It's all a blur: post-partisan Canadian politics
Tom Mulcair, the new leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, is yet more vivid proof that we are living in post-partisan times in Canada.
As you can't help but notice, we now have a former Quebec Liberal heading up the federal New Democrats, and a former NDP premier heading up the federal Liberals. The Conservative party is trying already to present Mulcair as an opportunist, because he shopped around a bit before landing in the NDP.
But let's not forget: the Prime Minister is a man who started his life as a Toronto Liberal, then became a progressive conservative, then a founding member of the Reform Party, then leader of the Canadian Alliance, then leader of the modern Conservative party. And as some suggest -- most recently in a powerful reproach by columnist Andrew Coyne -- it's not clear that Harper is all that conservative these days either.
Shopping around for a political party is what politicians seem to do these days -- not to mention the voters. It's what makes the Canadian political landscape "volatile," as the analysts like to say. In some pockets of Toronto, I'm reliably told, there are people who have voted in the past 18 months for Rob Ford, Jack Layton and Dalton McGuinty -- and probably see no contradiction between those choices. Voters just aren't all that into political parties these days: witness the fact that the main opposition party in a country of 34 million or so people could only roust 60,000 hardy souls to choose a new leader.
It's just speculation, but I think the blurry partisan lines explain a lot about the nasty tone of politics in Canada these days.
* First, when ideological/policy differences get fuzzy, the personal differences get sharper. It's easier to attack your opponent's personality than his/her complex, ever-evolving views.
* Second, because the public doesn't seem to be all that ideological, you can't capture their attention with appeals on that front. Far better to present your rival as a cartoon character: a bully/dictator/weakling/whatever.
* Third, because there are so few people actually involved in politics, the parties themselves become small tribes, filled with people who harbour memories and grudges of battles past. That's part of the back story, it seems to me, behind those odd new attack ads against Bob Rae, highlighting his record of 17 years ago in Ontario. Not only are the Conservatives still ticked about those years, they're trying to remind Liberals that he used to be their enemy and remind New Democrats that he turned his back on them.
I suspect that Conservatives are going to try the same thing with Mulcair for a while, playing up his record as a former Quebec Liberal -- which is led by a former leader of the old Progressive Conservative party in Canada, let's remember. Wait: Conservatives and Liberals, cats and dogs, living together? It's also happening in British Columbia right now as well, where B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark is (somewhat infamously) amassing former Harper advisers on her team.
It all means we shouldn't take it all that seriously when politicians try to present their partisan divides as sharp ones. They're all shopping around, just like we are.
The real and polarizing divisions in Canada are regional, linguistic and, most worryingly of late, income-based. It would be good to hear the politicians talking about bridging those differences.