Ashley MacIsaac fiddles while the Liberal party spurns

Apparently Ashley MacIsaac plans to seek the Liberal leadership. Well fiddle dee dee. Mr. MacIsaac, for those of you who live somewhere nice, is the world-class fiddler who once told an interviewer he and his partner ... no, I can’t say it. Why is so much of the news unfit to describe in a family paper these days? He also gave this concert where he ... no, I can’t describe that either. Whereas on another occasion his kilt ... nope, even worse. He later said he was joking about one and another was an accident whereas ...

Look, I don’t know if it’s all a marketing ploy or if he really is a barbarian without the vigour. The point is, he’s less likely to be the next Liberal leader than I am. That party does much that offends me but not of this sort. So why the coverage?

Of the many newsworthy things in this world, mighty few concern the Liberal leadership. Remember all the hype about Paul Martin? To what ultimate end were those oceans of ink expended, save to prove that a great deal is, as the preacher said, vanity? And who cares whether Alex Munter currently holds a slender unreliable lead over Bob Chiarelli in an election for mayor to be held in November? It’s not as if we lacked important things to discuss on both subjects, like runaway spending at all levels of government, the prospects for a realistic foreign policy and Canada’s self-satisfied attempt to be on the cutting edge of the collapse of western civilization. What, pray, do any of these candidates understand about these problems and plan to do about them?

Take spending. I know I harp on it but good heavens, in the past five years federal program spending went from $115.5 billion to $162.7 billion. And not even on purpose; as recently as 2002 the federal government expected $146.6 billion in program spending in 2004-05 so they overshot by $16.1 billion. Why? How? What can we do about it? So far the feds have been saved by soaring revenues, but at the expense of citizens’ after-tax incomes being stagnant for the past 15 years, which might be bad for the economy and surely calls into question whether keeping the government in the style to which it has become accustomed is worth it.

Provincially, as Terence Corcoran just noted, in Alberta revenue is expected to grow by 49 per cent from 2001-02 to 2006-07; in B.C. almost 30 per cent and in Manitoba 26 per cent. In Ontario it’s expected to be up by almost 30 per cent and they still can’t balance the budget or save health care. We have significant structural spending problems not clarified by misrepresenting Ralph Klein as an evil slasher or wondering when he’ll finally go away.

To be sure, politics is easy to cover. He said she said is quick, colourful and doesn’t place heavy intellectual demands on writers or readers. Who doesn’t understand a venomous spat? But who, if pressed, can’t also grasp the implications of almost one third of Canadian doctors being 55 or older? Now there’s something worth a few gallons of ink.

And another thing: We may, or may not, have an early election after the opposition parties do, or do not, vote down the Tory Throne Speech. I don’t personally know and I’m not a big fan of “time will tell” punditry. Although in this case it might. But I do think the opposition parties should vote the Tories down for the same reason I wanted the Tories to vote the Liberals down last spring: You shouldn’t want your partisan and philosophical adversaries to be in charge. How hard is that to understand?

Admittedly, voters are making things tricky by returning hung parliaments. But that’s their problem. The problem for the Liberals, Bloc and NDP is not how to seem appallingly cunning. It’s to ask first, “Are we social democrats?” (Answer: Yes.) Next question, “Are the Tories?” (Answer: Tricky, but if you think not, as you seemed to in the last election, what business have you supporting their government?) Stick to your principles. If you can remember where you stashed them. Gentle prodding by the Fourth Estate might be in order on that point.

If the opposition parties vote their consciences we will have an election long before Mr. MacIsaac doesn’t win the leadership, which makes it even less worth discussing. But speaking of if, here’s something Liberal-leadership-related that is. Interim Liberal leader Bill Graham just told the press if Stephen Harper doesn’t modify his Throne Speech to incorporate the Liberal program, his party will vote against it. If. Then he was asked whether if so he would lead his party in the next election and he dismissed it as “hypothetical”.

It reminds me of Chesterton (you knew it was coming, didn’t you) who said in 1915 that: “The recent mistakes of our rulers have been mainly excusable; it is their defences that are indefensible.” Why do we let politicians get away with such gooblahoy? Elementary standards of clarity and consistency in public office are not a topic beyond our comprehension and would assist us mightily in coming to grips with our problems. Yet they seem to exert little attraction in the voting booth.

So another thing worth discussing is why we elect the people we do. Even though it conspicuously doesn’t include Ashley MacIsaac.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson