Saturday, April 09, 2011

Different Pictures on Each Side of the Pond

Aleeza Kahn compares Canada and Britain

Writing in The Tyee, British grad student Aleeza Kahn compares how the Prime Minister is elected in Canada and Britain -- in the process causing some serious concern about the future of journalism.

Drawing from the usual shrill voices of the far-left, she manages to offer some cogent and intriguing comparisons between Canada and Britain. She also manages to pass the far-left Kool-Aid largely undiluted.

The first conclusion that Kahn reaches is that in Britain, a federal election is largely a popularity contest.

"In England, we feel the need to like our prime minister," Kahn begins. "You apparently don't."

Kahn presents British Prime Minister David Cameron as too much of a try-hard.

"'Dave,' well he wants to be your friend -- your posh, privileged ex-Etonian friend, but a friend nonetheless -- who shares your beliefs and understands the modern society you both live in," Kahn muses. "This Cameron, the man who cares about his family and is just like you, is a walking, talking PR machine, and a good one at that. But he's too concerned with being liked and is scared of making a fool of himself, known to choose sweeping principles over hard policy."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the other hand, is very different; all business, no nonsense.

"This is something that Harper doesn't seem worried about. His policies are strong and his position is firm," Kahn writes. "Maybe this is why, while he may only have the minority rule, he is still proven to be the most successful candidate in recent years. People in Canada don't seem to be put off by his non-PR'ed persona. And to be fair to Harper he's done well to hold on during the global economic crisis, something that Britain's Labour government in power at the time of the crisis had no hope of doing, especially since [Gordon] Brown's persona, even by his own admission, was decidedly charisma deficient."

Of course, an election is not just a popularity contest. If it is merely a popularity contest -- like the one that unfolded in the United States in 2008 -- something has gone deeply wrong.

Many will consider Canada far better off with Harper's strong and sound policy; although if Kahn is writing off David Cameron's policy, she will yet be surprised at how well Cameron continues to do.

Kahn goes on to offer her next conclusion: "In Canada, the prime minister says coalitions are evil," she writes. "In the UK, the prime minister owes his job to one."

This is, of course, pure rubbish. Even in the height of their historical-revisionist furor, individuals like Terry Milewski have only succeeded in demonstrating that Harper does not object to the idea of a coalition itself.

Even if they're being trotted out as "new discoveries" by the national press, Harper has been on the record several times in the past presenting a coalition government as a constitutional option.

What Harper has been on record opposing since 2008 is a little different: an irresponsible coalition government mortgaging the government of Canada to the Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party. Harper has never been on record opposing coalitions. He's on record opposing a very specific coalition.

Even with this in mind, the broadness of the political views presented in Kahn's article is underwhelming. She relies on UBC professor Michael Byers to present an image of Harper as single-mindedly focused on but a sliver of the Canadian population.

"Remember, he's never been the choice of more than 38 per cent of the electorate," Byers declares. "What has enabled him is that the centre left has been divided among four other parties. If this is the case that means the centre-right wing party who can secure 38 per cent will govern. Their campaign policies are directed at a fairly narrow segment of Canadian society."

Of course Byers didn't seem to consider a very basic fundamental fact: 38% of Canadians is not, by any means, a narrow segment of Canadian society. It's in fact a rather broad segment of Canadian society.

The only way Byers can even justify that argument is with Kahn's third conclusion, but unfortunately they won't do any better a job here.

"In Great Britain, candidates want as many people as possible to vote," Kahn concludes. "Not in Canada."

This is where they resort to claims that Harper and the Tories have attempted to discourage people from voting. The evidence they offer? Their word. And their word alone.

"It has been a tactic to focus on turning people off politics," Byers insists. "If you can keep voter turn out down, which is clearly a strategy of Harper's, then you simply need a small but committed base that ensures you can become prime minister."

Byers' evidence? He offers none. Nothing but his own word.

"Right wing parties actually benefit from a depressed voter turnout," Insists University of Victoria professor Dennis Pilon. "The Conservatives are taking a leaf from the Republican playbook, driving people away from the political process by placing barriers in the way of people participating."

What obstacles does Pilon pretend the Conservatives have placed in the way of voters? He declines to name even a single one.

No need for Byers and Pilon to worry, though. Kahn seems to require no evidence from either professor in order to reach the same conclusion. Bias generally works that way.

Kahn sees fit -- quite fittingly -- to conclude her essay on a suitable note: the issue of youth involvement.

"Back in England, younger people are a lot more politically engaged than here in Canada," she concludes.

Kahn presents an image of David Cameron as appealing to young voters. He's in touch with the newest technology, chilling at home in his blue jeans. Meanwhile, the most informal Stephen Harper seems to get is a Christmas card with him holding a kitten.

Fair enough.

The youth vote has certainly been a hotly-debated issue in the federal election, but Kahn's argument doesn't seem to develop past the point that young people should vote -- and they should. A disinterest in the issues seems just as pertinent to why youths aren't voting as a disinterest in the leaders.

Although if blue jeans and whether or not a leader uses Twitter -- and how well -- is what it takes to attract the youth vote, it's fair to question how serious those voters are. For every youth voter creating a thoughtful "to get my vote" video, there are many more who seem more interested in the most recent Charlie Sheen meltdown.

Some may be tempted to give Aleeza Kahn an A for her effort, but while presenting a refreshing comparison between Canada and Britain, Kahn gets very little done in this essay.

This being said, Kahn's work at least presents a key question at all times for Canadians: would we like Canada to be more like Britain? Perhaps so.

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