Monday, December 8, 2008

What's Happening to Canada?

There's an old Chinese curse that some of you may have heard of: “May you live in interesting times.” I think of it when I compare the Canadian election this past October and the parliamentary crisis this December. For the first time in a long time Canadian politics is actually more interesting than American politics.

When Barak Obama was elected President in November the whole world rejoiced. When Stephen Harper was re-elected the head of another minority government in Canada it seemed barely a blip in our consciousness.

But what a difference one month makes. Just last week I've had people who tell me they have little interest in politics, turn around and ask me to explain to them the workings of minority parliaments. I can't remember this much interest in Canadian politics before.

The turn out for this latest federal election should have been a wake-up call. Only 59.1% of those eligible voted. The lowest rate ever recorded. And no wonder. The previous minority government was boring. It wasn't a coalition. The Liberals, who supported the government, had no say in it. They just went along with whatever Harper threw at them for fear a sudden election would kill their popularity.

Now that Stephane Dion has agreed to step down he's finally had the guts to stand up to Harper, but, of course it's too late for Dion. Still it has made a huge difference to our political situation. We've gone from a pathetically low election turn-out to a bunch of super-motivated people. Noisy demonstrations in our nation's capital; people singing “O' Canada”; ecstatic greens and leftists; outraged -and- vocal- about-it conservatives. It's definitely woken-up a large cross-section of Canadians. And that's a good thing.

Now Albertans are talking about separation because of those “pointy-headed easterners wanting to run Canada.” And in Quebec, the until-now moribund separatist movement has sprung back to life because Harper decided to adopt the tactics of Karl Rove. (to motivate your base demonize your opponents and their political parties even if that will alienate the other half of the country.) Because all that's really important for him is getting and holding on to power.

We've been witness to the real Stephen Harper in these last few weeks. The guy who wants it all but doesn't want to compromise with anybody else to get it. In the recent election Harper seriously hurt his party's chances in Quebec when he showed his disdain for government assisting culture. Now he's permanently blown it there by demonizing the Bloc Quebecois.

If Harper gets a majority in the next election he will get it by dividing the country not by unifying it. That is the strategy of Karl Rove and George W. Bush, but they used it to their advantage in a country that's had a long history of disenfranchising and holding back African-Americans. It won't work as easy in Canada because we have always been a multicultural society. The Rovian strategy of division may work here temporarily but the long term consequences are likely to be dangerous to the Conservative party and to the country.

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