You have the best arts coverage of all our Canadian newspapers. You have some excellent reporters. During this election campaign, you published a number of serious, well-considered, forcefully argued editorials. I don’t know why you feel the need to give Margaret Wente a platform, but I can overlook that. Often, I feel like you are the only Canadian paper that aspires to some sort of intellectual seriousness. The Toronto Star tends to break more stories than you do, but I prefer your vibe. I’m stuffy that way. I don’t know why anyone would read the National Post, except, occasionally, for its long(ish)-form theatre reviews.
And today, you left me without a Canadian paper to read. I’m cancelling my subscription.
It’s one thing for a newspaper’s editor-in-chief to take a political stance one disagrees with. That happens. It’s certainly happened with you, over and over again. But in the past, I put those moments in the Wente box: dismaying, sure. Disappointing. Incomprehensible even. But not so totally and indisputably corrupt as to taint the entire enterprise. Not this year.
Your endorsement of a counterfactual Conservative party without Stephen Harper is the most ludicrous piece of editorial journalism I have read in a very long time. Its argumentation makes no sense. It is appallingly written (allow me to don my English professor hat and ask: how exactly does one “knit” economic and fiscal stewardship? Is a knitted steward floppy, or does one need to insert a steel rod to give it [him? her?] a spine of some sort? Can one wear it in the summer, too, or is it only for colder months?). It endorses a vision of government that relegates absolutely everything to the question of economic management — as if our federal politicians had no role to play in the life of the nation and its citizens other than to tax businesses and private individuals. I’ll come back to that. But worst, your endorsement is shockingly mendacious. Its claims fly in the face of the facts as reported in your very own pages.
The central assertion in your editorial is this: the Conservatives’ economic record is so strong that in an election (rightfully) focused on the economy, they “might have won, and would have deserved to.” So strong are they in this regard, in fact, that “the two other major parties have so much respect for the Conservatives’ record on economic, fiscal and tax policy that they propose to change almost none of it.”
Essentially, you suggest, all three major parties are running on the same economic platform. Apparently you think this is a sound argument for voting Conservative, despite holding a very low opinion of almost everything else the party has done under Harper’s leadership. It obviously is no such thing. If you were right, it would be an extremely strong argument for voting against the Conservatives: everything they’ve done in areas other than the economy stinks; the other two parties only resemble the Tories in their economic policies; ergo, vote for one of the other two, and you’ll get to keep those (supposedly excellent) policies while getting rid of all the foul, distracting nonsense. You could have made that fairly bizarre case from the premiss with which you started. But no.
If your argument is internally inconsistent, it’s also completely divorced from reality. Of course, your entire endorsement is an exercise in counterfactual dreamweaving: our system, as you well know, does not allow voters to elect a Prime Minister; and we have no more influence than you over whether a party leader resigns or stays in office. Your recommendation to vote Conservative and hope for Harper’s resignation is cute but pointless. It also seems to presuppose that the “the Conservative Party” has little in common with its leader, and has been forced onto the path it has been pursuing with increasing relentlessness almost against its own will. Freed from the Harperite shackles, it will return to the “big tent party” it used to be — under, what, Jason Kenney’s leadership? Doug Ford’s? Exactly where are the Conservative voices that have been silent for so long, and will finally speak out to reinvent their party once Harper is gone? Who do you have in mind? Chris Alexander? Michelle Rempel? Rex Murphy?
But, sorry — I got distracted by the fancy footwork of your concluding paragraph. Back to your endorsement’s more fundamental counterfactual: that the other two major parties have drunk deep of the Tory Kool-Aid on the economy.
Perhaps I’m missing an obvious joke. I don’t suppose a writer who drops phrases such as “leaving aside a few billion dollars’ worth of extra borrowing” really expects to be taken seriously in his judgment of a government’s fiscal record that rests entirely on one year of budgetary surplus, and a surplus of less than “a few billion dollars.” You even admit that fiscal responsibility has been Harper’s “brand,” not his actual “record.” I guess it is consistent with your love of free markets to believe that someone’s brand is more important than someone’s record. But let me proceed as if you meant to be taken at your word.
The NDP, you say, basically has the same economic plans as the Tories. You say this, I assume, because Tom Mulcair has not proposed the renationalizing of the oil industry, and has not publicly contemplated common ownership of the means of production. A disappointment for me as much as for you, to be sure. The odd thing, though, is that your own summary of the parties’ platforms paints a totally different picture. Here, have a look. It really doesn’t matter how feasible any of these policies and plans are — that’s not what the question is. (If it were, you’d have to ask the same thing of the Tories’ rather unsustainably ambitious goals.) Pretty much the only thing the NDP and the Conservatives have in common is their commitment to balanced budgets. Is the minimum wage not an economic issue? Pipelines have nothing to do with the economy? A 2% corporate tax rate increase is negligible? (But a 4% increase in taxes on individuals, as planned by the Liberals, will lead to a “brain drain”?) Billions of additional dollars in new infrastructure spending — not worth mentioning? Significant incentives for manufacturers — identical to the Conservatives policies, or not worth considering? Ending interest on student loans: not an economic issue? Seriously? Do you understand what an economy is?
