11.19.2005

i'm just saying

If huge numbers of Canadians are not around at Christmastime, that's one thing. And I realize that my perspective is different because I don't celebrate Christmas. But I don't come from Mars, I come from a country that goes insane during the Christmas season, and I still have trouble envisioning people actually getting too busy to vote.

When discussing the voter intimidation and disincentives in Ohio in the 2004 US "election," Canadians told me it takes them 10 or 20 minutes to vote. We can all find 20 minutes. We're not talking 20 minutes a day, just 20 minutes, once.

And how much time does anyone really spend reading up on the issues? If you follow the news all year, you probably continue to follow it during the holiday season. If you don't, then the holidays aren't making any difference.

Some people said voting was just one more thing to do when they should be spending time with their family. One more thing to do? You are talking about voting as "one more thing to do"? That's positively shameful. Watch one less sitcom, and you've got the time.

"I don't like any of the candidates," "No one is doing anything," "They're all crooks and liars": those are different issues. It may be true, it may be an excuse for apathy, it may be some of both. But if that's your beef, it's true no matter when the election is held.

This man agrees with me, and he knows a lot more about it!
If you believe the bull-roar coming out of Ottawa these days you'd think a federal election campaign during the Christmas holidays is like poking an ice-pick into one ear and out the other.

The operative word in that sentence is "Ottawa." Who else but the politicians, their aides and the Ottawa press corps regards a Christmas election as a thing of horror?

I welcome a Christmas election. A good dose of mud slinging would be a welcome break from the saccharine sentiment and suicidal commercialism that have infiltrated, saturated and ruined what used to be and what should be a short and simple winter celebration of joy.

A Christmas election campaign seems to me like a fine diversion from a perverted Christmas holiday campaign that now begins the day after Halloween. We're barely halfway through November, the Grey Cup's still weeks away, there's no snow on the ground where I live, and already three times I've had to withstand the vicious assault of The Little Drummer Boy.

With a Christmas election campaign I'd have an excuse to say, "Sorry, can't be merry today, must read up on the issues." It's like the wonderful English expression: "Thank God the sun has gone down and I don't have to go out and enjoy it."
He goes on to talk about Ottawa. I don't pretend to know diddly about Ottawa, but it sure sounds a lot like Washington DC. Later, he writes:
I mean, how disruptive is a federal election for the average non-politician, non-press corps Canadian? One day you take 20 minutes off to visit a polling booth and mark your X upon a ballot. Then you go home for an early scotch and an early dinner.

It's not as if we're cruelly inundated with extra election news at Christmastime. There are always pages of murders and rapes and wars and tortures and sports scores to reward our hungry Yuletide eyes. What makes Christmas any different? Someone once said you don't get fat from eating all the rich food between Christmas and New Year's; you get fat from eating all the rich food between New Year's and Christmas. [Martin O'Malley CBC column here.]
Well, call me a clueless immigrant, but I still don't get it. Could this be the famous Canadian complacency I've heard so much about?

43 comments:

Wrye said...

Canadians are far more likely to be angry about an Xmas election than apathetic, to my mind. I don't give the "too busy to vote" argument much credence at all.
Getting angry at the circus, that I can see.

Bring it on, chattering classes.

James said...

Also, don't take the reports of complaints too seriously. I actually haven't heard any outside the press. Canadians love to complain about elections. If it were at another time of year, we'd find something else about it to grouse over.

But we'll still turn out to vote.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

It's mostly politcal blather. Despite the whining, if an election is held, most people will go out and vote.

Ignore the stuff about being too busy too vote. People will vote, even if they complain bitterly about it. What's more true is that the idea that the idea of a Christmas election is rather unpopular, and no party wants to be the one to force it. However, they all want another party to force it, hoping to make political hay out of it.

L-girl said...

Gotcha. :)

James said...

Yup. The Christmas election works out well for the Libs, 'cause they can say, "Hey, those other guys are the ones making you trudge through snow to vote. Remember how thoughtless they are of your convenience when you're voting."

It's a little more subtle than the "He faked his injuries for those Purple Hearts" or "He's a cowardly traitor" aproach sometimes used south of the border.

nataleo said...

I think the "Christmas election" card is directed to those that pay absolutely no attention to politics and whose vote is affected by the most frivolous of things. I for one, can centainly make it to the voting booth, but I still like to think of the Christmas Season as mostly a positive time (amongst all the commercialization it gets harder and harder...) and don't look forward to the accusations and mudslinging of campaigns. That's my only gripe about the whole thing. Let me be the first to predict that the chips will pretty much fall the same way too...with 10 or so less seats for Libs going to NDP

RobfromAlberta said...

Canadians have grown increasingly more apathetic about voting over the last 10 years. It wasn't that long ago that federal elections had about 80% voter turnout. The last couple have been down around 60% and most political observers expect it will be even lower this time. I'm not sure why the sudden change, although I would guess when you live in a one party state, there isn't much reason to vote.

By the way, that "20 minutes to vote" rule is not ubiquitous. If you live in a rural area, it can often take much longer, especially in winter.

L-girl said...

