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Margaret Wente

A plum pox on all the leaders' houses Add to ...

Canada is a special place. All around the world, people are protesting, even dying, for the right to hold elections. In Canada, all we do is have elections. We must be the only country in the world that has way more elections than people want.

"What do we need this for?" says one girlfriend, who dislikes Stephen Harper but no more than she did the last election. "What a stupid waste of time." That pretty well sums up the view of everyone I know. "There's nothing rational about this on any level," says another person, who works with government and business. The $300-million price tag of this election is just the start, she points out. All legislation, policy-making and decision-making will grind to a halt for the duration.

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Even Bob Rae isn't sounding all that keen about going to the polls. Maybe that's because he's read the polls. Michael Ignatieff's positive ratings are running well behind Stéphane Dion's. (Er, who?) An Angus Reid poll this month put his approval rating at just 14 per cent. In other words, the Liberals are diving into a swimming pool with only three feet of water.

Why? Maybe there's a diehard group of Liberals who still believe that they're the natural governing party, and that sooner or later Canadians will come to their senses and re-elect them. Or maybe they figure that Mr. Ignatieff is so hopeless that the quicker he loses, the better.

Or maybe, as Paul Wells speculated in Maclean's, they're simply tired of the humiliation. After a year of retooling, road testing and workshopping, their leader is the best he can be. They're desperate to get him before the voters - despite the fact he remains deeply unpopular.

Honestly, I'm feeling sorry for Mr. Ignatieff. He's a decent man without a platform. The problem with the Conservative budget is that it's way too liberal. It does nothing to address runaway spending or health care. Instead, it sprinkles tiny handfuls of fairy dust on every interest group in sight, as well as many you never knew existed. There's fairy dust for volunteer firefighters, parents of budding artists, impoverished seniors, hog health, double-glazed windows, the Calgary stampede, the Grey Cup and fruit farmers fighting plum pox. This isn't a serious document.

As for scandal-mongering, Mr. Ignatieff will have to come up with something better than what he has. What he has is a bit of procedural abuse, one dopey minister and an old fool who got mixed up with a 22-year-old former escort. What he doesn't have is a widespread pattern of abuse of power. His outrage sounds a little overdone - especially against the backdrop of current world events. Shouldn't we be debating, say, the future of nuclear power in Canada, or the wisdom of getting entangled in a distant military action whose command structure and objectives are entirely unclear?

Sadly, no. For now, we'll have to settle for foolish old men and former escorts. As for the matter of whether Stephen Harper poses a grave threat to democracy, my girlfriends think probably not.

For a while on Tuesday - about five minutes - I thought Jack Layton might actually save the day. But no such luck. He would have lost too much face. And that, in short, is why we're having an election. It's not about the issues at all. It's about self-delusion, game-playing, humiliation and face-saving. The politicians have a bad case of omphaloskepsis. It's all about them.

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