Some progressives of my acquaintance like to blame Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the degrading of political discourse in Canada. He certainly shows that he has little if any grasp of the concept of civility. To disagree with him is to be vilified by an army of vapid spokesthingees armed with misleading talking points and odious innuendo.
On more than one occasion, Harper has paid the price of his own asshattery. He was on track to win the 2004 election against a feckless Liberal Prime Minister and a Liberal Party awash in scandal. Then, the Conservative attack machine issued a pair of news releases accusing Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and prominent New Democrat MP Bill Blaikie of supporting child pornography.
Having managed to keep his political Tourette's Syndrome under control during the 2006 campaign, he had managed to eak out a minority government. He was on track to win a majority in 2008 when his baser instincts took over, his mask slipped, and he launched into a nasty attack on the cultural industry - costing him seats in Quebec and his desired majority.
Since then, his entire public persona has been turned to demonizing anyone who disagrees with his far right political views.
Seriously, our doufus of a Prime Minister makes Rush Limbaugh look thoughtful, Sarah Palin look smart and Glenn Beck look sane.
But it's not really fair to blame the debasing of our political culture solely at the feet of Stephen Harper. In fact, he's a Stevey-cum-lately to the process.
We need to look back just a decade earlier, to see the way in which Jean Chretien, with his creature Warren Kinsella, framed a series of federal elections around the demonization of Western Canadians, of people of faith, and in particular, of anyone who thought that owning a firearm wasn't necessarily an evil thing.
The touchstone of this mutual demonization has been the Canadian Firearms Registry.
Since this is the only substantive issue on which the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals actually disagree, both parties have an interest in stoking up the temperature of the debate. Both parties use the Registry as a shibboleth - and as a serious source of fundraising.
The Liberals say that the registry is a useful tool for law enforcement and for enhancing public safety.
The Conservatives say that the registry is an unwarranted intrusion into the lives of firearms owners - the vast majority of whom are responsible and law-abiding citizens.
Frankly, they're both right.
While one might question whether the registry is the best public policy option (especially considering the cesspool of waste and corruption involved in creating it), it seems pretty obvious that it is useful to be able to trace individual weapons to individual owners.
But it is also perfectly reasonable to ask why even the most minor omission (ie, late filings) should be treated as a criminal offense. Not to mention the entirely odious enforcement provision that essentially allows the police to set aside the need for a warrant if they claim that there might be an unregistered weapon.
Now, a sane person (that is to say, a person who is neither a Liberal nor a Conservative) might wonder why we can't find a way to fix the current regulatory regime. Why can't we get rid of the anti-democratic search provision, decriminalize minor violations and reduce the cost of registration?
But for the past 15 years, the Liberals and the Conservatives have conspired together to ensure that there could be no reasonable consideration of firearms regulation. Both parties have far too much invested in the registry as wedge politics. Both parties play on fear, both to mobilize their voter base and to raise pots of money. (Of course, the Conservatives are far more effective at raising money of the issue, but that's because of Liberal fecklessness, not want of Liberal trying.)
Both parties are playing the ugliest kind of wedge politics, stoking the worst fears of their respective voter bases. The Conservatives pretend that registration will inevitably lead to contemptuous urbanites confiscating grandpa's duck hunting rifle, while the Liberals pretend that registration is the only thing standing between civilization and armies of crazy farmer descending on Toronto in an orgy of lead and death.
A pox on both their hatemongering houses.
Yes, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives like to drive wedges between Canadians, encouraging a culture of regional envy and demographic distrust. They have watched the Liberal Party under Jean Chretien and they have learned from the masters.
At least when Bowser and Blue Three or Dead Trolls in a Baggie play wedge politics, they're only joking.
Better we should all remember that we're all in this together.
And finally, a bit more Bowser and Blue. Dedicated to both Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff.
So much for my idealized view of Canada -- arrghh
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