Friday, December 5, 2008

A Polarized Political Winter In Canada...

By now most have likely learned that our national government will be shut down until January 27th 2009, our Governor General having consented to the request of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Those agreeing with this decision see it as a needed break to help cool things down during this very contentious period. Others see it as an unacceptable suspension of our democracy. There are merits to both points of view, with my own opinion slanting toward the latter...the need for a cooling off period. Intially I was opposed, but listening and reading about the reaction of Canadians it now strikes me that we need some time to pause and reflect.

This so called 'crisis' is bringing forth deep seeded divisions in our confederation and battle lines are being drawn. With some minor variations the lines are crystal clear. The divisions break down in three key ways as I see it, east and west, urban and rural, English and French. If you're an English or French speaking Central Canadian living in or near a major urban centre you're far more likely to favour a coalition government. If you live somewhere in western Canada, especially in Alberta, then its probable that you're vehemently opposed to the notion of our government being led by a partnership of Liberals and New Democrats supported by the Bloc.

I'm an English speaking Canadian residing in the GTA, (greater Toronto area) so it is easy for me to have sympathy for the prospect of a coalition. However as this crisis has evolved its given me the opportunity to gain a much better understanding of the opposing view, especially with respect to the Western Canadian perspective.

I am now going to veer harshly away from being oh so polite and Canadian and turn sharply into a full rant.

Central Canada, that means you Ontario et Quebec, and especially you Toronto and Montreal....listen to our western Canadian friends, 'cause guess what...THEY HAVE A POINT.

The political scene in Ottawa has been dominated by us for a long time, A VERY LONG TIME. Our views and concerns are certainly valid, but so are those of people from places like Alberta. How do you think it feels to watch Liberal after Liberal government sitting in power without anything more than the occasional token seat at the cabinet table for the west? And heaven forbid we should have a Prime Minister who isn't 100 per cent fluently bilingual. Hell Liberals will even put up with electing leaders who barely speak English, the language of 75 per cent of the population...oh no, we sure wouldn't want to upset Quebec because they might leave us and what a mess that would be. You want to know something about westerners? They're every bit as pissed off as the people of Quebec, but they're not going to threaten us with day we'll wake up and they'll be gone. Yeah westerners know Harper is being a bit of a dick, okay...but they'll give him a pass because that's what we've done with leaders from central Canada. Chretien wasted billions and we in Central Canada forgave him and handed him repeated majorities while westerners just shook their heads at us.

Okay...enough ranting. Let me give you my take on western Canadians. We all know the strong silent types, those who have strong opinions but play their cards close to their chest. Oh they'll let you know when they're angry, but not neccessarily in an overt that person who gives you that look, the look that says 'I don't like you' when you express an opinion with which they disagree.

Most people in Eastern and Central Canada likely know, (or know of) someone who has moved out west, especially to Alberta...many of us may have even considered it ourselves at one time or another. What held us back? Sure there was the lure of opportunity, but there was also uncertainty and the thought of leaving friends, family and familiar surroundings behind. Those concerns plagued those who ultimately made the decision to go too, but it speaks something to the character of those who made the move.

Westerners are mavericks...yes, there are many who have lived there for generations, but their parents and grandparents were risk takers. Here in Central/Eastern Canada we need to understand that. While we here look to government to solve our problems, many westerners see government as a nuisance that gets in the a nosy mother in law. They're sick of interference and want to be left alone to solve whatever problems come along. We don't have to agree necessarily, but we need to understand our Western Brother if we're going to get along and have a functionable union.

Now think of it this way...for ages now we've had governments led by Central Canadians, that have catered to the concerns of that part of the country. And westerners in general and Albertans in particular haven't caused too much of a stir. You might even say they've tried to work with us. Preston Manning came along and made us understand the importance of eliminating the federal deficit. Yes it was Paul Martin acting as Finance Minister who finally eliminated it. But would he have been willing to expend the political capital needed to tackle it if Mr. Manning hadn't put it front and centre in the Canadian consciousness? I for one highly doubt it.

Now finally, FINALLY Canadians elect a Conservative government with strong western representation. While not a majority it certainly is a strong mandate in comparison with the vote totals the other parties received. And what happens? At the first opportunity Central Canada gangs up and attempts to give them the boot. Even as I write this I'm seriously questioning my own support for the notion of a coalition.

Now on to Stephen Harper and the Conservative pit bulls leading the attack on the other side.

You're not going to get a rant, because I know how the 'strong silent types' react to that kind of thing...and I don't want a broken nose.

I think you need to tone things down. I know a lot of this is pent up frustration which is making it come out like a volcano....hopefully this parliamentary suspension will help you regain your composure.

-You don't like the fact that this coalition involves the Bloc, okay. But remember back when Mr Harper himself was negotiating with them to bring down Paul Martin's Liberal minority government. What's good for the goose guys, if its wrong now then it was wrong makes you look like hypocrites.

-You wanted a majority government, but you didn't get one. Until the Canadian people (all of them) grant you that privelge you have to govern in consultation with the opposition parties. Please don't play me for a fool, if you didn't care about majority/minority then there was no need to call the election we just endured. In the last parliament you were given pretty much free reign. It makes me wonder why we needed the election in the first place. Are there things on your agenda that you fear will be unpopular?

-Please stop burning bridges with Quebec, they're family too. If you're going to resort to name calling, use the same words when you speak in English as you do quand vous parlez en francais.

Ultimately my own support for a coalition government is based on my desire to avoid another election. An election now, when wounds are open and gaping is not what we need. If you think think the divisions are bad now it would be ten times worse if we were going to the polls. That's more than enough for now....we need to talk with each other, not at each other during this time.

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