The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Party commercial updates

Seems Jack Layton's re-branding efforts have been successful, to the point that the "father knows best" Conservative commercials have been pulled. They have been replaced (rather oddly, considering Stephen Harper's determined laissez-faire position during the debates) by a middle class, average mother and her young daughter who worry about the economic situation, but don't trust St├ęphane Dion to solve it. Once again the carbon tax note is hit as implying increased taxes to the middle class, at a time when they can least afford it.

The Green Party continues to show Elizabeth May, discussing different parts of the Green platform on board a train. In sharp contrast to every other campaign and most schools of advertising persuasion, the camera angle points sharply down at her ... but which somehow works here, perhaps because it suggests someone more in tune with the average voter than all those other politicians who stand at a podium or whiteboard or sit at a fireplace, condescending to their public. Between this approach, the general economic climate, and her debate performance, especially as contrasted to Harper's, I am starting to wonder if Peter McKay might not be in some danger of not keeping his seat.

(May's physical campaigning does suffer from one of the major restrictions of a cut and cut and cut again train service: those places which still have train service often have only one passenger train per day, and in much of the country, the train comes through at strange hours of night. Some significant overhauling of the train networks is in order if whistlestop campaigning is to become effective again.)

The Liberal airplane has finally taken off, with a vengeance. In one and the same commercial, "Stephenomics" are contrasted with a mosaic of regular people, all of who together make up the Liberal party of Canada. (I assume that it is unnecessary to reiterate each and every time that the "typical", "average", and "regular" people shown on political commercials will almost always belong to the party for which the commercial is being made?) It is distinctly fascinating to watch the Liberal ad machine finally tackle the task of creating an entire advertising campaign without once emphasising the party leader, and do it well. Even more interesting, the Liberals appear to be the only party advertising at all on the multicultural OMNI 1 and OMNI 2 stations, and that in languages neither English nor French. There, one of the key points on which Conservative policy is being challenged is immigration -- and it may be too late for any effective Conservative counter.

Remember Harper's September 23 comment that ordinary working people don't identify with a "bunch of people at a rich gala"? In many cases, this is exactly true, especially when worded in that fashion -- though he chose to leave completely unsaid that galas are far from typical fare for artists, that virtually every award gala is privately funded, and that the earnings average for visual artists and writers is among the lowest of any profession, averaging well below the poverty line. (I am in a position to know!) Harper really shot himself in the foot with this quote and his overall approach toward arts funding, and no amount of backpedalling will cause those who value the arts to forget it. His reply during the debate was illustrative:
I enjoy the arts immensely. I play a little piano though I wouldn't call myself terribly proficient. I come from my father's side where there was a little musical talent. My wife's family, a very artistic family. They paint, they draw with the artistic abilities. My daughter has a little bit of that artistic flair for design. She's in dance. My son is learning right now and we've increased the arts and culture budget in this country but one of the things I announced in this election, we'll create a $500 tax credit for every child so parents can get a tax credit if they enroll their kids in artistic and cultural activities and that should help sustain and develop the cultures in the country.
Why seriously support in the opening stages of a dedicated career something that anyone could do? (Exactly the same argument applies to teaching and to the economic value of the stay-at-home mother: perceived value decreases in exact proportion to the perception that anyone could do it.) What could possibly say more clearly that for Harper, the arts should either be a hobby or else a self-sustaining career without government financing?

The NDP were quick to leap at the opportunity, though most in English-language Canada won't ever see their carefully crafted Conservatueur de la culture commercials: no longer Conservative, but the killers of culture. The phrase so quickly swept the world that now it can be picked up in even in Russian newspapers: in which language the term nekulturny is still among the worst possible insults.

All this, against the backdrop of an economic meltdown which will turn out to be the Great Depression of our times: but let us remember that we survived that one, through three different sessions of Parliament and two different governing parties, without losing so much as a single bank, and somehow we will muddle our way through this one too. (We might even remember the difference between wants and needs!) This time we have been favoured with intelligent, competent leaders, all of them. I focus on Harper rather more than the rest, simply because he himself has focused his campaign around himself, but I find I don't really care which particular leader of ours wins the position of prime minister.

I do hope it will be a minority government, however. It would just be too tempting for a majority government -- any majority -- to monkey-trap pursue its own personal agenda to the blinkered exclusion of all else. In my ideal Canada, industry would be tempered with concern for an environment unique in the world, technological innovation with cultural innovation, a broad economic vision with concern for the plight of the individual: and above all a deep, abiding respect for perspectives which, though not utterly congruent with our own, remain similar in all points of a common humanity. We have the economy, the natural resources, and above all the people to make this happen. Do we have the will?

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