Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Canadian Political Celebrity Deathmatch, Part II (the English Leader's Debate)

Just in case you were busy sitting on your porch with a cold one, I figured I would do the right thing and watch the Canadian Federal leader's debate for you. It appeared commercial-free on CBC. I slept through the first half hour or so--I always nap after supper--but as I awoke, the stalwart four gave me several immediate impressions.

Gilles Duceppe proved to be far less reptilian than I expected. He was mostly well-spoken, especially when he confronted Paul Martin in his closing words, asking Mr. Martin to become transparent and to "tell the truth, sir." Mr. Duceppe also mentioned Quebec in nearly every sentence, demanding that Mr. Martin repair the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces.

Leader's Debate

In the early days of medicare, the Federal government used to pay 75 percent of the costs of medicare, and during Paul Martin's time as finance minister, he reduced this by approximately 25 percent. Canada's universal public health system has been reeling ever since, suffering from longer wait times, restrictions to critical systems such as PET scanners and specialists, and hospitals that are less able to respond to emergency situations. Duceppe wants Quebec (and the other provinces) to get back that missing money since health care is under provincial jurisdiction.

Still, Gilles Duceppe did frighten me at one point. When questioned by Stephen Harper about sovereignty, he proclaimed that he believed that Quebec was a nation and there was a sort of glint in his eyes. He looked like a man inhabited by spirits, or even a rebel leader. He must truly want Quebec to separate. If not, I'd be tempted to vote Bloc Quebecois because of their impressive left-wing agenda and public policy proposals.

Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, disappointed me with his dizzying little-boy hands flailing about and his constant interruptions of Mr. Harper and Mr. Martin. Don't get me wrong--I believe that the NDP is the single best political party in contemporary Canadian politics, and will vote NDP on June 28th--but I felt that Mr. Layton seemed excitable and slightly mean-spirited. Unlike the sedated, evangelical-minister speaking of Mr. Harper, or the grandfatherly business tycoon cadence of Mr. Martin, Mr. Layton sounded like a smarmy university professor, trumpeting his views loudly but not giving his opponents the credit due. Nobody likes a know-it-all and Canadians are no different.

Even though most of what he was saying was a hundred percent true, it appears that the NDP will be reduced to participation in a minority government at best. This could happen if the Liberals win more seats than the Conservatives, but not a solid 50 plus one majority. In this case, the NDP could actually influence public policy and pull us away from the brink of joining America's imperial ambitions.

The enfant terrible of the night had to be Stephen Harper. He was gentlemanly, appearing to be as calm as a Prairie wind in springtime, even when accused of wanting to slash social programs, remove the grants to regional development groups like the one that keeps the Maritimes afloat, ban abortion, and balloon Canada's military by tens of billions of dollars. He looked very serene behind the podium, probably sensing the momentum that his party has been gaining in the usually Liberal voter stronghold of Ontario.

The last national poll I saw listed the Liberals at 34 percent, the Conservatives at 33 percent, the NDP at 19 percent, the Bloc at 11 percent, and the Green party at an impressive 5 percent (I can't recall the margin of error but you get the rough idea). This seems to indicate that Mr. Martin has a tough hill to climb if he is to retain his Prime Minister's parking spot for long. With the NDP, the Conservatives, and the Bloc all taking aim at his ten-year legacy of slashing programs in order to balance the budget, Martin is being pierced by political buckshot and that is why his party is bleeding red votes.

During the debate, Paul Martin did his best Winston Churchill impression, puffing out his chest and barreling through the constant stream of accusations and insults without blinking an eye. (Jack Layton doesn't blink very much either. That was another disconcerting little detail that caught my attention!) Mr. Martin did come across as an experienced leader when he spoke about his vision of a Canada that respects the Charter of Rights and also when he proclaimed that we would never assist in the weaponization of space.

I don't really know who "won" the debate but I think that Ontario is going to have to decide what kind of Canada they want to be a part of. Since that is where the Conservatives have really been making inroads (rumour has it that even Belinda Stronach is going to win her riding!), if Ontario decides to punish the Liberals by wandering into the Conservative fold, the whole nation will be veering sharply to the right. If the Conservatives win , before long, expect us to have troops dying in foreign wars, terror attacks in retribution for our dilly-dallying with the global-pariah American juggernaut, and a Right wing fiscal policy that would slash taxes on the rich at the expense of the poor and the social programs they rely upon.

Taxes are never going to disappear. If they're going to collect a percentage of our income, they should give it to people in need and make sure that it isn't being spent frivolously. I agree with Mr. Harper that we should be careful not to throw money at problems without analyzing their potential impact on our citizens. Still, social awareness has always been a Canadian trait and we should not abandon our legacy of social justice in favour of a Pro-market, laissez-faire capitalist nation like our American neighbours.

Canadian Flag

Above all, let us build a nation that is internationalist, transcending borders like our trans-atlantic cousins the Europeans. Let us spread peace and help the third world to grow and prosper. May we protect the environment and enrich ourselves by becoming masters of the aeolian turbine and the solar panel. The Maple Leaf should never be worn on a uniform unless involving a UN-approved peacekeeping mission. We should let gays marry and potheads smoke, provided they're buying it from a safe, government-regulated source (and the tax revenue from that would pay for a lot of social programs). Heck, we should even proclaim to the world that we'll never invade them and that they're all welcome to visit or to emigrate here.

We should open our arms to the planet and watch the global goodwill it produces. Sure, there will always be a couple of bad apples out there, but as long as we contain them with the help of friendly foreign governments and the International criminal court, we don't need to bomb them into the stone age. Let the Hawks and Elephants hunt for nations to demolish. I believe that Canada should work for peace.

What kind of Canada do you want to see? Who was the winner of the leader's debate? Comment below.