot of them, whether involved directly or not. There is an old saying — the fish rots from the head — and the Canadian people smelled the stink right down to the tail.
But Canadians didn’t expect anything better from the Conservatives. The tarnish now applies not just to the Liberals, but to all members of all parties. It is politics that is tarnished. Moreover, the tarnish is reinforced and reapplied daily: a steady diet of strong statements, refusals to engage in answering questions, never-ending election fever, electioneering and games of “chicken”, coupled with the school-yard antics of Question Period, have soured Canadians on their political system. This, I think, explains the refusal of young Canadians to actually use their franchise (my own daughter announced last night, when I mentioned she’d be able to vote after her birthday this year, that she has no intention of ever going to a polling place and [in her words] encouraging the idiots), the sheer lack of interest in recent elections, the stifled yawns at yet another threat of an election federally, and the loss of expectation that anything will be done or improve. We are as a citizenry fundamentally disengaged from the hypocrisy and ranting that is politics today.
Now there are those for whom the great game is exactly that: a game, where pieces are moved, feints unleashed, forces mobilised, manoeuvres undertaken and advances hopefully won. But this is trench warfare as in World War I, not an opportunity to Blitzkreig as in World War II. No one is thought to be worth a risk, no one is expected to do better, so the outcome remains a stalemate. So, I predict, it will be “post-Cadman”.
(Interesting to note that even the ground troops for the parties seem disengaged: I live in one of the four ridings holding a by-election on March 17, a mere fortnight and a bit away. Not a single piece of literature has as yet been dropped; the doorbell hasn’t rung once. Considering that all the parties would be able to draw upon their resources in the riding associations across the region and concentrate them on this one battle I find it amazing that, two months after the first signs popped up on lawns in the riding, no one has as yet paid a call. That suggests to me that getting ground support is an issue in its own right.)
Responsible government — Canada’s invention to make Crown-in-Parliament responsive to the citizenry as opposed to élites making accommodations amongst themselves — has been dead for at least two full generations; its last tattered remnants were swept contemptuously aside with the arrival of Pierre “MPs are nobodies off the Hill” Trudeau in 1968. Since then party machines, executives and the like have ruled, in our name and against our interests. The governments have become steadily more executive in nature, so that by the early 2000s one could safely have said “Ministers are nobodies off the Hill”. But even a good, competent and ethical Prime Minister can’t control everything, or keep everyone in line. Unethical behaviour will be found easily. Slime has its sources in just this — this, and when one man is all that matters, toppling him is akin to promoting regicide.
But it’s all noise, as Canadians have concluded. A sad day for Canadian self-government, when we’ve given up. But that’s where we are.