Sunday, May 1, 2011

Before the Vote, Deconstructing Hope and Fear

Tomorrow, hopefully a record number of Canadians will go to the polls in the 41st general election to decide the direction this country will go for the next few years. As I wrote before, I was part of this election's significantly increased advance poll turnout, and people who have read this weblog and seen my political ramblings should not be surprised that I voted for Fin Donnelly of the New Democratic Party here in New Westminster—Coquitlam. I'll admit my vote was partially strategic; in 2008, only 1,488 votes separated the NDP and Conservatives in this riding. But that's not the whole part of it. With the deepening irrelevancy of the Liberal Party, the NDP is really the only party I can bring myself to vote for - and the only party I trust to not make a hash of Canada.

Over the last five years, the Conservatives have done nothing to earn my trust: rather the opposite, in fact. Whether it's laying the groundwork for a creepy cult of personality by filling up the House of Commons' government lobby with nothing but pictures of Stephen Harper, turning Toronto into a two-day police state, acting in contempt of Parliament and by extension the Canadian people, locking the doors to Parliament twice from fear of losing power, or constantly attempting to push through undemocratic and unrepresentative copyright and DRM bills, since 2006 the Conservatives' actions have demonstrated to me that ideology is far more important to them than citizenry, that the maintenance of power and control is their first and only goal.

In recent days, with the NDP surge knocking the Liberals to new lows of support, I've detected no small measure of fear from the Conservative camp. Not surprising, really; they've based their entire campaign on fear. Consider Harper's campaign speech, the one he trots out from coast to coast about chaos lapping at our shores, about Canada as "the closest thing the world has to an island of stability," that anything less than a Conservative majority government would be reckless and unstable because... I don't think he ever explained why, really. I suppose because a Conservative minority government is forced to actually take the Opposition seriously.

I suppose, though, that it really comes down to the nature of the campaigns - hope versus fear, and it really is as simple as that. I received two political flyers in my mailbox, one from the NDP and one from the Conservatives, and they are both excellent reflections of the respective parties' campaigns.

On the NDP flyer, Fin Donnelly's name and face are front and center; on the back there's a picture of him in the middle of a crowd and an exhortation to join his team, along with an office phone number, email address, and website link. The flyer itself is printed on recycled paper. Unfolding the flyer, the NDP platform points occupy only the bottom-left quadrant; the top half features eight people from this riding commenting on why they're supporting Fin, and the bottom-right quadrant is given over to photos. Jack Layton makes his only appearance in this flyer here, and even that's incidental - it's a photo of Fin and Jack talking to people at a Tim Horton's, but the focus isn't on Jack at all. The flyer is built around three simple ideas: that Fin and the NDP are worth your trust, they will work to make things happen, and you are welcome and encouraged to help them make these things happen.

By contrast, on the Conservative flyer the only person who's front and center is Stephen Harper himself. The actual candidate, Diana Dilworth, is confined to the bottom fourth, and her picture is only slightly larger than Harper's head. There's a phone number and website here, but no email address and no encouragement to get involved with the Conservative team. On the reverse, the cool blue-and-white color scheme changes to a dark black-and-orange one; it's built around an image of a man in shadows standing in front of an open door. Charged words such as "kills" and "chronic offenders" are bolded in NDP orange.

"PUT DRUG DEALERS BEHIND BARS, OR HAVE ANOTHER ELECTION?" the flyer asks. "THE NDP CHOSE AN ELECTION" - thus demonstrating how willing the Conservatives are to bend the truth depending on which way the political winds are tilting; the non-confidence motion that caused the dissolution of the last Parliament was introduced by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. It's really a sterling work of misdirection, even though it has no connection to reality: the government did not collapse because the other parties had a simple, binary choice between a vote and the incarceration of drug dealers - the government collapsed because the government lied to Parliament.

There are three choice quotes there, carefully cut out of context and calculated to advance the meme of "the NDP is recklessly soft on crime and will let criminals right INTO YOUR HOMES." At first I looked at them and thought, "who would be swayed by this crap anyway?" Then I went and chased the sources down. It wasn't hard, because the Conservatives were considerate enough to cite their sources.

Here's their first, from the March 30, 2011 Times-Colonist of Victoria: "THE NON-CONFIDENCE MOTION THAT TOPPLED THE HARPER GOVERNMENT KILLS [THE] TOUGH-ON-CRIME PACKAGE." So I looked up the source... and what did I find but an article entitled "Tough on taxpapers, but dumb on crime"? Here's what it really says: "The non-confidence motion that toppled the Harper government kills every bill before the House and Senate, including the Tories' illconsidered tough-on-crime package."

That sure is a sterling endorsement right there.

Number two comes from the Abbotsford Times of March 1, 2011 - "...ENABLING CHRONIC OFFENDERS TO CONTINUE COMMITTING MORE OFFENCES" - and I tracked it to an article by John Martin, "Your choice: pay now or later," which is based around the necessity of dealing with criminal problems early before they become a serious problem, and does not even mention the New Democratic Party. Here's the full context: "In thousands of cases, we are simply enabling chronic offenders to continue committing more offences. This involves the significant expenditure of further policing and court costs."

The third is from that bastion of liberality, the Conservatives' sworn enemy - the CBC, which apparently said "THE NDP [HAS] CONSISTENTLY OPPOSED THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTEMPTS TO CRACK DOWN ON DRUG CRIMES." This is from the article "Tougher drug-crime bill faces defeat," published on February 9, and here's the full context: "The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have consistently opposed the government's attempts to crack down on drug crimes." What's more, it's a sideshow in the article - it's centered around the Liberal opposition to these bills.

In one respect, I did have a binary choice in this election - brightness versus darkness, hope versus fear, involvement versus disconnection. The NDP wants to work with people; the Conservatives want people to shut up so they can work. The Conservatives have continuously pushed one narrative throughout this election: that it's unnecessary, that it's pointless, that it's an impediment. That we should all be happy with the government we've already got. At his rally in Burnaby yesterday, where I was part of the outside overflow, Jack Layton pumped the crowd with the idea that we can improve... that we can do better.

Please, consider this before you mark your ballot tomorrow.


  1. L'État, c'est moi.

  2. a sickening account of the conservative strategy: