Mine is a story of reluctant political apathy, of a drift away from commitment. I’m not quite at the point where I don’t know who the premier of my province is. I mean, I know her name. And that she’s a Liberal, used to be in Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet, she jogs a lot. I also know who the leader of the opposition is; well, at the moment in Ontario it’s sort of nobody but that’s OK, Tim Hudak was sort of a nobody, too. And there’s my problem: I don’t like the “Ins” one bit, but I have no faith in the “Outs” either. Nobody represents me, and I have better things to do with my time than bang my head against the walls of the legislature. Like gardening.
Now, before you go all Andrew Coyne on me and threaten compulsory voting to force me into a dimly-lit booth armed with a stubby pencil, I still think voting is important and good, like most vaccines. I do trundle down to the local church basement at election time, if only because my husband nags me until I go. Also, I’m trying to model the behaviour of the Good Responsible Citizen for the kids. But my heart’s not in it.
It used to be. I started caring a lot about politics around 15 when I read Karl Marx. He was sort of a big thing in high school, an age where irresponsibility feels grownup. Perhaps you remember it. I do. Back then I shaved half my head, and went all power to the proletariat. I also scrawled peace signs in magic marker on my canvas book bag. At that age, it’s cool to be stupid, and I was pretty good at it. I was going to stick it to “the man,” who had obviously never been young and never heard all my brilliant arguments before. It couldn’t fail.
To be honest, all those brilliant arguments, like the half-bald hairstyle, seemed to work better inside my head than on anyone outside it. But the idea of social justice continued to appeal to me greatly. Especially as I was broke and keenly interested in schemes whereby I could get my hands on other people’s money.
Then I got a job at McDonald’s (initial salary: $3.54/hour), and whoa, things changed…fast. My first paycheque was for $11 and change, if memory serves. I’d only worked one shift in that pay period. My second paycheque, two weeks later, was over $50. The third one was over $100. I’d never been so rich, and what do you know, I ditched Karl Marx faster than you can say Quarter Pounder with cheese to go.
After that I flirted with various political options that, even as a Quebecoise, somehow never included Quebec separatism. I always thought it was a crazy, unrealistic idea that very few Quebecers took seriously anyway, other than as a tactical weapon to extract appeasement from les maudits Anglais. And once I broke up with Karl I was never keen on governments of any sort. I spent most of my 20s and early 30s as a libertarian, then got married and became more of a small-c conservative. Blame the husband for turning me into a square(head), but not just him.
The terrorist attacks in September 2001 revealed that a great number of libertarians thought retaliating against bin Laden wasn’t a good idea, which pushed me closer to the neocons. But it was all cool. Except for my brief but unrewarding fling with Tovarich Marx as a teenager, I’ve been on Team Liberty my whole life, and I followed politics and public affairs passionately. The TV was always tuned to a news channel while I wrote fiery articles in favour of more freedom and less government, and I was ready to change the world.
Of course I was prepared to meet resistance. I knew political opponents would take issue with my arguments. But what I never expected was the disheartening discovery that very few people in the conservative or otherwise right-wing movement in this country turned out to be on Team Liberty except rhetorically. Most of them were on Team Themselves. They put partisanship ahead of principle, and personal advancement ahead of party.
Eventually I had to face the facts. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are anything but. Tim Hudak’s crew was beyond hopeless. Philippe Couillard’s Quebec Liberals are worse. And as for Danielle Smith, ah, Danielle. I used to know and like her, back when she was principled. I miss her, too. But she’s gone where they all seem to go.
The result is that I have no home, politically speaking. There is nobody out there who speaks to my heart. There is no major party that is pro-life, for one thing. I know, I know, Stephen Harper always said he would not do anything about abortion, but I wish there was more room in that party for those of us who wish to continue debating the issue. I also wish the party took a clear and compassionate stance on assisted suicide in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Carter decision. But no. We were told by the Justice Minister that his administration was in no rush to deal with this issue. I don’t blame politicians for being reluctant to talk about issues of life and death, for obvious political reasons in this election year. But golly, to most normal people, who have strong feelings on this issue, this kind of political calculation stinks.
Conservatives are not interested in my heart, just my wallet. Sometimes they sweet-talk me with promises of tax cuts, but more often than not they try to bribe me, with my own money or someone else’s, so that I might be more active physically or have more children under the age of six. They have not, so far, suggested I might accomplish the latter by cranking up the former, but I’m sure that’s only a temporary oversight. Somebody is bound to come up with a subsidy for that. (Man, the bad jokes about stimulus programs and multiplier effects do write themselves, don’t they?)
