by carl wilson

A Political Time-Out

Jack & Olivia gettin' down.

Well, that wasn't as bad as we feared. (Warning: Music and culture content in this post will be minimal, though not non-existent.) Yes, we've got a wolf in beady-eyed sheep's clothing in the Prime Minister's Office, but it's a government whose room to manoeuvre is limited, and the jump in NDP seats was terrific, though I wish they'd broken 30. (Congratulations to Jack and Olivia, a goofy, not-quite-ready-for-prime-time but still lovable pair.) The danger now is that because all the other parties recognize the lack of appetite for more elections, they'll spend a long time compromising and not holding Harper to account, letting him accomplish mostly benign things (I do support the GST cut, which would be a progressive measure - the GST is a regressive tax, remember? - much preferable to the income and corporate cuts Harper actually wants, and the ones Martin implemented while ignoring the standing Liberal promise to phase out the GST). What we need is a mess that robs Harper of credibility so that he can't parlay this eked-out win into a majority next time around. Luckily, his inexperienced caucus as well as Harper's own arrogance can be counted on to create embarrassments in fairly short order. Who the hell will the next Liberal leader be? There's a conspicuous shortage of true talent in that pool. Brian Tobin and Frank McKenna, yucch. Nobody outside Toronto and Montreal is going to vote for Ignatieff. Thumbelina Stronach, who always sounds like she's running for student-council president? Pshaw. But then who?

A particularly happy development for local culture vultures is that the copyright flap in Parkdale (along with Gomery, and her own freaked-out behaviour) seems to have helped kibosh Hollywood stooge Sam Bulte and put the NDP's impressive Peggy Nash in her place. Although of course, when Jack Layton said in his victory speech last night, "We will take your hopes to Ottawa," one could only react by saying, "No! Wait! I like my hopes! Don't take them to Ottawa - that's where hopes go to expire. Leave them here!" When it comes to federal politics, you gotta stay critical or die.

By the way, in response to the chatter in yesterday's comment boxes: I don't think Stephen Harper's Christianity is the scariest thing about him. He isn't Stockwell Day. (Stockwell Day is still Stockwell Day, unfortunately, and soon to be a member of cabinet.) What's worst about Harper is that he's an absolutely ideological neocon on the Newt Gingrich/Mike Harris model who considers Canada an effeminate Northern European welfare state that must be made a decentralized, deregulated macho playground for capital, with minimal safeguards for the marginalized and underprivileged. He forbade his candidates to talk about abortion in this election but has no compunction about his plans to reconfigure Canada into a dysfunctional patchwork of underserved, undereducated backwater corporate dutchies. And he's going to begin pulling the bricks out of the foundation in the most understated way as if there is no longterm plan, and the media will cover it as though it's eminently reasonable, they way they did with Mike Harris, and the public won't realize the mess they're going to have to clean up until it's very late. Yes, gay rights and women's rights are under threat, too, but not so much while they're in a minority position and have to curry favour with the Bloc and the NDP - it's just important they never make it to a majority. What worries me more immediately is the surrender of our foreign policy to the U.S. agenda, when the Liberals had already screwed up this country's tradition of foreign aid and human-rights support to an unconscionable degree. I can't believe nobody made this an issue in the election. Canada's problems all pale in comparison. (Yes, Olivia, child poverty at home is shameful, but the plight of Africa is far more so.)

And unfortunately I bet that one of the areas where the Cons can safely test out their incremental strategy is in the arts. The Liberals never officially budgeted the announced Canada Council funding increase. Expect that to disappear in a puff of amnesia. They despise the CBC. Et cetera. The way the vote fell last night, the political map presents us with urban Canada versus the exurbs, small towns and rural areas (except in the Maritimes), reminiscent of the red-blue split south of the border; expect that cultural gap to harden. However, there is a bright side: Canada is much more urbanized than the U.S., in fact, so the cities aren't going to be so easy to shut out.

