Unrighteous Indignation

I have taken a few days off to watch the latest tempest in a teacup bring itself to a boil. That, of course, would be the swirl of controversy surrounding Maxime Bérnier, our Foreign Affairs Minister.

Gentlemen and ladies, of course, do not gossip about the private lives of others. I have nothing to say about M. Bérnier’s choice of former girl-friend. That, of course, is what ought to have been the norm.

But there is little to no danger of finding gentlemen and ladies of principle on the Opposition benches, or in the trenches of the MSM, in Canada, in 2008. To quote the last election’s Liberal tagline, “Choose your Canada”. They have — and a rather sickly and unappetising place it is, indeed, filled with cynicism from the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition to the lowliest of hangers-on in the blogosphere (a certain group of people writing under the brand of “Canadian Cynic” comes immediately to mind).

Here’s the funny thing. At the moment, I’m not happy with the state of our nation’s Government. I’d be hard pressed to vote for its return at this juncture: I dislike the very notion of “the best out of a bad lot”. That, unfortunately, is what the Harper Government has become. It’s not enough reason to support it.

On the other hand, the behaviour of the Opposition since last fall has absolutely destroyed any chance at all that I would support the Liberals in the next election. This is not a matter of the leader of that party at all. All Liberals wear the badge of shame they themselves have earned by threatening elections and then abstaining on votes, up to and probably including today’s NDP non-confidence motion (the last Opposition-led one before the House rises for the summer session). Meanwhile the Nation’s business, which could have been discussing matters of substance, has been hijacked for a steady diet of innuendo, slime, reputation-destroying perilously close to either libel or slander most of the time: in other words, a complete and utter failure to attend to their purpose in being MPs. “A Government in Waiting”? That is what an Opposition is supposed to be.

These Liberal MPs — along with their cousins dans la dépravation in the Bloc — are anything but. I am utterly and completely ashamed that my own riding’s MP, the now dishonourable Joyce Murray, has done nothing since scratching out her by-election win in March, but add to the chorus of braying asses.

A strange day, indeed, when one looks to see Parliamentarians and finds them in the New Democrat benches, but there you are.

I do not excuse the Conservatives. Almost every Canadian with a Conservative MP has been as ill-served as those with a Liberal MP. Where are the matters of substance from the Government benches? Oh, yes … message controlled out of existence.

I look at the Harper Government’s record and am generally in favour of it. (I neither expect perfection — my views are just one amongst many and the Governing party is a big tent with many strains of political opinion — nor demand it. Show me a party closer to my views and I’ll give it a good hard look. Until then, I’m satisfied with the one that comes closest, most of the time.)

I look at the behaviour of the Government and consider them little better than Liberals, when it comes to being quality MPs. Committee chairs who undo meetings, repetition of the same point day after day instead of a quiet “that has already been asked and answered, Mr. Speaker” — for heaven’s sake, you can defend your position without descending to their vitriolic and bombastic level! — local voices stilled.

The Prime Minister’s Cabinet might well have been filled in 2006 with Ministers who lacked experience in Government — by 2008 they ought to be competent. Centralisation in the PMO has ensured they are not. Failing to build a viable bench of both party and policy leadership is a severe failing of this Prime Minister.

Yet the indignation continues, on both sides. It is strongly rumoured, for instance, that Stéphane Dion will make a carbon tax similar in intent to the Gordon Campbell carbon tax in BC a lynch-pin of his policy platform. (I shall save, for another day, my views on the whole carbon tax issue.) Nevertheless the attack guns are trained on this, with hyperbolic (and thus unbelievable claims) even before the policy statement is made.

