Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's NOT the policy, stupid

Well, it's finally happened--over at Sinister Thoughts, the lefties' "vote strategically" set has turned on the ones that have been gleefully battling the Liberals of late. Apparently, if you make arguments against voting Liberal in this election, you're "indistinguishable from a typical right whinger." "Nothing is more important than a progressive agenda," they say. I mean, my god, they're acting as if the Liberals and the NDP were two separate political parties or something.

I had the same conversation--albeit with a bit less namecalling--with my father over the holidays. As a prominent political scientist with a daughter living on the northerly side of the 49th parallel, he's quite up on Canada's political situation and the circumstances that led to this election. But after hearing me go off on the Liberals, he turned to me and said that I didn't know how good I had it, compared to what they have to deal with down there. Well, it's true that I vastly prefer the Liberals to George W. Bush's Republicans, and that's why I live here and not there. But I do have solid reasons to think the Liberals need to be tossed out on their ear--those reasons just aren't about policy. Here's what they are about.

1. It's about the man behind the curtain. Paul Martin is bad enough, but it's the people behind the scenes who really scare me. Is there anyone out there who doesn't think Mike Klander was just the tip of the iceberg? These people aren't brilliant political minds with a strong vision for Canada and the will to implement it, they're thugs who think nothing of eating their own. Unswerving loyalty, not good ideas, are paramount. Enough, already.

2. It's about the power-hungriness. If you weren't already convinced by Paul Martin's years in power that he's more interested in sitting in the big chair than he is in improving the lives of Canadians, then Monday night's debate should have cinched it. Suddenly and explosively, Paul Martin is running on scrapping the notwithstanding clause. Not because he doesn't believe in it--he himself said as recently as last year that he would use it to protect the rights of churches not to perform same-sex marriages--but because he wanted to put Harper on the spot. Think about that for a moment: he proposed changing the constitution in an attempt to throw his opponent off his game in a debate. He didn't even discuss it with his own caucus before announcing it on national television--he just pulled it out of thin air. If that isn't the very picture of power-hungry desperation, I don't know what is.

3. It's about the culture of entitlement. Paul Martin is fond of saying that Judge Gomery "exonerated" him of any wrongdoing in the sponsorship scandal. But if you take that statement at face value, then you also have to accept Gomery's findings about the culture of entitlement that allowed that scandal to happen. This is more than a "few bad apples," it's a whole way of thinking about money and power. If nothing else, it's seriously harmed this country's faith in its politicians. Do I think there are honourable public servants in the Liberal party who aren't wading hip-deep in this culture? Of course I do. I just don't think Paul Martin and his gang of thugs are among them.

4. It's about the broken promises. If I really believed the Liberals would implement their agenda as they've laid it out, I'd quite honestly be okay with yet another Liberal government. I'm just not that naive. They've had twelve years to implement their promised national child care program, with no results and very little action. They've promised to protect public health care, but weren't willing to put the brakes on privatization. They've promised student tuition relief that only materialized through NDP meddling in their budget. They're even claiming to be the bearers of electoral reform, despite the fact that they refused to take action on the issue during the last Parliament when the NDP came knocking on their door with a proposal. Liberal policies may well be "good enough" in a pragmatic approach to politics, but they're no good to anyone when no one bothers to enact them once the Liberals assume power.

5. It's about the stranglehold. Any country that claims to have a "natural governing party" already has a rather substantial problem. But if we're going to live in a country doomed to one-party-rule for most of its future existence--and until we change the voting system, we may well be--then I damn well want that party to be something I can stomach. Right now it's not, but it could be, and for that, they need a little time out once in a while. After twelve long years, the time for that is now.

On the face of it, I'm the Liberals' ideal lefty. I'm an immigrant, I'm a pragmatist with a strong belief that compromise and coalition-building are a part of any healthy political culture, my cushy academic job makes me comfortably upper-middle-class, and I see strategic voting as a tragic consequence of our electoral system rather than as the root of all evil. And I'm not saying never--there are certainly circumstances under which they could woo me. But they can't do it with policy alone--especially when I can't trust them to implement their own empty promises. And this year, with every other card stacked against them, they haven't a chance in hell.

[Edited to add: The Globe and Mail's editorial board seems to have reached a similar conclusion.]


