Whenever something happens for the first time, there is a tendency to apply the term “historic” to the event or development. On 28 November 2005 Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government toppled by a vote of 171-133. On the morning of 29 November 2005 the PM paid the Governor-General a visit. Analysts, noting correctly this was the very first time in Canadian history a parliament fell on a straight no confidence motion, have already declared this is historic. Perhaps, even if we may take that to mean a historic footnote, of interest to actuaries.
There may be something historic taking place, and it may just end up being overshadowed by all the analytical ink about to be spilled covering the election. It was only about three weeks ago I was having a conversation with friends, and much of the discussion was given over to international travel. At least twice the observation about a backpack showing a maple leaf serving as protection was brought up. Yet Canadians are now living in a world where their fellow citizens are not only being kidnapped, but also stand accused of spying by their abductors in Iraq [See for example http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=ecada862-0d59-4ef3-9366-52f35a57b6ea&k=44339
]. Is the story of Canadians in Iraq perhaps really where history is being made?
Analysts about to cover the election, slated for 23 January 2006, are divided. There are those who ask whether or not the process will be characterized by negative campaigning, and those who ask merely how long it will be before it all turns negative. I was surprised that matters turned negative the day before PM Martin met with the GG, and that foreign affairs, if not policy, could be driving much of the campaigning. To be sure, only minutes after a Liberal Party press release announced the timing of the election, Martin was answering media questions, noting that he was concerned about “Canada’s place in the world.” Conservative leader Stephen Harper, only minutes after that, kicked off his own campaign with a speech that included the throwaway remark that his government would “defend our sovereignty” [Global TV News, 29 November 2005]. So far, all this is very benign.
But earlier, only minutes after the non-confidence vote, at least two of the federalist leaders used international affairs as a code for what’s wrong with their opposition. Martin said the Conservatives are Neocons, no doubt an effort to convince all patriotic Canadians that Harper was, remains, and always will be something to be feared: a stalking horse for Washington and the Bible-thumping Bush administration. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton went much further, claiming that Stephen Harper had absolutely no values that belonged to or came from mainstream Canada. I suspect this means we are to assume Canadians have more to fear from Harper than just the possibility that he will take his foreign policy marching orders from the right wing of the Republican Party. But Layton didn’t stop there. He observed the most dangerous thing for this country just might be a Liberal majority, adding it was only the fact that Martin had to broker affairs as leader of a minority that kept him from endorsing Bush’s missiles in space initiative.
Defending our sovereignty? Defining Canada’s place in the world? The leaders may make use of this jargon. But very early on, they are signalling that even though Canada is one of the largest countries on the planet, with one of the longest coastlines, when it comes to courting votes we are better off parochial, and fearing that which comes from outside. Of course, that may just be vote-getting rhetoric. But is a maple-leaf backpack just a maple-leaf backpack these days?
Posted by Stan Markotich
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