Monthly Archives: May 2004

It’s more fun to run for office than to run the country

One curiosity about this election is that none of the parties seems much interested in governing. They are fixated on winning power. Like a compulsive seducer obsessed with getting the lady into bed but unwilling to take out the trash, they are fascinated with becoming the government but, as far as one can tell, literally uninterested in being it.

There’s no end of wine and roses about what they’ll do in power. But they’re frustratingly vague on how. I’m especially distressed by the lack of frank discussion of past failures. Never mind their own parties'; they don’t even produce a serious analysis of what went wrong with their adversaries’ attempts to govern.

It’s not as if they don’t know things have gone wrong. Consider this line from Stephen Harper on Paul Martin: “For 10 years, he chose his priorities. First they were cuts and downloading, then they were waste and scandal, then they were dithering and delay. Health care wasn’t his priority of two months ago. How do we know it’ll be his priority two months from now?” Continue reading

Reclaim politics from the cynics

Evidently we’re meant to be excited about this election. The Citizen’s Susan Riley just confessed, or boasted, that “Frankly, I find this game more exciting than playoff hockey” as she set off to do a campaign blog updated several times a day on exactly what the candidates zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Look, I don’t like cynicism, but I am a realist.

I don’t like cynicism because it’s the cheap way out. I don’t sympathize with the character in Frank Capra’s 1941 film Meet John Doe who says “I don’t read no papers and I don’t listen to radios either. I know the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber, and I don’t have to read it!” It’s one of those repellent little logical circles that, by rejecting all potential evidence as necessarily unhelpful, never weighs any potential evidence.

I also oppose cynicism in politics because when people expect nothing from government they tend to receive it in abundance. I don’t want us to give up. I want us to take our politics back. The first step is to take back the underlying philosophy, to understand that we weren’t always governed this way, so we don’t have to be in future. I also very much liked the line from a caller to Thinking Aloud (which my wife and I host on CFRA) that “If you can’t pay anything else, then at least pay attention.” Continue reading

Canada’s mixed message: Vote, but don’t talk about it

There’s an election coming up. How grand.

I share P.J. O’Rourke’s view, in the April Atlantic Monthly, that “I’m fascinated by political enthusiasm. To me, selecting my democratic representative is a lugubrious duty, more like making a will than cheering the Bruins.” But when he added that he finds enthusiasm “a slightly creepy word, with its Greek root meaning ‘the fact of being possessed by a God’,” I thought count your blessings. I’m about to be possessed by Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

I’m not sure how it happened. The chief electoral officer once had the humble if important duty of ensuring the smooth administrative functioning of our electoral system including, say, the new voters’ list. But Mr. Kingsley somehow acquired much larger fish to fry. (And a bigger pan; his administrative budget, $3.5 million in 1999, hit $17.9 million by 2003.) Sunday’s Citizen said as soon as the writ is dropped, Mr. Kingsley will hold a press conference to urge us all to vote. He has often voiced “very serious concerns” about low turnout because, he told a Carleton University symposium last year, “To give true meaning to democracy, the engagement of all citizens is required.” (All?) His particular worry is young people; in 2000, just over 61 per cent of eligible voters turned out, but only 25.4 per cent of those 18 to 24. Continue reading

Let’s hear it for humanity

Waaak waaak waaak. I often make that noise when I realize how badly I just parked. But soon my car will do it for me. And “Cock-a-doodle-dooooo!” or possibly “Waaaaaaah!” if my engine catches fire. True, for now I still must clap manually at the news that British psychologist Denis McKeown is working on a whole new series of alarm sounds for cars. But let’s hear it for humane engineering, and devices designed as if intended for human users.

Monday’s Citizen says Mr. McKeown got so fed up with “the meaningless beeps and buzzes that serve as alarms in cars” that he set out to test a whole range of alternatives, from roosters to ocean waves to a crying baby.

We certainly need more sounds; the problem of multiple alarms that could be anything from an unfastened seatbelt to a door that’s ajar to imminent hull breach was already a cliché by 1977’s Kentucky Fried Movie, and it will only get worse as technology gives us navigation aids, radar to help us avoid collisions and a multitude of other sensory and warning devices. But there’s more. Continue reading

‘What If’ is a useful way to know ‘what now’

What if Hitler had won the Second World War? What if Einstein had been run over as a child? What if Al Gore had won the presidency? What if the Gunpowder Plot had worked? What sort of mess would we be in today?

Speculating about the “What if’s” of history is denounced in some quarters as a silly parlour game. Marxists in particular disapprove of it which, notes historian and editor Andrew Roberts in What Might Have Been, is one good reason for taking the opposite view.

Here’s another. Any judgment about current events, from rising gas prices to turmoil in the Middle East, contains an implicit judgment about the lessons of history. We can’t compare this present with some other present, but we have to compare it with something to separate the essential from the trivial. For instance, are there many examples of big successful economic conspiracies in market economies in the past? Continue reading