The 2008 federal election began with a flurry of frames, themes and spin. Party leaders rolled out communications messaging which has been focus group tested in advance. Mainstream media dutifully repeated the themes.
They said the election is about "strong leadership," "change," "ideological agendas" and "the choice between uncertainty and risk." Judging from Tory TV ads, the election may even be about who cares most for their family!
A top question on the minds of many voters was spun by Stephen Harper when, despite the polls, he predicted the next parliament will "in all likelihood be a minority." Harper also made a point to explain that each elector gets only one vote and "voters can't vote for a majority or a minority."
Conservatives want to downplay speculation about a Harper majority so as not to spook those that find that alarming. But of course we should be alarmed.
Messaging and slogans aside, what would a Harper majority mean for a range of crucial issues and policies? Policies of importance to local communities, social movements and the planet.
the eco-disaster of out-of-control tar sands expansion. While tar sands projects began and expanded under the federal Liberals, the Harper government strongly supports the Security and Prosperity Partnership goal of a further five-fold increase of tar sands production. The Alberta tar sands are already Canada's fastest growing and single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so what would a five-fold expansion contribute to the crisis of melting permafrost and Arctic sea ice? Five times more tar sands production will devastate the Cree first nations in and near Fort Chipewyan who are already dying in alarming numbers from unusual cancers and auto-immune disorders likely caused by poisoned drinking water. To their credit, the New Democrats highlighted the tar sands problem in their first campaign TV ads. Jack Layton will also focus on the tar sands on day two of the campaign;
Canada's military adventure in the quagmire of Afghanistan. A recent Environics poll found 56% of Canadians oppose Canada's participation in that war. Nonetheless, the Liberals and Conservatives joined together in the last parliament to extend Canada's participation until 2011. If Harper gets a majority, he will be prime minister until at least 2012. What new fronts of the U.S. "war on terror" will Harper get us into if he has a blank political cheque for the next four or five years?;
the fate of U.S. resisters to the illegal war on Iraq. Despite a majority vote in the last parliament calling on the government to give refuge to war resisters, the Harper government has been mean and aggressive in starting to return war resisters to jails in the U.S. The War Resisters Campaign enjoys the support of two-thirds of Canadians, but will have to struggle hard if Harper gets the green light of majority government;
harm reduction policies for drug addiction. Health Minister Tony Clement's widely condemned attack on doctors and Vancouver's supervised injection site Insite at the recent Canadian Medical Association convention, following his embarassing performance at the XVII International AIDS conference in Mexico City mean common sense harm reduction policies will be a thing of the past if Harper gets the majority he's close to.
The list of crucial issues like those is long. Growing homelessness and increasing poverty; the potential renegotiation of NAFTA; failed promises on foreign aid; the collapse of manufacturing; privatization of public infrastructure; and the entrenchment of investor rights in internal trade agreements are just a few of the issues which need to be front and centre over the next month. But the only way those issues will make it through the media fog machine will be if social movements and citizens insist that matters of importance be heard.
This election is about way more than framing, scandal or spin. It's about whether Canada's about to get harsher, meaner and more militaristic.
This is the big time. This one has big stakes.
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