Crawl Across the Ocean

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Remind Me, How Does This Story End?

You know, when I read Thomas Frank's, 'The Trouble With Kansas', I was hoping it might serve as a warning to Canadians not to fall into the same trap, but instead, it seems like it has served as a road-map for some people to push Canadians into that trap.

Here's a quote from Warren Kinsella (Jan 22):
"With every photo op (the one around Christmas, showing the Tory leader taking his kids to a hockey rink like this one), with every positive statement (Harper stressing his middle-class roots in places like Leaside, where this rink is located), with every critical statement (the continual references to Paul Martin's millions, and his decision to fly his pollution-spewing ships under foreign flags - to avoid paying taxes like the rest of us do). With everything they did, the Tory campaign was all about the revenge of the hockey Moms and Dads.

It wasn't about Left versus Right. It wasn't about Urban versus Rural. It wasn't about East versus West. It wasn't about French versus English.

It was about us (the people at hockey rinks, holding cups from Tim's or Coffee Time) versus the elites (the ones who have never been on public transit*, and who read the Sunday Times at Starbucks).

To some folks, that probably sounds pretty simplistic. But that's the way I approach the election campaigns I've been privileged to be involved in. Keep it simple. What's the story people want to hear? What's the story we should telling them? Simple.

Stephen Harper will win because he's told the story people want to hear, and because he deserves to win."

When it comes to political instincts, Kinsella is pretty sharp, and his assertion that Harper will win because he told people a story they want to hear sounds plausible to me.

After all, who doesn't want to stick it to the man, to show up those expensive coffee drinking snobs who are always looking down on 'us', to get one back at 'the elite'.

So let's consider how voting Conservative sticks it to the man, to the latte, to the elite.

I know if I was in the elite, nothing would trouble me more than the prospect of cuts to capital gains taxes, cuts to sales taxes, cuts to corporate taxes, less spending on the poor and disadvantaged, and a child care plan that provides the same benefit to millionaires as it does to single parents. Yeah, I bet the elite is shaking in its boots - that must be why West Vancouver, one of the wealthiest ridings in the country, is most likely going to elect a Conservative.

Look, if the Conservative want to tell a story, that's their right. And if people want to believe it, that's their right too. All I'm saying is people should consider how the story ends - and it's not a happy ending if you were voting to show up the elite.

Here's some free advice for anyone casting a vote to upset the elite: Don't vote for the party that was endorsed by the Globe and Mail. Don't vote for the parties that are supported by all the wealthy media owners and opinion makers this country has to offer. Don't vote for a party that lives in fear of offending the American elites. Don't vote for a party whose biggest change to government revenue will be to reduce the taxes paid by the wealthy and by corporations.

It's easy to tell when you're doing something that truly alarms the elites, because they start squawking loud and long (Thomas D'Aquino is the canary in this particular mine). Imagine if polls suggested an NDP majority. Imagine a referendum on electoral reform at the federal level. Imagine proposals for a tax system which was actually significantly progressive. Imagine the howls of anguish ringing from all the corporate controlled media across the country - that's what taking on the elite looks and sounds like.

Here's my point: if you have other reasons for voting Conservative or Liberal, fine by me. But if you're voting for either of these parties because you think it is some kind of anti-elite anti-Starbucks, anti-Sunday Times, pro-transit statement you're making, well, all I can say is someone sold you a story, and you bought it like the simple-minded sucker Warren seems to think you are. Want to make the true elite sweat? Vote NDP or Green.

* Never been on Transit? - Huh? The people who've never been on public transit are the Conservative voters. Seriously, if you wanted to take one piece of information on a riding and use it to predict whether it would go Conservative or not, your best bet would be to look at transit usage and call any riding where it was high to go NDP or Liberal and any riding where it was low to go Conservative.

Furthermore, could we retire the sadly overused, yet obviously inaccurate, cliché that the people waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks are the elite? Sheesh.