The Liberals, you say, are also great admirers of Harper’s economic policies. Except as soon as you actually started writing about their plans, you must have realized that you couldn’t even begin to sustain that particular counterfactual, so you decided to switch tack, and take a page from your endorsee’s playbook: instead of lying about the Liberals’ platform, you chose to make stuff up about what they would actually do in government (a question you don’t think worth discussing with regard to the Tories). In that fantasy future, the “spectre of waste and debt rears its ugly head.” Rather intriguingly, a Liberal minority would raise that spectre with the help of the Tory-policy-loving NDP. You call this “a recipe for frailty” — though why, one can’t be sure. Because minority governments are inherently frail? Because the NDP’s Harper-like policies will clash with the Liberals’? Because the NDP will reveal its true deep red colours and drag young, inexperienced, selfie-loving smiler Trudeau down into their den of economic recklessness?
In your understanding of tax policy, the very idea of progressive taxation becomes a Conservative model: if the Liberals propose to cut middle-income taxes, they’re simply “one-upping” the Tories; if they propose to increase benefits for families with children, same thing — never mind that those benefits are targeted in one case, and universal in the other. It’s only when taxation becomes too dangerously progressive that this oneupmanship threatens to destroy Canada: when the rich suddenly end up paying the kinds of taxes they pay in left-wing hellholes like, say, the US.
So, in sum, you’re trying to have it many different ways: on the one hand, NDP and Liberals basically propose to continue Tory policies. Except, on the other hand, they’re also dangerously different. And taxation can destroy a country. But government spending has no effect on the economy, and can be neglected in discussions of policy. And a few billion in borrowing are negligible, unless they can be called a “spectre,” in which case we need to run from them in terror.
You wanted an election “about jobs, taxes and the economy,” but even in your own endorsement, you’re incapable of discussing those three simple topics with any kind of seriousness. In that sense, you are a pretty perfect reflection of your endorsee. Where you differ from the Conservative party, and where your vision of government is even more distressing than theirs, though, is in your belief that politics should only be about money.
That’s the part of your argument that galls me the most. The Tories may have many positions on social policy that I find reprehensible, but at least they have positions. Even Stephen Harper doesn’t seem to think that all he should concern himself with is “jobs, taxes and the economy.” You, on the other hand, seem to think everything else is just a sideshow.
Sure, you talk about big tents and gesture vaguely towards “socially progressive” values. But you wouldn’t make that sort of stuff the basis for an endorsement — right? Health care? Pension plans? Students? The environment? Education? The arts? Foreign policy? Immigration? Apparently, as far as you’re concerned, all of those are distractions, issues that merely “pus[h] up the number of Canadians upset … for reasons having nothing to do with their pocketbooks.” Because that is what voters should vote with, it seems: not their brains, not their hearts, but their pocketbooks. And that, ultimately, is the vision of government that motivates your endorsement, as incoherent as it is in its conclusions: governments are institutions that affect their citizens’ pocketbooks, and the best government is the one that leaves those pocketbooks as unencumbered as possible. You deplore the “American-style culture war” the Harperites have unleashed during the election campaign. Yet your own argument is about as “Amercian-style” as any I can imagine. At its cold heart, it’s pure libertarianism.
There is a simpler way of saying this. What your editorial really proposes is this: the government should play as minimal a role as possible. People should vote with nothing in mind but money. The Conservatives come closest to this ideal, which is why they must win again. Harper has slipped off message, and has made politics about things other than money. He has therefore become an embarrassing distraction that might get people thinking that governments can do things other than leave citizens alone. This must not continue. Otherwise, who knows what might happen. The spectre of a “bigger government footprint” is looming.
That’s a terrible view of what a government is and does. It has nothing to do with the Canada I live in or the history of what Canada has been in our lifetimes. But given that this is the vision that informs every vaguely substantive argument you offer, I’d have preferred it if you had been more honest in endorsing it. Glimpsing that narrow, inhumane vision dimly through the tangle of non-sequiturs and distortions in your editorial? That’s more than I can take. So, goodbye, Globe and Mail. I shall miss parts of you. I shall not miss your intellectual corruption.
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- The Plough and the Stars (O’Casey; dir. Sean Holmes) Abbey Theatre Dublin, at Canadian Stage, Toronto, Sept 2016
- Young Chekhov (trans. David Hare; dir. Jonathan Kent) National Theatre, London; Aug. 2016 (and also some The Plough and the the Stars)
- Prose and Verse in the 1608 King Lear Quarto: An Alternative Explanation
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