TORONTO, CANADA — This past April 14, the Liberal Party of Canada elected a new leader — the "unstoppable" Justin Trudeau. In 1912, on April 14, the "unsinkable" S.S. Titanic hit an iceberg.
Canadians will have to wait two years to find out if the events are related by more than a date. The next Canadian Federal election is expected to be in 2015, although it could be earlier. Polls today will have as much relevance for the future of Canada as the cheers of the crowds at the Titanic's launch had on its success.
|However, in the last two weeks of May, the hitherto recently successful Conservative Party appears to have struck an iceberg of its own — the scandal over the exorbitant expense claims of a few Conservative Canadian Senators, and the attempts of the Prime Minister's Office to have the scandal swept under the rug.
Canadians seem to prefer governments positioned at the center of the political spectrum. However, what constitutes "centrism" is often defined as "economically conservative, socially liberal."
There were also the recent scurrilous attacks on the right-leaning Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford; the left-wing U.S. website Gawker, which specializes in abrasive gossip, as well as The Toronto Star, Canada's largest "progressive" daily newspaper -- had accused him of smoking crack-cocaine. On May 25, Rob Ford's brother and political ally, Doug Ford, was accused by The Toronto Globe and Mail — a socially liberal, somewhat fiscally conservative, major daily newspaper — of being a drug dealer 30 years ago. Unlike the attacks on the Ford brothers, the Senate expenses scandal certainly seemed to have a more solid foundation in reality; the scandal could have been easily avoided had the Senators been diligent in their financial documentation.
What is relevant now and for the future is an established fact in Canadian politics: Canadians seem to prefer governments positioned at the center of the political spectrum. However, what constitutes "centrism" is often defined as "economically conservative, socially liberal." It has frequently been the case in recent years that any notions of social conservatism or of criticism of a "perpetual growth" economy are sidelined as "extremist" by the so-called mainstream media.
Historically, the so-called party of the center has been the Liberals. However, the third party in the House of Commons will have quite a job over the next two years to be heard over both the government and the official opposition — which could be seen as the new parties "of the center."
...the Conservative Party is clearly muzzling MPs who want to raise social conservative views. It has also exasperated fiscal conservatives opposed to the wasteful spending of taxpayers' money on everything from stealth jet fighters to the economic stimulus "Action Plan."
Today, the Conservative Party is clearly muzzling MPs who want to raise social conservative views. It has also exasperated fiscal conservatives opposed to the wasteful spending of taxpayers' money on everything from stealth jet fighters to the economic stimulus "Action Plan" and all the ads promoting this spending. This is certainly not the old Reform, or even Alliance parties.
Despite all the scare stories in the media, Stephen Harper is essentially leading what could be called a "Red Tory" Progressive Conservative government of the past. It seems to have vitiated all the long years of struggle by Preston Manning and others, from 1987 to 2003. Indeed, this "centrist" conservative party trend has even spread to Alberta! Expected to form a majority government in the 2012 election, the more right-wing Wildrose Alliance ended up losing to the "ultra-moderate" Progressive Conservatives, who won a majority, as the Alberta electorate stampeded away from perceived "right-wing extremism."
Tony Blair was the Labour Party leader in the U.K. who had "socialist" wording removed from his party's charter, moved the party to the economic center, and won three elections in a row. Blair was criticized from the left for pointedly not reversing the economic policies of the Conservative governments before him. Nevertheless, he markedly pushed forward on a liberal social agenda.
Some say that in Tom Mulcair the New Democratic Party (NDP) has its "Tony Blair." With the adoption of "responsible administration" as the watch words for Canada's social democratic party and the removal of references to socialism from the party's constitution, there may be something to this view.
The unavoidable question is, in the race to the so-called center, where are the Liberals, who are the avowed party of the center? Also, in the blending together of the outlooks of the three parties, what happens to any real policy differences among the parties — especially on matters of concern to social conservatives?
Indeed, issues of policy matter less and less. The opposition parties speak mostly about new approaches to the old ways of governing and not about policy differences. Both Mulcair and Trudeau speak of a "new" and "open" approach that they would bring to a government by "engaging and listening to Canadians." (This, of course, was also a cornerstone message of the old opposition Reform Party.)
The implication in this is that the Harper government is "not listening."
|How long would an NDP or Liberal government have to be in power before the accusation of "not listening to ordinary Canadians" would be leveled against it? Not long.
[Are there] any real policy differences among the parties — especially on matters of concern to social conservatives?
In Tom Mulcair, the NDP has an experienced former Quebec cabinet minister — one who quit rather than take orders from, or maybe "listen" to, others? His nickname is "The Grizzly" — and not because those bears are famous for their consultative natures.
With Trudeau, the Liberals have a charismatic politician — one who received most of his media coverage, before the leadership race, for entering a boxing ring with a Conservative Senator. He quoted his father during the leadership campaign when he said, "Just watch me!" This is not a phrase that speaks volumes about really engaging others. Trudeau Jr.'s comments were unrelated to his father's imposition of martial law — but why bring back that memory if not trying to look like a "strongman"?
In the next federal election, if current patterns continue, the Conservatives will run as being "fiscally responsible" rather than as representing a conservative agenda. The NDP will run as promising "responsible administration" rather than as advocating a social democratic agenda. The Liberals will run, as in the last two elections, as a name; ("Liberal" not "Trudeau"…, although "Trudeau-Liberals" is currently polling better.)
The election, however, will be fought and won on the profiles of the leaders — as being "strong" — not on the input of party membership, policy alternatives, or promises that the "people's voice" will be heard.
This kind of personality politics based on the cult of the Leader should not matter: the "voice of the people" is supposed to be expressed by individual MPs.
We will see what the Speaker's recent decision to allow independent motions by MPs (without requiring the approval of the "Party Whips") in the House of Commons leads to, if anything interesting, before the next election. Regardless, the major political parties seem less relevant than ever before. The debate is largely bereft of real ideas. Already, a principled Conservative MP, Brent Rathgeber, has defected from the caucus, and will now sit as an independent.
In this unfavorable climate, social conservatives have to continue to vocally, although intelligently, make social conservative arguments. They should also make it absolutely clear to Stephen Harper that he should not take their votes and support for granted. People who have not been given a solid motivation for action can choose to simply not show up as donors, campaign workers — or voters.
View From The North is copyright © 2012
by Mark Wegierski and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical
researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as
in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas,
Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles
and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.
See author's bio and other articles.
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