“The middle of the road is only good for horse shit”

That’s funny. And often true. And it makes for a great headline.

More often than not, the status quo sucks, I believe.

It’s been a busy few days on the election-front, so on that note and in lieu of addressing some of the specific campaign promises being made by the parties, I want to stop and do some big-picture wondering.

I’m wondering right now as to what qualifies for middle of the road in Canada these days?

It’s a clichéd truism that governments campaign to the left and right of their party lines, but govern from the centre. To be sure, whatever governing Stephen Harper’s been doing these past few years, it has definitely at times felt to me like we’ve been dragged waist-deep through a pile of horse dung. Or is that Grade-A Canadian moose dung?

If the past five years have been reflective of Canadian centrism, then I want nothing of it.

What can we assume “Middle of the Road Canada” to be? Is there even such a thing? If there is, is it a good thing? Is it something like Middle-America? Turns out the exact middle of Canada is somewhere near Arviat, Nunavut, and my guess is that not a lot of electoral attention is being focused there. So is there an “average” Canadian that the parties are trying to appeal to?

I don’t think so. Sure, polling data suggests certain tactics, phrases, and campaign styles that resonate with the electorate, but that doesn’t mean there’s a singular typical voter.

I don’t think there’s a true “Middle of the Road Canada,” or a “Middle of the Road Canadian.” But there is a status quo and there are those that perpetuate it. I recently lamented that there’s been a dearth of inspiring Canadians as of late. I still think this is so. But we are still the country that gave the world insulin, the telephone, duct tape, walkie-talkies, Standard Time, and Superman, dammit! These things didn’t come about from embracing the status-quo or moseying on down the middle of the road (covered in shit, no less!).

The only “Middle of the Road Canada” that exists, I believe, is one where little gets done, boringness is a virtue, and apathy reigns supreme. Sound familiar? The “Middle of the Road Canadian,” then, is that apathetic voter (or non-voter, as it very well may be) that keeps this status quo churning. Little surprise, then, that the Conservatives are appealing exactly to this sentiment: Harper’s primary fear-based campaign tactic is indeed one of the necessity to “stay the course”.

I’m tired of staying the course. Staying the course means we get to keep on trudging through a pile of steaming horse shit. Staying the course means it’s less likely we’ll come up with the next insulin, the next duct tape, or the next Superman. Props do go to Jim Balsillie for proving the exception when it comes to the next telephone. But it’s a boring phone, and is still number five…

So right now, I’m interesting in finding which political party is doing its best to keep us out of the shit-covered middle of the road:

Harper’s Tories (sans platform) are running a locked-down, uninspiring campaign that has not yet presented any bold new ideas for Canada or Canadians.

Ignatieff’s Liberals, in their platform launched today (more on that, soon), have indeed presented some bold new ideas and governing policies.

And Layton’s NDP (no platform from them yet) are maintaining their own internal status quo.

It’s only a week and a half into the election and I haven’t cast my vote yet. I haven’t yet evaluated the parties on fully equal ground, since it’s only the Libs who have put out a platform (which says something in and of itself).

But if you’re planning your trip down the not so metaphorical Trans-Canada Highway, it’s often beneficial to take a look at a map before you leave. And right now, the Conservatives’ map is just going to get Canadians dragged through a whole load of horse shit again. The NDP’s map – as spiffy and Web 2.0 as it may be – has a tendency to malfunction, and I don’t particularly want to get lost in Biggar, Saskatchewan.

Right now – at this point in the campaign – if you’re judging by how much shit you want to avoid on your journey – which seems as good a reason as any to pass judgement – it’s the Liberals that have the best roadmap for Canada.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. These guys do. And so do these. And hey, even these guys kind of do (but probably not for long).

As an aside, a wise musician friend of mine once laid some wisdom on me with a charge to remember that “what you think is the status quo is always changing.”

So I will not be so myopic as to mark my ballot yet. Lord knows the Grits have been covered in their share of horse shit over the years. But at this point, it is getting easier to see where my big “X” might go.

Who is “Joe the Canadian” today?

Remember Joe the Canadian? What a great symbol of Canada he was. Understated, yet proud. One who celebrated the diversity of Canada, and stood up for our uniqueness on the world stage. A proponent of peace keeping, multiculturalism, hockey, and chesterfields. While he didn’t say it in the famous commercial, back in 2000, one of the distinguishing features of being Canadian at the turn of the millennium was appreciating a nuanced and balanced perspective on domestic world affairs.

Ten years later, what do Canadians look like?

If you ask the current Conservative government – the people charged with representing us domestically and internationally, people that you might assume (and rightly so) would have a good answer to that question – here’s what you might hear back…

Michael Ignatieff – the Canadian – is unCanadian. Jack Layton – the Canadian – is part of the Taliban. Dalton McGuinty – the Canadian – is a small man of the Confederation. Richard Colvin – a man charged with representing Canadians – is an untrustworthy liar. And Irwin Cotler – the Canadian (and the Jew) – is an antisemite.

