Thursday, April 18, 2013

No "There" There

Taking his cue from Andrew Coyne's recent column on the utter vacuity of Canada's three major political parties, Zack Paikin writes that the Conservative Party has replaced values with venom. Whether or not you agreed with them, the Reform Party -- which gave birth to the Harper Party -- was a party of principle:

If any party on the national scene could claim to be known as the party of principle, it was Reform. One could agree or disagree with those principles, but one could not deny that the party had them.

Brian Mulroney being unable to balance the books, Reform advocated controlling public spending. Mulroney and Jean Chr├ętien having taken the centralization of power in Ottawa to new heights, the Reformers stood for more power for individual MPs.

But, Paikin writes, consider the modern Conservative Party of Canada:

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is — even after inflation and taking population growth into account — the highest-spending government in Canadian history. It has taken party discipline to new extremes, ramming omnibus bills through Parliament and invoking closure on debate like never before. Harper’s is a party that clearly has discarded its principles in order to win power. More importantly, it is a party that has been unable to find its principles again once it won power. 

The day after Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party, the attack ads -- patently false -- began:

These ads are guilty of several moral flaws and factual errors. First, Trudeau is shown stripping to circus-like music as if in a fashion show — despite the fact that these actions were done to raise money for the Canadian Liver Foundation. Second, a quote is attributed to him which came out of Trudeau paraphrasing his father’s beliefs, not his own.

Paikin's conclusion is unavoidable:

Behold: the Conservative party — once the party of principle, now nothing more than the party of character-assassination. One can think of no reason why the Tories would resort to such puerile tactics other than the fact that they are themselves devoid of ideas. The Conservatives have exhausted their social agenda — having gone as far as possible on crime while not daring to touch the abortion file — and have proven themselves incapable of balancing a budget or advancing Canada’s global position.

As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California, "There is no 'there' there."


Lorne said...

Very much related to your post is a good piece by Allan Gregg in today's Star, Owen, in which he denounces the debasement of the political process through attack ads. And of course Gregg knows of what he speaks, given that he was the architect behind the famous Chretien facial deformity attack ad in '93.

James King said...

Hi Owen,
Hard to disagree with Paikin's comments - although my memories of the Reform Party aren't exactly positive either...seems to me that once Manning achieved the status of leader of the opposition his own behavior and pronouncements took a turn for the hypocritical too.

Still, given your background as an Ontarian (I lived in Ottawa for four years during the last century but I've always been a westerner at heart) I wonder if the best analogy/parallel for the Harper/Flaherty government wouldn't be the Mike Harris years in Queen's Park.

Keep up the good work. Trudeau's latest comments about the motivation behind the unknown perpetrator(s) of the Boston Marathon outrage were probably unwise - Harper's venomous reaction was much more offensive.

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the tip, Lorne. I was struck by what Gregg wrote about why McDonald's doesn't use negative advertising against Burger King:

This attack and counterattack might “work” to the extent that it would affect market share but it is not employed by McDonald’s and Burger King because they know it will destroy the category and pretty soon no one would ever buy a hamburger again. In other words, they are smart enough to know that the business they are in is not just about taking market share from the other guy — it’s about making consumers believe in eating hamburgers.

In the end, as Andrew Coyne writes in today's National Post, attack ads target democracy.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Jim, the Harper model is really the Mike Harris model.

It's no accident that this government's three most prominent performers -- Flaherty, Baird and Clement -- are Harris alumni.

Trudeau's comment goes to the heart of the Harper vision. For the Harperites, there are never two sides to any story. Whether its the Israelis or the Palestinians, business or labour, the economy or the environment, there's only one side to a story.

They are quintessential bigots.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

We need to have continual public discussion about the true nature of the Harper Conservative Government until the general public come to understand what damage they care causing.

On another matter that is more of a comment on your previous posting, did you read the article in the Globe of the student challenge to the research of a couple of leading Harvard Economists Their economic views are basic to the ideal of austerity to combat our current economic malaise. This is now been shown to be largely false. Austerity is probably not the best way to go, which is what economists of the left have been saying all along.

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Philip. Certainly the data we have at present suggests that austerity doesn't work -- either here on in Europe.

What's remarkable is that John Maynard Keynes made the same case in the 1930's.