Thursday, July 01, 2004

Indecision 2004 in Canada

Based on the fawning coverage by the CBC on election night, you would have thought that Jack Layton won the election. When Jack gave his victory speech the numbers showed 23 NDP MPs elected. Hardly a record for the NDP, but it did at that point clearly leave the NDP holding the balance of power. “Now we’ll find out how Paul Martin actually feels about proportional representation,” crowed an exultant Layton.

But for once it paid for the rest of Canada to stay up late and watch the final returns come in from BC, because when the dust had settled the NDP had slumped back to just 19 seats. Fueled on by a very strong showing in Atlantic Canada and Ontario and modest gains in BC, the federal Liberals elected 135 seats. In fact if not for the resurgence of the BQ in Quebec, who elected 54 MPs, the Liberals would have easily romped to another majority government.

The Conservatives meanwhile have nothing to be ashamed about. Seven months ago they weren’t even a contender and on election night they elected 99 MPs. It is perhaps possible to say they elected 100 MPs when you count the fact that former Alliance MP Chuck Cadman, who lost his Tory nomination to an upstart interloper, romped to a first place victory as an independent while the interloper finished fourth behind both the Liberals and NDP.

If this election was about anything it was about fear versus anger. Anger got the support of people who were mad at Liberal waste and corruption, sick of paying too much in taxes, mad at the multi-billion dollar boondoggle called Canada’s gun registry program, appalled at candidates who play the race card to knock off popular incumbent MPs, and infuriated about growing surgical wait lists. Fear got the support of people who were afraid of change, afraid of Randy White’s asinine comments and the Conservative Party’s “secret agenda” and afraid that a change in government might make our crumbling public health care system even worse.

So when all the votes had been counted, Fear elected 154 MPs and Anger also elected 154 MPs. So not only do we have a minority government we have a hung parliament. Although the Liberals will govern as if they have a majority, they will for the first time in almost 30 years actually have to pay attention to the views of other parliamentarians especially that of now Independent MP Chuck Cadman. It should make for a very interesting year or two in federal politics and who knows we may even have some good governance come out of it.

Another point I want to touch on is the fact that this election, despite being a close race saw another decline in voter turn out. Only 60.5% of eligible Canadians bothered to cast a ballot. Voter participation rates amongst young people were particularly low. All the aging baby boomers out there will of course tut tut about how apathetic young people are today, but those aging boomers are wrong.

That fact is that young people today are very politically active, but unlike their boomer grandparents they are not politically naive. They know that Ottawa is politically irrelevant not just on the world stage but locally as well. How can anyone get excited about electing a bunch of politicians whose main job is to rubber stamp whatever the Prime Ministers Office decides and most of those decisions only serve to further empower a bunch of passive aggressive bureaucrats.

I mean I could barely bring myself to vote and I did more out of habit than any sense of enthusiasm. The only reason my wife voted was because our kids wanted to tag along to the polling station see what all the fuss was about. So more out of a sense of parental obligation than any sense of civic duty we did our bit for democracy and marked our ballots.

So where are the young people today? Well many of them are at the movies. But not just any movie they are lined up to see Fahrenheit 9/11. After the election I snuck off to the pictures to see Michael Moore’s latest in your face documentary and I was stunned to see that the audience was full of young men and woman all between the ages of 18 and 22. The number of people in that audience who were over age 30 I would estimate at less than 5%.

Most shocking of all these young people were not the earnest Birkenstock clad people that we saw ten years ago climbing trees to try and shut down BC’s logging industry. These were instead your every day disaffected, party hearty youth. For example the young woman sitting behind me was a self-described “Coors Whore” who makes $100 a day parading around in a Coors Beer Bikini handing out cans of beer to leering males at golf tournaments.

The three guys sitting next to her were also chatting away about the last golf tournament they had been at where they got drunk on Crown Royal when they found out the free beer at that particular tournament was limited to only one person each. Another nubile young woman sitting in the same row as me then turned around recognized one of the guys and in a matter of minutes had got his phone number, promptly stored it on her cell phone and talked about “hooking up” for Canada Day.

So besides feeling really, really old and wishing I had been born in 1985 instead of 1965 I was impressed. Here are everyday young people and they are closely watching what is going on in the world, especially what is happening in the United States. In other words they are paying attention to what is important and relevant and when it comes to world affairs they have correctly surmised that Ottawa is utterly irrelevant and unimportant.

Even Canada’s once vaunted role as an international peacekeeper has now deteriorated to that of a pathetic joke and our young people know it. For those that lament the fact that very few young men and women are willing to join the Canadian Armed Forces my response is, the rest of us in Canada don’t make our military a priority so why should they?

In Canada we are constantly searching for our national character. Well one character trait I would submit we Canadians have in abundance is that of being one of the most passive aggressive nations in the Western World. Our government bureaucracies exemplify that character trait and we carry it out as policy when we sneer at the United States and yet blithely expect them to provide our national security for us.

For anyone who goes to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and I strongly recommend that all of you do, you should start to understand why leaving our security in the hands of the country we so love to feel so superior to may not be in our own best interests. Because whether you agree or disagree with Michael Moore’s selective take on the Bush administration you leave the theatre with a sense that it is certainly not wise to leave the fate of our nation in the hands of people in Washington.

If one day, when pigs fly, we ever do elect a government that undertakes some real parliamentary reform, a top to bottom house cleaning of the federal civil service and the re-establishment of a viable Canadian military, Ottawa will once again become relevant and Canada may actually restore both its sovereignty and credibility on the world stage.

But meanwhile this summer I’m busy playing golf and asking the nice young lady in the Coors swimsuit to pass me another beer while she gives me her take on why George Bush’s foreign policy has gone so disastrously wrong.