The Election: Day 47

There was lots of speculation today about why the Liberals are losing the election, and some speculation about the implications of a Conservative win.

The Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives in an editorial outlining three reasons why it's time for a change.

"... we have concluded that the time has arrived for a change of government in Canada. Three reasons stand out above all.
1. While the past 12 years have been relatively good ones, the law of diminishing returns has been eroding Liberal effectiveness since at least the 2000 election. A change of leadership in 2003 has failed to reverse the process.

"The government of Canada, long of tooth and short of energy, is mired in policy gridlock. Hard choices give way to easy spending, and long-term thinking is overwhelmed by short-term calculation. Lacking firm policy anchors, a heavily politi-cized Prime Minister's Office bobs from issue du jour to issue du jour, neglecting enduring challenges in favour of quick hits that hold out the promise of instant gratification. Thus, from nowhere, comes a proposal to outlaw the notwithstanding clause. Apologize, spend, line up behind the parade; it's hardly inspiring, even if a mean-spirited minority Parliament deserves some of the blame.

"Moreover, Liberal verities hinder rather than assist the finding of answers to such challenges as increasing productivity, fixing an unwieldy and politicized immigration system, steadying relations with the United States and confronting the real ills of the health-care system. Too often, ministers have resorted to the politically correct course: waving a Kyoto agreement rather than tackling greenhouse-gas emissions, or throwing money at aboriginal problems. Fresh thinking is demanded, but the same old elected officials supported by the same old circle of advisers naturally come up with the same old solutions.

"2. Then there is this matter of the culture of entitlement that has taken deep root within the Liberal Party. C. D. Howe may have been arrogant in invoking closure before debate even began on the pipeline bill in 1956, but at least he didn't hold up his chewing gum and announce he was entitled to his entitlements. Nor, to the best of our memory, did he take his driver on overseas business trips and defend the decision on the basis of his need for security advice. The Liberals have simply become too accustomed to power, and the elites in various sectors too accustomed to the Liberals. When even Ralph Goodale thinks it's all right to investigate yourself, you know you're in trouble.

"Mr. Martin, a modest and honourable man personally, has done little to challenge this culture, despite so promising during the leadership race. His parliamentary reforms proved a damp squib. Electoral reform died on the vine. A new group of PMO apparatchiks picked up where the old ones left off, exercising an iron grip over party and government affairs. In conducting business with the government of Canada, the question of ‘who do you know in the PMO?' remains regrettably relevant.

"3. Change is essential in a democracy. A perpetual lease on 24 Sussex Drive fuels the sense of entitlement that blurs the line between private gain and public good. Just as bad, a perpetual lease on Stornoway discourages the discipline and moderation required of an alternative government. Without a vibrant, continuing competition for power, a democracy runs the risk of degenerating into hegemony on the governing side and unreality on the opposition side. Both parties need to believe they can win elections — and lose them........

"Today, Canadians clearly are ready for change. If not now — if not after a painfully incoherent minority Liberal government, if not after a succession of scandals, if not after four full terms of deteriorating government — then when? When is change acceptable if not now?

The argument against change essentially amounts to this: better the devil you know than the new devil. After all, the devil you know has been mediocre, not disastrous, and lies closer to that ephemeral Canadian consensus sometimes called values. Many on the centre-left of the political spectrum remain not unreasonably suspicious of Mr. Harper's election-hour shift to the political centre. They continue to think the erstwhile neoconservative harbours a hidden agenda.

Then again, Mr. Martin himself has shifted all over the map in recent years — on ballistic missile defence, on same-sex marriage, on the Clarity Act. In the run-up to the election in June of 2004, we wrote: “We wish Mr. Martin had afforded himself the opportunity of an 18-month tryout before going to the polls. Now the voters have the opportunity to impose a probationary period themselves.”

Mr. Martin did not pass that 18-month probation. He doesn't deserve the public's opprobrium, or an electoral wipeout, but neither has he earned the right to a fifth Liberal term. A spell out of power would give the Liberals the time they so clearly need to renew themselves."

Columnist James Travers argued in a similar vein in the Toronto Star that a Harper win could rejuvenate Liberals:

"With the federal election still more than a week away, Liberals are already flipping through their Rolodexes looking for a saviour. For the moment, they should look no further than Stephen Harper.

"While Paul Martin is fast running out of time and luck, the Conservative leader has two chances to rescue the ruling party. He can either make the monumental blunder Liberals counted on when they designed their campaign, or he can win this election convincingly enough to send the western world's most successful political machine to the shop for an overdue refit.

"The second of those two scenarios is the prohibitive favourite. Harper and a party that self-destructed in the 2004 campaign have hardly put a foot wrong since November when the government fell. A significant slip now would be surprising.

