Which is just to say that not many people will be sleepless on Leader’s Eve. If anything is clear about politics these days, it’s that there is no Santa Claus.
For starters, your average Walmart greeter exudes more sincerity than contemporary political leaders. Trudeau and Trump come to mind, though they’re merely the latest in a long line of public people who have abused language to the point where they’re both like the boy who cried wolf.
No one believes politicians anymore. ‘Last election under first-past-the-post,’ vowed Justin in 2015. ‘No cuts to Medicaid,’ tweeted Trump in 2016. Blah, blah, blah. People believed them and forked over their votes. You know what happened next.
Even if these guys should accidentally tell the truth some day (at least the kind that rises above cliches and platitudes), there will be a lot of people rolling their eyes. There are, after all, more important matters to attend to — like cleaning out the cat box. There is a reason voter turnout is circling the toilet bowl in most western democracies. The system is dying of insincerity.
There is also a widespread belief that our political leaders are not really leaders at all, but mere sock puppets for the real powers behind the throne. Whether it’s the corporate welfare bums at Bombardier, or the owners of those bitumen-laden pipelines, Trudeau can’t seem to say no to certain people. His claim that we can have it both ways on the environment is as tiresome as it is disingenuous.
And while Trump wants to dump 23 million Americans off Medicaid in repealing Obamacare, he’s managed to find an extra $54 billion for the military-industrial complex. Those guys already suck more than $700 billion a year out of the American people, who remain buried under $22 trillion of debt. Debt that is mounting faster than Trump jokes on late-night TV.
Our leaders don’t lead, they follow. But who are they following? Hint: It’s not the middle class.
The Conservatives face an even greater problem: convincing Canadians that their leadership choice is consequential. It’s an obstacle much bigger than the generic lack of credibility or essential lap-dog status of most contemporary politicians.
Like the heavy chain Jacob Marley dragged behind him in A Christmas Carol when he tried to talk sense into Scrooge, the Tories must pull the leaden anchor of Stephen Harper.
An intelligent party would have made a course correction after Harper’s anti-democratic, anti-court, anti-free speech, anti-environment, anti-immigrant decade of authoritarian deceit and corruption. Now, his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, has reaped the harvest of Harper’s darkly manipulative approach to governing. Wright’s “ethical wall” apparently came equipped with a ladder.
An intelligent party would have seen the need to cultivate thinkers, not Kool-Aid drinkers. It would have taken the Michael Chongs and Lisa Raitts and embraced them.
Had it done that — had it learned from defeat — the CPC could have rebalanced its far-right recent history with its historic Red Tory roots. Stockwell Day and Joe Clark both could have supported such party.
Instead, the CPC appears ready to choose one of the B actors on the leadership list who have embraced Harperism in all its ideological rigidity — and doomed future.
Let’s grade immigrants like eggs or tomatoes for their supposed loyalty to Canadian values. Let’s get rid of supply management so the Americans can bury us in their own dairy products. Let’s hand public health care over to the provinces and the private sector, so we too can have medical coverage that costs us $25,000 a year, just like the average American family.
To be sure, the mainstream media will be in Toronto in full force to huff and puff this mediocre event into something of national importance — much the way most of them struggled to lionize a very mediocre interim leader, Rona Ambrose, as the saviour of the CPC.
An interesting morning in traffic court would provide more drama than this canned coronation of the Harper status quo. But that won’t stop the TV screens from being filled with images of the new leader. Peter Mansbridge will be at his Santa Claus parade best trying to spin this into spectacle.
My guess is Maxime Bernier on the first ballot, or maybe Andrew Scheer on a later one. But it doesn’t really matter. Both are Harper acolytes and both will deliver the same message: We can win in 2019, we can beat Trudeau. That’s all they really have on offer: their blind ambition to be in charge.
While the Conservatives will get the dead-cat bounce from the wall-to-wall coverage of their new leader, it will not last long if a Harper clone is selected. For most people, backwards is not the direction of choice. Plumping up the novelty of the new leader will soon turn to scrutiny. That, in turn, will lead to an inescapable conclusion about this “new” leadership: The CPC will continue to try to impose the values and interests of its corporate “moral” majority backers on Canadians, whether they like it or not.
And that leaves an interesting possibility for the next party that will be replacing its leader, the NDP. Barring a seismic event this weekend, the Conservatives will pick someone who will ask Canadians to endorse what they so emphatically rejected in 2015. Their tent might actually get smaller.
On the other side, the great anti-Harper, Justin Trudeau, is beginning to suffer from a series of self-inflicted wounds. Broken promises on electoral reform and the environment, that awful speech to the oil patch in Houston that nullified his posture at the Paris climate talks, and dreadful personal judgment in holidaying with billionaires and trying to keep it a secret.
Hanging with the Aga Khan or Ivanka Trump is not the best way to show off your middle class credentials.
When you add into this mix the likelihood that the next big winner in Canadian federal politics will be the anti-Trump (assuming the Big Tuna is not beached by 2019), the NDP have a serious opening. They could make a comeback with progressives who parked their vote with Trudeau to defeat Harper but were betrayed on electoral reform, and Red Tories who were hoping for more from their leadership race than warmed-up leftovers.
The New Democrats may have erred in prematurely (and somewhat petulantly) dumping Thomas Mulcair after the horrendous casualties of the 2015 election. But they are still the only party that has never been trusted with federal power — the only party without the heavy baggage of incumbency. If Canadians tire of Justin’s double-talk and a backward-looking Conservative party, the NDP could show up again on the national radar screen.
Don’t be surprised if Niki Ashton becomes the woman of the hour if the old parties continue to practise politics as usual. Twice before, the NDP has entrusted the party to women. Too young and inexperienced, you say? Perhaps.
But in an era of voter fatigue with the same-old-same-old, third time could be lucky.
Author: Michael Harris