Décision 2011: Are they all statists?

Par George Jonas le 21 avril 2011

During the chummy pre-election weeks, politicians and their handlers are flirtatious but gun-shy. Journalists, viewed with grave misgivings, are being handled gingerly. The ambiance is ostentatiously egalitarian. The leaders’ aides refer to their bosses as Hollywood studio execs do to all-powerful movie moguls: First names, uttered in deferentially hushed tones.

In the campaign environment Mr. Layton, Ms. May, and Mr. Ignatieff become “Jack,” “Elizabeth” and “Michael” to their handlers, whispered discreetly and democratically. I’m not sure about Gilles (M. Duceppe). If there’s one thing phonier than phony formality, it’s phony informality.

“George? Thanks for calling; let me see if Stephen is available.”

That’s OK, son. If he’s not, the Prime Minister will do.

The last one is a figment of my imagination, but the atmospherics aren’t. My various selves are alternately attracted and repelled. Curious self ogles the circus; cynical self wrinkles a nose. Bouncy self starts writing “Canada goes to the polls on May 2nd” but jaded self promptly pooh-poohs it.

“Why do you want to talk about the election? It’s boring.”

“That’s not what the papers say.”

“What do you expect? They have to cover it.”

True enough, covering a race the outcome of which is a foregone conclusion isn’t very exciting. That’s when the media generate their own narrative, turning non-events into pitched battles about important issues.

Are there, in fact, any issues in this election? Sure, says my cynical self: Will the new Prime Minister’s first name be Stephen or Michael? That’s a pretty big issue. You may think it isn’t worth $300-million, which is roughly what it will cost to find out, but Stephen and Michael think it is, especially Michael. Otherwise he wouldn’t have triggered an election, along with his buddy Jack.

OK, my curious self asks, since you brought it up, why did they?

Stephen didn’t seem to want an election; in fact, he was bending over backwards to avoid one, making himself look like a fiscal pretzel. Why would chaps trailing Stephen by 13.9 (Michael) and 26.2 (Jack) points in the polls force the issue? Did they know something no one else did — or did they not know what everyone knew?

What is the issue in this election? Why, the same as in all elections, my libertarian self exclaims. In the last 45 years, the only question has been whether the government implementing the NDP’s policies will be Liberal or Conservative.

OK, my libertarian self exaggerates. Does it exaggerate by much? I don’t think so.

The NDP may do abysmally in federal elections, but the NDP’s ideas flourish. Canada is governed from the middle, yes, but the middle is on the left. The politicians who form our next government will be statist — socialists in all but name — because there are no other kinds running. Our statists may vary in degree, but not in kind. Since the 1960s, classical liberals or conservatives either haven’t entered the arena or changed their policies afterwards. They wouldn’t have had a chance otherwise.

Here’s the irony, though: If socialists called themselves socialists, they wouldn’t stand a chance either. Canadians are funny that way. They’ll buy nothing but socialist policies and practices, but never from socialists. Calling things what they are isn’t politically polite in Canada.

In the tradition of Orwell’s Newspeak, in Canadian English the word “free” denotes a prohibition, as in “smoke-free environment.” Canadians call laws and institutions that deny people fundamental freedoms of conscience, expression, and association “human rights” laws and commissions. In this eccentric world, going to the polls is like skeet-shooting in a stiff breeze: A vote for Stephen is a vote for Michael.

What about a vote for Michael? Good question. If anyone could say, maybe he wouldn’t be trailing.

But look at the bright side. As statist societies go, Canada is tops. No one loses in 2011. Elizabeth making the starting grid is like qualifying for Daytona in a donkey-cart: It’s a win. Gilles selling seats on an airliner advertised to self-destruct in flight is a miracle. Jack calling tunes without paying the piper is a triumph. Stephen, of course, wins because he wins, and all Michael needs to win is lose fewer seats than Stephen requires to pick up a Conservative majority. Voilà, a win-win election.

Can Stephen lose? Yes, if Michael picks up enough seats for a minority Liberal government. Can Stephen win big? Yes — same odds as Michael winning small.

Canada, a poster boy for minority government, wins for sure. It demonstrates that middling powers managed from the middle can muddle through consecutive minority governments in better shape than most majority governments. With that, Stephen can go back to governing, Elizabeth to pouting, Gilles to researching ethnic aerodynamics and Jack to wondering why socialist policies fare better in Canada than socialist politicians.

No predictions, though. Michael may be in the saddle when the dust settles. More likely, he’ll be back to lecturing about the equestrian arts, at which he used to excel, as opposed to mounting a horse, at which he wasn’t good enough to find out how good he might be at riding one.


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