But not entirely.
First of all, that post that was dated today was actually e-mailed on Thursday. Let that be a warning to me about e-mail posting. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Second of all, I had a nice weekend, in which Father's Day figured prominently. After a nice Sunday night dinner at the always-popular cross-cultural experience that is Mr. Ho Wonton House. Szechuan Ginger Beef and Sweet & Sour Pork, I know you are culturally inauthentic and specially tuned white-boy fantasies of a true Asian experience, but I love you nonetheless. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Ahem. Mostly political. Note that there's some rude language in this post. I promise: nothing you haven't heard in a movie starring the Governor of California, but saltier than I usually strive for. Don't let your kids read this.
Okay, I thought I'd give a completely value-neutral rundown of the upcoming Canadian federal election, because I am of course completely unbiased!
There's so many fun choices to be made this year. I don't really want to talk about the horse-race aspects of the race ("It's Harper and Martin neck-and-neck! And at the line--tune in next Monday for the stunning conclusion!") I also think what I have to say here is probably a bit obvious (I'm thinking of writing a regular entry titled "Two Weeks Late" in which I talk about some news event a few weeks after it happens, once the story has actually been teased into something like a final shape. Consider this entry a prototype). But enough weaselling.
First, let's leave aside the Bloc. They act as a nice left-nationalist party of regional alienation for Quebec, as well as the only non-Liberal party Quebecers show any interest in voting for. Fine and dandy, and the fact that the Liberals are losing badly in Quebec is going to have interesting ramifications for who gets to be the government, but that's a horse-race question of little interest of those of us who have no opportunity to vote for the Bloc, despite the efforts of one man.
Second, let's leave aside the Green Party. My very sweet, sincere, lovely, schoolteaching aunt was musing over Sunday's dinner about why the Greens didn't get to be in on the debate. Colby Cosh wrote a whole column about this, and he's highly paid to be articulate and funny. So go read that. But my shorter take on that question is this: debates tend towards an inverse of utility as the number of participants increases. If you want to see some real doozys, go to an all-candidates meeting in a riding with some really good fringe candidates (I highly recommend the Marxist-Leninists for a nice combination of anger and complete disconnection from history and reality). I once got to see Svend Robinson and a Natural Law Party candidate on the same stage. And interestingly, the NLP that year made the same claim of legitimacy that the Greens are this year: they ran candidates in a lot of ridings. And the NLP picked up the same number of seats as the Greens have a shot at this year.
It's not like it's impossible for a small party to win a seat in Parliament and turn itself into a significant political force without first getting in on a televised debate. It has happened quite recently
Now, for the first meaty party, one I could vote for and which will almost certainly win some seats: the NDP.
I have a deep and abiding distrust of the NDP, because I am a confirmed fiscal conservative, and a rather serious social conservative. Having been represented by the seemingly-immortal Svend Robinson from the time he was elected until I ultimately moved out of the riding in 2000, I experienced a guilt-ridden tingle of schadenfreude at hearing that he would not be standing for re-election. Because he stole a ring. Insert Gollum joke here. A weird end for a weird MP. But while we're on the topic, what room is left for the Green Party to be greener than the NDP? And it's not like on other issues the Greens are some sort of enviro-libertarians: they're basically a pretty standard bunch of socialists (hey, some of my friends are godless socialists, so don't think that's some sort of slur) with a flowery logo. It might have been true at one time that the NDP wasn't green enough to satisfy the eco-fixated, but green-ness has been overtaken by the paired issues that we're all green now (I remember when you didn't sort your trash. My kids will wonder what I am talking about. Then again, they won't know what pinball was. Silly kids).
About the most dispassionate thing I can say about the NDP is that they have long served as the social conscience of the Liberal party, and its primary source of ideas until the rise of the Reform Party. Even now, the NDP seems to be "Liberals in a Hurry" when it comes to social policy, notably everybody's favourite election issue, gay marriage.
Okay, let's do the Liberals next. They're fun.
Pity Paul Martin. You know how Clinton's internal motto was "It's the economy, stupid"? I think Paul Martin would like to run on, "The economy, you fucking idiots!"
And you can see his point. It turns a knife in my western-alienated guts to admit this, but Martin's fiscal leadership has been a model of fiscal probity by recent Canadian standards, and he stands as some kind of noble anti-Trudeau. We should find some rose garden somewhere, pave it, and erect a small statue of Martin holding a balanced ledger. Paid for by private subscription, please.
