A 300 Million Dollar Election About Nothing, Held for No Reason

18 Oct ’08

I’ve been watching post-election columns and blogs pretty carefully but so far I’ve seen little more than the occasional squeak from the literati about the cost of our mercifully just-ended election. Attention will now focus on Dion – that is understandable – and Tories here and there will do their best to stamp out any brushfires that spark up over why in heaven’s name we spent all of that money to, essentially, return Stephen Harper to his position before the election. And that’s a shame, because this question is actually quite important. (I can’t help but wonder whether that is exactly why the media isn’t asking it.)

Yes, I understand that Mr. Harper won a few more seats. But they won’t change the essential balance in the House. And yes, Dion will soon be gone, but that was hardly Mr. Harper’s goal. A legislature that functioned well will be replaced by another one, composed of more or less the same cast of characters, that will also function well. (When I say “function well” I am of course not describing Question Period, which is farce however you look at it). When after he announced the election Mr. Harper complained that the House wasn’t functioning well, what he meant of course was that it wouldn’t give him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Which, of course, was exactly what the voters intended when they gave him only a minority.

Perhaps more importantly, the most serious issues of the day weren’t discussed in the election. (Indeed, we didn’t see Mr. Harper’s platform until there wasn’t enough time left to discuss it.) Afghanistan, our most important foreign policy initiative in a generation or more, didn’t even register. And this even though our boys are in the middle of a war that all serious observers describe as on the verge of being lost (a characterization, incidentally, that before the election Mr. Harper’s generals disputed – for what purpose?).

Perhaps even worse, the spreading economic crisis was pretended to not even exist. Indeed, while before the election Mr. Harper pretended to believe (and promised) that no deficit financing would be required, immediately after the election he admitted that one might be required. Had just occurred to him that morning, I suppose. Notably, before the election Harper had tried to humiliate Dion for saying exactly what Harper himself said only a short while later.

An election about nothing, held in a hurry to avoid the effect of a worsening war and a coming recession. Held in the hopes that it would earn Mr. Harper a majority just before the door to that possibility slammed shut for perhaps a very long time.

And what did it cost us? Apparently, 300 million dollars. An amount that, I’m told, comes from an estimate of a million dollars per riding. That number is now leaking into the media, but strangely enough, not to object, but instead merely to describe. How tremulously Canadian. And it came from a Government that earned its stripes pretending that we don’t have millions of dollars to spend on needy projects.

For myself, I simply can’t believe that this country just spent $300 million on, well, on nothing. And I can’t believe that after spending $300 million on nothing, we don’t seem to care enough to raise more than a squeak of protest. This was an appallingly self-indulgent and hypocritical exercise – an escapade of runaway vanity; of pure, unmitigated self-regard. If we don’t care enough to raise our voices in protest, we deserve exactly what this Government plans to give to us.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve October 25, 2008 at 11:53

Personally I would hope that the uselessness of this election would help illuminate the need for electoral reform. But I don’t know how to make that happen.


Drew October 23, 2008 at 12:43

Look at the bright side Rob, we funded our own $300 million economic stimulus package and all it costs us was a little over a month of political rhetoric.

We are so smart!


Todd October 20, 2008 at 15:08

Good post, Rob, and I fully agree with many of your comments about the issues discussed and especially the hiding of the Conservative platform until the last week or so.

I think the election did actually answer a pretty important question: How do Canadians feel about Stephen Harper and the Conservatives? The answer, when Harper asked for a majority, was ‘no, no majority for you’ (to keep that Seinfeld theme going :)

No majority is a pretty strong statement, especially after 2 years at the helm. It’s like an apprentice completing the hours required to receive title, and being told ‘no, that actually wasn’t very well done, so you’ll have to keep working at it.’

The Conservatives campaign against Dion started the day after he was made party leader, with constant ad hominem attacks. Dion, for his part, ran an awful campaign, and while I think he would be a better leader compared with Harper’s dual-anthem of “That’s the Liberals Fault” and “Canada Can’t Do That.” After all that time, I think people still remember the disturbing DNA that Harper has tried to muzzle since losing to Martin. I certainly still remember the chill of Randy White chucking “To heck with judges, to heck with judges,” not to mention Harper’s own sentiments of “Parliament must reign supreme.” No, no majority for that at all, thanks very much.

I don’t believe that we need a different government to make an election worthwhile. Sometimes asking the same question will tell you in more certain terms than before where people’s sentiments lie. Moreover, the Conservatives have now effectively boxed themselves in, with their faux-term law on one side and the frequency of elections in the past few years on the other. Rather than minority governing being a pit-stop on the way to a majority, it’s become the natural seat of the Conservative party: enough to rile people up, but not enough to be leaders on their own. Is that worth 300 million? Maybe not, but I’d rather not try to put a price tag on the process that does provide nuanced outcomes like ours.

One doesn’t order a bill of goods with an election. It’s not a thing you compare prices on and wonder if you could have gotten it cheaper at WalMart. It’s a process that tries to deliver a consensus answer, and that answer is to a question which is asked from a context of a period in time. Because the seat distribution is close to what it was last time doesn’t mean that the question and answer are the same, not by a longshot.


