Thursday, October 15th
One of my correspondents, a dear friend and colleague, referred the other day to the current election as “epic”. I will examine that proposition in a minute, but first I must report on my excursions into the Platforms (or rather the Platform documents) of the four parties running in this constituency: Conservative, Green, Liberal, and NDP.
First, a few technicalities. I am reading all of these in PDF form, on my desktop. I also have them in text form, for more detailed textual analysis, if required. If Marshall McLuhan is correct, that “the medium is the message”, then that is my medium. The following table gives a few statistics, to set the stage.
The first thing I noticed is that none of them, even the Conservatives with their exceptionally talented typographers, has figured out that a PDF is a computer-screen document, and that computer screens are oriented landscape, not portrait. Tablets can be either, of course, but anybody reading one of these things on a tablet had better have good light, and good eyes. Wow! The bigger the screen, the better. The second thing is that they are all full of good stuff, and if you put them all together, with all their differences and contradictions, eliminated a few silly ideas put in there for the delectation of the various “bases”, and edited out the rotten prose and jargon, you would have a really good Muddle Party Platform.
In other words, we shouldn’t have to choose only one of these platforms, but rather have the best of them all together. And isn’t that what Parliament is supposed to be about? These documents cry out for an evenly balanced parliament of minorities, in which everything has to be negotiated. In the realm of political ideas, survival of the fittest sounds like a good principle to me. Who says that the best government for us will come from some kind of “winner”? I think that government by an unfettered “winner” is good primarily for the winner. If these Platforms are anything to go by, we lose a lot of really good stuff, under that system.
I like what happens when you put all four of the “first words” together, in a slightly different order:
VISION :: GROWTH :: BUILDING :: PROTECTION
Vision, for what guides us; Growth (of all kinds, not only economic), for what we want; Building, for how we achieve it; Protection, against threats to what we value. Of course, the whole thing is more complicated, but these are first words, not whole text. Put together, I think they make a good statement.
I think it highly likely that what we will get, when the tumult and the shouting die, is a government that actually provides some form of feasible muddle of all these ideas. The alternative to muddle is ideology, and we have had enough of that. Muddle is good. Muddle is stability. Muddle is democracy.
If the polls are anything like correct, it appears we may even get a beautifully muddled parliament. What a gift! Go for it, electors of the land!
But can an election producing such a result be “epic”, in any sense? The campaign, on the contrary, has been rather a squalid affair, for the most part, in its pandering to prejudice; simplistic messages; puerile rhetoric; obsession with the leaders none of whom, except for Elizabeth May, is a terribly interesting person — the other three sleek, cowering, timorous mouseketeers (in their ideas, not their personalities) are not epic figures by any stretch; schoolyard taunting; petty manipulation of appearances; etc.
And will the results be epic, if the same spirit pervades our 42nd Parliament? Alas, not likely. Political, social, and economic life will go on pretty much as before, with perhaps some new faces and a little adjustment at the margins, of almost no significance to the great issues that a gnawing away at our foundations: degradation of the places we live and need for life (a much larger phenomenon that just climate change, important as that is); the tribalization of society (predicted 50 years ago by Marshall McLuhan); the erosion of economic civilization by obsessive consumerism and financial speculation; degradation of the common wealth; etc. And these things will go on happening, not because our leaders and political systems are deficient, but because we, collectively, cannot summon up the sense and the will to tell them to shape up, reform their methods of discourse, and look after our true interests instead of their own.
Elizabeth May and the Greens, despite the turgid verbosity of their Platform, come the closest to understanding and advocating for the kind of radical changes we so desperately need. Does this mean people will vote for them? If we are lucky, they will in a few constituencies.
We are fortunate here in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. We have three candidates we can honestly vote FOR, which is more than I can say for their parties, taken individually. Our current (Conservative) MP is arguably an unworthy representative; our most vital imperative locally is to vote against him. I think the “strategic vote” (bad term—it’s not strategic at all, but tactical in a negative way) is going to go Liberal.
I have reached the point where I really don’t care who wins, as long as they win with a minority. Because then they will have to sit down and negotiate a government for us, instead of imposing one on us. And we can influence the negotiation, by speaking up while they jaw. But that process, however healthy, is not likely to address the huge issues. For example, I suppose we might dream of a better short-term climate change policy coming from it, but that benefit would be only marginal. Addressing climate change itself is an entirely different matter, so much beyond the control of the Government of Canada by itself, as to make its policy almost totally irrelevant. The problem of climate change lies much deeper, not in the way our governments act but in the way our people live, and the huge forces that win power and profit from encouraging them to go on living that way. That whole story is epic all right, if a tale of unmitigated gloom can be epic.
A story of the people actually fighting against those forces and electing governments who would take up arms against them, would be epic indeed, and I would like to see it. But I don’t see much hope that it will start soon, and it’s certainly not being fought for in this election, at any level.
Still, I am full of hope, for a muddled minority government doing the best that it can in an imperfect system, country and world, with much interesting conversation along the way.
Speaking of muddle, I am wondering about a phrase that caught my eye as I skimmed through the Conservative document, referring to Canada’s “fragile economy”. I thought these guys had been in office for nine years. Could we not expect them to have done something in that time to make our economy less fragile? Perhaps had they done that, their party could have made their first word something positive. I know something about economics, and I think the Conservatives’ ideas on that subject are not muddled, but belong in the silly bin.