Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Federal Election 2015: The Politics of Invprovisation (Part 2), the main opposition

Justin Trudeau: age 44, son of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Bachelors in Arts and Education, taught school, advocate for liberal causes, professional politician - federal Liberal Party

         Trudeau is a wild card. Boyish, affable but lacking his father's feistiness (Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister 1968 - 79, 1980 - 84). To date he has been something of a disappointment on the federal political stage. In parliamentary debates he has shone less brilliantly than the (definitely) feisty, pugnacious New Democratic Party (NDP) leader, Tom Mulcair. If he played his cards right the Mr. Nice Guy image could have been asset for Trudeau, contrasting with the petty, mean-spirited, authoritarian Harper team style. Many people today desire change (and a change of government above all). The Mr. Nice Guy image could have embodied or symbolized the desire for real change. Unfortunately Trudeau was not able to back up his Mr. Nice Guy image with other required leadership qualities: affirmed competence, assertiveness, confidence, steadfastness. On several occasions Trudeau has been indecisive. He has failed to take ownership of any cause with which the electorate can identify him (in the way, for example, that Harper has claimed ownership of the "economy" card or the "defense of Israel" card). Tudeau remains somewhat politically amorphous: he may be against Harper, but what is for? His boyishness and, at times naive, off the cuff, improvisation have made him seem immature - which the Harper, spin doctors were quick to catch and exploit in attack ads.


           Trudeau, they say "is in over his head", "is just not ready".

           Speaking here of his projected public image,Trudeau does not appear to be a deep thinker at a time when deep re-thinking of old ways of doing things is primordial. Reflecting his inability either to  capitalize on his family name or to forge his own political persona, he has slipped in the polls and is struggling to gain lost ground.

 Voting intentions as of 28 August, 2015:


New Democratic Party: 33.2%
Conservatives:              29.1%
Liberals:                       27.6%

             I get the impression that Trudeau is constructing his political platform on the results of focus groups. Thus echoing Harper's populist appeals to his hardcore, redneck base, Trudeau - himself a teacher - recently appealed to financially strapped teachers by promising to reimburse out of pocket classroom expenditures. 


         Mickey-mouse vote grabbing tactics like this ($60 million per annum) may be "worthy" of dangerous populist reactionaries like Harper but utterly fail to address the real systemic problems and deficiencies of our educational system. For example, considered as an investment in future national development, how much is our educational system worth? How much should we invest in it at the public (federal, provincial) level? What are the overarching goals of our national public system and how should these evolve over time? And so on..

        Recently, in an attempt to woo the Left, Trudeau has shown interest in a few truly progressive measures: spending money to build needed infrastructure including green energy and climate change adaptation measures.


       In a bold gesture - probably born of desperation following his drop in the polls - Trudeau has even demonstrated a Keynesian willingness to run deficit budgets to build the base of future prosperity (note 1). Will Trudeau continue to push the envelope of political possibilities to the Left? With his falling popularity, he has little to lose and much to gain..

Thomas Mulcair: age 61, lawyer, professional politician, leader of the official opposition, former Québec Liberal member of parliament, humble (socio-economic) origins - New Democratic Party

          Unlike Trudeau, Mulcair does project the alpha male image and since he is perceived as far to the Left of Harper, it probably serves him well: at least it gains him air time. He is now number 1 in the polls, edging out Harper by a nose (don't forget: the vote on the Center - Left is split between the Liberals and the NDP). Mulcair is seen as more effective in opposition to Harper than Trudeau during parliamentary debates. Mulcair's people probably don't know what to do with the NDP's rising popularity. They must realize that their current popularity is not ideologically rooted but a reaction to ten years of Harperism (don't they??). The recent popularity of the party is fragile. It could vanish like frost at sunrise. It is an ephemeral gift of the political gods to be seized and exploited - but how

          Accordingly, Mulcair works to dispel the NDP's scary "socialist" image. At the same time, he wants to win votes from the Left wing of the Liberal Party and appeal to Red Tories disgusted by the negative atmospherics, the cheap populism and the openly anti-social justice policies of Harper's government. It's not an easy call: appealing to the Left of both opposing parties while trying to shuck off the scary socialist bogeyman! It's not surprising Mulcair's recent positions appear a bit contradictory..

         Recently, for example, he announced his attention to work for a zero budget deficit as soon as possible. The paradox here is glaring! Here we have the "social democrat" Mulcair, taking a stance on fiscal policy to the right of the Liberal Trudeau! Will Mulcair's transparent opportunism cost him the election? (For the moment he has a slight lead, despite the vote splitting on the Left.) Mulcair is treading dangerous waters, given that, traditionally, a large part of the appeal of the NDP was their image as clean, honest, morally engaged players.

          The NDP has recently made surprising gains in the polls (now slightly in the lead). This raises the risk of a split vote on the Left, allowing Harper to skittle down the middle to yet another term in office. Neither the Liberals nor the NDP accept the idea of a formal or informal coalition to unite the Left and defeat the Harper gang. Perhaps we need a proportional electoral system..


1- Keynesian deficit spending: simply put, governments should spend money in economic downturns in order to stimulate the economy. Thus, if Trudeau wins and holds to his word, he would invest in green energy projects (even if this meant running the federal budget in the red), creating both short term employment and long term fossil energy Independence.


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