Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's All About Legitimacy

Dan Leger, in yesterday's Chronicle Herald, writes that the real issue behind this election has been obscured:

What’s the great issue of the 2011 election? Certainly leadership, platforms and competing visions of Canada are in play. But something else is going on. This campaign has become a battle for legitimacy. It has gone deep and turned dark, into a place where the parties now claim that electing their opponents will taint the legitimacy of politics.

It started on Day 1 and nothing has happened to change it. The story lines have evolved, but the underlying ballot question that has emerged is this dispute over legitimacy.

The New Right -- from the first President Bush down to Stephen Harper -- has attempted to portray its opponents as illegitimate. The first Bushies claimed that Bill Clinton was an illegitimate president because he garnered only 42% of the vote. And now some Republicans, who claim a preference for tea, claim that Barack Obama is illegitimate because -- all evidence to the contrary -- he was not born in the United States.

Stephen Harper has been using that line against Micheal Ignatieff since he returned from the United States. He's not one of us, Harper claims. And he has gone even further. In this election, he argues, any other political arrangement -- other than a Conservative majority -- is illegitimate.

Democrats turned that argument on Republicans when the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House. Now the Liberal Party has turned it against Stephen Harper. But there is a difference. Liberals argue that, while Harper was legitimately elected, his demonstrated contempt for Parliament has, in effect, nullified his legitimacy.

It is, indeed, a sad turn of events. Democracy is founded on the principle that differences of policy need to be debated. Most elections, writes Leger, revolve around two questions: Is it time for a change? And who is most fit to govern?

Those questions are certainly in play. But in 2011, with no great difference in party platforms, the arguments boil down to the idea that some parties must not rule because of something fundamentally illegitimate about their behaviour, their leadership or because of some hidden agenda.

Neo-Conservatism is the gift that keeps on giving. Or, more accurately, it is the poison that keeps on spreading.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Colette Amelia said...

This "harper government" has sucked the life and the words right out of me...I am so vexed and in a panic...what if...not only what if he wins again but what if he gets a majority? Heaven help us!

Owen Gray said...

You're certainly not alone in your opinion, Colette. It's really impossible to predict how things will turn out.

But one wonders what will happen if he doesn't get his majority. He's the kind of person who -- unless he gets to make the rules -- picks up his ball and goes home.

Annie said...

Last night Mr. Ignatieff explained a fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy is that a minority government cannot govern without the support of the rest of Parliament.

This morning, when Mr. Harper claimed he wouldn't make compromises with opposition parties if he wins a minority, he may as well have stated that he'll refuse to seek the support of Parliament in order to remain in power.

In spite of his campaign rhetoric, much of it transparently weak, I'd be surprised if Mr. Harper wins more than a minority.

Oh, Mister Gray , do you really suppose he's the sort of gentleman "who - unless he gets to make the rules - picks up his ball and goes home"? What a delightful idea!

Owen Gray said...

I don't know, Annie. In the past -- when faced with defeat -- Mr. Harper has done what he needed to do to cling to power. That's how a man who claimed to be no Keynesian gave us a stimulus package.

However, he has not speculated on his future should he win a minority. And, remember, when the Reform Party didn't take his advice, he quit.

We shall see.

Anonymous said...

"That's how a man who claimed to be no Keynesian gave us a stimulus package."

His tax policies from the moment he came to power show that he is still no Keynesian. The most anti-Keynesians of the last few decades have had no problem with deficit spending. They like it, because it will cripple the ability of future governments to pay for the social safety net that many of us want, but that Harper et. al. despise.

Governments that are committed to a solid social safety net and other national investments often have solid financial track records. Why? Because they know they have to pay for the programs they support if they want to maintain them indefinitely.

If Harper's goal is to rid Canada of its social safety net, then his disingenuous keynesianism is the way to do it...

Owen Gray said...

I agree that Harper has consciously followed a "starve the best" strategy.

My point is that, faced with his own demise, Mr. Harper will do a 180 on any issue. His prime directive is the end justifies the means.

Not exactly a conservative philosophy, is it?