Friday, 28 November 2008

Cynical political opportunism?

Finance minister delivers financial updateI'm not naive. I know that politicians can get petty. I know political parties can get petty. My persistent case of chronic idealism makes me keep thinking that every now and again politicians can surprise me and act for the common good, or in defense of principles, instead of merely jockeying for political advantage.

So I would really like it if the Conservatives backed away from their current fit of pettiness. The proposed cutting of public subsidies to political parties based on their share of the popular vote looks more like an attempt to kick the Liberal party while it's down than an attempt to save money.

Heaven knows I have been no fan of the Liberals in recent years, and I am still of the opinion that a few more years in the political wilderness would do them a world of good. They'd had a free ride into government for too many years and they stank to high heaven and it's going to take a while longer before the lingering stench has been washed away. But they did do a couple of really praiseworthy things while they were in government that strengthened popular democracy in this country. Drastically reducing the permissible size of political donations was one of them; its corollary of funding parties from the public purse was another. Both worked against their own partisan advantage, which is why it amazes me they ever did it at all, and I applaud them for it.

Now I would like to applaud the Conservatives for resisting the temptation to dismantle this excellent system. Why do I think it is excellent? Firstly, because it helps diminish the political power of deep pockets. Secondly, because it increases the financial viability of small parties. It might seem strange that I care about this, seeing as I almost never vote for them. But they have a very important contribution to make to political discourse, sometimes popularizing issues enough that the more powerful parties take notice. That alone would be sufficient cause. But they also help prevent a two-party system. The last few years of observing the American system have been enough to convince me that a two-party system breeds social polarization and blind partisanship. I don't want us to fall into the same cesspool.

Which is why I also fervently hope the Liberals will rise again, hopefully with a little less arrogance and a few more principles. A centrist party, flanked by viable opponents on each side seems to me to be a good recipe for moderation and stability. (OK, the NDP doesn't quite rank as viable, unfortunately, seeing as it tends to make the Liberals tilt more to the left to compensate for their weakness.) So please, let's not kick them too hard while they're down, however much they deserve to be down there.

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