Rick Salutin
Highlights and fears from election 2015

| October 16, 2015
Photo: pmwebphotos/flickr

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  • Trudeau shows up wearing pants. (Contrary to expectations.) In the very first debate, long ago and far away, Thomas Mulcair demanded Justin Trudeau's "number" for a Quebec separatist victory. Trudeau's response was halting and in his best prosecutorial question period style, Mulcair needled: "You're not answering, you haven't answered, what's your number Justin?" Suddenly "Justin" shifted into another register: "You want a number?" he barked. "Nine!" It was fairly electric, no one at home or on set knew what he meant. Had he wigged out? Was he switching to German: Nein, I vill not answer your demeaning qvestion! "Nine," he went on, "the number of justices on the Supreme Court." And things settled back. That moment could have changed everything. It didn't, because, by Stephen Harper's terms for debates, almost no one was watching. But it was a hint, a Vorspeiss.
  • Harper angles for the Netflix vote. In August, Harper assured voters that he would protect them from a Netflix tax, which no one had suggested except, vaguely, his own budget a year earlier. "Something you might not know about me," he revealed in an online video, "is that I love movies and TV shows, one of my all-time favourites is Breaking Bad." The Internet responded heartily, proposing other Stephen Harper favourite series, including Breaking Baird (foreign minister John Baird had announced he wouldn't run again) and Better Robocall Saul. The latter qualifies as the best one-liner of the campaign, by my research, though Orange Is The New Government (especially early on) also ran.
  • Tomo's paradox. The NDP has been telling voters they're the best bet to defeat Harper since they only need 35 more seats, added to their current 94, while Liberals need 100. The math is odd, since 129 wouldn't provide a majority (that would require 170) but the logic is even stranger. If you assume you start with all the seats you already have, rather than zero, then the Conservatives wouldn't even need to campaign, since they already own a majority. In fact what's the point of ever holding new elections, if everyone starts with what they already have? Some Ur-election long past, settled it for all time. It's a political version of Zeno's Paradox (c. 490 B.C.) that Achilles can never overtake the tortoise, who started ahead, since for every gap Achilles closes, Mr. T advances a bit himself and though the distance may diminish ever further, their order doesn't. The result is that no movement, or at least no change in order, is ever possible, which brings me to:
  • A Conservative doomsday scenario. B.C. leftist Bill Tieleman proposes the following post-election possibility, for those of you who've been sleeping too restfully: Harper wins a small minority, or comes a close second. He goes to the Governor General and says he's going to step down after a new Conservative leader is chosen. Meanwhile he'll stay on; Parliament won't be recalled. This could continue till June or, depending on an obscure 1997 law, maybe just till January. Under their new leader, the Tories are defeated in the House and ask the GG to call an election. The opposition object but it all depends on the GG. I think this scenario is unlikely, mostly because a quick new election could see the Tories buried. They may prefer to lick their wounds. But who is this pivotal GG?

David Johnston was recruited by Stephen Harper in 2007 to draft the terms of an inquiry into bags of cash secretly handed to former Tory PM Brian Mulroney by the bagman/scamp Karlheinz Schreiber after Mulroney left office. The potential damage to the Tory brand was oceanic. Johnston set the terms so narrowly that the inquiry couldn't even really pursue what Mulroney got the money for. The judge who eventually conducted it expressed frustration.

When Harper saw Johnston's work on this assignment, he said, according to his highly sympathetic biographer, John Ibbitson: "Whatever we paid him for this, it wasn't enough." Three years later, Harper appointed Johnston GG.

Academics I generally trust say Johnston, who's also an academic, was a fine choice and the constitutional strictures on him are dependable -- though they aren't clearly delimited. Like most things in life and politics, I think this hangs mostly on your personality and viscera. If the after-election falls into David Johnston's lap, I'll be full of admiration for Stephen Harper's amazing foresight.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: pmwebphotos/flickr

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