READY, SET, GO!
Mimi Findlay is a 41-year-old caterer in Mahone Bay, N.S., who usually supports the New Democratic Party but is undecided on how to vote in the coming federal election. Kelly Taillon is a 34-year-old public relations consultant in Vancouver who in the past has voted for the Progressive Conservatives, but is also now undecided. The two are separated by geography and ideology, but they share strikingly similar feelings of apathy and uncertainty about the election. “There are probably millions like me,” says Findlay, “who feel that it doesn’t matter how politicians contort themselves or how many free balloons they give away. Our lives go on and we don’t pay any attention.” Taillon is even blunter: “I don’t like any politician veiy much. And I certainly won’t pay attention to any of them until about two weeks before the vote.”
With a federal election imminent, the voters are turned off politics—and the major party leaders
If the pundits are correct, this
Campbell in Vancouver last month: a belief that promises are worthless
week’s unofficial close of summer will coincide with the start of more than six weeks of federal campaigning, culminating in an Oct. 25 election. But while the country’s political leaders seem impatient to get on with the fight, the same cannot be said for many of its voters. After nine years of Conservative rule, the public appetite for change is considerable— yet poll after poll shows that most Canadians are, at best, uncertain about the alternatives. If the job of leader is to lay out a vision for the country and inspire hope for its future, every one of the men and women who are currently vying for the job of prime minister has so far failed the test.
The irony is that, at a time when discontent with politicians is at an all-time high, the number of parties continues to multiply. The standings in the Commons last week were Conservatives, 153; Liberals, 79; New Democrats, 43; Bloc Québécois, eight; Reform, one; Independent, three; and eight seats vacant. Those figures alone underscore the fractious nature of federal politics in the 1990s: at the time of the last election, in 1988, the Bloc Québécois did not exist and Reform was little more than a western protest movement, with only 72 candidates. This time, the field will include businessman Mel Hurtig’s National party and the strange-but-true Natural Law Party, whose avowed goal is “Heaven on Earth.” If all of the parties that have announced plans to run candidates do so, one Elections Canada official said last week, the total is likely to eclipse the 1988 record of 23.
Whatever else it may signify, the explosion in the number of new parties clearly reflects a growing sense of alienation towards the traditional elites. On the eve of the expected election call, there was a depressing sense that none of the major parties have heeded the widespread desire for change. After the October, 1992, referendum, the Tories, the Liberals and the New Democrats acknowledged that they were stunned by the defeat of § the constitutional proposal they had all ensi dorsed—and all vowed to learn from the expels rience. And in some respects, at least, the parâ ties have altered their campaign plans to take account of the public mood (page 22). But if recent events are any indication, those changes are almost entirely of style rather than substance.
Unwillingness to budge from traditional methods of vote-getting has been most obvious with the two likely contenders for power: the Conservatives and the Liberals. Perhaps because the Tories are in power, their tactics are the most predictable. In tried-and-true fashion, last week they presaged the start of a campaign by announcing an avalanche of public works projects in Montreal—where Liberal support in the province is at its strongest. Transport Minister Jean Corbeil, the minister responsible for the Montreal area, detailed a $21-million project to build two viaducts east of the city. Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Jean Charest announced a $17-million federal contribution to rebuild a bridge to the city.
Unfortunately, the events of the past summer do nothing to dispel the impression that a politician’s promises are as dependable as a loophole-ridden consumer warranty. The most obvious offender is Prime Minister Kim Campbell. To defenders, her rapid shifts on a series of major issues are proof, as one aide says, that she “listens to people and is not hidebound in her positions.” To others, her flip-flops demonstrate that none of her commitments—no matter how passionately made—should be regarded as final. As thenjustice minister in January, she defended a government decision to end a federal program that provided funding for court challenges under the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms. Last week, Campbell reinstated the program. As a candidate for the Tory leadership, she said that she would consider the idea of allowing provinces, for experimental purposes, to impose user fees on health-care services. As Prime Minister, she has said that she would do everything to block user fees—although at various times, and in various ways, she has qualified her remarks. During the leadership race, she also said that she would make public, before the election, a detailed plan to eliminate the federal deficit over five years. Now that she is Prime Minister, she says that she will do so only if re-elected.
Campbell’s most publicized and controversial flip-flop, however, concerned the govern-
Chrétien in Ottawa last week: impossible or unwise
ment’s planned $5.8-billion purchase of 50 new military helicopters. While justice minister last year, she argued against the plan in cabinet meetings. After becoming defence minister last January, she publicly defended the government’s claim that it needed all 50 aircraft, and insisted she would not scale back the purchase. Last week, she cut the number to 43 (page 25).
Some of the commitments made by Campbell’s principal rival, meanwhile, appear either impossible or unwise to carry out. Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien has said that he would instruct Bank of Canada governor John Crow to de-emphasize the fight against inflation in favor of lower interest rates and, in theory at least, stronger economic growth.
