GDS Outbreak In Ottawa


We’re in the weeds now, people.

Nearly a decade on from Harper’s inaugural victory, Governing Derangement Syndrome appears to finally be setting in.  Only two years after their national breakthrough, meanwhile, the New Democrats have come down with a bad case of the Yips.  And oh, the lowly Liberals, they’ve had their rose-tinted glasses surgically attached.

The Conservatives’ case of GDS is pretty understandable.  Upon vaulting from the opposition benches to the majority side, the lofty idealism that buoys belief and suspends cynicism must eventually give way to hard-nose realism.  Harper’s infamous incrementalism is prime example.  Once a coalition of populist prairie farmers, united in shotgun marriage with the Bay Street financial elite, the Conservatives quickly became the soccer mom government.

And the years were good to the Conservatives.  While those Liberals waited in the wings for Harper’s eventual implosion that would catapult the Natural Governing Party back to their natural throne, the Conservatives governed.  They endeared rural and suburban voters, and even made inroads into urban nuclear families.  The high-water mark came in 2011, when the Liberals lost the plot entirely and seemingly forgot that voters cared about the economy.  Oops.  So the Conservatives picked up the slack and won their coveted majority.

But by then, early onset GDS had already begun setting in.  It’d been five years — yet the Senate sat there, mocking them; previous efforts to kill the long-gun registry appeared designed to fail; the debt was growing, as those socialists in the NDP pushed Jim Flaherty into deficit spending that was downright (shudder) Keynesian.  And, for those of a more socially conservative flavour: gays were getting married left and right, abortion remained unrestricted, and videogames were still too goshdarn violent.

Majority government was marketed as a the cure for those ills.  So, fine, they gave it another go.  Some things improved.  Some did not.

Social conservatives are finally realizing that their little boy is all grown up, and that Stephen Harper was never the family values crusader that they once believed him to be.  Deficit hawks have some solace, but remain weary of this government’s laissez-faire monetary policy.  Dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives can remain optimistic about the future of their party, but grumble about the increasingly stale taste of Harper’s crew.

Things are going well for the government, of course, but things are going less well than when the veneer was still fresh.  And convincing voters that things are good, just less good than before, is a tough sell.

So cracks appear.  The REAL Women of Canada finally broke with this government and freelanced some deranged diatribe on this government’s inappropriate defence of human rights abroad.  Certain long-time backbenchers slung their bindle over their shoulder and walked the tracks, in search of employment in the private sector.  One iconoclastic libertarian-minded MP left the caucus to sit as independent, while his cohorts still in the party have been raising hell over issues of conscience and party control.  Joy Smith is staking a place on where she thinks sex work regulation should land, to hell if the government hasn’t formed its own position yet.

Cheryl Gallant, meanwhile, is leading a fundraising campaign against the implementation of a ban on incandescent lightbulbs, in favour of the more environmentally-friendly compact florescents.  Her head-scratchingly nostalgic campaign to save the Edison-styled lightbulb is made muddled by the fact that her own government introduced the policy.

GDS is a pretty common affliction for longtime governments.

The Chretien Liberals avoided falling prey to the degenerative illness by being completely insane from the get-go, engaging in bipolar governance that ranged from the steadfastly socially conservative, to the trailblazing civil-rights-loving progressive; from slush-funding every two-bit infrastructure project that came their way, to being the spendthriftiest program-slashing fiscal conservative Reaganite wet dream; from the secretive bunker mentality, to the open government let-the-sunshine-in champions of transparency.

The turn-of-the-millennium Liberals didn’t govern consistently enough to let themselves fall victim to the disease.

Virtually every government before them did eventually burn out from within, before they flamed out in the polls.

And whenever that happens, there is always another party sitting on the bench, waiting to take over.

Now, surprisingly, it’s the New Democrats.  The social democrats who have stripped from themselves any ink of policy that they could could fail to endear them to the masses.  In the process, they’ve left themselves only with skin and bones — a party entirely unpalatable to the bread-and-butter voter, as they seemingly stand for very little at all.  The hope, of course, is to court those voters who flock from the governing Conservatives as things go steadily downhill, sweetening them to idea that small-town populism lives on in Tom Mulcair’s bearded husk.

It’s not, thus far, working.

And then there’s the Liberals.

The Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland Liberals who have seemingly divested themselves of all the party’s past misdeeds, cloaking themselves in sunny altruism.

Take Freeland’s column(?) in Politico from this week.

While deciphering Freeland’s column is a little like reading entrails or singing a Cyrillic dictionary, the point she appears to be making is that snark and its sister smarm are tools of the cynics, designed to point fault, and after years of employing them as her weapons, Freeland is now on team optimism.  There are some mixed Bambi metaphors in there.

The long and short of it: we think politicians suck.

“But if you stop to think about it, you’ll see that this conventional view is tragic.  Our problem isn’t voter ignorance or voter apathy—it’s voter contempt.  Contempt is snark’s fraternal twin, and it is paralyzing our electoral democracy.”

Freeland’s solution is to end the charade of delusional electoral politics and to do away with partisan grandstanding in favour of real, grassroots voter engagement that comes about by staking out specific policy commitments buttressed by addressing and explaining actual, complicated problems with legitimately sussed out policy that always commits to being right, even if it’s unpopular.

Ha ha ha no, not really.

Freeland’s conclusion is this:

“Crucially, though, [Nelson] Mandela also understood that snark was the right approach for leading a revolution, but not for leading a government.  He fought the South African regime, but after bringing it down, he invited his jailer to his inauguration and his defeated opponents into his cabinet.  It was his ability to pivot, to practice the smarmy art of reconciliation, that made him one of the great leaders of our time.  In 2014, let’s honor Mandela, by being snarky when we want to tear something down, but remembering that only smarm can create what comes next.”

Putting aside that Freeland’s questionable understanding of Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom, and her American spelling of ‘honor’ (treasonous, in my humble opinion) that’s not much of a conclusion at all.

That’s the new, third-place, Liberal Party.  And it’s not unlike Jack Layton’s old, third place, New Democratic Party.

Stand for everything, and nothing at all.

The evident solution, here, would be to fill the sucking vacuum that is currently present in our political landscape — we need a fourth party big enough to assert themselves in this otherwise contrived political landscape.

A political party that can eloquently express shortcomings of this conservative government on both policy and economic fronts, but that can do so without the endless hand-wringing caveats of the New Democrats, and without the endlessly vacant moralizing of the Liberals.  A party that is willing to take policy standpoints that reflect evidence, not just branding about long-dead horses like “evidence-based policy” like a toddler with its favourite toy.

The closest thing we have right now is probably the Green Party, with it’s measly two members.  But given its slew of questionable policy planks — WiFi is bad, Eastern medicine will save us all, etc — they are perhaps not best suited for the job.

The Bloc Québécois occasionally filled this role during their tenure as a real political entity, but it was often lost in a sea of nationalistic rhetoric.

So, then, who?


Other columns by Justin Ling

Harper and the liberal journalists of Sparks Street

It’s time for the Toronto Star to get back to journalism

Green With Fundraising Envy

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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