If you live in a rural area, it can often take much longer, especially in winter.

Oh sure, that makes sense. I hadn't thought of that. (Urban-centric thought.)

I'm sorry to hear voter turnout is decreasing. That's a bad trend that snowballs on itself.

James said...

IIRC, the voter-turnout-drop trend began during the 80s, when Mulroney was in power.

Lone Primate said...

I'm not sure why the sudden change, although I would guess when you live in a one party state, there isn't much reason to vote.

That's fer shur. I just checked the voter turnout for Alberta provincial elections between 1975 and 2004. All of these elections have been won by the provincial Tories (there's your one-party state), and voter turnout hit a high of 66% way back in 1982 -- then crashed to 47% four years later. Recently, it's been in the low 50s.

Incidentally, in Canada (which HAS changed governing parties during that time), the turnout has ranged from a high of 75% in 1988 to 60% in the last election. According to Elections Canada, historically, the range has been between 79.2% (1963) and 60.1% (2004). For most of our history, the range has been in the high 60s to the low 70s.

That said, I think the issue here in Canada, as opposed to the States, is that in the US, people know when to expect elections. They come at regular intervals. You can look at a calendar and tell, to the day, when the presidential and congressional elections will be held in the year 2500. In Canada, elections can come anytime. A government seeking to strengthen its hand, a government falling for lack of support in the Commons, a government hanging on till the five-year end of its mandate... we've seen them all in my lifetime. We elected the Tories in May, 1979, and then had to go to the polls all over again the following February. This isn't all that rare. A federal election in 1957 was followed by another in 1958. 1962's by one in 1963, and yet another in 1965, and another yet in 1968. 1972's by 1974's. While this volatility has been rare in Canada since 1980, we may be in for a flurry of elections again if no party can muster a majority. Canadians have a history of this and it's something they like to gripe about. But regardless, they still typically show up at the polls at a 2:1 ratio.

RobfromAlberta said...

the voter-turnout-drop trend began during the 80s, when Mulroney was in power

Actually no, the Elections Canada website has that info.

1980 - 69.3%
1984 - 75.3%
1988 - 75.3%
1993 - 70.9%
1997 - 67.0%
2000 - 64.1%
2004 - 60.9%

The trend clearly shows that voter turnout has dropped during the Chretien-Martin era.

RobfromAlberta said...

Ah, lp, you beat me to it again. Curses!

L-girl said...

the voter-turnout-drop trend began during the 80s, when Mulroney was in power

. . .

The trend clearly shows that voter turnout has dropped during the Chretien-Martin era.


Either way, that's not enough to show causality. You science guys know that.

L-girl said...

We elected the Tories in May, 1979, and then had to go to the polls all over again the following February. This isn't all that rare. A federal election in 1957 was followed by another in 1958. 1962's by one in 1963, and yet another in 1965, and another yet in 1968. 1972's by 1974's.

Whoo-hoo, Lone Primate scores big in the teaching-about-Canada department! This is totally new to me. I knew elections could be called anytime, but didn't know these details. Interesting.

While this volatility has been rare in Canada since 1980, we may be in for a flurry of elections again if no party can muster a majority. Canadians have a history of this and it's something they like to gripe about. But regardless, they still typically show up at the polls at a 2:1 ratio.

Cool. Thanks. :)

"Something they like to gripe about" - as Kyle, James and other people have said in various ways - explains a lot.

RobfromAlberta said...

Either way, that's not enough to show causality. You science guys know that.

Oh, I know. It's pure speculation. However, a lot of trends would seem to favour greater voter turnout, such as an aging population and the increasing percentage of immigrants. Political malaise and fragmentation seems to be the only obvious reason for declining voter turnout.

Lone Primate said...

I can tell you what has changed in this country in my lifetime. It's the erosion of national parties. Really, the only one we have left is the Liberals, and they're not hugely popular everywhere as it is.

For most of Canada's history, the Liberals and Conservatives were electable just about nationwide. The Tories lost a lot of street cred in Quebec over their stand on conscription in WWI, but even that was largely forgiven over time. Dief, for instance, scored big in Quebec. So did Mulroney.

And that's where it all changes for me. While his legacy is still somewhat ambivalent (though I think he's already the least-popular PM in our history), I believe the future is really going to condemn Mulroney for the gambles he took -- and lost -- with this country. He didn't understand the delicate, if Rube Goldbergesque, mechanisms of Canadian governance. He just knocked it around and tried to shove a slick-looking digital clock in its place. And it blew up in his face. His Quebec support walked and formed the BQ, which we still have with us. Out west, the Tories split off and formed the Reform party, and the two particles of conservatism in Canada spent the next 10 years spiraling around each other before colliding again to form what remains, in essense, just the Reform Party rebranded: a regional rump that does not appeal to Canadians much east of western Winnipeg and bears no real resemblance to the Progressive Conservative Party of my youth. The Liberals are crippled by the regional interests, largely of Alberta and Quebec. The NDP have always been the conscience of the country, but we're not quite ready to trust them with government per se. So what are we left with? Thanks to Mulroney's disastrous tinkerings, the regionalisms of the country have been thrown into sharp relief, and in spite of the fact that in nearly every measurable aspect, things have never been better for Canada, the country totters on the verge of ungovernability. It staggers the imagination. Trudeau may have had to the power to make people mad, but he also understood how to make the country work. Mulroney has poisoned the well and it remains to be seen if the country can finally metabolize that much arsenic or die in the attempt.

