If the Labrador byelection is supposed to provide a template for the next general election of members to Parliament, it looks like a lot of forward-thinking Canadian citizens are in for a disappointment.
What that means is that so far, there have been no surprises at all in the weeks-old campaign — and there should have been, or at least could have been, lots of them.
In fact, apart from a brief scrap that livened up the much-anticipated candidates’ debate, the byelection has just grown duller by the day.
Unless something unexpected happens between the writing and publishing of this column, or in the week that remains in the campaign afterwards, this hotly watched contest could end up having next to no impact on Canadian politics beyond, possibly, a slight alteration of the House of Commons seating arrangement.
Even the surprise in the debate was predictable, coming as it did out of the predictable remarks the predictable candidate made to the predictable opponent. That is, recent history and present practices have taught Canadian voters that if anyone would suddenly go on the attack, it would be the Conservative candidate and he would attack his biggest rival, which in this case (according to two strong polls) is the Liberal party candidate.
Nor was it much of a surprise that while the attack contained a kernel of fact, much of it was wildly exaggerated and even fabricated — as the target immediately and forcefully proclaimed. No surprise either that the whole matter had been resolved years ago — unlike the attacker’s own ethical and legal challenges, which have yet to be fully answered.
The different approaches (such as they are) of the different parties to the different issues are also as most voters have come to expect. All the candidates are for all the good things and against all the bad ones — the subtle differences lie mostly in implementation.
As things stand, everyone is for the natural environment, but the Conservative says the current federal government is doing more than enough to protect it and his opponents say Ottawa is failing miserably.
Everyone is against young people going missing and dying in the wilderness, but the Conservative says much has been done to prevent it from happening again and his opponents disagree.
All three candidates are in favour of resource exploitation — the Conservatives just want it fastest. All three say the benefits of such exploitation in Labrador should go to Labradorians first and foremost, especially if it’s short-term gain for long-term pain, but the Conservatives set themselves a little apart from the others by being most steadfast in insisting that exploitation should take place no matter how few the benefits or how high the cost.
On the highly controversial dam-building project at Muskrat Falls, all three candidates are strangely in support as well — which is certainly frustrating to many, but hardly surprising, given this province’s and country’s history of political infatuation with corporate industrial agendas.
What appears as one of the few policy differences between the candidates should not startle anyone, either: the Conservative says the latest changes the federal government has made to the employment insurance program are good for everyone and won’t hurt anyone in Labrador; since many communities are more than 100 kilometres apart, unemployed Labradorians won’t lose their increasingly sparse benefits if they won’t or can’t commute to an available, albeit lower-paying job.
The other two party candidates are, of course, opposed to the harsh new cuts and restrictions and say many people will suffer because of them.
What has been equally unsurprising as the candidates’ approaches to the issues are the candidates’ approaches to the campaign itself. This is how it’s business-as-usual; this is why the campaign might let Canada down.
As always, it’s every party for itself.
If any of them have plans to improve Canadian democracy by favouring co-operation over confrontation, by recognizing that coalition-building is not anti-
democratic as the Conservatives claim, but is instead the finest mechanism a democracy possesses for ensuring the widest representation of the majority of citizens, they’re keeping it to themselves.
Sadly, it’s no surprise that the closer the parties appear on the issues, the more they seem to pointlessly fight over them.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.