Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Opposition: Part Two
I was at my usual ringside seat watching one of the girls have her way with a brass pole, drinking my beer and trying to figure things out. It just didn't make sense; where could the opposition parties have vanished to since that day in January when Steven Harper and his boys took power?
Maybe the Liberals have the excuse of trying to keep a low profile, they've just lost power for the first time in thirteen years, their leader resigned, and they need time to regroup. But what about Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) He's no shrinking violet to back down from a fight or to go turtle when the times get tough. Anyway he'd just led his party to their best result in over twenty years so he's got to be feeling good; but there's barely been a peep out of him.
I know people think that Harper has worked out some sort of deal with the Bloc Quebecois, but I can't see them under normal circumstances letting any Federal Leader jump on a provincial jurisdiction like Harper did with Day Care and let them get away with it. Normally Gilles Duceppe would be all over that like a guy's hands on a lap dancer's assets, but now he's acting like a Puritan; pursing his lips and keeping his eyes closed.
It's one of those cases you sometimes wish you'd never taken on. Where do you go looking for opposition parties that seem to have vanished? None of them have been heard from up on Parliament Hill in months so checking the House of Commons is out of the question. The last time I can remember everybody being up there was when the Liberals agreed with the Tories implementing their policy of extending the and expanding the tour of duty of Canadian forces in Afghanistan.
The Voice of Concerned Canada has mentioned that's when the first questions started to come up about the opposition's whereabouts. Public opinion polls were showing that a solid majority of Canadians were opposed to any such arrangement; nobody wanted to start seeing young Canadians coming home in boxes from a country halfway around the world.
You'd have thought the opposition would have made some noise about remarks that oozed out of Harper's people saying Canadians "didn't understand" the importance of what was being done over there in Afghanistan. Nothing, not even a tiny little squeak like a mouse would make when trod on by an elephant.
I let my eye trail around the room, watching the girls going up and down the posts like pistons in a steam engine can be pretty relaxing in a mesmerizing sort of way. Civil servants trying to look nonchalant fondled their mobile phones and pagers as they watched the amazing muscle control required to climb a brass poll using only the inner thighs.
It used to be everybody would be smoking a cigarette or something, but ever since the day of infamy when smoking was banned in bars both sides of the border, mobile phones have replaced packs of smokes on bars as the toy of choice. Even I had one of the damn things in front of me on the bar. You felt naked without at least something square to put beside your keys on the bar. (There's a mystery for you, why do men always put their car keys on the bar in front of them? Half of them aren't going to be driving home from there that night anyway)
Half of the phones were in use right now, but who they were phoning at this time of night on a Friday in Ottawa is anyone's guess, unless of course it was to make excuses to their wives about work keeping them late. There was no one else they could be phoning without getting one of them damn voice mails with their insistent instructions on how to get in touch with whoever it is you're trying to get in touch with.
A fleeting though chased its tail in my head for a second then turned around and came back for a second look. Well why not, I had nothing else to go on and I might just get some lead or another. I opened the cell's top with a flip of the wrist and punched in the first series of numbers.
"Hello, bonjour. You have reached Liberal Party Headquarters" I immediately pressed one to get service in English and the voice continued "There's nobody here to answer your call right now, our normal office hours are Monday to Friday 9:00 – 5:00, but currently I wouldn't count on finding anyone in the office at they are all busy with sharpening knives in preparation for the leadership convention.
If this is an emergency situation and you need to talk to a liberal party member the janitor will be occasionally checking messages. Speak slowly and clearly and spell any words of more than one syllable if you desire any accuracy, as his English isn't the best.
Hopefully somebody will back in the office after the leadership convention next December and will attempt to get back to you at that time. Until then thank you for calling the National Headquarters of the Liberal Party of Canada, your thoughts and opinion are important to us."
I disengaged that call and took another kick at the can. "Bonjour, Vous avez atteint le bureau du Bloc Quebecois, pour le service en anglais, partez" Well that was as nice a "piss off" as I've received in a long time. Well I guess if you don't expect anyone from outside Quebec to vote for you, you're not going to provide service in English.
I was getting nowhere fast with this, but I figured I might as well give it one more shot and call the N.D.P. "Hi there you have reached national party headquarters for the New Democratic Party of Canada, the home of Social Democracy in Canada. We're the folk you never vote for but whom the Liberals steal all their ideas from and take the credit. We try not to get bitter about that but it really hurts our feelings you know that you never vote for us. Don't you like us? We gave you Medicare you ungrateful bastards yet you never give us more then a few measly seats.