RobfromAlberta said...

I agree with lp's analysis up to a point. Canadian politics is hopelessly fragmented and will remain so until the country breaks up as it inevitably will. Where we differ is in who bears the blame for our disunity. Quebecers consider the Constitution Act of 1982 to be their greatest betrayal. They don't call Nov.4, 1981, the Night of the Long Knives for nothing. Furthermore, Alberta's alienation revolves around the NEP. So, you want to blame Mulroney, fair enough, but an equal portion should be dropped on Trudeau's shoulders.

Lone Primate said...

Nah, sorry. Quebec's modern sovereigntist movement dates to the Quiet Revolution in the early 1960s. Alberta's been about quirky parties at the provincial level since day one. But neither of these proclivities emerged as a force at the federal level on Trudeau's watch, or anyone else's. That happened under Mulroney. Like I said, he took the fine mechanics of managing all that and shook it hard like it was a bag of presents he could pull everyone's wishes out of. Nobody got what they wanted (mainly because a lot of it is mutually-exclusive), and everyone went off to their rooms in a snit and we're still living with the legacy.

RobfromAlberta said...

Mulroney tried to fix a hopelessly flawed system. He failed, badly. He sped up the process, but the wheels were already falling off. Now, thanks to Chretien and the sponsorship scandal, the failure is complete.

I would add that Trudeau evokes far greater emotions in both Quebec and Alberta than Mulroney. You can lay as much blame as you want in Mulroney's lap, but he is nowhere near the polarizing figure than Trudeau is.

sharonapple said...

I think Trudeau is polarizing because you can get groups that love or hate him. Mulroney was widely disliked when he was the prime minister, and there aren't a lot of people who'll defend his record, and probably for good reason. Trudeau's record is messy, but Mulroney's time as prime minister was a disaster.

The Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accords were badly flawed and thankfully never passed. (Especially the Charlottetown Accord, which was different in English and French.) Mulroney also added gasoline to Quebec separatism by making speeches about how Quebec was humiliated and betrayed by the 1982 Constitution. Speeches written by Lucien Bouchard, who later went on to form the Bloc and campaigned for Quebec separatism.

Under Mulroney, there was the rise of two regional parties -- Reform out in the West and the Bloc in Quebec -- both parties that drained support from the Progressive Conservatives.

Economically, he had a bad record. Mulroney's government was responsible for more than half of the national debt. (In nine years he added more to the debt than all of the peacetime governments combined... worse a significant amount of the debt was created because of high interest rates that were the result of the government's insane attempt at creating 0% inflation. Sadly, by the end of the eighties, the government was actually collecting more in taxes than it was spending except for one area: interest payments on the debt.) The GST replaced an older manufacturers' tax and shifted the burden from companies to consumers. Also, it was installed to replace import duties that the government no longer collected from imports because of the free trade accord with America.

Speaking of free trade, there's this quote from the US Trade representative, Clayton Yeutter: "The Canadians don't understand what they have signed. In 20 years, they will be sucked into the US economy." As we've seen, economics have used to influence Canadian politics. (Ex. the American ambassador threatening us economically whenever Canada zigs left when they want us to go right http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/apr2003/can-a03.shtml)

Lone Primate said...

Quebecers consider the Constitution Act of 1982 to be their greatest betrayal. They don't call Nov.4, 1981, the Night of the Long Knives for nothing.

Quebec separatists have always had a magnificent flare for taking their own shortcomings and making them Canada's. Right now, Canada's wearing a pie in the face because some federal Quebeckers bribed some provincial Quebeckers and got money back. Thirty-five years ago, Canada got a black eye because Quebec terrorists kidnapped people and the Quebec premier and mayor of Montreal called on the prime minister (also from Quebec) to send in the troops, which he did (again, how is any of that the fault of the rest of the country?). In the case of the Constitution, Quebec sends as its delegate a man whose party is openly declared to separate from Canada -- a man who cannot possibly agree to anything that could strengthen the federation, a man who would be eaten alive upon returning to Quebec City if he did -- and yet somehow, Canada has betrayed Quebec when it finally simply patriates the same document we'd been using for 115 years to run the country. This is like sending a hockey player to a football game and bitching because they went ahead and scored a touchdown. No one in Canada should have any patience whatsoever for this sort of intellectual dishonesty.

Mulroney tried to fix a hopelessly flawed system.

That's a rubric of the angry right and 'generous' separatists in this country. It's tossed out there as though it were an indisputable truth. It's entirely disputable. The country had worked well for well over a century on a system supposedly "hopelessly flawed". What was, in fact, hopelessly flawed were the conceits of the various people who undertook to improve upon it. Invariably, their prescriptions addressed their own interests, and usually at the expense of someone else's.

