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Election Fever in the Silence of the Canadian Graveyard

September 4, 2009

They say that misery loves company. I couldn’t help but smile sympathetically and think of Canada when I came across a piece by Jackie Ashley in the Guardian, scolding her fellow Brits for allowing their political parties to descend into what she dramatically called “the silence of the graveyard”. Here’s what she meant:

Voters know that argument and dissent are signs of life – and as long as the arguments are serious and creative, people respond. Once, Labour seemed in danger of falling apart. Then it learned discipline. But it learned silence and discretion too. Just now, it sounds like the silence of the graveyard.

In Canada, the quiet is so profound that one can almost hear the subterranean gnawing of the maggots. The cardinal sin for any MP is to suffer an attack of spontaneity and say something off message. Politicians become slaves to a party line that is itself calculated to appeal to “the soggy centrist consensus” (that’s Ashley again). Journalists and bloggers complain about this timidity, but also encourage it by pouncing ruthlessly on any perceived gaffe. (I was tempted to pounce myself when I read that Stephen Harper recently claimed to be more interested in the verdict of his god than the verdict of historians, but I’ll save it for Blasphemy Day International.)

As a result, Canadian voters face the very real prospect of a Seinfeldian election about nothing in the near future – or at least, about very little beyond the internal workings of parliament and a home renovation tax credit. Our only hope is that, if the Liberals do decide to topple the government and force an election, they face such pressure to justify their actions that they have no choice but to break the silence of the graveyard and offer some fresh, substantive policies to distinguish themselves from the Tories.

Even this, however, would be just a start. If parliament is going to become a forum for meaningful and challenging debate, we’ll need less party discipline and more tolerance of dissent. Media commentators will have to learn to appreciate colourful ideas and colourful behaviour, instead of reflexively sneering in contempt or shrieking in outrage. With luck, sneering will be reserved for banal sound bites and tired platitudes.

So what bold ideas do I think should play a part in the notional upcoming election? Well, I have only one vote, but here are three unrelated policies that would probably capture it:

1. Reform the refugee system by introducing a list of safe countries whose citizens could not apply for asylum in Canada. Remove much of the nonsense and dysfunction from the system at a stroke.

2. Partially decriminalise drugs. If Argentina and Portugal can do it, so can we.

3. Work actively and explicitly to end our excessive dependence on the United States by cultivating economic, diplomatic and military relationships with other countries.

Those are three things I think we could have an election about. What do you think?

Corwin

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2009 9:08 pm

    re: your 3 ‘bold ideas’

    Totally agree each has merit. But you should have added a fourth: Real and meaningful Senate reform (whatever the short-term political cost)!

    • corsullivan permalink*
      September 5, 2009 11:31 am

      But you should have added a fourth: Real and meaningful Senate reform (whatever the short-term political cost)!

      Well, maybe. I’m ambivalent about Senate reform, mostly because I don’t (to my shame) know enough about the work the Senate actually does to have an informed opinion about whether it’s performing adequately. I will say that I don’t share the seemingly widespread sense that our Senate is somehow illegitimate just because it’s members are appointed rather than elected.

  2. September 4, 2009 7:45 pm

    You have the benefit of a great clarity of mind. And you beat me to the punch on Ashley’s “Silence of the Graveyards”, which i have printed and set beside my workstation.

    This made me laugh out loud:
    (I was tempted to pounce myself when I read that Stephen Harper recently claimed to be more interested in the verdict of his god than the verdict of historians, but I’ll save it for Blasphemy Day International.)

    Thanks for putting a well written piece into a Canadian context. R

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