Polygonic

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

La France Forte, or Why You Desperately Need Sarko Standing On the Beach

The French presidential campaign is kicking into high gear, and Nicolas Sarkozy has one key message for his ungrateful people: vote him back in, and he promises to spend his second term standing on the beach, like a magnificant granite Colossus, liquifying overseas demons with the sheer power of his blue-eyed gaze. 

Don’t believe it? Here’s the advert.

Fancy a dip?

It’s been running for about a month, and it’s the subject of some witty (and goofy) send-ups(Franc Fort, Farce Fort, France Morte…). But as I’ve just come across it, what in the dickens is it trying to tell us? He certainly doesn’t look prepared for the beach. 

First off, we ask ourselves – what exactly is this inexpressive poker face meant to project to us? That he doesn’t enjoy his job anymore? Or he has no time for trivial things such as cuddling kittens or chilling with his family?

Perhaps it’s that compassion and empathy are naive, wasteful, hopeless attributes in a world strewn with threatening vagrants? I think so. Here is Sarkozy, steely-eyed warrior, who has achieved a lasting peace with his unenviable duty – the perennial defence of his people against relentless, unspoken nastiness, washing up on the nation’s beaches!

Indeed, beaches. France is a famously geographically diverse country, and his deadened gaze might have been set against any number of natural backdrops. The Alps. A sun-kissed pasture. A mostly-sunny sky with a couple of attractive, clumpy clouds you just want to bite into.

But this vast, flat grey sea. No sign of waves, islets, boats, or features of any kind. The eye is drawn to nothing but the horizon. And what lies over France’s oceanic horizons?

Fear, in two tiers. 

Firstly, amongst the Marine Le Pen fans and other xenophobes of the far right (of whom there are too many), nothing matters more than immigration and foreigners. Take heart, hard-asses – when Granite-Sarko stands on his Mediterranean coastline, he looks outward towards North Africa with a sober resolve to smite so much as a dodgy looking raft drifting his way. Sure, Granite-Sarko seems cold, but it is because he fully understands the scale of the threat bursting northward from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mordor itself, overflowing with writhing masses of non-Christian refugees and non-conformist asylum seekers keen to exploit the nourishing teat that is the French Republic.

Sarko stands on guard. France’s teat is not for their suckling. Plain and simple.

For the more moderate French nationalists (of whom there are also a great, great many), Granite-Sarko stands not on the Med, and not so much as a merciless bulwark. But he stands on his northern shores, almost within sight of Great Britain, which he regards with the non-plussed demeanour of a dinner host watching an arrogant, drunken guest boast about himself while ladling brown gravy onto his salmon. With a dessert spoon.

Sarko reminds his people, that in the face of Britain’s swaggering self-exceptionalism within the European Union, it is only he who can tell David Cameron, literally, to shut up. Sarkozy will not bend or wither, and will happily dismiss the selfish pleadings of his Anglo-Saxon nemesis and snub his handshakes!

The logic is that London has tried for too long to free itself from Europe’s grasp, yet continues to enjoy coming down to the Continent with wagging fingers and half-assed condescension. Sarko responds by unfurling his middle finger, to the applause of his peeps. In that vein, he is self-respect, he is firmness, he is bold and fair on the European project, and will take no guff from ale-swilling islanders to the north.

This poster, truly, has it all! Nicolas Sarkozy as the great Janus of French conservatism, looking two ways at once to two quite distinct voting constituencies and hoping, dearly, that at least someone, somewhere, in some direction, will take the bait.

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Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Decisions, decisions – who’s to lead the NDP?

Since posting those NDP leadership candidate impersonations, part of me wishes I could buy them all a round and say “no hard feelings!” While another part of me just wants to poke fun at them again.

But the main part of me has been thinking about who to vote for (were I a member!)

It’s been an interesting contest to me, in that the original unity around directing all criticism towards Harper has shifted into a more healthily competitive discourse amongst the candidates themselves. They’re looking to differentiate their visions. Topp swings left, Mulcair ducks to the centre.