A case in point: Alberta eats up the idea of an elected senate like ice cream because they're after a greater share of power. On the other hand, this would largely come at the expense of Ontario and Quebec. Ontario is ambivalent about the idea but Quebec is vehemently opposed -- not because they seek to lord it over Alberta or anyone else, but because they feel their influence in Canada has been waning since Confederation and, concerned for the future viability of their culture without the power to defend it, they feel the need to draw the line at any proposal that will cost Quebec influence in the country, no matter how trivial.

There are two ways to manage something like this. You can quietly negotiate side deals, like agreeing to let Alberta "elect" its senators, and then use that as their moral lever ("hey, these guys were elected, you ought to listen to them more"), and negotiating other deals to let Quebec have more control over its immigration and taxation structures -- the model we've been using for generations to manage the country... Or, you can barf everyone's every sore point out into the public arena in a huge Abra-Ca-Dabra show, where everyone sits in a tight circle sweating in the glare of the lights and cameras, where no one can afford to give an inch on their own sacred cows because everyone at home is glued to the box watching for any sign of weakness in "their" guy, and the saw and tape and stick and glue and shave and twist and hammer and try to come up with a one-size-fits-all lumber jacket that everyone will be happy with forever and ever and ever. Well, that's what Mulroney tried; it solved nothing, it made governing this country a nightmare for the next five years, it embarrassed every participant and turned the country in against itself in a way it never had been. It destroyed the Conservative Party as we knew it, and rightly so -- this is their purgatory, right here, right now. You want to talk about hopelessly flawed? Look at the constitutioneering of the Mulroney years.

You can lay as much blame as you want in Mulroney's lap, but he is nowhere near the polarizing figure than Trudeau is.

When Trudeau left office, the first referendum had been handily won. The PC were intact -- in fact, never stronger.

When Mulroney left office, we were on course for a referendum we won by the narrowest of margins. The Tories had shattered into Reform, the Bloc, and the PC rump. No party could be elected shore to shore for the next 15 years but the Liberals. So please, tell me again how Trudeau polarized the country in some manner, any manner, that manifested itself in any way as completely as Brian Mulrloney did.

Lone Primate said...

the voter-turnout-drop trend began during the 80s, when Mulroney was in power

. . .

The trend clearly shows that voter turnout has dropped during the Chretien-Martin era.

Either way, that's not enough to show causality. You science guys know that.


Typically, voter turnout drops during periods when times are reasonably good. The psychology's not that hard to see. Things are going along okay, people don't see the need to change the government, and less dedicated or less motivated voters sit it out. It's usually only at times of financial or military crisis that people show up in big numbers. For example, look at the two elections Mulroney won. People came out in 1984, when the economy wasn't all that great, to dislodge the Liberals, and then again in big numbers in 1988 over the issue of Free Trade -- which most Canadians opposed, but got anyway because the opposition vote was split between the Grits and the NDP. Lately, we've had low inflation, the deficit's gone, the debt's being paid down... people haven't had the urge to change things. If voter turnout is low in the next election, even on the heels of the Gomery Report, I think that's going tell us that Canadians remain, in spite of that, largely satisfied with the overall management of the country and the economy. Frankly, while the sponsorship scandal stinks, it's largely the responsibility of people already gone, and -- to be painfully obvious -- it really is of extremely little consequence to the country in any practical sense. I think you'd have to dig up bodies, literally, before the country would really blanch at it. It might not be a good thing, but I think we're too jaded these days to really work up a full head of steam over a few million dollars. Anyway, I guess we'll see.

James said...

I can tell you what has changed in this country in my lifetime. It's the erosion of national parties.

Definitely. The Progressive Conservatives used to be progressive fiscal conservatives, the Liberals used to be social progressives, and the NDP was thrown in to keep the big two honest.

Now, the Liberals are more like the PC used to be, the Conservatives have turned into social conservatives instead of fiscal ones, and the Bloc stirs the pot. The NDP hasn't changed that much federally, though it has suffered because of (among other things) Ontario's unhappy experiences with Bob Rae at the provincial level.

We keep electing the Liberals because we don't want the social conservatives in power, and prefer the NDP as an opposition party. Whereas before we'd elect PC and Liberal alternately, now it's like we elect the conservative wing of the Liberals and the progressive wing of the Liberals alternately.

RobfromAlberta said...

The country had worked well for well over a century on a system supposedly "hopelessly flawed".

No, it was hopelessly flawed after the Constitution Act of 1982. Prior to that, it was merely dysfunctional.

So please, tell me again how Trudeau polarized the country in some manner, any manner, that manifested itself in any way as completely as Brian Mulrloney did.

The October Crisis, the War Measures Act, the rise of the Parti Quebecois, the first Quebec referendum, the notwithstanding clause, the Night of the Long Knives, the NEP....right, Trudeau is blameless.

RobfromAlberta said...

By the way, lp, aren't you being a bit disingenuous? You talk about the destruction of the Progressive Conservative party as though it were something regrettable. I have never sensed you had one whit of respect for the old Tories more than you do for the CPC.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Ah, the great debate. Who caused things to go wrong, Trudeau or Mulroney? It's another pointless debate, because Liberals put the blame squarely on Mulroney, whereas Conservatives say it's all Trudeau's fault.

