Canadian voters express consensus across differences

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Voters at polling station. Image: Andrew Bates/Flickr

A few scraps remain on the election desk from Monday. Let's tidy up.

  • We did it. Someone texted that when the results were clear. The "we" wasn't any side, it was Canada. Elections can sometimes be like that, when a diverse population acts as if it has a single mind, to solve a complex problem.

The problem? An impressive consensus, about 65 per cent, on basics like climate, was spread across at least four parties, determined to throttle each other. This can easily result in the other third winning power. In this case "we" somehow distributed the votes to reflect the consensus and give it a chance in office.

Economists used to talk this way -- and maybe still do -- about "the market," or Mr. Market. He/they sorts everything out yet no one is directly coordinating.

  • I know, the Liberals got 1 per cent fewer votes than the Tories. But that's not the pertinent number. The number is 63.2 per cent, the total vote for the four parties that agree on essentials. (This includes the Bloc, on social and economic issues.) Canada's version of that global epidemic, right-wing populism, got only 1.6 per cent. The point isn't just its tininess, it's the huge agreement on the other, mildly "progressive," side. If we had a fair, reasonable voting system of the kind Justin Trudeau once promised, Canadian voters would never again have to perform the breathtaking electoral trick of impersonating a single mind.
  • Nastiest election ever? Allow me to crack up. In 1988, PM Brian Mulroney "quipped" that if the NDP won, Svend Robinson, i.e. a gay MP, might become defence minister. Har har. In 1992, the Tories ran a TV ad focused on Jean Chrétien's facial deformity from a childhood illness, asking if "you" wanted someone looking like that to represent you internationally. In 2008, Mike Duffy smeared Stéphane Dion for speaking English incompetently. In 2015, Conservative mouthpiece Kory Teneycke wondered if Justin Trudeau would remember to put his pants on for the debate. That's a one-sided list but you could easily cite Liberal and NDP parallels.

If anything's increased, it's not the nastiness, just the stench it emits.

  • The turning point? There was nothing as dramatic as Trudeau's shocking "Nine!/(Nein?)" in the first 2015 debate. But I nominate his apology the day after the brownface photos surfaced. It sounded real enough, up to a point, and humanized him down from the excessively smug guy he'd been because it was 2015. I think that allowed some dubious people to vote for, not just against him, though in that brilliant crowdthink way, not enough to give him more votes than Scheer or let him fully off the hook for the things he publicly regretted. It would be nice to think we've seen the last of Mr. Sunny Ways who, as Simon and Garfunkel sang, "has left and gone away, hey hey hey."
  • The debate debate. The most useful part of the big anglo debate was the after-debate over its usefulness. It was embarrassing to watch CNN's Democratic leadership debate a week later: it was calm, informative and the 12 contenders didn't break into subgroups and scream at each other, like our six. The problem is that these aren't debates, they're press conferences with the journo/moderators treating them as career and bragging opps. (CNN's was an exception.)

The better model is a formal or parliamentary debate, where they're free to tear directly at each other, unmediated, but in a controlled, orderly way. That requires a figure like the House of Commons speaker to direct traffic, with the U.K.'s John Bercow ("Ordah! Ordah!") as the exemplar. Our best version of him would be CBC's Rosemary Barton. I can see her as Speaker: revelling in her centrality, demanding decorum, then letting them have at it.

  • Lisa Raitt will be missed. She's a mensch and has a strong touch of the Red Tory or Progressive Conservative, though in those aging ranks, she might be on the right of the left. I'm convinced she'd have beaten Justin Trudeau in his diminished state, had the Conservatives chosen her leader, over finalists Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier. Justin Trudeau owes her, and he should make her our next governor general.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Andrew Bates/Flickr

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