The summer of our disinterest

Politicians understand, take advantage of our summertime ignorance

James Culleton

It was a damned hot summer throughout most of Canada. In fact, it was the hottest summer in roughly six decades according to Environment Canada. It was the kind of summer in which waves of humidity dull the brain and slow the body; in which, despite one’s best efforts, lethargy tends to set in.

While warm, sunny summers are part of the reason why Winnipeggers remain sane (their likelihood must be why so many people decide to live here during the winter), they also tend to draw public attention away from the political goings-on of the country, specifically with regards to how Members of Parliament spend their summer vacations.

With interest in federal politics at an annual low (because, face it: when it’s 30 degrees outside, attempting to mentally reconcile things like the egregious budgets of the G20 and G8 summits with the fact that a Conservative government should be trying to reduce wasteful spending is prime migraine material), one cannot blame MPs and party leaders for acting and speaking as though only their supporters will ever notice.

Even so, the political summer of 2010 was a strange bastard indeed.

Where to begin in recalling this summer’s litany of dismal deeds is a matter of preference, but suffice it to say that the great census debacle, in which the Liberals proved how unexciting they really are by making the long-form census their rallying cry against the Conservative government, was a high point of political comedy.

While it is nothing new that in minority governments paltry matters can absurdly become infused with an air of false indignation by the opposition parties, the matter of what to do about the census reached truly hilarious levels.

Only in an atmosphere of intensive boredom amongst the electorate would something as trivial as the cost of the mandatory census and the privacy issues it raises have become a central political issue, but much of June was littered with rumblings about its validity by both the government and the opposition.

Meanwhile, the disgusting and shameful travesties of the G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto went off much as the Conservative probably envisioned: waves of overdressed police and security personnel guarding leaders who could have easily talked to each other over a Skype conference call against a pitifully low number of protesters.

The political summer of 2010 was a strange bastard indeed

Furthermore, despite the highly discussed torched police car, the stories and scenes that have emerged (especially from Toronto) show that the heavy and disproportionate police presence was unnecessary and, instead, left a trail of police brutality and unlawfulness that would have been major news in any properly functioning democracy. So, too, would the government be held accountable for its wasteful spending on the events, which at over $1 billion was far more than other countries have spent on G8 and 20 summits. Alas, Canadians are not so lucky.

In a similar vein, near the end of August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his annual pilgrimage to his favourite political plaything – the Arctic – in order to follow his well-worn path of talking about “Arctic sovereignty” without his government doing anything substantial about it. A case in point is the fact that the shiny new icebreakers promised in 2007 to administer Arctic waters have now been reduced to a planned fleet of six patrol boats and one larger ship. Tellingly, the deepwater seaport announced at the beginning of Harper’s Arctic mania also seems to have been shelved.

The evidence of political boredom at the federal level goes beyond these three events, and certainly exceeds the limit of this article. And that boredom is by no means limited to the Conservative government; Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s cross-country bus tour failed to capture imaginations the way he and his party hoped it would and it might be time for Liberal brass to consider shaking things up in Ottawa in order to receive legitimate consideration as a political party again.

But as these three examples illustrate, Canadians do not have much to look forward to in terms of political vision when parliament resumes again this fall.

Andrew Tod is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2010)

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