the gotcha election

The once-mighty Liberal Party of Canada lies fatally wounded and bleeding on the election floor — but don’t get too close.

The once-mighty Liberal Party of Canada lies fatally wounded and bleeding on the election floor — but don’t get too close. It’s a battle-hardened old beast, and isn’t about to go down easy.

As the old red dragon lashes around in its death throes, there’s no telling who might get hurt.

In spite of its wounds, the Liberal Party has proven itself the most adept of all the political parties at the art of the internet search. Got a pot smoker or a skinny-dipper among your candidates? The great gotcha Googlers of the Liberal war machine will sniff them out.

This has been the year of the political gotcha. True, some old peccadilloes matter more than others. Some, such as a decade-old moment of public nudity, are clearly firing offences, while a cabinet minister’s joking over his own shared responsibility for the deaths of a dozen elderly Canadians can be quickly put right with a humble apology.

All this exposing of sins great and small has a numbing effect on the public imagination, so that when Bob Rae trotted out the matching videos of Stephen Harper and former Australian prime minister John Howard, each calling for his country to join the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, both using the exact same words, its effect was at least partly muted under the sound of, say, former Liberal candidate Leslie Hughs’ anti-Semitic blog postings, or Simon Bedard’s musings about killing Mohawks.

It’s a shame that Rae’s gotcha was lost in the crowd, because it deserved to stand out. Stephen Harper bids fair to win this election, and if he does Canada will be the only Western democracy left with a leader who parroted the White House lies in support of the brutal failure that is Iraq.

Rae’s main charge — that Harper plagiarized the speech — quickly collapsed when a Conservative staffer fell on his sword, leaving behind a suicide note exonerating the chief. But the more important question remains unanswered. Does Harper think for himself on foreign policy matters, or does he blindly follow the lead of the off-shore neocon of the day?

Against this latter charge, Harper has no obvious defence, except to say that Canadians are more interested in the economy than in a five-year-old plagiarism scandal (though he seems oddly unwilling to apply the same statute of limitations whenever he feels like giving the moribund Liberal sponsorship scandal a poke back to life).

The economic crisis makes a very useful blind at the moment.

Eight years of conservative administration has all but bankrupted the US government, and two years of the same foolishness has swallowed up Canada’s nest-egg.

Now we hear that if the American taxpayer doesn’t cough up $700 billion in rescue plans for the greedy authors of a million home foreclosures, we’re all going to end up selling pencils on the street corner.

The economy is a huge issue for Canadians, especially for those who still have jobs or homes to lose. We’re also deeply concerned about global warming, poverty, war, crumbling infrastructure and the steady erosion of the social safety net.

But who really knows which party’s policies will lead to the most prosperous, least toxic future? Promises are cheap, and easily forgotten.

The Liberals famously “run left and govern right,” and invariably leave behind a Red Book of broken promises, the Conservatives are tainted with “a hidden agenda,” the NDP are an untried commodity, and the Greens’ only MP came out of a Liberal yard-sale.

It leaves the voter with not much to go on. On what can we base our vote but the proven character of the candidates?

That’s why the Rae gotcha matters. It shows Harper as a toady of international neo-conservatism and a disciple of the Bush administration with all its baggage of lies, war crimes, failure and ruin. Not that this constitutes a firing offence — it’s not as if the PM shot a video of himself smoking a joint — but it is worth taking into account when you mark your ballot.