The numbers game


This week’s televised leaders’ debate mercifully added a dash of flair to an otherwise boring federal election campaign. Whether or not the extra exposure will help Nunavut candidates or change the course of the campaign remains to be seen.

Though there were moments of clarity and even passion on the issue of national unity, listening to Canada’s political leaders squabble over social-economic policy was mostly like attending group therapy for a dysfunctional family. One shrieking infant had hardly branded his sibling a liar before another chimed in with fresh allegations of wrongdoing, mismanagement or stupidity.

And then there were the numbers. Too many numbers.

From one side side of the stage Alexa McDonough, leader of the NDP, wagging her finger at Prime Minister Chrétien, blamed Liberal deficit-cutting for the loss of 400,000 jobs over the last three and half years.

Not so, came the reply from Chrétien: Canada’s infrastructure program has, in fact, helped generate 793,000 jobs since the Liberals took over in 1993. Still more jobs will be created, he assured, by continuing to reduce the federal government’s deficit.

Wait a minute, Tory leader Jean Charest said: there are still 1.4 million jobless people in this country, with the same dismal employment prospects they faced three years ago. How can the prime minister stand there and claim that the government has been effective creating jobs when the nation’s economy has shrunk by 72,000 jobs since the Liberals came to power?

Statistics. Flung shamelessly around without regard for accuracy or truth, they always make a mockery of debate by sheilding politicans from real political discussion. Unfortunately, the election the Liberals have called on June 2 won’t allow much in the way of real debate in Nunavut, where our own gender-parity campaign is hogging headlines. There simply isn’t enough time.

Which doesn’t excuse our political leaders from deliberately evading fundamental questions about the future well-being of the country by throwing up a smokescreen of fantastic and contradictory statistics. How on earth can average Canadians cast an informed vote when the leader of their own government can’t state clearly what the size of the national deficit is? Or, for that matter, how many families live below the poverty line.

Future leaders’ debates would be more helpful if the use of numbers was prohibited altogether, since politicians are either unable or unwilling to agree on facts. Debate should be about competing ideologies, not a game of tricks with figures.

Aboriginal issues are being pushed aside altogether in this campaign, despite alarming proposals from both right-wing parties. The Reform party and the Progressive Conservatives are proposing to significantly change the relationship between the federal government and northerners by eliminating the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs altogether. On the eve of the creation of Nunavut, a model for self-government in Canada, this position certainly deserves more explanation.

Many months ago, perhaps in anticipation of the federal election, the Liberal government chose to dismiss the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Sadly, not a single political party at the federal level has shown a desire to act on these recommendations, or even to begin discussing them seriously with their provincial colleagues. The Member of Parliament representing Nunavut should feel a sense of duty to keep the next federal government focused on its repsonsibility toward all native Canadians.

Most importantly, Nunavut voters will need an effective ally in Ottawa, someone with the integrity and the skill required to work with the new territorial government, while remaining autonomous and objective at all times. Does your candidate fit this description? DW

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