We are not a tool of the unions or other special interest groups. Most union members have a higher annual income than us now for God's sake and vote for the damn Conservatives. What's with you guys anyway, you keep voting in these right wing bastards who promise to cut social spending and when they do you all whine about it. We warned you, but you wouldn't listen to us, oh no we're just fear mongers out of touch with the new economic reality of globalization. Well you voted for them so stop bitching at us about it.
Have a nice day and thank you for phoning N.D.P. national headquarters"
I closed the phone and laid it back on the bar in front of me, it might as well have been a pack of smokes for all the good it did me making those calls. The only call that went as I expected was the Bloc Quebecois, telling people to go away if they want service in English is about right for them, but even so they used to at least do it in English.
The other two sounded like petty little children who weren’t getting their way. The N.D.P.'s "nobody like's me everybody hates me" line, and the Liberals not giving a shit attitude ranked right up there in maturity with teenagers and …politicians. It hit me like the sidewalk hitting the face of anyone stupid enough to grab a boob in a place like this without paying extra, our politicians were actually becoming politicians.
It used to be in Canada people had a career, like doctors, lawyers, loan sharks, whatever, and they became a member of parliament on the side, or did it for a bit and then went back to being what they had been before they had decided to run in an election. Unlike other countries we didn’t' have people who wanted to be a politician when they grew up, or it wasn't a career goal in school.
If they wanted to serve the people they became social workers if the were liberals, or cops if the were conservative, but you didn't become a politician. You either did corporate law or worked as a defence attorney handling Legal Aid cases only and that's how you expressed your philosophy, through work not by becoming a politician.
If you really want to see the difference look at the leaders of the parties. In the past the N.D.P. have had civil rights lawyers, ministers and academics as leaders, but now in Jack Layton, they have a guy who's been a politician for most of his adult life. Starting off as an alderman in Toronto and working his way up the ladder until he's leader of the federal N.D.P. In fact both he and his wife are professional politicians, having both been at City Council together in Toronto before moving on up the social scale.
I was getting excited; this had to be the answer. Paul Martin, the last Liberal leader and former Prime Minister, may have owned a steam ship company, but he was the son of a politician. Paul Martin Sr. had been a minister in the cabinets of both Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, and his kid had been grooming himself for Prime Minister since the day he reached adulthood I'm willing to bet.
Bob Rae, the guy who appears to be the front-runner in the Liberal campaign went to work in the government straight from completing his schooling, as a member of Pierre Trudeau's Privy Council. He then became a federal member of parliament for the N.D.P. and went on to become the first socialist premier of Ontario. After that he served on various advisory boards and wrote studies for governments on things like the cost of post secondary education. He's enough of a politician that he's been able to switch parties three times now and not realize how strange that might look to other people.
Gilles Duceppe and all the others over at the Bloc have been political animals all their lives, breathing and bleeding sovereignty for Quebec since they were in University. None of them are high-school teachers or former football players who decided to run for public office.
Everything fit together as snug and tight as that g-string in front of me. The opposition parties had turned into politicians, and as politicians the only thing they cared about was getting re-elected in the next election. Who cared about what the country expected from them, they needed to be able guarantee they would be around after the next election was called.
They know if they push the Conservative government too hard they could end up having an election on their hands, and the voters could end up blaming their party for the fall of the government. In spite of Bob Rae's brave words about changing the date of the leadership convention if an election was necessary, there's no way in hell they'd want one called before the New Year.
The N.D.P. know that without the Liberal party they can't do anything to affect the vote in the House of Commons, even if they wanted to risk an election being called they're stuck, and they're royally pissed about it. They also have learnt from bitter experience that they are the ones most likely to be blamed if an election is called for something that the majority of Canadians don't care about – like softwood lumber.
The opposition parties of Canada haven’t been kidnapped or gone missing; something far worse has happened. They've become parties of politicians that may give lip service to the idea of speaking for Canadians, but were really only interested in one thing – their own political hides.
It seemed I did have one more phone call to make. The voice of Concerned Canada wasn't going to be too happy with my report, but there wasn't anything I could do about that. Flipping open my phone with one hand, I caught the eye of the girl on the post opposite me and she gave me a big smile. It looked like it might be a pretty good evening after all.