Thursday, October 01, 2009

Posturepedic Politics

There is a lot of unhealthy posturing on parliament hill in Ottawa. The Liberals have tabled a “no confidence” vote and the NDP are threatening to bring down the Government on a softwood lumber “ways and means” motion. No one really knows where the Bloc stands, but it is likely that they will support the Government. But posturing continues.

One should never look at politics on the surface – there are always other layers to the reality. One layer is simple: the Liberals and the NDP would loose an election if it were held today. Any calculation suggests that an election before Christmas would provide either an extension of existing minority arrangements or a small majority for Stephen Harper. Ignatieff and Layton must be calculating that their postures and moves will not lead them into an election.

Another layer is also clear. Stephen Harper must realize that if he faces an electorate angry at going to the polls for a second time in less than a year and secures only a majority, he is starting a process of exiting from the leadership of the party and the work of the Prime Minister: he needs to win a majority to sustain his leadership.

A third layer is that the electorate look at Canada in comparison to others and, while they recognize that we have some problems, the country is in a strong position to move from staving off the depths of recession and starting a recovery. Many also recognize that it will be a tough journey and austerity will be key to restoring Canada’s fiscal health. The electrorate isn’t stupid. They know that the Liberals demanded more public sector spending and more “stimulus” and fiscal easing – they got it. They can hardly complain that stimulus spending leads to debt. Unlike almost every other nation, we had room in our economy to take on debt and did so. Now show us the plan to get us out of debt over time and the electorate will buy it if it makes sense. Such a plan will involve a combination of cuts to public service and higher taxes – so get used to it.

The final layer is people. As Rick Mercer, a seasoned political observer, noted, none of the leaders of the three major national parties are people you would throw a rope to if they were drowning in the harbour. They are not exciting or dynamic and in many ways are as dull as Angela Merkel of Germany or Gordon Brown of Britain. But the reality here is simple: they are all we have. So get used to this too.

Stephen Harper will never be dynamic, never have physicality and only rarely will “let himself go” and actually laugh out loud. Ignatieff is never going to appeal to your average worker and will only ever appeal to a small number. Jack Layton is, well, Jack. Nothing sexy about any of these white middle aged men. Worse, the people behind them are not as much fun as these three – it just gets worse. So voting in Canada will not be on the basis of personality – it cant be.

“We live in interesting times” is not the mantra we should apply to this situation. Rather we should simply observe that “the times in which we live are of interest to some”. Most people couldn’t care less. That’s the other reality.

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