Letter from Berlin: True Patriot Distractedness

By Stan Persky | April 10, 2011

How am I supposed to keep track of the Canadian federal election when I’m so busy keeping track of earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Arab Spring? And I haven’t even mentioned the Ivory Coast’s former president holed up in the basement of the palace, Robert Mugabe still clinging to power in Zimbabwe, or the Kim-il-yer-wun-tu clan in North Korea. It’s hard to pay attention to someone clinging to power in the True North Strong and Free, armed only with negative political ads and buckets of money. There are at least 50 evil dictators who pop up on my radar screen before the slightly unpleasant Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, makes a blip.

Talk about multi-tasking! I mean, I’m the kind of person who, on the best of days, tends to confuse tsunamis with tiramisu, the Italian dessert, unless one or the other is about to sweep me away. Have I noted the Eurozone crisis or the revival of the Culture Wars in the U.S.? I didn’t even know that Glenn Beck, the right-wing telepropagandist, was fired last week by his right-wing Fox network bosses who found Beck too crazy even for them. Fortunately, I ran into a YouTube video of comedian Jon Stewart doing his imitation of Beck and passing on this heartening bit of news.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Canadian election. It’s hard to pay attention. At the halfway point of the campaign, the Nanos poll numbers are more or less exactly where they were at the beginning of the campaign, although it’s kind of impossible to understand the numbers because of the weird joker in the pack, aka Bloc Quebecois, which has about 10 per cent of the votes, but only in one province, while the other four parties’ potential voters are scattered across the whole We Stand On Guard For Thee land, plus the territories and the melting Arctic in which we’ve planted our rubber ducky flag, so the meaning of the numbers is slightly skewed. Hey, are you following all this?! Wake up, Canada! (I hate it when advertisers and politicians address us collectively by the name of a country or region or town: Yo, Burnaby! Show us some love, Saskatchewan! Etc.)

What was I saying? Numbers. Sumpin’ ‘bout numbers. I’m trying to get the numbers on Tiger Woods’ golf score, so I gotta click on the leaderboard hyperlink. No, wait: Canadian election numbers. Ok, I’m back: the Conservatives have 40 per cent of the vote, Liberals 30 per cent, NDP 15-20 per cent depending on which way the wind is blowin’ on a given day, and there’s about 3 per cent wasted Green votes, which might not be wasted if we had proportional representation like they do in sensible but often broke Eurozone countries, but we don’t, so forget it. The numbers are the same as they were at the start of the 2011 campaign, and the same as they were in the last campaign, and in the one before that, and …

But then it turns out that the national numbers don’t mean anything because of the first-past-the-post electoral system, so it’s the numbers in the provinces we have to pay attention to, but the polling margin of error there is too great to know what the provincial numbers mean, and anyway, the election will be decided by the vote in Ontario, where the Good People of Toronto elected a plump right-wing mayor who looks like the plump right-wing recently-elected governor of New Jersey.

I’ll go out on a limb. The 2011 Canadian federal election will result in an exact, precise, riding-for-riding copy of the results of the last Canadian election, and the election before that and the election before… Unless it doesn’t, that is.

So, the likely case scenario is another Stephen Harper minority government, unless we have the worst case scenario, a Stephen Harper majority government. At which point, we’ll recognize that elections are unnecessary because they always produce the same results, a constitutional amendment will be passed eliminating elections, and Canada, the first post-modern country, will become the first post-electoral democracy. Uh… just kidding.

If we get another Conservative minority government, then one of two things will happen: 1) nothing; 2) the majority opposition will vote against the minority Conservative government throne speech or budget, the minority Conservative guv will fall, the Guv-General will ask the largest opposition party to try to form a guv, the Libs will say yes, Jack Layton’s NDP will grudgingly announce it will support the Liberal minority guv, but will not form a … (can we use the word “coalition” on a family-oriented website?) … will not form a C-word, the Bloc Everything but Quebec will mutter something in a language most Canadians are too lazy to understand that will amount to tacit consent, and Michael Ignatieff will become the new and less unpleasant prime minister of Canadada. Got all that? When I explain this perfectly simple, reasonable, typically Canadian scenario to my Berlin friends, their eyeballs fall into their beer steins and float.

We wouldn’t have to go through any of these Cirque du Soleil contortions if the Liberals and social democrats could count. If they could count they would discover that the Canadian centre-left amounts to about 50 per cent of the Canadian electorate, enough to form a government if the vote wasn’t split between two parties in a country without proportional representation. If it was up to me, I’d dissolve the existing centre-left parties and form a new party. I’d call it the Centre Party.

The worst case scenario is a Conservative majority government. If that happens, Stephen Harper will unveil his long-rumoured, long-awaited Secret Agenda. The Secret Agenda, as everyone knows, includes getting rid of the long gun registry, forbidding late-term abortions, and not allowing gays to be portrayed on postage stamps. This is not quite as bad as severing people’s tongues, killing the first-to-ninth-born of particular ethnic groups, or making us listen to Celine Dion. But it’s enough to alarm some Canadians. I read one reader response to the poll number online story (no, don’t get me started on the subject of “reader response”—I’m distinctly irrational on that topic) that said about the prospect of a Stephen Harper majority government, and I quote: “On the march to a fascist state”! I mean, c’mon, man! Isn’t there a tiny gap between a mildly unpleasant Conservative prime minister and fascism? A little itsy-bitsy teensy gap?!

If you want to talk about proto-fascism, you’d do better to ponder the Republican Tea Party of the US, which last week threatened to shut down the government of the entire country unless the liberal/communist Kenyan-born secret-Muslim president of the USofA agreed to get rid of abortions, health care, gays, trade unions, and education. Or listen to the deficit-cutting debates in the legislature of the Republican Tea Party-controlled state of Texas … Wait, were we talking about the Canadian election?

Oh, hold on a sec. My Facebook app on my i-Pogue is blinking furiously. Hey, guess what? It’s Jack Layton, leader of the whole NDP. He wants to “friend” me. (I never imagined that the word “friend” would be turned into an obscene-sounding verb.) Just stay where you are. Let me just click this hyperlink here… whoops, it’s an article about the opposition in Yemen that says … C-c-c-canadian something-or-other. I’ll be back in a minute, ok?


Berlin, April 10, 2011.


  • Stan Persky

    Stan Persky taught philosophy at Capilano University in N. Vancouver, B.C. He received the 2010 B.C. Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Literary Excellence. His most recent books are Reading the 21st Century: Books of the Decade, 2000-2009 (McGill-Queen's, 2011), Post-Communist Stories: About Cities, Politics, Desires (Cormorant, 2014), and Letter from Berlin: Essays 2015-2016 (Dooney's, 2017).

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