Finally, I'm disappointed that the consensus still remains that the NDP is not a viable federal governing party. The Cold War is over, after all. If half the world can elect social-democratic Labour governments, so can we, and you'd think that this year's situation, with a discredited centrist party and a mostly unwanted right-wing party, would have been an ideal moment for a more substantial surge on the left. I'm not a member of the NDP and likely never would be - their utopia is not quite mine, and I often think democracy would be improved without a party system - but it's sad that even Jack Layton never broached the suggestion that Canadians finally take a chance on putting the third party in charge. (Also, you nearly-five-percent who vote Green - do you actually know their platform? Do you realize the NDP has a more solid environmental policy and that Canadian Greens are actually a centre-right party on every other issue?)

This concludes this free-time political announcement, and we now return you to your regularly scheduled Zoilus.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 24 at 3:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (21)



Good points, Bob - yeah, I think the arts are likely to serve as a punching bag for this gov't - attacking those "elite Torontocentric culture organizations" is a way to pander to the base without actually hurting anyone who would conceivably vote for them (unlike dismantling the health care system, for example) so I think it will have a lot of appeal, and the lines of defence seem very weak.

Never saw your blog before, but glad to have found it!

Posted by zoilus on January 30, 2006 5:40 PM



So Rae and Ignatieff are childhood friends?

Posted by Dixon on January 28, 2006 8:36 PM



One thing I worry about with Bulte gone: She struck deals with the Lib leaders to get a lot more money to Toronto arts organizations. Examples being 20 million in new grants for TIFF to help build its Festival Centre and a bunch of money for local theatre.

It is hard to say what will happen now that there is no arts representation in power in Ottawa. Many arts orgs will secretly say it is a huge help to have least one MP of the party in power representing Toronto. Obviously no one would have voted Conservative based on that, many did hold their noses and voted Lib.

When the provincial Con's were in power many of the MPP's were known for soliciting any arts freebie they could. But with that interest in free tickets came some hope that a bit of a relationship could be finessed to at least not defund. With this bunch now in power are there any links left at all to the arts in Toronto?

There will be muy nastiness about funding art I think from hereon in. CON MP's are on record while in opposition complaining that the government should not provide grant money even for television production. Much less providing film and theatre grants.

Posted by bob on January 28, 2006 10:21 AM



I commiserate with you all regarding the failings of the party system in effectively addressing the concerns of the people (although huzzah for turfing Bulte!), but I'd be loathe to support any attempts to simply get rid of it.

After all, our neighbours to the South originally structured their congressional system to function without parties, the end result being an enormously corruption-prone two party system where alternative viewpoints are largely ignored.

My hope lies with electoral reforms getting us closer to proportionality. Single transferable ballot systems give results closer to proportional representation while still providing for local representation. Countries that use some variety of it tend to have members from a larger number of parties sitting in their legislatures.
Which accomplishes almost the same thing as not having parties - more diverse viewpoints are aired in public and, as it is difficult to get a majority, governing parties are forced to enter coalitions and/or compromise on single issues.

As a handy side effect, it could also give us some liberal voices out in the rural hinterlands (at the cost of allowing conservatives into the cities). Even in Alberta, where the Conservatives took every seat this time around, 35% of the population voted for someone else. At the moment these people are effectively disenfranchised. And we sauve urbanites look upon the whole province as wholly insane and obnoxious, where in reality it's only 2/3rds of them. Think what it could do for national unity!

Wow, that was a rather long rant. Sorry.

Posted by John on January 26, 2006 9:55 PM



zoilus the young radical firebrand? who knew??

Posted by andrew on January 26, 2006 8:35 PM



First - agreed on the education front. The federal government should reward provincial plans for universal access accordingly.

Kyoto (and any future agreement structured the same way) is expensive symbolism. Ultimately (and perhaps unfortunately) someone will have to find the money in going green. We need an environmental Bill Gates.

A start would be for the advanced democracies to transfer environmental technology to the societies that will be going where we were in the past century. We've learned a lot on how to leave less of an environmental footprint - let's share that info widely.

Posted by Andrew on January 26, 2006 4:00 PM



Always a pleasure. I whole heartedly agree with you about the dissolution of the party system as the best way to serve democracy. Why can't we have the municipal style council gov't on a provincial or federal level? I am not into party politics in principle, but until it changes (which will probably never happen, because parties are the easier way to go) I have to chose one.

