Monday, April 11, 2005

Punish the bums without punishing yourself? A tricky proposition indeed!

With all the hoopla surrounding the latest news from the Gomery Commission, there seems to be much discussion of a possible spring election. Herewith, a few comments on the whole debacle, in no particular order:

1) I hate the idea of a spring election, if for no other reason than the selfish one that it will kill the gay marriage legislation - possibly indefinitely. If those chomping at the bit could wait until it is signed into law, yours truly would be most grateful. Then you can continue with your self-immolation and petty politics.

2) The prospect of another election is making me a sympathizer to the proportional representation cause. With first-past-the-post still firmly in place, I see very little chance for the NDP to make significant gains in a Gomery-related election. I suspect that most left-leaning Liberal voters hate the Conservatives more than they like the NDP or are disgusted by the allegations being spun by Brault. This will mean more "strategic" voting, which will again hurt the NDP's chances, and possibly cost them a few of their seats.

I write this particularly from my vantagepoint in Quebec, where I voted NDP last time around, fairly secure that my local Liberal (whom I personally detest) would still win this seat. He did, but only by about 5% of the vote. And frankly, an Ex-Blocquiste is better than a present Blocquiste as far as I'm concerned. Will I have to hold my nose and vote for Jean Lapierre in a spring election? I certainly hope not.

3) I have to say that none of these revelations have surprised/horrified/shocked me. A government that was in office for a long time engaged in some corrupt dealings? No shit. But unfortunately, it can hard to effectively punish the government responsible without causing damage that will make the voters hurt more.

Let's look to Quebec's history of the past century for examples. The Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis was notoriously corrupt. Election time was when promises of bridges and roads would be trotted out, with the accompanying promise that a vote for the Liberals would lead to their cancellation - which was known to happen. After 15 consecutive years (1944-59) of this and other abuses of power, Duplessis died and the Union Nationale was booted from office by the Liberals. Thus began the Quiet Revolution, which modernized the province and began a raft of important reforms. In this case, punishing the guilty party led to positive change.

Alas, this is not always the case. Back in the early 1930s, the Liberals had been in office in Quebec since 1897. Louis-Alexandre Taschereau had been Premier since 1920, and corruption had set into the operations of the province. Young Liberals, dissatisfied with their opportunities for promotion, a say in policy, and cabinet seats, formed a breakaway movement, the Action Liberale Nationale, under the leadership of Paul Gouin. So eager were they for power that they teamed up with the Conservative party under Maurice Duplessis to run in the 1935 election as the "Union Nationale Duplessis-Gouin". Together, they rocked the political firmament and then used the Public Accounts Committee to expose government graft and topple the Liberals.

Those familiar with Quebec politics know what happened next. Duplessis purged the ALN members from his party, won the 1936 election, and with the exception of the war years, ran the province until his death in 1959. This period is commonly referred to in historical discourse as "la grande noirceur" - the great darkness. Union activity was supressed, left-wing political movements were blocked with the padlock laws, education failed to advance, and the natural resources of the province were sold wholesale for pennies to American and English-Canadian businesses.

So, which are Canadians likely to get from punishing the Liberals for the misdeeds of Adscam. They would probably hope for the Quiet Revolution scenario. But with the Conservatives the likely beneficiaries of an election, I fear that the Grand Noirceur scenario is more likely.

So prosecute those involved in the corruption, purge them from the party by all means, but let's hope we don't see an election on this issue.

(Addendum: My personal prediction is that even with an election, we'd be looking at a Conservative minority and some Bloc gains. But that still does not warm my heart to the idea.)

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