THE FEDERAL ELECTION, the big show up here for the last
month-and-a-half, is tomorrow. There's only one category on the ballot
-- local member of parliament -- and the consensus is that the federal
Liberal party -- the "natural ruling party of Canada" for the better part
of the century -- is unlikely to lose its majority despite the ugly name-calling
of the campaign and their lacklustre, even corrupt, public image.
Simply put, Jean Chretien and the Liberals have been in
power for too long and, like Liberal regimes of the past, have gotten lazy,
sloppy, and unrepentant about it all. The Prime Minister is a political
beast: pragmatic, deceitful, power-obsessed, and unapologetic. When confronted
with his unabashed influence-peddling and porkbarreling in his home riding,
his response was little more than a shrug and a faintly bewildered excuse
that it was "just politics".
Still, the biggest threat he seems to think he faces comes
from division in his own party, rather than from any of the four (or more
realistically, two) parties the Liberals face this election. He needs to
win one more time; with two years left in his party's mandate, there was
no reason for him to call this election except to consolidate his position
as leader of the Liberal party.
The historical opponents of the Liberals -- the Tories,
or Progressive Conservatives -- are a non-entity this year, since the dramatic
coup on the right performed by the Reform Party as it voted itself into
extinction in the process of becoming the Conservative Alliance, in an
attempt to outgrow its prairie base and bogart the Tories' base of support
here in Ontario. The leader of the Alliance is an evangelical Christian
creationist -- normally a creature to be avoided here in the country's
centre of power, except that he's willing to offer the kind of tax-cut-based
fiscal policies and privatization programs that are economic gospel to
If there's been any issues in this election -- beyond
smearing the Liberals and scaring the populace with visions of an Americanized
Canada under the Alliance -- it's the looming, nightmare spectacle of health
care as the Boomers slip off into their golden years. Depending on who
you talk to, we can't afford our current system, the current system is
in trouble, the current system is being dismantled, or will be dismantled,
depending on who you vote for. For the first time in years, our socialized
medicare system is a bigger election issue than the survival of the country
in one piece.
Fear of the Alliance -- and a palpable horror of the anti-abortion,
anti-evolutionist, school-voucher supporting, social-state dismantling
program he is considered to represent -- will probably drive a lot of the
left-of-centre votes to the Liberals, in an exercise of strategic voting
that will likely marginalize the leftist federal New Democratic Party even
further into the background, much as the Alliance has driven the Tories
to the once-unthinkable verge of losing official party status, banishing
them both into the political netherworld of the Natural Law, Marxist-Leninist,
Marijuana and Green parties.
(For the record, the Tories have held office many times
in the country's history, in a kind of drunken see-saw that usually rewards
them with a term in office to every two or three Liberal administrations.
The NDP have never held power federally. There's another party -- the Bloc
Quebecois -- whose whole and entire raison d'etre is to take as
many seats in Quebec as possible and advance the ultimate separation of
the province from the country.
In a less democratic country, they'd be outlawed or, at
the very least, severely marginalized by the government. It's as if the
U.S. had a "Confederate" party that regularly took most of the senate and
congress south of the Mason-Dixon. The happy co-existence of the Bloc in
our federal system is one of the great mysteries of Canada, imponderable
to outsiders. Every election, there are the usual jokes about self-declared
Bloc candidates running in ridings outside Quebec, in order to make a mockery
of the party. So far, nobody's taken the joke that far.)
WITH THIS IN MIND, I'll probably be voting for the NDP
candidate in my neighbourhood, against the incumbent Liberal, a junket
queen whose actual presence in the riding consists of two vapid, glossy
pamphlets a year, filled with little more than Liberal Party boilerplate.
It's strategic voting, of a kind, but I get the impression that most of
the country -- or that part that will bother to vote in the face of such
an ugly, largely issue-light campaign -- will be voting strategically.
It feels undeniably ugly and diminishing to vote this
way. Somehow, you end up envying the creationist free-marketers and die-hard
separatístes who can vote perfectly in line with their convictions
and conscience. It's a faintly cynical, hold-your-nose-and-mark-the-ballot
way of exercising your franchise that seems to diminish the whole process.
OUR FRIENDS GREG AND VICKI finally made it into the hospital
last week for V.'s delivery of a baby girl, Lily. K. was overjoyed -- I
think she was looking forward to this baby almost as much as G. and V.
The baby was fine, when we visited the day after V.'s rather long, difficult
delivery; she certainly seemed more comfortable than her parents. V. could
barely walk, while Greg -- unknown to him at the time -- was about to develop
a nasty blood infection from tucking his six-foot-three self into the only
sleeping accomodation the hospital provided for fathers -- an indifferently
designed armchair -- and having his leg fall asleep.
The hospital had promised some kind of lounger for fathers
to nap in, and while they officially encourage fathers to stay with their
families in the maternity ward, no such lounger could be found. It left
me -- I can't speak for G. and V. -- with a profoundly bad feeling toward
The development of women's health centres has gone a long
way towards eliminating the crude, even unscientific conditions of medical
practice that prevailed a century ago. I'm sure it's not perfect -- maternity
exercises some kind of magic spell that encourages the most fanciful flights
from logic -- but the steady rise in live births, successful treatment
of premature babies, and the relegation of death-in-childbirth to a historical
fact, is proof that progress has been made.
Men no longer have to entertain the idea that the birth
of a son or daughter could leave them a widower, but it seems like it'll
be awhile before a man's place in procreation will be valued during the
period between providing DNA in the shape of semen, and providing funds
in the shape of child support. There are private hospitals, of course,
that offer hotel rooms for the whole family for the happy occasion, but
at a cost, and as a good, old-fashioned Canadian I tend to regard privatized
medicine as once step from gated communities, charity-as-welfare and sterilization
for "social undesirables".
It's conditions like those that G. and V. endured that
make the possibility of private hospitals, two-tier health care, and the
nightmare world of HMOs more real up here in the north. Simply put, if
the medical establishment wants to resist such a scenario, they'd best
try to make maternity stays -- the one hospital experience most income-earning,
tax-paying, voting families are guaranteed to endure -- more palatable.
It doesn't look likely, since doctors are sure that they'll
earn more money under a privatized system. While conventional political
wisdom has seen funding to health-care cut over the last few years, it's
unlikely that hospitals have the cash, or wherewithal, to move in such
a direction. Somewhere in there, a kind of sinister logic is making itself
apparent; none dare call it conspiracy.