Three footnotes on the election that took place two days ago —
1. Paul Martin’s greatest achievement as PM
Paul Martin will be regarded favourably in the history books for slaying Canada’s deficit. But that occurred when he was the Minister of Finance. What is the greatest achievement of his brief stint as Canada’s twenty-first Prime Minister?
My answer: the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.
You thought that was the achievement of Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay? Not so!
Remember the context. When Paul Martin became the leader of the Liberal Party, his political opponents were quaking in their boots. Martin was regarded as a political colossus; the expectations of him were astronomically high.
The Canadian Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservatives feared that they would be wiped from the electoral map unless they ended the split on the right. As Samuel Johnson said, the prospect of being hanged concentrates the mind wonderfully.
Let’s face it: Paul Martin didn’t achieve anything else of consequence as Prime Minister. But he was indirectly responsible for the merger of the two right-of-centre political parties — a legacy he can claim for himself with justifiable pride.
2. Stephen Harper’s one, costly mistake
The Conservatives ran a nearly perfect election campaign. But Stephen Harper made one misstep, and it cost him his chance at forming a majority government.
The mistake: Harper’s statement that the Liberal Party had stacked the Senate, the civil service, and the Supreme Court of Canada with people who share the Liberals’ ideological slant.
Harper made the statement in the final week or so of the campaign. At that point, the Conservatives were within shouting distance of forming a majority government. Support for the Conservatives began to tail off at that point, and they ended up about 30 seats short of majority status.
I think Canadians interpreted the remark in Jungian terms. According to Jung, we often project onto other people the evil in ourselves. (Even as we remain blissfully unaware of that evil, insofar as it resides in us.)
I think Canadians were particularly sceptical of the claim that the Liberals had stacked the Supreme Court to deliver biased verdicts. Canadians interpreted it as merest projection on Harper’s part. They concluded that Harper’s mind works that way, that he is the sort of leader who might do such a thing.
And if so? Goodbye, same sex marriage; goodbye, a woman’s right to choose.
Goodbye, any possibility of a Conservative majority.
3. The wisdom of Canadian voters
Finally, I must express my admiration for the corporate intelligence of the Canadian voter.
I know Bill deplores the outcome of this election. I, too, have my concerns about Conservative policy — see the earlier link. But I also doubted that justice would be served by re-electing the Liberals.
First, it was the sponsorship scandal. Certain Liberal officers had siphoned off taxpayers’ money, “laundered” it, and funelled it into the party’s bank account. The onus was on the Liberals to demonstrate why they should be returned to office with that black mark on their record.
Martin argued that it was water under the bridge, and we were now dealing with a different (but still Liberal) administration. It was a bit of a stretch, but the argument was just plausible enough for Canadians to seriously consider it.
But then came the laughably bad election campaign. The Liberals blundered again and again; it was the worst performance since Kim Campbell’s legendary series of gaffs in 1993.
For me, the ugliness of the Liberal campaign culminated when Martin attempted to defend an indefensible attack ad. The ad implied that the Conservatives would institute martial law in Canada’s cities. (The only Canadian government that has ever done such a thing was the Liberal government under Trudeau.)
In defending the ad, Martin looked directly into the television cameras and told the electorate a bald-faced, utterly unbelievable lie. (See my comments on this post.) In my opinion, at that point, Mr. Martin irrevocably forfeited the moral authority to govern this great nation.
The Canadian voters, acting in concert, achieved a judicious outcome. They tossed the Liberals out of office; but they gave only a very weak mandate to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
Now Mr. Harper has a chance to prove himself worthy of a stronger mandate; Paul Martin has been prodded into giving up the Liberal leadership; and the Liberals have been instructed to make themselves over in a worthier image.
All in all, a good day’s work. A tip of the hat to the corporate wisdom of Canadian voters.