Politics all the way down

COYNE: Stop crediting the Tories with scruples they show no sign of possessing

Politics all the way down

Pawel Dwulit/CP

The story is told of the farmer who had an axe: a fine, handsome axe, of which he was very fond. Why, it had been in his family for generations. Mind you, over the years they’d had to replace the head twice and the handle three times, but to the farmer it was still the same axe his grandad split logs with.

The reaction to the Conservatives’ now extensive history of replacing their principles with something more convenient strikes me as similar. After each abrupt reversal of field, each casual discarding of the principles of a lifetime, the discussion centres on how hard this decision must have been for the Tories, how it “went against their principles.”

Yes, there’s nothing quite as hard as expediency, is there? Someday, historians will write about those Tory ministers who, under pressure, had the courage to do the wrong thing. Still, after so many such examples, it might occur to someone that these are their principles: not the ones they are presumed to have, based on past statements, but the ones they actually practice.

I’m not just talking about the party membership, the long-suffering Conservative base, who seem willing to put up with just about anything. I’m talking about the media. No matter how many times the Tories kit themselves out with new convictions, opposed to the old, the commentariat still cling to the belief that, in fact, it’s still the same axe.

This is a remarkable feat. Stephen Harper’s Tories can run $56-billion deficits, raise spending to all-time record levels, and grease every Conservative riding with layers of pork; they can abandon Afghanistan, coddle Quebec, and adopt the NDP approach to foreign investment; and still there exists in people’s minds another Conservative party, somewhere, for whom these policies are anathema.

I suppose it’s possible these other Conservatives exist in theory, as a kind of Platonic ideal form. And so the principles commonly ascribed to them may also be said to exist, as abstractions. But if they never actually act on them, of what real-world significance are they? How is it meaningful to talk about them?

Perhaps there may once have been this great tension between Harper In Reality and the Harper Who May Exist in Theory, wrestling with each other over every great decision. Probably it was a struggle, jettisoning long-held convictions for short-term political gain—the first couple of times. But after the 50th or 60th time I can’t imagine he even notices. So we should stop pretending he does: stop crediting the Tories with scruples they show no outward sign of possessing.

It’s not as if this is anything new, after all. The Tories have been signalling their disdain for principled politics for—well, since their founding, or indeed before. The lesson the party’s leadership drew from the Reform-Alliance experience was not that these parties had been undisciplined or ill-led, but that they had been too radical, too honest, too principled. And the lesson they had absorbed from the Liberals’ success was the corollary. So: make no promises, if you can, or if you must make some, do not be bound by them, or indeed by anything else. And now we have two such parties.

The consequence of all this realpolitik, oddly, is more or less to make politics extinct in this country, or at least redundant. The forms are maintained, the rituals are observed, but without purpose or urgency, the kind that motivates activists and inspires voters. To be perfectly clear: absolutely nothing is at stake in Canadian politics. There is no clash of visions, no conflict of values, because neither party has any. Nothing is riding, therefore, on the outcome of any election. It simply does not matter who wins.

Well, it does, but not in any way that is relevant to the voter: that is, whatever policies a given party or leader might enact after the election, in response to whatever random events or pressure groups, they must remain an impenetrable mystery before the election, or indeed at any time until the moment they are enacted. The analogy here would be with the stock market: it obviously matters what stocks you own, but you’ve no way of knowing how they will perform in advance. You might as well pick them at random. Likewise, I defy anyone to predict what the Conservatives—or Liberals—would do on any given issue. Certainly nothing they say or do beforehand should be taken as evidence of anything. Therefore no one who is not actually paid to follow politics should pay it any serious attention. It is not worth your time, except as a diversion.

I admit I have been as reluctant to admit this as anyone. My whole career has been based on the proposition that somewhere, under all the insults and lying and general bad behaviour that makes up the bulk of political life, there was some genuine issue at stake: that if you could just strip away the politics, you would eventually get to the policy. It has taken me all these years to understand that, no, it’s just politics all the way down.




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Politics all the way down

  1. Precisely Andrew. For those who are uncritical, those who don't think for themselves,the media has a big influence. When the media is more concerned with spouting off, or getting words on paper, to make themselves look good, then the unthinking masses get it wrong.
    Journalism was once a noble profession. More recently it has taken on the esteem (or lack thereof) of the oldest one.
    What we get is distortion, when we need reality.

    • Overall, good story. I disagree on one point, though. If you think both parties are the same, hand the Conservatives a majority. Whether one likes it or not, there would be an entirely different set of principals in the first year or two of their mandate. They would then wander back to the middle as the next election nears.

      • I'd suggest your added premise kjb works just as well by handing the Liberals a majority. However, they have delivered on some principle-bashing as a balanced budget, promises of universal daycare, the Kelowna accord, etc that were true promises kept, no matter the deadline. The CON mumbo-jumbo (repeated by the promise everything nDp) that 13 years blah blah does not take into account that 11+ years of Chretien and 2 of Martin saw different promises kept/broken at different speeds.
        Harper broke his first promise with the swearing in of his cabinet. That his core principle and moral fibre permitted him to at minimum turn the other way while an offer to buy the vote of a dying MP truly makes him of a regretable soul.

  2. A lot of people mistake a short memory for a clear conscience.

    - Doug Larson

    ps Dear reader: please don't assume I do or don't mean your team.

  3. Its very nice for Coyne to sit in his ivory tower and be as principled as he wants, neither willing to change his mind or take a different approach even though the facts presented may require you to change that opinion. After all, it is principle beyond all else. Never mind the welfare of the country or its relationship with the rest of the world.

    Coyne why not run for office and show us how ideological pure you are. That will be the true test. Otherwise this column is just another rant from a very small c Conservative media type.

    I do agree with some of your points but on the larger issue the PM has said in the past there would be a role for Canada in Afghanistan post 2011 and apparently that decision has been made.

    • H,

      Was that the mantra you were chanting in '97, 2000 and 2004? That we needed less principled government? That we needed to overthrow the dogmatic, overly principled governance of the Liberals in favour of a more pragmatic style fo governance that would allow for changing circumstances and not be tied down to electoral pledges? Is that what you were saying? because that's how your post reads.

      • No but I am smart enough to understand that we live in a complex world and times and circumstances change whether we like it or not. If Harper hung in he would be criticized for not listening to the cry of Nato and our international partners. I know you guys who have no use for Harper will criticize him no matter what decision he makes. So he tacts left and right and sometimes in the middle. As Andrew Potter says he is all over the place and by being so the opposition can never figure out what he will do next. I believe Harper is being pragmatic. It would be easy for him to take the easy road but he judges the situation and makes the call. Unlike Ignatieff who can't make up his mind from one day to the next.

        • "You guys"? Actually, if you scroll back in my comments, you will find a number that actually agree with the proposition you make that too much is made of promise-breaking by government. There really are times when it is necessary because you didn't have all the facts; circumstances changed; or public opinion on the one issue either changes or solidifies.

          However, if I were to take the time to review your comments online, if they went that far back, would they be of the saem opinion when you were assessing the merits of how Chretien handled certain files, like NAFTA or GST? Let's face it hollinm, for all the wailing you do about hyper-partisans on these boards, you are one of the most shameless shills going; willing to forgive anything if it comes from the CPC. They rode into town on a white horse of self righteous indignation, vowing to be principled, vowing to change the way politics were played. You can't surf to power on that wave and complain when it engulfs you, to shift metaphors.

