It has been widely reported that NDP leader Jack Layton will shave off his moustache in order to raise $1000 for charity.
Those of you who have followed Jack’s political life from Toronto city councillor to near-mayor, to head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and power-broker in parliament, know that Jack’s moustache has long been his trademark. When was the last time a federal leader wore a moustache? Not since Sir Robert Borden, I think.
In recognition of the loss of this national institution, I believe the three other federal leaders should grow their moustaches out.
Or, failing that, apply false moustaches for the next debate.
The Race to the Bottom
Kevin Brennan, Conservative Party supporter in 2004, has announced his intention to vote NDP. The straw that broke his back was a hard-right speech Harper gave in 1997 that was handed to the press by Liberal operatives. Kevin’s reasoning is nothing if not elegant:
The continuous clown show put on by the conservative caucus is the only thing keeping the Martin government in power. Harper has flubbed most of the tests he’s been put to — the loss of Belinda, the sloppy editing of the Grewal tapes, and more. Again, the speech serves as a perfect example. A prime minister should not be constantly running away from his own words, and the inability of the Conservatives to articulate any kind of defence of Harper’s past statements is telling. The “private citizen” defence is a weak one — it may protect you against a few quotes pulled out of context, but it doesn’t explain why Harper refuses to endorse what he said only a few years ago. And he most certainly does not endorse it.
Read his comparison of the Reform party to the pre-Civil War Republicans, and then tell me how in God’s name you square that with his announcement today in Quebec City. I don’t think it’s wrong for a politician to evolve and learn from his mistakes, but when a politician claims to believe the opposite today to something he claimed to believe only a few years ago, an explanation is in order.
Harper isn’t running away from a stance on a single issue. He’s running away from the entire philosophy of governance he espoused as a “private citizen”. That’s a lot to swallow. Without some kind of rationale for that change, Harper is also exposing himself as unfit for the PM’s office. Either he’s lying now about what he believes, or he doesn’t believe in anything. If I wanted that, I might as well keep Paul Martin in office.
I have to admit, my first reaction to this is: Stephen Harper just can’t win. For as long as he’s been leading the best hope to defeat the Liberals, centrist and centre-right voters have been begging Harper to take a more moderate stand. And now that he does it, he gets accused of turning his back on his old beliefs and believing in nothing at all.
There is a subtle difference between him and Paul Martin. Yes, Stephen Harper has his history as head of the National Citizens Coalition behind him, and a wealth of hard right speeches ready to dog his tracks, and he is campaigning on what appears to be their direct opposites. But the fact is that Harper isn’t leading the NCC anymore, he’s leading a big tent party. Ian Scott among others don’t think that Harper favours a social conservative agena, but is taking one on as part of that big tent (another strike against him, in my opinion, but you might think differently). What Harper believes he wants for this country, and how far he knows his country is willing to go is two different things, and he likely believes that if he can convince the country to take one step along his preferred path, it would be an improvement, even if Canada took no further steps afterward.
I admit, it would be nice if Harper actually elaborated on this, though I’m not going to do his work for him. Like Kevin, I’ve signalled my intentions of voting NDP.
The reason I firmly believe Paul Martin must be defeated is because he is visionless and sees power as an end to itself. Paul Martin and his supporters spent so long working through the Liberal back rooms, making his drive to the top seem like an unstoppable juggernaut, that they never built a credible vision of where to take the country once Martin got to the top. We know this. Paul Martin’s last two years as prime minister has been a dithering muddle. And while I don’t share the vision that Harper has for this country, putting him in charge of a minority parliament is the only likely scenario that results in some much needed renewal to the political forces of this land.
However, the fact remains that Harper has a vision for the country that he knows his fellow citizens don’t share, and he is either running in order to give Canadians the change they want, or the change he can slip in while they aren’t looking. That’s different from having no vision whatsoever, but to the average voter, this still means Harper shares Martin’s reputation of saying whatever it takes to get himself elected, regardless of his beliefs (Harper) or lack of any beliefs (Martin). Putting yourself on a par with Martin as a cynical politician is no blessing. This may be less fair to Harper than it is to Martin, but this is the problem with this country in a nutshell.
Who do we choose? A visionless prime minister leading a tired party with elements of corruption, or a new party who may be holding back a hard-right agenda, featuring a leader with no firm belief in the semi-moderate positions he’s bringing forward. It’s no mystery why the turnout in the last election was a near record low 60%, and why both parties together are opposed by as many as 40% of Canadians.
I have to give Kevin incredible credit for still going out to vote under these circumstances, even if his decision to choose Layton comes with some nose-holding:
I don’t believe that the NDP are ready to form a government, but they won’t have to. What they did show in the last Parliament, though, was that they were the only major party that seems to remember that government is about actually improving the lives of people in the country. While the Liberals and the Conservatives lost track of everything else and made it clear that they see power as an end in itself, the NDP worked to get a few pieces of legislation passed and actually comported themselves with some dignity. They’re not ideal, but they’re the best option on offer, and I believe in rewarding good behaviour.
More decisions like this by average voters should send a message to the mainstream parties in general and the Liberals and the Conservatives in particular that they had better get themselves some compelling visions for this country rather than accept our votes by default.