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Now is not the time for…

The election came to town this week, the federal election, the Canadian one. It’s on Oct. 14.

The election came to town this week, the federal election, the Canadian one. It’s on Oct. 14.

You could tell there was an election by all the signs that sprouted up alongside the highway on Monday, two weeks after the election was actually called; two weeks before it’s all over. Some of the signs are there with the authority of a municipal permit; some are squatting, as it were. Reckless and incomprehensible.

That was one of the themes for Monday’s all candidates meeting at Whistler Secondary, the first of several all candidates meetings in this disparate, mammoth riding: reckless and incomprehensible. Conservative John Weston used the terms repeatedly to describe the Liberals’ Green Shift, following Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s edict last summer that Canadians would be “screwed” if the Green Shift became reality.

“Commonsense leadership,” Weston said. “Commonsense, clarity and accountability,” is what the Conservatives offer Canadians, along with the “responsible economic stewardship” that produced 29 tax cuts in the last two and a half years. The Liberals, he said, are proposing an “incomprehensible tax scheme.”

Liberal candidate Ian Sutherland may have been slow to make his presence known in this election, but he understands the Conservatives’ campaign strategy. The Squamish mayor promised to talk about what the Liberals will do rather than speak negatively about other parties. He said he is “very proud of the Green Shift,” that it would be “revenue neutral” and it was a disservice to dismiss it as incomprehensible. And no one asked him anything further about it.

Green candidate Blair Wilson apparently didn’t see any irony in touting his business background. “Everyone knows what the Green Party stands for. I bring to that my business background,” Wilson said. “Green means business.”

With the economy and the environment as his two issues, the former Liberal said he joined the Greens because of their party policies and because Elizabeth May was being left out of the leaders debates.

Calling the Liberals’ Green Shift “a dollar short and a day late,” Wilson said the Greens “are the only ones with any credibility.” Presumably he meant on environmental issues.

Bill Forst was also at the meeting, a nice man carrying the NDP flag and complaining that the Conservatives’ tax cuts had mostly benefited large corporations.

But the evening was really about Weston and Wilson, with the current MP demonstrating his familiarity with the all candidates format and a mastery of timing that produced the best line of the night. In response to a question for Weston about balancing families and affordability with getting tough on crime Wilson quipped, “The Conservatives’ platform of creating more prisons is their affordability plan.”

Weston, on the other hand, followed the Tory script that is being used across the country: sew doubt and fear about the Liberals’ Green Shift and promise modest, steady stewardship of the country. Weston said the Conservatives’ policies of tax cuts and tax incentives will “continue to put money in the hands of Canadians” and that is a better strategy than “wallowing in surpluses.”

While the Weston-Wilson battle was at times entertaining, there wasn’t much to inspire Whistler voters Monday, at least not in a positive way. And the same is true on a national level. There has been no vision, no narrative for Canada and its roll at the start of the 21 st century. The fact that we’re already on our third election of this century (fourth if you count the November 2000 election as part of this century) reflects that lack of direction.

And why would a Canadian politician venture out into the open with a vision for the country? Jean Chretien was a success as prime minister because he was an astute manager, placating a majority of voters and parliamentarians rather than inspiring them.

Paul Martin, after a lifetime apprenticing to be prime minister, announced some bold ideas when he finally got the job and Canadians responded by giving him a minority government.

Stephane Dion announced the Green Shift in the spring, after a year’s worth of polls showed climate change and the environment were Canadians’ top priorities. In Canada that counts as a bold move. Unfortunately for Dion, as he spent the summer trying to sell Canadians on the Green Shift their priorities were shifting as the economy moved south. The timing couldn’t have been better for the Tories, or worse for the Liberals.

“Now is not the time to do anything new, wild or stupid,” Stephen Harper said last week, reiterating the folly of the Green Shift. No one can accuse Harper of being new, wild or stupid, certainly not during this election. Conservative candidates have been well apprised of the party line, and Weston demonstrated his mastery of it Monday.