        • I don't know about all those other "you guys," but I figger I don't need to have any use for PMSH when hollinm is so willing to have enough use for him for me and everybody else. And don't think I don't appreciate that.

    • hollimn, how can it not occur to you that abandoning principle may have a negative effect on the' welfare of the country or its relationship with the rest of the world'?

      • Jan, I am 100% agreeing with you, and they said hell would never freeze over : )

        • I think a hot rum would be appropriate, Claudia. Power to the people! :-)

    • the conservative apologists are going to be testy about this one. a very clear dissection on the lust for power that all political parties have in abundance.

      librano or con, it's the same old song

      • librano or con, it's the same old song

        Oh come on. That doesn't even rhyme!

        Why abandon a classic?

        It's Liberal, Tory, same old story.

    • Just keep on being unprincipled, holeinthehead. Tinfoil's up 2.3 cents a share!

    • Hollinm, may we remind you of this gormess defense of Con shiftiness and opportunism the next time you point a finger at an opposition party and accuse it of lacking principle?

      Ah, the smell of hypocrisy is thick in the air…

      • I'm not sure it'd be a good idea for any supporter of this government to accuse an opposition party of lacking principle.

        What if, 48 hours later, the PM announces that he's going to follow the lead of said unprincipled party??? That would be quite a pickle!

  4. " …. that if you could just strip away the politics, you would eventually get to the policy. It has taken me all these years to understand that, no, it's just politics all the way down."

    Great article, Coyne. I don't vote for any major party and have felt the way you do for at least twenty years. I would argue 1988 free trade election was the last election where ideas mattered. Since the baby boomers entered politics in mid 80s, all that has mattered is getting elected and if that means bamboozling or lying to electorate, so be it.

    All of Canada's major parties are Social Democratic – all believe in big government, ever increasing taxes, State in control of everything, subsidies for everyone and heavily regulated businesses. There is no real choice, we are choosing between tweedledum and tweedledee but the media blows up the slightest difference in policy and makes it seem like there are huge differences between parties.

    I am fed up with Cons, they couldn't organize a piss up at a brewery. I would love it if someone in msm had gumption to ask Harper about denying people's property rights in Potash Corp decision and does he think his government's decision makes Canada more/less a second tier socialist country he was bemoaning ten years ago.

    There was a terrific article in Daily Telegraph the other day by Peter Oborne called Parliament Rotten To Core:

    "What struck me hard, however, was the realisation that ministers and government spokesmen were systematically and deliberately making false statements – lying – on the record in Parliament and to the press ….. There is a common thread to these stories. All three cases show that lying and cheating are still regarded as acceptable conduct by the British Political Class. Our MPs continue to regard themselves as somehow beyond the basic morality that applies to their fellow citizens. I used to believe that this arrogant and dishonest approach to politics was peculiar to New Labour. Now it looks like common practice for all parties"

    • The major problem — one of the major problems, for there are several — one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

      To summarize: it is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

      To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

      To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

      - Douglas Adams

  5. Couldn't agree more. As usual you hit the nail on the head.

    • He doesn't always hit the nail on the head, in fact he misses the whole board at times, but this time he does.

  6. I may be being overly naive here, but I believe that there are fundamental differences between the Conservatives and other parties.

    One is that the Conservatives seem more ideologically committed to punishment – they are planning to toughen sentences and build more prisons even though the evidence suggests that this will not improve public safety.

    Another is that the Conservatives seem to distrust expert opinion in favour of gut instinct – for example, the refusal to support InSite and the plan to make the long-form census mandatory.

    When the Liberals were in power, they seemed to spend a lot of time figuring out which way the parade was going so that they could run to the front of it and pretend to be leading it. But they seemed to be a bit more pragmatic than the Conservatives are now. In fact, it's reasonable to suppose that it has been a fatal lack of pragmatism at key moments that has prevented the Conservatives from obtaining a majority during a time in which the voting public has been extremely unhappy with the Liberals.

    • "they seemed to be a bit more pragmatic than the Conservatives "

      if you say so.

      what we would both agree is that they were definitely more corrupt.

      and THAT is a big deal, regardless of how wishy-washy they each are on policy.

      • what we would both agree is that they were definitely more corrupt

        Not sure I agree with you there, what with the in-and-out business, whatever happened with Cadman, etc. etc. etc.

        It is true that Harper isn't particularly motivated by money – but then, neither was Chretien.

        • No, it is true that Harper et al isn't particularly motivated by personal profiting, but if it's for the Conservative Party, no scam is too low. Witness the Senators and the 10 percenters.

          • there are scams that go a lot lower than the senators and the 10 percenters. i don't think harper et al would stoop as low as adscam for example. but of course that's totally different since it was for a good cause like the liberal party of canada which makes it all ok.

          • Uh, you realize adscam stole FROM the Liberal Party of Canada as well, right? Also, that the Liberal Party of Canada didn't benefit from it (although some Liberals did personally).

          • uh, you realize adscam involved government funding money being donated BACK TO the liberal party of canada as well, right? also, that it was used to reward liberal fundraisers for their support of the liberal party of canada.

            so actually yes, the liberal party of canada DID benefit from it. until they got caught that is. harper may be a dishonest piece of sh*t but that's still a lot better than being a liberal. i don't think he'd stoop that low.

          • We got cash, you got government contracts. Both sides got rewarded fundraisers.

            I think we both need to step back slightly and realize we're comparing dishonest pieces of sh*t, as if either one of us wants a dishonest piece of sh*t.

          • glad to see you're admitting your statement about the liberal party of canada not benefiting from adscam was a lie. very un-liberal of you.

            i don't want a dishonest piece of sh*t but i recognize that harper has a long way to go before he matches liberal standards of dishonesty. your statement above that for the conservative party "no scam is too low" is bogus. adscam was lower than anything the conservatives have done. it took liberals to go that low. hopefully harper never gets that bad.

          • Yeah, I had forgotten the fundraising bit, how that increased the Liberal coffers before they stole it. And I'm sure everyone has their personal lowest of the lows, but for me it is the Senators and 10 percenters. I know it isn't anywhere near as much money, and so measuring by that yardstick you are quite right that adscam was lowest. But this thing is just so very cynical on top of scummy, to me. The difference between a bank robber and a con man, if you will.

          • Harper's on a pretty good trajectory though isn't he? It took the Liberals over a DECADE to get that bad. Harper may not have caught up yet, but what he has done he's done in half the time.

          • i don't want a dishonest piece of sh*t but

            ***
            ..but you'll change your position the minute it becomes advantageous? How "meta" of you!

          • Certain people in the Chretien years did some really bad things they went out of their way to hide.

            but I don't think he'd do anything as lunatic as the census (still the most pointless initiative in Canadian federal political history!), or treat the very foundations of government as callously as going back on the fixed election promise, the first pro-rogue, or withholding the detainee docs.

            Pick one's poison, I suppose.

          • shawinigate

  7. Right on, Coyne! That's what politics have become: a big hoopla of nothing. I haven't voted for a major party in years and I'm always asking myself the same question when I vote: why bother? Democracy's gonna get screwed anyway.
    I've got an idea: let's NOT vote en masse on the next federal elections. Think about it: the whole of Canada's population NOT voting on election day. That would bring the whole shebang to a screeching halt and maybe something new and fresh would spring out of the mess. Yes, I'm a dreamer.

