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.

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