It’s finally official; the Government of Canada fell on Monday November 28th through a motion of non confidence introduced by the Conservative Party of Canada. The next day Prime Minister Paul Martin of the ruling Liberal Party asked our Governor- General Michelle Jean for permission to dissolve the government and have an election on Monday January 23rd 2006. (That’s just a formality by the way; although head of state in title as the official representative of the Queen, the Governor-General actually has no power. The one time a Governor-General refused to grant a party the right to call an election he was hauled home to England in disgrace. The real lasting impression he left on Canada was the donation of his wife’s name to a sport’s trophy: The Lady Byng award for sportsmanlike behaviour in the N.H.L. is named after her.)
One of the strange things that’s taken to occurring in Canadian politics are the leaders standing up at the beginning of the campaign at their first Press Conference and waving a soft covered book around which is supposedly their secret recipe for running the country. The Liberals had their Red Book, (chill everybody, their not even socialist they just wrap themselves in the colours of the flag: red and white) back in 1995 that they have been referring to ever since.
I saw a picture of Steven Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, waving a book around with his party’s logo on it, so I have to assume they’ve come out with their version. It’s sort of cute, these book launches to start campaigns; do they think it lends any more credibility to what they’re saying because they went to a printer and had their promises bound and made to look pretty?
The real hoot is how secretive they are about them sometimes. As if we don’t know what they’re all going to say in advance anyway. The Conservatives will talk about cutting taxes, and be socially conservative; the Liberals will talk about how socially conservative the Conservatives are and talk about how they’ve created surpluses in the budget and can give some tax cuts and increase spending; the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) will talk about the need to do something, anything for goodness sake, about the state of health care, low income housing, and education; and the Bloc Quebecois will talk about how happier everyone would be if Quebec could only separate from Canada.
For this we need a book? The only book that’s of any worth are the odds being given on how many Canadians are actually going to turn out to vote in an election which will be held in what usually ends up being the coldest week in the winter in Canada. Even relatively warm climates like where I live can see the temperature dip to –20C (about –5F) during that week. Trying to stay warm takes precedence over voting any day in my book.
Staying true to form in the opening salvos of the campaign the Tories have promised to cut the hated Goods and Services Tax (G.S.T.) which was brought in by the last Conservative party government in the mid eighties. Since in almost every election since then some sort of promise to either scrap or cut the G.S.T. has been made and nobody has ever delivered, it didn’t go over as well as they might have hoped. According to a recent poll 60% of Canadians said that promise makes absolutely no difference to them.
If you look at the measure of support for each party currently; 36% Liberal, 30% Conservative, 16% N.D.P., and the Bloc and Other splitting the rest, that pretty much means the people who are already voting for them like the idea. So if they were hoping to pick up some votes that way it sure doesn’t look like it panned out that well.
It didn’t take the Conservative party very long though to plough into some social issues. Proving once again that they are out of touch with how the majority of Canadians feel on social issues they’ve promised to get tough on drugs and re examine the same sex marriage issue. Since the majority of Canada favours the decriminalization of marijuana to some extent or another and, with the exception of Alberta, all provinces have passed same sex marriage legislation; one could wonder if they know what they’re doing.
Saying things like this aren’t going to win them any new votes, they know that, but it does remind their core voters, and the socially conservative vote, who is the party for them. It’s actually a sensible thing to do early in the campaign. By the end, when it’s coming down to the wire, hopefully the more liberal voters who are wavering may have forgotten and those to whom it matters will remember and get out and vote.
The Liberal party hasn’t made very much noise yet; aside from some vague promises about lowering income tax. They made all their promises in the last week of the house sitting. Under normal circumstances they would be in an ideal situation for a sitting government going into an election.
The economy is booming; with 30,000 new jobs being created in the last month, the dollar at .86 cents against the American dollar, inflation under control, and budget surpluses for the last few years. They should be sitting pretty.
