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Margaret Wente

Yup, still old-style politics Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff's new guys in Ottawa aren't dumb. They know that people can barely pronounce the word "prorogue." It reminds them vaguely of ethnic food. Their new attack ad says "cover-up," instead.

Shades of Watergate! A big conspiracy is afoot in Ottawa. We know this, because the ad uses creepy X-Files music. It mentions detainees and torture, and shows a giant chain-link fence surrounding a deserted Parliament Building. Stephen Harper has shut down democracy itself.

A few months ago, Iggy was saying attack ads were "old-style" politics. "We don't do that kind of politics in the Liberal Party," he assured us. "We need a better kind of politics, a politics that relies not on spite and spin, but on civility and common purpose." Oh well. Civility is highly overrated.

When Iggy strolled through that forest strewn with maple leaves, people rolled their eyes. No matter how civilly he behaves, people can't warm up him. According to a new Angus Reid poll, only 6 per cent of Canadians say Iggy is the party leader they'd most like to share a beer with. Maybe they suspect he prefers pinot noir.

If selling your own guy doesn't work, the only thing left is to demonize the enemy. The trouble is, people already know (despite the Beatles tunes) that the Prime Minister is a dictatorial control freak. And the trouble with prorogation (despite what you choose to call it) is that hardly anyone cares.

In fact, despite the universal outrage of the media, I get the sense that most Canadians wouldn't mind if Parliament scarcely met at all. Do you blame them? The unseemly spectacle of Question Period makes Parliament look like a degraded version of The Gong Show. Very little of importance goes on there. Debates are ludicrously partisan, and MPs are performing seals. Even the most serious matters are treated like a gotcha game. So what's to miss about it? As John Ibbitson, our Ottawa bureau chief, points out, our Parliament has become the most dysfunctional in the English-speaking world, and our prime ministers are the most high-handed.

Both parties are to blame for that. Stephen Harper was very, very bad to prorogue Parliament twice in one year (although people didn't seem to mind when it was the other guys who wanted to hijack democracy). But Jean Chrétien (a.k.a. the Friendly Dictator) cynically prorogued Parliament before the Auditor-General delivered her damning report on the sponsorship scandal. He also shut down the Somalia inquiry, which, you may recall, was set up to investigate the behaviour of Canadian soldiers on a "humanitarian" mission and the torture and murder of a Somali teenager.

Pots should proceed with caution before they call the kettles black. And I am breathlessly awaiting the Liberal ad denouncing Mr. Harper for his cynical plan to stack the Senate.

To the south of us, the two parties are so divided they have different television networks. Democrats and Republicans seem to dwell on different planets. Up here, Liberals and Conservatives only talk as if they do. Both parties are moderate on the major issues. Both are gearing up to fight the next election on a platform of job creation, fiscal responsibility and getting rid of the deficit without raising taxes (and if you believe that, you'd better believe in the tooth fairy).

Both parties will go out of their way not to mention the fact that we can no longer afford our health care, or that our well-intentioned foray into Afghanistan ought to spark a national debate on where and when we have any business intervening in failed states.

The two parties will try to persuade us they're as different as Mars and Venus. In fact, they're about as different as Corn Flakes and Wheaties. Neither one can wean itself from old-style politics. Both will deplore attack ads, then use them.

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