TORONTO - Political parties used to be the testing grounds for ideas, visions for a country, purpose in civic life.
They were network incubators and team builders where men and women sculpted the ideas, later ideologies, that would define societies, their values and shape the governments that would carry their philosophies across the land and around the globe.
Perhaps this view in overly romantic and unduly nostalgic for a generation and an era that never existed.
It is true that the influence of “great man” (with appropriate deference to the “great women” who were as impactful, if less numerous) has always been an inescapable dynamic in history.
Some of them, seen through the lens of modern values systems, leaving behind a destructive and violent brutality legacy that the centuries of time have difficulty erasing.
Over the last 100 years, the Western World has seen more than its fair share of such political animals.
They all start with relatively “good intentions”: the elimination of oppressive dynasties and the equitable redistribution of national wealth.
We are still adjusting to their “initiatives”, with varying degrees of success. Russia’s troika of Lenin- Stalin-Trotsky led an anti-monarchical revolt that resulted in the spread of a new system we call communism.
It spread elsewhere. In China, under Mao Zedong, after the overthrow of the Imperial order, the ensuing agrarian reforms eventually morphed into an industrial strategy currently captivating the imagination as “the socialist market economy”.
Europe, a continent whose history post Roman Empire until 1945 was incessant war, experienced the emergence of petty leaders to fill the void of collapsed Monarchical governments.
Until recently, they were known as “demagogues”.
Today, we call them “populists”, individuals who capture the essence of a “national complaint” into a catchy phrase that appeals to latent discontent for some real or perceived injustice.
The worst of them was a certain Adolf Hitler whose “Make Germany Great Again” eventually lead to world conflagration. Not all examples are of that magnitude of course.
But they all start with a long-distance attachment to the essence of truth or truthfulness.
This may strike some as being uncomfortably close to what the world is witnessing in the US where Trump the Liar aims to “Make America Great”, again.
A little short on details but generous on lies (7,546 according to CNN). He would have made Joseph Goebbels proud.
Over the last couple of generations, in Canada at least, citizens have voted against governments with which they have become disaﾐected; a disaffection that opposition “talking points” torque up to incite public, visceral rejection of incumbents. This is nothing new.
It rarely matters which party is in power. Leaders have developed a trend to associate their parties to their own persona, as issues become less important than the individuals who allege to speak on them.
Management of fiscal and or economic issues (nearly always accompanied by allegations of corruption) have replaced ideas, ideologies and philosophies.
National agendas are rarely identified, debated or defended - save and except for “cleaning the swamp”. Leadership candidates and leaders have even taken to attacking their own parties.
There is an inherent irony in this. Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford railed against the stench and corruption in his own Party even as he campaigned against a, by then hapless Kathleen Wynne.
Did he think anyone could lose against her? Today, it is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who conjures up the ghost of a Stephen Harper to heap scorn on Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer.
He cannot possibly be afraid that the Canadian Conservative Party is is overflowing with attractive ideas.