The world in 2007

In Canada, little hope of policy debate amidst chronic rhetorical masturbation

Ahmed Kayssi
Ahmed Kayssi

The world in 2007 will witness many important political events, but there is little to inspire optimism
on the international stage. In Canada, voters will likely be heading to the polls for a third federal election in four years. They will be asked to consider a number of important issues, including Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan, the so-called “fiscal imbalance” between Ottawa and the provinces, and Canada’s environmental policies.

The environment will be a particularly hot issue, considering new Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s penchant for all things green. Canada’s environmental record under various federal governments, including when Dion was environmental minister in Paul Martin’s cabinet, has been consistently inadequate.

Unfortunately, there will be little hope of a meaningful policy debate amidst the chronic rhetorical
masturbation that has become the hallmark of our political system. Harper’s Conservatives may just
win the majority that they crave, undoubtedly helped by the lack of an inspiring alternative among
opposition parties.

In an election scheduled for Oct. 4, Ontarians will deliver their verdict on Dalton McGuinty’s governing Liberals. If current opinion polls are any indication, the Liberals will be re-elected to serve a second term.

Ontario’s provincial election may also include a referendum on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The Assembly, modelled after a similar one in British Columbia, was organized by the Ontario government last March to explore options for modernizing the province’s electoral system.

During the past few months, its diverse membership has been studying Ontario’s current electoral system under the guidance of widely-respected Queen’s political studies professor Jonathan Rose.
If the Assembly proposes a new electoral system, the McGuinty government has pledged to hold a referendum on the Assembly’s plans, probably during October’s election.

The Assembly will be in Kingston for a public consultation meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library on Johnson Street, an event worth attending.

In the United States, President George W. Bush will focus on his country’s economy and attempt
to shore up Republican fortunes after the thrashing that his party received by the Democrats in last
November’s elections. Thankfully, Bush will also discard the chimerical notion that oppressed people around the world are queuing up to be shocked and awed by the American freedom agenda, especially
after Iraq’s liberation was so tragically botched.

As the race to succeed Bush in 2008 unfolds, neither Democrats nor Republicans will risk initiating
necessary but potentially unpopular legislation to improve the current system for fear of angering voters.

Consequently, troubled programs such as Medicare, which provides some healthcare for elderly and disabled Americans, and Social Security, America’s national pensions program, will both go unreformed.

In March, Europeans will mark 50 years since six nations founded the European Economic Community, the predecessor to the European Union (EU). European politics have changed markedly over the past 50 years. The EU now has 23 members, including many ex-communist states.

Moreover, Turkey is interested in joining and raising the prospect of a Muslim (albeit officially secular)
country, becoming a part of the predominantly Christian EU. This year, Europe’s two most experienced and well-known politicians, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac, will step down.

Blair adapted many of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies to transform Britain into Europe’s most prosperous economy. He’s also the longest-serving Labour
Prime Minister in British history, having won three consecutive elections.

His closeness to George W. Bush and the deeply unpopular invasion of Iraq, however, have damaged him politically at home and mobilized the Labour party’s rank-and-file to call for a change in leadership.
Blair will likely be replaced by his dour finance minister and long-time rival, Gordon Brown.

Chirac has held the French presidency, and thus dominated French and European politics, for 12 years. His successor will inherit a public debt that hovers at 60 per cent of France’s GDP and a restless electorate increasingly mistrustfulof politicians of all political stripes. The biggest news-making region
in 2007 will continue to be the Middle East, where Iraq’s security troubles will worsen and polarize
the entire region. Bitter sectarian tensions actively encouraged by self-interested neighbouring
countries, will undo the much-celebrated democratic progress that the country recently witnessed.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, free elections and civil liberties are necessary conditions for democracy, but they are unlikely to be sufficient for a robust democracy if unaccompanied by
transparent—and at least minimally efficient government—and a supportive culture. Unfortunately,
today’s Iraq has neither.

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