    • See the poster in the photo above? You're playing into his hands.

    • That is not a strategy, it's a recipe for disaster. This is exactly what harper wants: for you to feel like your vote is empty. It isn't. Pay attention to the policies and platforms, for what they're worth, and vote darn it. Otherwise, we all lose an awful lot (and what are we fighting for in Afghan in the first place? a little something called democracy?)

    • Tell me, what threshold do you think needs to be reached before a politician says, "Wow.. that's too few people voting, I guess I shouldn't get this job and the pay and perks that come with it." Is it 25%? 20%? 5%? The politician and his family? Come on, you obviously have some idea of when the system magically decides that a certain number of votes means the game's over, so what is it?

      • A very valid point. It could even be messy if it's certain ridings or regions that suffer mass disengagement calling any election there into question. What's the (cough, cough ) U.N's position on electoral participation?

  8. Good article – nice to get people thinking this way. I wish the cheerleaders would have strength and courage to call them out on this more often, but instead, more often than not, they opt to buy into their preferred myth of "at least they are better than the enemy". I have no problem with people supporting whoever they want to support – but they should be willing to call them out on the BS instead of muttering "Baaaaaa". Instead of entrenching yourself in the never-ending battle with the enemy, work towards making your side better.

    • Hear, Hear!

  9. This phenomenon is related to Wherry's blog on the book "Dynasties and Interludes", under the title "Know Your History"

    Here is Wherry's pull quote from the book:
    Canadian political parties have traditionally been brokerage parties. Lacking stable support in the electorate, and avoiding clear ideological differentiation from their competitors, political parties approach each election anew, hoping to put together a coalition of support across the entire electorate. Brokerage parties do not seek to appeal in election campaigns on the basis of long-standing principles, or on a commitment to fundamental projects to restructure the economy or society, even if they have these. They are not bound by positions or actions they have taken in the past. Electoral platforms are typically put together from a short-term point of view, offering a mixture of assurances of general competence to deal with the major problems of the day, commitments to prosperity and social security, specific promises designed for instant appeal, and an assertion that only they can provide creative leadership.

  10. Agreed, with sadness, regret and disgust.

    I just came here, btw, after reading an article elsewhere about how Tory Senators are suddenly, cheerfully using tax dollars to send ten-percenters. Great job, "tax-fighter" turned Senator Bob Runciman.

    Which Common Sense Revolution were we a part of, again?

    • The Common Sense is, once in power, it's only common sense to do anything you can to stay there, to the direct & indirect, tangible & intangible benefit to you, your friends, family & fellow-travelling ideologues (read: tribe).

      Where's the mystery in that?

    • The one that says that it is common sense to assume that politicians will say, and do, anything to gain and retain power.

  11. Politicians is about power not principals….absolutely
    This revelation now joins the other Truths:

    CanLit is about rent-seeking, not literature
    Major charities are about incomes, not outcomes
    AGW is about crony capitalism, not sustainable energy
    Journalism is about cheer-leading, not information

    "You can remove morality from politics like you can remove the head from a chicken and they'll both keep going — politics much longer than the chicken." Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the B******s, P. J. O'Rourke,

    • principles not principals, of course.

  12. Because ideology doesn't work.

    • Neither does being considered snake oil salesman. Sell anything by any means necessary for personal interest.

      • Politiicans have always sold us snake oil. All parties.

        They've told us we can have everything we want, and it won't cost us a nickel.

        And we like that deal.

  13. I agree that when you get to the bottom of things the Liberals and the Conservatives are very very similar.
    But to say there are no differences isn't fair either. I doubt the Liberals would have launched the "we need more jails" program, cancel the long form census and replace it with a more expensive and not as effective census or lower the GST by an insignifcant amount to individuals but make a serious dent in government revenues.

    They have different visions of how government should work and thus different ways of getting there. On some high profile files like Afghanistan they're almost identical but on others like the environment they're worlds apart.

    What I find the most lacking in Canadian Politics is vision, on that I agree with Coyne. Trudeau was the last PM we had that had a vision of where Canada should be going: he was polarizing but for all the right reasons.

    • "Trudeau was the last PM we had that had a vision of where Canada should be going: he was polarizing but for all the right reasons."

      Please, let the Nazi sympathizer rest in peace.

      I love Canada, it's my home and I don't care one wit for some politician with a "vision". Vision = higher taxes and screwy economy; lesson taught to Canada by PT.
      I'd be ecstatic for a somewhat competent, nerdy economist who rather blandly steers the nation toward a solid economy.
      Nice and boringly Canadian.

      • That's because you believe a govt can be run like a business….and it can't.

        Also…'where there is no vision, the people perish'

        PS…Trudeau may have been a lot of things, but a Nazi sympathizer he wasn't.

        • In his youth, he was.

          • I pooped in my pants in my youth. Guess I'm a terminal pants pooper.

            Stephen Harper was a Young Liberal. Think about that one for a second before bringing up the folly of youth. Or think about your own early 20's.

  14. The new glasses we see Harper wearing are his peril-sensitive rose coloured glasses. His principles change with whatever peril he can avoid to gain even one more vote. The Liberals don't even seem to matter to this country any more and so from that standpoint Harper has beaten them as he wished.

    If we are going to avoid a bloody revolution in this country (and there will be a revolution) we need to start deliberately making electoral changes and new rules for our government to follow, a civilized revolution, or we all will be very very sorry.

    • There isn't going to be any revolution, much less a bloody one.

      'rolls eyes'.

      • For once I agree with Emily.

        Care for some tea?

        • Oh my god. I think I may have agreed with Emily ,too….while choking on my green tea. I think I need some sake. This is a first.

  15. So what type of conservative is Bill Vander Zalm. He opposed one of the few Conservative party policies based on any type of principal yet he is lauded by many conservatives and many in general as charismatic real man of the people type despite his past transgressions. Even in Ottawa he has not been crictized by the like of Coyne or Wells he even gets invited on CBC Power and Politics whenever they have a slow day over the summer.

    • Vander Zalm is no conservative. He is a social credit and he got his ass handed to him for it. Vander Zalm is an outrage and a balls out opportunist, particularly on the HST initiative.

      The media have given this craven politician a free ride on the shameless fact that Zalm brought in the Property Transfer Tax a far more destructive and wealth zapping tax than any HST.

      • Agreed. The local media in BC have been fawning in their coverage of Vander Zalm on the anti-HST campaign, especially the Vancouver Province, but really all of them. I've never seen such uncritical coverage, outside of the old East Bloc and North Korea. Unbelievable.

      • The point I would make is that Vander Zalm and Harper share a lot of the same supporters. While I don't think Vander Zalm is yet a direct threat to Harper at the federal level he definately doesn't take orders from Harper. Even people on the farthest right reaches of Reform such as Randy White were and are working behind the scenes to try promote the HST on behalf of Harper and Flaherty clearly Vander Zalm doesn't listen to Harper in the way Randy White does despite the association one might think they would have on the political spectrum.

        The amazing thing is the support Vander Zalm gets in the media both provincially and federally. People like Coyne are complaining politicians have no principles but Coyne isn't crictizing Zalm, Bill Teilemen or their enablers such Vaughn Palmer, Keith Baldrey, Bill Good, Christy Clark, or Evan Soloman on CBC Power and Politics.

      • I'd like to differ, across the board sales tax has more of an effect on the economy than some rinky dink transfer tax. What a load!

