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Canadian Politics 101

Canadian Politics 101

Tomorrow is the Canadian Federal election (and coincidentally, the one-year anniversary of this blog). I’ve been back in Canada for 5 days, and was feeling severe guilt from my time in New York and the amount of U.S. politics I absorbed at the expense of my own country, which is facing an election of comparable importance.

My return, which was to be over-ambitiously met with a five-day marathon of reading editorials and talking to my fellow countrymen, got off to a problematic start when The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s national newspapers and usually my political ally, endorsed Stephen Harper. Its not a massive surprise. They did last election too. But seeing it there in print given how Harper has governed the past two years just sent chills.

This gloom was extended by my weekend visit to Trenton, Ontario, where my parents live and I sent my absentee ballot to (I’m in Quebec right now and for election day, and can’t vote there). Rows of blue Conservative signs met me as I entered the town, and polls seemed to suggest that the Conservatives had a serious stronghold and my vote probably didn’t stand a chance (not that this surprises me, as two of downtown Trenton’s five big storefronts are now evangelical churches, and more over, the town’s economy is almost entirely reliant on its air force base, which has seen massive expansion under Harper).

And I think I partially get where this is all coming from: Economics is playing a much different role in north of the border, and it since Harper did not intensely fuck up Canada’s economy a la Bush, its easy for him to prey on the very real fears of so many Canadians. Even if they hate his social conservatism, it seems their fear of economic turmoil is trumping that. Add that to the many folks who don’t at all hate his social conservatism (why can’t we just sell Alberta to the States?)…

But just because our close witnessing of Bush’s faults and the U.S. situation makes Harper look like a relative success shouldn’t fool you. He inherited a $12 billion surplus from the previous Liberal government and now almost all of it is gone. His moves have left the government with little room to manoeuvre in the current crisis.

And perhaps, as The Globe noted, Harper did govern more “moderately and competently” than some expected. But I, and if polls stand correct, the majority of this country, beg to differ. The Toronto Star, which last week endorsed the Liberal’s Dion, had an extensive laundry list of other reasons not to vote for Harper:

In foreign affairs, Harper has diminished Canada’s reputation as an independent voice and aligned his government with George Bush’s White House on a range of issues, from the Middle East to the “war on terror.” He has also worsened relations with China, the world’s biggest emerging economy, and fallen behind other Western countries in developing ties with India, the second biggest.

Taking a cue from the Ontario Conservative government under Mike Harris, Harper has pursued policies of deregulation. He has either allowed sectors to be self-regulating (food, for example), or he has fired the regulator (Linda Keen at the nuclear safety commission).

On the environment, Harper scrapped the Kyoto accord and came up with a new plan that allows greenhouse gas emissions to continue to grow, especially in his home province of Alberta.

In federal-provincial relations, he has spent 33 months in power without once holding a conference of first ministers. And he has managed the neat trick of alienating the governments of both Quebec and Ontario. Even Pierre Trudeau didn’t do that. Furthermore, his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, has unapologetically dissed Ontario as the “last place” to invest in Canada.

On the cities front, there have been some grudging moves by Harper’s government to help municipalities cope with the enormous infrastructure challenges they face. But the federal Conservative attitude toward cities was best summed up by the aforementioned finance minister, who said dismissively that Ottawa is not in the business of “fixing potholes.”

On the aboriginal file, while Harper extended a meaningful apology over residential schools, he also ripped up the Kelowna accord, thereby dealing a severe blow to relations with native communities.

And having castigated the Liberals for being anti-democratic when he was in opposition, Harper ran a government that was secretive and controlling to an astonishing degree. Independent voices in the Conservative caucus were expelled, ministers prohibited from saying anything much, and the media frozen out (until the election neared).

To top it all off, in calling this election Harper broke his own law fixing the election date for 2009.

Not to mention this, which I posted a few weeks back and ran in The Globe itself. For someone hoping to benefit from Canada’s arts funding policies, and surrounded by people who are already dependent on it, its fucking scary.

Anyway, I figured my last ditch effort to feel politically optimistic was to post this video for the five or six Canadians that read this blog. Though I realize the problems of strategic voting, and totally respect those who feel it goes against their beliefs… Its just remarkably unfair how the Canadian political system is set up, party-wise. I just wish the right didn’t have the benefit of a sole representative party, while the left of center and left folk are duking it out in a three-way. Its not democratic. If Canada had a democratic electoral system and the polls are right, tomorrow we’d find ourselves with a majority government that supports public support for the arts, strong action on climate change, government intervention to create jobs, an end to the war in Afghanistan, and a national child-care program that includes the creation of thousands of new child-care spaces.

But we don’t. And I know its not as simple as that… the degrees of difference between the three parties left of Harper are extensive and justified in their differences. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so I ask you to watch this video with an open mind:

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