Does it really matter who wins the election tomorrow?

This was the week that the campaign jumped the shark.

I’ve almost started a few posts with that line, but I had a funny feeling I’d need it for later. It’s like when I’m asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten; no matter how badly it hurts, I’m saving my “ten” in case it gets worse.

I’m glad I waited, because good god what a weird final week it’s been. Let’s just take a minute, for instance, and appreciate the fact that Rob friggin’ Ford and his bully brother Doug actually just hosted a Conservative Party rally for Stephen Harper. Ok? Letting that sink in?

The party of law and order, the party that literally just this week was publishing shady ads in Chinese and Punjabi warning people that Justin Trudeau was going to peddle pot to your kids and flood your neighbourhood with junkies, the party whose leader recently made the absurd statement that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco, on one of the very last days of a campaign in which it’s fighting for its life, basically held the #elxn42 iteration of Ford Fest, with recovering alcoholic/crack addict, racist, and alleged extortionist Rob Ford in attendance despite allegations from his former chief of staff that he was a habitual drunk driver while mayor emerging earlier that day, and complete with a barn-burner of a crowd-warmer speech by failed mayoral candidate and former big-time hash dealer Doug Ford, a man who has publicly expressed interest – during this very election campaign! – in taking Stephen Harper’s job if the Cons should happen to lose.

I mean, at a certain point, words fail. “Absurd” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

It must speak to the desperation within the Harper camp. They’re obviously hoping that some of that Ford Nation magic will rub off on their campaign, which is questionable logic to me. How many hardcore Ford fanatics were thinking of not voting Conservative?

At this point, Harper’s trying every trick he can think of to cling to power. This week, the Cons called in all their favours with Postmedia and the Thompson family to secure across-the-board endorsements from virtually every major daily in the country, including the single most absurd endorsement of all time, in which the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives while calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation.

Following up on the furor over the seemingly bought-and-paid-for endorsements, today people in cities across Canada woke up to newspapers wrapped in full-page ads in the style of Elections Canada notices proclaiming that “Voting Liberal will cost you“:

The spreads said either “Voting Liberal will cost you,” or “Voting NDP or Liberal will cost you,” followed by explanations of how those parties’ platforms would affect voters. There was also a ballot-style checkbox marking a “Conservative” vote.

At the top of the page, the newspapers noted that the spreads were “paid political advertisements.”

Political pollster Bruce Anderson, who writes a regular column for The Globe and Mail, called the ads “awkward to say the least.”

Yeah no kidding. The media barons are blowing what little credibility the press has left in what’s likely a vain effort to get their guy back in – and taking as much of that hard CPC cash as they can get while they do it.

The move smacks of desperation, and you’ve gotta wonder if Harper has started thinking about what he’s gonna do if he has to make a resignation speech tomorrow night. There’s some evidence from this week that he’s been considering his future options, including trying his hand at being some kind of game show host, getting “ordinary people” to throw money on a table to the sound of a constantly ka-ching-ing cash register to demonstrate how much Trudeau would cost them, or something.

It was weird, and it was carny-like, and it was widely mocked, and it was a gimmick that, believe it or not, he repeated all week long. And just when it seemed like it was getting stale, he switched it up a little bit for his big Toronto rally last night:

While Harper stuck mostly to his usual script during the Toronto rally, there was a surprise appearance during game-show-like routine with the cash-register sounds: Harper brought out the man who said the lines “Nice hair, though” in the Tory attack ad criticizing Trudeau. [my bold]

Just in case you don’t remember:

The “nice hair, though” guy!

If that’s truly the highest-calibre special guest Stephen Harper could pull in to an election-ending rally in Toronto, the Conservative campaign is in deeper trouble than it seems.

In one respect, though, the campaign has been a smashing success – despite one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history, for the most part we haven’t had any kind of thorough examination of the governing party’s record while in power. Oh, sure, there’s been a lot of talk about their “economic stewardship” or lack thereof, and the Duffy scandal got a fair amount of play waaaay back in August, but for the most part, the HarperCons’ atrocious record in power hasn’t a major focus of the campaign. Indeed, to a large extent, the Conservatives were able to dictate the subjects of conversation for long stretches of the election period. For an incumbent running on such a fractious and controversial record, that’s quite an accomplishment.