        Like if I'm buying a house, a cheap one at a quarter million, is that tax of $3k gonna put me in the hole? Or maybe, the tax is such a burden that I might not buy it, or the bank won't lend me the money for it? Give us a break.

  16. How much of this paradox of principles a case of political capital (or lack thereof)? Let's face it: the Conservative Party doesn't have the political capital to spend to put forward many truly small-c conservative policies. I'd argue that it's doing what it can right now with its law-and-order, pro-military stance. A truly right-wing government, however, can't survive in a minority situation… it is going to have to water things down in order to maintain a hold on the levers of power. Let's put it another way: how much more closely would this government be sticking to small-c conservative principles if it had a majority government? A helluva lot more, I say. This doesn't explain all the policy reversals and principle-bending, but it explains a lot of it.

    • Harper's been telling his caucus that for years now….it's the carrot he holds out to keep them in line.

      But a party big on being conservative isn't going to get a majority anyway.

      • If the Conservatives ran a campaign based on what they'd actually do if they had a majority government, they wouldn't get a minority government, let alone a majority government.

        • LOL I'll agree with that!

      • Depends on which Conservatives you refer to. Harper's gang isn't blanket coverage. Kind of like saying Turner was the embodiment of the Liberals once when the reality was very different.

  17. Agreed Andrew, it seems to be no purpose, it looks like a charade, they are playing it by ear, I still have hope though!!

  18. Good piece AC – maybe your best since that barn burner, "Is Conservatism Dead" [ although i may have missed a few other good ones]
    This is Coyne at his best, when he comes back to the need for politicians to be principled and moral. But he does raise a couple of posers: when, if ever was politcs [ federal anyway] about sticking to principles? His answer seems to be never. While i like Andrews message it is important to keep in mind that politicians are not priests or keepers of some sacred flame either. In the end the're us writ large.
    So when IYO did the rot set in AC and will a majorty cure what seems to ail the major parties ie., the Cons will govern from then on principally and the libs will rebuild and concentrate on being a loyal GIW? I doubt it. This can't just be laid at the feet of minority govt. The generation of big ideas is fading or gone, the children have the matches now – let's hope they don't burn the house down…or maybe not?

  19. It seems to be really very simple.

    Either Harper only lost the scruples/principles he had only after he came to power (i.e. power corrupts), or he never had the scruples to begin with and only promised a government that was "purer than the driven snow" only to win votes and get into power.

    Seems that Andrew is now agreeing with those of us who fall into the latter camp. Welcome aboard, Andrew, better late than never. LOL

  20. I have to say that we are getting what we deserve because the majority of voters don't seem to reflect on anything other than what happened last week. Even worse, the only two chances we had for any significant political reform, by which I mean a change to the STV form of voting, was turned down twice in B.C. and once in Ontario. It baffles me. We all complain about the irrelevance of our politicians because they won't tell anything remotely approaching the truth and yet, when a chance to change the system came along far too many people were bleating about how complicated the system was and about all the bad things that would surely result. Instead we have reverted to a system controlled by a PM, his office with real input from a tiny handful of senior ministers and more or less, 300 odd eunuchs in parliament. When the PM changes the system will not. Thank heavens we didn't take a chance on change.

    • And who was suggesting to the voters in BC and Ontario that any form of voting other than first past the post was too complicated? Was it not the mainstream press?

    • Any why would STV stop a system controlled by a PM, his office with real input from a tiny handful of ministers and more or less, 300 eunuchs in parliament?

      It would just add a few to the number, and everything would continue as normal.

  21. Nicely said, Andrew.

    Back in the day, you knew what the NDP stood for, and you could vaguely tease apart the Liberals and the Tories. Then Reform came along and there was no mistaking where they stood. Reform and the NDP (at least under Broadbent) each had important roles to play to "stake claims" on principled positions and to nudge governing parties towards decisions.

    But you could always sort of count on the other two federalist parties to stand beside each other in the squishy middle. Not intermingle like this.

    • The NDP shamelessly stand for feeding the greedy appetites of public union representatives.

      BTW, that's just as stupid as saying the the Cons don't actually have any conservative values. What's the matter, don't you remember the Ontario NDP under B. Rae? Talk about twisting with the breeze.

      Please quit ignorantly believing that any political party is a bastion of virtue. Personally, I think the Cons are much more true to their principles than the Libs have ever been to theirs. The NDP are just wierd radicals.

      • And can you name one Liberal principle? The Liberals always stood for both sides of any issue.

        Actually, the Tories still ave a way to go before they are as unprincipled as the Liberals. But Andrew is correct on one point. They're moving quickly in that direction.

        By the way, if the Tories become as unprincipled as the Liberals does this mean Harper will be PM for 10 years just like Chretien?

        • Don't be obtuse. There are plenty of liberal principles as i'm sure you're well aware…ever heard of the just society…ring any bells? It's the latter da libs i have a problem with.

        • How about a balanced budget? Keep your Harper condescending lies, give me Chretien's unprincipled malaprops anyday.

        • Quelling Quebec's effort to separate not by pandering to them but pushing for the idea of one Canada?

      • The NDP shamelessly stand for feeding the greedy appetites of public union representatives.

        Yes, they do. But you and I and everybody know they do. They pass the truth-in-advertising test. You may not like what they are selling. I don't like what they're selling. Most Canadians don't like what they are selling. But there's no bait-and-switch.

        • "But there's no bait-and-switch. " They need to win an election before they can switch out the bait…

  22. Speaking of axes, it looks like you have your own to grind. A lot of these tough decisions that you are referring to are not tough necessarily because they do or do not go against principles big C conservatives supposedly do or do not hold. They are tough because it doesn't matter which side of the issue they fall on, they *will* be heavily criticized.

  23. It's like working non-stop to become a police officer so you can protect the innocent and uphold the law, then all of a sudden realizing that you will be nothing more than a traffic cop the rest of your life. How depressing.

    I'd rather spend my life actually living it than waste another delusional moment thinking my vote actually mattered to the country. Thank you Andrew for confirming what my father has been telling me my whole life.

  24. What a horrifyingly sad truth – and one which is not suppose to be said. This is the idealist vs the realist. For the realist to win all he needs is for the idealist to give up hope. Just because something is a certain way doesn't mean it will remain so. 1992 election campaign. 2006 election campaign. Obama's election in the states. All of these elections gave hope for change and instilled interest. The prorogation crisis of 2008 showed that Canadians do indeed care about politics. All of these are moments that the right idealist might capitalize upon and change everything. I have great respect for an intellect and political analyst of your caliber, and experience. Even when i disagree with you, I often find it to be a stimulating argument. this article however is a surrender. you are advocating for the realist. you have thrown in your white flag. this is not insight.

  25. If the alternative is to have proportional representation that will spawn a thousand parties that stand on their 'principles' rather than make the compromises necessary to provide effective governance, I'll stick with our present system and parties, thank you very much. Spawn of the devil indeed. We need more aggregation, not less of it. More aggregation, less aggrevation, I say.

    • That's an interesting point, M, the tradeoff between those two goals — firm, ideological principles, vs. the need for compromise in order to govern a large country like this. Perhaps a good topic for a Coyne-Wells smackdown?

      • I'd like to see that.

    • Compromise, especially in a minority government, is one thing; pandering by poll is quite another. May as well have daily referendums (referenda?). Of course only about 19.3% of people would vote.

