Elec­tion Chat­ter |

Ottawa Magazine - - This City - By Mark Bour­rie

There’s an old say­ing that stock mar­ket in­vestors are mo­ti­vated by two things: fear and greed.

Maybe vot­ers are too. Po­lit­i­cal strate­gists have al­ways seemed to think so. We’ve had elec­tion af­ter elec­tion where can­di­dates have tried to use fear to mo­ti­vate vot­ers: fear of the Amer­i­cans, fear of sa­loons, fear of Que­be­cers, fear of free trade, fear of sol­diers with guns in the streets of Canadian cities.

And greed has al­ways been in play: so­cial pro­grams, tax cuts, free day­care, cash for kids’ hockey gear. Our fear quo­tient seems quite low. So is our sell­ing price — most of the time.

This elec­tion will be about fear. Last fall a cou­ple of screw­ball wannabe ji­hadists with­out the where­withal to travel to failed states in the Mid­dle East and North Africa at­tacked and killed two Canadian sol­diers. Now ev­ery shawarma cook and cab driver with an Ara­bic lilt to his voice is a sus­pect.

The gov­ern­ment just built a bil­lion-dollar elec­tronic spy head­quar­ters in the east end of town, and they’re go­ing to use it. And if you think the spooks are go­ing to be zero­ing in on the cell­phone calls and Skype chats only of guys named Mo­hammed and Ab­dul, think again. There will al­ways be “enemies” of Canadian gov­ern­ment poli­cies — peo­ple such as en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, First Na­tions ad­vo­cates, trade union- ists, mouthy col­lege stu­dents, and Que­bec sep­a­ratists.

Re­mem­ber how much the Mul­roney and Chré­tien gov­ern­ments spent track­ing and pros­e­cut­ing our fringe neoNazis in the 1980s and 1990s? Mul­ti­ply that by hun­dreds, be­cause there is just enough “ter­ror­ism” by self-anointed “Is­lamic” spree killers to in­still fear in Cana­di­ans.

There are two sides in the Great Fear Game. On the right, you have Stephen Harper, a man creepy and scary enough be­fore he went from econ­o­mist-inchief to wartime leader. On the left, you have the NDP. There are enough paci­fists in that party to pre­vent it from sup­port­ing any for­eign war.

And in the mid­dle, like grains of wheat be­tween two mill­stones, are the Lib­er­als. They’re scared enough of some­thing to sup­port the gov­ern­ment’s anti-ter­ror laws (sort of). But their fear cen­tres on or­ga­ni­za­tions with names such as Ip­sos, Pol­lara, and Har­ris, not ISIS.

Mean­while, Harper wants to make us even more Amer­i­can by lock­ing up some crim­i­nals for life. Sure, the crime rate’s down. My gen­er­a­tion of crooks, the tail end of the baby boom, are ei­ther dead or in jail or have gone straight. But we’re re­ally not talk­ing about crime here. Just like the word “ter­ror­ism,” “crime” is a code word — a dog whis­tle for folks in the hin­ter­land who don’t like, um, “new Cana­di­ans.”

Greed is also at play. Per­haps “greed” is too strong a word in a coun­try that has lost so much in­dus­try, bet the farm on oil, and now just sur­vives on a hous­ing bub­ble that must even­tu­ally burst. It re­ally isn’t greedy of some­one to want a job or want to keep the job they have. Ev­ery­one will prom­ise jobs, but of course, no one can de­liver.

So in­stead, we’ll get in­come split­ting, which is great for me but will cost you money. Giv­ing me a cou­ple of thou­sand dol­lars a year has to cost some­one, and I doubt it will be the Royal Bank or Bell Canada. If the polls start look­ing re­ally bad, we might see the re­vival of fan­tas­ti­cally popu- lar Tory spend­ing/tax break pro­grams like the Home Ren­o­va­tion Tax Credit.

That one’s a dandy. Renters driv­ing trucks and clean­ing schools get to sub­si­dize home im­prove­ments in Hin­ton­burg.

We may get some great na­tional eco­nomic strat­egy. Maybe we’ll have a se­ri­ous dia­logue about na­tional se­cu­rity, the value of com­mu­nity and, God for­bid, “root causes.” But if that hap­pens, it will likely be by mis­take.

As the great Kim Camp­bell was once mis­quoted as say­ing, elec­tions are no time to dis­cuss se­ri­ous is­sues. Politi­cians and me­dia jumped all over that, as though it was heresy. But they re­ally be­lieve, in their hearts, that it’s the truth.

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