Election Watch #8: the French Debate

Today I will try not to emulate most of the participants in the latest leadership debate. Since I don’t have much to say, I’ll keep it short.
Once again, the debate was a contest of attrition, where merely keeping one’s head above water was the best any candidate could expect to accomplish. The end result? Nobody won, especially not the journalists who are trying to keep their audiences informed and entertained.

Rock Star Politics
I couldn’t help but notice that the advent of these debates has certainly changed the nature of an election campaign. Now the national leader of each party is the only image presented, and the local candidates lose importance. This combines with the increased power of the leader over his caucus to move us in undemocratic directions.
And the worst of this trend is Stephen Harper’s stranglehold on his party, where nobody else is allowed to say anything. Ludicrous results of this include one B. C. candidate, who, when interviewed, answered every question with some variation of “I’ve been in the boardrooms, and I know how things work.” Which, in many people’s opinion, is a really good reason not to vote for him.

Control of the Story
This situation is a disadvantage for the Liberals, because Justin Trudeau is in an uphill battle against two highly experienced opponents, both trying hard to picture him as a boy in a man’s fight.
Which demonstrates the real weakness in the Liberal campaign. They started out with the argument that Trudeau has a strong team behind him and that he is a collaborative leader who can utilize that group and weld it into a fine governing party. If that is so, why haven’t they been able to wrest control of the narrative away from the rock stars? Why have they allowed to election to be about “leader, leader, leader?” (Come on. You didn’t really believe the election was about the economy, did you?) Perhaps because they don’t have the strength.

Once again we see one main problem of democracy, especially in the media age: the election campaign as a popularity contest. Ability perform on the hustings is no guarantee of ability to govern. Almost 50% of the voters being of below-average intelligence and all that.
Perhaps we should be looking at something other than the “50% + 1” voting system in order to combat this.

The Niqab
In fact, the only topic that piqued my interest is one that should be of more cultural than political importance: the niqab.
This tempest in a teacup can be looked at from several different directions and at several different levels.
1. Is it a matter of women’s rights? Or is it a matter of everyone’s rights?
2. Is it the great symbol of…well, any spin you want to put on it, or is it a minor matter of a few dozen individuals whose upbringing has resulted in an aberrant but harmless habit of dress?
3. Is the niqab the enforcing of rigid rules of misogyny by dominant masculine rulers, or is it a device that allows a woman complete control over her public image? If it is the latter, then it will attract the displeasure of the more autocratic males in our society.
I can’t help but see the similarities to the Doukhobors in British Columbia in the 1930s: a religious sect with terrorist connections where the women were thrown in jail for extreme dress habits. Another example of heavy-handed government response to people whose beliefs were different.

The overwhelming feeling I get from the whole issue is that the matter is driven by prejudice. The bottom line is that the niqab is a habit of those nasty, scary muslims, and anything we can do to stomp on them and make them feared and hated falls right in line with the bigotry of a certain segment of the population. And the fear-mongering of the political parties that pander to them, both federal and provincial.

The upshot of the argument is this: should the government be so upset at the way another culture tramples on women’s rights that they will trample on an individual woman’s rights in a ham-handed attempt to correct the situation? Perhaps not in the Canada in which most of us wish to live.
And Stephen Harper definitely had it wrong in the debate. His “I never want to tell my daughter what she has to wear,” has nothing to do with the government telling a woman what she’s not allowed to wear. His “heartfelt” protest was nothing but sanctimonious smoke and mirrors; say something emotional and hope nobody notices it is meaningless in the context of the present discussion.

Oh well, one thing about wearing a niqab; you’ll never be accused of having a red neck.

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