Outside my window, I can hear dogs barking at phantoms. The big German Shepherd from down the street has been defending his back yard against the darkness since dusk, and a smaller dog across the alley has been going at it since mid-afternoon, worried about god-knows-what. About an hour ago another dog I’ve never heard before started in, and now the pair of permanently cooped-up dogs directly across from me are at it, pacing back and forth in the window, chattering at the other three. I’d say the raccoons must be having their mid-summer ball, but there’s also a federal election going on, and for a month now, its been running eerily along the plot-line of MacBeth. Tonight it feels like Birnam wood is on its way to Dunsinane.
Having successfully disposed of the sitting king, Martin’s campaign has been completely determined by the side-effects of the assassination. He is surrounded by enemies inside his own party, the people are unhappy with the blood splattered by the killing, and the opposition has been invigorated. He hasn’t spent a moment arguing his own virtues, which are fiscal and managerial, and has been reduced to defending precisely the elements of Canada’s social democracy he’s least interested in: the sanctity of medicare and the Charter of Rights. His advisors and intimates, who have made him the instrument of their own aggressive ambitions (David Herle plays Lady MacBeth) now have him campaigning on a platform with one ludicrously narrow positive plank: reducing waiting times within the paralyzed hospital system for those requiring medical procedures. He’s looked like a fish out of water from the beginning: a manager trying to pretend he’s a leader, a weasel-eyed debater trying to operate in a vacuum of sound-bytes armed only with half-hearted clichés and annual report statistics no one is willing to listen to.
This has also been the least disclosive federal election in Canadian history, notwithstanding Paul Martin’s impersonation of MacBeth. Stephen Harper has been disassembling from the dropping of the writ, trying to hide the herd of cats and poorly-cloaked loose cannons he has behind him. Canadians now know that he’s calm, but what else have they really seen? He’s said little other than that we ought to be able to do better than Martin, except for a few hints that suggest that he’s not happy about gay marriage, doesn’t see the Charter of Rights as the Holy Grail, and has roughly the same ideas about taxation and foreign policy as George W. Bush. He’s trying to bribe us with tax cuts that his platform says we can’t afford without dismantling our already stressed social infrastructure, and then he’s going to run up a huge deficit to pay for it, just like Bush has.
Jack Layton, the NDP leader, ain’t exactly a model of transparency, either. I have utterly no idea what he really wants for Canada, except that after the revolution we’ll have bologna sandwiches and a sing-song every Thursday, and that until then, we’ll all hold hands and whine together as the Liberals or Conservatives dismantle the country. His offer to rescind the Clarity Act, which was designed by Chretien to force future separatist initiatives in Quebec to frame any referendums in clear language, was an unforgivable piece of sucking-up opportunism. Beyond that, he’s revealed little of substance about his vision. Maybe I don’t like him because he grins while he speaks and too often employs the Charismatic Christian gesture of blissful helplessness—hands at the shoulders, palms open not to voters, but to heaven—but I’m, er, left with little understanding of him other than that he’s in favour of the mangled status quo and really wants to be elected to parliament so he can whine about it on our behalf.
That said, what’s the best Canadians can hope for on Monday? I can see three outcomes that are within the realm of possibility: a weak Conservative minority government, a stronger Conservative minority government, and a Liberal minority government.
In the worst of these scenarios, the Conservatives will get enough seats in Ontario and the Maritimes to convince themselves and the corporate sector that they’re for real, the Bloc wipes out the Liberals in Quebec and the NDP doesn’t increase its holdings. Martin hangs on to the leadership out of perversity and/or because no one else wants it, and the civil war within the Liberal Party continues. The Conservatives hang on for two years, aided by the Bloc. The Supreme Court is rejigged with reactionary morons, Abortions are banned, gay marriage founders, David Frum becomes the finance and social policy chief, the CBC, the CRTC and Heritage Canada are wiped out, and the country, bribed by tax cuts and a government that is so starved for oxygen it can’t do anything right, swings to the right and against its cities. New U.S. President John Kerry declares Canada a rogue state, and Harper gets a majority.
The second worst case scenario is a Liberal minority government, which would leave us with Birnam Wood slowly advancing to Dunsinane, Paul Martin Jr. clinging to power with the fallout from the sponsorship scandal raining down on his head, the racketeers and gangsters who brought him to power doing their best to destroy the party’s weak left wing, and otherwise moving the country to the right in an attempt to forestall the Conservatives. Such a government will be unlikely to survive much more than a year, and will most likely result, by the sheer pressure of its internal contradictions, in a Conservative majority in the next election.
What I’m suggesting, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is that our best bet is a weak Conservative minority, in which Harper obtains two or three more seats than the Liberals, the NDP takes 18-20 seats, and the Bloc doesn’t quite wipe out the Liberals in Quebec. This government would last a little more than a year—not enough time to do much more than symbolic damage, but long enough to display its biases and demonstrate that Texas isn’t a viable model for Canada. It would also be long enough for the Liberals to get rid of Martin, who admits that he’s old and has no stomach for defending the Liberal Party’s version of Canadian social democracy. That would enable the Liberals to start a cleanup that moves them back to the political centre, and ends the civil war within the party. It would also give the NDP time to come with a few good ideas for the Liberals to steal. Yes, Ralph Klein and Harper will do some serious damage to the medical system, Heritage Canada will be paralyzed long enough that we’ll lose a few more book publishers and television production companies, but there won’t be time to redefine culture as a minor subjunct to Tourism Canada. There’ll likely be a free vote on gay marriage in the House of Commons, and that, along with other Charter threats, will bring the government down. And, oh, yeah. People start taking proportional representation seriously enough that it becomes a major issue in the September 2005 election.
This is my version of giddy optimism. But what more can you expect when the dogs are barking, and Birnam wood is on the move?
1200 w. June 27, 2004