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My prediction five weeks ago of a Conservative minority government edges closer to realization, as devil-eyed Stephen Harper is now leading in the polls. And I can see why. He has successfully minimalized his scarier attributes by claiming that a Conservative government will not touch abortion and will not use the “not withstanding clause” (the stupidest part of the Canadian constitution) to roll back the new same sex marriage laws. He has also said that he will dial back the GST (the federal goods-and-services-tax for my foreign readers) by 2% –a gesture that means nothing economically, but that certainly appeals to the common citizen– and that a limit to medical waiting times will be legally established, opening the door to a discussion of health care privatization. In addition, like every other tough-talking politician these days, Harper has put forward a standard Conservative “tough on crime” strategy for addressing the perceived increase in Canadian urban crime. (In my opinion, the strategy is mostly vacuous, but there’s no question that it has wide appeal; quite clever, really.)
I can’t even tell you what the Liberal and NDP platforms are without doing a web search, because their bullet points have not been as memorable. (Well, that’s not entirely true. Jack Layton has put forward one memorable policy item, a suggestion for national pharmacare which would see the burden shared between the citizens and the government.)
The true prospect of a Conservative government is to be seen in the subtext, however. For example, one platform item is to give every parent $100/month to pay for daycare. This is, of course, ludicrous. Proper private daycare costs a great deal more than that, so the money would be better spent if disbursed centrally to fund free state-run daycare. This is a sly pilot version of Bush’s disastrous educational credit program. The subtext is this: the federal budgetary surplus will be given back to citizens in the form of piddling cheques here and there.
This is the same nonsense that has beaten the American economy in the past 6 years. The Clinton-era surplus was eaten up by Bush’s excessive tax cuts, and military spending has deepened a growing defecit. And the average US citizen received only a few dollars here and there for his troubles. And yes, those few dollars were quickly spent on “beer and donuts.”
So here is the dilemma before Canadian voters. In one corner we have the Liberals, the corrupt and ineffective “natural ruling party” for years, mostly because (a) their philosophy is to be as electable as possible and damn be their character or integrity, and (b) their biggest enemy has been, in the past, too terrifyingly monstrous to be an electable threat. In another corner we have the Conservatives who, while successfully re-engineering their image for election time, are nonetheless Republican-lite, espousing thinly shrouded bigotry (anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-poor), with an economic plan that will drain our surplus without leaving any infrastructure to show for it. In the third corner sits the NDP, well-meaning, honest and ethical, but hobbled by its loud far-Left wing of marginalized special interests who don’t seem to understand economics or the need to compromise. And in the fourth corner we have the Green Party, who are essentially financial Conservatives with extremist environmental policies and little care for anything else. I won’t even mention the Bloc, since their policies only matter to Quebec.
So for whom do we vote? For the first time in my adult life, I don’t like any of the options.