By Haroon Siddiqui
Toronto Star Editorial Page
Sun May 01 2011
Who says elections are a nuisance? Stephen Harper and the media. The latter also parroted his pronouncement that this campaign was “unnecessary,” being the fifth since 2000. It’s a waste of money. It’s boring, to boot.
Canadians have proven them wrong, being fully engaged from the first week to the last, turning up in record numbers to the advance polls and dragging Harper onto a knife’s edge for Monday night.
Pooh-poohing politicians used to be the staple of hotline radio. But now it’s most media’s. Stripped of the resources for in-depth coverage and analysis, they feed off the contemporary culture of trivialization and Oprah-ization of democracy.
Thus we are told that it must be Jack Layton’s moustache or his cane that brushed aside Harper’s and Michael Ignatieff’s best laid plans. Or perhaps it was Harper not deigning to look the three opposition leaders in the eye in the televised leaders’ debate.
Speaking of which, how did you feel watching it? About 1,000 Canadians told a pollster that they were irritated, annoyed. Conclusion: “Canadians find politics ‘off-putting.’” Well, we all find all sorts of things “off-putting” every day. But that doesn’t make us infantile and incapable of sober second thought, especially about elections.
Stoking cynicism was Harper’s strategy. The more disengaged the voters and the smaller the turnout, the higher the chances of his hard-core constituency catapulting him into a majority. He was going to consolidate his base and sprinkle it with sectoral politics — Jewish Canadians here, Sikhs there and some Chinese in a handful of ridings.
The tactics worked for a while. It let him separate himself from the other three “bickering politicians.” They were getting in the way of his forming a “stable” government. Democracy equalled instability. That’s what Hosni Mubarak used to say as well.
Harper also delegitimized possible post-election arrangements between political parties in case no party won a majority and the one with the most MPs failed to get the confidence of the House of Commons.
Standard parliamentary practice, that. But Harper made it sound like a coup being hatched by the opposition.
Including even the Bloc Québécois in a parliamentary partnership would not be all that scandalous, says eminent historian Desmond Morton of McGill University. “The separatists are Canadian citizens and Canadian voters. They have a right to have their voice heard in Parliament. We hear it in Quebec all the time, so it had better be heard in Ottawa and English Canada.”
But the “Harper-ization of our minds” (in the memorable phrase of John Meisel of Queen’s University) has been such that it tripped up even Ignatieff, as he tried to run as far as he could from the very notion of a coalition.
However, Canadians quickly caught on to Harper’s politics of division, his contempt of Parliament, his bully tactics (symbolized by students being thrown out of Tory rallies), abuse of power and misuse of the treasury in showering tens of millions of dollars on ridings and groups with the sole purpose of advancing the partisan Conservative cause.
Ordinary citizens have turned the election into a referendum on Harper — specifically, on a Harper majority. Their answer to his fanning the fears of “reckless coalition” post-election was to forge one at the grassroots level, now.
Thus such groups as Project Democracy and Catch 22 are advocating strategic voting for the two-thirds of voters who do not support Harper. On their websites (projectdemocracy.ca and catch22campaign.ca), both identify candidates in ridings most likely to beat the Conservative standard-bearer. (Catch 22 is named after the number of days lost in 2008-09 when Harper prorogued Parliament).
There have been Vote Mobs on university campuses and social media activists tweeting and making videos, such as Go Ethnics Go!?!?, on YouTube, mocking the Harper strategy of wooing “ethnic” and “very ethnic” ridings.
Also taking to YouTube is a revered senior citizen, Peter Russell, constitutional expert at the University of Toronto. In his video and in a statement to Project Democracy, he says he has “never been more worried in my lifetime” than at the “scary” prospect of a Conservative majority. “I really tremble” that if Harper were to win a majority, “it’d be an indication that parliamentary crime pays.”
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears Thursday and Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted by Brent Fullard at 9:24 AM