By John J. Jalsevac

From the moment last night’s leadership debate got underway my little sister had my vote in the bag. After Paul Martin’s ludicrous opening line in the ethics section (“My view of ethics in government is straightforward. It’s honesty, it’s integrity, but it’s also telling the truth!) the 12 year old curled up in front of the television turned to me and innocently inquired, a little unsure of herself: “But, isn’t honesty telling the truth?”


She continued to shine spectacularly and reasonably. “Jack Layton is too polished,” she stated firmly after a few minutes. Polished? I didn’t even know she knew the word let alone how to use it. But heck yeah, she’s got a point. The man talks as if he thought there was a good-sized orchestral string section playing somewhere behind him. He has clearly shot way too many commercials.

Any minute, I figured, a cute, dimply child from one of Layton’s impoverished Canadian “working families” would run onto the set with his aged grandmother, one of the NDP leader’s oft-lauded seniors, in tow.

Layton would “spontaneously” embrace the child in an emotional moment of compassion and sincerity. And then bending down, looking the child in the eyes, the kindly faced politician would warmly explain in rhythm to the lilting violins in his head: “You know Johnny, if I’d been in power when you were but a twinkle in your mother’s eye my social programs would have made it so much easier for her to get an abortion, and now she wouldn’t be as poor as she is trying to feed you and send you to school. Sad isn’t it? So go little child, go and tell your mom that there is another way, a third way.” And the studio crew would gently lead the shrieking child away.

And then, to the child’s grandmother. “And you, isn’t it so demeaning that you’re sick, can’t work and only seem to exist as a further drain on your poor working daughter’s small salary and on the Canadian economy? Well, there’s a third option. Vote NDP and we’ll make sure you can put an end to your miserable existence just as soon as you realize that nobody wants you any more. Because we really care about seniors.”

And then a little later, that same innocent, 12-year-old face turned from the television screen again. “Stephen Harper isn’t really saying much is he?” my little sis asked, her unhappy face looking as if she hoped to be contradicted. But I’m an honest man, and couldn’t do that. Instead I wept a few silent tears and sung a requiem for Canadian conservatism.

I waited for a moment when I didn’t think I’d miss much, which was, in retrospect, the entire debate, and got up and grabbed a couple beers from the fridge. “Here,” I said, handing my little sis a cold one. “This should help.” (Alright. That’s not true. But I did grab myself one. It didn’t help.)

Even after Martin clumsily dropped his one pathetic wild-card of the night and bizarrely announced a new party platform to remove the notwithstanding clause from the Canadian Charter, Harper’s eyebrows still remained as implacable as ever. Meanwhile I rolled on the ground in front of the television and frothed a little at the mouth.

Oh, the things that Harper could have said. “Mr. Martin,” he could have said. “All night you’ve been accusing me of wanting that very dirty thing, a ‘more American Canada’. And yet,” he could have continued, “the major platform initiative you’ve chosen to announce and to highlight for this, the final and most important of our English-language debates, is to give the Canadian Supreme Court exactly the same sort of dictatorial autonomy from the people that the American Supreme Court currently holds? As if we needed further proof, this is the final shred of evidence that you are, as Mr. Duceppe so neatly puts it, a democratic deficit.”

Of course, my imagined Supreme Court response would not be entirely correct. In America, the people actually take the time to publicly investigate and question their Supreme Court judges before they are appointed.

Of course, none of this really matters, because Martin likely didn’t mean what he said about the not-withstanding clause any more than when he angrily claimed that the Liberal party had kept all of its promises, or when he said anything at all for that matter. This, for the simple reason that dropping the clause can’t be done, and certainly not with the minority government that is the most the Liberals can possibly win at this point.

In fact, the only moment of the night that offered any real hope was when Democratic Deficit Martin pointed his finger at Harper accusingly. “Mr. Harper spoke to a U.S. Conservative group and said that they were a light, an inspiration for Canada.” he gasped, as though the words themselves were some kind of horrendous sacrilege. “I don’t believe that Canada was built on American conservative values. It was built on compassion, on generosity, on sharing and understanding,” he continued, apparently taking it for granted that in the minds of American conservatives these Canadian ‘values’ are the deadliest, most despicable sins.

Harper, of course, neither confirmed nor denied the report, sticking instead to the general tack of the evening, which was for the party leaders to make as sure as possible that nobody watching the debate came away with any idea as to exactly what any of them stand for.

But in this case maybe we can take silence for assent. The American political conservative movement does have it’s faults, but at least it has a little moral backbone and the occasional moment of success, which is a heck of a lot more than can be said for the Canadian conservative movement at this point in time. If Harper finds these particular things inspirational, more power to him.

That being the case, after watching last night’s debate, I think the best advice I can offer Canadian voters when they go to the polls this January 23rd is this: vote for my little sister. Her name is Catherine. She’ll help Canada’s return to sanity, just as long as the politicians don’t get to her first.