When the System is Past its Best Before Date

The odour of decay wafts gently on the spring breezes these days from the manure mound that Parliament has become. Yet another week of “will they or won’t they?” politics, as the Liberals hem and haw, posture and pose, stamp their feet and consider whether now is the optimal time for them. Buttressed by the latest Nanos poll (which everyone trusts because, after all, it is Nanos who got the last two elections right), we may see the government fall. Or not, as the case may be.

I have been thinking about what it would all mean to go to the polls now. Who, pray tell, is there to vote for?

Politics in a Parliamentary system depends on mutual respect. The players may and will disagree as to policy. They may even huff and puff in feigned indignation from time to time. (It was a horrible move, to put cameras and microphones into the Commons; it converted debate into theatre, and sacrificed the calm and the constructive to the farce of playing up. Good-bye reasoning; hello sound bite.) But Members should respect each other. They should see each other as the head-and-tails of the same coin.

This they no longer do. We are all impoverished for it.

Afraid of “eruptions”, Stephen Harper centralised and controlled his Conservative benches, and remained on an election footing even before accepting the Queen’s Mandate in 2006. Since then the difference between reality and electioneering has been lost (I shudder to think he might mean the words that his Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries utter in the house; that he might well believe the rhetoric as reality). With it, no new platform, no new directions have been taken on.

What the Harper legacy leaves me with is the conviction that a Conservative Government will squander this country just as the Liberals have done and would do again. How else does one see a failure to clean up the cesspool of programmes left from the “something-for-everyone” Chrétien-Martin years? How else does one see the sloshing of money at potential votes? How else does one see the loud rhetoric and the timid actions?

I cringe every time I see someone refer to the Harper Conservatives as Tories, for they are anything but.

But the Liberals do not comfort, either. Picturing Stéphane Dion in power is akin to picturing Joe Clark’s worst day in office as the best we will see. Behind the scenes, it will be as when the Don is dying, and the subordinates are carving out their own turf, preparing for the internecine war to come and grabbing as much as they can on the way. Is it cruel to compare the Liberal Party’s grandees to pseudo-Mafiosi? It is, and yet there is truth in it. For buying the Dion party means buying the Dion team: who on earth wants a rerun of Goodale, Coderre, and the like? Who wants to see a Cabinet riven by the Ignatieff-Rae manoeuvring? None of that lot should be allowed near the levers of power.

There is no reason to desire (nor expect) a Layton/NDP breakthrough or a May/Green arrival. Once again this election will come down to the main two parties. Perhaps, had either minor party leader actually been a Parliamentarian and a calm public debater we would see them differently, but shrill and loud is just more of the same. I can get crud from Harper and Dion; I don’t need more of it assaulting me from the others.

(The Bloc does not, of course, run outside Québec. The maggots run over the decayed corpse of that party. It has gone from raison d’être to raison de pension. As with the rest of the country, it has its voters who now vote for it reflexively, from habit, and without care.)

We used to have the ability to consciously vote “none of the above” in this country, and that is what the system needs: formal abstentions at the ballot box. Alas, party interests wiped out this option, and legislation made promoting it when it matters — during a campaign — illegal. Now our option is to simply not vote, or to go and spoil the ballot.

I do hope we are at least offered a decent and honourable candidate in my riding, someone I can vote for as an individual. Goodness knows, from her first day in the House, my new MP, Joyce Murray, demonstrated she’s not it, as she joined the cackle and disparage brigade in her maiden appearance. But on a party basis, a pox on all their houses; let them be anathema!

The long dying of the country’s politics will continue.

3 responses to “When the System is Past its Best Before Date

  1. I don’t know how far I could follow you on this, Bruce.

    First off, I think the media coverage of the Commons and Committees (vis C-PAC) has helped improve the transparency of government in many ways. Once upon a time the only way to follow the proceedings of government was through Hansaard — and that’s if you bothered to even try to get your hands on it.

    One’s head spins at the kind of things our government would be up to right now if it weren’t for the media coverage.

    Beyond that, abstentions at the ballot box can actually be viewed one of two ways: negatively by those who want to encourage participation in Canada’s political system.

    But I think I need not remind you that there are those want to discourage people from participating. If you think these people don’t recognize how powerful they would become in a political environment populated overwhelmingly by demagogues.

    Machiavelli, I think, would have a thing or two to say about it, and I think he would approve.

  2. Your points are good ones, Patrick. I still think there’s too much playing to the cameras (in QP especially).

    And, yes, there are cynics amongst us who would get us all to stay home. My own discouragement won’t keep me from at least going to vote “against” next time – after all, my new MP joined the braying donkey class on her first day, so it’s “back to political retirement” for her as far as I’m concerned.

  3. I think Canadian Politics needs more joke candidates. Like the Rhinoceros party.

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