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Dozing while Rome burns

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Although I'm not fond of wars (who is?) I've always loved the idea of war-time cabinets, those times when politicians of different stripes come together to make policy, enact laws and cooperate to fight a common enemy.

There haven't been too many recent examples of the war-time cabinet, but there are a few. Former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon created such a cabinet in 1990 when he swore in Liberal Leader Sharon Carstairs and NDP Leader Gary Doer to cabinet during the Meech Lake constitutional crisis.

More recently, the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have created a joint cabinet to combat gang violence.

In Ottawa, however, no such luck. Faced with the greatest economic crisis since the Dirty 30s, members of parliament are forging ahead with cynical, pre-election tactics aimed at positioning them for a vote that could come at any time.

The Sausage Factory has already cast a skeptical eye on reported plans for a series of Tory attack ads designed to take some of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's lustre away. (One has to ask themselves about how must lustre he has; recent poll results show Ignatieff holding on to Dion-like numbers, close to the Tories but still not out front.)

This week, the Tories upped the ante by using pre-Question Period statements to attack Ignatieff. They complained that he was a flip flopper (which is a popular but meaningless line of attack), that he wanted to impose a carbon tax like former leader Stephane Dion (which Ignatieff has not said he would do) and that he came back to Canada after years abroad for the sole reason of becoming prime minister.

Ignatieff remains an unknown quantity as a political leader. But condemning someone because they got out and saw the world and completed some reasonably impressive professional accomplishments seems a bit — what's the word? — small-minded. Reminds me of the day the Reform Party chose a travel agent as their foreign affairs critic. He travelled but only for a couple of weeks at a time, keeping his status as a "true Canadian" very much intact.

Things are really no better in the United States. Deliberation on President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill has been weighed down by wrangling over "earmarks," the Congressional term for pork barrel amendments to big budget bills. U.S. congresspeople are used to getting a little sugar for their constituents by attaching pet projects to big spending authority bills that must be passed in a timely fashion. It's a form of mutual extortion, part of the way the game is played.

In this most recent economic stimulus bill, 9,000 earmarks were attached, including money for fruit fly abatement, pork research and pork barrel infrastructure projects. Although it only represented about two per cent of the total value of the stimulus package, concern over politics as ususal during a time of extraordinary political events was criticized by many, but stopped by none.

President Obama, who had condemned this kind of politics, had no other choice but to sign the bill into law lest he face additional delays in getting authority for stimulus spending.

This isn't a condemnation of any one political party, it's a condemnation of all political parties for not smelling the espresso. For the love of Pete (as my good friend Shrek would say) isn't it time to pull together a bit and leave old-style politics until we have the economic conditions that allow us the breathing room to piss on each other from high heights?

If this continues, I can imagine a day when only one out of every three registered voters shows up to decide the next federal election.

 

UPDATE - From our friends at Canadian Press, this just in:

OTTAWA - A new poll suggests the federal Liberals and Conservatives are in a dead heat, while Tory support is dropping in some parts of the country and among women.


The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey put the Liberals at 33 per cent and the Conservatives at 32.
The NDP was at 14 per cent, the Greens at 10, and the Bloc Quebecois at nine.


It suggests the Tories trail the Liberals by five percentage points among women overall and by 12 points among urban women.
Jeff Walker, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima, said that's the important finding.


"Women are moving back toward the Liberals, where they had been leaning toward the Conservatives leading up to and then at the election in (October.)


"It's women overall, but in particular, among urban-dwelling women, the Liberals are ahead of the Conservatives by 12 points now and they were even at the time of the last election."


Walker said the arrival of Michael Ignatieff as Liberal leader seems to be one key to this shift. The economy is the other.
Many traditional Liberals abandoned the party under Stephane Dion, Walker noted.


"Having Ignatieff as leader of the Liberals changes that."

 

Perhaps the great unwashed are paying attention after all.

 

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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