  • Great post Declan...

    I've been to all of the debates in my riding, and when the NDP candidate mentions the good that (former NDP) Bob Rae did as Ontario Premier, the Conservatives in the crowd can't control themselves with their heckling and general disdain.

    And, the one good thing that a Cons win might do is to help the Libs clean house, find a new, more charismatic (and hopefully progressive) leader, and reestablish themselves as the only clear choice among the big-two parties. Of course, if the NDP could take the Libs place in the Big-two, that'd be better, but one has to be realistic.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:47 AM  

  • The people who've never been on public transit are the Conservative voters.

    You may be overgeneralizing just a tad, Declan. A good portion of the 905 belt around Toronto - the same 905 belt that's predicted to go Tory this time around - spends a good part of their day riding subway and GO trains. In fact, I'd suggest that those are precisely the voters that the CPC transit tax credit is targetting.

    By Blogger Babbling Brooks, at 11:35 AM  

  • Thanks Daryl, agreed about the Liberals needing to regroup.

    Damian - Guilty as charged - after all, the Liberals and NDP will win lots of Northern seats where transit isn't much of an option. Still, I think that even in the 905 region, the heavier transit using areas (e.g. Mississauga-Oakville) will stay Liberal and the lighter ones (e.g. Eastern Durham) will go Conservative.

    And certainly the tax deduction for transit riders shows that the Conervatives aren't ignoring transit riders, but I still think that, for the most part, the people who spend al ot of time on transit are going to stay Liberal / NDP while the people who've never been on transit will tend to go Conservative.

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:45 PM  

  • Fair enough, Declan. I think the Liberals will be lucky to get a handful of seats outside of urban areas this time around, and public transit is almost exclusively the domain of cities.

    By Blogger Babbling Brooks, at 1:11 PM  

  • Good post Declan,

    I agree with you about the context of the election with the reference to "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

    I've noticed this trend since the beginning of the campaign and even going further back than that. Taking a quick read over at Monte Solberg's blog you can see this sort of fight beginning where he says he will spend 'Canada Day with true Canadian's drinking Tim Horton's coffee.' Or other numerous mentions of him drinking Tim's instead of Starbucks. (I wonder if Tim's donated money to his campaign. Also, what's wrong with Second Cup, Cara Foods is a Canadian company and their teas are excellent.)

    If you look around elsewhere in the blogosphere you will see those responses as well. In particular with regards to Martin reflagging his ships. I find it odd that the Conservatives were the ones going on about that when in fact that's a more of a leftwing argument or something those on the left should be more up in arms about. Martin had the business sense to reflag his ships, which is quite common in shipping, to avoid paying certain taxes and duties. It wasn't tax evasion, it was tax avoidence, which are two different things.

    Back to "What's the Matter with Kansas?", I can see the similarities starting to develop here in Canada that were in the book. The Conservatives learned a lesson in how to frame their arguments. There were a few articles back a couple weeks ago in the Globe that referenced the influence of the Australian election of John Howard on Stephen Harper's campaign. If I recall correctly the similarities were very close in how they framed the election of convincing people to go against those elites and taking it to the man.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 1:27 PM  

  • Lots of good points Bailey. Yeah, I think this (American owned) Tim Hortons = Canada business is getting a little out of hand.

    People have to make sure what they say isn't Timhortonally Incorrect (e.g. upsetting to those hardworking folks down at the arena with their kids on a cold crisp clear weekend morning) or they'll get accused of being un-Canadian.

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:34 PM  

  • "I know if I was in the elite, nothing would trouble me more than the prospect of cuts to capital gains taxes,..."
    Most of which are filed by people who - absent the capital gain in the year declared - have income below $100k. Certainly not the poor, the wretched, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free - but not the elite like Lord Tubby or Paul Martin, either.

