Do not be fooled by those pictures of Paul Martin in a Calgary Flames jersey. Hockey is not his favourite game. And you can ignore pronouncements about his love for Canadian football, born in his high school days, playing for St. Pats in Ottawa. What Martin and his team really enjoy is a parlour game: “let’s pretend.”

The campaign started with let’s-pretend-Paul-is-starring-in-a-beer-commercial.

He warmed up: “Canadian like Americans but we also like it that we are different.” Then, wait for it, “I am a Canadian!” he shouted to his Liberal crowds.

Last week, it was let’s-pretend-we-have-an-agenda-for-cities, and let’s-pretend-we-have-a-plan-to-refinance-health-care.

In playing “let’s pretend” Canadian voters are supposed to forget who was finance minister when money for health care was axed, and who was prime minister when the 2004 budget that failed to plan for real money to go to cities was introduced.

Paul Martin went after the new Conservative Party for its position on bilingualism. You can believe that Paul Martin’s Liberals are committed to the role of French in government; all that is needed is to pretend his major economic players, the finance minister, treasury board president and industry minister all speak French; or that he has one senior Francophone advisor in his entourage.

Le Devoir revealed last week that Liberal advertising (French language) features the same slogan droit devant (“on course” in English) used by Canada Steamship Lines in its ads.

Let’s pretend Canada is CSL. The only problem is that with CSL, it is likely a Canadian flag will be hard to find.

Martin’s Team Canada is backing the American scheme for a anti-missile shield. This would give the U.S. a first strike capability. In the cold war period, an attack by one power would predictably provoke an attack in return. Mutually assured destruction (aptly, MAD) promoted international stability, since the consequences of attacking an enemy were so great as to deter first strikes.

But with a secure missile shield in place, say in space, the U.S. could attack first without fear of the consequences of retaliation, or so they believe, despite evidence the anti-missile system does not work.

So, Liberal policy has become let’s-pretend-the-missile-shield-is-for-defence, that it would work, that we do not have to pay for it, that we can influence what they do with it, and that it will not lead to the weaponization of space. On the campaign trail, if someone asks, the policy is spelled out: let’s-pretend-we-have-not-yet-decided-to-join.

When others do not want to play “let’s pretend,” the Liberals get mad. For instance, Jack Layton linked cutbacks in social housing to rising homelessness, and therefore to deaths of homeless people from exposure. “What could he have been thinking?” charged the Liberals and their supporters in editorial offices.Try this. Politics is about the health of a society and its citizens and elections are a time to debate real issues: who gets what, when and how. And, what it means to go without. Budgets are about choices, about “what kind of a Canada do we want,” to quote the prime minister.

What we have become as a place to live, depends on how we have allocated our resources. Cut welfare, drop social housing, expect what you get. All this is true of course, unless all you have in mind is playing a favorite parlour game.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...