In this case, I think it's one of those "it takes two to tango" things, and the blame can't be fully dumped on either one.

As for low turnout, that does have a lot to do with the decline of the big parties. I think faith in politicians is at an all-time low. The liberal party is seen by almost everyone as unpalatable, but many voters find the two other major parties (the NDP and the Conservatives) even worse. So, they're voting on the "evil I know is better then the evil I don't" basis.

It also doesn't help that the current crop of leaders have the all the charisma of a dead frog. However, another charismatic leader will show up at some point, at which point maybe voter interest will be regnited. The possibility of a majority government of either conservative or liberals is slim-to-none, and if a majority isn't formed in the next election both Martin and Harper will sent packing by their parties.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

"I think that's going tell us that Canadians remain, in spite of that, largely satisfied with the overall management of the country and the economy."

No, I wouldn't say "satisfied". It's more akin to being in a less-then satisfactory job, but not the job's not so terrible that you'd endure the interview process to find a new one.

Lone Primate said...

No, it was hopelessly flawed after the Constitution Act of 1982.

How, exactly? Do you actually understand what was undertaken and accomplished in the process? And if so, tell us what changed to make the process "hopelessly flawed" thereafter. Because I think you're just gleefully stirring the pot here when there's no flame.

The October Crisis, the War Measures Act,

A) not his fault; B) undertaken at the WRITTEN request of Premier Bourassa (with unanimous support in the legislature, including the PQ), and Mayor Drapeau... all facts conveniently forgotten by latterday separatists... not to mention your good self.

the rise of the Parti Quebecois

Formed in 1968, out of the previously-existing RIN and RN... hardly, then, as a result of his policies. Given that that letter was already in the mail when he took office, and the results of the first referendum, a case can more appropriately be made for the timeliness of his advent, rather than one supposing him to be the goat.

the notwithstanding clause,

The creature of several premiers, not Trudeau, who opposed it but included it in order to have their support when he went to London.

the Night of the Long Knives,

The blame here falls more fairly on the shoulders of Quebeckers who sent a separatist with no interest in renewing the federation to the conference, not Trudeau or the premiers who undertook the process with sincerity.

the NEP

Ah, yes. God forbid Canadian oil should be priced to favour all Canadians, rather than just the people who happen to be sitting on top of it. Dare I suggest it wasn't Trudeau's policy that was divisive so much as the greed of certain people living within earshot of the oil derricks...?

Lone Primate said...

I have never sensed you had one whit of respect for the old Tories more than you do for the CPC.

I could vote for Joe Clark. I can't vote for Stephen Harper.

I could vote for Bernard Lord, too, if the Tories can interest the guy in the job. But so far, no dice.

Lone Primate said...

It's more akin to being in a less-then satisfactory job

It is? In what regard? I don't know how old you are, but unemployment's the lowest it's been in my whole life, the dollar's comfortably in the low-80-cent range, we don't have a federal deficit, interest rates are under 5% and yet we don't have runaway inflation. God Lord, what's it take, spontaneous 'gasms?

RobfromAlberta said...

tell us what changed to make the process "hopelessly flawed" thereafter

Quebec was not a willing participant and not a signatory.

all facts conveniently forgotten by latterday separatists... not to mention your good self.

Not forgotten and irrelevent. Trudeau was the captain of the ship. It was his decision. Mulroney gets all the blame for the failure of Meech Lake even though Trudeau, McKenna, Wells and a host of others contributed to its demise. What's good for the goose....

Formed in 1968, out of the previously-existing RIN and RN

True, but so what? It was a blip on the political radar screen until the mid-70s. It became a force in Quebec politics well into Trudeau's reign.

The creature of several premiers, not Trudeau, who opposed it but included it in order to have their support when he went to London.

See above.

The blame here falls more fairly on the shoulders of Quebeckers who sent a separatist with no interest in renewing the federation

Again, irrelevent. Trudeau knew or should have known that Levesque would never agree to anything reasonable. So, if Mulroney's feet are to be held to the fire for starting something that couldn't possibly succeed, Trudeau should be held to the same standard.

Dare I suggest it wasn't Trudeau's policy that was divisive so much as the greed of certain people living within earshot of the oil derricks...?

You can say whatever the hell you want. We're talking about the sources of disunity in Canada and the NEP is one of them. Rightly or wrongly, it is the main rallying point for Alberta's alienation.

James said...

I have never sensed [LP] had one whit of respect for the old Tories more than you do for the CPC.

Speaking for myself, the CPC has grabbed hold of a lot of social conservatism notions that the old Tories never persued. That alone means I have a lot more respect for old Tories than for the current Conservatives. Just as I have a lot more respect for fiscal conservative Republicans than for the current batch.

Jenjenjigglepants said...

