There is an old Russian story about a number of people on a sleigh trying to out run the wolves that are in hot pursuit. To save the majority, some of the members must be thrown from the sleigh, to face near-certain death from the wolf pack.
So what does this have to do with Canada in the 21st century?
Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion have engaged in a summer-long game of chicken. Both now threaten a fall election. Since — based on polling information and casual coffee conversations — we are highly likely to return yet another minority government, the real question facing Canadians ought to be: do we throw them from the sleigh? (In this event, the part of the wolves will be played by ravenous members of the media, and members of their parties seeking the leadership.)
I’m not a partisan in the traditional sense. Each election, I ask myself which party is offering the most believable and appropriate platform given our nation’s needs, and whether its leader is worthy of high office. (This is important: the Prime Ministerial power is essentially unchecked what with the emasculation of Parliament by constant Whipping, and the sense of members of all parties that playing for the cameras is far more important than maintaining responsible government as a tradition.) I do the same questions for our local candidate: what is each candidate offering as a local platform (if any), and who would make the best MP? As you might imagine, these questions often lead to conflicting results.
I tend to put a high premium on a solid MP who will do the right thing, not the easy thing, once sent off to Ottawa. The net effect is that I have, at one time or another, voted across the voting spectrum on offer.
By my standards, neither Harper nor Dion are worthy of high office. This incessant game must come to an end. Both of them show deteriorating job performance — in Harper’s case, from a reasonable standard back in 2006, and in Dion’s case, a continuation of a low standard of performance coupled with having called “election” several too many times. I allow an honest man to change his mind. I intensely dislike one who can’t hold his course repeatedly.
We are unlikely to have the luxury of replacing either prior to the next Federal election, even if by some miracle that does not occur until the fixed election date set for October 2009. Right after, however, whatever the outcome, it is time for a house-cleaning.
For Harper, expediency around issues of power — a charge easily and honestly laid at the feet of that self-serving opportunist Chrétien and his side-kick, Martin — is now the order of the day. Good-bye, Mr. Harper: if I’d wanted more years of your predecessors I could have voted to re-elect them — and neither ever got my support. (To be fair, in 2004 and 2006, neither did you. Had we gone to the polls in early 2007 you would have; now, you’ve lost it.)
Governments govern; they do not campaign incessantly. It is time for a new Conservative leader.
As for Dion, full of sound and fury repeatedly signifying nothing, the last two years in the public eye are more than enough evidence for me that the best case should he ever hold the Prime Ministership would be a return to dithering. More likely, it would be a sheer inability to keep control of his own supporters and party members. Not, of course, that any of the Brutuses of the Liberal Party would make a better choice — not even the Mark Anthony of Papineau, he of the “Magic Name” (isn’t it embarrassing how talismanic the word ‘Trudeau’ is to some people?). But Dion has had his chance and shown that the charge that he was not up to the job was grounded in truth.
None of this is to say that the other alternatives on offer deserve the job, either. (At the moment I’m strongly leaning toward “none of the above”, unless a serious and decent candidate runs in my riding. Goodness knows the current MP has done nothing to earn re-election.) But at least Layton has been consistent. It’s a small start, but a start for all of that.
Frankly, it looks more and more from my corner of the universe as though throwing the lot of them from the sleigh and carrying on without them is precisely what’s best for Canada.