"So, if Harper is to save Liberals from themselves he will have to do it with a thrashing memorable enough to force thoughtful introspection on a party more comfortable with reflex pragmatism. It's a prospect the party doesn't welcome but must eventually embrace.

"Reform, renewal and rebuilding are chores done best in opposition. Martin's attempt to transplant a fresh face on a tired party without losing power is about to be officially judged a failure, and recovery will require quiet time.

It's been nearly 13 years since Liberals thought much about their character, ethics and purpose. Since then, a lot has happened, and with the notable exception of four consecutive mandates, little of it has been good.....

"If the Conservative leader eases through another fault-free week, Liberals will be on the outside looking in for the first time since 1993, this prime minister will find his place among history's footnotes and renovators will be pounding on the party's front door. Should that be the future, Liberals will have no one to blame but Martin, a hapless campaign and themselves."

Andrew Cohen wrote in the National Post:

"The extraordinary lengths to which he had gone to save his government — refusing to meet with Parliament for weeks on end, carrying on governing even after an earlier defeat in the House, rewriting the budget three times in two weeks, the Belinda Stronach defection, the Grewal affair, on and on — had utterly changed public perceptions of him.

"Before last spring, it was still possible to think of him as poor old Mr. Dithers, well-meaning but ineffectual, the unfortunate recipient of Jean Chr├ętien’s exploding cigar. No one would say that today. The consensus now is, in the popular phrase, that he will do anything and say anything to stay in power."

Margaret Wente writes in the Globe and Mail:

"...the capper comes when Mr. Martin tries to explain why he wants to get rid of the Constitution's notwithstanding clause. He spins out a what-if scenario that ends with this punchline: A woman's right to choose could suddenly disappear. The female reporters can scarcely believe their ears. "Nobody but a blank slate would swallow that," says one. "I get it now," says another. "Stephen Harper is sending in the army so they can round up pregnant single women and detain them under lock and key while they receive religious instruction......

"Mr. Martin may not have been Canada's greatest PM. But at least he had a reputation as a principled and decent man. Now he just looks desperate. You almost feel sorry for him. All those years of waiting, wishing, planning, scheming. All that work. All those dreams. And now this.

"But you can't feel too sorry... This is not the way a serious country or a serious man should act. What we're watching is a political death without dignity."

I give the final word tonight to John Crosbie, writing in the Ottawa Citizen:

"The Prime Minister’s desperation is evident in the things that he’s tried to do during this week. Mr. Martin admitted that he approved all of these attack ads, including the attack ad that so insulted and infuriated members of the armed forces. The Liberals and Mr. Trudeau were the only ones that I know of in the last 100 years that would put troops into any of our cities with weapons. My assessment of Mr. Martin is that if he sat in the sewer, he would add to it. I was active in politics for 27 years, 10 as a provincial elected member and 17 as a federally elected member, and I’ve been interested and involved in it all my life. This is certainly the worst behaviour I have seen of any party leader."


Anonymous said...

The big question now is: can the Liberals/NDP hold the Conservatives to a minority? It's an open question at this point.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be touch and go! A Conservative majority will go to their heads. They need a probation period like the G&M mentions

Anonymous said...

That John Crosbie, isn't he something else! Just look at the sewer comment. Will Crosbie be an adviser to Harper or is getting too long in the tooth?

Anonymous said...

The quicker we can rid of martin the better for the country. Liberals need to find capable new leader and renew themselves in preparation for the election after this one.

Anonymous said...

Even the Liberal paper the Toronto Star conceded today that the Tories are going to win:-)

Anonymous said...

The Conversion of Stephen Harper:

To change from voting Liberal to voting Conservative on Monday would mean accepting that Stephen Harper had undergone a conversion from the rightwing Saul of Canadian politics, to the middle-of-the-road Paul. Voters asked to believe this conversion need to satisfy themselves that the Harper who stood in front of a gathering of neocons in the USA in 1997 and lauded them as examples to be followed, praised their philosophy, denigrated Maritimers, decried Canada as a welfare state not to be emulated, has, in the course of the past 18 months, suddenly seen the light, and changed.

How credible is this Harper conversion? Well, let the man speak for himself: he said he has become more realistic, but his fundamental beliefs have not changed. Oh, and his comments were really in jest.

If so, how much stock can a voter place today on his program, on his statements that there will not be serious cuts, that he will not introduce legislation to take away rights entrenched by the Supreme Court? What assurance does a voter have that Harper will not turn around in six months time and tell the country: Sorry, folks – I was only joking when I said those things ....

Sorry, Mr Harper, I for one do not believe a leopard can change its spots. Not even a very smart leopard. But I do believe a leopard just might dress up in sheep’s clothing ...