So if the Conservatives lose tomorrow night, at least they’ll have lost doing things their own way: divisively, dishonestly, aggressively, and with a healthy dash of hideous racism and sexism.

If, on the other hand, they somehow manage to squeak out a victory (and it is still possible) after such a campaign, I feel like this nation’s political fabric will be permanently stained in some way, torn and tattered, and that future campaigns will forevermore be increasingly sordid, scheming, and despicable. They may well be regardless.

The other major shark-jumping moment this week, equal to Ford Fest in its absurdity if not in its hilarity, was the revelation that Justin Trudeau’s campaign co-chair was giving pipeline companies detailed instructions on the best ways they could lobby a future Liberal regime.

Examples of corrupt lobbying practices don’t get any more straightforward or intuitive than this. I’ve noted a few times throughout this campaign that the party leaders seem to be competing to show the petroleum-extraction industry who would be their best lackey while in office, but the story of Dan Gagnier’s close ties with officials pushing the contentious Energy East project takes that rhetoric a little too literally.

The scandal worsened for Trudeau when it emerged that not only has Gagnier been lobbying TransCanada since the spring, but that the Liberal Party was fully aware of his lobbying activities, and decided to appoint him as co-chair of their national campaign nonetheless.

Gagnier resigned, mostly for the sake of appearances, but really it was too late for that. The fact that he was putatively not involved in discussions on energy policy is irrelevant as well. The image that this revelation creates – of a Liberal Party which is not only eagerly responsive to corporate interests but also staffed by corporate shills – is one which is sadly all too familiar.

If, as the polls suggest, the Liberal Party is returned to government tomorrow night, then this whole stupendously frustrating election campaign will have turned out to be a massive waste of everybody’s time.

Although seven in ten Canadians say they want change, they’ll instead get continuity. The Liberal Party of the sponsorship scandal, of NAFTA, of the Afghanistan invasion, of the punishing austerity of the 1990s, is in most important respects the Liberal Party of today.

Justin Trudeau’s willingness to follow the most politically expedient path to power bodes ominously for his tenure as Prime Minister; the Chretien government of 1993 was swept into power on grand promises akin to Trudeau’s, but soon Bay Street started whispering in Paul Martin’s power-hungry ear, and suddenly balancing the budget on the backs of the poor (while cutting corporate taxes) was the Liberals’ highest priority.

The Liberal Party’s legacy over the past twenty years is in many respects indistinguishable from the Conservatives’. For all the talk of Stephen Harper’s cuts to government, he merely continued a trend that was begun by Chretien and continued by Martin – two leaders who were trotted out by Trudeau at every opportunity over the course of this campaign, no matter how strongly their appearances provoked cognitive dissonance.

How did this happen? How did it come to this? If the polls are correct – and, again, they’ve been pretty damn wrong in the not-so-distant past – then this election is coming down to a choice between the governing Conservative Party, with all the scandal and abuse of power that comes with them, and the Liberal Party, which, well, ditto. And this despite the fact that there are other options.

The Liberals, I will concede, ran a great campaign. About a month back, I came to the conclusion that they were probably going to win – a conclusion I was reluctant to reach – on the basis of a combination of increasingly desperate behaviour from the NDP and some masterfully simple marketing from the Big Red Machine. Their simple message – Justin Trudeau is a strong leader with a plan to bring real change to our middle class – is hypnotically resonant, just as much as it’s semantically meaningless. It’s a cotton candy campaign – bright and enticing but ultimately insubstantial and stomach-ache-inducing.

Here’s a guy who declared his support for Bill C-51 when it was first introduced, for instance, before its provisions were well-known and its poll numbers were high. Then, once public support started to slip, he declared his opposition, but maintained his willingness to vote for the damn thing. Now, in the dying days of the campaign, his promises to reform the bill go unmentioned in all the talk of what his government’s top priorities would be. Is it so hard to imagine him “coming around” to the view that the bill was necessary after all once he’s in office and getting leaned on by heavyweights from CSIS and CSE and CBSA and the RCMP?

