Brace yourself, Canada — a year of skullduggery, dirty tricks, character assassination and gutter politics lies ahead of us.
With the next federal election officially looming on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 (unless Stephen Harper decides it suits his purposes to call it sooner), the temperature of the nation’s body politic is only going to keep rising.
And there’s no doctor to call. We just have to ride out this fever and hope we emerge from the ordeal with most of our faculties intact. I’m quite confident we’ll survive but I’m also pretty sure we will be in a weakened and traumatized state a year from now.
By the time this election campaign (already begun, in case you haven’t noticed) is finished, the Guelph robocall scandal — also known semi-officially as the 2011 federal election voter-suppression scandal — will seem very tame shenanigans indeed.
We already have the case of a Conservative operative in Alberta (henceforth known as Mata Hari) surreptitiously recording a group conversation with a Liberal candidate and publicizing what appears to be a politically indelicate comment (which I, for one, didn’t find alarming in the slightest). Unfortunately for Mata and for Sun TV (which broadcast the covert recording), she seems to have gotten her wires crossed and the comment allegedly made by the Grit politician was actually made by another participant in the conversation, a Conservative voter.
We seem to be smiling ruefully at that one, but only because it was such an amateurish farce. Just remember — that was only practice. The tricks will keep getting dirtier and the practitioners will only become more skilled at their craft as the year staggers on and the stakes grow higher.
I think we all expect the Conservative Party — whether officially involved or just as the recipient of freelance partisan chicanery — to be the dirtiest player in this dirty war, but don’t for a minute think that the NDP and Liberals don’t have their shadow warriors digging dirt and planting traps as well. And Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Parti Québécois will be actively trying to trip up every federalist in that province — especially Justin Trudeau, who is seen by many separatists as the greatest long-term threat to sovereigntist aspirations.
As for the Mata Hari tape, I have no problem with the basic deed. I hate hypocrites and people who talk out of both sides of their mouth, so any politician duplicitous enough or dumb enough to take one position in public and another in private deserves to be called to account for his or her own words. (Hello, Rob Ford.) I do have problems, however, with misrepresenting facts and taking comments out of context.
Of course, the Liberals don’t have to worry about any eavesdropping on the Great Leader, JPJT. Justin (as we all must call him now) just rams his foot in his mouth in any available public forum, so there isn’t much chance he’ll say something in private that particularly surprises us. (Hello, “admirable” Chinese dictatorship and hello, “whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.” Don’t get me started.) That may or may not be a good thing for the Liberals . We’ll see.
As for the NDP and Thomas (Angry Bird) Mulcair, don’t expect them to be socialist saints. They very definitely are not above some ethically sketchy behaviour.
But the Conservatives, I think we can all agree (even the majority of Conservatives as long as they’re being honest), will probably run the most down-and-dirty, most viperous campaign of them all. Because they’re out to win — at any cost.
Despite having had four years of absolute power (and five more of somewhat limited power), the Harper Conservatives still see themselves as underdogs fighting an uphill battle that requires cunning and guile and cold-blooded ruthlessness to win. And they’re right.
After all, the Tories managed to turn less than 40% popular support in the last federal election into a majority government. In many ways, the Conservatives benefited far more from Canada’s orange crush on Jack Layton than the NDP did. Sure, the NDP became the official opposition, but the saw-off between Liberals and NDP in so many individual riding races gave Harper his majority.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s the nature of Canadian politics. After all, the only reason a sometimes rather unpopular Jean Chretien managed to hang on as prime minister for a decade in the 1990s was because of a similar saw-off between the bitterly divided Progressive Conservative and Reform parties. And Chretien’s Grits were certainly willing to countenance a lot of shading dealings to win too.
But all that’s in the past. It’s the coming year that troubles me.
I do worry that the degree of dirt-digging and mud-slinging and underhanded manipulation and outright cozening we’ll be subjected to during the Battle of 2015 will far exceed anything we’ve seen before, possibly to the point of damaging Canada’s well-being as one of the world’s most durable democracies. At what point does striving for advantage become rigging the deal? What, for God’s sake, if the majority of Canadians question the very legitimacy of the electoral process and its outcome at the end of this campaign? It’s a possibility that has to be considered.
I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that. And I do believe that Canada’s democratic structure is strong enough to survive periodic excesses. But I’m also pretty sure that by the end of 2015 we will all be sick to death of a political cesspool that is likely to rival the just-concluded U.S. mid-term elections for low-down, dirty gutter politics.
So let’s get on with it. And hope that our much-vaunted, possibly mythical Canadian decency is real enough and strong enough to get us through.