Cullen’s been a surprising master of it. He has maintained this solidly “non-partisan,” open-door discourse, emphasising unity among all progressive Canadians, whether Green, Liberal or New Democrat, but has been able to simultaneously speak like a tried and tested partisan tactician. Through denying that he saw Tom Mulcair as a Liberal, he nevertheless made the Mulcair-Liberal connection explicit on national TV. He talks of beating Conservatives as the ends in itself – the nobler mission. All the while, he successfully frames himself as least partisan of the lot. Incredible stuff.

Ultimately, what’s been guiding my thinking is a conviction that, if there’s any quality an NDP leader needs to have from here on in, it’s to be tough, intelligent and sportsmanlike at once. A power forward with a winning smile. God, I think I want to vote for Jarome Iginla.

To me, this rules out everyone bar Cullen and Mulcair. For all Brian Topp’s acumen and his extensive campaigning background, he has not personally been tested electorally, and I think is too unaware of his communication tics. People don’t simply look past that. Whether we take the example of the Liberals plumping for Stéphane Dion, or Britain’s Labour plumping for Ed Miliband, I think it’s doom to select someone who may have the principled policy but not the means to communicate effectively. Principled policymakers always have a role in cabinet, as senior aides, as party strategists – but not necessarily as leaders. Ironically, I think if there’s any job Brian Topp is well-suited to, it’s as NDP party president…

I have no enormous affection for Paul Dewar or Peggy Nash as leaders either – great senior members of cabinet, yes, and they’re media-friendly and have an appealing frankness about them. But I’m struggling to see them unify the party effectively, or to get down to the bare-knuckles work of dismantling Stephen Harper.

So, it’s Cullen or Mulcair! Pros and cons?

Cullen’s Pros

Brilliant orator, committed environmentalist, bleeding charisma, able to talk about big reforms in a realistic way. If anyone can carry off Jack Layton, it’s Nathan Cullen – and so, even as a British Columbian, I think he’s supremely capable of courting and retaining the Québec vote next time round.

He strikes a phenomenal balance between principle and strategy, and expresses optimism without naivety.  That’s a powerful set of attributes, and he deserves to go far.

Cullen’s Cons

The joint nomination thing. I don’t think he genuinely wanted this to define his entire candidacy, and wanted to use this as an example of his “box-thinking-outside-of-ness” and his would-be commitment to devolving to the grassroots. He’d surely prefer to shift the narrative to mixed-member PR by now, instead of everyone focussing on the joint nominations proposition, which just doesn’t come off as very well thought out.

Also, could Canada elect a 42-year-old Prime Minister in 2015? Is that relative youth necessarily an advantage if the NDP need to convince Canadians that they’re “safe”?

Mulcair’s Pros

Despite some people’s anxiety that he’s too close to the centre, I think it’s essential that that’s where the leader is at. One essential quality of a party leader is to bridge the interests of the dedicated dogmatists and the larger popular masses – it takes some conniving to do it effectively, but that need not be viewed as a threat to the party faithful.

Look at any successful political party and you’ll see leaders tacking centre, and backbenches and grassroots extending away from it into the traditions and the manifesto – and that’s as it should be. Again, a UK example: Britain’s Tories are filled with the traditional anti-European, anti-poor, fox-hunting schoolboys, but in David Cameron they’ve found a leader who doesn’t frighten the general masses (at least not enough for my liking). Perhaps the backbenches aren’t perfectly content to see a leader look so “liberal,” but then they remind themselves that they get their way over Cameron time and time again.

Leaders will always listen to their parties, as Mulcair will listen to his.

Besides, his record as Environment Minister in Québec is greener than green – this is no Progressive-Come-Lately. More than that, his decision to abandon the Charest Liberals for their obfuscation of his strong green policy direction, I think, disproves any slur that he’s a phony. What kind of phony in their right mind would have left a high-profile provincial cabinet post to later run as a New Democrat in Montréal, in those days anyway?

His thick skin and proven experience mean he’ll appear more than a damp squib in front of the Harpermachine. I think he has the capacity to appeal to soft Liberals and non-partisans who simply want a good political and economic manager who’s free from the corruption and the arrogance of the Harperites. 

