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Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)
Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)

Rex Murphy

No better than a moose in rut Add to ...

Back home in Newfoundland, it's absolutely essential to look out for moose while driving during the early fall. Because while moose tend to wander the Trans-Canada and the many coastline roads at all times of the year, in the fall, they're in rut. In rut, they're aggressive and anxious, and leave the sheltering woods in greater numbers. They're downright touchy and not too discriminate.

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They will charge a car. Half to two-thirds of a tonne of crotchety moose, strung out on unslaked hormones, will try to couple with just about anything. Legend has it they prefer SUVs, GMC Yukons in particular. (Proportionality, and maybe all that chrome - must be bling to a moose.)

Now, we don't blame the moose for getting frisky. Nature or Nature's God, as you will, made them that way. The pattern is simply there. It's not elective. Hormones are hormones, and the smart driver keeps that in mind.

Politicians have no such excuse. Or at least that's what I used to think. But I am beginning to believe - maybe The Nature of Things could put this on its investigative agenda - that our politicians are under some sort of DNA-coded imperative to keep springing elections on us. It seems to be all they really know how, or want. Is it, I wonder, less a choice than an instinct?

Will the government fall? Will Canadians be going to the polls? What will be the ballot question? In the political science faculties of our great universities, these questions are the sum of all inquiry. Not there by the choice of the professoriate, but from the practice of our politicians.

Our Parliaments are downtimes between campaigns. MPs go to Ottawa to rest up and strategize for the next one, not to legislate. In Ottawa, they frame every issue and incident, every committee and inquiry, with reference to the next plunge to the polls. The Canadian political universe is currently bounded by only one question: When is the best time for an election?

Michael Ignatieff, for example, gave us in the last parliamentary week of June something of a roller-coaster ride on whether he was going to "force" an election. Before then, and since, he's drawn so many lines in the sand, some of the slower members of his caucus think they're at a hopscotch tournament. He's at it again. As summer wanes, and September beckons the lads and lasses back to the Hill, Mr. Ignatieff is pawing the ground for another election.

This time, as usual, he means it. But what is so different now from barely a couple of months ago? What fresh crisis has roiled the Canadian politicoscape that means another election? Has the recession flared into unimaginable and renewed turbulence? Is Quebec threatening to separate? Dear Lord, please don't tell me we are going to have an election on home-renovation rebates. An election over patio conversions and kitchen islands? We'll be tittered off the planet.

But according to the newly steeled Mr. Ignatieff, we must have one. Simply must. Stephen Harper must go. The time is now. We must, we simply must, have an election.

Why? Well, the only possible answer is that it is perceived by his courtiers and consultants as a better time now for Mr. Ignatieff than it was three months ago. In other words, the operative consideration is partisan advantage. Push Mr. Harper, or finesse the NDP, or stall the Bloc.

There is no crisis or real issue to point to. The only plausible reason for forcing another election less than a year since the last one is that he and his backroom astrologers see something in it for them.

Now let's not leave the wrong impression here. Were it Mr. Harper with the largest rump in Parliament, and he Opposition leader, Conservatives would be executing precisely the same sterile gavotte. In this domain, there's not an ounce of difference between any of the parties.

Our parties have distilled the exercise of politics in Canada to a continuous manoeuvring for their respective political advantage. They have emptied it of every issue and substantive theme. The country revolves around their designs and ambitions, not the reverse. Just because it suits their timetable, or they see a moment with a sliver of advantage for them, isn't a justification: It's opportunism without makeup.

Well, the moose may be bellowing in the alders, elections may inexorably call to the politicians, but there's no compulsion for the rest of us. If we're to join in the dance, give us a reason.

If Mr. Ignatieff does force an election, he must be able to tell us why one is necessary. Not convenient. Not useful to the Liberals. But why it is necessary for the country. What's new since June might be a place to start.

If we do have another election soon, it will be purely an exercise of partisan ambition, another six weeks of vacuous rhetoric and theatrical encounters, to produce a result indistinguishable save in irrelevant details from the one we had last year.

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