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May 5, 2011

A gloomy future for Canada

The Canadian Charger

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The Germans have a word for it: Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Well, Harper won his majority government on May 2, but he took ownership of the Zeitgeist earlier.

Part of the Zeitgeist is his wholesale war on already-diminishing crime.  Minimum sentences, more jails, more jail time.  Eventually Liberals and NDPers dragged their feet, but not before they bought into much of the game plan.  As the Brits put it, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  Liberals and NDPers supported some of Harper’s measures that propel the need for more prisons.  Hysteria about a non-existent crime wave is part of the Zeitgeist.

Then there is the matter of Canada’s role in the world.  In order to maintain our military strength, we need those $36 billion-and-rising fighter jets.  It is unclear against what threat we are preparing with these expensive toys.  Bin Laden is gone, after all, and it did not take fighter jets to get him.  It turns out that the planes come without engines, and one wonders if we will need to pay extra for the wings as well. 

The Liberals condemn the plan to purchase these planes without a competitive bidding process, but they do not oppose the principle.  As for Layton, he pledges to maintain military spending.  Again, Harper is calling the tune.

Still looking at Canada’s place in the world, consider Israel/Palestine.  The Harper government is universally recognized as Israel’s strongest supporter. 

Liberals have Irwin Cotler who, if anything, is even more uncritical of Israel.  Bob Rae has argued that the Liberal Party favors a two-state solution, but the party has been very quiet about the continued expansion of the settlements, rendering that solution potentially unattainable.  Even President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have found enough steel in their spines to term the expansion “unhelpful.” 

As for the New Democrats. Layton took umbrage when Libby Davies made a remark about the historical wrong done to the Palestinians in 1948.  He went crawling to the Israeli ambassador to apologize and reassure him.  With his new ethnically diverse Quebec caucus, he may not be able to keep his Zionist-centered attitude toward the Israel/Palestine issue, but in the meantime Harper’s vision prevails.

The economy has been argued to be Harper’s strong point.  Canada did not suffer in the recession to the extent that the United States and the rest of the world did.

That fact had little to do with Tory stewardship and much more to do with the tight reins on our banking system.  Remember that these great Tory money-managers suffered conviction of contempt of Parliament for refusing to release the cost figures for Harper’s planes and prisons. 

Nevertheless, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty made a commitment never to raise income taxes, a commitment that resonates pretty much across the political spectrum.  Liberals and NDPers have bucked at reduction of the corporate tax rate, but the whole political spectrum is averse to a serious examination of fiscal policy as related to debt, deficit, and social needs.

In spite of Harper’s ownership of the Zeitgeist, he only managed to get 40% of the vote.  That is, 60% of the people voted against him, while giving him a majority in the House–a result of our first-past-the-post electoral system. 

Unfortunately, as a result of this system 100% of us are stuck with Harper.  If there is one person to blame for our predicament, it is Michael Ignatieff.

Ignatieff could have saved the country from the scourge of Harper if he had accepted the crown when it was offered him.  Instead, he bought Harper’s claim that a coalition would be illegitimate.  That is in spite of his experiences overseas, where coalitions are far from uncommon.  He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and we are all suffering as a result. 

He called Harper on his contempt for democracy, but he failed to use the democratic option to remove Harper when he had the opportunity.  It is only fitting that Canada’s Hamlet lost his own seat in the election.  He has a great political future behind him.

What happens with the newly rejuvenated NDP remains to be seen.  Will they be prepared to confront the Zeitgeist, or will they “make Parliament work”, as Layton has pledged?  As for the Liberals, they have never experienced such a trouncing, and their very future is now open to question.

One really bright spot in the election is Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s victory.  She beat Gary Lunn, a man most deserving of defeat.  If you will recall, he was the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources who fired Linda Keen from her position as head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission back in 2008.  Her crime: she shut down the Chalk River nuclear reactor which makes isotopes for medical use.  She shut it down because of safety concerns.  Not long after, the facility had to be shut down when it was found to be leaking heavy water.  Apparently she knew better than Lunn. In a delicious turn of events, Keen endorsed May in the election.  A bit of light in the face of the dark prospect facing us with this Harper majority.

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