This simply destroys Conservative credibility — what little was left, that is, after a do-nothing record laid down by Baird even on matters championed by this Government itself — even further. There are good reasons to question a carbon tax as a vehicle in a northern climate, especially one with a surfeit of geography to be traversed, and an urban planning model best described as “let’s sprawl, baby, ’cause energy will be cheap forever!”. When Garth Turner, for instance, realises that the problem with the housing bubble in his riding of Halton is as much driven by Halton’s need to drive everywhere — and thus house prices in Halton will collapse as energy costs rise, carbon tax or not — and that there is little to be done other than recognise the malinvestment and to salvage what can be salvaged from it, instead of crying out for “relief” on his blog, we’ll actually see some reality enter the situation.

But no, there are points to be made, and that takes precedence over sound policy, honest debate about contentious approaches, respect for the other party even in disagreement — all required elements to approach the truth of hard matters and gain a consensus that supports the course of action taken.

There was a time, not long ago, when the House would be raucous, and then members would cross over the lines to meet up and head off for a drink and dinner together. They were Parliamentarians first, and partisans second.

There was a time, not long ago, when policies were debated and a national consensus allowed to build. The citizens were respected first and not treated (are you listening, purveyors of Victory Funds and “oh, we’re under threat” letters such as Dr. Gerstein’s) as simply cash cows to be milked and X-markers once in a while.

The modern Conservative Party has given up on speaking to the electorate as adults. Paradoxically, it is the NDP and Green parties that hold onto a small vestige of that. (The Liberals, of course, adopted a permanent sneer toward the House and the citizens with Trudeau, never to lose it again.) Now we have — as I have oftimes said — two Liberal parties, for neo-cons are simply neo-liberals in disguise.

The indignation in the House and in the news is manufactured. The indignation of the electorate, on the other hand, will be real. It is as yet small. It threatens an earthquake if you keep going this way.

Whether that earthquake tears this Dominion apart, in a righteous anger at the very idea of Ottawa, or whether it simply leads to the sudden promotion, to Government, of one of the perennial also-rans, remains to be seen.

3 responses to “Unrighteous Indignation

  1. Yes, it’s a shame what our politics have degenerated into, but it isn’t really a phenomenon strictly relegated to politics.

    If one reads — and buys into — the most recent work by Benjamin Barber (as relayed first in Jihad vs. McWorld and more recently in Consumed), we quickly realize that, though we may be loathe to admit it, we are living increasingly branded lives.

    It’s a combination of unprecedented material comfort and a tendency to increasingly resort back to identity politics and parochialism.

    According to Barber, as capitalism began to successfully provide for our needs more efficiently, our economy inevitably reached a point where it was less profitable to simply meet our needs. When this happened, numerous individuals realized that continuingly escalating profits would be found in manufacturing new needs, as opposed to simply satisfying existing ones.

    One thing that becomes apparent to quite a few people — and I’m personally tempted to agree with them — is that modern capitalism and its focus on materialism has served to erode traditional forms of identity, as normally defined by ethnicity, culture and religion — although there certainly are enough communities that continue to do so, although they are increasingly becoming a minority, and increasingly beginning to take on some fascinating traits of identity erosion — once this began to happen, modern capitalists were provided with a golden opportunity.

    In a lot of cases today, when we buy a product, we aren’t necessarily being sold that product per se. We’re being sold an image — more succinctly, we’re being sold an identity. Increasingly, modern society is seeking to resolve its identity crisis through the consumption of branded consumer goods.

    This is increasingly becoming the case politically, in my opinion. As more of our political needs are satisfied — things like education, infrastructure and health care — it becomes less politically profitable for politicians to try to satisfy our society’s needs. Instead, they seek to profit politically by manufacturing new needs for us. They sell us these “needs” in the form of ideology.

    We need a Liberal government. We need a Conservative government. And why do they think we need these things? Because it’s an identity issue.

  2. Patrick: Interesting! Almost the opposite, in some ways, to Tom Overton’s The Death of Demand. Of course, what’s most likely is what Kunstler talks about in his new novel, World Made by Hand.

  3. Well, I needed to cut my self off there. It’s pretty much what the book I’m working on is about. Obviously, I don’t want to dilvuge too much.

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