Tuesday, December 27, 2005

PM3: Paul Martin, The Post-Modern Prime Minister

Journalist Robert Fulford has called Canada a "postmodern dominion". The key to postmodernism, according to Fulford, is the absence of a master narrative and the questioning of any notion of a coherent, stable, autonomous identity. "What," he asks, "could be more Canadian than that?" A comforting thought--that the Canadian condition of perpetual identity crisis is really the cutting edge of an increasingly global condition of indeterminacy and incertitude.

Perhaps such an analysis could put Paul Martin's style of leadership in a new, more favourable light. Instead of the Economist's deprecation of Paul Jr. as "Mr. Dithers," he could be likened to some French post-structuralist philosopher like Jean Francois Lyotard or even Jacques Derrida, whose famous essay "Structure, Sign and Play in the Human Sciences" explained that meaning is constructed by the (inter) play of signifiers--and not rooted in any more fundamental structural Reality. The role of understanding is one of "deconstruction" of these supposed meta-narratives, exposing them for what they really are--just words, the "play of signs".

Keeping that in mind, here's here's a deconstructive meta-reality check of what is going on in the Liberal campaign:

1. Climate Change, Greenhouse Gases, and Hot Air. Mr. Martin's greenhouse gas hypocrisy certainly shows a French/European flair. Considering the Europeans' contempt for the United States and George Bush for not embracing the Kyoto Protocol, you'd expect that they would have made major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions -- the purpose of Kyoto. Well, not exactly. From 1990 (Kyoto's base year for measuring changes) to 2002, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased 16.4 percent, reports the International Energy Agency. The U.S. increase was 16.7 percent, and most of Europe hasn't done much better. And Canada? Since 1990, our greenhouse gas levels have risen 23.6 per cent ! (Yeah, but we hosted the recent conference. We signed the treaty.) The Liberal campaign strategy is to drive a wedge between themselves and the Conservatives on the issue of standing up to the Americans, realities on the ground--or in the air--be damned.

2. Foreign Aid. Mr. Martin, like all Liberals, loves to take a bow for the great Pearsonian tradition of diplomacy, which includes Canada's 40-year-old proposal that wealthy countries dedicate 0.7% of their GNPs to foreign aid for developing countries. Rock superstar and political activist Bono said that he was "crushed" by Canada's disappointing performance, given the crisis in Africa, Canada's fiscal position and history of leadership. No matter--Bono has already served his purpose, having adorned the Liberal convention and provided numerous photo ops with the Prime Minister. In reality, of course, Canada's allocations for foreign aid fell precipitously during Mr. Martin's long tenure as finance Minister, declining 37% in real terms between 1992 and 2000 and reaching a 30-year low of 0.27% in 2000--a period during which 13 OECD countries increased their commitments to overseas development assistance (ODA), and only Finland cut more deeply into ODA than did Canada.

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation reports that this sharp decline has been reversed since 2002, and that annual increases of 8% have been locked in until 2010. Even so, Canada's commitment will have fallen from 0.45% of GNP in 1990 to a projected level of 0.33% in 2010. This will be $7 billion short of Canada's fair share (3%) of the world's estimated global ODA needs of $50 billion. The Government of Canada has consistently refused to set out a timetable for the achievement of the 0.07% UN aid target. The Liberal strategy is to neither shit (which would mean spending more than twice as much money) nor get off the pot (which would mean surrendering the symbolic "moral high ground"), and that suits Mr. Martin just fine.

3. The Democratic Deficit. This one is my favourite. During his campaign for the Liberal leadership, whenever Paul Martin was pressed to identify what most distinguished his policy orientation from that of Mr. Chretien he would refer to Canada's "democratic deficit" and the need to modernize and reform Canada's political institutions. Unfortunately this must just mean tinkering with parliamentary procedure, because Mr. Martin is dead set against any kind of proportional representation for the House of Commons. (Where would his chances of a majority government be then?). He also appears to be uninterested in reforming the Senate. Indeed, judging from his most recent batch of Senate appointments, he is opposed to even changing the way Prime Ministers dole out patronage and political favours. It would be constitutional for the Prime Minister to de facto delegate half of his Senate nominations to Premiers and Opposition parties, and to start paying Senators on a per diem basis, according to how much work they do. But that sounds awfully radical, and if his recommendations to the Governor- General for Senators were based upon suggestions from political opponents, those mischievous people might actually recommend elected Senators. Perish the thought!

On all of these issues, and several more (gun violence, corruption/culture of entitlement, safeguarding public healthcare from privatization, for instance) the credibility gap between what this government says and what this government does has continued to widen. But in a steadily expanding, free-floating, post-modern Liberal universe, isn't that how things are supposed to be?

1 comment:

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