The story goes that British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was once asked what the most challenging part of his job was. “’Events, my dear boy, events’” he supposedly replied.
Macmillan’s quote – fictional or not – is certainly an apt description of Canada’s current marathon 2015 federal election.
At 143 years, it’s the longest Canadian election in a century and a half, since the Sir John A. Macdonald era in 1872. The strategy was initially regarded as a political master stroke by that consummate political strategist, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. With his party swimming in donations from their fiercely loyal base, what could go possibly go wrong?
The first half of this political and electoral marathon all went well for the governing party. Whenever Canadians turned on their televisions or radios, they couldn’t avoid watching and listening to this seemingly invincible prime minister as he surfed on his big pool of fiercely committed voters whom the Conservatives proudly call “The Base.”
Simultaneously, they spread electoral cotton candy all around. Everything from ever lower taxes to a years-long avalanche of boutique tax cuts were given in large gobs to the wealthy and their lucky children.
But now, suddenly, at the midpoint of this epic political juggernaut, there are signs of trouble ahead for the prime minister and his party.
And it’s far more serious than the ongoing embarrassments of the Mike Duffy Senate scandal.
It isn’t bad enough that the government appears to believe it has the right to abandon its own vaunted trademark of “sound fiscal management” to shovel more and more money to those who don’t need it (known in their political circles as “The Base) leaving only crumbs for those not high enough in the tax bracket sweepstakes to bother about.
Nor is it bad enough that they have trampled on virtually every tenet of British parliamentary democracy and hacked, slashed and abolished vital national programs, storied institutions and highly respected civil society organizations simply because they disagreed and disliked them.
On the international stage they have sullied Canada’s reputation as a one of the world’s most esteemed democracies by ignoring science in their pursuit of re-making Canada into a freewheeling sole-source hinterland to serve the global oil and gas industry regardless of the costs to the environment; appropriated big portions of Canada’s identity and institutions for their own political and electoral purposes and grafted American governmental forms onto Canada’s parliamentary democracy determined to twist it out of shape – and – all without the slightest consultation or regard for the sensibilities of many Canadians.
This is a government that is philosophically and genuinely hostile to the nation and people it seeks to govern.
As October 19 looms ever closer, Canadians have every reason to worry that the massive voter suppression scandal of 2011 will once again be replicated complete with a whole textbook of dirty political tricks culminating in its successful plot to fix the election in several hundred ridings across the country.
The Orwellian-dubbed “Fair” Elections Act and the effective muzzling of Canada’s respected Chief Electoral Officer cries out for international monitors. Unfortunately, only the current government can invite them in, rendering any attempt at outside oversight futile.
Canadians are left to worry that if the 2011 election could be, and clearly was, compromised, what might be the potential of a full- out Orwellian version in 2015?
There’s likely only a relatively few Canadians who don’t know that his or her prime minister has two degrees in economics from the University of Calgary. Known as the “Calgary School,” it’s a Canadian academic branch plant designed to graft the free-wheeling, right wing, free-market American Republican mindset onto the brains of its students and in the process, send its graduate students to all parts of the country to carry the message.
The Calgary School has left an indelible mark on Canada. With neo-conservative professors like Tom Flanagan, Ken Bossenkool and Barry Cooper, it could easily be mistaken for a branch of the U.S. Republican Party and, like the red meat U.S. Republicans, has no time whatsoever for quaint Canadian ideas like social and economic justice.
In step with his former alma mater’s professors, Harper is not far removed in his philosophy and opinions from the U.S. Republican Party’s anti-government, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. In his most famous (or infamous) quote, Norquist is widely reported to have said “I’m not in favour of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
It’s a viewpoint akin to Harper’s own, so close that the prime minister expressed essentially the same sentiments in an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly in 2009.
Back then, he told Reguly that “There are two schools of thought about taxes and taxation. Some economists believe there are such things as good taxes and bad taxes. I believe no taxes are good taxes.”
Under the Harper Conservatives, Canada is becoming a nation of two unequal solitudes, the wealthy and everyone else, a place where the only thing that counts is money and power and the growing numbers of poor and marginalized Canadians are kicked to the curb and ignored.
There is only one way to halt the slow motion death of the Canada most Canadians thought they grew up in, a Canada that believed in social and economic justice and science, rather than plunder, was the basis of sound environmental, economic and social policy.
As October 19 gets closer, Liberals and New Democrats should stop the petty blood feud they love to carry on over petty and marginal policy distinctions without genuine differences.
Otherwise, Canadians will be subjected to another four years of a government determined to dismantle the Canada most Canadians know and cherish and hope to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.
She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.
She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.