During election season, the zombies come out

With less than a week to go I’m wracking my brains for something constructive to say about this wretched zombie of an Ontario election. A dry, choking sound from within the voting booth doesn’t seem to qualify.

It remains tempting for several reasons. Let’s start with Dalton McGuinty and get it over with. My colleague Randall Denley just underlined his “proven record of mendacity.” (As Captain Barbossa might say, “means: he lies a lot”.) Plus Mr. McGuinty actually rewarded George Smitherman’s smugly obtuse belligerence as health minister by making him deputy premier. Re-elect that bunch and you’ll deserve what you get. Unfortunately, I’ll get it too.

Then there’s John Tory. We did not need another demonstration that a sophisticatedly amorphous Red Tory approach is as futile in political as in policy terms. We got one anyway. Then he crumpled on his only principle-like position. Thanks for coming out. Now go away.

As for Howard Hampton, is he still campaigning? I cannot understand how the NDP could achieve so little traction against such off-putting adversaries. But Mr. Hampton found a way. The last straw was his pledge to subsidize any municipal transit system that freezes fares for two years. The NDP poses as a “progressive” party keen to sweep away obsolete institutions, and our system of municipal funding really is obsolete. But if that’s their idea of vision, I’ll pass. It sounds too much like a meddlesome quick fix.

Faced with this dismal slate, I say in the short run, if there’s a fringe party running in your riding, please vote for it. Signal willingness to participate coupled with contempt for your main options.

I also say please vote because of the wretched electoral reform referendum. For reasons I discussed in April (see my “Flashback Column” at www.thejohnrobson.com), I still think MMP is a terrible idea. I’m hoping it will perish from lack of interest but, just in case, go hammer a stake into it. I suspect it will rise repeatedly from the grave, but before we can attend to the long run we have to get through October 10.

What, though, of other days? What if we’d rather not want to vote every time with paper bags on our heads (which, parenthetically, you apparently can do in Ontario elections)? What advice can I give about this election that might give us some better choice than to greet the next one with Dorothy Parker’s reaction to a ringing telephone: “What fresh hell is this?”

It seems to me that we need to broaden our horizons. There must be something wrong with the questions we habitually ask in politics if we keep getting answers as offensively silly as Re-Elect Dalton McGuinty or Vote for John Tory. We take a certain type of public discussion for granted even though we hate the results and, what’s more, we permit and even encourage it by the way we react to public affairs.

While pursuing this line of thought I stumbled across a prescient warning in an old book about a common but “distressing” type of soulless orators who “walk and talk, and do not know that they are dead. Neither, of course, are they alive to the deadness of their own creation … Hence … the inanimate speeches, cumbered with the carcasses of worn-out metaphor and flower of rhetoric trampled to death; hence the movement into urgent battle of the embalmed mummies of sentiment, horsed like the dead Cid, and rigid in their grave-bands beneath the imposing panoply.”

Gosh, I thought. That’s strangely familiar. Yet it’s from mystery writer Dorothy Sayers’ 1941 meditation The Mind of the Maker so it has, ostensibly, nothing to do with Ontario politics in the 21st century. Moreover, her explanation of this bizarre phenomenon is, to put it mildly, uncongenial to the modern temperament. But that’s what makes the resonance of this passage so dashed resonant. How can her analysis be so pertinent to contemporary problems on which Naomi Klein has so little to say, at such length? Does she not eerily foretell Stéphane Dion insisting that “I have to fight with a Stéphane Dion who doesn’t exist. I’ve never been this cool, distant person.” He walks and talks, and doesn’t know he doesn’t exist.

So by all means vote next week, indignantly, for the lesser of various evils. But afterwards let us guard constantly against dead prose and its hollow purveyors. We must not let every vivid observation be labelled a gaffe, every controversial statement be pilloried as “divisive.” It is up to us to make politics congenial to politicians who really talk to us in living language about living issues.

The alternative is the awkward, disgusting and frustrating task of fighting mummies right inside the voting booth.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

Columns, PoliticsJohn Robson