If you're bored of life and convinced that the world has nothing entertaining to throw at you, I urge you to visit the website of the Conservative Party of Canada and watch their television ads, available in the tiny streaming media window on the sidebar to the right. Non-Canadians will be forgiven for thinking that the Conservative Party of Canada is five used-car dealers with a grudge and five hundred bucks to spend on TV spots. Nope, they're one of the four major political parties of this country. Witness the robotic head of candidate Stephen Harper as he promises to punish criminals,
punish reform corrupt federal government, punish court the western and eastern rims of our country, and punish reward taxpayers by cutting our taxes, and punish punish families by gutting federal daycare. How does he intend to carry out his complex plan for drowning Canada and resurrecting it as the United States?
If the TV spots are any indication, he'll set up a gigantic pretend country in a soundstage somewhere - maybe in that new one being built at the Toronto Harbourfront - and rule that pretend country with a faux-populist fist. The ads show that Harper is most comfortable in the world of absolute make-belive, talking to a pretend journalist in a pretend newsroom with pretend cups of coffee (my favourite pretend detail) while pretend citizens ask him pretend hard-hitting questions. His answers and his opinions seem to refer to a country that he's made up somewhere, a lawless world where drug dealers roam the streets and people will be grateful not to bother with well-managed subsidised daycare. Or decent health care.
In the ad titled "Trades," the young journalist mentions that politicians "seem to talk a lot about university. Why the focus?" A better question is, What kind of a weird pretend question is that? It turns out to be the kind of question that allows Harper, a politician, to smear politicians as a category. Politicians talk about university because "almost all of them went to university" (Harper himself carries a master's degree in economics). "But we need to remember," he continues, "that most people don't". Then he offers a couple of generalities about making things easier for people in the trades.
Really? Most people in this country don't go to university? I'm prepared to accept that, but a few facts wouldn't hurt. Statistics Canada shows that, in 2001, 22.6% of the population attended university, which is about on par with the percentage of people who graduated high school (23.9%), nearly the same as those who didn't graduate (22.7%), and somewhat more than college grads (17.9%). The big losers in the education race turn out to be the trades, coming in last at only 12.9% of the population.
When you look at the percentage change between 1991-2001, the situation becomes clearer. University graduation increased a freakishly huge 50.5% in ten years. Fifty percent. College attendance went up 45.5%. Trades increased by 9.2%, high school by 8.4%. Once again it seems that learning a trade simply isn't the goal of most Canadians.
What does this mean? If you believe Stephen Harper - if that really is him, and not a clever mannequin head swivelling on some gimbals - it means that the ranks of politicians are swelling out of control. Or, if you believe me, it means that the politician's "focus" on universities has to do with the fifty percent turn on the university focus wheel. But we're not really talking about Canada here; we're wandering through Stephen Harper's funhouse, where the politicians kick back in the faculty lounge and ignore the hordes of plumbers and drywallers and electricians out in the street. Either that, or he's exploiting a non-existent class conflict for political gain by making it all up.
Also worth mentioning is the ad on childcare, which is called "Childcare". In case you miss the theme, a video screen looms over the background with the world "chilcare" splashed across it. Harper's big plan? One hundred dollars per month per preschooler, and it's your choice as to whether you want to use that money for a daycare, a baby-sitter, or for a parent to stay at home. "They're your children," says Harper, conceding to his own logic, "Shouldn't you decide how to raise them?"
Let's do a bit of very elementary math here. One hundred dollars a month. Unsubsidised pre-school daycare in this country can cost four to five hundred dollars a month. A baby-sitter who'll show up every day of the week will cost - hmmm. A lot more than a hundred bucks, unless you want to take advantage of the naive illegal immigrant labour pool. A stay-at-home parent costs an entire income. But hey, at least big government isn't butting in on your childrearing decisions and beating you down with that horrible heavy stick of affordable daycare. Maybe Harper will afford us all slingshots so we have the choice of hunting squirrels in the park for food. After all, they're our stomachs. Shouldn't we decide how to feed them?
It's possible that the amateurish attempt at realism in the ads will move people to pity. Like a dog that waddles back a few paces from the table and affects not to beg, maybe Harper hopes that the diners will throw a few scraps his way. Look at me, the ads plead, I'm so out of my depth here, it's embarrassing. But I refuse to beg. But is that kind of subtlety really possible within the parameters of Stephen Harper's software? If so I have to congratulate his programmers, who doubtless cultivated such cunning irony at a degree-granting institution.