      • %19.3… isn't that sad of a number given how informed most Candadians are on the issues (citation!?)

    • That's why they invented STV. So the radicals don't get in like in pure proportional. But with more than one person from a party in a riding, you can vote for an individual and a platform. Pity we didn't go for it in BC. It would make reps consider their constituents even in safe ridings.

      • Focusing on the way we vote is not the solution. Making voting more complicated will turn more people off voting. Making elections produce more unclear results will make people more cynical and encourage corruption. Fragmenting our political system into a million 'principle' parties with any form of proportional representation goes in exactly the opposite direction to what is required to modernize and reinvigourate our democracy.

        Integrating citizens directly into decision making is the solution. Forcing people with opposing interests to get together, compromise and form a consensus, and giving citizens a real say in how they are governed is the solution. Our politicians used to do this, at least to some extent. They are failing us. Changing the way they are elected will change nothing.

        • I think changing the way we vote would be a good start. I was never a believer in electoral reform before, but I sure am now. It would be nice to see a system that allows parties to maintain something of a consistent ideological bent, so at least we'd know who/what we were voting for. Parties would have to compromise in order to govern, for sure, but they could at least maintain platforms that somewhat resemble a coherent set of policies. It would sure beat the pathetic "pragmatism" and the incessant fighting over a handful of swing votes that currently dominates our political landscape in the FPTP system.

          • "Parties would have to compromise in order to govern, for sure …"

            So PR will put parties in a position to stay consistent with their ideologies, but they will be forced to compromise to govern, huh ? Sorry, RR, but that doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. Majority governments produced by the first past the post system allow parties to remain consistent with their ideologies if they should choose to do so. Harper's period in government shows that even a party pretending to have a consistent ideology cannot maintain this consistency in a minority government situation.

            What makes you think that PR would increase the propensity for consistency ? Compromise of 'principles' would be even more necessary under PR, which would further fragment our parties and political system. 'Principles' would become meaningless. Everything would become horse trading and based on corruption – what benefits any particular Member could garner for their riding at the cost of good public policy. It would be just like the US Congress.

            The only way for a political formation to have influence on policy and not compromise or be corrupted is to stay out of government. The NDP has done this with some success for many years at the federal level (although they often compromise their principles for electoral gain), the Reform Party also did so while it existed, but then it folded. Only totalitarian dictatorships may avoid the compromises that governance requires through the use of force, and even then, Stalin, for example, didn't get all his own way even after killing millions of people at random to create mass terror.

      • It's a real shame BC rejected STV. 59% of the voters approved it first time around. They made the threshold insanely high, and it still almost made it. It would have ushered in a new era in Canadian politics. Of course, the status quo politicians made sure that the threshold was high enough that they had nothing to worry about. Must have given them all quite the scare on election night. STV allows for some proportionality (actually quite a bit) without detaching representatives from specific ridings. It also weeds out the radical nutbars that would sneak in under an MMP system, because you still need to win a certain number of votes in a specific riding or cluster of ridings.

        • I think the threshold has to be very high for such fundamental changes to our democratic system. In fact, I would like to see this entrenched in the constitution along with the legal status of municipalities and the levels of representation per population, so that nobody could reduce the value of my vote. But I digress. The fairest, easiest to understand and most transparent system is the two round run off. Anybody who gets 50% in the first round wins. Anybody who gets more than 25% gets to run in the run off a week later. Easy. The French do something like this. It's the best system going. No 'wasted votes' and everybody can see what choices others are likely to make based on strategic voting in the second round.

          • Intereting debate guys.

            M I'm not sure you're right about not being able to retain principles in a PR system. I have a friend who's a greenie in NZ. He's pretty adament that while horse trading occurs, there's no sell out of priciples. I believe they even have a Maori party – wacky as it may seem to us, he claims it's a natural for aboriginals to have their own splinter party – and of course they have to be paid attention to in their system. Apparently any severe abandonment of principle is dealt with harshly at i presume the next election or internally within the parties. I realize this is mostly just 2nd hand hearsay, and may indeed be inaccurate – but it would be something to check out. I like RR have lately become disenchanted with our system with its preponderance guaranteed safe seats.

          • I see where both of you are coming from. I just don't think principles have any meaning unless you're acting on them and putting them into practice in a relatively consistent way. I think if you were to ask Stephen Harper whether he holds fast to his principles and ideology, he will say yes. If we accept that this is true, he does not put them into practice as he governs, as Coyne points out. So what meaning do these principles have if they never determine a policy outcome ? My own answer to this question : they are simply a way of gathering support, but are otherwise meaningless, in other words, pure demagogy. I think that is the conclusion that Coyne came to, reluctantly, in his final paragraph.

          • He lies to himself like he lies to all of us. He has no principles. He thinks saying he has principles is the same as actually having them. It's not.

          • " So what meaning do these principles have if they never determine a policy outcome ? My own answer to this question : they are simply a way of gathering support, but are otherwise meaningless, in other words, pure demagogy"

            That's an astute observation. I'm inagreement – have no objection whatsoever in SH holding on to his principles and ideaology – i do however object to him flying under the radar the wa he does. Demagoguery indeed!

  26. "I doubt the Liberals would have launched the "we need more jails" program, cancel the long form census and replace it with a more expensive and not as effective census or lower the GST by an insignifcant amount to individuals but make a serious dent in government revenues."

    I agree, and I think this is the point. The first issue is about playing to people's fears. Coyne has said many times that the conservatives own the law and order issue, and I agree (even though when you look at what the Liberals and Conservatives have actually done on the justice file the Liberals win hands down).

    • The other two issues are more interesting. Harper wants to tie the hands of a future Liberal government so they cannot provide services or programs in the way they have in the past. What is significant about this is that Harper is not up front about what he is doing. Someone above pointed out that Harper cannot campaign on the principles that he supposedly adheres to because he would never win a majority if he were to do so. However, it seems to me that if he can convince people his conservatives are not significantly different from the Liberals, then he can hold on to his government. In my opinion this is not about a party that has foresaken it's principles. It is about a party that pretends to be something it is not because it knows its principles can not win the hearts and votes of Canadians.

  27. 'Minority Parliament' – what is it that people don't understand? It appears some people have no idea how our political system functions.
    Canadians are well aware that corrupt Liberals stole money from the treasury and passed it out to their friends in cash stuffed envelopes – and most Canadians rejected those crooked Liberal party 'principles', unfortunately the Conservative government still has to deal with crooked Liberals in Parliament in order to run the country.
    If Canadians had soundly rejected the Liberal principles of criminal activity, then governing would be more principled regardless of which other party formed the government. Obviously.

    • Please stop repeating political hokum.

      Everyone tunes out

    • Who's Brian Mulroney?

  28. All of those quotes could quite easily buttress AC's "present" view: that those who came in like lions with much promise of accountability and strong principles are now acting like sheep with a marked aversion for accountability and highly elastic principles. All you've achieved is point out even a top journo like Coyne can get it very wrong – but then, as the say, hindsight is 20/20.
    In destoying the one party system i doubt Coyne meant emasculating yourself and your party by offering to be the new NGP liberals, rather than a principled alternative. The system has changed Harper – not the other way around.

    • Agreed. Coyne's analysis is exactly the same. Just in 2004 it was a good thing, now he thinks it is a bad thing. Harper hasn't changed, but Coyne has. In 2004 he was with National Post, now he is with MacLean's?

