Column

Our five Monty Python political leaders

Barbara Amiel June 16 1997
Column

Our five Monty Python political leaders

Barbara Amiel June 16 1997

Our five Monty Python political leaders

Column

Barbara Amiel

We may have five official political parties now, but as far as I can see, the June 2 election changed only one thing: it finally turned into an event where the personalities of the leaders were secondary. This was neither a popularity contest nor a beauty contest. Only policy differences mattered. The result was that Canadians woke up to find five implausible political leaders at the national level, a couple of effective provincial leaders in Ontario and Alberta and only one truly effective leader in Quebec—Lucien Bouchard, the head of a neo-fascist party. Cold comfort.

Our national lineup is fodder for Monty Python. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is a pleasant man, pretty much incoherent in both founding languages, but leading a government that has achieved some credibility with centrist policies. On the right, our own Mr.

Peepers, Preston Manning, is straight off Mr.

Spock’s airship. Still, his economic platform of incentive-based tax and fiscal policies, plus a tough stand on Quebec won him the West.

Jean Charest is, generously speaking, a political fraud with a severe case of cramp from keeping his finger stuck up to see which way the breezes blow. Alexa McDonough has been memorably described by Mordecai Richler as the reason he avoided PTA meetings on the grounds she would be the sort of person present demanding lower urinals for vertically challenged boys.

If PQ members want to scream at my description “neo-fascist” let them. Any party that supports legislation that can fine a man $7,000 for putting out a blackboard in Quebec with the words ‘Today’s special/Specialité du jour” on it, has a nasty case of totalitarian impulse. Of course, that legislation was endorsed by Quebec’s Liberals and is an illustration of a further point, namely, that French culture itself is not intrinsically as democratic as culture based on British traditions. If the separatists ever get their state, it will be a nasty, bureaucratic, statist and intolerant place.

Meanwhile, the five parties about to take their seats in Ottawa simply represent what has been the reality of Canada for the past 50 years. Ever since 1944, when the Progressive Party merged with the Conservatives to form the improbable Progressive Conservatives, we have had a series of Red Tory leaders who have not been people of the right. When the PCs squeezed out the right-wing, young, neoconservatives into the arms of Reform, they committed hari-kari. Now, the natural thing to do would be for the PCs and the NDP to join up together.

At least half of the PC vote this election really belonged, ideologically, to the NDP. Most of the rest of the PC vote, which was largely in Quebec, simply belonged to the anti-separatist movement. As for the Bloc and Reform, they represent two sides of Canadian real-

On the right, our own Mr. Peepers, Preston Manning, is straight off Mr. Spock’s airship. Jean Charest is a pohtical fraud.

ity—our distinct societies. For Preston Manning to deny that Quebec is a distinct society leads to the inescapable conclusion that he wants Quebec to secede in order for him to gain power in a totally Anglo Canada. But Reform represents Western Canada, which in its own way is just as distinct as Quebec. Bouchard leads a separatist party, while Manning is leading a secret expulsionist party.

Still, Reform’s economic policies are, in my view, the only way to retain and attract bright, clever people to Canada, and Reform has the added attraction of being the only political party that doesn’t go along with the cant of our times, such as the lunatic mutterings about our “victim” society. But at the same time, Reform cannot get rid of the horse its enemies ride because that horse is real—namely that it is a party representing the aims and aspirations of a geographical region of Canada.

Ontario, feeling it is the centre of Canada and reaping the benefits of that illusion, tries to compromise, and so it votes for the centrist Liberals. This is the heartland where voters feel pacific and content with the status quo muddle. Meanwhile, Canada remains constitutionally paralyzed. Jean Chrétien once said that the constitutional problem had been with him as long as he could remember and would probably be around after he left. I thought he showed a shrewd understanding of our nation in that offhand remark. The essence of Canada is in its squabbling between constituent elements. But the logjam with Quebec has to be broken and, as in any addiction, tough love is the only solution.

Until the repugnant language legislation and harassment of non-French Canadians ends, Ottawa should cease all equalization payments to Quebec. It is possible that so long as Quebec has a separatist party and the rest of Canada says yes, it is tickity-boo to put Canadian nationhood up for a vote every few years, that one day Quebec may just vote for independence. In that event, the federal government should hold its own referendum in Quebec. Those Quebecers who wish to stay in Canada should remain and with them part of Quebec. If Canada is divisible, so is Quebec. Let Quebec then be presented with the bill for its independence, and the country can then get on with a no-fault divorce and a split of the matrimonial property.

No doubt some genuine nationalists think the price of independence is worth it. Fair enough. But there seems to be a stronger element that really wants sovereignty-association in which it uses Canadian currency, defence forces, access to jobs and receives equalization payments while maintaining independence. That’s a nifty name for a free lunch.

So there we are. This past election showed us Canadian society as it has been for the past half-century. The spoils, fault lines and general propositions are clearly revealed. We have only to decide now if we have the guts, finally, to say the Empire has no clothes.