None of the Above Wins Again: the Future of Canadian Democracy
Author: Gerald Caplan
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 12/20/2009
Here’s the picture as we move into the new year. Harper has blown his sure thing. Iggy is trapped in Dion territory. The NDP is completely stalled. Elizabeth May has moved to a silent retreat in Nepal. And Canada’s real leader, B. Obama, is staggering under a mountain of troubles.
What a sad time this is for our modest little democracy. We may never have another election, since everyone will surely lose. Of course that means the Conservatives stay in power in perpetuity, hoping to govern as if they had a slam-dunk majority. But we’re seeing yet again that their own hubris and uncontrollable meanness —-deny, deceive, destroy— costs them the moral high ground that every government needs to function.
All parties must be shell-shocked by the recent spate of polling. The Conservatives especially must be kicking themselves all around their bunker that they didn’t maneuver an election a month ago. There seems little doubt they had their majority in sight. Now the moment has completely evaporated, and any election would most likely return them with an even more precarious minority, tantamount to a personal defeat for Stephen Harper under these circumstances.
Harper’s status in the party is far weaker than many realize. He can’t deliver a majority, so he can’t throw goodies to his reactionary base as flamboyantly as he and they would like. He’s not liked, and the respect for his strategic smarts, which suffered a huge blow a year ago when he came an eyelash from being replaced by a Dion-led coalition, has again been damaged by his remarkably inept handling of global warming and Afghan prisoners. His caucus resents his coolness—this is no Brian Mulroney constantly energizing the troops, who would have followed him anywhere, and did—and his ministers live with the permanent humiliation of being treated like the nobodies they are. There are any number of them who would love to play Brutus when the right time materialized, and who fantasize about replacing him. Just imagine the richness of potential contenders—Peter Mackay, John Baird, Lavar Payne. The mind boggles.
Just ask Iggy. Even Harper makes him look good. The Wonder Boy almost became the Wonder Bread boy the other day—sliced and toast. The story of a potential coup against Ignatieff——much-denied by all those involved— was 100% accurate, both eyewitnesses and ear-witnesses abound. Liberal MPs’ confidence in their leader is low as a snake’s belly. Many want Bob Rae to take over tonight; I guess they haven’t heard the only iron law in the history of Canadian politics: No provincial premier has ever been elected PM. Others, including Justin Trudeau—-you know, the one with all the great ideas and policies—-are plotting their own accession.
One serious telltale sign is Ignatieff’s failure to keep his caucus in line. They’re breaking rank all over the place. They’re deeply and openly split on the HST, which their leader now supports. Even more tellingly, some Liberals voted against maintaining the long gun registration. And most shamefully of all, 10 Liberals opposed a private member’s bill by NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis that would have made operable the Canada Access to Medicine Regime. This long-dysfunctional legislation was supposed to provide cheap generic drugs for AIDS sufferers in Africa. Thanks to Big Pharma in the background, it’s been a nightmare for the generic companies to use. The new proposal would have made it viable at last, with the potential to save literally millions of lives. Yet so powerful is Big Pharma in the Liberal backrooms that 10 MPs defected. Had it not been—extraordinarily—for 12 Conservative backers, the Bill would not have passed. This does not look so good for the leader.
Into this mess does not step the NDP. Despite the deep mistrust of so many for Stephen Harper, nasty and a conservative; despite the lack of respect for Michael Ignatieff, a cipher and a conservative, despite Elizabeth May being MIA; the huge centre-left vacuum in Canadian life remains unfilled. The polls tell the story. As the Conservatives are trapped in the mid-thirties and the Liberals in the mid-20s, so are the NDP locked into the mid-teens. A little welcome movement in Quebec does not alter this reality. Something is terribly wrong. So many Canadians want to see courageous progressive leadership on both specific issues and on the overall direction of the country, and they’re obviously not finding it in the NDP. New Democrats are hardly unaware of this great blown opportunity.
The country is deeply weary of political games-playing and deeply sour about its politicians. Who can blame them? It’s as if we’re all waiting for something, for our Obama. But as the real thing drowns in the political swamps of DC, nothing remotely of his caliber appears on the Canadian horizon.
This article also appeared in Canada’s Globe and Mail online edition.
Bio: Dr. Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Caplan has been a lifelong social and political activist with close ties to the New Democratic Party of Canada and a lifelong commitment to African development.