Monthly Archives: October 2015

Thoughts on the Morning of Election Day: End of this phase of my blog: Excelsior!

Monday, October 19: Election Day

Well folks, here’s hoping: a minority parliament, with all parties prepared to try to make it work. I do not expect them to give up their differences of opinion. I expect them to negotiate in good faith, and not to exploit the situation for partisan advantage.

The business of the country must get done, and expeditiously. We have tried a series of short-term near-dictatorships, to that end. And now look at the mess we are in. Let’s try something different.

For too long we have allowed our legislators and governors, at all levels, to manipulate the political system for their own partisan advantage. Let them use it for our advantage, for a change. And if they cannot agree on where that advantage lies, then let them negotiate, issue by issue, in good faith, and with an understanding that they must come to an agreement (which is not the same thing as agreeing) with whatever urgency the situation requires.

In other words, a Parliament of Creative Negotiators, not a hung parliament.

Professor Pam Palmater of Ryerson University participated yesterday in a panel discussion on CBC Radio, and said a wise thing. She said that October 19th is not nearly as important as October 20th. That’s when the work begins.

On Election Day, I wish to repeat two ideas that appeared earlier in this blog:

First, that we will be governed by the mind-set of the people with the power, and not by any catalogue of details they may have spoken or published during the campaign. The latter are clues to the mind-set, but not definitive. By “mind-set” I mean something wider than “values”, although values are important.

Second, when systems are failing, the supervisors of the system have to take some responsibility for its failure. True, the participants are responsible too, in this instance, quite significant responsibility. But if our political system has been failing, then we have to take our share of the responsibility, and the media on which we rely for our information have to take theirs. And taking responsibility means doing the work to make that effective.

And that, for us, the people, means ceaseless agitation: writing to our MP’s, MPP’s-MLA’s-MNA’s, municipal counsellors, and our news media, telling them what we think and what we want them to do. It means being engaged, being involved, and being prepared to invest the time and effort necessary.

The recent election campaign has made me resolve to do that better than I have in the past. Tomorrow the work begins.

Anything I write to politicians and journalists will appear also on this blog.

All the best to all my readers, and many thanks for your interest.

From Four Make One: The Muddle Party Platform

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, 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.

Searching for the Muddle Party

Thursday, October 8th

By the end of my most but not very recent post, I had worked my way around to the Muddle Party, whose name I have not yet seen on any election posters in my part of the country. The idea runs thusly: If we seek a political ideology of Balance (à la Henry Mintzberg, of or Stephen Leacock (whose ideas have been characterized (by Gerald Lynch, in Stephen Leacock: Humour and Humanity, which I am now reading) as a “middle way” but which are, I believe, more of a “both-and” way)), then the content of our thinking must be perpetually muddled, while the one hand waits upon the other hand like the poor cat in the adage (not Shakespeare’s adage, but a different one). Our ideas about how to make a decision or arrive at a policy, our ideas about “process”, that is, may be abundantly clear—experience, research and negotiation tumbling forever onward, ad infinitum—but our ideas about content must be muddled, and muddle, in this context, is a Good Thing.

Since the Muddle Party has not declared itself, I must try to find one that deserves the name.

My cousin Pat Cowan recently wrote to the Prime Minister, arguing at length as follows: Either Ms. Ishaq wearing her niqab is a victim of male oppression, or she is a free adult exercising her right to decide her own religious practices. If the former, then the barriers to her full citizenship are the result of that oppression, and the government’s and our solemn duty is to support her in removing them, not by forcing her to take off the niquab, but by making it irrelevant to her citizenship. If the latter, then the government’s and our solemn duty is to support her choice under the rubric of religious freedom. All this, of course, assuming that her choices do not harm anyone else. The last time I heard, Ms. Ishaq only wants to wear the niqab, not strike anyone with it.

Since the Conservative party’s exploitation of her and her situation, whatever it may be, for political ends is clearly one of the most vicious electoral tactics ever seen in this country, completely contrary to the kind of amiable muddle necessary for our political health, I fear that we cannot award the honourable title of Muddle Party to that one.

The other three are a different matter. How delightfully muddled are they all, which makes deciding among them a severe task indeed.

The Liberal Party has always been muddled; it has been one principal source of their strength. “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.” There’s a finely tuned statement of muddle if ever there was one. But of the right kind. Mr. Trudeau recently told us, quite correctly, that our political opponents are also our neighbours and we should treat them accordingly: a most admirably muddled statement of our responsibility to people with whom we do not agree, and one which he seems willing to accept for himself. A muddle to live by, in these times when others suggest that disagreement makes you an enemy.

The NDP, struggling between the desire to remain social democrats while attracting Liberal voters and also, they hope, some Conservatives of the western populist variety, have become acceptably muddled too, but I fear Mr. Mulcair does not wear the coat comfortably, and it shows. Personally, I think that social democracy is quite acceptably muddled as it is, and that trying to mix its muddle with Liberal muddle makes, not for the right kind of muddle, but for simple obscurity and confusion, which is not the same thing.

As for the Greens, I am not sure about them. I think that Elizabeth May herself is well muddled, in the Liberal tradition, with some unmuddled thoughts about Nature thrown in. Whether that makes her, and the Green Party, muddled in the right way is a question worthy of discussion but, in this election, a moot one because she remains the strong leader of a weak party, and thus marginal.

I don’t need to talk about the Bloc, because they do not factor in my voting decision.

I will not vote Conservative, because I think their local candidate is not a worthy representative of the constituency, and because I find so little in their approach that I can support, and so much that I deplore. I may vote Liberal. I may vote NDP. I am struggling to make that choice a positive one. I will not, this time, vote Green, for the reason stated. If Elizabeth May were running here, I would vote for her like a shot.

The next step, for me, is to read the full platforms of the two parties that remain, for me, in contention. I will write again when I have done that.