Some time ago I heard an interview with Canada’s great poet, P.K. Page. In her late eighties now, she’s as vibrant and sharp as fifty years ago. The interviewer, in one of those brilliant moments of radio, suddenly changed her line of questioning and said: “Is it all over?”
There was a brief silence. “Yes,” she said, in her dignified voice. “I would have never dreamed that I’d say this five years ago, but we have gone too far."
Although this is a conversation drawn from my unreliable memory, that’s the gist. It was a shock to realize one of Canada’s finest poets, a determined romantic and dreamer, had come to the conclusion our planet has gone beyond the point of no return. I got the same sick feeling reading the polls for Monday’s Federal election. If they’re reasonably accurate, about 4 million voters (of a population of 33 million people) could elect the government we’ll all have to live with, and completely change Canada in the process. Twice that amount of electors will not bother to vote.
Who would have thought the disastrous misgovernments of Reagan and Mulroney, with their trickle-down-economic delusions could be resurrected? Including Harris-Eaves in Ontario and Gordon Campbell in B.C., every one of these tax-cutting governments either ruined economies or created enormous debts. What the media seldom tell us is that we pay the second lowest taxes in the developed world. The many social services that make Canada such a wealthy, safe country do cost money, but nowhere near as much as they’d have us believe.
Worse than the inevitable debt Stephen Harper’s platform will incur is the not-so-hidden agenda of the Conservative-Alliance revolutionaries, and the possibility that they will lead us back to coathanger abortions, capital punishment for the guilty and innocent alike (consider all the overturned murder convictions during the last decade), discrimination against gays, the effective end of the Charter of Rights, and an American-approved immigration policy.
Old style conservatism used to have vigorous principles — don’t spend more money than you have, and mind your own business. Not any more. Once the deficits hit, say hello to rising “user fees” (translated – tax shift to the middle and lower class, who can least afford it) to pay for the tax cuts to the wealthy. And while you’re at it, say goodbye to environmental protection and hello to accelerated climate change. And say goodbye to Canadian culture, too.
The Canadian literary and music revolution will go the way of our film industry which, unprotected, now clings to 3% of the market, and is treated as an object of pity and amusement. Why are so many reasonably educated people favouring this party? One word – Liberal. Despite eliminating the Mulroney Conservative deficits, and earning subsequent years of surplus budgets, their smug, squandering ways with cronies and ineffective bureaucracies like the gun registry have made them a prime target for dissident voters. Let’s face it, the only two parties capable of forming a government are both wells of deceit. A Bush and a Gore alternative: the bad versus the worse.
Watching the leaders debate reminded me of George Orwell’s remark: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." No wonder millions of people have given up voting. As for the other political parties, the corporate-owned media seldom speaks about them without snide insults. Our media no longer tells us who we are, but manipulate how we should behave.
One thing that can be said for Stephen Harper is that he supported the right of citizens to speak up during an election. You can now face 4 years in jail for sending out a flyer to your fellow constituents (unless you can do it for under $3,000), informing them about your personal opinion of this election. That’s democracy? The Supreme Court supported this law to the applause of most left wing organizations, all of whom thought that muzzling the public would create a more even playing field. Yet when the vast majority of all our print and electronic media are controlled by two corporations Bell-Globe Media and CanWest Global, how can we call that a level playing field?
Aside from the media’s brainwashing, what else has caused this shift to a party whose intent to privatize healthcare is so transparent, and despite current denials, would have agreed to invade Iraq faster than the average soldier could load a gun?
No, something more terrifying is happening: Us. We are greedy creatures. Do we care about good government, or do we vote for lower taxes, more SUVs, and trips to Hawaii, and damn the consequences? The one with the most toys wins. We are witnessing the triumph of the ‘I’ over the ‘we.’ And we’re about to embark on a short-sighted celebration of our unseemly wealth at the expense of the planet’s future.
Thirty-two years ago, when I was even dumber than I am now, I went on a hiking trip to Long Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We camped under a cliff on a beach. It was a beautiful spot, but dangerous. Wary that the incoming tide might cause trouble in the middle of the night we built huge bonfires in a line way out onto the beach, thinking that if they were doused by the tide, we would know how dangerous this world was becoming.
Then we started drinking. As the fires went out, one by one, we became so intoxicated we started cheering, celebrating the extinguishing of each fire with another drink. Later, I woke up in my tent, half drunk and half hung-over, my feet wet and an egg and a loaf of bread floating past my head. We were in the middle of a west coast hurricane, the tide raging, our gear ruined. We struggled up the wind-blasted muddy cliff in the night, clinging to branches, fearing for our lives, cursing our idiocy.
North American politics are not about hope for a better future anymore. They’re about ignoring consequences. And it’s becoming more and more evident that we are all sitting drunk on the last beach of a dying planet, cheering as the fires go out.
A version of this column appeared yesterday in the Yukon News
1039 w. June 26, 2004