To be fair, the Harper administration has done a few positive things. Very few, mind you, but credit where credit is due, etc. I do like the fact that they got rid of the wheat board, and that they reduced the GST. (It was the wrong tax to reduce, but whatever, I can’t afford to be too picky.) I’m tempted to add the scrapping of the gun registry, but unfortunately that one was only a half-hearted stab that did not much change the bureaucratic harassment endured by gun owners in provinces like Ontario. If they had really wanted to be useful, the Tories would have amended S. 58 (1) of the Firearms Act to curtail the powers of Chief Firearms Officers (gun-rights enthusiasts will know what I’m talking about – if you’re not in that group, take heart; I’m just about done with this topic), but they didn’t dare do that.
There is one thing I will give the Tories a good deal of credit for, and it is their handling of foreign affairs, especially their very strong pro-Israel stance. Canada is not in a position to have a very effective foreign policy since we have no military to speak of, but we can talk and on this file under Stephen Harper Canada is generally saying the right things, at the UN and elsewhere.
Yeah, that reminds me. The military. I am mightily annoyed with the Harper administration for continuing to let our military deteriorate. They didn’t start this process, I know. It had long been underway by the time they reached office. But you’d think they might have tried harder to reverse the trend. We have wonderful men and women in this country ready to serve but they don’t have enough equipment or senior NCOs to help shape them. What they have is hundreds of paper-pushing colonels in NDHQ, planes that are not fully interoperable with our allies’ aircraft, ships that are rusting out, helicopters that are older than me, and subs that catch fire. This won’t do.
Worse has been the Harper administration’s treatment of wounded veterans. There have been too many stories of vets having to fight Veterans Affairs – like having to prove every year that the legs lost in Afghanistan have not magically grown back – in order to get the pension to which they’re entitled. These men and women were there for us when it mattered, but now we’re letting them down, and this is not something I am prepared to swallow without protest.
Neither can I stomach the business of the prime minister’s chief of staff paying the bogus expenses of a senator out of his own pocket, and the prime minister lying to Canadians about what happened and when.
When I complain about these issues to fellow right-wingers, they frequently agree with me that all is far from well in the right-wing part of the political spectrum, but end up saying something to the effect that, “Well, what can we do? Perfection is not of this world and whatever their faults, the Harper Conservatives are better than any of the other parties.” Blech.
Is Stephen Harper a less awful choice for prime minister than either Justin Trudeau or Tom Mulcair? Yeah, sure. I guess. But why is this the question? And why doesn’t it bother my “fellow conservatives” a lot more?
I deeply resent being asked to vote for, and defend, nominally conservative options because the other guys are worse in theory, though indistinguishable in practice. They all spend tax dollars like they were an endlessly renewable resource. They all bribe voters with their own money. They all engage in corporate welfare. In opposition everyone promises efficiency and honesty, and in office everyone delivers extravagance and arrogance. To say this leaves me cold gravely understates the frostiness of my current relations with politics.
I understand nobody is perfect. But one of the promises this batch of Conservatives made to Canadians after the sponsorship scandal is that they would be better than the Liberals we were just about to kick out of office. Now try to forget your partisan preferences for a moment and ask yourself honestly: Have the Tories kept that promise? Some people want to answer yes, on balance, they kinda did. But there’s not a lot of enthusiasm behind their answer.
I am not satisfied to vote for the marginally least wretched option. I want politicians who leave my wallet alone and engage my heart and my mind with their vision of the society in which they want to live. I want to hear why they think Canada needs their governance. What they’re going to do to make sure we pass along to our children a country that’s healthier – financially, fiscally, environmentally – than the one we inherited. But all I get are variants of “the other guys reek more than us.”
I believe, more strongly than ever, in personal responsibility and our right to be left alone. But I now put most of my time and effort into cultivating my own garden, a far more useful and pleasant pursuit than the world of politics.
I refuse to be on Team Stephen, or Team Philippe or Team Whoever Eventually Replaces Tim Hudak to No Purpose Whatsoever. I’m on Team Liberty even if nobody else is. And I’m enjoying my freedom from politics to no end.
Brigitte Pellerin is a writer, broadcaster, producer, and multimedia entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in Canada’s media environment. She has written about politics in French and English between 1998 and 2014 and is now writing fiction when she is not busy making documentaries with her husband, John Robson.