Mulcair’s Cons

Not as eloquent as Cullen, and perhaps not as inspirational. But of course, anytime I say that party leaders need to have outstanding social nous and boast Obama-esque smile-wattage, I remember…. Canada elected Stephen Bloody Harper.

He might not connect as well or grow memberships at the pace that a Cullen could – but I think this is mitigated by the fact he will be a steadier, steelier hand on the wheel, and the party will be in winning shape in three years.

Decision?

I think I’ve concluded that, were I voting for NDP leader, I’d select Nathan Cullen as my Number One, and Thomas Mulcair as my Number Two. Ironically, I would do this with the clear hope that Mulcair actually wins the thing…! Perhaps that’s daft on my part, but I don’t think Cullen is going to win this race, and probably shouldn’t, but I’d like him to finish with an impressive delegation of first-choice ballots to bolster his role in the new shadow cabinet. And, from there, a future government.

I’m convinced it would be a thing of beauty to see Mulcair as leader, with Cullen and Nash holding a joint deputy leadership of the party – what a great bridge-building arrangement! Triangulating three provinces, three distinct strengths, and three streams of left/centre-left appeal. 

That’s it! Cards on the table! Now let’s just hope Martin Singh doesn’t come up the middle.

p.s. – if you want to have a play at voting before the big day, try Skinny Dipper’s useful Demochoice poll – rank your own candidates and see how they’d fare in an election simulation. http://www.demochoice.org/dcballot.php?poll=NDP2012NPD

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The NDP Leadership Candidates – a wee little parody

The NDP leadership candidates have been through dozens of debates, yet people have complained that some candidates remain a mystery. It’s clear what we need – a series of grotesque caricatures of each and every one of them.

The Seven Hopeful Remaining have presented themselves, in the main, as pragmatic visionaries, gentle and reliable in their manner and agreeable even in argument. No question that they’re showing off the best virtues of the party.

But they’ve shown enough in the way of difference, in style and substance, for us to be able to grossly take the piss out of them all. So, my fellow New Democrats and/or Lefty Waverers! If confused as to who to vote for, look no further than the following video summaries for guidance!

Nathan Cullen!

 

Niki Ashton!

 

Paul Dewar!

 

Thomas Mulcair!

 

Peggy Nash!

 

Martin Singh!

 

Brian Topp!

What more could you possibly need to go on?

I’ll post something in the coming days with some actual thoughts on the race and my own snowballing impressions…. though doing these little videos probably gives the impression that I favour none of them… 🙂 

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A future Liberal Party may want to consider…

There’s a lot of personal tragedy in elections, and it couldn’t get any worse for Michael Ignatieff. He’s finally succumbed to wounds meted out by the most vile, relentless attack ad machinery Canada’s ever seen. Shamefully, a huge hunk of the electorate swallowed it all hook, line and sinker – so much for our compassionate discourse. Turns out Canada is more Zdeno Chara than Wayne Gretzky after all.

Ignatieff will be wondering why he ever bothered, and the scale of this defeat will haunt him forever and ever, though in most respects, he doesn’t deserve that kind of torturous retirement from politics.

After all, he did resist the Big Blue Sauronic Machine more effectively than Stephane Dion ever did, at least personally. The problems in the recent couple of years were that slowness and confusion in Liberal responses to CPC tactics, or to policy generally, were rooted in a broad lack of clarity across Liberal High Command.

The vagueness of today’s Liberal identity isn’t Ignatieff’s fault, nor was it Dion’s, or Martin’s – it’s perhaps a consequence of a phenomenon known as toomanycooksism. Everyone’s got a bright idea about how the LPC should have created itself in the aftermath of the Martin Meltdown in 2006. The problem has been, maybe, that a thousand flowers blooming inside the Big Red Tent did nothing to carve a clear direction. It mitigated directly against it.

And, take heart, Ignatieff – it doesn’t seem, broadly speaking, that Canadians like ousting incumbent governments very much, whatever they do. Trudeau’s Liberals governed for nigh on 16 years. Mulroney had 9. The Chretien-Martin team had 13. We generally tut when we read about African sham democracies that tolerate strongmen at the helm for a decade and more, but in Canada, hell, it’s the pattern.

