Saturday, April 30, 2011

Politics, Elections and Why I will be voting

Politics is in my DNA (next to the Montreal Canadiens). I am a third generation political junkie, I have 2 degrees in Political Science with a specialty in Canadian government and spent much of my academic career trying to understand Quebec separatism since I was an anglo in Quebec during the FLQ. I am a happy camper during election campaigns. This one scares me.

My mother likes to remind me of my first political involvement. We were living in Vancouver, and Trudeau-mania was sweeping the nation. A mob of teens was standing on a corner near our house shouting "North, South, East, West, Trudeau, Trudeau he's the best!" I stood on my front lawn and sang along. I was 5.

I remember winning a school-wide quiz in grade 4 or 5, because I was the only kid in the school to correctly identify a picture Mayor Jean Drapeau. We had moved back to Quebec by then. My parents had been talking a great deal at dinner about the fallout from the FLQ and Expo 67. If I wanted to say anything at dinner, I had to follow politics, because it's what we talked about.

My family are hard-core Liberal supporters. In what was no doubt a rebellion, by high school, fuelled in large part by Joe Clark's Red Tory views, I had become a Progressive Conservative. My grade 12 History teacher, Mr. De la Frenier, treated his students like adults and let us debate him if you could substantiate your point. He was Liberal. I was Conservative. We had many spirited debates. I was 17 when the Clark government fell and I was devastated that I couldn't vote.I still have the letter I received in response to the impassioned missile filled with youthful optimism that I had sent to Joe Clark to encourage him. I met him when I was in university and still have the autograph. I cleared him through customs a couple of times. To this day, I don't believe he got the respect he deserved, and considering what followed, his policies were more sound than he's ever been given credit for. Truth be told, though, I've always championed the underdog.

Through high school and university I was a passionate member of the Progressive Conservatives. I served on the executive of the campus association, I worked on election campaigns at municipal, provincial and federal levels, and I was on two Grossman leadership campaigns. I have a photo circa 1984, taken by a professional photographer from the floor of the first leadership campaign when Larry Grossman was defeated by Frank Miller. I am decked out head to toe in Grossman garb, I have a six-foot fishing rod sticking out of my pocket because I was the "flag point" for rallying the supporters on the floor, and I have a walkie-talkie stuck to my ear. The photographer caught me as the vote tally came in leaving Larry on the final ballot, and my smile is radiant.

I have worked at the staff level and the riding level on a number of campaigns, and learned some things about strategy and dirty tricks along the way from the likes of John Laschinger and Hugh Segal. I still have a handwritten thank you note from Laschinger-and since I used to run Grossman's autopen, I can tell the difference. I also learned some things about the workings of the Conservative party, and after a series of deceitful events, I cut up all my membership cards, including my PC Canada card, and haven't been a card carrying member of any party since the late 1980s.

I believe that the Government of Canada has a responsibility to protect the members of society least able to do that. I believe that our First Nations people, our seniors, our mentally or physically challenged, our children and our poor deserve respect and assistance. I believe that affordable health care should not be tied to income level. I believe that an education shouldn't put you into thousands of dollars in debt. I believe that professionals who immigrate to Canada should be able to practice their profession without having to start over and deliver pizza to feed their family. I believe foreign-trained doctors should be expedited, not forced to jump hurdles.  I believe that there are ways to be fiscally responsible without cutting social programs. I believe that Canada needs to return to a role of mediator and peacekeeper on the world stage.  I believe that corporations need to be better corporate citizens and I believe the Government has a fiduciary responsibility to make policies that protect citizens from excessive profit at the expense of common sense.We have only to look to the US and the Fanny May and Freddie Mac mess to see the wisdom in THAT.  And I believe in the tradition and institution of Parliament. It may not be perfect, but it's what we have.

As much as I disagreed with much that Pierre Trudeau did, his "government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." resonated with me. As much as I disagreed with Jean Chretien, his stance on the Iraq war against George Bush Senior was the right thing to do in my mind. Considering what Mike Harris did to Ontario after Bob Rae, "Rae days" did not seem like such a bad idea.

We currently have a leader of the Conservative Party who is seeking a majority in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper's government has been found in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history, his supporters and inner circle have been charged with elections violations and document tampering, and who prorogued Parliament twice to avoid non-confidence votes. While I don't particularly like Michael Ignatieff, his comment in the English debate to Stephen Harper that Harper shuts down anything he can't control resonates with me. Under Harper, creative artists, writers and musicians have seen changes to copyright legislation that would change fair use guidelines to cut into our increasingly small copyright royalties. He has cut arts funding and ensured that literary magazines strangle. Most creative people in Canada do not support the Conservatives. This is a leader who wants the press to call the government the Harper government rather than the Canadian government. This is a man who stated that "ordinary people don't support arts funding", painting the whole creative community as elites who drink champagne at black tie galas. I don't know many of my colleagues who go to black tie galas-we couldn't afford the babysitter if we did and many of us couldn't afford the ticket to go in the first place.

Under Harper, Ontario and BC now have HST. And despite his campaign ad to the contrary, cutting the GST had no impact on my family and my business. Adopting HST did because my fee for services increased by 8%, because I now have to charge HST on my business services. In this electronic age, I cost more than my colleague with similar qualifications in another province. It could make a difference in my getting a job.  Under Harper, a national daycare plan was scrapped in favour of $100 a month, which only lasts until a nanosecond after your child turns 6. You tell me where I can pay $100 a month for daycare, and I will move my family there.

If Harper has made these policies with a minority government, God help Canada if he gets a majority. While he takes credit for the economic recovery, much of what saved Canada was the stringent financial regulations that were put in place by the Liberal governments which preceded him. 

I am very torn in this election. I know I will not vote Conservative. What I don't know yet is how I will vote.  I like Jack Layton and I normally vote NDP, but our local candidate isn't very strong. I don't like Michael Ignatieff, but we have a strong Liberal candidate. I like Elizabeth May, but there are huge parts of the Green Party platform that I am not comfortable with. I will vote, but I may be standing in the ballot box before I know how. Right now, it's a battle between my head and my heart.

What I do know, is that there is a lot of truth in the saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely." I hope we don't find out just how much truth there is. 


Clare said...

Really thoughtful post, Lisa. I am urging people to vote for the platform that most resonates with them despite the possibility of the candidate winning. For me, it's the only way I can feel like I gave it my all. I don't know how yet that will look on Monday, but I am troubled by the "anyone but Harper" idea. happy pondering!

Tammy said...

Great post, Lisa. You've succinctly explained all the reasons why the possibility of a Harper majority frightens the hell out of me. But, like you, I'm torn on my other options. None of the candidates resonate with me enough to say "Yes! This is the platform I believe in." I voted in the advance polls and, like you anticipate for tomorrow, I wasn't 100% sure what I would choose until the ballot was in front of me. I still question whether I made the right choice (I don't know if there is a "right" choice in this election), but I think I made the best I could in the circumstances.

Lisa MacColl said...

@Clare. I'm still torn. I'll figure it out...soon!
@Tammy-I don't think at the end of the day there is a wrong vote as long as you cast one. I will end up voting my conscience but I'm still debating that.

Tracey Arial said...

Hi Lisa,
I'm about to leave for my polling staton, but like you, I'm torn. I thought I'd vote Bloc because my local candidate is fabulous and I like their platform on everything but separatism, but now that separatism has become the key identifier with those voters, I can't vote for him. Voting NDP would be great from a platform and leadership point of view, but my local candidate isn't as impressive as either the Green or Bloc candidates. The Liberal fellow seems like a bully. Guess I'll decide when I get there!

Lisa MacColl said...

@Tracy-It's tricky this time. I often think that Gilles Duceppe makes the most sense. My husband has often commented that the only leader with a true vision of Canada is Duceppe! I wish he hadn't dragged Parizeau out of retirement because I think it hurt him.

wizardofwords said...

Absolutely terrific post, Lisa. I didn't know you were such a political animal!

As you say, it really doesn't matter which party we vote for, as long as we get out and vote, and as long as we don't vote Conservative.

Canadians need to feel proud of their country and their leaders. We cannot do this with the Harper govt.

Let's hope we're all celebrating at the end of the day and that Canadians have the courage to vote for change.

Ann-Margret said...

I like Clare's response. I might be one of the few writers out there taking this position (or maybe not) but I voted Conservative. There are more issues at stake for me than arts funding and there are a lot of GOOD things about Harper's platform that resonate with me. I am actually disappointed that many of the artists/writers I know are almost bullying people to not vote Conservative, as if we (of all people) cannot think for ourselves.

Lisa MacColl said...

@Ann-Margret At the end of the day, you have to live with how you cast your ballot. If you're comfortable with how Harper handles things, then vote for him.
Personally, I can't get past the contempt of Parliament. It goes against my inner sense of fairness and justice. I'm not going to tell anyone else how to vote, just give people things to think about.
Good for you for voting. It's all that matters!

George B said...

From one political junkie to another, thanks for a good read.

Difficult dilemma.

Our neighbor the MD from Bosnia - that was 20 years ago - was forced to be a stay-at-home Mom in a small city where hundreds can't find a family doctor.

People who should be in care are begging - or worse - on the streets. We could provide secondary education for our children - or we could build jails for them.

Our national problem is that we have a truly archaic system that was designed for two-party rule. Now that we have four and a fifth on the way, the first-past-the-post-winner-takes-all is becoming less and less relevant and less of an accurate reflection of the wishes of the majority.

Assume five parties and some really simple math: four of them get 19.9 per cent of the popular vote but one gets 20.4 per cent of the vote. Depending on how the vote is spread through the ridings, that 20.4 per cent (which nearly 80 per cent of Canadians voted against) could end up with an overwhelming majority of MPs.

Get a sixth party in play, and the numbers become even more ridiculous.

No wonder it's a struggle to get people to vote FOR something.

We have a Conservative MP here. He seems a decent guy and comes highly recommended by a friend who's related to him. He's friendly. Approachable.

His boss, though, reminds me of a shiny version of Richard Nixon - he had about the same respect for the American Constitution as Mr. Harper appears to have for Parliament. (Nixon was about to be impeached - kind of like being found in contempt of the Constitution - as I was filing my landed immigrant papers for the 2nd time.)

Ignatief? Smart, experienced and equally out of touch but in a very different way.

Layton? Being nice with little to lose has helped, along with not having to pull a million poisoned barbs out of his back and front.

Duceppe? His bizarre popeyed rant at the start of the English language debate threw me. He just seems completely pissed off.

And Liz May - she's really smart, too, with a memory like a steel trap but running against Peter McKay in the riding his dad gifted to Mulroney after he won the Tory leadership - and that Mulroney gifted back to him - was likely as dumb as she'll ever get.

And before I go - a word or two about 'coalition': As an immigrant to Canada, I've felt obliged to really get to know the country that adopted me. That meant studying Canadian literature and politics and, eventually, spending more than a dozen years as a political reporter.

And to my utter surprise, there's a huge swath of natural born Canadians who don't understand the basic way in which our federal system operates: each riding gets to send one MP to Parliament. Period. Where they form into coalitions - usually knows as political parties - and from what I've read in the recent report of the exit surveys of nearly 60 former MPs, our toxic political party system is leading us to a presidential system of government without the checks and balances generally built into those systems.

Is this an important election? Is it necessary? Will it have long-term implications for what makes Canada Canada? While I generally eschew pulling out my own crystal ball - after having years of fun slagging the errant predictions of other political junkies - I would say yes to all three.

I really love living in Canada - being part of this great social experiment, contributing, taking, learning, sharing. For all the reasons you listed and a bunch more.

A Nixon majo...sorry, a Harper majority, and things will get very weird very fast.

I'm worried that it might be time to start looking beyond the horizon once more.

That's what really scares me.