Election 2011: A small high five and a lot of nausea

On May 2, 2011, Canada voted. I was nervous, I was hopeful, I was trying to be optimistic about the outcome, and I was not prepared for the results.

As the kids say, “I’m so so stoked right now” that the NDP is the official Opposition. Canada has never seen what the NDP can do when given both the power and responsibility to be the main (not fringe) voice of dissent and contrary opinion in Parliament. A party that has often largely been ignored in the past has been granted an opportunity to define itself.

I am stoked for Elizabeth May and the Green Party too. History will be made when Parliament resumes and the Green Party has a representative in the House of Commons for the first time. May will have her work on Parliament Hill cut out for her. It’s work she’s been chasing for years and I say good for her for finally getting a crack at it.

In a weird way, I am a little bit stoked that the Liberals took such a drubbing. As a person, Michael Ignatieff is intelligent and educated and I believe he truly does care for Canada. I didn’t mind the Liberals the last time they governed either (though I was a teenager then so I’m not sure that says much). But after three years of reading my Maclean’s cover to cover and following Canadian politics online, I still had no idea what the Liberal Party, under Iggy, really stood for. Unless Maclean’s simply sucks at their Canadian politics coverage (which I will never believe), it seems to me that the Liberal party did not have a cohesive and consistent message that was memorable or vital to Canadians. A few good ideas? Yes. But a few good ideas do not a political platform make. You can blame many things for the situation the Liberals now find themselves in–the Conservative’s ceaseless character assassination of Ignatieff, a split leftist vote between the NDP and Liberal candidates that paved the way for a Conservative win, voter apathy–but at the end of the day the party just seemed lost to me. Not at all the “natural governing party” the Liberals claimed to be. Obviously they need a few years to get their poop in a pile and now they’ve got it.

I am also giving myself a little high five because the candidate I voted for won and will be representing me and my riding in Ottawa. Congratulations to me.

Now for the nausea.

For the next four and a half years, Canada will be governed by a Conservative majority. Since I align my personal beliefs more towards the political left, the policies of this government will no doubt grate against my socialist sensibilities. Even with an NDP Opposition, a majority gives the Conservatives carte blanche to pass pretty much any bill they like and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But that’s democracy. Canada voted (well, 60% of us) and apparently the will of Canadians is a Conservative majority. Democracy means you don’t always get your way. Of course, democracy is more fun for me when I get my way, and people I disagree with don’t get theirs, but that’s not how it worked out this time. If I wanted my own way all the time I would need to become Queen of my own tiny isle, and I’m not prepared to do that right now. What really sticks in my craw about this election outcome is that the first government ever to be found in contempt of Parliament is rewarded with a majority. Clearly Canadians are not paying attention. Policy schmolicy. No matter where your beliefs fall on the political spectrum, you deserve a government that will not lie to Canada’s elected representatives.

Unless, of course, you vote for a party knowing full well they were found to be in contempt of Parliament and you just don’t care. Or, if you don’t vote at all. Then, I guess, you get the government you deserve.

I’m disappointed. Being an artist and a woman and a young single person (no middle class family benefits for me right now) who cares about social justice, I don’t think there’s anything in that blue bag for me. I love Canada and I love what it has traditionally stood for. I don’t want these things to disappear.

I am trying to be optimistic. Perhaps Harper’s Conservatives have merely been suffering from an inferiority complex and now that they have the majority they claimed they needed to govern effectively they will, in fact, govern effectively. I can only hope that now that the threat of a snap election is no longer looming they will consider the needs of all Canadians, even artsy fartsy bleeding hearts like me, and not just their traditional demographic.

Or perhaps things will get so incredibly terrible that by 2015 the 40% of eligible Canadian voters who didn’t vote this year will be prompted to finally get off their asses and participate in their country’s democracy. Or maybe I’ll move to my own tiny isle.

At any rate, Layton’s looking spunky these days, I’m sure Harper isn’t actually an evil robot, and hope springs eternal. We might be okay after all. We’ll see.

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Conservatives & Liberals: Just stop it, both of you.

Like kittens? You'll love Harper's politics.

Today’s rant about being sick and tired of hearing about Canadian politics may come as a surprise to people who read my December 2 post, berating my generation for their lack of political participation and poor voter turn-out. I do still sincerely believe that citizens my age have a duty to be informed and involved. But democracy is a two-way street. Politicians who want our support need to give us something to vote for. Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian government, and Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the official opposition, are just not doing it for me right now.

I am tired of reading about whether or not Canadians will be subjected to a federal election this year (wasn’t that the question last year, and the year before that, and the year before that?). I am tired of the government being so arrogant (or perhaps so hopeful) as to make the claim, as they often seem to do, that “Canadians don’t want an election.”  I am tired of the opposition being so unimaginative and so impotent that the only weapon they seem to want to deploy is the threat of an election, only to withdraw that threat as soon as anyone starts to think they might really be serious.