Harper’s had five years, and sure, he’ll get his nine. It’s been five abysmal years, yes (and Canadians will one day beg the gods for forgiveness that they did not react against it sooner), but the Liberals, as logic would then dictate, have only been out of power for five years – perhaps it’s not been long enough, or easy enough in minority circumstances, to rebuild as they need to.

How might a future Liberal Party manifest itself? Rather soon to say, I guess. But one thought occurs to me – perhaps all this time trying to imitate the NDP platform has led them (ironically?) into a deeper state of empathy with the erstwhile minor party, at least as regards particular electoral injustices.

For example, in “vote-rich Ontario” this election, the NDP only secured 16,000 more votes than the Liberals, across the province. That’s a close race, really. It meant, however, 22 NDP seats and 11 Liberal seats. Amazing! Traditionally, it’s the NDP (and Greens) on the losing end of such cruel electoral arithmetic.

The potential upshot of this? One hopes (and one is very, very patient) that a serious interest in pursuing electoral reform, once the pet project of the so-called fringe parties, might now take root in some part of the current Liberal necropolis. When the Big Red Phoenix rises in the future, will it do so through having advocated for democratic reforms towards a better system?

They have to start thinking big. Perhaps a silver lining for the party is that they’ve found the time to do it.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Québec’s NDP revolution: the new normal, or a BQ holiday?

Québec doesn’t do things by halves, does it? Some of us have begged and implored the NDP to focus its energies on Québec: to play to its social democratic credentials, and to take the Bloc to task as arrogant, single-minded, comfortable and lazy, and prone to taking its voters for granted.

The idea being that this could kickstart a nice slow burn towards NDP relevance in the province. Win a couple of seats in Montréal in 2011, and a couple more the time after, maybe in the Gatineau region or the Townships. This was meant to be a process!

But no – when something catches in La Belle Province, it really catches – there are few things more stunning to me than to look at the Québec electoral map this morning, and to revel in its orangocity. This is not a handful of ridings – the province is basically a solid orange mass, ridings upon ridings upon ridings, from the U.S. border to the shores of Ungava Bay. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.

I’m thrilled about it, but one must keep one’s powder dry in moments like this, mustn’t one? It suits us on the left to be excited, but the right was just as excited when the ADQ leapfrogged the Parti Québécois two provincial elections ago, to form the Official Opposition in the National Assembly in Québec City. The Adéquiste surge surprised everyone at the time – this was, too, a radical redrawing of the political map, and many suspected that it could indeed be a permanent new order. It, too, was the bloodiest of noses for the cause of separatism. It led to a Péquiste crisis of revolving leaders, deep questions about the viability of their project, and an assumption that Mario Dumont’s team was perhaps just one election win away from taking power.

But, we remember: it fell apart. Dumont’s tsunami was not so much due to pure enchantment with his policies or his verve on the campaign trail. It was largely the result of a Québec electorate that is remarkably capable of turning the world on its head and tripping up the conventional establishment, almost for kicks, only to revert to type in future elections once the “changemaker” has both become a “new establishment,” and has also exposed certain incompetencies along the way. Dumont today is gone, and his party is tiny – Québec’s found other interesting new players to consider on the provincial scene. Québec Solidaire, and even the ethereal concept of a new party called Force Québec – a new conservative option that doesn’t even exist, yet has polled well.

Could the Bloc resurge in 2015, wiping out NDP gains? Almost certainly. Not only because Quebecers are comfortable to swing wildly from election to election, but also because the NDP tide in Québec was based on a clear premise, and a premise I’ve always supported: change things around. The Bloc are little more than symbolic in Ottawa, and they do nothing to moderate the Conservative government. Elect a social democratic party in huge numbers, and watch them use our minority parliament as a force for good.

It was the right approach, clearly! Trouble is, Quebecers are waking up, like the rest of us, to a Conservative majority. Many will feel their NDP vote would have, could have, might have worked to shackle a CPC minority, but with the Opposition hereby muted for the next four years, it’s going to cause real angst as to whether this was the right Opposition to elect. More so in Québec than anywhere else, if for nothing else but the scale of what’s happened.