      Harper knows exactly what Canadians (voters, as opposed to magazine editors and newspaper columinsts) want, l(L)iberal government without the corruption. If it wasn;t for corruption Paul Martin would be into his third majority government right now. With potash decision and with Afghan training mission, we see this – the Conservative-Liberal de facto coalition at work. Next year's budget will doubtless have a home care tax credit in it, the Liberals will support it. Like Coyne said on At Issue last year…no election until 2012.

      Coyne wrote in aftermath of 2006 election (with Harper's surprise breakthrough with 10 Quebec seats) that the old Liberal-Bloc dynamic was ending and that "the ice floes are beginning to move in Quebec in directions that we cannot as of yet discern." That's still true. Canadian politics is static right now but the only place where there is potential for change is Quebec. Now if Marois is ousted and Duceppe goes to Quebec City to be new PQ leader, and Ignatieff Liberals continue to be as weak as they are in Quebec outside Montreal, then things could get interesting. Harper is focussing on the Bloc, not the Liberals.

      • I still don't see what you evidently see in those quotes.

        "But if it comes to a conflict between the two-between advancing his own policy agenda and entrenching the Conservatives as permanent contenders for power-he will unhesitatingly choose the latter."

        He mentions entrenching Consevatives not faux liberals as contenders…or

        " …and his truer ambitions are to destroy the one-party system, forever: to set Canada permanently on a two-party track'

        Again he mentions a two party tack – presumes a distinction between libs/cons.

        Harper has burned his bridges in Quebec – not perhaps not the CPC, but Harper for sure.

      • This is interesting analysis.

        You should aso consider that the NDP is picking up strength in Quebec largely at the expense of the Liberals, but it is possible they may also be picking up soft Bloc support on the left.

  29. That was stupid. If Coyne doesn't get a libertarian government, then he says all is lost? That`s stupid. No wonder it's not worth reading these things.

  30. The two parties absolutely have predictable and different agendas, they just don't fit into a left-right picture. The Liberals will do what is in the interests of core Liberal regions (plus a few swing regions), as will the Conservatives. Lets take an issue that really did divide the parties – the green shift debate of 2008. In many respects, the Liberal proposal was the kind of policy we would expect from the right: cut income/corporate taxes, and raise (regressive) taxes on consumption. The Conservative response was to propose explicit controls, though of course they never did much. That hardly sounds less statist – what's the deal?

    The deal is that the Liberals represent regions that use less oil (and don't sell oil), while the Tories represent regions that use more oil and/or sell oil (with the exception of Newfoundland, where the Liberals were able to exploit the Atlantic accord issue successfully). Canadian politics are core vs. periphery not right vs. left. Harper, personally, is on the right no doubt, but the structure of Canadian politics and the coalition of interests he holds together prevents him from acting on his personal ideology.

    A significant source of the "unprincipled" actions Coyne speaks of regards policy on residual issues. The only reason Coyne believes the Conservatives have betrayed their principles is that he doesn't understand what the principles of the Tory party are and have been since they exchanged electorates with the Liberals (around Diefenbaker's time in office). If we want to hold our political parties to account, it would help to talk about Canadian politics in terms that reflect what actually goes on in Ottawa: bargaining between regional interests.

    • Both parties will say and do whatever gets them votes….it has nothing to do with left/right or oil or anything else.

      • More important than votes (between elections) is support and donations. Conservatives have a massive fund-raising advantage over Liberals. Why? Because people give money to the party whose policies they support. Liberals are falling further and further behind they need to attract supporters who will donate. But the pool is getting smaller – people who don't like what the Liberals say or do will not donate. I noticed today on Power Play how calm and deferential Ujjal Dosanjh was to Laurie Hawn on the Afghan mission extension – this was the same Ujjal Dosanjh who last Chistmas was accusing Canadian troops of being war criminals and the Prime Minister as being a tyrant (this was during Andrew Coyne's "Parliament Will Fight" timeframe). The Liberals are looking beaten.

        • Quit repeating the lies and someone may listen to you. The 'war criminals' accusation is more Tory message twisting to fit their scorched earth platform, all the while getting the electorate to tune out and drop out…

          • Whatever.

            Ujjal was very quiet and sounding whipped today. Not the usual Ujjal. Laurie Hawn couldn't believe he was actually saying "I agree with Ujjal on this." Ujjal even told off the NDP member, telling him to wake up on the need for Canada to continue to support Afganistan. Laurie Hawn just smiled.

        • "But the pool is getting smaller – people who don't like what the Liberals say or do will not donate"

          That's conjecture – and self serving at that. It's well known libs are generally not as idealogical as cons or dippers – thus they're slower to open their wallets.[ no doubt overrelying on big business support has contributed to liberal parsimony]. Perhaps that'll have to change, although i hope not. I like the idea of a flexible, pragmatic, non- idealogical party.

      • So you think Harper would stand up to Canada's oil companies, if it was popular to do so? I ask because I'd say there would be political mileage for something like that.

    • "Canadian politics are core vs. periphery not right vs. left"

      That's an interesting POV, do you have a source for it – not saying i agree with your thesis…not without evidence.

      • I also think it's interesting, and I think there's some truth to it. I mean, any historian or political scientist worth his/her salt will start a basic discussion of Canada by talking about the regional aspect. It's a huge part of our history and political character. Consider Trudeau, and why he is and was revered in certain parts of Central Canada, while conversely loathed in the West. Trudeau and his electoral architects Jim Coutts and Keith Davey designed (largely successful) political campaigns around this regional aspect ("Screw the West, take the rest" was the catchphrase for this emphatically regionally-based strategy). The legacy of that Trudeau strategy continues to this day, with Alberta being the most solidly dependable Conservative region, and Toronto being the Liberal heartland.

        • All true. Although it's important to keep in mind context – the political reality of those times.[ which sort of confirms H/H thesis] The hard fact of the numbers game game was that only Ontario and Quebec had political resonance for much of Trudeau's time. AS a westerner and Trudeau admirer i have long held the view that it was a curious and sad [ for Canada] failing from such a savvy politician. But that was both his strengh and his great failing, the ability to live in the now. I suppose he thought his successors could worry about the future.

      • You can look at how the supporters of the big parties break down ideologically, on a positioning scale for one. In the 2006 WVS:

        Conservatives
        Left (1-4): 8.2%
        Centre (5-6): 51.3%
        Right: (7-10): 38.3%

        Liberals
        Left (1-4): 19.3%
        Centre (5-6): 50.8%
        Right: (7-10): 29.9%

        Or, if you think people don't understand right vs. left (which in itself should be telling about our political system), lets look at the class right-left question: private vs. government ownership.

        Conservative
        Private ownership should be increased (1-4): 62.3%
        Middle (5-6): 23.3%
        Government ownership should be increased (7-10): 14.2%

        Liberals
        Private ownership should be increased (1-4): 51.2%
        Middle (5-6): 31.3%
        Government ownership should be increased (7-10): 17.5%

        So, ideology matters very little in Canadian politics. This is how guys like Keith Martin, Scott Brison, Dennis Mills and Tom Wappel could all find a home in Canada's centre-left party (although thanks to strong party discipline they rarely pushed for their ideological goals).

