It may have passed the attention of some that Canadians have been voting today. Not all of them, mind you: Craig of theoria and RIPope of Long Sunday have both made clear that they have better things to do. Or rather, that they are holding out for such better things. In RIPope’s words:
it is precisely because I feel so much pathos that I won’t just make myself feel a bit better by voting. I’m willing to suffer this hell for the sake of something Other.
There are, on the other hand, two scare stories circulating to encourage people to the polls.
One, much promulgated by the Liberal party, is that the election of Stephen Harper’s rejuvenated Conservative party would mean the rise of American-style neoconservatism; Harper would be “Bush lite.” This warning worked well enough at the last federal election, in June 2004, when a swing away from the Conservatives in the final few days of the campaign ensured the Liberals would have enough support to form at least a minority government. Subsequent revelations of Liberal corruption, however, mean that fewer are now persuaded that they are a much lesser evil than the Conservatives.
The other scare story, a version of which can be found in Dave Pollard’s “Mulroney’s Revenge”, is that this election could mean the end of Canada. Unable to win a clear majority themselves, the Conservatives will form an unholy alliance with the Bloc Quebecois. The alienated West (the Conservatives’ power base) and the alienated Francophones will together conspire if not to the physical and geographical break-up of the nation, at least to gut the Federation of all power.
But both scare stories are, in essence, one and the same: they prey on the fear of becoming American. In Pollard’s words:
We will then be America Lite — still bristling at the thought that we’re just like Americans, but with our assets even more substantially owned by Americans than they are today, an economic colony with the fading illusion of relevant political independence. Instead of being the potential role model for the 21st century, we will be the country of great promise that was never realized.
This is a theme that obsesses Canadian pundits and commentators. Here, plucked almost at random, is another example, taken from one Rafe Mair and his two-part story, “Why Canada is Unraveling Again” and “How to Deal with our Next Unity Crisis”:
The country teeters on the chasm of national disintegration and the federal government and indeed opposition act as if nothing is happening for fear that simply by admitting that there’s a problem will itself encourage a bad result.
The irony is that to avoid becoming American, the only solution these anxious nationalists can devise is to be a little more American:
I think it useful to look at how the Americans did it in 1787 when, with equal representation from all states, large and small, they came up with what is unquestionably the best constitution ever made.
How to be like the US, without exactly being the US? How to be “America lite” without quite being (perceived as?) America lite? That seems to be the question around which much of contemporary Canadian politics turns.
Which is hardly a question that would get me up and running to a ballot box.
And surely, as Craig notes, the refrain of “Well, at least we aren’t American!”, the more or less smug fetishization of small differences, hinders rather than helps any real political analysis.