Posted by Steve Birek on January 26, 2006 2:13 PM



Steve - I've been doing a little more reading and while I think there are still major problems with the Greens, they may not be as intractable as I thought at first. Thanks for provoking the second thoughts...

[Remainder of this comment removed due to my embarrassing confusion of rhyming-named Quebec politicians. Ahem.]

Posted by zoilus on January 26, 2006 1:19 PM



while that tradition seems to have ended with a whimper (as nobody seems to know whether Paul Martin counts as a semi-French Canadian), I think Bruce has an excellent idea. In today's Globe, they mentioned the possibility of the liberals choosing Martin Cauchon, who would be a terrific choice, a really bold progressive Quebec option, especially given the mediocrity of the current field: Stronachs, McKennas, Manleys and Ignatieffs..

So here's hopin for either Rae or Cauchon, even if the latter's name does means "Pig."

Posted by marco on January 26, 2006 11:45 AM



Martin is from quebec, and his riding in is quebec...

Posted by andrew on January 26, 2006 11:44 AM



Hasn't that notion been upended? Isn't Martin himself from Quebec?

Posted by Dixon on January 26, 2006 11:10 AM



The next Liberal leader will come from Quebec. That's the way it's traditionally gone for the past century or so: one Anglo, one Francais.

Posted by Bruce Mowat on January 26, 2006 10:38 AM



Hi Carl,

I did vote Green, and yes, i have been an ardent follower of their platform since 2000. A lot of fear mongering has been spread about the party and their supposedly anti-democratic intentions, primarily by Murray Dobbin whose three articles since 2004 on the Green's supposedly regressive and neocon ideas have been exposed as shoddy journalism based on misunderstandings and shallow analysis. Dobbin never allowed current party members to defend themselves and they have responded with three rebuttals:

The NDP might have scored slightly higher points for the platform policy in the 2004 elections from the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, but not by much. In one area, they scored an A where the Greens scored an A-. In this year's election, the Sierra Club actually ranked the Greens above the NDP, while both parties were given favourable reviews of their platforms by Greenpeace and Council of Canadians.

You don't have to agree with their platform, but to state that the Greens are a centre-right party on every issue is totally incorrect. Their social policies are just as progressive as the NDPs, and if you read the platform properly you'd see that clearly.

Posted by Steve Birek on January 25, 2006 5:34 PM



Doesn't that just translate as "Kyoto ALONE is bunk," though, Andrew? I don't see how turning our back on the only international effort thus far to deal with climate change is a positive message. And I don't believe that Harper and friends have a whit of concern for the environment and certainly not where it might inconvenience the fossil-fuel industry that basically bankrolls their political base. I agree we've done dismally - saying the U.S. is better is not to congratulate them on anything, but just to say how abysmally bad Canada has been.

On immigration - yes, of course, more resources have to be devoted to language, retraining, assistance, etc., to make it work. But all studies I've ever seen agree that it's already a net gain for us, not a loss. Which is not to say it's perfect, painless and free. But it's obviously what's going to have to happen here. And we can give thanks that at least we've got a flexible enough national identity that we probably won't create the kind of great divides you see in Europe between new arrivals and the old mainstream. So I think that's a great possibility for Canada - a country where I basically think 90 per cent of the answer to the big issues is to have the world's greatest and most accessible education system from pre-school to post-grad. (And to maintain the health-care system). The rest comes quite close to taking care of itself. If only there were a party that really believed that and advocated for it.

Posted by zoilus on January 25, 2006 4:57 PM



My mistake - Victoria did not vote Conservative. Saanich/Islands and Nanaimo did. And as much as I love Nanaimo I'm not giving it city status.

With regard to immigration - would you agree that we need to better figure out how to integrate/accredit qualified immigrants before we move too fast on upping immigration? As any resident of Toronto knows, there are far too many qualified people doing menial work. This hurts us as much as it helps us in the long run. We need a good, hard look at our 'system'.

