Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bloodless Coup at Disneyland

Canadian politicians aren’t making history, they’re taking up space. In other countries, particularly the United States, the decade preceding 9/11 is often referred to as a “holiday from history,” wherein the population was benighted to the realities and dangers of the outside world. In Canada, that halcyon respite can be measured not in years, but generations.

As just one example, while the powerful play of history unfolded over the last 30 years, Canada’s political class subjected us to repeated, lugubrious exercises – complete with tears and tape measures applied to French lettering on business signs – to determine whether one of the most blessed nations God gave to man should even stay together. If Canadians truly understood the misery of much of the rest of the world, and how lucky we really are, such nonsense would never even come up.

And now, weeks after spending $300 million on a pointless election, our sheltered and shallow Parliamentarians are creating a trumped-up “crisis” and have the gall to insist it’s “historic.”

There’s making history, and there’s making noise. For example, whether one agrees with the Afghanistan mission or not, 2,500 Canadians are in that dangerous country making history right now – in practical, not political terms – and putting their lives on the line to make the world a better place.

Meanwhile, back at home, our lightweight politicians refer to proposed spending cuts as an “attack on women.” Those who hold such hysterical views of Canadian government budgetary policy should consult with an Afghanistan war veteran, or a survivor of the Taliban’s regime, to find out what a real “attack on women” consists of.

This is less a question of policy than of culture. Yes, the prescriptions put forward by opposition leaders who are striving to force their governance on a population that did not elect them are probably wrong. Opinions vary as to whether it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cuts to social spending, or the elimination of taxpayers’ subsidies of political parties, or his lack of an economic stimulus package, or good old-fashioned political manoeuvring that prompted the Liberals, Bloc and NDP to cobble together their proposed coalition government – but none of it matters. The real question is, with the nation at war and a global economic crisis ongoing, should we be focused on the constitutionality of a hackneyed power-grab?

As this country and the world face extraordinary challenges, the events of this week remind us that some political cultures are too slow to move beyond the Mickey Mouse, navel-gazing mentality of fatter days. This is a bloodless coup at Disneyland.

In any photo of international heads of government, Canada's prime ministers invariably wear hopeful smiles that go unrecognized. Our politicians are hangers-on. Monday’s display of three electoral also-rans – Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe – holding forth as if they were the victors at Yalta goes a long way to explaining why this is. They have no idea what’s important.

Canada could and should be one of the most significant, powerful nations on Earth. With our resources, developed capital markets, rule of law and entrenched freedoms, we have the tools to create the world’s most attractive environment for investment and skill. But our politicians’ priorities are too puny. Small dreams stir no hearts. Think bigger, sirs, and history will take care of itself.


Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.