Todd October 20, 2008 at 14:53

Though a lot of money was spent, I think the election did actually answer a pretty important question: How do Canadians feel about Stephen Harper and the Reformatives? The answer, when Harper took the country to election asking for a majority, was ‘no, no majority for you’. No majority is a pretty strong statement, especially after 2 years at the helm. It’s like an apprentice completing the hours required to receive title, and being told ‘no, that actually wasn’t very well done, so you’ll have to keep working at it.’

The Conservatives ran a dirty campaign that started the day Dion was made Liberal leader. The endless character assassinations and finger pointing to the past. Got a problem with something? Oh, that’s from the Liberals time in office. Dion ran an awful campaign, and deserved to lose. Harper is an awful leader, with a background dual-anthem of “That’s the Liberals Fault” and “Canada Can’t Do That” answering every challenge put to his office so far. You don’t need to have a different answer to make an election worthwhile. Sometimes asking the same question will tell you in more certain terms than before where people’s sentiments lie. Worth 300 million? Maybe, but I’d rather not try to put a price tag on our democracy.


Terrence McLean October 20, 2008 at 09:58

I agree that this election was a big waste on money. I also see that for the most part people don’t care. We say we want an honest candidate and yet Dion who appeared to me to be the most honest and real leader I have ever seen took a pounding, partly because of it. People no longer care about their leadership, if you don’t believe me look at voter turn out. Even out of those who do vote, how many do so consciously. I know of a lot of people who vote against something rather than for some and other who vote who they were told to by people they trusted to know the answer (spouse and family). We say we treasure our freedoms, but this election along with past elections show that people like their freedoms they just do want to have to think about them and do their part and vote.

Elections have become more about what the leaders and media want to tell us are issues and very important things (like C-61 and ACTA) get ignored. Is it that people don’t know what is going on or that they don’t care. I think it is that people don’t know and they don’t care that they don’t know. Maybe a change in economic times will change than.


Droopy October 20, 2008 at 00:45

sorry for typos… it’s late I ought to be in bad X)


Droopy October 20, 2008 at 00:43

Good points. Here’s some more ;)

Is it me being paranoid or does this whole thing remind of a card game: Harper knew he was on the way out as all the garbage was shifting closer to the fans at the phenomenal rate. What he has done in my opinion is “played ahead”: He most definitely didn’t play to win, he played to prolongue.

Here’s what I think: elections didn’t buy anything of substance on the surface, however if called lated Conservatives would’ve lost big time failing in so many areas they claimed they were successfull. Now election bought them another year or so (if I remember laws correctly) with no disturbance whatsoever as nobody can call next election. Not yet. Now plan might have been to get wait it out and hopefully sustain less damage in next elections. Now Liberals failing played out nicely for Tories as now Liberals would be nearly headless and hopefully (for Tories) broke which means next election for them is going to be as much struggle as it is for Tories.

What really suprises me – nobody raised any voice over C-61 (Canadian version of DMCA: “Copyright reform”) or ACTA – both very explosive and very much close-to-home issues for electorate. Why? With the amount of mud slinging in this campaign – this pile of mud is the stickies and the highest for anybody (but tories) to use it. Not like those were the only issues (like cutting funds on science, arts etc.), but those would be understood by many if presented wisely. And you could bring “big guns” – artists arguing AGAINST it! Bizzare.


Mark October 18, 2008 at 17:31

Second – or rather, third – this idea. It was a cynical power play – Harper was at a point in his first pseudo-mandate where he either had to learn to play nicely with the other children, or force an election to gain two more years of unchallenged my-way-or-the-highway. Waiting would mean running during an assured economic downturn, so run he said, and away went $300 million.

Sadly, no one, except the now-discredited Dion, called Harper out on his half-truths, fabrications, misleading comments, broken words, and out-and-out lies. Even more sadly, so-called democracy in this country has become exclusively an exercise in narcissists achieving power, and not the public engagement in the discourse of matters of public interest.

I agree with Mark Kuznicki on the need for electoral reform – it’s just that the public can’t get its collective head around it (viz. the Ontario referendum on the question), and those who hold power won’t yield that power to enable it. Are there any potential leaders who are also sufficiently idealistic to lead us in this century (rather than the last one)?


Mark Kuznicki October 18, 2008 at 07:23

Great post Rob. I believe this election has revealed that our politics are broken at a deep and fundamental level.

This election was called because Stephen Harper knew, as did the opposition parties, that a recession was coming our way in 2009. $300 million of the public’s money was cynically, deliberately and strategically deployed to buy the incumbent executive 18 – 24 months of breathing room.

In the US context, Lessig has argued that corporate corruption of the legislative branch has made it weak and ineffective, and has provided the opportunity for the centralization of power in the executive branch as a “strong leader” antidote to that failure.

In Canada’s parliamentary context, I believe that the strong central executive powers retained in the Cabinet and exercised through a highly controlling PMO have effectively neutered parliament. Harper’s government is Harper. Behind the curtain is an old man working the levers of a giant machine.

The upside of financial and economic crises is that they often sow the seeds of revolution. We need a new democratic revolution. We need to reform our electoral system and we need a movement for democratic change with its base outside the Canadian party system. Our leaders have failed us, our system is easily co-opted and manipulated, and there is no hero-savior but us.


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