"...you can barf everyone's every sore point out into the public arena in a huge Abra-Ca-Dabra show, where everyone sits in a tight circle sweating in the glare of the lights and cameras, where no one can afford to give an inch on their own sacred cows because everyone at home is glued to the box watching for any sign of weakness in "their" guy, and the saw and tape and stick and glue and shave and twist and hammer and try to come up with a one-size-fits-all lumber jacket that everyone will be happy with forever and ever and ever."

Wow, Lone Primate you are king of the mixed metaphor. I've only read it twice and am only partly sure of what your talking about here (never quite seen a debate like that...), but it sure is fun to read!
jjp

Lone Primate said...

Quebec was not a willing participant and not a signatory.

No, Rene Levesque was not a willing participant or signatory. Nor could he have been. It is an unfortunate fact of Canadian history that at the moment that the rest of the country finally mustered the will to patriate the Constitution and cease to be a colony, one province (Quebec) had a government with no interest in anything that smacked of commitment to the federation. It's also unfortunate that this has been taken up as a cause celebre in Quebec to the point that not even a federalist premier can be comfortable committing to it. These are the cards we're dealt. But to suggest that this is some sort of breaking point with the rest of Canada's past is to ignore the Quiet Revolution, the election of the PQ, and a referendum that, had it been successful, would have seen Quebec quit Canada all before the patriation of the Constitution was even broached.

Now you've ably parroted the separatist line; but this begs the question: what exactly does Quebec object to? In what practical sense has Quebec suffered under the patriated British North America Act? In no way that I'm aware -- how about you? So then their objection comes down to the simple fact that the rest of the country went ahead anyway, knowing full well Levesque would have done whatever he had to to frustrate the exercise given the chance. So therefore, the question boils down to: under what possible conditions could a Quebec separatist government consented to the patriation of the British North America Act in the first place? The entire suggestion that Canada did an end-run around an otherwise willing PQ government is laughable; the height of disingenuity. Sadly, it's gospel in Quebec, along with myriad other convenient revisions of Canadian history.

Not forgotten and irrelevent. Trudeau was the captain of the ship. It was his decision.

In fact, it was Parliament's. The vote was near unanimous. It was Tommy Douglas who spoke out against it, not MPs from Quebec.

So we have an armed insurrection of unknown scope in Quebec, a foreign diplomat and provincial minister snatched from their homes, provincial government unanimous in asking for the invocation of emergency powers, and a House of Commons nearly unanimous in passing the motion. Pray tell, Rob... what would you have done instead so as not to be "divisive"? Or would you have done the same thing, and be ready to point out to revisionists the way of things?

True, but so what? It was a blip on the political radar screen until the mid-70s. It became a force in Quebec politics well into Trudeau's reign.

Ably dealt with during Trudeau's reign too, and put to bed until Mulroney came up with the genius idea of packing his party with sovereigntist for whom he could not haul down the moon. Had he not gambled the nation's future on his quick shuffle constitutioneering, it's highly unlikely the creation of the Bloc Quebecois at the federal level or the disastrous second referendum would ever have come about. We elected a man with no understanding of how Canada works and we're still living with the hangovers.

Trudeau knew or should have known that Levesque would never agree to anything reasonable.

He was well aware of it, if you read his memoirs. This is why I asked if you knew what was proposed and accomplished in 1982... a question I see you dodged, which I thought might be the case. So what actually happened in 1982? Well, first of all, we patriated the British North America Act and renamed it the Canada Act, 1867. Secondly -- and this was the sticking point that kept us from doing so since the first blush of the idea in the 1920s -- we created a workable amending formula... that's the only reason we left it in Britain's hands all those years; we couldn't agree on how to amend the thing and so relied on asking Britain to do so when it really really mattered. Finally, we entrenched a statment of rights into the constitution. That's it. We didn't fundamentally overhaul anything about how Canada's government worked or how the various levels of government interacted. Nothing changed except the mechanism and responsibility for amending the thing, and giving average people a better understanding of the rights they'd held in what was called (in Canadian jurisprudence) "the implied Bill of Rights" all along. So all Quebec has to moan about -- and all you're championing on their behalf -- is that we didn't wait for them to elect a government willing to consider the good of all Canadians instead of just Quebecois. The problem is not with Trudeau, or the nine premiers who acceded to the idea. It's with the PQ voters of Quebec who don't share a vision of Canada with us, and likely never will. I hope you're not suggesting that any progress in Canada must ground to a halt forever until they give us leave to proceed...?

Rightly or wrongly, it is the main rallying point for Alberta's alienation.

I thing rightly or wrongly very much enters into the discussion. Alienation is not automatic proof of the justice of one's cause. I think even John C Calhoun would have to admit that in retrospect. Not to actually equate Alberta's avarice in serendipity with slavery, of course.

RobfromAlberta said...

I don't disagree with anything you said (well, except about the NEP)and yet, it's all irrelevent. The argument is, "Did Trudeau contribute to the current climate of disunity?" Well, did he? It doesn't matter if what he did was worthwhile or well-intentioned, what matters to this discussion is the perceptions of the people. Do Quebecers feel betrayed? Yes, many of them do. Do Albertans feel betrayed? Again, yes. That is the only relevent point of the discussion.

