Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Liberals, Layton and Hypocrisy.

There is a lot of talk around political circles, and I stress that it is mostly rumor and innuendo at the moment, that the Bloc and the NDP are both ready to work with the Conservative Minority Government for the foreseeable future in order to avoid an election. The recent polls which suggest that Harper is in trouble and may have run his political course confirms something that is clear to anyone with an ounce of political analysis. As I have said before, an unusual confluence of historical event brought Harper to power and the conditions have changed. These historical event, coupled with some fairly outrageous political mistakes have, I believe, irreparably doomed Harper’s political fortunes. Furthermore, his ultra-partisan, frighteningly controlling political style always has limited political lifespan in modern Western democracies. It can work for a while during relatively comfortable and trouble-free times, but when the economic and social conditions get stormy, such a centralizing, Machiavellian style tends to turn people off because it seems mean and self-serving. Anyway, back to my original point which is the degree of cooperation that Harper can expect to enjoy from the Bloc and the NDP now that his fortunes seem to have changed. In the Blogosphere many Liberals are beginning to rant and rave, centering most of their attacks on Jack Layton, at the prospect that these parties might attempt to cooperate with Harper with the intention of avoiding an election themselves and gaining some political concessions. Yesterday, such speculation went into overdrive with the release of polling numbers in Quebec that suggest that the Liberals have actually overtaken the Bloc in popularity. Now I find this Liberal indignation ironic for two reasons. The first is that the Liberal party was the only one that voted with this government on a confidence issue since it returned to power. Both the other opposition parties voted against the budget which means thus far it has only been the Liberals propping up Harper’s Government. The second is that no one has actually said or done anything in either of the other opposition parties which is proof positive of the cooperation on which so many are speculating. The fact is that even though the NDP has been the main target of the Liberal attacks in recent days, the Bloc is a much more likely candidate for keeping this Government alive. The NDP may be mourning the loss of their dreamed of coalition but they have less to lose than the Bloc from an election. Furthermore, there is very little, if anything, that the Conservatives can offer the NDP that would justify the political risk of being seen to cooperate with the Harper. The much vaunted referendum on proportional representation is a non-starter and even if such a thing did happen, it would have no chance of passing with the opposition from the other three parties. Thus, if it does turn out that there is nothing to this Blog-rumor that Layton has sold the soul of the NDP, the most startling thing about all this recent discourse is the incredibly ironic accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ that have been so quickly thrown at the NDP by the Liberals. Not to say that it would not be hypocritical for Jack Layton to now support the Harper Government after the vitriolic attacks he made on the Liberals in the last election and the continual acts on his part to paint Harper as a democratic antichrist. It would be hypocritical indeed if Layton were now to somehow prop up the minority government in complete contradiction to his political discourse for the past two years or so. However, for the accusations of hypocrisy to come from the Liberals is itself profoundly hypocritical. Dion and Liberals voted with Harper time and again from pure political expediency, they knew they couldn’t win an election and that there was a real chance of Harper gaining a majority. Now one might argue that keeping Harper from a majority is of such political importance that the Liberals were right to avoid an election at any cost. I for one believe that a Harper majority would be a serious threat to the fundamental democracy of our system; not because of any single policy that he pursues but because his political style is centralist and Machiavellian that the present Conservative Party would actually chip away at democracy itself. (This is not, by the way, a generalized attack on Conservatives or Conservative Ideology but rather aimed largely at Harper and his inner-core. There are many Conservatives with whom I disagree about policy but who I think are committed to democracy and fair-play) However, since the Liberals have certainly never publicly made this argument, I don’t believe that can retroactively use it for their two-year support of the Conservative Government. The simple fact is that when it was in their political interest to do so, the Liberals had no qualms about keeping Harper in power. It is disingenuous, therefore, for Liberals now or in the future to turn their vitriolic attacks on Layton for doing the exact same thing.

Layton is, I believe, of dubious character and has taken the NDP away from what should be its principled stance on many issues. I also believe he was profoundly wrong to bring down the Martin Government just because he saw an opportunity to gain a few more seats. If Martin had remained Prime Minister for another year or so Universal Childcare would have become a political fact like universal education and Harper would probably been unable to stop it. Furthermore, Harper’s abandonment of the Kyoto and the Kelowna accords would have been much more difficult. I therefore have no serious words of defense for Jack Layton. However, the Liberals have always been the master of political gamesmanship and for them to accuse anyone of hypocrisy at this point is ridiculous. If Liberal’s really want to step onto the high ground of political discourse they should stand for real and serious political reforms to this country including some form of proportional representation, genuine accountability, a decentralization of political power away from the PMO, real campaign reform including an abandonment of the market-driven advertising approach to politics, campaign finance reform, genuine freedom of information, and some serious public investment in alternative energy programs. When the Liberals are ready to make these kinds of reforms then perhaps they can accuse others of hypocrisy. Until that time, it is clear to any honest political observer that the Liberal party continues to be just another self-interested political party who will play almost any political game to gain power and keep it. 

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