As I write, it is the first of August. I am in Nova Scotia. I am on holiday.
My top priority is the tide so I can plan my walk. Tomorrow, I will consult Environment Canada to study wind speeds. I do this to help prepare to lose gracefully to the wonderful lobster fishermen and others who live on the ocean more than I and race their sailboats twice a week.
For me, time stops by the ocean.
Yesterday, Stephen Harper called an election. I found out by accident. Someone mentioned it at the bakery. I don’t imagine anyone will be paying much attention until after Labour Day.
A beach is a very good place to think about a federal election.
No phone. No laptop. No newspaper. No apps. No TV. No radio. No Senate reports. No wars, invasions or terrorists to keep track of. No negative advertising.
Just wind, fog, rain, sun and sand.
Let me contemplate the leaders in my lifetime: Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau, Clark, Trudeau again, Turner, Mulroney, Campbell, Chrétien, Martin, and Harper. I can associate most of them with a big idea or two: Diefenbaker, the closure of the Avro Arrow and how much he disliked John Kennedy. Lester Pearson, the launch of our health-care system, the fight for the Canadian flag and, very importantly, a thorn in the side of expansion of the Vietnam War.
For the first coming of Pierre Trudeau in 1968, I was at university in Ottawa and Trudeaumania was real. So was the Canadian tank deployed at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Bank Street across the road from my apartment during the October Crisis.
Joe Clark was gone in an instant, but I thought he had great promise if he could have counted.
With Pierre back, he brought home our Constitution, established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, won the first Quebec referendum and launched the infamous National Energy Program.
John Turner succeeded him but never got elected as prime minister. Brian Mulroney came along and got rid of the National Energy Program, tried hard on the Constitutional front, established the GST, and negotiated the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Kim Campbell, who followed, never had a chance.
Jean Chrétien nearly lost a referendum, tamed our huge deficient, stayed out of the Iraq War and brought forward the Clarity Act to govern future referendums. He was followed by Paul Martin, who should have stayed as one of the best finance ministers in our history.
Stephen Harper, in contrast, has focused on downsizing government, reducing taxes, deploying a strident foreign policy, and avoiding anything to do with the environment or nation building.
He has been the yin to their yang.
Setting aside the current issues of corruption and style that have afflicted many of our prime ministers (we forget), this election is disproportionably important to all of us, regardless of political persuasion. It is a fork in the road.
It is about what everybody knows it is about. Will we return to a more progressive mandate or stay on track with a heightened Conservative trajectory? It has impact on almost everything. A short list: judges, environmental policy, transparency, deficits, tax policy, provincial relations, health care, security legislation, labour laws, referendum laws, law and order questions, the CBC, trade deals, pipelines, Aboriginal relations, the United Nations, and foreign policy. Some would argue civility. This election is not about the Senate.
Unfortunately, the election will unlikely be won or lost on what is substantive. It will be a gaff, an unforeseen event, various tactics, good or bad advertising, and personality.
Generally, governments defeat themselves. This government has neither defeated itself nor won absolution.
My guess is it will be a horse race to the end.
I think Canadians, by a considerable majority, will vote for change but will not get it.
The fog is rolling in. It probably won’t lift for a couple of months.