Brian Mulroney entered the Meech Lake process with the intention of bringing Quebec into the Canadian constitutional fold, a laudable goal. He failed, just as Trudeau failed a few years earlier. There is no difference, except that Mulroney gambled for bigger stakes and lost more.

Lone Primate said...

The argument is, "Did Trudeau contribute to the current climate of disunity?" Well, did he? It doesn't matter if what he did was worthwhile or well-intentioned, what matters to this discussion is the perceptions of the people. Do Quebecers feel betrayed? Yes, many of them do. Do Albertans feel betrayed? Again, yes.

Yeah, but that dodges the question of why. Again, you're equating feeling put-upon as proof of injustice. It isn't. Not in and of itself. My aunt, who doesn't drive, went into a month-long snit once when my mother dared to suggest to her that she shouldn't wander off unaccountably at the mall on days my mother had driven her there but had to get the car back for my father to get to his shift. Just because my aunt got her nose out of joint for being criticized didn't make her right, no matter how much she carped about it. Quebec and Alberta, in their respective manners, are both behaving with gross selfishness inimical to the interests of the country as a whole. We hear, for instance, about how the NEP supposedly cost jobs (though the details of exactly how, when the price of oil dropped below the guaranteed national price at the time, is never as forthcoming). As if Alberta's oil patch were the only place in Canada losing jobs in the early 1980s! Though I'd have to say that Quebec's attitude is a whole other level of magnatude in terms of toxicity. But feelings of alienatoin are not the only relevant point in the discussion. Not when they stem from self-centred attitudes that can be demonstrated to be prejudicial to the rights and well-being of others.

Brian Mulroney entered the Meech Lake process with the intention of bringing Quebec into the Canadian constitutional fold, a laudable goal.

I'm willing to acknowledge that was the overall goal, but it was poorly thought-out. He was pitching ideas to a Canada that doesn't exist, and people were warning him that. But Mulroney did it for his own reasons. He was pandering to a Quebec caucus to which he owed his political fortunes, and who had lent him that support at great risk to their reputations at home. He was borrowing support from separatists. This is bit like borrowing betting money from the mob. NOT A GOOD IDEA. But he did it anyway. But he did it because at the end of the day, had it paid off, he would have shown up Trudeau, which was an intention dear to his heart that his colleagues make clear was no secret. Imaginary Canada might have made this possible, but Real Canada could not follow where he was leading, and we got that disaster that the country still vibrates to. So yes, even I'm willing to admit the man had some high, ostensibly admirable goals. But they were alloyed to his vanity and the dicey political debts he owed people he should not have owed in the first place.

L-girl said...

I've just caught up on these comments after being away last week. Excellent stuff, and I thank you all!

Much of this discussion is too detailed for me to follow just yet, and maybe more than I need to know - but I've learned a lot overall. It's like I'm learning the look and feel of the general landscape without knowing all the best routes and the back roads. And for now, that's fine.

Lone Primate, your post that begins with "Quebec separatists have always had a magnificent flare..." is particularly helpful.

So if anybody is still refreshing this thread - and I bet a few of you are - could you please briefly explain two moments in Canadian history for me? I know I can look it up on Wikipedia or elsewhere, but I'd like to hear your take. What is (a) the Night of the Long Knives and (b) Meech Lake?

Lone Primate said...

"Magnificent flare", ugh... I meant "flair", of course. Blech. :)

"The Night of Long Knives" is what initally, Quebec separatists and, later, just about everyone in Quebec (or any anglo eager to gain something by pandering to their paranoia) calls the evening in November of 1981 when nine of the provinces reached an accord on patriating the BNA Act, and Quebec was left out. It went like this...

Up until 1982, Canada's constitution, the British North America Act, 1867, was an act of the British Parliament. As such,it could only be changed by them: there were no provisions for amendment by Canadian authorities. Since the 1920s, the British had been gently suggesting we work out an amendment formula and take responsibility for the thing ourselves instead using up their legislative time everytime we needed a change. We tried a number of times but never managed it.

Traditionally, the British Parliament liked Canada to come to them with unanimous consent among the feds and provinces when these changes were made, or at least he consent of provincial governments representing the majority of the population of Canada (Quebec's consent, as the essential voice of French Canada, was usually expected; this gave the province was was called a "virtual veto", which was in fact only a tradition and not a legal requirement). The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1981 that technically, the Parliament of Canada had the legal right to request changes to the BNA Act of the British Parliament unilaterally, but that by tradition, the consent of the provinces was necessary. So while Trudeau could have gone ahead alone, he decided it was better to try to work something out.

