The Droz Report


Kim Campbell's revenge

 (Nothing new in the boys' room)

By Geoffrey Dow
Managing Editor, True North Perspective
Originally published at Edifice Rex Online
Geoffrey Dow is blogging the Canadian election at Edifice Rex Online. Each week for the duration, True North Perspective will present the best of his previous week's columns.
Photo by The Phantom Photographer; image manipulation by Geoffrey Dow.
Same old boys' club.

After two debates and an in-person attendance at a rally, I'm finding myself kind of depressed about the election, enervated instead of energized. Though I still think the choices facing us are important — Very Bad versus Not Very Good — it's not easy to get excited by the latter.

And it's not easy to get excited by canned rhetoric, by half-truths contending with lies, lies with half-truths, or by the fact the most inspirational actor in either the French- or the English-language debate was a separatist whose primary goal is to destroy the most successful and successfully complex civilization in the history of the world (ask me what's good about Canada some day!).

Tuesday and Wednesday nights saw me staring at the television, and Wednesday morning hopping on my bike for a hurried ride into downtown Ottawa, where Jack Layton was holding court at a Bank Street eatery at the ungodly hour of 8:00 o'clock in the morning.

Layton was introduced by my local MP who got predictable cheers for asking the partisan crowd of maybe 150 people who won the previous evening's debate.

Layton himself was, more or less, the same as what I've seen on television. Clear and concise, kind of funny, and a just a little stiff, as if even after decades in politics he's still not entirely comfortable speaking to a crowd. He stuck very close to his script; aside from a joke about the political points to be made from kissing "ma blonde" after the debate, I had already heard everything he said at breakfast almost verbatim on Tuesday night.

The NDP, it seems, is pro-family and pro-small business, anti-Senate and anti-credit card companies; pro-environment and pro-health care, against over-paid bank CEOs and, er, Stephen Harper — the rhetorical specifics are already fading, as are those from the "debates" themselves.

Same old, same old or,

The partisan's lament

The boys are back, no girls allowed.
The boys are back, no girls allowed.

Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell was widely-(mis)quoted during the 1993 federal election campaign as saying that an election is no time to discuss serious issues, and this election's debates sure suggest that most politicians believe that's the case. (That Campbell apparently said nothing of the kind, but rather that 47 days is far too short a time to discuss a complete overhaul of Canada's social policies in all their complexities is, naturally, mostly forgotten.)

The 2011 version of Canada's boys' own debating club held few surprises and even less in the way of substance. (To be fair, I actually learned a little during the second, French-language, session last night, namely that the NDP is courting the so-called soft nationalist vote in Québec in a big way, and is doing it well enough that the Bloc sees a genuine threat in the New Democrats.)

But mostly, in French as well as in English, there was not much resembling a debate, but only a series of memorized talking-points having little or nothing to do with either the question ostensibly at issue, or with the previous speaker's (non) answer. What direct responses there were usually amounted to someone (correctly) telling the Prime Minister he was not telling the truth.

And thus I am reduced to handicapping a horse race, no matter how little I want to do so.

First the bad news. Harper, the Prime Minister Who Would Be President didn't throw a tantrum or otherwise reveal the vicious control-freak lying below his tightly-controlled persona. In English especially, my fantasies that he would self-immolate went unfulfilled. He managed to sound calm and collected (if not cool) and if his expression sometimes dripped with contempt, who could blame him? In French, he showed flashes of irritation, but still, mostly managed to sound authoritative.

I'm sure he satisfied his base and reassured wavering middle of the road potential supporters that those of us decrying his hidden agenda are off our collective rocker.

Michael Ignatieff also came off reasonably well, stiff but not obviously uncomfortable in his skin. He performed a little better than I had expected, and much better than I had feared. There were moments when he sounded sincere and even (almost) passionate. Some of his attacks, on Harper's repeated lies to Parliament and the fact that he twice suspended it, were solid body-blows, which, if they probably did little damage, should at least serve to shore up the Liberals' support.

Similarly, Jack Layton did what Jack Layton does. He tried to out-liberal the Liberals, emphasizing fairness and decency without addressing the structural nature of the problems we face. It's hard to fault spending tax dollars on health care and education instead of fighter jets that are likely to be obsolete by the time they're delivered, but the basic flaw in the New Democrats' approach remains: most people who want to vote for a liberal party are going to vote for the Liberals.

And Gilles Duceppe? The silver-haired separatist played his game as expected. He argued forcefully for social democratic policies and was quickest to call the liar Harper, a liar. When he wasn't pushing his separatist agenda, and ignoring English Quebeckers along with French Canadians outside of that province, he sounded passionate and committed, the best Prime Minister Canada will never have.

Just watch him ...

You'll note that all the names I've mentioned are boys' names. Jack, Steve, Michael and even Gilles. Elizabeth May was kept out this time and, if there was an outpouring of public outrage this time, it wasn't nearly as effective as it had been in 2008. Whether this was because people just figured the fix was in or because they had more pressing things on their minds, or simply that my antennae were tuned in the wrong direction, I don't know.

I do know that she should have been there and that all Canadians are poorer for her absence.

But much poorer?

You might also have noticed how often I used words like "seemed" and "sounded". Absent a genuine conversation, a real back-and-forth exchange of ideas, we are left to do our best to infer the candidates' real meanings and intentions from body language and verbal codes, and to make mental bets as to the state of mind of our fellow citizens.

Could May have changed that dynamic? I don't think so.

And so here we are. My positions are unchanged and my morale is a little the worse for wear. How about yours? Did the debates sway you? Did you see or hear something in them that I missed?

Finally, if you've got a spare eight minutes, the video at left is a reminder that, rare as it is, a politician can, sometimes, engage in a genuine debate — even if, in this case, the journalist couldn't find it in himself to coherently argue back.

Meanwhile, I'll do my best to regain some enthusiasm for talking about the election of 2011 next time out.

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