Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The darker side of last week's vote

Everywhere I look, people are telling me how thrilled I should feel by last week's vote. They have a point. The NDP managed to implement some of its core principles in C-48, and in the process they also got to look like the only mature beings in the whole of Ottawa. No immediate election means that several bits of important legislation on the table are much more likely to pass, most obviously the same-sex marriage bill. For me personally, it probably means I'll be able to vote when the election does finally come around (I'm "thisclose" to attaining official Canadian citizenship, and thereby full voting rights). All truth, and yet the "thrilled" feeling never quite hit. In its place has been, as James Bow also noted, a feeling straight out of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" musical: Where do we go from here?

Part of the reason for this is, of course, purely a matter of coming down from the excitement of the past six weeks. I'll refrain from the most obvious and lewdest of analogies, but I think we all know that there's something profoundly dissatisfying in being all ready to go, only to find that you're actually going to be in a holding pattern for an unspecified length of time. But even more than that, I can't help feeling that this was a hollow win. I'm becoming more convinced with every additional bit of Gomery testimony, with every additional dirty trick the Liberals pull to stay in power, that this government needs to go down. While I certainly wouldn't hold every single Liberal politician personally responsible for the sponsorship scandal, it's become more than evident that the whole mess penetrated so many different parts of this party that it's impossible to tell the clean from the dirty. They're going to need to clean house, and by that I mean get rid of not only the ministers and staffers who were directly involved, but everybody who was a minister or a key staffer during either the Chrétien or Martin eras. Some people will say that this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it's the only way to make absolutely certain the party is clean.

Because in the end, what's at stake here is so much bigger than the fortunes of one single political party; it's about people's faith in the entire political process. This scandal has made your average Joe on the street even more mistrustful of politics and public servants than I would have ever thought possible, and that's not just loathesome, it's frightening. I have spent so very much time in the past few weeks arguing against the notion that all politicians are inherently corrupt, power-hungry bastards who shouldn't even be allowed to walk the earth. Smart people are of course aware that it's a cliché, but it's one they're feeling more and more comfortable in supporting, and that scares the crap out of me. And while my conniving pragmatist on the one hand is thrilled that the NDP will be able to milk that situation and probably win over some new voters, my idealist still believes that a healthy country has a system that supports a whole spectrum of viable political options.

See, my biggest complaint about the political situation in the U.S.--and the thing that ultimately made me want to leave--wasn't about the fact that the Republicans tend to win more elections than the Democrats. Not really. It was much more about the fact that in a two-party system bunched up toward the right wing of the spectrum, there's simply nowhere for politically active social democrats to go. I'm seeing something similar going on right now for Canada's centrists, and while I'm glad for the NDP to gain a few reluctant, nose-holding votes in the process, it shouldn't have to be that way. People who are primarily aligned with Liberal principles shouldn't have to choose between voting for arrogant corruption and voting for policies they don't support. In the long term--and this has been an exceedingly long term--that only leads to more political disillusionment.

My greatest fear if the Liberals win another election is that this kind of disillusionment will become a permanent fixture on the Canadian political scene. For that reason alone, the Liberals should lose the next election. This is not a party that's going to clean house without being forced to, and they're not going to come back renewed without a good long time-out. And I really wish I could sit down with all the progressives who are wibbling about how Prime Minister Stephen Harper would spell the end of the goddamn world. I'd get them to weigh a couple of years of a weak Conservative minority government with no viable coalition partners against a tired, corrupt Liberal government holding onto power in perpetuity by tooth and claw. I'd ask them which of those is really better for Canada in the long term.

So yes, everyone is right: last Thursday was a victory. A lot of good things will happen as a result, and a lot of bad things will fail to happen. But I still can't shake the feeling that this victory will end up being more Pyrrhic than genuine.

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