These “definitions” are too sharply defined; they cut Canada and Canadians into isolated segments and divide us into useless categories. Unsurprisingly, the Conservative paradigm is one of sharp dichotomies: Big people and small people. People who are trustworthy and people who are liars. Canadian and unCanadian. To be sure, this paradigm itself is pretty unCanadian. At least it would be according to Joe the Canadian.

But wait a minute – wasn’t Stephen Harper just speaking about “putt[ing] aside old quarrels and… embrac[ing] a common future?” Oh wait, he was talking about the Olympics.

The latest round of demagoguery (though can it be called a “round” if it’s just a continual pattern?) has centered on the Conservative’s defunding of the Human Rights organization, Rights and Democracy, over their alleged anti-Israel stance. Of course, this fits in nicely with the Tories’ hardline ‘you’re either wish Israel or against them’ stance.

It is rare that I find myself agreeing with Haroon Siddiqui, and even rarer that I would quote him to back up my argument, but I’m happy to do so today as he is bang on in his assertion that “Israelis thrive on democratic debate and dissent but Harper… want[s] to shut down debate in Canada.”

For those too afraid to side with Sidiqqui, Liberal MP Anita Neville, co-chair of Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel (and Jewish herself), has also argued that “by making [support of Israel] frequently into a black-and white-issue, [the Tories] are setting it up as a wedge… And it’s creating a backlash.”

This is an issue that has garnered international attention. And rightly so.

William Schabas, the Canadian director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights recently posited an opinion that resounded incredibly loudly with me, noting that the current goings on are “extremely partisan and highly divisive. It isn’t very Canadian. It’s the kind of thing that I, as a Canadian living abroad, am very conscious of.”

I’m left wondering what a Joe the Canadian commercial might look like today. Do we really want to accept the Tories’ definition of who and what is and isn’t Canadian?

Perhaps that job should be left to the beer companies…

Is there a Doctor in the House?

Do the Conservatives pledge a hypocritic oath when they take office? You might assume so, given this juicy item emerging from the dark pages of parliamentry history…

“Bloc part of secret coalition plot in 2000 with Canadian Alliance”

You might also assume that they take such an oath given what Harper had the gall to say yesterday. These were his words:

presser-62“Mr. Speaker, yesterday, as part of the culmination of the machinations of the leader of the NDP, we had these three parties together forming this agreement, signing a document, and they would not even have the Canadian flag behind them. They had to be photographed without it.

They had to be photographed without it because a member of their coalition does not even believe in the country. As Prime Minister it is not my responsibility to turn the keys of power over to a group like that.”

Those are his words. And how about that picture? Well that would be the photograph that Mr. Harper was referring to. See those things in the background? Yup. Flags. Canadian flags. Provincial flags, too.

It’s actually amazing that we can interpret anything the Tories are saying these days, given that they’ve taken to new stretches of doublespeak. The CPC is now saying one thing in English to the Anglos, and a diametrically opposite thing in French to the Francos. Do they think that there aren’t those of us who are bilingual? That line of thought would fall in line with their black and white view of the world, though.

To round off today’s vomit-inducing news, I prescribe reading the Toronto Star’s Q&A’s about Coalition governments. Here’s an excerpt of extreme importance to my fellow (temporary) ex-pats:

Is this a coup d’état?
That’s the way the Harper government would like to portray it. But it’s fundamentally confusing a Republican system with a Parliamentary system. In essence, we have an indirect election of government – rather than a direct election. In a Republican system, voters in the U.S. got to decide, `Do I want McCain or Obama.’ And then secondarily: `Who do I want as my local rep or my state rep?’ Whereas in the Canadian parliamentary system, like the British parliamentary system, you only get to vote for whoever your local rep is, and then the majority of members of that legislature then get to decide who forms that government. And they’re free to change their minds over the course of a parliament…

Until tomorrow night…

It’s Demo-crazy!

bron1180lMy, my, my how things have changed up North. There are indeed moments when I long to be back in Canada. This is one of them. Things are heating up in the true north strong and free, although I imagine that Stephen Harper would argue that things are a little too strong and too free for his liking.

In case you’re living under a rock (read: If you’re an American and don’t get any news beyond the borders of your country), you can enjoy a sampling of Canadian news here, here, here, and here.

I imagine that I’ll have much to say over the next week as this coalition comes to fruition and our “strengthened” government (Stephen Harper’s words) collapses. What I’d like to focus on is not the news itself… there are enough people getting paid to rant and rave about all that. Instead, I’ll direct my own rants at the inevitable hypocrisy that will emerge from the Conservative camp as they attempt to quash any attempt at upholding the notion of checks and balances in our parliament.

