Friday, September 26, 2008

A Debate To Be Remembered

Even if the leaders aren't up to snuff, the stakes in the 2008 federal election are historic in nature

Stephen Harper is no John Diefenbaker. Nor is he even Joe Clark.

Stephane Dion is no Lester Pearson, and he certainly isn't Pierre Trudeau.

Diefenbaker possessed the ability to rail vocally against outrage and injustice in a manner so intensely that he could make believers out of even cold-hearted listeners.

Lester Pearson, for his notorious lack of oratorical skills, always tended to know a good idea when he saw it. If one were to ask Diefenbaker himself, peacekeeping was one of those very ideas, deftly snatched by the Chief by Pearson.

Joe Clark had a broad-sweeping vision for Canada: his decentralized "communitiy of communities" that was so idyllic that it was almost utopian.

Pierre Trudeau was a mericless debater and oratorical master without compare. For his own part, he didn't merely adopt the great ideas of others. He also came up with a few of his own, evenif he could never be bothered to actually implement them.

Diefenbaker vs. Pearson and Clark vs. Trudeau stand among Canada's most historical and defining electoral contests. In each case, each man exchanged electoral victories over the issues that defined their times.

For Pearson and Diefenbaker it was Canada's role in the Cold War vis a vis nuclear weapons. For Trudeau and Clark, it was Canada's economic course in a post-OPEC petro-economy.

Harper is no Diefenbaker. His speeches may be elctrifying to the most partisan of his supporters, but they still fail to impress his political opponents. Nor is he a Joe Clark. Whether Conservative voters are comfortable enough to admit it or not, he has no grand vision for Canada. He barely has a vision at all, aside from "tightening the screws" of government via budget and tax cuts.

Dion is no Pearson. His Green Shift economic policy, as championed by Scott Brison and Green party leader Elizabeth May, is so ill-concieved that it can't seem to drive voters away from his party quickly enough. Nor is he a Trudeau. The man seems like he couldn't muster a believable ounce of passion is his life depended on it, nor is he resolute enough to stand by his policies no matter how unpopular they may seem. Pierre Trudeau would never have been caught dead tailoring a policy like the Green Shift to the likes of farmers. Not only were they too far out of the urban elite circle he prided himself on travelling in, but they were unlikely to vote for him regardless.

Yet Harper and Dion, like Trudeau and Clark and Diefenbaker and Pearson before them, do have a historical matter that will be decided in the course of this federal election: namely, the issue of climate change.

Canadians have a historical choice before them: a choice between the frugal, cautious economic environmentalism of Stephen Harper, sprinkled with a healthy dose of skepticism, or the risky approach of Stephane Dion, tearing up Canada's taxation regime in the name of leftist apocalypticism.

Harper's approach, stretching reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over a period longer than 40 years, or Stephane Dion's imaginings that, given what he feels is the proper economic incentive, Canada's biggest polluters will pull off the feat in time to comply with the Kyoto protocol.

As was the case with Trudeau/Clark and Diefenbaker/Pearson, the outcome of this election likely won't be up to the contestants alone. While the Presidential election in the United States may keep individuals such as Al Gore and Barack Obama too busy to attempt an intervention in the Canadian campaign, the individual gaffes offered up by each campaign -- there have already been many, and there will likely be many more still -- may yet prove to be decisive by the time this election concludes.

Then, of course, there's always the NDP. The "conscience of the nation", as it were, may yet prove to tip the scales in this election. Jack Layton holds a very powerful position in the country right now, as did Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent before him.

And as with Trudeau/Clark and Diefenbaker/Pearson, the next 20 years of Canadian history may be charted by the outcome of this election.

One way or another, this federal election will be one for Canadians to remember. Canadians may remember the outcome -- and, no matter how one slices it, the potential consequences -- for longer still.

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