What they’re thinking on Queen Street and what to make of it all

In Toronto for the weekend and picked up the current issue of Now magazine. It is very—and very explicitly—in favour of the coalition. (Eye is pro-coalition too, if less rabidly. They also provide this helpful line graph.)

None of this is terribly surprising. 

One interesting sentence, though, from Now’s Memo to Michael Ignatieff: “The real message about a different kind of politics in the Canuck context is coalition.”

This coalition’s inherent problems are obvious and have been expounded upon at length. There are real problems here that cannot be entirely diminished. But, in the coalition’s mild defense, you could say it is something different. And, in fairness, you could point that just about everyone has pleading for some time for just that—something different.

As no less than the Prime Minister has conceded, Parliament is a mess. As is moaned every couple of weeks by some columnist or another, the proceedings in the House of Commons border on the disgraceful. Voter turnout hit a new low in the last election. And many of us spent much of the past year watching enviously as Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, largely on the promise that he represented the opposite of what we presently have.

In the abstract then, surely there would be some support—both public and professional—for greater cooperation and other such magnanimous gestures among politicians and parties. The theoretical idea of three parties, representing 60% of votes cast in the last election, agreeing to work together towards a fairly moderate agenda is probably something we would—or logically should—approve of.

But so far we don’t. At least in the numbers you’d expect given what seems to be a desire for “a different kind of politics” in this country.

There would seem to be two possibilities for this.

1. We don’t actually want something different.

2. We don’t want this kind of different.

And those possibilities would seem to beg all sorts of non-rhetorical questions.

Are we not sold on this coalition or are we rejecting the very idea of a coalition government? Would a concerted, coherent effort to sell the idea over the next month lead to greater acceptance? Or, given our general ignorance of our own democracy, are we simply uneasy about something we don’t understand? 

Is this just about the Bloc Quebecois? Jack Layton? Stephane Dion? Would the coalition be more popular if it was led by Michael Ignatieff, Gary Doer and Jean Charest? How about Michael Ignatieff, Wayne Gretzky and Anne of Green Gables? Or just Anne of Green Gables?

When we say we want parties to better work together, do we really just mean we want Liberals and Conservatives to make more effort at compromise? Or do we really just want a majority government in Ottawa? Though, if so, why haven’t we coalesced around one party in any of our last three opportunities? 

Probably the most dispiriting conclusion is this: we don’t particularly care at the moment, we don’t presently see anyone who makes us want to change our mind on that and, all things being equal, we’d rather government quietly went about its business without screwing up so badly as to compel us to pay much attention.

For all the rancor and debate and the suggestions that this bit of unseemliness has newly engaged the Canadian public with its politics, I’m not convinced we aren’t just more disaffected with it all. And that an opportunity to actually change things has been so badly bungled that we aren’t going to come out of this any better than we were when we got into it.

Elsewhere in that issue of Now there’s a story about the demise of hipsters. Hope, as epitomized by Barack Obama, has trumped their default cynicism. Which is all well and good for the ironic t-shirt set in New York and Los Angeles, but what is the hope for reformed Interpol fans in Toronto and Vancouver? What exactly is the “better” they’re supposed to be looking for when, a few days after Obama is inaugurated in Washington, our Parliament returns in January? What would we have our previously disaffected young people look forward to*?

(*Other than the new Lonely Island record.)