To get the ball rolling, let’s put to rest a few of the lies that have already emerged from the Conservative party:

LIE: The coalition is an “undemocratic,” attempt at seizing “unearned” power.

TRUTH: If the ruling party in parliament loses its majority support in the House of Commons, the Governor General will either call for a new election, or if the viable option exists for a coalition government to be formed, can allow them the opportunity to govern. More on that here, for you non-believers. This is a minority government, folks. It’s constitutional. It’s the very definition of democracy. It’s called checks and balances, people.

LIE:This is a “backroom deal that would usurp the elected government without the people’s consent.”

TRUTH: See above. Also note that anything that happens on the floor of parliament (where the no-confidence motion will take place) is hardly in a “backroom.” And also note that almost everything the Harper government has done has been in the “backrooms” and boardrooms of the country, without the people’s consent. Moreover, both the Grits and the NDP have been undeniably public and transparent with regards to their “deal”. Anyone with access to Google can tell you that.

LIE: “Voters certainly offered no mandate for the Liberals and NDP to form a formal coalition with the separatist Bloc Quebecois”

TRUTH: There is no “formal” coalition with the Bloc. They will receive no seats, no cabinet positions, and no change of status in parliament. They are no more in a formal coalition with the Libs and the NDP than they are with the Conservatives. The Bloc will continue to decide on their own what to support and what not to. If it happens that they disagree with the current Conservative agenda and agree to a progressive coalition between the Liberals and the NDP – that’s hardly a formal coalition.

AND, let us not forget that IF the Bloc were included in a formal coalition – as the Tories suggest – that would negate the Tory statement that they were not offered a mandate. Anyone with a calculator can tell you that the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc hold more seats together than the Tories. Sounds like a mandate to me…

So folks, please remember the following. What is transpiring in the Canadian Parliament is:
1. Legal.
2. Democratic.
3. Representative of the majority of the Canadian electorate.
4. Not a separatist government.

And just to round things off with an additional dose of Conservative propaganda, check out what John Ivison at the National Post has to say about the state of affairs back home:

…the most likely scenario will see Mr. Dion become Prime Minister at the head of an alliance so unholy it would have been burned at the stake for heresy in the Middle Ages.

Ivison’s statement is the definitive representation of the ideological abuse of power that pervades Harper’s Conservative party – anyone who disagrees with Harper’s view of Canada is a heretic who deserves to be consumed by fire. On that note, let me be blunt. If you are a politically and socially conservative person – I have no fight with you. We may disagree on policy, but hopefully we can agree on the foundational principles of Canadian democracy. But Harper and his Tories are trying to run government by their own rules and are trying to shut down anyone who gets in the way. Ivison’s suggestion of an unholy alliance smells as though it were lifted from the pages of the Spanish Inquisition, not a modern Canadian newspaper. Let’s try and move past that, folks.

Until the next juicy tidbit emerges…

Money and Gunpowder

There are two people in a debate about what are the most pressing factors concerning a stable society. One of the pair, a military industrialist, is driven by money and might. He believes security, fiscal responsibility, and military might to be the most important pillars upon which a country functions healthily.

The other debater, a Christian man, is driven by his religious values. He believes that getting a liberal arts education, teaching ethics and morals, and supporting the poor are the most important pillars upon which a country functions healthily.

The two men spar words, arguing over what religion exactly entails, how it should influence leaders, how it should influence romantic relationships, and what to do with your religion when you’re in a position of power.

These two people are not Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. Nor are they Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama. They are Andrew Undershaft and Adolphus Cusins.

Who are Andew Undershaft and Adolphus Cusins?

They are characters in George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara. It’s one of the plays I’m working on right now. And it was written in 1905. For those of you who can’t do math, that’s one hundred and three years ago.

It appears that either Shaw was a great prophet – a possibility which I’m not entirely willing to rule out – or there are certain historical/philosophical constants which govern the cosmos. And one of those constants is the divisiveness in opinion as to who is responsible for caring for the constituents of a country. Shaw’s characters might as well have been ripped from this morning’s newspaper headlines. And I’m willing to bet that they will ring as true and imminent a year from now, and then some.

I’m not going to preach as to which of the two I believe is in the right. Or… in the “left” as I would have it. I’m going to share one of the characters’ dialogues, just to shed a little light on the state of the world today. Anybody who thinks we’re at the lowest of lows, living in a time when our governments are riddled with corruption, our leaders incapable of leading, and trillions of dollars being spent on death and destruction should take a look at Shaw.

Things haven’t changed that much:

“There are two things necessary to Salvation… Money and gunpowder. That is the general opinion of our governing classes. The novelty is in hearing any man confess it.”

“Is there any place in your religion for honour, justice, truth, love, mercy, and so forth?”

“Yes: they are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life.”

“Suppose one is forced to choose between them and money or gunpowder?

“Choose money and gunpowder; for without enough of both you cannot afford the others.”

“That is your religion?”