Canadian Politics

Spring 2009 CSANews Issue 70  |  Posted date : Apr 30, 2009.Back to list

I suppose it says a great deal about Canadian politics that the country's two major parties are currently led by genuine intellectuals. What it says, I'm not entirely sure – probably that genuine intellectuals can't think of anything better to do than lead major political parties in Canada. But in all seriousness, it is something of which we should be particularly proud. And if anyone doubts that Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff are profoundly intelligent people, they only need to read some of Iggy's books or speak to anyone who has worked with Harper.

Problem is, rather a lot of people who have indeed worked with Harper are now writing books that are far from laudatory. Gerry Nicholls, formerly Harper's deputy at the National Citizens Coalition, and Garth Turner, former Tory MP, have published books arguing that the Prime Minister has either sold out his conservatism or is a "control freak." In fact, it's become a virtual fashion among ideological conservatives to claim that Stephen Harper is no longer a believer.

Hard to say. But what these people fail to understand is that most Canadians are far more interested in a politician who governs properly than in a politician who governs ideologically. Harper's real problem is not a group of party hardliners, but the people of Quebec, where he gave money and promises and confidently expected 30 MPs. They didn't respond. Worse than that, his vote in the province is now hemorrhaging and, even though he will hold the west and much of non-urban Ontario, a majority government appears impossible.

Michael Ignatieff, on the other hand, is increasingly popular. Partly, of course, because he isn't his predecessor Stéphane Dion, a nice enough man, but one of the least competent politicians to ever run for the office of Prime Minister. Ignatieff is also doing well because – important and ironic this – he is moving to the centre just as is Harper. Yet while Harper is condemned for doing so, Iggy is praised as a statesman and a realist.

Ignatieff came back to Canada not to be an MP, but to be a PM. He was a highly successful academic, author and broadcaster in Britain and the United States and I remember dining with him some years ago when he was still living in England. It was obvious that the life of an Ottawa backbencher was about as appealing as watching a CBC comedy show. So the man is ambitious and, frankly, there is nothing at all wrong with that. As Canadians, we sometimes assume that our politicians should be in the game just for the sake of public good. That has something to do with it but, without drive and desire for greatness, there is no point.

The separatists remain what they are, as do the NDP and the Greens. Mere supporting actors on the stage of the body politic. The Bloc votes for its own interests and will support whomever is in power if that party does what it's told. The NDP has some fine MPs and supporters, but is rooted to the electoral ground by its Birkenstocks. The Greens? All things to all people and a leader who, while relentlessly pleasant, is prone to all sorts of public mistakes.

What has happened in Canada is that the great political debates take place not in parliaments and in Ottawa, but in media and special interest causes. One of the most central issues facing the country is the right to free speech, led by people such as authors Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn. They have written about Canada's Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) prosecuting, nay persecuting, people for speaking out on various sensitive but vital subjects and Levant, Steyn and their followers seem to be winning. Levant spent years having to defend himself against HRCs because he dared to reprint the notorious Danish cartoons about the prophet Muhammad that so offended many Muslims. The story was, after all, arguably the most important in the world at the time.

The cases are extraordinary. An Albertan pastor, for example, wrote a letter to a local newspaper opposing same-sex marriage. He was condemned and fined by the HRC and told that he could never discuss the issue again and must also write a public letter claiming that he had changed his opinion. Entirely typical of the nonsense that has been occurring without our knowledge.

What is significant is that while both Harper and Ignatieff are fairly quiet about this seminal argument, both are said to be supportive of the right to free speech, as are most Tory and Liberal MPs. Perhaps it will be okay. Hey, perhaps I'll even have the right to say so. Welcome to Canada!