The question is no longer who wants to be prime minister, but why would anyone want the job.
Consider: the global banking system is in massive meltdown, the stock market in frantic freefall; our short-term fiscal future seems unpredictable, perhaps unfathomable, even to those who make their living fathoming and predicting it. And don’t get me started on the melting polar ice caps, or the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, or…
None of the immediate economic mess, of course, is directly the fault of the Canadian government. It would not have mattered much whether Stephen Harper, or Stephane Dion, or Jack Layton, or even Elizabeth May had been prime minister when the American sub-prime mortgage market went south. Their power—our power—to affect outcomes in a global market economy is somewhere between nil and none.
And nothing the eventual winner—who may be the real loser—does or does not do after October 14 will dramatically alter our global fates either.
To make matters worse, it is almost certain that the new prime minister will, within weeks of taking office, be forced to acknowledge—without actually admitting he knew it all along—the country has slipped into the deficit position that his party said was either impossible or wouldn’t be tolerated on his watch, and that, therefore, all bets, all promises, all visions are now… inoperative, kaput, dead.
Welcome to the new political world order.
Politics being politics, the next prime minister will almost certainly be made to wear our collective anger and frustration over whatever bad outcomes the fates still have in store for us in the short term. If, as now seems increasingly likely, we elect another minority government in such a volatile climate, we will probably head back to the polls much sooner rather than much later, giving us the opportunity to render instant and, likely, unkind judgment on whichever prime minister has failed to fix whatever ails us.
So, really, why would any of them want the job?
None of this is to suggest it doesn’t matter who we elect on Tuesday. In fact, it matters more than ever. And the choices begin to seem starker and clearer. Who can best manage the inevitable impact on our economy of this global crisis?
Stephen Harper is as close as we will get in this country’s politics to a laissez-faire, let-the-markets decide capitalist. While he is now desperately trying to show he really cares more about the rest of us than he appeared to in last week’s leaders’ debate, his philosophical bottom line is that he still believes the best way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes on corporations and the middle and upper class. Inevitably, in the current economic situation, that will necessitate drastic cuts to public services in order to keep the deficit from getting out of control.
Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe—to varying degrees—all see a much more proactive role for government in reducing the impact of the global economic mess on individual Canadians. In order to stimulate the economy, they would use the government’s spending power to both develop (and redevelop) the country’s infrastructure and also cushion the economic blow on those least able to cope. But such measures will, in the short term, inevitably increase the deficit, raising the longer term question of who is best able to make sure those deficits don’t spiral out of control and lead us back to the kind of draconian cutbacks we saw in the mid-nineties.
The questions we need to ask ourselves are which direction we want to head in and which leader we most trust to take us there.
Let the voting begin.