How strong of a stand do you think he’s going to take on the question of pipelines and the tar sands, knowing what we know about his close personal connections to oil industry lobbyists? How strong of a stand on climate change?

Or how about poverty? The TPP? Corporate taxes?

A Trudeau PMO which is thoroughly in the pocket of business and banking interests and responsive only to their concerns is distressingly easy to imagine.

I can think of no more damning indictment of Trudeau than his own words, words that struck me as incisively revealing when I first read them almost three years ago. Shortly after his ascendancy to the leadership of the Liberal Party, Trudeau told the Star’s Haroon Siddiqui that “The biggest difference between a party led by me and one by Stephen Harper will be one of tone”.

If the Liberals win tomorrow, let’s all hope and pray that there will be bigger differences than mere tone.

Now, I’m not gonna blow the NDP’s horn here – lord knows I’ve been mighty critical of them in the past. I think their faux-earnest insistence that they can still this one – that they can get a majority, dammit! – shows that they’re deeply in denial about how badly wrong things have gone for them this disastrous campaign. They ran a mushy, safe, middle-of-the-road, uninspiring, timid, cautious, moderate campaign, and they’re paying for it. When they did take bold positions, as they did on the TPP, they failed miserably at explaining to voters why those positions mattered. They forgot that a big part of their surprise surge in 2011 was based on the perception that they were a different kind of party, that they represented a departure from the status quo.

That they’re in this position at all, after starting the campaign in such a position of strength and with the Liberals on the ropes, speaks to a profound fucking up somewhere along the way. They had the golden opportunity to be the party of change in an election when change was on the minds of almost every voter, and they did an absolutely piss-poor job of being inspiring, optimistic, hopeful, and – most importantly – different.

They’ve had a bad run, no doubt about it, and I hope to see Thomas Mulcair give a resignation speech tomorrow night. The only question is the depth of the damage; if, as some projections suggest, they’re cut down to as little as fifty-five seats, Mulcair’s ousting will be a given. Much depends on the composition of Parliament; Trudeau has made it pretty clear he doesn’t fancy working with Thomas Mulcair in any capacity, and if he’s bargaining from a position of strength, he may well get what he wants.

At this point, only a fool would make a firm prediction about outcomes, and in some senses it doesn’t really matter. We’ve all lost this election. We’ve lost a golden opportunity to have much-needed discussions and go in desperately-necessary new directions. We’ve gotten bogged down in fear and loathing and racism and way too many polls.

Way back in the spring, as I started wrestling with the question of whether it was even worthwhile to cast a ballot in this election, I posed the problem like this:

For someone coming to politics from [a radical] viewpoint, there’s nobody to vote for. There is no party which champions, for instance, an immediate transition away from fossil fuels, or an end to the colonization and exploitation of indigenous peoples and territories, or an end to military imperialism in the Middle East, or the dismantling of the burgeoning surveillance state, or the total decriminalization of all drugs, or the dismantling of the fundamentally broken prison system, or the total eradication of homelessness and poverty, or even the greater involvement of the citizens of this country in decisions which impact their lives. All of these things, I need to emphasize, are achievable and affordable goals. But they aren’t part of our political discussion. They aren’t considered as serious possibilities.

And there’s a reason for that. None of those changes would benefit the political and economic elite of our society. People who advocate these policies don’t generally get taken very seriously by People Who Matter.

And voting for this party or that party isn’t going to achieve any of these goals. If any of them are achieved, it will be through tireless activism and advocacy, through mass movements, through civil disobedience on a large scale. These pressing goals are only achievable outside of electoral politics.

Which raises the obvious question: If we can’t achieve the changes we as a society need through changing the party in government, then does it really matter who wins the election this fall?

The answer, in an election coming down to a choice between the same two parties who’ve succeeded immensely by created this mess over the whole of our history, is clearly: no, not really.

What a disappointing epitaph for this election.

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