Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

How’s your democracy?

Apologies for an absence from the blog – euphoria at the NDP surge, and of course the impending Royal Wedding, has left me somewhat dumbfounded (as if I needed to find any new dumbness).

It’s ironic to have been kept from writing here during a federal election campaign – now, more than ever, the bumps and twists of political life are more than simple Sunday afternoon amusements. As three out of four federal parties assert, nothing less than the viability of Canadian democracy itself is at stake here!

What hyperbole, right? The health of our democracy is not exactly under threat just because we have a government that bends some of the more obscure rules of parliamentary procedure. Just because they’ve fudged a number or two. Just because they might favour some of their friends with budget goodies. Nothing new with any of that, is there?

Such tepid shruggery at Conservative abuses is itself the clearest signal that Canada’s democracy is not healthy. It isn’t just the abuses, the cronyism, the criminality, and the corruption at the level of government – it’s the public apathy that, in too great a measure, forgives it. Too easily, we’ve been sucked into the pageant politics of our telegenic neighbours to the south. Harper might have his faults, but Ignatieff’s smile is just too weird – it’s a logic that flows from a collective political mind that’s easily twisted in the dark mechanics of spin and populism, and twisted away from healthy debates about fact and vision.

I compare Canada to the UK, and I see more reasons to feel all woe-be-gone. In Britain, there is absolutely no way that a character like Stephen Harper, or his manner of politics, would survive a single Westminster afternoon. Politics in Britain is obviously just as brutal a game as it is in Canada, but its players do not tolerate bullshit. The press are told they must sit 40 feet away from the PM, and can ask a maximum of five questions? The UK press would eat him alive. Deficit has spiralled into historic proportions while the details of actual expenditures are treated as state secrets? Watchdogs would bark throughout the night, and the taxpaying public would absolutely roar against such patronising diffidence. Conservative candidates don’t show up for constituency debates? A national outrage. Parliament is told that the Opposition isn’t just an Opposition, but it is actually a functioning socialist/separatist coalition? Please! British opposition parties would have dealt such an incisive retaliatory hammerblow, Harper would be left eating his words through a straw.

But all is not lost in dear old Canadia. The thriving heartbeat of our democracy can be heard, if nowhere else, than in the surging fortunes of the NDP. True! What else explains their newfound competitiveness, but the fact that Canadians do retain their critical faculties?

Anti-incumbency is a healthy thing. People sometimes point out that Rob Ford’s success in T.O. indicates Canada’s growing conservatism, while omitting the fact that Naheed Nenshi won the mayor’s seat in Calgary at the same time. Neither of these electoral results owe very much to the appeal of straightforward left or right wing dogmas. They were about voters dealing black eyes to the status quo. A “turf ’em out” disenchantment with established systems. An active, engaged mass protest against being taken for granted.

The counterargument is that, well, if Canada was in such anti-incumbency mood, then Harper would be in serious trouble. I’ve hoped the same, as have most of us. The problem lies in the fact that the Liberals don’t appear to have renewed themselves enough to benefit from anti-incumbency. They still smell, to a lot of people, like a kind of silent incumbent. Out of power they may be, but too recently, and they are nevertheless an establishment. This perceived lack of good, new options has turned people off, but it hasn’t made them care less, nor has it made them more conservative.

Ignatieff, in Chretien’s words, has done “not bad” in the past few weeks – especially in the campaign’s early days. But the LPC don’t seem to be the bright sparks Canadians are looking for right now, not yet. And what Canada wants is something new they can have confidence in.

I feel for the Liberals. They’ve run about as good a campaign as they can, while Harper’s run one of his worst. But the NDP numbers suggest that it will be they who capture the vote of the disenchanted.

I wouldn’t predict that NDP fortunes will necessarily hold. Even if they do, they always suffer terribly from an electoral system that punishes parties with broad-based support: their popular support will certainly outstrip the seats they can capture.

All the same, to see Canadians warming to the hitherto “alternative” option shows they aren’t just swallowing conventional wisdom in the way a truly apathetic body politic would. There’s a restlessness which is, in and of itself, a good sign.

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Filed under: Politics, , , ,

2 Responses

  1. 308.com still shows the Conservatives easily in front and the NDP still 4th, even with the most recent polls factored in. I’m more concerned with vote splitting between Lib and NDP that would allow the Cons to sneak up the middle, as happened when the Libs used to benefit from vote splitting between the PCs and Reform.

    But yeah, Harper wouldn’t survive a day in the UK. Never mind the press, he couldn’t handle having to be questioned so much in the HofC (questions, urgent questions, ministerial statements).

    • polygonic says:

      You’re right that none of the recent polling causes headaches in Harperville – they’re ahead, despite it all, and NDP support may end up largely trapped in safe ridings. What’s fascinating is that, even in this fatigued electorate that’s poised to assent to another COX turn at the wheel, there remains a lot of voter mobility. It makes me wonder whether Canada will end up with a very British party landscape one day… one big party on the right, one big party on the left, and a little party in the centre.

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