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James Allan wrote yesterday on the occasion of America's Independence Day to urge his fellow Canadians to reconsider their political choices. Now an ex-oatriate living in Australia, Allan finds that he can no longer comprehend Canadian politics, where the Conservatives sound like liberals in his adopted homeland -- and yet the electorate consistently mistrusts them and elects a single-party government on a consistent basis:
When I raised this point during my time back in Canada -- that any well-functioning democracy needs the voters to kick parties out of power on a fairly regular basis -- I was met every time with this reply: "But Harper and the Tories are so right wing. We agree in theory, but really, no one could vote for them."
The same sort of message could be heard implicitly on CBC radio and in most of the mainstream media.
But here's the odd thing. In global terms, it's simply not true. Take today's Tories and Stephen Harper out of Canada and plunk them in New Zealand and they would be to the left of Helen Clark's Labour government. Down in New Zealand, there is a two-tier health system; there are civil unions but no gay marriage; the economy is far less heavily regulated in terms of labour laws, tax policy and tariffs than anything Harper is proposing.
The same goes for Australia. Compare the policies of the left-wing Labour Party there (on defence, immigration, the environment, health, education, you name it) to Canadian Tories' policies and Harper consistently stands to the left of Australian Labour, not the right.
Allan's point might be a good reminder for North Americans, not just Canadians alone, that the Tory/Grit split in Canada does not easily equate to political debate elsewhere. As a number of CQ readers have consistently reminded us, the political center in Canada exists much more to the Left than in other Anglosphere democracies, resembling French politics more so than anything else. While Harper and the Tories represent themselves as Conservatives -- an apt description for their relative position in Canada -- much of the time, one would have trouble distinguishing them from Democrats here in the US, or Labour in Australia or Britain, as Allen points out.
That may explain the Canadian electorate's lack of enthusiasm for Tories, however, a point Allen misses. What he bemoans is a lack of real choice in politics. Just as in France, a man like Ronald Reagan who stands for limited central government, strong foreign policy, and a laissez-faire economic system would get pilloried as a racist and dangerous idealogue. Not that Reagan didn't suffer those same slings and arrows, but Reagan had a broad base of support for those ideals in the US, and those insults never stuck to him. Either those concepts have little appeal north of the border, or the electorate has not organized effectively enough to legitimize that point of view -- which may be why the Tories have the issues that Allan describes.
The problem might not lie with the voters, but the fact that the real political battle appears to have already been lost by conservatism in Canada.Sphere It View blog reactions
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