Only Ontario and New Brunswick were onside at the time (ironcially, both had Tory governments; Trudeau was a liberal). Between them, they didn't represent the majority of the population. The other provinces formed "the Gang of Eight", and held out for certain changes. Levesque did not want the BNA Act brought home, because he felt it could be prejudicial to Quebec's virtual veto. Trudeau took him aside and offered to hold a referendum on the new Constitution. Levesque bit on this bait because he was sure he could deep-six the thing in Quebec. He took off for the night, crossing the river back into Quebec. Meanwhile, Trudeau went to the remaining Gang of Eight premiers and told him Levesque had jumped ship. Between Ontario, Quebec, and (with or without) New Brunswick, he had the 50%-plus he needed to go to London. So the other seven caved and made the best deal they could. When Levesque showed up the next morning, he was met with this federal fait accompli. Quebec sovereigntists will go on in unending maudlin terms about this betrayal. Never mentioned, of course, is the fact that Levesque himself broke ranks for his own purposes and made it all possible. Never spoken is the fact that there was nothing Canada could have offered a separatist in the first place that would have been acceptable. Levesque represented nothing more than an immovable obstacle that had to be gotten around.

Meech Lake is a resort in Quebec. It's where the ill-starred first round of Mulroney's constitutional negotiations took place. The entire process adopted that name. It was a hodge-podge of everyone's wishlist for the Constitution; a mess that no one really wanted. It ultimately failed in Manitoba, where Elijah Harper, a Native MLA worried about Native rights in the agreement, refused to give the legislature the unanimous consent required on a procedural matter, and the bill died. Since the process required the consent of all ten provinces, Meech died. Various schemes to extend it (remember the ERA in the US?) did no good. The patient never breathed again. The Charlottetown Accord, alternately called Meech II (or "Son of a Meech" by some wags), was an even more malodorous attempt to carve up the federal government and hand it out like choice cuts of meat. It died in English Canada because it gave Quebec too much, and in Quebec because it didn't give enough. It highlighted without mercy the unbridgable constitutional gulf between "the Prefect Constitution" on one side and "la constitution parfait" on the other. Just as there are some topics best left unspoken in some families, the Canadian Constitution is a Pandora's box best left closed, except in the most amicable and mutually-agreeable circumstances.

Beausejour said...

I think Rob mentioned on the toher string about the night of the long knives -- when Quebec was cut out of the soon to be ratified Constitution. Rene Levesque thought he'd been screwed over ata first minister's conference and he was. And Rob appropriately says Levesque is revered by Quebec nationalists and respected by Canadian federalists -- esecially when you compare him to racist blowhards like Jacques Parizeua and dissidents-what-little-to-dissent-over like Lucien Bouchard that the separatists threw up afterwards. Quebec separatism is something peculiarly Canadian, although having lived in Montreal from 88-90 and having seen Meech Lake from inside the province, I can say it's unfortunately virulent. A tinpot-dictatroship mentality and sad fascism follows this movement and it creates laughably unenforceable laws like Bill 178 aka the Sign Law. Read Mordechai Richler's book "O Canada O Quebec" for a great give-me-a-break take on this movement.

Meech Lake (named for the government residence on the eponymous lake where it was 'negotiated') involved a deal to 'right the wrongs' of the constitution and bring Quebec 'on board'. It guaranteed 'special status' for Quebec within Canada as a "distinct society." Everyoen was holding their nose to get it passed. The agreement would need to be ratified by all provincial legislatures (or was a majority? I can't remember). The first hit happened when Frank McKenna won the premirship of NB in 1988 (The Liberal Party of NB took every single seat in the NB legislature) and McKenna said the deal was signed by his predecessor -- and therefore could be reopened. NB's issue on special status for Quebec was that, unlike the rest of 'bilingual' Canada, NB is in fact the country's only biligual province (about 70/30 English/French) and would need to examine these minority protections. As well, the Acadians in NB have never been big fans of Quebec separatism -- not because they're not proud of their french roots, but because of Quebec's approach to minority rights (in Quebec, this means "English rights")-- and their approach was horrible. Bill 101 made French the official language of Quebec (with its own police force, L'Office de la Langue Francaise. My employer in Montreal was fined by them, so I can confirm they do exist) and since you can't really legislate a culture into existence (its adherants will either perpetuate it or not) they really decided to go after all other monorities to police this (again, this meant stopping the promotion of English). In NB, as Acadians were emboldended by the efforts of their neighbours in Quebec to promote French rights, they were stunned to find them agigtating against efforts in any other province to provide minority rights to french-speaking members of those provinces. All the better to justify their fasicst approach in Quebec against the non-French.

Next up was Clive Wells (who i think WAS an opportunist in this) was premier of Newfoundland did the same (I have a Newfie mom, and I can tell you that if there's a distinct society in Canada, it's Newfoundland. Many still don't think they're a part of Canada, and the discovery of oil could make them, and maybe Alberta, far more likely to leave Canada than Quebec).

And finally, Elijah Harper, a Native member of the Manitoba provincial legislature, also voted against the agreement and put the kibosh on Manitoba's attempts to ratify the agreement (This was also a time of great Native unrest in Canada). So it was dead.

A warmed-over version was put directly to the Canadian people in 1992 -- and it failed to pass in every province NB and Ontario if I remember correctly.

Beausejour said...

Rob's explanation is more elegant!

Lone Primate said...

Rob's explanation is more elegant!

Fairy tales invariably are. :)

L-girl said...

Thank you all. Excellent. I am so lucky to have several teachers with varying perspectives!

L-girl said...

Although I don't give them all the same credibility... ;-)