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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Rushing at the modern sunset to your window / Gestured with the bleach in hand, she said "let's go" "L.A." she cried / The heartbreak rides for free
— A.C. Newman, The Heartbreak Rides
May 3, 2011
My Orange Wardrobe was Ahead of Its Time

I haven’t written about an election in a while. There’s a reason for that: after being heavily involved, I’ve sat a few out for a variety of reasons. Primarily, I needed to focus on work and not be distracted. It’s not a decision I regret at all.

I’ve been disillusioned by the party system for some time. There was a time when politics wasn’t run by focus groups, when politicians had personalities and ideas. Party discipline and toeing the party line has always been a reality but not to the degree that it is now.

Pierre Trudeau certainly ran a tight ship, but dissent was tolerated and probably—given the passion with which he pursued his ideals—expected. Chretien was less tolerant, but that Little Guy from Shawinigan schtick played well enough that he could shrug off internal problems pretty effectively (though they did rear their head at times.)

Paul Martin was a different breed. Paul Martin took over the Liberal Party in a palace coup. Those latter years questions about Chretien’s leadership? Those were the workings of a Paul Martin tired of waiting. He decided to take his own leader down from within.

This coincided with the rise of a reunited Conservative Party of Canada (note the lack of a Progressive title) under Stephen Harper, a man whose tolerance for dissent is low enough that even his cabinet ministers are rarely allowed to speak on behalf of their portfolios.

These two things marked the start of the current era of Canadian politics, and it’s an era that will end with the death of the Liberal Party of Canada and the rise of a new centre, probably in the form of a modified NDP.

Here’s why.

When Paul Martin took over the Liberal party he was burdened with two gifts by Jean Chretien: the sponsorship scandal, and major reforms in election financing. The first was a short term bomb, but not one that mattered last night. If you asked Canadians an unprompted question about why they weren’t voting for the Liberals in 2011, the sponsorship scandal wouldn’t have made the list. It was bad, but it’s past. It will come up after that fact amongst the pundits, but the average person has long since let it slip from their memory.

The electoral financing reforms were a bigger problem, because they hit the Liberal fundraising machine hard. If electoral reform hadn’t been in place, Paul Martin would have had the highest level of corporate donations ever. Instead of collecting large cheques from his corporate friends, Mr. Martin was required to collect a lot of small ones from individuals. The Liberals weren’t very good at this, and when Mr. Martin left the party’s coffers empty and the seat count down the party failed to build a culture of raising money to suit the new rules.

For three elections, this has been true and in each of those three elections the Liberals have run a different leader. The lack of donations led to a reliance on public funding and the lack of consistent leadership led to a lack of a platform with any content. They ran on the basis of not being Stephen Harper, instead of putting forward a vision. There were no ideas. There was no great leap forward proposed.

People vote for ideas. As Jack Layton said last night, quoting one of Canada’s great leaders from the past, “Dream no small dreams.” People vote for ideas and dreams. When there aren’t any dreams, they make the safest choice—usually that means the same old thing.

Stephen Harper has led for almost 10 years now, and in those years he’s generally been mostly harmless from the perspective of a lot of Canadians. His priorities aren’t those of mine and my friends, but he’s done a decent job of avoiding alienating people. He hasn’t legislated on abortion, he did try to kill the gun registry but failed, he’s lowered taxes (which everybody likes, even if they won’t admit it.)

Stephen Harper hasn’t exactly set out a grand vision for the future of Canada either, but he’s been mostly harmless.

Sure, people like to trot out that Contempt of Parliament issue and it’s significant but too many people don’t understand it and even more just see it as party bickering. In fairness, it was a bit of party bickering. I think the Conservatives hold my country in contempt, but I think a Liberal party that likes to refer to itself as the “natural governing party of Canada is equally contemptuous.

Until the Liberals drop that viewpoint, there’s little to hope for in the future. As long as they remain a party of entitlement, the party is on the way to oblivion.

Some good things happened last night: Elizabeth May was elected, putting the Green party in Parliament for the first time; Jack Layton’s NDP has taken much of Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois is certain to be gone, making Quebec a player in national politics for the first time in 20 years (though don’t be fooled by the media reports of the death of separatism;) orange is the new dominant colour of the centre, and that’s great for my wardrobe.

Some bad things happened: the news media keeps talking about a four year Conservative government, which suggests that they’ve completely forgotten to read the constitution (which defines terms at five years); a Conservative majority is almost certain to lead to the repeal of the gun registry and quite possibly a woman’s access to abortion; the arts are likely to be cut more savagely, and I have little hope that Canadian businesses will pick up that slack.

The worst thing that happened last night didn’t even happen last night. It happened on December 12th of 2003, a day that’s burned into my memory for a few reasons. As of now, it’ll be the day that Paul Martin was appointed as Prime Minister of Canada and the final nail was placed in the coffin of the Liberal Party of Canada. Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff helped but make no mistake: the funeral started on that day.

The Party of Trudeau, the party of my youth started suffocating and dying on that day and last night was its final breath. Oh sure, they’ll probably run candidates in a couple more elections but in the long term the NDP will move a bit closer to the centre and the left wing of the Liberal party will gravitate to where it wants to be: in power, with Jack.

Today, another Trudeau is being mentioned as a leadership candidate. Trading on nothing more than a name and a boost in personal fame that came at the funeral of his father, this Trudeau brings nothing to the party or the country. Not half the leader his father was, the frequency with which his name is mentioned is as sure a sign of the decline of the party as any other. Decline leads to decline. We’re far enough down this spiral that the way out is hard to see anymore. The longer they remain on the fringes out of power the harder it will be attract quality leadership as it gravitates towards the NDP.

Orange is just a lighter shade of red, after all.

Posted by skooter at 8:15 PM This entry is filed under Canada, Politics.
This entry is tagged: Conservative Party of Canada, Elections, Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada, Jack Layton, Liberal Party of Canada, NDP, Pierre Trudeau, Stephen Harper

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