    "... cuts to sales taxes,..."
    since "the poor" spend a higher proportion of their income than "the elite" sales taxes are inherently regressive, or at least that is the conventional wisdom. I have no problem with regressive taxes, but I thought a someone with a 'progressive' stance would take a happier view of a cut in a regressive tax, since that's -um- progressive, isn't it?

    "... cuts to corporate taxes,..."
    Oh, the humanity!

    "... less spending on the poor and disadvantaged,..."

    No sign of it in the platform - you must have those special X-ray glasses and secret decoder ring my mum would never let me order from the back of the comic books of my youth

    "... and a child care plan that provides the same benefit to millionaires as it does to single parents."

    Yes - if you ignore the fact that it is included as taxable income in the hands of the lower-income spouse. Sure - there are the (relatively rare) single-income families that don't need the money at all (and in some way, therefore 'don't deserve it') just as there are the not-so-few (if the Quebec experience can be generalized) upper-income families who take up places in the subsidized day care system.

    I agree on the "Tim's" thing. It seems like an Eastern affectation to me - I never saw a Tim's until about the time they were sold to Wendy's. I do get awfully tired of an American company selling themselves as so genuinely Canadian, as if that should affect my buying decision. Of course, I feel the same way about Canadian Tire, too, and particularly PetroCanada.

    By Blogger deaner, at 3:54 PM  

  • Dean, good to see you again.

    I hear what you're saying in your comments but keep in mind that all I'm arguing is that the platform is no threat to the elite.

    I'm not horrified by corporate tax cuts, and in a way I'm happy to see them because the less tax corporations pay, the less leverage/influence they have (plus, corporate taxes are volatile so they make budgeting more difficult). All I'm saying is that corporate tax cuts don't exactly send the elites running for the hills. Likewise with my other points.

    As for less spending on the poor and dsadvantaged, this is in comparison to the alternative choices in the election (since that's what we're talking about), and I think it is a fair assessment that these groups will receive less benefit from a Conservative government than they would from any other party being elected.

    I'm not sure about Tim's being purely an Eatern thing - keep in mind Bailey's comments about Monte Solberg's constant Tim's references. But Tim's is a bit more common out East than here in the West, I'll give you that.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:39 PM  

  • "All I'm saying is that corporate tax cuts don't exactly send the elites running for the hills. Likewise with my other points."

    Fair enough - my point was just that the Tory platform was hardly a "screw the little guy, here's how the rich get richer" kind of thing, either. I'm actually more interested in the "Tim Horton's" phenomenon.

    Maybe Tim's expanded into Alberta earlier than they did in BC, thus explaining Monte's fixation... I find that Tim's constant relentless harping on their "Canadian-ness" to be unbelievably irritating. As I said, I feel the same way about Candian Tire (although they don't 'play the Canadian card' as blatently; maybe it's just the know-it-all neighbour...) and particularly PetroCanada. I don't find the 'wrap yourself in the American flag' advertising by US companies nearly as irritating (although I might if I was an American).

    I think it is because both types of ads try to speak to a shared mythology. In the US, that is largely valid - the country has a creation mythology: founding fathers; Washington on the Delaware; Civil War; western frontier / Dodge City / Alamo; California gold rush, etc. In Canada our founding mythology includes the Battle of Queenston Heights; Laura Secord; Fathers of Confederation; two Founding Nations... and then sending the NWMP out to slaughter some uppity half breeds, then peaceful colonization of the west. That seems to me to be a very "central Canada-centred" mythology, and it speaks to me not at all. I just don't see Canada west of the lakehead (in fact, west of the Humber River) reflected in the "Canada" that we are expected to take out mythology from.

    While I resent organizations appropriating symbols of nationhood for commercial purposes, I resent even more that the symbols themselves exclude such a large portion of the nation. My irritation with Tim's (et al) reflects that, as well as revulsion at their tin ear: how dare they try to sell to me with someone else's founding myths?

    By Blogger deaner, at 11:19 AM  

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