Stability is the new nothing

On the other hand, there’s Canada. Here’s Stephen Harper, campaigning in Ajax, Ontario yesterday.

Friends, the GTA doesn’t need higher taxes. The GTA doesn’t need a carbon tax. And the GTA doesn’t want this country to go back to deficits. Instead, it needs the kind of prudent investments our government is making to help the economy grow. 

Investments like the bridge on Sandy Beach Road south of Parkham Crescent in Pickering.

Investments like a new passport office here in Ajax.

Investments like the federal Gas Tax Fund, that by 2010 will have invested over 800 million dollars in the GTA.

And then, in case anyone didn’t get the hint,

Friends, our government is delivering for the GTA. But there’s more to be done. And we need a strong team of Conservative MPs from the GTA in Ottawa to make it happen. 

You need Conservative MPs to make what happen? To ensure that “more” is done in the way of “delivering” for the GTA. Want more passport offices and bridges? Vote Conservative.

This is the Prime Minister of Canada talking, you understand. The candidates for President of the United States debate the shape of the financial system and whether it is strategically wiser to focus on Iraq or Afghanistan. The Prime Minister of Canada — a Conservative Prime Minister — devotes himself to delivering passport offices to Ajax.

This is what is left of conservatism in Canada. This is what our politics have become, or reverted to — trawling for votes with hooks baited with other people’s money, like any 1940s ward-heeler. It’s the same old game, telling voters in every riding that they can make off at the expense of all the others, that the LIberals played for years. Only I remember a time when there was a party, and a leader, that said they’d put a stop to it.

MORE: Honestly, has there ever been a campaign as vapid as the Conservatives are running? I’ve no idea whether they’ll ever favour us with a platform, but if so it will be a ridiculously thin volume, full of microscopic silly-clever baubles (cracking down on flavoured cigarettes, banning text-message fees) or clever-silly policiettes that, however well they may test with the focus groups, fly in the face of either sense or evidence (cutting the diesel tax, jailing 14-year-olds).

I can understand why the Tories would not be anxious to make too many promises: after the pile of broken pledges they have racked up, up to and including the election call, who would believe them? And doing nothing is certainly a better alternative than the raft of pointless busywork the Liberals have on offer, to say nothing of the NDP’s giddy spendathon. But it is a bit much for the Tories to attempt to rebrand what would appear to be near-total policy inertia as “stability.” (And don’t tell me they can’t do more because there’s nothing left in the till. Balanced budgets are supposed to be the norm. Yes, without a surplus to draw down, any tax cuts would have to be financed with spending cuts. Cutting spending rom the all-time record high levels to which the Tories have pushed it would not seem too much to ask — or at least, that’s what Conservatives used to believe.)

When they are not pandering or flip-flopping, they’re launching the crudest sorts of attacks on their opponents: accusing Dion of “cheering” for a recession, for example, as earlier they had labeled critics of their Afghanistan policy “pro-Taliban.” (It’s not the attacks I mind so much — it’s the obviousness. Somewhere it is written that Canadian politics must always be conducted at the dumbest possible level, with arguments that would get you laughed out of any respectable bar-room brawl. Every day I read the press releases from the war rooms — they don’t even try to persuade. There’s no sense, and no shame: opponents’ statements are ripped wildly out of context, subjected to the most plainly tendentious interpretations, in a way that any normal person would realize can only be to their own discredit.)

Again, I don’t want to say the Conservatives are the only guilty party. They well remember the attacks they endured in the past from the Liberals (and endure: the canard that Jim Flaherty was “attacking Ontario” for suggesting its tax rates are too high comes to mind). Clearly, the Tories learned from their example, the same lesson the Liberals will absorb from their defeat: we just weren’t cynical and empty enough.

So Canadian politics sinks, election after election, ever deeper into the mire.

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