JG said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thingamabob said...

I wish I could argue with you, but you're absolutely right. When the Liberals were reduced to a minority 18 months ago I was pleased with the outcome. I thought that the Canadian electoral system had worked brilliantly to produce what most Canadians desired: a kick in the pants to the Liberals and Paul Martin, but not so severe as to hurt the country.

Unfortunately, Martin and his gang are not susceptible to such "kicks" and need a more extreme solution. As one blogger somewhere called it, the choice is really between the evil of two lessers, and while I don't believe that Martin and Harper are personally much alike, the cabal behind Martin doesn't seem much different than the neo-cons, at least as far as modus operandi is concerned. And I suspect that they are as much a danger to Canadian democracy in the near term as is Stephen Harper.

The evil of two lessers indeed.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Oh, I absolutely believe the current incarnation of the Conservatives and the current incarnation of the Liberals are different. Stephen Harper's Conservatives are dangerous on policy, but Paul Martin's Liberals are just plain dangerous. And when the differences of opinion are about policy rather than about political culture, then there's actually a chance in hell of reasonable discussion and compromise.

McGuire said...

I'm glad to see so many lefties are waking up to this. While I am no fan of Layton on policy, at least he isn't someone who disgusts me the way Paul Martin does. He's a decent guy who means well, although I think he's wrong on policy. People on the left deserve someone who is ethical & principled, which Martin is anything but

Anonymous said...

The liberals have a lot behind the curtain!! Ha... The conservatives have changed their name three times, thrown Progressive out of their name (which I guess makes them Regressive now) and they have a leader who we all know that if it were politically safe for him to do so would: remove woman's reproductive rights, outlaw homosexuals and send our solders to whatever country the Bush regime decides to conquer next... not to mention, that conservative governments all over the place right now are showing how reckless they are with fiscal responsibility.

Hope you're all white, straight, rich, males... or you might be in for a bumpy ride.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


While I think you're overstating the case, I do agree that we're in for a bumpy ride. But unlike you, I'm willing to sit through some bumps (and I say that as a queer white woman, not a straight white man) if it means the chance to fix this untenable situation by making the Liberals clean house, by putting proportional representation in place, or (ideally) both. Why? Because it's simply better for the country in the long term, hard as that may be to stomach.

Anonymous said...

I responded to your post here:

Anonymous said...

ALL STRATEGIC VOTING SHOULD GO TO LAYTON not that fascist hack Paul Martin who wants an American judicial system with no checks and balances! Martin is the scary one in this campaign - this dictator will be thrown!

CanadianTruth said...

You want some more reasons to not vote for Martin?

Here are some:

Good luck to Jack! A man of great principle, hope the hell he can form the balance of power and not the Bloc.

Anonymous said...

For the first term, at least, a tory government, even a majority, is hampered by a Liberal dominated supreme court and a Liberal-dominated senate.

The bottom line for the left, if the Cons do win a majority, is to push hard for devolution of Parliamentary power, creation of more checks and balances, better access to information, and stronger watchdogs.... much of which the Cons have promised, and promised to do *first*. The trick is to get them to sign onto them while they'll still think of them as the checks they wish they'd had on Liberal power, more so than as impediments to tehir own plans.

Anonymous said...


Why is it that people like you who are on the far left and looking Utopia are so full of hate and venom that no one can ever take you seriously.

Anonymous said...

I will be voting strategically in this election. I will vote NDP because they have the best chance in my riding (Parkdale-High Park) of unseating the Liberal incumbent, recording industry shill Sarmite Bulte.

MB said...

Great post.

As someone on the right side of the political spectrum, I disagree with you lefties on just about everything.

However, we can both agree that the Liberal corruption of our country has to stop.

Anonymous said...

I just hope the average voter doesn't vote liberal to stop the Cons. Here in Saskatchewan, we got duped by those liberals. The day before the election they passed out flyers door to door, telling them if they must vote Liberal to stop the conservatives. Well, this actually made the NDP loose tight races to the Cons. It's tough to be an NDP supporter at this time in the election, the media cuts them out of getting any election coverage, and the liberals go around scaring good citizens into thinking if the Cons win armed soldiers would be marching our streets looking for lefties like me.