Grow Mercy’s one and only federal election reflection:
As a boy I stapled John Diefenbaker campaign posters to creosote treated power poles. Oh, those were heady days, not merely because I was unaware of the intoxicating effect of creosote vapours, but knowing, at the age of eight, that I was already on the side of “Right.” Knowing that Lester Pearson was a shill for the east, and that Tommy Douglas was a nice man, Reverend and all, but too red for the federal stage. Sure, we Wheat Pool-ed our grain and shopped the Co-op, but that’s as far as you wanna take socialism.
By the time I pulled on my first pair of striped bell-bottom pants, a swashbuckling, swinging (that meant free-spirited in 1968), Pierre E. Trudeau, was pirouetting his way to state-celebrity-status. Trudeaumania had arrived. And when he breezed through Yorkton, Saskatchewan, on route to his first victory, and we ran after him across the Regional High School football field, calling him by his first name, I discerned that it’s not a man’s policies that make girls swoon and shriek.
Of course a few years later Pierre got married and the shrieking stopped—only to be taken up by prairie farmers over his cavalier comment about selling, or rather, not selling, their wheat (but perhaps they missed his nuance). And when he flipped the bird at protesters in Salmon Arm, BC., what western favour he had, sunk in the Shuswap.
By my light almost everyone west of Thunder Bay hoped Robert-the-upright-and-constant Stanfield would take out Trudeau in 1972. As it happened he came within two seats. Perhaps their slogan was too imaginative and explosive: “The PC’s will do better.”
Still, hope was high for the ‘74 Tories…until Mr. Stanfield fumbled a football. It happened at a brief stopover in “nowhere” northern Ontario but it made the front pages across the nation. Robert got a do-over and he caught the football quite well, and the cameras clicked. But some pictures go on mother’s refrigerator and others make the news. Image politics was here and Bob lost big.
My PC lean disappeared during the 70’s, (as did I). Still, I was there when Joe Clark won the show in ‘79. We gathered in the Spruce Grove Agrena (arena) to listen to a surprised but bright-eyed Clark, deliver a victory speech that would last all of seven throat-clearing months. A nonconfidence vote over an ill-conceived budget (by John “pass the Tequila, Sheila” Crosbie), an election, and Trudeau was back.
I had respect for Pierre Trudeau throughout, often grudging, but I wasn’t socialist enough to applaud his looming National Energy Program. But then, neither did I live in the east.
When Trudeau stepped down John Turner became the PM by inter-election appointment. But in a leadership debate, one I remember well, when challenged on ratifying all of Trudeau’s parting patronage appointments, Turner was ostensibly crushed by the “chin that walks like a man.”
It was one of those rare moments that decides elections. And I was on side. Mulroney looked like the right custodian for the time. But when he started openly musing about a new GST tax, and a free trade deal, lots of us got nervous. At the same time he took a valiant run at a Canadian coalition that would recognize Quebec as a distinct society through the ambitious Meech Lake Accord. Personally I didn’t see the problem. What we learned by that failure was something that we already knew, that Canada is a large country. Toward the end, Mulroney’s lavish ways, ballooning government and patronage looked much like everything he had condemned nine years earlier. (I think Mila would have made a better PM.)
Chretien was a different cat. A kind of federal Ralph Klein, with different policies. Man of the unlettered, folksy street fighter who seemed to own his mind. We should recall—and for this still thank him—his refusal, despite great pressure from Bush and Blair to enter the Iraq war. Harper and foreign affairs critic, Stockwell Day, were apoplectic in their denouncement of Chretien’s “no.” They went so far as to write The Wall Street Journal letting Americans know that most of us up here are polishing our howitzers…and if they were in charge…
Despite the good, Chretien too grew entitled, forgetting the un-titled. There’s a pattern here. Is it the system? Is it the power or the person or both?
Stockwell Day never did become PM. I liked Mr. Day, he spoke at a Hope Mission banquet once and seemed a genuine, caring sort, although somewhat self-approving. His Canadian Alliance campaign appeared to make inroads in the east, but then, in a scene as close as Canadian politics can get to some of the vaudevillian elements south of the border, Chrétien’s “attack dog” Warren Kinsella went on Canada AM with a stuffed Barney dinosaur. You see, as a proponent of young earth creationism, Day had remarked somewhere of his belief that dinosaurs and humans once co-existed. Kinsella, who was on the program with Alliance election strategist, Tim Powers, said, “I just want to remind Mr. Day that The Flintstones is not a documentary…and this is the only dinosaur that has co-existed with humans.” After the “Barney moment”, Powers said to Kinsella, “We’re fucked. We are well and truly fucked (The War Room, Kinsella).”
Paul Martin was a decent PM. But he was handed a barn full of steaming dung, otherwise known as the “sponsorship scandal” that he couldn’t fork out in time. I took him to be sincere, compassionate and pragmatic. And on this score his work on the Kelowna Accord should not be forgotten.
One of the sad givens of partisan politics is that the good work of a defeated government is often shelved by the new leader—the ego seems not to allow it. The Kelowna Accord was one of those critical and good works that seemed to offer a way forward. No other effort has brought together, in good faith, all our diverse aboriginal communities and the Crown. Despite deferential nods during the 2006 election, the Accord was profoundly ignored by the new government.
Which brings me to Stephen Harper, who as an underdog back with the Canadian Alliance, had my respect—well, outside of several more-than-niggling social issues. He had handily beaten Day for the new Conservative leadership and seemed a capable janitor—something Ottawa needed at least for the short term.
So while I had ostensibly cut my Conservative roots (a couple decades working in the inner-city had much to do with this), I wasn’t all that disappointed when, almost twelve years ago, Harper won on the strength of accountable government, transparency, fair nonpartisan Senate appointments etc., all the things that the Liberals had abandoned.
Here is Stephen Harper’s message from 12 years ago:
Today, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking the forgoing a Liberal or NDP attack ad. (To be fair, he did cut the GST.)
I fear however, because the alternatives to Harper are not as inspiring as one would have hoped, and because the two dominant forces of our culture are economics and utility (although even here, a recent MacLeans article makes the point that Harper’s unprecedented deleting of data and squelching of science is hurting Canada economically), that come October 19, we will have a Conservative minority government.
Because of this, for those who may find it difficult to abide another Harper government, I have written Mr. Harper to ask him, should he indeed form the next government, to create a new Office for the Advancement of Supralogical Truth—so we may be trained in the faith that his ways are higher, his thoughts also, past finding out, and live more contentedly within the regiminion.
Note: Please know that all of the preceding proceeds from a soul that still loves to live in Canada. And so I will respect the outcome, whatever it may be, of our democratic process.