As the longest federal election campaign in the last 140 years draws to a close, Canadians – including yours truly – finally get their chance to pass judgment on four years of majority Conservative government and to plot a course for the next few years.
And while the outcome of the election is still anyone’s guess, my decision was locked in over the weekend at the advanced polls.
I am not one to cast my one little vote based on local candidates. For all the talk of “representing constituents,” the vast majority of votes in the House of Commons fall largely along party lines.
Sure, MPs are occasionally allowed to vote against their party or skip a day of work when the outcome of a vote is predetermined, and the act of dissension is not overly embarrassing for the leader. Ryan Leef was allowed to vote against his party and in favour of establishing an inquiry for missing and murdered aboriginal women because there was no chance that the majority Conservative government would be defeated on the motion.
Similar calculus was employed by successive Liberal leaders who allowed Larry Bagnell to conveniently be away from the Commons for many years on those days when doomed opposition motions to scrap the gun registry were easily swatted down by the majority government. It wasn’t until that infamous vote in 2010 – that we are all so tired of hearing about on the radio – when his leaders finally demanded his attendance. That motion was narrowly defeated 153-151.
Bagnell’s decision to vote to preserve the registry to avoid expulsion from caucus despite the wishes of his constituents was clearly the correct one. Life outside caucus is lonely and ineffective. I don’t hold it against him and I suspect that if faced with a similar dilemma any of the other candidates – who can ride their high horses never having been put in that position – would have done the same thing.
So what is my assessment of the national scene?
This government’s economic record has been satisfactory, but nothing to get too excited about. Our growth patterns have fallen largely in line with comparable economies – whose governments span the political spectrum – which tells me that control over the economy resides primarily beyond our borders. Such is life in this new globalized economy.
Unlike others who believe themselves to be “taxed to death,” I think the amount of taxes Canadians pay is proportionate to the services we receive. Moreover, endless tax cuts come at the expense of quality public services. A little bit more compassion for those in need at this juncture is probably more important than a “few extra bucks” in my pocket.
I am not frightened by the pocketbook implications of any of the main parties. Contrary to the hyperbole that is ubiquitous in partisan politics, the changes proposed by all three main parties are incremental and measured. No one is proposing a revolution. This is not to say that I don’t have preferences as between them – for what it is worth I generally prefer the suite of tax changes and new spending proposed by the Liberals for reasons that are long and complicated – but I do not anticipate economic or social collapse if any of them assumes power.
When it comes to managing our money I don’t subscribe to the view that any political party is inherently more responsible than any other, so this doesn’t really weigh into my consideration. Given enough time, every party will rack up a laundry list of waste and mismanagement. I hate to be cliche but, in this respect at least, they’re “all the same.”
On other issues the choices are starker.
It concerns me greatly that Stephen Harper has never seen an international conflict he thought we should stay out of. Matters of war and peace are complex, and I do not pretend to have simple answers. I’ll admit to being torn on whether Canada should participate in the international conflict against ISIS, and find none of the parties’ positions entirely satisfactory. But the decision to engage is not to be taken lightly. Ultimately this is a prime minister who – on the entirety of his record, not just the current conflict – is inclined towards jingoism and is reflexively in favour of every overseas military adventure proposed.
None of the major parties have impressed me with their weak-kneed and incremental approaches to the most threatening global issue of our generation – man-made climate change. But as inexcusable as the half measures proposed by the Liberals and NDP are, the outright hostility displayed by the Conservatives towards the very idea that this is an issue that demands our attention is much worse.
The Conservative approach to criminal justice has been a costly experiment in futility. Unmoved by the evidence that its particular brand of “tough on crime” policies do little to actually reduce criminal activity, the party moved forward with a number of costly mandatory minimums and other measures which failed to make our communities safer.
On the specific subject of marijuana the Conservative Party has fallen far behind as attitudes have softened both here and elsewhere in the world. Both major opposition parties are promising to end this costly failure thus savings taxpayers hundreds of millions a year, potentially bringing in new revenue that would otherwise go to organized crime, and ending the unnecessary criminalization of otherwise law-abiding Canadians. Harper’s obsession with closing Vancouver’s safe injection site also demonstrates a lack of compassion and an unwillingness to engage in evidence-based policy.
I am also concerned by this prime minister’s heavy handedness, his abuse of parliamentary procedures and his attempts to reshape elections and campaign finance to suit his partisan advantage. There was nothing “fair” about the Fair Elections Act, nor is there anything democratic about invoking closure on omnibus bills stuffed with unrelated measures.
All in all, this is not a prime minister that in my estimation deserves re-election.
Ultimately I went with the red team because I’m an unapologetic strategic voter and it seemed more likely (in this riding at least) to bring an end to Stephen Harper’s reign. I see absolutely nothing unprincipled or cynical in evaluating the consequences of our actions rather than our actions alone. That and we had two strong, moderate national leaders in Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair, so it wasn’t about picking the “lesser of evils.”
There are also a few policy differences that cause me to lean towards the Liberals. I prefer the Liberal Child Care Benefit to the NDP’s national daycare program and legalization to decriminalization. I think that taxes on high incomes make more sense than taxes on corporations, and that you should need more than 50 per cent plus one to break up a country.
But changing paths from the one we are on was the ultimate consideration.
Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.