Unfortunately there is this thing called the credibility gap working against them. They’ve been in power for the last twenty years and they have been caught with their hand in the till in a serious way with the sponsor ship scandal. The conservative press, which are substantial in Canada by the way, (Conrad Black founded a newspaper called “The National Post” just to give himself a vehicle for attacking Jean Chretien the previous Prime Minister) are painting them as arrogant, and uncaring and calling for change just for the sake of change. (Since none of them are endorsing either the N.D.P. or the Bloc Quebecois it’s safe to read change as vote Tory)
The Liberal’s aren’t helped by the fact that Prime Minister Paul Martin not only comes across with all the warmth of a dead fish, but also up until a few months ago was saddled with the very appropriate nickname of Mr. Dithers for his inability to make up his mind. It wasn’t that he was actually thinking before rushing to a decision, he would make decisions and then change them once he found out that polls showed people didn’t like his decisions.
Of the other two major parties, the Bloc Quebecois don’t bother with the rest of Canada, and so are out stumping in Quebec doing their best to depict the Liberals as corrupt and uncaring. The more seats they can win in Quebec the stronger they make the case for separation is their rationale. Although since nobody in Quebec is going to vote for an English speaking Conservative Party leader and the N.D.P. have never won a seat in Quebec, a number of their victories this time around can be read more as a vote against the Liberals then as a vote for separatism.
The N.D.P. as befits the party who first championed universal health care in Canada have cast themselves in the role of the great defender of the Canadian Health care system. They withdrew their support from the Liberals in the house because they weren’t happy with the way they were proposing to spend money on Health Care. Of all the parties only the N.D.P. have proposed restoring funding back to the levels they were prior to the federal government’s slashing funding fifteen years ago.
Of real interest is that they have raised an issue that might actually cause people to rise out of their doldrums and pay attention. In the last few years our relationship with our neighbours south of the border have not run as smoothly as normal. They’re have been blips before, and basically for the same reasons as this time; trade and foreign policy.
Canadians still haven’t forgiven George Bush for not including them in the public list of friends he thanked for helping out on Sept.11 2001. Considering that people all across Canada took it upon themselves to take stranded Americans into their homes when the planes were grounded, and that scores of emergency workers came on their own time to help out on the site of the World Trade Towers, and that our troops are still in Afghanistan which was the first stop on the war on terror before the invasion of Iraq; there is some justification for those feelings.
Then there have been all the implied threats about trade retaliation for not helping out in Iraq, which were followed up by the whole softwood lumber dispute. It’s bound to make tempers rise. In an attempt to play to that sentiment the N.D.P. has called for slapping tariffs on electricity and gas, in reaction to the refusal to pay back the money the Canadian government believes is owed to them.
But I don’t think anybody in the United States need really worry about any of that becoming a reality. We Canadians want people to like us far too much to piss off anyone in that manner. In fact we are so insecure that we can get positively giddy when anybody even notices were alive.
The biggest story of the first week of the election wasn’t even something that happened in Canada, and occurred prior to the election being called. We made it onto the “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. It was the story of the week. We felt so special to be picked for the satirical treatment that’s usually reserved for American politicians. Canadians everywhere were congratulating themselves on Tuesday morning for having made the big time.
We are definitely the Sally Field of countries. Actually even worse; you don’t even have to say nice things about us and we get all excited. Talk about being insecure, it’s like the housewife in an early sit-com getting all excited because her husband noticed her new hairstyle. The Americans noticed we were having an election isn’t that great? So no matter what rhetoric you may hear echoing down from up North over the next few weeks, don’t worry about it, nothing is going to come of it.
It does tell you something about this election campaign though, when the most exciting news of the first week is that we made it onto an American television show. It even seems like the media can’t generate their usual excitement over the thing. Sure the newspapers have their special sections and the television stations will have their election news slots, but is really looks like it’s more because they feel that’s what is expected of them than they have their hearts into it.
Which is pretty much the mood of the country I’d say. This is an election that the public didn’t really want. The Conservative Party and the N.D.P. spent the month leading up to it trying to convince everybody who would listen that it was needed, but out in the real world you didn’t find too much buzz on the street about it.
None of the parties have deviated from their scripts yet, and don’t look like they are in any danger of doing so. If all goes according to plan we’ll start seeing the attack adds next week, and as the campaign winds down with no visible change in the popular vote, they’ll increase in their volatility. The only thing to look forward too is to see how inventive they can get in their vilification of each other. That at least should bring some heat to this deep freeze of a mid winter campaign.