I sound down, but it’s all got to be a central part of how the New Democrats plan to entrench themselves in Québec from here on in. With half their caucus coming from Québec, it’s going to compel a complete reorientation of the party to advocate for an asymmetrical federalism that is more clearly pro-Québec than either the CPC or LPC would dare. And that’s a real revolution.

It’s extraordinary and it’s uplifting to see that Québec has found an anti-establishment voice through the vehicle of a federalist party. The very hard work, though, begins now.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

If this isn’t bittersweet…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – welcome to Dickensian Canada.

The best of times, in some ways – a social democratic party’s never had a bigger share of the Parliamentary pie. And Quebec sovereigntists have never had less.

The worst of times, clearly, in that years of fear-mongering and negativist spin has converted more Canadians to Harperian Conservatism than ever before. Opacity and contempt haven’t offended us. Historic debt is of trivial interest. Government disdain for media has been swallowed by the selfsame media. Dubya-esque megaprojects have received a Canadian stamp of approval, years after the crash-landing of Dubya-ism in the United States itself.

A CPC majority was not only the worst-case scenario, it increasingly seemed one of the least likely. But, here we are, all the same. Lots of ways to think about what’s happened, and what happens next – rather than write one megapost, I think I’ll post a few things today. Once I emerge from the hour-long freezing shower I need to take… who knows, perhaps this is, in fact, a strange dream?

In the meantime, I’m a big fan of the CBC’s (ahem – now mortally endangered, I suppose) interactive electoral maps. They go back three elections. Contrast and compare – we’ve been on quite a ride after all.

The 2006 election

Then the 2008 election

And then the 2011 election

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

Oops, they did it again

Is there any surprise that the Globe and Mail has endorsed the Conservatives?

In small ways, yes. I had expected at least a modicum of restraint on their behalf, and was prepared to bet serious money that they’d declare for a Conservative minority, and against a majority, given, well, everything we’ve seen for five years. The deficit, the dishonesty, the cronyism, criminality, and corruption – and pure, unalloyed contempt, in every sense of the word.

But, nooooo, the Globe maintains its tragic, eternal love for the ethereal, departed ghost of Progressive Conservatism. Pitiably, rather than mourn its demise, the Globe falsely recognises its reincarnation in the Party of Harperland. It’s like seeing Madonna in your toast – stare long enough, and you’ll see what you long for. Sadly, it is only a miserable mirage, though no one will ever convince them of it.

Where is the objective assessment of where the country’s being taken, from the perspective of a newspaper that advocates for fiscal conservatism? Harper’s team may be called the Conservative Party, but these are no Tories. The U.S. Republican populism they employ betrays the “fiscal prudence” mantra time and time again. No intelligent being (and I include dolphins, puppies and bonobo chimps) can honestly consider Stephen Harper a sober steward of the Canadian economy. The historic deficit proves it wrong, and the simultaneous drunken sailor spending, with its “state secret” price tags to-boot, only underline it. Even the long-feared New Democrats would treat tax dollars with greater seriousness, and Canadians in unprecedented numbers are coming round to that, despite the inertial forces holding much of our media back.

The Globe has resisted the centre and the left for nigh on thirty years now, and there’s no reason to have expected they’d make an exception now. What is perhaps surprising is that so many Canadians continue to depend on the newspaper, despite disagreeing so fundamentally and so consistently with its position.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

NDP rising, but whither the seats?

The NDP is closing to within six points of the Tories, according to the latest Nanos. This potential political upheaval generates huge excitement, but it also provokes a big question: will the House of Commons reflect the popular vote at all?

There are obvious problems with making predictions based on uniform swing, but as an experiment, we can nevertheless get a picture of what the post-May 2 universe might look like – and, more importantly, we get a clear picture how First Past the Post distorts electoral results to favour region-dense parties over parties with broad, national appeal.

I’m using the Hill & Knowlton Predictor (since I’m finding it fun at the moment) and, to illustrate the point, I entered a prediction that shows the CPC and the NDP each receiving 34.0% of the popular vote. An exact tie. (I gave the LPC a dismal, but not unlikely, 21% of the vote. Greens get 5%, and Bloc holds onto 6%)

The predicted seat count would be a travesty. Despite a national tie in popular vote, the Conservatives would emerge with +/- 135 seats, while the NDP would capture +/- 87. That’s the seat count we might get with an exact tie in the popular vote. I mean, wow.

