Neck & Neck: Part 1 – Trading Shots

necknneckver3Neck & Neck is a collection of short articles and editorials concerning the 2015 Canadian election.

“Erase from your minds, fellow Canadians, the past four weeks. They haven’t mattered at all.”

That’s what the pundits say, at least. To them, I suppose, the month of August has merely been some sort of sadistic theatrical preamble, where dueling leftists, corrupt senators, dead refugees, and urinating handymen all vie for our attention like pathetic sideshows at some orgiastic circus.

But fret not, because after these small-fry acts of demagoguery and ineptitude have passingly entertained us, September’s “election season” is set to roll out the headliners.

Already, the longest election in Canadian history (unless you count when votes arrived by post) have uncloseted enough political skeletons to rival a Mardi Gras parade. If this joyous pre-season hasn’t totally drained us of what little faith we have left in the political process, we have only our terminally short attention-spans to thank.

Take the Duffy trial, which briefly captivated Canadian’s attention somewhere between the number 9 and a dead toddler; despite tantalizing evidence of the prime minister’s involvement in the cover-up of Duffy’s unethical expenditures, and the lingering presence of a PMO staffer in half-assed blue-collar disguise at the trial, the scandal only generated frankly impossible pledges to abolish the senate.

Set aside the feasibility of a plan that would require the approval of provinces with no incentive to support it, like, incidentally, Duffy’s “home” province of PEI. Surely, the absurdity of an incumbent government, largely responsible for the appointment of those corrupt senators, re-promising something they failed to do in four years, with a majority, should surely raise an eyebrow.

But instead of senate corruption continuing to seize our attention. The trial shuts its doors until November, and we are whisked off onto the next subject of deplorable display – or we should be, if not for the NDP and Liberals, in a violation of a long-standing electoral tradition, actually debating substantive policy, and on the Economy no less.

The Economy has long seized pole position in pollsters’ lists of issues, holding court over equally vague concerns like “health care” and “security” in the same way I’m sure “eradication of witches” topped the issues at Salem.

The alleged fascination that Canadians feel for this issue is paralleled only by their perverse desire to ascribe the health of the Economy to the perceived strength of their benevolent ruler. The lineup of top economists advocating against “austerity” will probably have less effect on Canadians’ votes than the silkiness of Trudeau’s hair on election day.

It turns out Canadians like their economic strongman to have bad hair, because Harper still tenuously commands the sacred title of “best economic manager” in the opinion polls. But Trudeau and Mulcair, both in pursuit of the chronically undecided “misty-eyed old liberal” vote, might risk upsetting the status quo with their diverging economic visions.

Mulcair bucked the tradition of vague platitudes about middle class prosperity first by guaranteeing a balanced budget in his first year, a feat even the Conservatives haven’t managed without raiding rainy day funds and fudging their numbers. His goal in doing so seems to be to claim the center, occupied primarily by suburbanites who think they understand the stock market, and in the process shove Trudeau back among the desperate establishment McGill-type crowds where his good looks might actually be an asset.

Not to be outdone, Trudeau flanked on the left by advocating a return to the old days of liberalism, when it meant pouring billions into public works to keep Quebecois labourers on five packs a day regiment. This is a time fondly remembered by the union types, who have watched Mulcair turn into the worst kind of business hippie, a tax-breaking, Palestine-hating warrior for the economic status quo.

All this has been very exciting – too exciting, in fact, because just as we were at risk of debating actual policy, front pages were awash with photos of a longstanding tragedy in the Mediterranean and all of us started talking about the chronic problem of human displacement as if it was a sudden, overflowing crisis.

Suddenly, the refugee problem, an issue that has been plaguing countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe for at least four years, has become “the pivot issue of the campaign” as the opposition seizes on Harper’s famously dis-compassionate nature to distract from their own

It’s a title that, sadly, it does not deserve.

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