Sunday, 1 May 2011

Editorial - Voltaire May 1/2011

On Canadian Bliss: The Party and the Public Good 

            Happy is the country that can ignore its own government.  Canada, when considered at all, is often thought to elect a Parliament. Apparently, this occurs freely and democratically, although most of the citizens have no idea how it works. Others, in this richest and most generous of nations, are certain that eventually, if they can find a job to pay the rent, they too could afford to not care about Parliament. So in this happy country  most citizens do not follow the uniquely absurd spectacle of 'Canadian politics' - an odd team endeavour where career-politicians compete with one another in grandstanding while they squabble over a few acres of snow.[1] Its current champion leads a squadron called 'The Harper Government' that established its rule in 2006 and indulged in the post-election patronage orgy, as is customary. Because the citizens of this great free land care so little for their government, they hardly know of its conduct or intentions.

             The Canadian people are as dynamic and their politicians are inept, as much citizens of the world as of their town,  and posses a free constitution that recalls an ancient history. 'These people are not only jealous of their own liberty but also of that of others.'[2]  Unfortunately, their Government - which they care little for - reflects few of their positive traits. The Canadians are a fair and egalitarian people who come from all corners of the globe to build a free and just society. It naturally follows that they should be ruled by an elite cadre of partisan hacks and spin-doctors. This highly cloistered group take on the characteristics of the 'Ottawa syndrome' that renders politicians impervious to reason and Parliament. Fortunately, because Ottawa is kept in strict isolation from the rest of the country, the citizens of Canada remain lucidly unaffected by the shouting and posturing observed in the capital. Perhaps it was by design that Ottawa is actually in the middle of nowhere and serves to attract useful idiots like moths to a streetlight.

            At the seat of this vast empire of snow, the Prime Minster of the day rules with an iron fist, and does most of the reigning as well, receiving his mandate from the Party he serves. Because the Leader rarely takes questions from the people, or from their Members of Parliament, his unelected apparatchiks are left to communicate major policies to the citizens. Patronage and largesse are widely distributed as senior Party advisers are duly rewarded for their public service. To meet this demand, Parliament even provides a comfortable retirement service for the most diligent of operatives, the Canadian Senate. Ultimate power in this ingenious construction resides with the Parties. They are benevolent enough to allow the Canadian people to choose, from amongst themselves, a ruling oligarch. Because the system favours the larger congregations, the smaller groups indulge in ridiculous fantasies that can never be implemented. The larger Parties, more evolved and cynical that they are, simply say one thing during an election and another in government. But being a great free people, the Canadians are used to their politicians selling them a free lunch, brimming with thin partisan gruel.
            Questions have been posed as to why fewer Canadians are voting, and why young people in particular choose note to vote.  The answer is that government by insolent partisans has not met their surprisingly high standards of public service. The sophists in control of Parliament have mastered the art of talking forever while saying nothing at all, which is particularly effective in Canadian politics where absurdity earns high praise. Since Canadians long ago stopped believing anything their politicians say, no one really cares about the stupid things they utter in public. Of course, this is convenient for the hacks who have neither reason nor shame, which even the Party leaders have renounced. The current Prime Minister, who has chosen to define his mandate by extraordinary economic leadership, was quite certain  in 2008 that the Government would not run a deficit. In his appeal to a few voters targeted by the Party during an unnecessary election, the Prime Minister clearly informed the public that the imminent financial crisis was really a stock-market sale. This retirement-postponing investment opportunity might, however, eventually produce a technical recession. As an economist, it was only natural for the Prime Minister to be confident in the precision of his forecasting,  not having considered the effect of human beings upon his highly accurate models.  After careful and inclusive discussions with the Members of Parliament whom the Canadian people had so recently elected, the Prime Minister (with characteristic humility and statesmanship) decreed that emergency measures were necessary to avoid another Great Depression. The extraordinary fiscal deluge that followed was distributed by the Party with eminent fairness, coupled with the great strategic vision of winning a majority.
If not for the inspirational leadership of the Prime Minister, and for the fact that Canadians are busy watching the hockey playoffs, the competence and honesty of the administration might be doubted. The Party says that its leader is a great economist, capable of guiding Canada's enviable gross domestic product into the future. Why then, I ask, was the great economist seemingly oblivious to the imminence and severity of the financial crisis? The Party answers that Canada is doing better than the USA. What! Am I to believe that with citizens losing their jobs, mothers unable to find or afford care for their children, and Native Canadians suffering in wretchedness and squalor, that these are the standards of a great nation?! The idea is revolting! I am sickened to imagine that this Prime Minister, whose school of economics is discredited, believes that without him Canada shall crumble. What a fool! If he is such a great economist, I say prove it! Where are the 21st century jobs? Where is the infrastructure? Where is the poor relief? And the education? The Prime Minister has soundbites, but no answers. Another subject must be raised, otherwise I may lose my temper.
When the Party ascended to power under the command of the Prime Minister, it promoted the revolutionary idea of accountability in government. The regime claimed for itself the wildly popular notion that the Government should operate in an open and transparent manner, respecting independent thought in the legislature and the public service. And who could oppose it? If only the Canadian people bothered to see what has since become of their Parliament! The formerly august institution is decrepit and in disrepair – trampled upon by the Prime Minister's Office – in a manner unfit for a proud free nation. Their elected members are silenced, their civil servants fired for having informed opinions, and the greatest defender of Parliament, the ancient Speaker of the House, is brushed aside with impunity. It is a matter of record that these despicable practices find their origin in past regimes. Nevertheless, anyone not blinded by partisanship will admit that the abuses are rampant and malignant under the current Government. And all of it orchestrated by a Party who preached the exact opposite! I can only conclude that the Party and the Prime Minister take the people for fools! Maybe, though, it is more simple. Perhaps the Party knows what seems obvious – that the Canadian people are neither watching nor listening to the affairs of their Government. But the Party should tread warily, considering that just  because the people are not paying attention, it does not follow that the people are fools. Sooner than the Party and the Prime Minister might think, the people will see clearly what many have already seen – that the pigs are walking on two legs and living in the manor house.
'You have profited from the times of ignorance, of superstition, of folly, to despoil us of our heritage and to trample us underfoot in order to fatten yourselves on the substance of the wretched. Tremble lest the day of reason arrive.'[3]

Voltaire, PSQR

[1]An allusion to Voltaire, Candide, or Optimism. London: Penguin Books, 2005 [1759], p. 69.
[2]From 'On Parliament' in Voltaire, Letters on England. London, Penguin Books, 2005 [1733], p. 45.
[3]Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary. London: Penguin Books, 2004 [1764], p. 16.

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