Friday, May 20, 2005

Oh! Canada!

I love – absolutely love – the froth of anger and indignation that has greeted the latest outrageous antics of Canada’s federal political parties.
I don’t usually write about Canadian politics as they usually lack that mysterious ‘It’ factor so effectively, even effortlessly, achieved by our neighbours down south.
There the folks in power seem to operate with neither checks nor balances, running imaginary wars (imaginary in that they really aren’t wars so much as unprovoked attacks on people who have the simultaneous nerve to live wrong, coupled with the affrontery to produce oil) torturing various and sundry in opposition to and in flagrant contempt of international laws of conduct, seeking humanitarian employment for mad despots, and from time to time literally trying to raise the brain dead at home, while condoning an ongoing out-of-country, out-of-sight plague that is now killing nearly half of all its country’s inhabitants.
Nice work if you can get away with it.
(Seriously: can you imagine if the War on Iraq had been switched to the War on AIDS? We might still be dealing with ancient, falling-to-bits dictator Saddam Hussein, but mightn't that still have been a worthwhile swap for the millions of lives that could be saved? With stats claiming 44% of South Africans are now dying of AIDS, it's just a thought.)
But I digress - which is probably the #1 most popular activity these days; it honestly feels like the volume has been turned down more than a few notches in recent months, the press and public exhausted by the Presidential election, following the still searing stories with less enthusiasm and commitment than ever before. The stories keep happening (or perhaps not so much ‘stories’ as actual events… whoops!) but with the exception of organs such as The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Washington Post and The Observer – and even they have gone slightly sotto voce – people seem pretty much fed up.
Even Jon Stewart (my not-so-secret crush) is only now ratcheting back up the indignation to pre-election heights. I admit I actually saw him falter a few months ago, beginning with the Daily Show’s disastrous election night coverage, and continuing on through months of half-hearted attempts at moral outrage that exploded on camera with all the impact of a dampened squib. Switching gears with stories on the Michael Jackson trial and small town dumb-ass minor political functionaries just didn’t carry the same cachet as the spot-on Mess O’ Potamia coverage of yore.
Good times, peeps, good times.
But bless our little cotton socks, Canada has emerged triumphant with a real live gen-u-ine barn burner of a political story, complete with last minute live TV coverage of a vote count that could have gone either way and taken the current government with it. With blockbuster movie-style mystery, it would come down to one man (who actually looks like a gunslinger complete with wild hair, chewing gum and steely gaze as blue as his jeans) who would decide if the government would survive or if the opposition would manage to pull out a non-confidence measure that would have sent Canadian voters to the polls far sooner than polls suggest most of us would wish. (Silly Stephen! You’re luckier than you know…)
And that wasn’t even the biggest part of the story! That part burst onto front pages a couple of days earlier, when it was revealed that star political newcomer – and former contender for leader of the Loyal Opposition… and billion-heiress… but most importantly, blonde – Belinda Stronach would cross the floor to sit with the enemy and back their budget. Oh my dears! Oh my stars! It was a whirlwind of recriminations, accusations, hand on heart-ery, pledging to God, denying, swearing and Thirty Pieces of Silver. It was biblical – a fact that should have comforted the notoriously and only slightly ostentatiously Christian Conservative leader Steven Harper – complete with accusations of whoredom and allusions to Ottawa Babylon.
Epic and juicy pretty much covers the waterfall of reaction.
I’ve written before and I’ll say it again: I don’t really have a lot of time for Belinda Stronach. I think people should achieve positions of political authority the hard way – serving an apprenticeship of commitment and action for others, earning their stripes, rolling up their sleeves, getting their hands dirty… and a host of other clichés – rather than slipping in on a perfumed cloud of money and influence. (The smell, don’t you know, gets pretty cloying.)
But I’m going to go out on a limb and give kudos here: I don’t think it was pure ambition with a side of sour grapes that fueled a journey that ended with a Cabinet post in the Liberal government – I only think it was mostly that.
I think she was unnerved by the Conservatives cozying up with the Bloc in one of those “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” scenarios in order to defeat the Liberals. I think she was suspicious of the delaying tactics posing as the ‘we need more study’ position of her party in the same sex marriage debate.
(To be honest, I think these things mostly because I think them myself. Though if I were Belinda I wouldn’t have been able in the first place to join a party that clearly still opposes a multitude of what many believe are potential human rights violations. But that’s me – and I was a Red Tory at one time, not just a knee-jerk Liberal... that came later…)
And there’s more! For anyone who ever accused Canadian pols of the crime of terminal boredom (a scandal involving $250,000,000 is just so pedestrian…though a crime and a scandal nonetheless… I’m just saying…) would be presented the image – on the 6 o’clock news! – of Conservative Deputy Leader Peter MacKay, world class conniver and slimy backroom deal maker actually whimpering on camera (between the healing act of planting potatoes on the family farm – not a smear of dirt on his pristine khakis, not a squidge of manure on his pricey designer wellies) as the realization that he’d been bested by his lover at a political game as old as the oldest profession: selling out for seniority. And worse: he didn’t see it coming. He wasn’t in the loop.
Oh yes, it got that good.
And here’s why I love it. We’re engaged. We’re paying attention. We’re thinking about the juicy deets, but more importantly, we’re thinking about the underlying issues. You simply can’t fully enjoy all the double dealing and intrigue – you can’t even risk voicing your opinion in a pub – without finding out a little bit about the story; about the principles and the principals and what you think they really mean.
All the old ‘Liberals are crooks, Conservatives are redneck nuts’ just won’t further your understanding of the backrooms and bedrooms of Canadian politics unless you read a little and ponder a little first. Become involved… become informed.
It may not be The Poincare Conjecture (the 100 year old math problem that seeks to explain the geometry of three dimensional space) it may not even be the new ninth grade arithmetics that was unveiled on the front page of my paper today - which as far as I'm concerned might just as well have been the Poincare thingummy - but it makes you think. It makes us as a citizenry think.
And that I love.

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