What's the matter with Canada?

But beneath the calm exterior, Canada’s political system is in turmoil. Since 2004, a succession of unstable minority governments has led to a constant campaign frenzy, brutalizing Canada’s once-broad political consensus and producing a series of policies at odds with the country’s socially liberal, fiscally conservative identity. Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

What’s the matter with Canada? – By Christopher Flavelle – Slate Magazine

I don’t necessarily agree with the whole “basket case” assertion, it is a fundamentally strong country with a broad consensus on what the country should be.

The current set of political parties is rewarding a minority set of policies (the conservatives) by fragmenting the majority centre-left of centre consensus between 4 different political parties, none of which will talk to each other. This is not exactly new, the conservatives only merged their parties a few years back.

The liberals suffer from Dion’s non Englishness, he gets little traction from the English media (no idea about the French, I don’t know any). He’s not that charismatic, nor does he orate well in English, and so like the American election, it is all optics. The liberals also seem to have no understanding of what it takes to win a modern election. The conservatives get in the news all the time, their ads are all over TV, the liberals seem to be MIA.

Harper on the other hand is “strong”, strength of course being defined as sounding decisive and declaratory, even though he usually just sounds alarmist and hyperbolic all the time. Somehow, this is interpreted as leadership. I guess the only good quality of leadership is being loud.

Dion also made a gamble by selling something called the Green Shift, a carbon tax, to increase efficiency in energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the tax is designed to increase efficiency in a country notorious for its very poor efficiency (27th among the 29 OECD countries in energy use/capita), it is being demonized as a tax that will destroy the country (just like every other environmental regulation destroyed every other country). It is also bad timing, as energy prices have soared recently, and Canada’s economy sputters to a halt due to falling resource prices and the American housing market bust (destroyed the BC lumber industry). The last thing people want to hear is “tax”, even though the middle class will get more than sufficient rebates to cover any tax increases. The liberals seem to have overplayed this hand. Elections are never won on environmental issues, too easy to attack.

The conservative pitch thus far has only been to attack Dion while offering some incremental changes. But as Harper is flirting with a majority, this Toronto Star editorial asks the right questions.

While Harper is presenting himself as a kinder, gentler Conservative these days, in the past, as a Reform MP, head of the National Citizens’ Coalition and leader of the Canadian Alliance (successor party to Reform), he staked out quite radical positions. He has called Canada “a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term,” has denounced the “moral nihilism” of the Liberals and the left for opposing the Iraq war, has suggested building a “firewall” around Alberta, and has called for “market reforms” for health care, “further deregulation and privatization,” and “elimination of corporate subsidies.”

With a Conservative majority in sight, it is fair for Canadians to ask Harper whether he still holds these views and would implement them once in office. And if the answer is No, Harper should use the remaining four weeks of this election campaign to tell voters just what he would do with a majority.

The media lets Harper get away with sounding “presidential”, his proposals are very vague, and that is worrying. It is clear, however, that from an environmental standpoint, he will be a disaster. A combination of a slowing economy and reduced social support programs (conservatives hate safety nets for regular people) will be bad for the not so well off Canadians. We shall see what happens in a few weeks.

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