On the one hand, all us Orange Wave Surfers would probably be mostly exhilarated at the prospect of 87 New Democrat seats. But that exhilaration collapses when comparing the relative successes. A party like the Cons, with its depth in the West, would massively outgain the NDP, which draws support relatively evenly from coast to coast to coast.

This isn’t about splitting the leftist vote – it’s about an electoral system that does not remotely account for the popular will.

There is every reason to expect a result like this on Monday. New Democrats nationwide, assuming they can get out the vote in an effective way, are on track for record gains. But placing a very close second in a hundred ridings, or two hundred ridings, won’t mean a single new MP. Tens of thousands of Canadians’ votes, even hundreds of thousands of them, might have zero impact on the composition of the 41st Parliament.

Outrageous, no? But why isn’t electoral reform on the radar this election?

Partly because it’s still seen as a bit wonkish. Political nerds get excited by electoral reform discussions, and no one else. Partly, too, because anytime a politician proposes changing the system, voters smell a rat. What’ve you got up your sleeve, then? Add that to the prospect of renewed constitutional wrangling, and fine, no one dares go there.

But all that caution and disinterest could vanish if we get an abysmal result like the one predicted above. Electoral reform could work its way into the heart of how we work towards renewing our democracy.

The Brits will soon be heading to the polls, on 5 May, to vote in a referendum on abandoning First Past the Post, and adopting Alternative Vote, or Automatic Runoff. It’s seen as a small change, and not really full proportional representation. It does, though, strike a balance between keeping a House of Commons comprised of constituent MPs while also ensuring that no MP shows up to work without being secure in the knowledge that 50% of the constituency has offered an endorsement.

(As an aside – for now! – the British public is torn on the question – some polls indicate that voters will reject the change, but other polls have also had the yes and no camps tied in recent weeks.)

As regards the NDP’s chances on Monday, I am steeling myself for what I consider to be the worst likely scenario – huge NDP gains in the popular vote, but absolute robbery of the seats they deserve through a crude electoral system designed for the bipartisan Britain of yestercentury. Should we witness such a crime, here’s hoping it might at least provoke the requisite national outrage to create the conditions for a change.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , ,

Behold, the CDN Fed-Elxn Predictometer 3000

O.K., it’s not got quite as fun a name as that, to its shame. Nonetheless, Hill and Knowlton have launched their 2011 Canadian federal election interactive swing-o-meter map predictor thingy! If you find yourself with some time this morning, it turns out that playing god is surprisingly fun.

I’ve run through a prediction, based in part on some of the more inspiring poll results we’ve seen of late, and based also on my optimistic take of voter turnout. You have to be optimistic to see the new NDP support in Québec moving from soft sympathy to a hard black X on the ballot… but optimistic I am. I’ve given the NDP a hearty but reasonable swing, most from LPC, but from BQ and Greens in a big way too, and some CPC for the heck of it.

The Predictor employs uniform swing, unfortunately, which is kind of half-meaningless (I lie – it does appear to allow you to make provincial and regional predictions and variations in swing and split, but it’s unclear to me how you can assemble these into the national picture).

Despite all the flaws of prediction through uniform swing, I was nevertheless intrigued by the result I got. Indeed, within reason and considering my full respect for the laws of reality, you could say I love the result. CPC on 137 seats, LPC on 72 seats, NDP on 68 seats, BQ on 30 seats, and Greens on 0. It allows for LPC/NDP overruling the diminished Reformer minority, while also avoiding allegations of consorting with hellspawned Bloquistes to do it.

Applying my swings to the Predictor, I’ve turned more of the Prairies orange than I expected to, as well as more of Québec (on current figures, they’re lined up for six seats), but British Columbia has only turned a bit more orange than before. The Liberals are the West Coast losers extraordinaire, capturing Vancouver Quadra, and nothing else.

Give it a go yourself. Any thoughts on utility, fun-factor, improvements to be made?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

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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