From the first day the election was called, to that day in Winnipeg when he famously launched Phase Two of the campaign, to the final day of his Bonkers Tour of Canada, Liberal leader Paul Martin was clear there was one and only one dominant issue in the campaign: values.
On debate night the Liberal Party restated the battle lines:
Tonight's debate made it perfectly clear that there is a vast difference in values between Prime Minister Paul Martin and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. On January 23rd, it will be up to Canadians to decide whose values reflect their own.
"If you want to stop Stephen Harper, if you don't agree with Mr. Harper's values... there's only one choice you can make and that's the Liberal party," Martin said in speech after speech.
"Choose your Canada," he bellowed over and over.
Well, Canadians chose.
Liberal values were rejected.
And the country's radio, television and newspapers are silent.
When George Bush beat challenger John Kerry in the U.S. presidential election by 3 percent, the news media agonized for weeks about the part values played in the final vote. There was a spirited debate in newspaper columns, blogs, radio talk shows, and TV newsmagazines. The Democrats undertook a self-examination to ask themselves if they were, indeed, out of step with the majority.
In Canada, the Conservatives defeated the Liberals by six points, yet nobody wants to talk about the very thing the Liberals said was the defining issue of the election.
The Calgary Sun yesterday carried a headline "Tory Values Resonate With Canadians". But it was a case of a headline writer carried away with enthusiasm.
The story was really about a Decima online poll that showed the voting public overwhelmingly felt Conservative Party priorities (cracking down on crime, a patient wait times guarantee, an Accountability Act, child care funding, cutting the GST) were either critical or important. But policies are not values.
The difference in values espoused by the two major political parties is basically summed up in the parable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.
The Conservatives are the Ants.
Work hard and you will be rewarded. You have a duty to those less fortunate. Give generously to charity.
The Liberals are not the Grasshoppers exactly, they just Grasshopper enablers.
As long as there are Ants, government can take the fruit of their labour and "share" it with everyone else. Don't worry about earning rewards; you deserve them. Don't hurt anyone's feelings by saying otherwise. And the government will hurt you if you do.
But, but, but....what about the Bloc? The NDP? The Greenies? They hate Conservative values. Don't they count?
The Bloc and the Green Party are one-note Charlies whose values were irrelevant in this election. An Environics profile of voters found that the single strongest value to Bloc supporters is the need to be held in high esteem. "I'm HUMILIATED" said the Frenchmen and we laugh. But it's not funny to them. Their noses really do go out of joint.
As for the NDP....with a leader who felt he was entitled to subsidized housing when he and his wife earned more than $100,000 a year, and a star candidate who was a lawyer with a rap sheet that includes contempt of court and jewel theft ... the less said about values the better.
NDP leader Jack Layton tried to enter the values debate once in Quebec. "...if you feel the way I do about Stephen Harper's choices and values...if you want to be represented in Ottawa by people who respect you, and respect your values... On January 23, vote for the NDP." On January 23, voters elected 10 Conservatives and zero New Democrats. 'Nuff said.
Even as the news media tiptoes around the values issue, we can see the local reporting, at least, begin to slip into old patterns.Wednesday, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Leah Janzen wrote a mainly positive story about Rod Bruinooge, the Conservative who gave incumbent Liberal Reg Alcock the boot in Winnipeg South.
But she couldn't resist identifying him as "a Christian, and a firm believer in the Conservative platform." Immediately below was her story about Reg Alcock. He is, she tells us, married with two children. There's no mention of his religion.
An earlier story about Liberal winner in Churchill, Tina Keeper, doesn't mention her religion. The previous day's stories about defeated Churchill candidates Niki Ashton and Bev Desjarlais, didn't mention their religions.
A story about Liberal winner Anita Neville didn't mention her religion.
The story about NDP winner Judy Wasylycia-Leis didn't mention her religion.
Bruinooge is a Conservative. And he's Christian, see? Subtle.
Certainly more so than "Christians Captururing Tory Party", FP columnist Frances Russell's near-hysterical attack on evangelical Christians last July, a column the Free Press defended as fair comment.
Now that the public has made its values choice, the Winnipeg Free Press should consider shuffling its array of columnists. It has plenty of columnists spreading the liberal message -- Frances Russell, Bill Neville, Gordon Sinclair, Val Werier, Gwynne Dyer, Colleen Simard, need we go on.
The conservative side is represented by ... Tom Oleson.
A rebalancing is in order if the paper is truly listening to its readership. You know...fair comment and all.
If the Free Press has any doubts, it has only to go to the recent columns by Gordon Sinclair which raise questions about the thin line between opinion and political propaganda.
Opinion is a reasoned argument based on at least some facts.What can you call Sinclair's personal attack ad column where he flatly stated his vitriolic characterization of conservatives and anyone who supports them?
He was at it again today, rewriting history as fast as his fingers could type. Conservative Rod Bruinooge, who defeated Liberal Reg Alcock, wasn't humble enough for Sinclair's taste. As a winner, he shouldn't have called Alcock arrogant. And he should have acknowledged how hard Alcock worked for Manitoba.
- Here's what Bruinooge actually told CBC: " They want someone who they feel is representative of them, who doesn't rule from an ivory tower, who has humility," he said. "I think those are very important assets that unfortunately Mr. Alcock hasn't shown lately. I agree, he has been a money man, but clearly that's not the primary voting agenda of voters in Winnipeg South."
And here's a sample of Alcock's work.
- In the 2004 election he campaigned loud, long and hard on the New Deal to share Ottawa's wealth with cities. After the election he showed up at City Hall and said "Here's a string for you, and one for you, and one for you."
The "new" New Deal, Alcock-style, was that Ottawa was giving money to Winnipeg but only be used for a transit system (a Liberal value) instead of roads and sewers (a Winnipeg value).
Funny how he didn't mention that during the election campaign.
- Reg Alcock, in Sinclair's eyes, is "the epitomy of class and grace" in defeat. That's a good one. The key here is all Liberals put on their best face forward in defeat.
Alcock showed his real face in the campaign.
Maybe Sinclair was sleeping when the Winnipeg Free Press co-hosted an election forum with the CBC and Alcock was questioned by someone from the the prison guards union. He responded with shocking contempt and condescension, captured live by the cameras.
- On his way out of the auditorium, he was confronted again by union members and, according to their newsletter, he told them he had no respect for them, they could "go to hell", and he had answered their questions over the past four years but correctional officers "are dumb as posts."
Except that this time it turned out one person was even dumber than a post, and didn't see the blue tide coming in to sweep him from office.