When Canada’s minority Liberal government fell Monday night in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, one line in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s post-vote speech struck this expatriate Canadian as even more self-righteous than usual.
”Canada is now the conscience of the world,” Martin declared.
While Martin and many Canadians consider themselves morally superior to Americans, simply better human beings, the implication that Canada is now the moral beacon for every other country on the face of the earth is astounding, even taking into account Canadians’ deeply entrenched, obnoxious smugness. But this “We’re better than them” boast is key to Martin’s efforts to retain power in the January 23 national election.
His main threat comes from Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative party of Canada, the least anti-American of the four parties competing in the election. Among the scare tactics Martin will use against Harper–and make no mistake, the thrust of the Martin campaign will be fear–will be the charge that a conservative government would turn Canada into a cesspool like the United States.
U.S. readers should understand that, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it all depends on what the meaning of the word “conservative” is. A Canadian conservative is similar to a moderate Democrat here. There is no true conservative party in Canada, as we know conservatism.
Nonetheless, Martin will attempt to do to Harper what he did in the last election, paint him as a right-wing lunatic with a “hidden agenda.” In fact, apart from policy differences on immigration, Canada-U.S. relations, and possibly crime, there is little reason to believe Harper, especially with a minority government, would differ substantially from Martin except, one would hope, in competence and ethics.
With the three national parties in Canada–the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democratic party–best described as left, more left and most left, Canadians simply would not tolerate a government that behaved like U.S. Republicans, as Martin will warn about the Conservatives. A fourth party competing in the election, the Bloc Quebecois, represents Quebec interests only.
Burdened by a financial scandal and pre-election promises and spending that struck even socialist-minded Canadians as cynical, Martin’s mission will be to turn attention away from what the government, under him, has become and focus on claims of what Canada, under Harper, will become. For example, Martin recently blamed guns from the U.S. for the sharp increase in gun deaths in major Canadian cities, and undoubtedly will portray the country under Harper as one where the streets run even redder with victims’ blood.
The Liberals are known as “Canada’s natural governing party.” Since Liberal Lester Pearson unseated Conservative John Diefenbaker in 1963, the Liberals have held power for all but nine years and nine months of the last 42 years. In contrast, during the same time, the U.S. has seen Democratic presidencies for 17 years and Republican for 25.
Early speculation among some Canadian pundits foresees the possibility of a Conservative minority government, with the party winning the most seats but not more than the opposition combined. But the Liberals have been known to lag behind in the early stages of an election before, only to pull ahead at the end as their scare tactics take hold.
For risk-averse Canadians, especially those in Ontario where the Liberals hold most of their seats, to abandon the warm familiarity of a Liberal government would be similar to a baby giving up its pacifier. This, despite the fact the arrogant, tired, corrupt Liberals deserve to go.
I don’t know where “conscience” enters into it, but Canada is now virtually a one-party “democracy,” along the lines of Mexico before Vicente Fox was elected. And while Canada may have a conscience, it is absent a soul, a country devoid of any national identity except that defined by its anti-Americanism.
While “Time for a change” is a slogan that energizes many American voters to turf out a sitting president, those same words strike fear in the heart of the average Canadian. Voters may tinker with the idea of a non-Liberal government, but come January 23, beaten into submission by the Martin fear machine, they are likely to do as they are told, just like the good little Canadians they are.
–California-based Doug Gamble, a former writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, is a freelance writer for politicians and corporate executives.