        This contrast sharply with the regional divides you see in every Canadian election. Most Liberal support comes from the core, ie. Canada's 3 biggest cities. The Conservatives, in turn, sweep rural Canada, while the two fight it out for seats in suburban areas. In Quebec it is the same, except that the Bloc is the party of the periphery, while the Liberals are the party of the core. You can also see it in the issues that tend to rise to the forefront in Canada:

        -free trade (historically), which pitted the export-competitive periphery against the import-competing core
        -the persistent unity question/federal provincial relations
        -the gun registry
        -the NEP/the carbon tax debate (energy producing periphery vs. core)
        etc.

        • Interesting – although i don't know if it hold s up when you overlay a proportional vote model on the country.

          • True – PR would change who gets elected and what incentives they have. It would probably change Canada somewhat from a country of ideological brokerage and regional conflict to one of ideological conflict and regional brokerage.

          • Personally i'd like to see a Proportonally elected HOC with [ perhaps elected] strong regional senate. Failing that at least some sort of run-off electoral system. We definitely need a made in Canada solution.

          • I think i'll take choice # 2: Idealogical conflict and regional brokerage – if i have to.

  31. In other words….be careful what you wish for or you may get it.

    And then, you won't like it.

    • Oh, god, just thinking Layton as PM, gives me the chills….

      • It never ceases to amaze me how much this type of thought is entrenched in many people's minds. Some people can actually support the bias via comprehension of policy, while others simply buy into the whole "bah – he's a socialist" mindset. It saddens me that Canada often emulates the USA style of democracy, which consists of two flavours that pretty much taste the same more often than not…

        • It has nothing to do with the NDP, I have voted NDP twice before (Gary Doer in Winnipeg) to me it's about Layton, I have lost respect for him, I thought he was the moral conscious of this country, not anymore! I think he has made it personal, so it isn't even just politics!

  32. Seems like Andrew Coyne one of Harpers biggest cheerleaders is waking up to the reality of what Harper is all about and its left him feeling a bit bitter about the whole experience. As far as I’m concerned it couldnt happen to a more deserving guy.

    When you play with fire you will get burned. Stings dont it.

  33. Coyne says

    "My whole career"..

    LMAO, dude you are pundit. You comment on other peoples careers. SMFH, come on, you are no different then a sports writer, just a different subject.

    You are just some guy who never made it, commenting on other people who have. Projecting your views from the sidelines just like all the people in the comment section. The difference is you get payed, to play monday morning QB…

    • Isn't it more like Tuesday morning QB?

      After all, it's usually best to give the Tories at least 48 hours to see where they'll land.

    • Arguably, he gets PAID because he is a better writer THAN your average person in the comment section.

  34. I disagree. It's not so much what the Cons have done in power – it's all about what they have not done (passively aggressively)…have you heard them doing anything positive with respect to :

    - Improving healthcare
    - Systemically improving the lot of First Nations
    - Improving the Environment
    - Childcare / Early childhood education
    - Aid to Africa

    The sad part is that not content with tearing down Canada's world standing on these issues, the COns have also a well funded well oiled media machine ready to attack (personally if necessary) anyone who stands up to speak on these issues.

  35. Ask Gordon Campbell what happens when you allow policy to trump political expediency.

    The government appears to be mushy and rudderless because Canadians are mushy and rudderless. Show pictures of military equipment falling apart or helicopters falling out of the sky and Canadians are embarrassed and demand something be done. Spend money on military equipment and the public squeals about overspending.

    You can't even get 40% of Canadians to agree on what day of the week it is…yet you expect one man to govern a country in a way that satisfies everyone AND remains true to an ideological base.

    Canadian 'journalists' *eye roll*

    • Ask Gordon Campbell what happens when you allow policy to trump political expediency.

      Is it just me, or did you just champion the Gordon Campbell school of politics (campaign on one thing, do the opposite)?

      • The statement was sarcastic, not a blueprint for political maneuvering. It was just to point out that if you are going to go with your principles rather than what is politically popular, you may pay the price. Getting rid of the long-form census was apparently unpopular, but it hasn't cost the Tories anything. Campbell rolled the dice and lost.

  36. "Likewise, I defy anyone to predict what the Conservatives—or Liberals—would do on any given issue. "
    On a mid to long term basis, I'd agree but in the short term, prediction is easy if you have access to the same polling data.
    What is the solution to end the malaise we live in?
    Ban polling!
    When the pols don't have the pollsters to tell them what to say (or what silly policy to implement if they happen to hold power) …. they might just have to lead… and then let the people pick their leaders and representatives
    (instead of pols rushing to the head of the parade)
    Israel bans polling during the final stage of the election. A good start.
    Make political polling illegal as it is a monster-mutated-attempt at direct democracy that is at the very heart of the malaise.

  37. A lot of this too seems to be the Opposition just grasping at opposing whatever choice between two options the Conservatives did choose.

    The policy about media at military funerals, for example. There were good arguments for and against, but no matter which one the Conservatives picked it was the other one the Liberals insisted was the right move.

    Then the half-mast policy on Parliament Hill. The choice was either crack down or do nothing, and you could easily spend hours in Debate Club arguing the pros and cons of each. Once the Tories made their decision, the opposition suddenly saw only the cons.

    From the medical isotope decision to Potash, whether you personally took one side or the other it was easy to see where the other guys were coming from. Then, bizarrely, the Liberals (and on occasion, the NDP) would insist that it was clearly wrong to do it Harper's way.

  38. The right vs left paradigm is, as Coyne points out, a manufactured distraction.

  39. a Harper Majority is inevitable. Canadains are too stupid to vote this monster out. they are under a spell. harper should have been dragged from his bed and dragged through the streets for what he has already done. one shudders to think what he will do when – not IF, but when – he gets his majority.

    • One can only hope!

    • I don't really get this "monster" business, not when it's being used to describe people who might conceivably be described as monsters, and certainly not when it's being used to describe the Prime Minister. I don't agree with a lot of what the guy says and does, but the majority of the Canadian electorate "are under a spell"? Hogwarts called. You're out past curfew. Get on your broom and fly, little wizard.

  40. "The analogy here would be with the stock market: it obviously matters what stocks you own, but you've no way of knowing how they will perform in advance. You might as well pick them at random. Likewise, I defy anyone to predict what the Conservatives—or Liberals—would do on any given issue. "

    Actually, you do how your stocks will perform….at least to a degree. And once you critically analyse the performance of said stocks you make your changes or stay the course accordingly based on the information you have about the company at the time.

    Such SHOULD be the case with picking a party to support. I would suggest that HAD the media critcally analysed Harper's career that he would not have been put on such a high pedastal in the first place. I would also suggest that the media had spent a little more time actually anlaysing their own assumptions and motivations that we wouldn't be in this facile and weird place where someone has to be the good or bad guy.

    Are the liberals and the conservatives different? of course they are both in policy and in approach……one does have to do the legwork though to cut through the biggest barrier we have to finding out information and that is the media……

  41. I know Coyne has a fan club almost as loyal as Stein's but…

    There is a clear difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives, but it is certainly not the simplistic right-left economic/social stuff that is often assumed. Both parties have attracted too many pragmatic centralists to make dramatic moves towards their ideological roots and moreover there actually has been some progress in Canadian politics.
    (I suspect that anyone having the nerve to ask Trudeau what one of his programs would cost would have been told to fuddle off)

    In my view, the big difference between the two parties is the litmus test they most often use to decide if a policy is correct.

    For Liberals, it is the consensus of fancy, smart people with lots of letters behind their name. A Liberal might describe this as evidence-based policy development ; a Conservative would describe it as being told what to do by overbearing elites (from Toronto no doubt!)

