Montréal, 25 novembre 2000  /  No 72
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          The above saying, attributed to Goethe, encapsulates this latest election very well I think. As we come to the end of this sorry, issue-less and unneeded campaign, many of us are breathing a collective sigh of relief as we realize that we will no longer be subjected to the attempts of the various parties trying to brainwash us into believing whatever they say. We will no longer need to listen to the distortions of the other parties' proposals by the Liberals as they try desperately to cling to office. A blessed relief indeed.
Liberal received wisdom 
          This election campaign was perhaps marked most by the spin applied to the majority of stories by a sympathetic media. We saw increasingly reliance on the fact that most electors are considered to be insufficiently astute or informed to notice what is happening. 
          The Liberal machine has spent most of its time putting out stories that are not necessarily untrue but which a sycophantic media never bothers to dissect and analyse so they become received wisdom. An example of this is the so-called Two-Tier health system alleged by the Liberals to be a major plank in the Canadian Alliance programme. As others have pointed out, we already have a two-tier system. If you have enough money you can get your health problems sorted out elsewhere, usually in the USA. Has anyone ever seen, expected to see or even to hear about a Liberal Cabinet Minister, any politician, or members of their families for that matter, sitting for hours in an overcrowded hospital emergency waiting room? Or lying on a stretcher for days on end in some draughty forgotten hospital corridor? When attacked about this the Liberals become incredulous and indignant and avoid any discussion of the issue, focussing instead on side issues to avoid criticism of their sacrosanct theme. 
          Opponents are sidetracked with name-calling or ridicule, in a perfect example of the « attack the messenger » ploy. Opponents are associated with unpopular groups. Words such as « right-wing », « left-wing », « radicals », « militia », « racists », « religious fanatics », « deviates », and so forth are bandied about as part of the arsenal deployed to cast their opponents in a bad light. This makes others shrink from supporting the object of their name-calling out of fear of acquiring the same label, and so issues do not get dealt with. Motives are questioned, facts are twisted or amplified to imply that the opponent has a hidden agenda or some other hidden bias. The Liberals know all about hidden agendas, since they invariably have their own. Used endlessly throughout this election campaign, this tactic has achieved its major objective of avoiding reasoned discussion of the issues and forced the Canadian Alliance, for one, to stay on the defensive for much of the campaign. 
Canada's liberal century 
           At the beginning of November we saw the introduction of the Liberal's third Red Book of promises. I don't remember what happened to the second one but I do recall that many promises made in the first one have yet to be implemented. Not that one expects them to be from a party that has been in office for most of the last hundred years. The objective of this latest version of Chairman Jean's little book seems to have been designed largely to show him as the visionary leader who is best equipped to lead us into the promised land of the Twenty First Century.  
          So filled with this view of himself is our Great Helmsman, that he has taunted the Canadian Alliance for not mentioning the so-called « new economy ». The book repeats its promise to implement $100 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, a promise made but not implemented – except for the capital gains tax – in the mini-budget cynically introduced mere days before the election. This measure promised to reduce the national debt but using their figures it is likely to take us well into the second century of this millennium before it is zero. That is assuming that the Liberals don't go on a spending spree again and borrow massive amounts of money to fund another of their politically correct « sharing-caring » programmes.  
     « Having few original ideas themselves the Liberals criticize those persons who do in order to draw attention away from their own inadequacies. » 
          Their past record in this area having more than adequately proven the truth of C. Northcote Parkinson's Second Law, that « Expenditure rises to meet income », we should not be too sanguine about their willingness to reduce the national debt. There was mention of doubling « investment » in R&D, code for handing out taxpayers' hard-earned money to otherwise prosperous companies. We were promised high-speed broadband Internet access within five years. At almost the same time Elections Canada was threatening people about not reporting election results on the Internet before the polls closed in the west. As the Liberals seem to be literally sleepwalking to victory I wondered why this party which has been in power so often has managed this seemingly difficult feat. 
I will survive 
          The Canadian Liberal party has been described as the ultimate chameleon party because it is always able to twist its policies (I use the latter term loosely, of course) and to adapt them to changing moods within the country. On many occasions it has ridiculed another party's ideas and then, when elected, has immediately introduced those ideas, even if it knew that the original idea was idiotic. This is the way the party survives, it adjusts constantly to changing moods and invariably eliminates or at least marginalizes its opponents. It did this to the PCs in 1993 over Free Trade and over the years it has adopted most of the NDP's platform, rendering that party anachronistic.  
          The NDP is living in the past, longing for the working man to come to his senses and dreams of transferring money from what it considers the undeserving rich to the undeserving poor. The NDP seems no longer relevant to Canadian society as constituted today, having had so many of its policies implemented by the Liberals. This willingness to shift direction abruptly – this ability to indulge in face-saving pragmatism or, as some might say, self seeking opportunism – was typical of Mackenzie King, and of the parade of Liberal leaders that have followed him. That procession of Prime Ministers, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau were all able to manipulate public opinion, and today's Jean Chrétien is no exception.  
          Insofar as the Liberal party can be said to have any ideology at all, it is a shifting, gracile mixture of business liberalism and that variety known as reform liberalism. Briefly, the former posits a society that protects individualism, competition and equality of opportunity, with a minimal role for the state, the sort of classical liberalism of the 18th century. The latter believes in similar things but crucially, that the state can accomplish most things needed by the population and that it must restrain the laissez faire economic behaviour of the business community. The latter though, being able to supply the huge sums of money for election expenses in return for corporate welfare, has to be handled carefully lest it bite the hand that feeds it so generously.  
Liberal know-how 
          The reason that the Liberals have stayed in power for so much of the 20th century has a great deal to do with its ability to refrain from internal wrangling – at least in public – a condition which the Progressive Conservatives have been unable to avoid. It remains at the helm also by exercising a willingness to change its leadership whenever the opposition looks as though it might succeed in dethroning them. Other factors are: the party's strong support in Quebec (until lately at least), an almost incestuous relationship with the so-called civil service, its free dispensation of patronage to its friends and, because it has been in power so frequently, its ability to control the precise timing of each election.  
          The Canadian Alliance has been obliged to move towards the centre because it found out that the distortions of its views were hurting it in the polls. The Alliance has been made to appear as a crowd of extreme right-wing, fundamentalists and racists and yet their ideas are in fact quite similar to those espoused by the classical liberals of the past. In any other country the Alliance would be considered centrist and by no means as right-wing extremists. 
          In an earlier article I alluded to the eulogy delivered by Pierre Trudeau's son, Justin, at his father's funeral service (see PROMISES, PROMISES, le QL, no 70). Another gem from that speech was the lesson learned by the son not to criticize the man but only the man's ideas. Obviously not a Liberal party principle. Having few original ideas themselves they criticize those persons who do in order to draw attention away from their own inadequacies.  
          Listening to the Great Helmsman under attack for giving money to his friends I recalled something that the Auditor General said in his opening statement at the press conference on October 17. He noted that lots of decisions on the spending of public funds were based on judgement calls, and that these judgements were grounded in the values and ethics of those making the decisions. He said too that the government was increasingly relying on a strong foundation of values and ethics more than detailed rules and procedures to make decisions in the public interest. He opined that despite the criticism in his report he did believe that there was a strong foundation of values and ethics in the federal public service but that foundation should not be taken for granted. He did not specify exactly who's values and ethics he was talking about. Could it have been the values of those who called this election to avoid further discussion of his report?  
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