Oh, we can argue about how Mulroney laid the groundwork by introducing the GST, (which the Liberals won an election on, and then kept) or we can point out that Martin was a tax-and-spend kind of guy who happened to know to tax more and spend less and he got lucky with the economy, but the fact remains: he balanced the books, and good on him. I hope the Conservatives take that as a key benchmark by which to judge their budgets.
Too bad for Martin about the cumulative Grit scandals that completely undermined any sense that Liberals could be trusted with tax dollars, eh? His "shocked, shocked!" (thanks, Jim) reaction to the sponsorship scandal was one of those classic moments in which you had to figure out whether Martin was a lying bastard for pretending not to know, or an incompetent boob for actually not knowing (with Alfonso Gagliano, it might have been both). It was a Kobayashi Maru for Martin, and he was no Captain Kirk. Or Jean Chretien.
An aside on the comparision of the two: I love best Andrew Coyne's formulation. The difference between Martin and Chretien is that Chretien got away with things because he was "utterly without shame."
Yeah, there's something to aspire to. The Liberal bums are likely to be thrown out because the scandals of their making are the kind which make the citizenry throw the bums out. It eats at the idea that you can trust these guys with your tax dollars.
And now pity the poor Conservatives. They not only don't want to run on social policy, they not only barely have any social policy, under Stephen Harper their internal motto is probably "any backbencher who initiates a private member's bill on abortion will be crucified." No, really. The dirty secret that nobody will tell you about Harper's secret social agenda is that he left the Reform party to run the National Citizen's Coalition for a while because he felt Reform was too populist and not spending enough time on fiscal issues.
In a way, that makes Paul Martin the Liberal leader that Stephen Harper created. Beautiful, isn't it? Harper is a major force goading the Liberal party into a major rightward shift on fiscal policy, which has the effect of elevating Paul Martin, Jr. to the fore of the party thanks to his impressive stint as Finance Minister. Then, with Jean Chretien out of the way despite his best attempts to derail his obvious successor, Martin has to face Harper, who was substantially responsible for making the Liberals elevate a man like Martin. And he may lose.
Dress that plot up with costumes and it's Julius Caesar. Or Batman and The Joker.
So I'm a right-wing so-and-so, and my wish is for party that was socially more conservative than the Conservatives, and while I like the Conservative plan to dump corporate subsidies at the same time as they lower corporate taxes, I'm still further out on the pay-the-debt, drop-the-taxes, shrink-government end of fiscal policy than most Canadians, and probably even the Tories themselves. So I'll hold my nose and reluctantly...oh, what a cop-out. Paul Martin would have to hold his nose to vote for half the Liberal candidates, and Harper probably feels the same about half the Conservatives. Jack Layton? He likes everyone. And the extremely strong party discipline in the NDP means that every candidate except possibly their Catholic priest has to vote exactly the same way on everything.
Maybe even more interesting than what this election is about (see "bums, throwing out," and "scandalrama"), is what this election has not been about. Abortion, as an issue, has been a ridiculous farce, almost entirely concocted by media questioning in the face of no evidence that any party in this country wants to do anything serious about the issue (we're basically looking at three parties which have all taken the Kang Position on abortion).
It has also not been about fiscal policy, suprisingly enough. Well, Martin's surprised. But by calling an election basically halfway through the revelation of Adscam, he had it coming. This wasn't like Mulroney's snap election call on a free trade agreement which was basically in an comprehensible form when he visited the G-G; this was, as far as I can tell, entirely tactical timing dictated by catching the Conservatives as unprepared as possible, and in the hopes of nipping the scandal before it bloomed. Alas for Martin, he has not come up roses. The scandal bloomed, and it is, like the notorious Rafflesia flower, large and stinky.
Finally, let's take a moment to admire our country. Whatever the voting outcome, this will be another moment of nice, boring democracy in our country. Possibly there will be a change of government, perhaps there will be a minority government, and perhaps the Bloc will do very well and take that as a cue to behave like utter jerks for a bunch more years. But whatever happens in the end, Canada won't have installed an idiot dictator, a despotic demagogue, or anything but a committed democrat. Because I think that's a label we can apply to any of the major federal party leaders. I may think the Liberals sail rather close to the wind at times, but when it comes time to open the ballot boxes, the count will be about as fair as it can be, and that's an awfully important thing if you want to be a functional democracy.
Edit: "fiscal probity" has now replaced "opprobrium" where I was talking about Paul Martin's tenure as treasurer. That is, he was rather good, not rather bad. I regret the error. Thanks keith.