Being the Prime Minister of Canada is a thankless task. Being Prime Minister of Canada with a minority government is worse. There are huge pressures on Stephen Harper. Many of these pressures come from his apparent inability to win a majority government. His problem is that his chance of ever winning a majority government is virtually non-existent.
Canadian politics are different. Unlike the United States, which effectively is a one party state, Canada has a far wider range of political options. And these options are shaped by Canadians themselves. Canadians on average are better educated than Americans. Canadians on average are better informed than Americans. Canadians on average are different than Americans. Way different. I can remember walking through the streets of Washington D.C. at 2:00 AM feeling perfectly safe, while the Americans who I was with were terrified to leave their hotels after dark.
Canadians are different. Way different. No other nation on the planet is like us. Talk to any immigrant, from any country. They tend to sound shell shocked for the first few years that they live in Canada. Because Canada is different.
Stephen Harper knows this. And that’s his problem. Americans are followers. If he was an American politician he’d do fine. The population would imprint on him, and would quack quack quack behind him, following wherever he led.
Canadians are like cats. Canadians do what they want, when they want, and to hell with what the politicians think they should do. While many Americans seem to think that their President was sent to them by god, Canadians consider the Prime Minister to be one of those unfortunate nuisances you have to live with, like the aunt who insists on giving a young woman a Barbie doll as an eighteenth birthday present, causing much embarrassment.
Stephen Harper’s problem is that he has been unable to communicate to Canadians why they should back the Conservative party. He’s adopted an ideology which he thinks is best for Canada, but it’s an ideology that many of Canadians don’t agree with. The only reason that he’s had any success at all, is that the other party leaders are just as disconnected as he is from the Canadian public.
With the option of voting for Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dumb, and Tweedle Dumber, Canadians are often opting to vote for the Seperatists (at least they seem honest about what they want) or the Greens. The Greens gained a million votes in the last election. This has the traditional parties scared witless, because the Greens, like the Bloc Quebecois also seem honest about what they want. And honesty is something that Canadian politicians are nervous about. The idea that the electorate would actually expect them to keep their pre-election promises seems to be some sort of evil perversion to them. If they could, they’d love to tie it to a real perversion, like pedophilia, but they know that Canadians would see through the attempt.
Even worse from the point of both Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatief, is that they know that a large number of the members of both their parties would love fit them with concrete boots and toss them overboard, and fully intend to do so if they don’t manage to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. But Canadians have had an experience with minority government, and most Canadians have decided that they like it. Minority Government means that the two big parties can’t get away with the sort of ideological law making that they’ve done in the past. The two big parties hate this. They dream of the days of Trudeau and Mulroney when they could literally get away with murder. But Canadians don’t want that. They dream of a government that they, not the politicians control.
There will have to be an election soon. Within the next year. Stephen Harper will wait until he thinks he has some sort of chance, call it, and hit the attack ads hard. Michael Ignatief will hit back just as hard. And while the two of them are fighting, the smaller parties, including the new and untested Pirate Party will make their move.
I don’t know how this is all going to play out. No one does. What we do know is that the Canadian electorate is undergoing a huge sociological shift. Fifty years ago when I was a child, Canadian society was very conservative in outlook. Improved communications, through an improved telephone system, widespread adoption of Television, cheaper transportation, cable TV, then the most disruptive technology of all, the Internet, have changed the country. Things that no one knew about, now everyone knows about. The murder of a Polish immigrant at the Vancouver airport by police would have been a non-issue fifty years ago. Now it’s a major issue, and the reputation of the Horseman (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), and all other police forces have suffered badly because of it. Note that while I’m calling this a murder, it may end up being ruled justifiable homicide, or self defense. Having seen the video made by a member of the public who was present, in my opinion it was murder. I’m aware that there are people (mostly wearing uniform) who disagree with me, and might be stupid enough to attempt to sue. Which is why I’ve been talking to a lawyer.
Canadians are now better informed about what is happening across the country, and for that matter across the world. Small groups who would have had no means of meeting, now can meet virtually using technology that is inexpensive, and reliable. Improved communications have helped the Greens become a force, and they will help the Pirates become a force too. A generation which has never known a time when they couldn’t communicate, is communicating, and much to everyone’s surprise, their parents are communicating too. Communication is changing the face of Canadian society, and no one can stop it. Unless they manage to make using the internet illegal. Which makes one wonder exactly why everyone seems to anxious to pass laws like Bill C-32.
There’s an old Chinese curse – May you live in interesting times. I suspect that Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatief feel that it was written for them.
Sunday September 26, 2010