Almost three decades have passed, but it feels a lot like 1984.
Among the 60 per cent of Canadians who voted Monday for something other than a Conservative majority government, there must be millions who felt a shiver of revulsion eerily similar to that felt in September 1984, when Brian Mulroney was elected prime minister.
Personally, the disgust and exasperation while watching the results being tabulated Monday were the same as those in 1984 upon seeing Mulroney’s smug mug as he celebrated his victory and basked in his newfound popularity.
If you had to pick a single adjective to describe both Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper, you couldn’t go wrong with “vile.”
In the course of one generation, Canadian politics has come full
circle, from a hateful but popular right-wing majority government in 1984 to a hateful but popular right-wing majority government in 2011.
In 2011, as in 1984, Canadians knew exactly what they were doing and what they were getting, which is the most disheartening aspect of each election.
Voting with vision
Politicians habitually use exaggeration, manipulation and obfuscation — “spin,” as it has come to be called — but any citizen can be immune to such influences simply by paying attention.
There were loud, insistent voices in 1984 warning against Mulroney’s plan to implement “free trade” — a euphemism for “untaxed trade” — and the long-term damage it would do to Canada’s economy.
Conservatives and the business crowd have spent so long boasting about the success of “free trade” that it’s seldom challenged anymore.
And yet, in 1984 you could walk into a retail store and easily find “Made in Canada” items among the occasional doodad marked “Made in China.”
In 1984, “rust belt” was still a witty if somewhat bleak description of North America’s declining manufacturing centre, rather than a seemingly unchangeable fact.
In 1984, there were no “big-box” stores full of Chinese junk.
In 1984, the concept of a “jobless recovery” would have been alien and laughable.
In 2011, Canadians can look forward to more prisons in which to put people who are on the losing side of the puritanical war on drugs.
In 2011, Canadians voted to endorse the purchase of fighter jets that even the Pentagon says will cost twice as much as the Harper government claims they will — there’s that spin again.
In 2011, Canadians elected a government that will likely make privatization a major issue in health-care reform, rather than doing what has been obviously needed for years — dramatically expanding medical schools to produce more doctors.
Tories can enjoy Harper’s smug grin for now. They might even get a second term to bask in his victorious glow.
Pro-Harperites as well as anti-Harperites should bear in mind that Mulroney, at the height of his popularity and power, seemed invincible and unbeatable. And yet, within a mere nine years and after only his second term, his party was decimated in the 1993 election, reduced to two seats.
Why? The goods and services tax. The GST was a central issue that prompted Canadians to realize this unfair and unjust tax was reflective of the harsh and mean-spirited Mulroney government. (Ironically and shamefully, in 2011 many NDP members defend the GST.)
Mulroney’s defenders, in a gargantuan effort of spin at its most dastardly, tried to pin the 1993 devastation of the Tories on then-leader Kim Campbell.
By then, Mulroney was held in such widespread contempt that some nicknamed him The Jaw That Walks Like a Man.
Inevitably, Harper will push his ideology too far. And then Canadians will push him out.
Unfortunately, in the meantime he will do a lot of damage.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.