Canada, Politics

“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.

Canada, Israel, Politics

A valuable and desirable passport

In the winter of 2004 while travelling in Israel, I was robbed in a taxi in Jerusalem. I tell people that it happened at gunpoint, though I can’t be certain because I never got a good look at what the driver was pulling out of the glove compartment before I bailed on the car. But I tell people this because it makes for a more dramatic story. It also has the added effect of making me appear bad-ass, a character trait that I assume isn’t normally assigned to me.

In any event, as I explained in broken Hebrew to the police that night, then again to the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv, and repeatedly to friends and family in the days following, I wasn’t entirely sure why I was robbed. I looked like a worn out traveler at the time, certainly with nothing of great monetary value on me.

Except my passport.

If it was clear to the driver that I wasn’t from Israel – and the fact that I asked him to take me to the airport may have had something to do with it – then he likely assumed that I had a foreign passport on me. And that is desirable and valuable.

I share this story now not because I particularly enjoy reminiscing about how I spent four days at the mercy of the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv. I don’t. And while we’re at it, the word “Embassy” is a stretch to begin with, since Canada’s pied-a-terre in the Holy Land consists of a few floors of fluorescent-lit office space in a Tel Aviv high-rise.

I share this story as a reminder of the value of a passport – a document with great literal and figurative power and privilege contained in its pages.

So it was with great delight when I read today of the Liberal Party’s proposed higher education initiative, dubbed the “Learning Passport.” In short, the proposed program would automatically give every Canadian high school graduate $1,000 per year to use towards their university or college education. And it would give $1,500 per year to students from low-income families.

That this is the first policy set forth from the new Liberal platform is impressive. That it’s not a partisan vote-buying gimmick is more-so. That in setting it forth, the Liberals have also budgeted the funds for the program is most impressive.

Where would the money come from to fund the Learning Passport? It would be fully funded by rolling back corporate tax cuts that were extended by the Conservatives. Say what you will about fiscal responsibility, but even Harper admits out of one side of his mouth that we’re weathering the global economic crisis well. As the Globe and Mail notes in their editorial:

“Higher education is the single best guarantee of higher earnings and future success; now is a good time, as other countries struggle with crippling debt loads, to make further investments in people…”

What continues to strike me most – beyond the honourable subastance of the program – is the title the Liberals gave the program. It drives strong and meaningful points home: higher education gets you somewhere. Like a passport, it lets you cross otherwise impenetrable barriers. And like carrying the woven bilingual pages in your pocket, a uniquely Canadian pride and privilege comes with attending a Canadian university or college.

For those keeping track, this already addresses one of the items on my personal party platform. So, well done, Grits!

Canada, Politics

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…