    For Conservatives, the litmus test is the reaction of mainstreet. A Liberal would likely view the resulting marketing as the dumbing down of political discourse… a Conservative thinks of it as democracy at work.

    • I'm going to enjoy how people react to this comment – thumbs up, or thumbs down? You apply equal opportunity dissing/compliments depending on your point of view. Like being told to pee in the corner of a round room.

      • it is a sort of experiment… don't tell anyone!

    • How would you square the "reaction of mainstreet" test with the Afghanistan reversal, given that polls say that 60% oppose the Afghanistan mission and a plurality oppose a non-combat extension past 2011? I think that litmus test explains the Tory rhetoric on Afghanistn from 2008 to last week PERFECTLY; this week's decisions, not so much (though admittedly, it's in no way a big deal politically for the Tories, so I don't mean to suggest there's any real RISK, I just find it weird that the Tories spent two years positioning themselves to the left of the Liberals on Afghanistan and then just flipped one weekend, out of the blue).

      Maybe they're just trying to keep people off balance, like when the PM promised never to take us back into deficit a couple of months before we went back into deficit, or how, after promising never to appoint a Senator, he put his first appointed Senator straight into cabinet.

      • Harper's first instinct was not to "cut and run" and I believe this is still his personal view. As you note Mainstreet pushed him to use Manley to depoliticize Afghanistan, and then to hide behind Parliament's deadline until very recently. I suspect external pressures, mostly from the US (my guess would be through military channels) have risen to extraordinarily high levels. Even though they have flipped, the Conservatives are largely crediting the Liberals with this extension (I heard MacKay speaking warmly of Rae and Ignatieff just this morning.) So yes they are going against Mainstreet, but they have made every attempt to place the Liberals in front of them. Note this is in contrast to the stimulus package. One doesn't hear much talk for the Conservative party about how the coalition forced them to save the economy. (Although it continues to come up from their core supporters)

        Politically this is not a bad move. It might cost them a few votes, but it will move a lot of anti-war Liberals over to the NDP.

  42. Excellent article. Finally the media might come around. If it finally buys into the indisputable fact the Harper government stands for nothing more than one man's personal political gain? Then maybe, just maybe the media will return to what is once was, the fourth estate, that scrutinizes this Harper government rather than make excuses for it , or simple ignore issues that Canadians should know about.

    Now let's call an election and see if Coyne's money is where his mouth is.

  43. Right on the political mark, Mr. Coyne. I believe it has reached the stage in this country, that we cannot trust or afford any politicians. Any suggestions in what we could replace them with?

    • give it a break. you moron. It's easy to slander all the leaders in opposition and their peers with the Harper brush of deceit and lies. You pathetic…tell you what…next election day stay home and pound sand…you're vote will probably mean as much.

  44. The conclusion is, whoever is elected is irrelevant, so instead of influencing government through voting for a part of principles, we should find other means to steer government action.

    Should average citizens form lobby groups? Join existing lobby groups?

    What about lawsuits?

    Political protest?

    For conservatives, should we focus on reducing any-and-all taxes because at least that slows or boxes in the liberal/conservative governments?

    Any ideas?

  45. Are so many reporters/journalists/pundits too lazy to research the veracity of Harper's (or any other politician's) pronouncements, or too stupid to understand what they would find if they did?

    In any case, it seems to me that there is a significant difference between the Harper Conservatives and any other federal party now or in the past: Harper is obsessed with not just defeating, but with obliterating the Liberals. That fact changes the game considerably because everything he says and does is driven by his obsession, not with what's best for the country or even his party. Whenever he says or does something that seems reasonable, I can't help but wonder what the poison pill will be.

    • He will bring the Liberal party to it's knees, make no mistake about that!

      • Wanna put money on that, kiddo?

        • Absolutely!!!

    • I think his religious extremism is coming out more and more, as well. Look at how he cares more about Israel than he does about Canada.

  46. Confucius says: Man who makes living writing about politics ends up not knowing what to ink.

  47. Your totally right, somewhere along the way we let our politicians treat us like mere consumers. Instead of representing us in parliament they represent their brand. We need to become stakeholders again.

    • Most perfect: one phoney body defeating one phoney policy.

      Virtually unheard of!

  48. Andrew, don't be too disappointed in Canadian politics. What you describe above is 'a-happening' world-wide.

    How to expect a clash of visions or how to expect a conflict of values if it's precisely the vision and the set of values which altogether have entered into that untanglible single point of vanishing?

    How to have a vision beyond the15-minutes-of-fame-time-frame, or how to behold a set of values during a 5-second-sound-bite-meeting-its-deadline?

    You think anyone in the east or west (or wherever; be it Taliban or Liberals) can remain in power outside such time restictions imposed? I don't think so.

    We, the people, demand it, now! We, as the people, have changed.

  49. I always figured I was the socio-demographic poster boy citizen. NEVER missed a vote. Have voted in countless elections in 4 provinces. Voted in 3 Québec referendums. Always knew the players, even without a score card. Actually was motivated to hear and meet politicians in person. Studied politics for fun. Was a member of the Trudeau Liberals as a teen, but never again after.

    Now, I don't think I am going to bother to vote anymore. Got better things to do. Seriously.

  50. I always figured I was the socio-demographic poster boy citizen. NEVER missed a vote. Have voted in countless elections in 4 provinces. Voted in 3 Québec referendums. Always knew the players, even without a score card. Actually was motivated to hear and meet politicians in person. Studied politics for fun. Was a member of the Trudeau Liberals as a teen, but never again after.

    Now I don't think I am going to vote anymore. Seriously. I have better things to do.

  51. "Maclean's is Canada's only national weekly current affairs magazine. Maclean's enlightens, engages, and entertains 2.4 million readers with strong investigative reporting and exclusive stories from leading journalists in the fields of international affairs, social issues, national politics, business and culture."

    I apologize for this off topic post, but given the set-up here (where you can't generate a topic, and can only comment on what is existant), I'm not really sure how else to bring this issue up. As such, I will post this in several threads, in the hopes that I will obtain some sort of a response regarding my concerns.

    Why is it that Maclean's (owned by Rogers Communications) DOES NOT report on issues pertaining to the politics of Canadian telecom? I'm trying not to buy into idle conspiracy theories, but I do find it odd that there is zero reporting of any sort, never mind any advocacy of an actual position. I find this extremely bothersome, as I believe this is an important debate, and I would like to hear the opinions of various people here on these issues.

    Yesterday, the Honourable Tony Clement, PC, MP, Minister of Industry presented his "Interim Report on the Digital Economy and Telecom Strategies". http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ic1.nsf/eng/06098.ht

    Various media outlets reported on this – why would Maclean's choose to ignore it? Why does this "current event" not make the cut? No offense – but I think it is horrible that this magazine places so much focus on the pageantry of Canadian politics, and then completely ignores political/legislation issues that have real consequences for Canadians.

    To be clear – I don't expect my opinions or views to be universal – I just find it bothersome that Maclean's has taken a stance to ignore discussion pertaining to Canadian telecom matters. The fact that Maclean's ownership has a direct stake in this makes things all the more suspicious. Is this a deliberate policy, or does the Maclean's editor simply not consider such political issues newsworthy? Inquiring minds would like to know.

  52. I believe the Conservative government's actions would be more consistent with its principles if it held a majority in the House of Commons.

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