Canada and the end of smug

Remember the heady days of 2004? The United States had just re-elected George W. Bush, and Canadians were downright giddy with self-satisfaction. We basked in the longing gazes of liberals to the south, and delighted in the sad progressive refugees who either moved, or claimed they would like to move, to our frozen land. It didn't matter if we weren't big or flashy like the USA, or even particularly interesting as a nation. Government-wise, we had our shit together. But oh, how the worm has turned.

Today, the Canadian Parliament is a sad, sad excuse for a government. Our Prime Minister is a vindictive technocrat, happy to ignore the imperatives of public policy and pursue cynical partisan advantage. The opposition is led by a well-intentioned but totally inept nerd who can't even hire a competent cameraman to film the biggest speech of his political career. Together with the NDP and BQ, Dion has also forged an un-principled and opportunistic political alliance that backed Harper into a corner, forcing him to show his cowardly streak and prorogue parliament. So now, our government is effectively paralyzed just as we begin to chart the treacherous waters of an international recession.

Meanwhile, the United States has elected its first black President, a deeply intelligent and charismatic man who has engaged and inspired huge numbers of people. He has brought a measured, thoughtful approach to the economic crisis. His cabinet is filled with brilliant and progressive thinkers. Barack Obama is not the great cure-all for a nation with deep, divisive problems, but at least he is exercising a little leadership. And he hasn't even taken office yet.

So, game over, Canada. The winter of 2008 is officially the end of smug. We can no longer claim to have a better, more progressive government than the United States. It was a nice eight-year run, but now it's time to get down to the grim, meathook realities of Canadian political life in 2008. We have a crippling poverty of political leadership in this country. And until we start to demand better of our elected officials, things will only get worse.