Thursday, November 17, 2011

Everything's changed and nothing is different

Taking a break can be instructive. You can learn a lot just by stepping back, and not getting so immersed in the things which typically hold so much of your attention. For me it was not about breaking out of the Ottawa bubble - after all, this is my home. No, it was more about stepping out of the politics watcher bubble.

Call it a personal prorogation.

It was needed. 2011 has been an intense year for a politics watcher. A federal election in the spring, and a series of provincial elections in the fall. Lots to watch and digest. Which brings me to today and where things stand on the federal stage.

Roughly eight months on from when the federal writ was dropped and everything has changed.

- A minority is now a majority, and the Conservatives have complete control over both houses of Parliament.

- The NDP has become the Official Opposition, but are now (tragically) leaderless.

- The Liberals have fallen to being the third party in Parliament, and are in the midst redefining themselves and finding permanent leadership.

- The Bloc is in the process of fading from memory.

I would bet that back in the spring when Mr. Harper asked for his strong, stable majority his wildest dreams would not have looked like things do today.

And yet re-emerging from my personal prorogation, it feels like nothing has changed.


The tone of our politics has continued its slide downwards. The hostility among MPs is on the rise, with personal attacks popping up with greater frequency. The government has looked smug and dismissive; the opposition desperate and frustrated.

The loser in their war of words? You, me, debate and public policy.


Just when you thought Parliament could not look any less relevant to those outside the bubble, et voila. This is particularly frustrating.

Looking in from the outside, it often appears that many people worked tirelessly to get elected to Parliament for the sole purpose of showing that it can't work.

We have limited debate. Closure and other tactics are invoked quickly. MPs of all stripes continue to favour the embarrassment game in place of substance.


Whether it is a "tough on crime" approach that ignores all evidence that demonstrates it won't work, or a gun registry position that ignores the views of law enforcement in the name of the "base", the government insists on using its majority to play on the margins of what is significant and meaningful.

I get playing to the base - there is a time and place for it. It is part of politics. However, I am not certain this is the time. Particularly when I see what is happening in the world.

If ever there was a time to look like a government and not a party, this would be it. But this doesn't seem to be the case.


The federal election may have changed the landscape, but not the view. In many respects, it would appear that the Harper government got everything it wanted, so that it could do everything it was doing before.

If the stakes weren't so high, it would be laughable. Sadly, it is not.

Every day the world reminds us how interconnected we are, how fragile things can become, and how much more we accomplish when we work together. Canada and its politics need to heed this lesson.

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