The season in politics: a cheat sheet

Feschuk: What Iggy, the New Old Whatever Democrats and a guy named Steve have been up to lately

Admit it—you haven’t paid close attention to federal politics over the summer. You’re so clued out that I could make some ridiculous claim, like saying the Liberal party’s boldest initiative of the season was sending its national director from Kingston to Ottawa in a canoe for some reason, and you might even believe me—which is absurd, because he was actually in a kayak. Sorry, Conservative Party of Canada: you had a good run but there’s no competing with that.

Autumn approaches. Let’s get you up to date. First things first: Stephen Harper is still our Prime Minister. You can tell because the country’s colour-coded Partisan Tirade Threat Alert remains set to Red.

Few people are sure what Harper did for much of the summer. He mostly dropped out of sight, popping up only to remind Canadians that they positively, definitely do not want an election. I must have seen that headline a half-dozen times this summer: “Canadians don’t want an election, Harper says.” Let’s face it: Canadians hardly ever want an election. An election means watching tedious debates, enduring low-blow advertising and humouring Jack Layton’s belief that he’s got a shot. That said, if you took the time to read beyond the headlines this summer (and you didn’t, so stop pretending), you would have come away feeling more as though, “Canadian named Steve doesn’t want an election.”

To be fair, Harper did emerge to once again travel to the Arctic. He seems to head north an awful lot, doesn’t he? It makes you wonder if maybe he’s staking a gold claim or hunting elves up there. Also, to be fair, Harper ended the spring by hoodwinking Michael Ignatieff with that “blue-ribbon” panel on employment insurance, so the PM was obliged to spend two solid weeks this summer rubbing his hands together and cackling villainously. It’s all there in the Evil Mastermind handbook.

All in all, it’s not a bad time to be Stephen Harper. Here is a man who claimed we couldn’t possibly have a recession (even as we were falling into one), issued the New Coke of economic updates—hilariously obsolete even before it was made public—and needed to be cajoled into launching a stimulus program during the gravest financial crisis in 75 years. To be any more wrong on the economy, the Prime Minister would have had to convert the nation’s assets to poultry in a hedge against the revival of the barter system—a disastrous strategy, to be sure, save for the five chickens we could have got for John Baird.

But the opposition has been so ineffective and unfocused that most Canadians approve of the direction in which the country is heading. This is remarkable when you realize that for much of the past year that direction has been straight down off a cliff.

The Liberals need a strong economic message to win an election. They don’t appear to have one. They need a strategy to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives. They don’t appear to have one. They don’t have any reason to believe it would be wise to force an election this fall. Naturally, many in the party are therefore determined to force an election this fall. These people are confident that Canadians will rally behind Michael Ignatieff’s pitch, which to date breaks down as follows:

  • I am Michael Ignatieff.
  • [Extended pause, followed by a shrug to signify his confusion at the absence of applause and laurel-throwing.]

Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party so mismanaged its convention this summer that the only issue anyone was interested in—a potential name change for the party—didn’t even make it to the floor. This freed the national media to cover the convention from more traditional angles, such as ignoring it. Not even the unveiling in Jack Layton’s keynote speech of his boldly intellectual new thesis—Old thinking? Boo. New thinking? Hooray!—could generate any sustained enthusiasm.

Not that NDP loyalists seemed to notice. Writing for the Globe and Mail, a long-time party strategist claimed, “Our party is now at least as coherent, reasonable and thoughtful about the way forward” as the Liberals and the Conservatives. Then again, so are those five John Baird chickens.

The New Old Whatever Democrats insist they want to form government. Yet when they fail to come even close to winning, they don’t change. They never change. They think of this as principle but it’s actually hubris. Instead of fashioning ideas and policies that appeal to voters, they assume that Canadians will one day come to their senses and—striking themselves upon the forehead in a collective eureka moment—exclaim aloud, “Have the New Democrats been this awesome THE WHOLE TIME??! Why wasn’t I informed??” Cue the electoral landslide.

In other news, the Greens say that during the next campaign they will for the first time release a fully detailed campaign platform. God, they’re adorable.

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