It is a curious thing when a fist fight seems civilized, courteous and brave while the political fighting seems vicious, mean and cowardly. There was something old fashioned and dignified in the Trudeau/Brazeau boxing match for cancer. Both men had courage. Both men fought hard, fairly, to the best of their abilities and at the end shook hands. Why can’t politics be like that?
It can’t because unlike boxing, politics no longer has fair rules. Boxing without the rules is no more than two men in an alley way trying to hurt each other with their fists much like chimpanzees when they fight. The Marquis of Queensbury’s rules civilized that primitive combat by giving it some elegance, by containing the violence, protecting the boxer’s bodies and time limiting the damage.
We used to have the equivalent of Marquis of Queensbury’s political rules in Canadian politics. Indeed, Canadians were famous for their ability to compete hard politically but always with respect for the other guy’s opinions and positions. We are one of the very few nations in the world where people have elected a substantial separatist contingent and these representatives (the Bloc Quebecois) took their position in Parliament with calm but clear opinions on the need for Quebec to separate itself from the federation. It is difficult to imagine what would happen in the United States if Oregon or New England decided it no longer wanted to be part of the American Union and elected sent powerful orators to the the American Congress to seriously argue that case.
What happened to us? That’s what I hear everywhere I go. What has happened to Canada? Justin Trudeau, one of the combatants asked the same question in a powerful ‘cri de coeur’ far stronger than any punches he threw in the ring. Well, what has happened is the normal democratic rules that used to govern the heartbeat of the country have collapsed. That’s the only way you can explain the voter suppression scandal and Parliament’s inability to deal with it. The opposition parties behave like deer caught in the headlights. The enormity of people being denied their right to vote by a clever, nationally organized automated phone campaign still hasn’t really penetrated their collective consciousness, perhaps because they are afraid of the consequences if they do.
Canada no longer has a legitimate Parliament that is the consequence. I don’t know if the election outcomes of two ridings or twenty were affected by voter suppression. Nor does anyone. That’s the point. This kind of electoral manipulation happens routinely in third world petro states where a multitude of voter suppression techniques have been refined over many years to make sure the ruling party remains in power. Now it’s come to Canada and like the citizens of third world countries, we see anger and we see opposition, but it is too inchoate, too diffuse to change anything.
The ruling party rules on and as they do they continue to chop away at all the impediments to them remaining in power. That’s what we saw with this budget. It was all about changing the rules of public engagement so that fairness is reduced and partisan advantage maximized. In the next election, the financing will less fair and evidence based opposition further reduced. This matters. Just like the Marquis of Queensbury’s rules mattered. They are the difference between a tough sport and criminal assault. (last sentence added April 6th 2012)