But the bank governor traditionally makes decisions independently from the government—and Crow has said that he would resign if that were changed. But before it took such action, a Liberal government would first have to consider the possible consequences on international money markets. By most accounts, the governor’s departure would seriously erode international confidence in the Canadian dollar. Result: the Bank of Canada might actually have to increase interest rates rather than allow them to fall. By week’s end, Chrétien seemed to be softening his initial remarks.
Chrétien has also said that he would seek to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico in order to negotiate a better deal. But that appears to be more of a wish than a commitment: even fellow
Liberals acknowledge that the likelihood of success is minimal.
Like Campbell, Chrétien has declined to elaborate on one of his most important policies until after he is elected. He has vowed to eliminate the Goods and Services Tax, but will not say what he would put in its place. Either the Liberals are prepared to see the federal deficit rise by another $15 billion— roughly the amount raised by the tax in the last fiscal year—or they are precommitments pared to introduce one or more new taxes, the details of which they will not disclose before voting day.
In fact, neither the Tories nor the Liberals have given Canadians a clear sense of what they stand for and against. The Liberals insist that they will make public most of the key elements of their platform during the campaign. Campbell, for her part, spent the summer crisscrossing the country at public expense, but has remained reluctant throughout to discuss her policies except in the most superficial terms. She has not held a news conference since she became Prime Minister on June 25. Even many Tory MPs profess ignorance of her government’s positions—in part because Campbell has met her caucus only twice since becoming leader.
Equally, Campbell has spent relatively lit-
tle time with members of her own cabinet— other than Finance Minister Gilles Loiselle, a close confidant, and Justice Minister Pierre Blais, the party’s campaign co-chairman. Despite her public assertion that Charest— who finished a close second in the leadership race—would play a key role in policy development, she seldom calls on him for such advice. Private relations between the two are no better than cordial.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the least popular of the three traditional parties, the NDP, has been the clearest and most unequivocal in laying out its position on major policy issues. Among other things, the party has said that it would abrogate both NAFTA
and the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, proposed a 15-per-cent cut in funding and staffing for the armed forces and offered a detailed—though controversial—five-year plan to create full employment. Leader Audrey McLaughlin insists that the public’s disenchantment with politicians is only skindeep. “I am not so convinced as some people are that voters are so fed up,” she says.
But the New Democrats’ standing in public opinion polls is now so low that some members worry it will finish with fewer than the 12 seats it needs to be formally recognized in the Commons. To complicate matters, the party’s traditional standing as a major national force effectively forces it to campaign as though it had a realistic chance of forming the next government. It is a strategy that will likely serve the NDP poorly against such newer rivals as the Bloc Québécois and the Reform party—which can concentrate their efforts in particular areas where they have strength.
ISSUES CONSERVATIVES LIBERALS
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Prime Minister Kim Campbell has vowed to erase, over five years, the federal government’s annual budget deficit (projected to be $32.6 billion in a $159.5-billion budget this year). But she has not said how she would do that, beyond promising not to raise taxes.
Increased trade and low inflation are the keys to creating jobs, the Tories say. The party says that it will not launch any major new job-creation programs because they would drive up the deficit and erode business confidence. In addition, the Tories have tightened eligibility rules for unemployment insurance.
Campbell has talked about eliminating medicare coverage for medically unnecessary services, but has not said what that would include. The Tories add that some social programs will have to be cut, possibly including Old Age Security benefits for high-income seniors. In 1984 and 1988, the party promised a national day care program, but it has since scrapped that plan.
The Tories recently passed amendments to the Young Offenders Act so that youths charged with murder can be tried in adult courts. Campbell has also called for tougher sentences for violent young offenders. Recently, the government passed laws to protect women from men who follow and threaten them, and to make possession of child pornography an offence punishable by five years in prison.
H Campbell says that she would prevent former MPS from collecting pensions until they turn 55, allow more free votes in the House of Commons and require lobbyists to disclose more information about their activities.
The Liberals promise to reduce the deficit gradually to about three per cent of Gross Domestic Product, from 5.2 per cent now. But they are vague on the means. They also vow to eliminate the GST, but have not said how they would compensate for the net loss in revenue— roughly $15 billion a year.
The Liberals say that they will create jobs by: redirecting $100 million in existing spending over four years to a high-tech venture-capital fund; encouraging banks to lend more money to small businesses; and launching a $6-million public works program to improve roads and other public facilities, with costs shared evenly by Ottawa and provincial and municipal governments
Chrétien says that he is committed to maintainin¡ medicare in its present form across Canada, and will fight any move to introduce user fees. The party says that expanding the number of subsidized day care spaces is a priority, but has not unveiled any firm plans.
Among Chrétien’s proposals: tighter gun-control laws; more funding for women’s shelters; minimum five-year prison sentences for people convicted of living off child prostitution; and stricter controls on parole for high-risk offenders. The Liberals also say that they would double the maximum sentence for youths convicted of first-degree murder to 10 years.
Along with more free votes for MPS, the Liberals say that they favor much tougher controls on lobbyists, including disclosure of both paid and voluntary work that lobbyists do for political parties. The party says that the parliamentary pension plan needs to be brought into line with private-sector pension schemes.
