This article appeared first at http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/04/04/mr-harper-are-you-on-your-meds/
April 5, 2011 – Week one of the campaign and I admit I am starting to side with my friends who occasionally question my sanity for following Canadian politics at all, let alone closely. “Why in God’s name would you pay any attention to that bunch of boobs and losers?” they ask. “Boobs and losers,” I say? “These are the best and the brightest that Canada has to offer.” Depression soon kicks in.
Being a political junkie in this country is a bit like being a diehard Leafs fan. Year in and year out you believe you will witness magic; year in and year out you experience the opposite. But yet, you continue to show up, cheer on the team, pay through the nose for a hot dog and it almost always ends in tears.
This election certainly started out with a bang. My prediction that the Liberals would at the last minute run away and hide behind the dumpsters on Parliament Hill, avoiding the vote they triggered, did not come to pass. The government was defeated on a confidence motion because they were in contempt of the Canadian Parliament—a vote that Stephen Harper immediately claimed did not occur. He didn’t argue about the semantics of the vote; he simply denied it happened at all, preferring instead to believe his government was defeated on the budget. There is evidence to the contrary: he was there and it was on TV, but still, as far as he is concerned, it didn’t happen. Some people might consider this inability to understand or admit to what is happening in one’s immediate surroundings systematic of a small stroke or a severe concussion, but in Ottawa it’s just a symptom of spending too much time around people in the PMO.
I like elections. Governments don’t just fall every day, but I understand why some people feel that they do. Three elections in five years is a lot. I have baking soda in the fridge that is older than the Harper government, and I still have Tabasco from the Paul Martin era.
But elections are important. We all know that $300 million is a lot of money—it is a sobering fact that $300 million could be used to purchase 1,000 MRI machines for rural Canada… or six gazebos in Tony Clement’s riding. But this is a democracy and this is the cost of doing business.
According to Stephen Harper, this election is about choices. We can elect a stable, majority Conservative government or a coalition of Liberals, socialists, separatists, criminals and child predators, and not in that particular order.
Michael Ignatieff also says this election is about choice. He says we have a choice between the Red Door and the Blue Door, blissfully unaware that it is not the doors that people are wary of, but the knobs out front.
Jack Layton says there is one choice: make him the next prime minister of Canada. He too may be suffering from a concussion.
That said, once the government fell, both Harper and Ignatieff showed they do things very differently. The choices are stark. Stephen Harper made a terse statement on the situation and refused to take questions. Michael Ignatieff made a terse statement on the situation, then took questions but refused to give answers.
How Michael Ignatieff could orchestrate the defeat of the government and launch himself into a campaign without an answer for the “coalition question” is beyond me. But that was what he did, dodging the question in both official languages. At one point he grabbed his man tits and declared for all to hear, “I am a democrat.” Still, the press was not sated, and he had no other choice but to go home and write a press release that said unequivocally he would not seek to form a coalition with any other political party.
Over at the Harper campaign, the celebration over the disaster that was Ignatieff’s first press conference was short-lived. Turns out Stephen Harper also dilly-dallied with separatist coalitions in the not-so-distant past; and there is proof, not in the form of a forgotten blue dress but in the form of a letter signed by Harper and Gilles Duceppe and sent to then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson.
Personally, I am shocked that Stephen Harper tried to get into bed with Gilles Duceppe. Experimentation of this kind in college is one thing, but at that late in life it probably means you’re hiding a part of yourself that will always be there. Namely a hidden desire to do anything and everything to stay in power.
Jack Layton’s post-vote press conference should have gone well. Jack is born for this type of work. Except instead of talking to Canadians about his version of events, he had to answer personal questions about his health, revealing his prostate-specific antigen numbers. That not being enough, he offered to remove his clothes right there on Parliament Hill to allow journalists to inspect his scars. Nobody took him up on the offer, Rosemary Barton having not been in attendance.
That said, Jack Layton didn’t reveal personal information about his health because the gallery wanted to know, he did it because, earlier that day, Conservatives had fanned out across the country and were practising the dark arts. The whisper campaign about Jack’s health they had been carrying on in the shadows was stepped up a notch.
Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy, who can perhaps kindly be described as the most amoral partisan hack to ever draw a breath, went on radio in Nova Scotia, a province of potential growth for the NDP, and in a hushed tone usually reserved for a palliative care unit told the radio audience that he personally saw Jack on the Hill and “up close it doesn’t look good, Jack doesn’t look good… he is a valiant man for carrying on.”
It takes a certain kind of man to gleefully trade on a man’s battle with cancer, and Mike Duffy is that man. It is why Stephen Harper appointed him to the chamber of sober second thought. Personally, if the Conservatives want Jack’s prostate to be an issue in the campaign, let all the leaders’ health be on the table. Prostate exams for all, weekly if need be, and, perhaps more importantly, let us finally know what medications our leaders are on, or, more importantly, what meds they happen to be off on any given week. Mr. Ignatieff, how is your prostate? Mr. Prime Minister, are you on your meds? Thanks, Senator Duffy.
As I write this, the campaign is in full swing. This time around the Liberals have a plane, chartered from an outfit in Alberta, that looks like everyone else’s plane so nobody is making fun of them. The Conservative plane is chartered from Air Canada so if you’re a journalist that’s the plane to be on. Unlike the Liberal plane, every flight with the Tories gives you Aeroplan travel miles. By the end of the campaign, the journalists will have so many travel miles they will have a card that says super elite on it, just like the one John Baird carries wherever he goes.
Harper’s plane also has the snazziest paint job. It has the words Harper and Canada emblazoned on the side. In an act of humility not seen since the release of James Cameron’s Avatar, Harper has star billing—his name appears above Canada’s and it is the same size and font. Rumour has it his agent demanded this or he refused to perform. Across the tarmac it looks like “Harper is Canada,” and I suppose that is the point.
We will be seeing these planes a lot over the next five weeks, as each leader, their various campaign workers, minions, sycophants and journalists spread out across the country. Like nomadic Bedouin tribes, they will visit every province, region and territory multiple times in an attempt to engage the electorate and not cause a nationwide bedbug epidemic.
There is much discussion in this country about whether this is an unnecessary election. The Prime Minister went so far as to call it a dangerous exercise. There is no such thing. There are many threats to democracy—voting isn’t one of them.