I am tired of Stephen Harper’s sweaters and musical stylings. I am tired of Michael Ignatieff’s plaid shirts and cross-country burger flipping. Why are they doing this? Why aren’t they running the country? What the heck is going on?

That's actually pretty good. Quebec City, July 2010 Photo: Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press

My January 17, 2011 Maclean’s came today, and with it a tidy little opinion piece by columnist Paul Wells entitled “How Stephen Harper Will Survive 2011.” Even before I read the article there was little doubt in my mind that Stephen Harper will survive 2011 just fine, though whether he’ll do anything with the power he’s still managing to cling to, anything that serves Canada more than it serves his party, is another matter. According to Wells, Harper is in a position of “relative strength” and “has a good shot at avoiding an election and, if he cannot avoid it, a good shot at winning it.” Let’s get this straight: Harper doesn’t want to win an election, he wants to avoid one, but if avoiding doesn’t work, it’s okay, he’ll win it. Harper also seems to be a fan of saying that the opposition is a fan of an election. Which seems silly, because if there was an election, Harper would win it, right?

I’m confused.

Speaking of confusion, I am not exactly receiving a boat-load of clarity from the opposition either. Iggy’s bus tour and the fact that he’s a really smart guy (albeit a bit of a cold fish in front of the camera) notwithstanding, I don’t know much about what Michael Ignatieff wants to do for my country. He likes to complain about the Conservatives, that’s for sure, but any bozo can complain. I’m complaining right now. Ignatieff’s job is to be more effective than that, and the Liberals’ only claim to fame at the moment is that they do not agree with the government. Except when they do, of course.

Just for fun, here’s a little snippet of Twitter conversation I caught on January 7, 2011 between Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne (also of Maclean’s Magazine):

InklessPW Paul Wells

“Planes and prisons” vs “families” and other good stuff: the Liberal ballot question as framed by Brison today and Goodale 2 weeks ago

acoyne acoyne

Interesting, since Libs also for planes & prisons RT @InklessPW “Planes & prisons” vs “families” & other good stuff: Liberal ballot question

acoyne acoyne
ie They’re still going to buy the planes, and they voted for the crime bills that necessitate more prisons RT @InklessPW

.

Again I’m confused. Both parties want some new planes? Both parties are on board with laws that would necessitate more prisons?  I’ll take Coyne’s word on this one, even if it is just a Twitter conversation, even if Twitter isn’t always a good “source”, since he’s a much more knowledgeable person than I.  I know 140-character limits tend to over-simplify issues a bit but it’s the very idea that bothers me. Planes and prisons for both Conservatives and Liberals? Talk about arriving at the party in the same dress and now having to figure out who “wears it better.”

This one's for my scrapbook.

If both the government and its closest rival agree on planes and prisons, and stimulus spending, and all the other big and small issues that the two parties have made gutless compromises on since 2008 (some necessary, some not), all that’s left for each side to do is accessorize that same old dress and try to convince us that the other gal looks trashy.

Which means that instead of being asked to consider which party better represents my values and beliefs regarding war, justice, education, and the economy (not to mention health care and the environment), I am being asked, by BOTH sides, to care about who is more cuddly, who likes “ordinary Canadians” more and terrorists less. To care about whether Iggy is “just visiting” or whether he’s here to stay, to care about whether Harper has something sinister up his sleeve or whether he’s doing what he truly believes is best for Canada. In short, I’m being asked to care about “politics”.

I don’t mean, “caring about politics” in terms of being informed, and of voting for the MP you think will best address your concerns. The “politics” I’m being asked to care about is mostly spin, hype, polls (whose conclusions my beliefs are never on the winning side of), a coalition of “Socialists” and “Separatists” that never really happened (and likely never will), and an election that isn’t happening yet, but that we don’t know for sure isn’t going to happen. This is the kind of crap that always seems to float to the top of the murky federal politics pool. I suppose I could stick my head in there and try to see if I can find any useful information but it’s not an appealing prospect.

Clap if you believe he can win an election. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press

This constant stream of exaggeration, hyperbole, and trivial detail seems to come from both sides. And it belittles me as a citizen. It makes me feel as though my part of the political process is about being led to the ballot box by half-truths and handshakes. It makes me feel as though nobody in Parliament thinks we’re smart enough to think about the actual issues that affect our lives and to vote that way. The fact that I haven’t seen either side touch health care with a ten-foot pole recently even though, at some point, we’re really going to have to, is not inspiring. It seems that while both sides certainly believe they have the right to govern, they don’t really have the guts to, and, to add insult to injury, they don’t think we’ll notice.

For goodness sakes, enough already. Conservatives, Liberals, just stop it. That new, nasty, media-sexy, but actually totally irrelevant barb you’re ready to let fly at the other party? That photo of you cuddling a cute kitten/baby/constituent you’re waiting to release? Just don’t. I don’t care. Go to your rooms. Think about what you’ve done. Think about what you’re going to do. I don’t want to hear a single word from either of you until you have something constructive to say.