One sign of the widespread frustration with established parties is that each has spawned one or more spinoff movements composed largely of disaffected former supporters. The memberships rolls of Reform and the Bloc Québécois include large numbers of former Tories, while many members of Hurtig’s National party once belonged to the Liberals and the NDP. At the same time, Chrétien’s decision to appoint some candidates over the heads of local riding association members may result in as many as a dozen onetime Liberal hopefuls running as independents. In Quebec’s Hull/Aylmer rid-
ing, where former senior federal bureaucrat Marcel Massé is Chrétien’s handpicked candidate, the Bloc Québécois, Tory and independent candidates are all former Liberals.
At a time when the need for open public debate is acute, there is a danger that the sheer number of competing voices will render detailed discussions of substantive issues almost impossible. Over the course of a 47day campaign, voters may find the cacophony of voices more confusing than illuminating. (On Saturday, the major parties and TV networks reached agreement for English and French debates in early October, with Campbell, Chrétien, McLaughlin and Bouchard taking part in both sessions. Manning, who does not speak French fluently, will participate fully in the English debate
but appear only briefly, with simultaneous translation, in the French session.)
In one form or another, the country’s governing party has been campaigning for more than six months, since Mulroney’s resignation announcement on Feb. 24. Even as it begins, many voters are doubtless looking forward to the campaign’s end. Tom between anger and apathy, they must decide whether to forgive their politicians or simply forget about them. In the meantime, the most successful politicians will probably be those who show themselves prepared to talk less, listen more and only make promises they know they can keep.
with E. KAYE FULTON and NANCY WOOD in Ottawa
DP Leader Audrey McLaughlin says that the way > reduce the deficit is to ensure that more people re working and paying taxes. The party says that would phase out the GST while imposing a linimum 14-per-cent corporate tax and raising ixes on those earning over $100,000. The NDP stimates that the new taxes would generate 1 billion annually.
One of the centrepieces of Reform Leader Preston Manning’s campaign is his promise to eliminate the deficit in three years, with spending cuts of $19 billion and increased revenues of $16 billion. Among the cuts: eliminating all direct subsidies to business ($3.1 billion this year), reducing foreign aid by $700 million from $2.7 billion and targeting Old Age Security benefits towards low-income earners.
The Bloc advocates a reduction in federal spending of about $5 billion annually. Another $5 billion a year would be transferred from existing programs to job-creation programs. The Bloc maintains that at least $6 billion could be trimmed from government spending without touching social programs.
cLaughlin says that her party’s promises— eluding vows to scrap the GST and create more ay care spaces—would generate 300,000 jobs rar five years. The party also proposes a 10-billion investment fund, which it says would eate 200,000 jobs over five years. The NDP edges to tear up the Canada-U.S. Free Trade >reement, which it says has cost Canada jobs.
The party maintains that high deficits and taxes are silent killers of jobs. Reduce those burdens, Manning says, and the private sector will create more employment. The party would not spend public money on job-creation.
Bloc Leader Lucien Bouchard says that he will continue to demand increased federal funding for job-creation programs in the province. The Bloc would also seek complete control of the unemployment insurance program in Quebec.
ke the Liberals, New Democrats pledge to iaintain medicare in its present form. The NDP so promises to double the number of day care aaces to 600,000 and create 47,100 child care bs. According to the party, such a program could ? financed with $1.5 billion annually from ttawa, $1.5 billion from the provinces and $750 ¡Ilion from parents.
Manning says that his party would let the provinces decide how to administer medicareincluding the right to charge user fees. Reform would also cut about $5 billion over three years from the unemployment insurance program. Transfer payments to the provinces would be cut by about $1.5 billion over three years. They do not advocate additional funding for day care.
The Bloc says that it opposes medicare user fees and supports universality—but says that provinces, not Ottawa, should control social programs. As well, the party wants Ottawa to hand over complete control of education, manpower and training, while continuing to provide funding.
he NDP says that it would attack what it sees as íe root causes of crime—including poverty, nemployment and the physical and sexual abuse f children. It also advocates the publication of ames of sexual offenders who are released on aróle. It says that it would establish a rime-prevention council to work with provinces nd municipalities.
Manning says that it is time to emphasize victims’ rights rather than those of criminals. He wants to eliminate the automatic right to parole for repeat offenders, ensure that noncitizens, other than refugees, who are convicted of indictable offences face deportation, and ensure that 14and 15-year-olds who are charged with repeated serious offences are tried in adult court.
No policies announced yet.
McLaughlin was the first party leader to call for an mpartial review of IMPS’ pensions. The NDP says hat it would encourage civil servants to point out raste in their departments by passing legislation o protect so-called whistle-blowers. The party also avors abolishing the Senate.
The party supports more free votes for IMPS, more referendums on major national issues and the right to recall unpopular IMPS. Reform says that IMPS should not be allowed to collect pensions until age 60. Manning is a longtime supporter of a Triple-E (elected, effective and equal) Senate.
The Bloc’s primary goal is Quebec independence. In the meantime, it favors abolishing the Senate.