Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Memoirs of a mock election

When Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote for US President back in 1992, a lot of people in the media thought it was a fluke; that the software billionaire was simply able to take advantage of a situation where he could run up the middle between two generally dislikeable candidates: the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton. But his numbers showed that maybe -- just maybe -- America was ready to embrace a new progressive party that was socially liberal but fiscally conservative.

In practice, it never really panned out that way because the Donkey and the Elephant quickly adapted. Clinton, as a direct result of Perot's insurgency, was forced to balance the budget much faster than he had anticipated -- but he did. Something his successor hasn't been able to do, even once. Additionally, Perot's US Reform Party turned out to be a flash in the pan, electing only one significant candidate to public office: Jesse Ventura to the Minnesota governorship.

However, with recent poll numbers showing immense dissatisfaction with both Republicans and Democrats -- both getting disapproval ratings in the high sixties -- the question has to be asked, is there an opening for a real Third Way? I think there is. And I think back to my pre-teens as an example.

During the 1985 Ontario election that saw the Conservatives dumped for a Liberal-NDP alliance, my elementary school decided to hold a mock election concurrent with the real campaign. Most of the students grouped themselves into the three "normal" camps, based largely on answers the then party leaders gave to The Catholic Register. Not satisfied with any of the parties, I dared to run as an independent. Not sure what to call my platform, I adopted the moniker TLC -- Tender Loving Care. (Seriously.) When the count was taken of all the students from fifth to eighth grades, I finished in a strong second place, just behind the Liberals. Even I was surprised by this and wondered if it had something to do with the fact my colleagues just felt sorry for me, or if I was trying to prove a point I wasn't like anyone else -- or that all three party leaders (Miller, Peterson and Rae) were full of shit.

The real election was later that night, and the next day we all pretty much concluded that Frank Miller was toast. (He was, a month later, in a non-confidence vote.) But also inherent in our discussion was the point I was trying to make; that the parties at the time represented no one but themselves.

I've mellowed out over time, but in the intervening years I was extremely volatile. From an undeclared, I went to Liberal, then NDP, then Reform, then Liberal, Progressive Conservative, Liberal, Green and finally Liberal where I am now -- and hope to stay. But what I felt back in 1985 is what I still feel now; and that is the process excludes a lot of people who might otherwise want to get involved. With the Liberal "Super Weekend" for delegate selection coming up, I have narrowed down the choices to about three or four, but am still not ready to endorse a particular candidate because I still haven't been able to get an answer to my biggest question; and that is who will both be a "Big Tent" nominee for Prime Minister as well as someone willing to dig in for a long haul, maybe a couple more election cycles before the Grits get back in power again. I'm realistic about this; Stephen Harper will use every trick in the book to ensure he stays on for at least one more term. (Such as his proposal to basically make it a crime to be a Liberal delegate if he or she has already made a donation to the Party during this year. The current contribution limit is $5000 but he wants to cut it to $1000, and the fee for attending the convention is $995.)

The ideal candidate is someone who will defend Canada and keep America on a tight leash, but also have cordial relations with our neighbours to the south. He or she is a Third Way person like what I mentioned above -- a tax and spend Trudeau clone is not acceptable anymore. He or she will promote a strong Defence Department, but not at the expense of our role as an honest broker between conflicting parties. And that candidate will actually make us proud to be Canadians, whether we like him or her -- or not.

If kids ran this country, they'd tell the parties to take a hike. And with just cause. That's the message I sent (and got) twenty-one years ago, and I suspect it's still true today

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