Avoiding the Duffy factor

Two more months, you say, before Canadians can finally put an end to this longest federal election campaign in more than a century. Well, a few days shy of two months. But who’s counting? Who, for that matter, is paying attention?

A recent poll found most people haven’t made up their mind how they will vote, and fully a third said they likely won’t decide until election day, October 19.

October 19, it still seems unreal, incredible. Perhaps only Stephen Harper knows why he chose to go to Governor-General David Johnston Sunday, August 2, to formally ask him to dissolve Parliament and call an election.

That was a formality. In the Prime Minister’s Office they call him “the boss” for a reason. He has the power, and he likes it that way, the more the better, to remake this country as he sees fit.

How’s that working so far?

We the people are supposed to have the power in this democracy, especially at election time. But out here in the real world we’re finding it increasingly difficult as we go about our daily struggle to make ends meet with the Canadian economy in recession, and all that means, again.

For senior citizens who worked hard for many years to put money away for their retirement low recession-fighting interests rates mean barely enough return on investments to keep up to inflation.

The sluggish economy means poor job prospects for young people. I caught a news item this week about how pessimistic university graduates are about paying back their student loan-debts, averaging about $33,000. It’s their Number one worry.

I ran into a crew of workers from the Kitchener area last week who repair agricultural buildings. Work was scarce down there because of the economy so they were up in the Grey-Bruce area to see what they could find, the owner told me.

A real estate broker I know well in Owen Sound expressed concerns about the present and future state of the housing market in the area. “We need jobs.”

I also chanced to see an enterprising, young man I know in the Wiarton area who had gone out to Alberta last fall to seek his fortune in boom-town Fort McMurray. That was before the price of oil took a nose-dive. Now, with the glut of oil on the international market continuing, oil sands projects are no longer financially viable and thousands of workers have been laid off. So, he’s back looking for new ways to use his boundless energies to make a living.

Stephen Harper says Canada’s economic basics are still good, despite falling back into recession, the plunging value of our dollar in relation especially to the U.S., and the continuing loss of thousands of jobs in the declining manufacturing sector.

These are big issues indeed, though not necessarily the ones Harper and his Conservative government want Canadians to focus on, if indeed they want them to focus on anything. To say we have other things to think about these days is to put it mildly. In the best of all possible worlds a democracy works best if the people keep on top of current events, with the help of the news media by the way, and hold their elected officials to well-informed, thoughtful account on election day.

But these are not the best of times. People can be forgiven for not keeping up to speed on the Mike Duffy trial, for example. The news media is deeply engaged in reporting the day-to-day revelations about how top officials in the PMO schemed to cover up the growing controversy about Duffy’s Senate expense claims related to his place of residence. First the Conservative Party was going to pay back the money secretly, but balked at the amount. Then Harper’s former Chief-of-Staff, Nigel Wright, wrote that now infamous $90,000 check out of his own money. Part of the scheme involved the writing of agreed “media lines” to mislead the Canadian public into thinking Duffy himself had paid them off.

Harper maintains he didn’t know about the $90,000 check until he read about it in the news media; and then he acted quickly to dispose of both Wright and Duffy. But recent evidence at the trial has revealed Harper’s current Chief-of-Staff and long-time close friend Ray Novak knew about the check before it was secretly paid to Duffy.

So, what Harper knew and when, is still an open question people should be asking, a question the news media rightly continues to ask him on the campaign trail.

Harper has said he doesn’t think the Duffy trial is resonating with Canadians. That’s political double-speak for not paying attention.

Unfortunately, I think he’s probably right. Sometimes, being of a mischievous nature at times, I ask people what they think of the “Mike Duffy thing.” More often than not the response is a blank stare back, and a comment along the lines of, “I don’t have time to follow the news.”

Canadians are not Americans; Most of us would rather not spend a year trying to follow the Canadian equivalent of a “presidential” campaign, or even 11 weeks. We’re used to short, sharp campaigns that focus the mind for a few weeks; and then, after we do our electoral duty, we can get back to the business of living. It works better that way for us.

But this long, drawn-out campaign, is not designed to focus our attention. It’s designed to do quite the opposite.

Originally published in The Sun Times in August, 2015.

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