When the Political Becomes the Personal

Elizabeth May

It has been said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth even gets its boots on. That comes to mind as partisan Conservatives and New Democrats pedal the slur that Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, called Canadians “stupid”. Still, it’s disappointing. You would think that after eighteen months, this old lie would have been addressed.

Here’s the transcript of the clip, which was part of a debate on TVOntario’s Agenda played back in early 2007:

Q. “First of all, if all of you seem to agree that environmental costs need to be internalized and a carbon tax is one way of doing that, why is there so little political will for a carbon tax? That’s the first part—”

AKIN: “Let’s get an answer for that: why so little will for (inaudible)

MAY: “All the politicians are scared to death to mention the word tax and they think that Canadians are stupid and cannot — and I fundamentally agree with that assessment —”

Even with the depressingly doctored audio file, which conveniently cuts out the moment May says the offending words, it’s quite clear to anybody who takes just thirty seconds to think things through rationally, that the assessment that Elizabeth May is agreeing with is NOT that “Canadians are stupid” but that “Mainstream politicians THINK that Canadians are stupid.”

You want proof? Consider the context. She has been asked the question, why has the idea of a carbon tax gotten traction from the mainstream politicians? Which answer makes more sense: because Canadians are too stupid to accept a new tax? Or politicians think that Canadians are stupid and they’re too afraid to propose a new tax?

The former answer makes little sense, since if she really believed this, why would she campaign so passionately for carbon taxes? Masochism? The latter, that mainstream politicians continue to insult the intelligence of average Canadians by backing away from bold moves, has the added benefit of being the truth.

Geez, guys, if you’re going to stoop so low in order to gain traction against this lady, then be prepared to have Layton’s “Big oil and big ass” or Harper’s “Alberta firewall” quote recycled ad nauseum. Fair’s fair, right?

I’ll give Jack Layton and Stephen Harper credit for listening to the public and dropping their opposition to Elizabeth May’s participation in the leaders’ debates. This shows you how much of a firestorm their opposition generated. Layton was clearly getting it in the neck from his own supporters. As for Stephen Harper, the news item dominated the headlines all through yesterday, as well as the talk show circuit, and the response from most callers could be summed up as: “Bwawwwk! BwakBwakBwak! Bwaaaaaaaawk!”

It’s entirely possible that the leaders’ debate will pass and people will wonder, “the mainstream leaders were afraid of her?” Elizabeth May has proven to be the master of getting attention through loud stunts, and while that approach has served her well up until now, I have my doubts over how good that will look behind a podium with four men in suits. My advice to May is to bone up on her debating skills now, and try to master the appearance of being self-composed while at the same time being cutting. Otherwise, the Greens were frankly better served by being locked out of the debates rather than being included.

But let’s not discount May’s accomplishment, here. After many, many years in the wilderness, Elizabeth May has succeeded in translating a modest 4.5% showing on the ballot into a place at the table. In so doing, she has generated so much media attention, and awareness among average Canadians, that she threatens to overshadow the work of the NDP. There’s still plenty of time — and now a honking big opportunity — to squander all of that goodwill, but partisans have been counting out the Greens in general and Elizabeth May in particular for the last two years or so, expecting her and Green support to implode. Don’t.

Losers don’t achieve the things she has achieved. Winners do that. And, right now, Elizabeth May is a winner.

Taking Dirty Politics to the People

The Conservative Party campaign took a disturbing turn the other day, as over-enthusiastic supporters within the campaign set up a website lampooning the Leader of the Opposition, Stephane Dion.

That, in and of itself, is not a problem. Stephane is a big boy, he can take it, and taking it is part of the job description of any politician. What disturbed me, however, was a section of the website called the Dionbook, a Facebook mockup which slags off, not Liberal candidates, or Liberal policies, but individual bloggers who have expressed support for the Liberals or are participating in the Liberal campaign.

This is the first time I can think of that a partisan-affiliated website in Canada has chosen to go after private citizens due to their political leanings, but it sadly isn’t the first time that private citizens have come under scruitiny. In the previous election, Blogging Tory founder Stephen Taylor faced some uncomfortable attention from partisans who argued that his aggregator amounted to a Conservative campaign vehicle that should be covered by Elections Canada rules. Even today, Elections Canada is debating what can or should be done to control blogged speech during campaigns, as the new tools of the Internet make it easier for average Canadians to express their opinions and advocate for their positions in a noticeable and professional manner. It was wrong when Taylor faced this attention, and it’s wrong now to target private Liberal citizens.

Is this the future? When average voters such as myself come off the fence and express our opinion, are we to be subject to this sort of harassment? I’m beginning to understand why ballots are conducted in secret. This is almost a 21st century version of the 19th century tactic of using mobs to harass rival candidate supporters as they walked to the polling booths. This is almost like an Internet version of Richard Nixon’s Enemies List, except it’s not just one man’s paranoia.

I’m not adverse to debating my decision to vote Green or whatever I end up voting, but the Dionbook doesn’t do that. Rather it attacks individual voters for expressing their opinions. That’s more than dirty. That’s undemocratic. I can think of no other party who has stooped so low in the past fifty years.

Waiting for Ike

In other news, spare a few thoughts and prayers for the people of Galveston, who are staring down the barrel of Hurricane Ike, which could be the worst hurricane Texas has experienced in forty years. As noted in Jeff Masters’ Weather Underground blog, the storm is acting very oddly, and intensifying. Although winds remain at just category two levels, the pressure drop and the extent of hurricane force winds makes this a more powerful storm than Katrina. Worse, like New Orleans, Galveston is very susceptible to storm surge.

The storm looks set to make landfall early Saturday morning.

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