And Kyoto, as a strategy for dealing with climate change, is bunk, Carl. Instead of signing a piece of paper and wishing it would come true we should get busy figuring out a real plan for dealing with climate change. I'm not saying the Conservatives have a clue - I'm just saying a signature on a piece of paper and money squirreled away to pay for emmission credits isn't much of a plan either. Oh sure, we get to whizz on the Yanks (even when we're doing a worse job of curbing emissions) at conferences and hold hands with Bill Clinton, but that doesn't excuse the fact that Canadians, per capita, are the world's biggest resource hogs.

Posted by Andrew on January 25, 2006 4:32 PM



I should have said "outside Alberta" the support is primarily rural or exurban. Obviously the Alberta urban consciousness is a little different. Near as I can tell by looking it up, didn't Victoria vote NDP? Regina and Saskatoon are, well, not very big cities - each less than 200K, which makes them smaller in Ontario terms than, say, Kitchener. But okay, I'll agree they actually are cities, so I was generalizing a bit. But not much.

The rest is pretty silly, Andrew. Of course the priorities of the federal govt have a great deal to do with what provinces and municipalities will do. And also immigration policy, which you seem to regard as immutable. Etc. Your definition of what the federal gov't's role is assumes that Harper has already completed his restructuring, rather than the role that Canadians have generally regarded as its rightful one.

And don't even get me started on your "Kyoto is bunk" remarks on your own blog...

Posted by zoilus on January 25, 2006 3:32 PM



The GST cut will go through.

As for why the NDP will never be a viable federal party - we have two levels of government that are better positioned to deliver on the social programs and priorities of socialist parties, namely the provincial and municipal ones.

The feds do, of course, control the flow of dollars to the provinces and a clear separation of what is and is not the federal domain is a real discussion that needs to happen.

Ultimately, the federal government should be focused on growing the national wealth (too bad nobody really talked about productivity during the election) so that there might be more of it to redistribute on other levels.

Like it or not, we are not producing baby Canucks at anything close to replacement rate. As our population grows smaller some of the gap will be made up via immigration but the tax burden will continue to fall on fewer and fewer shoulders.

Also - I'm not sure how the inhabitants of Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Alberta, and Victoria feel about being called rural or exurban.

Oh well - at least it will be interesting for the next few years.

Posted by Andrew on January 25, 2006 11:12 AM



I hope the rumours are true that Bob Rae will run for the liberal leadership. He is what Woody Allen would call "a distinguished grey", and will siphon off the support of all other parties to build a friendly new liberal juggernaut.

I also hope the rumours aren't true that John Manley might be the next leader. Too right-wing, although he beats Harper hand-down in the dryness category.

All this talk about the harmless minority seems to ignore the likelihood that if Harper governs from the centre, he will break through to win a resounding majority next time ... and then our worst fears will be realized. If only we could get our hands on the prepared majority speech he thankfully couldn't read on Monday night.

Posted by Marco on January 25, 2006 9:58 AM



aww, thanks, Sean. But you know, the last thing I'd want Zo. to be is a politics blog. There are just moments I can't restrain myself.

Posted by zoilus on January 24, 2006 5:16 PM



It's funny how political discussions can make you splinter off down different argumentative and ideological alleyways. On yesterday's post here I found myself defending the non-insane-o Harper tories while simultaneously, on another website, roaring some of the other ideas you present here: that even "moderate", "fiscal" conservatives can do really bad things to the country, *really*, and yes even with the help of the Liberals or whoever, and that just because a minority will defend us against anti-gay legislation, it won't stop a bevy of other nasties. It's ironic that one of the only Tory planks I liked - the GST cut - is going to be one of the things that almost certainly falls by the wayside.

Your politics talk is good, Carl, and given its intelligence I'm surprised it doesn't appear (explicitly) more often.

Posted by Sean on January 24, 2006 4:55 PM



My thoughts exactly on the Green/NDP...

While watching the results at my campus pub last night, I got into quite spirited (and slightly intoxicated) debate when several people cheering every NDP seat win became ecstatic when the Greens popped up (briefly) as leading in one riding.

Posted by Quinn on January 24, 2006 4:49 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson