From now until election day, everything -- economy, security, foreign policy, oil prices, etc., and every trivial thing besides -- will erupt into a political firefight. Everything, that is, except for the core issues running under the radar that make the coming election one of the most vital in Canada in a very long time.
What's going on under the radar -- where it's kept thanks to the Harper government's expertise in propaganda and manipulation -- is the rodent-like gnawing at democratic process and the country's fundamental legal structure.
Here's merely the latest example. The government has been firing researchers in the Justice Department because the facts they were coming up with didn't square with the party line, especially on their regressive prisons policy. On top of that, laws have been passed with admitted major errors. The Tory majority in the Senate breezed them through. For a country based on laws, this is both disgraceful and ominous.
The "agenda" is to yoke every important national function -- the law, the courts, the tax system, the civil service, important offices like the Chief Electoral Officer, and every aspect of government policy, notably science -- to make them serve the function of keeping the Conservative party in power. These are the natural instincts of dictators. The next election will put Canadians to the test.
The Conservatives are up in the polls nationally again, pretty well equal to the Liberals, after dragging behind for a couple of years. The main reason, according to the pollsters, is militarism and terrorism: this is where Stephen Harper "looks prime ministerial" while the opposition parties go 'round and 'round.
Indeed, Harper's impressive skills at twisting the issue and stickhandling around both the media and the opposition were on particular display when he snapped at Vladimir Putin at a conference in Australia meant to deal with the environment, thereby drowning out expected questions about Harper's Canada being one of the world's worst polluters. It also drowned out any obvious comparisons: that, in fact, hardly anything in this world hints of Putinism more than Harperism -- the energy superpower pretensions, the corporate cronyism, the leanings towards electoral fraud, the yearning to control everything.
So now we have Harper as the little dog yapping behind the big dog on foreign affairs, presenting himself as the defender of freedom and democracy on the world stage while assaulting both of them at home. Are we going to catch on or not?
I'm happy to report that in Atlantic Canada, we apparently have. The national "poll of polls" has had the Tories at around 20 per cent, along with the NDP, with the Liberals at 50 per cent for several years now. A more detailed recent Corporate Research poll put the Liberals at 55 per cent. Since the NDP vote is concentrated, it will get them seats. In 1993, the post-Mulroney Tories were all but eliminated, both nationally and here. We have far deeper reasons to do it again.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, the Harperists are even lower, in fourth place behind the pathetic Bloc Québécois. All this seems too deep to change significantly. A good opening on election night for the Tories might be a half-dozen seats east of the Ontario border. A good night for the country will be a complete Tory wipeout.
The game will play out in the torn domains of southern Ontario and B.C., among those souls who are hardly listening and susceptible to be swayed. In that regard, let me confess that one of my perverse pleasures has been watching the nervous tics of the old auntie of Canadian conservatism -- the Globe and Mail editorial board -- trying to get a grip as her boy goes bad.
A couple of years ago, her boy, Stephen Harper, was deemed a bit problematic, but we were told to be patient -- the good economy and all that. But the old auntie is sticky about the rule of law and her patience is running thin.
A month ago, her word was that, among other things, Harper's "bloody-mindedness" was a liability to the party, talked of "abuse of process," "belligerent junior ministers," the Tories' "robotic" responses, and pointed out that only hours after Harper hugged the opposition leaders in a grand gesture after the Ottawa shootings, he introduced another "monstrous" democracy-busting omnibus bill.
The list of his remaining virtues was painfully short, although oddly one of them was "tax cuts targeted at core constituencies." The old auntie, like your basic small-c conservative, still can't let go entirely, and has trouble admitting that the conservative values -- low taxes, self-reliance, etc. -- have morphed into right-wing power-grabbing.
True, editorial boards and columnists don't sway many votes, but we do sniff the wind. For me, all I can say is that if these destroyers are returned to office, I'll be ashamed to be Canadian. Since half or more Canadians probably feel the same way, there's only one sane hashtag for this election: #ThrowTheRascalsOut.
Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist in Yarmouth County. This column was first published in the Chronicle Herald.
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