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An Empty Chair Does Not Lie

I went to the five-party debate on Poverty and Inequality in downtown Ottawa on Monday evening.

The most interesting statement was the one made by the Empty Chair, which is where the Conservative Party representative would have sat had the Conservative Party considered poverty important enough to at least show up and feign some interest in it.

The Empty Chair said Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party do not believe poverty is even worth talking about.

If you’re living in poverty, poverty becomes the single most important thing in your world because it shapes and limits virtually everything else. It creates anxiety and fear and isolation and despair. It exacerbates other problems, like depression and illness. It humbles you and hobbles you.

The Empty Chair said Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party see poverty as a fringe issue, of little interest to anybody who matters to them.

Poverty does not attack randomly. It follows distinct patterns. The following groups are always over-represented in Canada’s underclass: single parents, young families, children, students, people with disabilities, recent immigrants, visible minorities, people living alone, elderly widows, low-wage workers and Aboriginals.

The Empty Chair said these are the people Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party consider irrelevant.

In addition to those who are already poor, many middle-class Canadians fear losing economic ground and sliding into poverty. And, given the alarming state of the economy, it’s a pretty safe bet that more middle-class Canadians will become poor over the next couple of years.

The Empty Chair said Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are either oblivious or indifferent to fears of economic vulnerability among Canadians.

At first I thought it was insulting and arrogant of them to snub this debate. But after some sober reflection, I realized the Conservatives could not possibly have chosen a better representative to send to the Poverty and Inequality Debate. The Empty Chair spoke volumes; we got the message loud and clear.

On October 14th, we get the last word. Vote loud and clear.


12 comments to An Empty Chair Does Not Lie

  • Would you have felt any differently had someone been sitting there? It would have made for a slightly different post, but I’m pretty sure the overall tone and the last bit would have been the same…

    When the party in power attends one of these single issue “debates” they are always the pincushion, which is the reason so few PIP MP’s ever show up. Two hours on “why poverty sucks” is not a debate, it’s a discussion on why the government hates poor people. What’s the debate?

    When the NDP were the PIP in Ontario I seem to remember more than a few no shows, same with the Harris Conservatives, and the Federal Liberal Party candidates when they were PIPs were always getting reamed in Ottawa and Toronto for not showing up to these kind of single topic action plan meetings.

    About the economy… this is not something Canada can fix so I don’t understand why people expect our Prime Minister to take full responsibility for a problem Canada has nothing to do with. Canadian banks are the healthiest in the world right now, there are no mortgage problems beyond the usual ones… our economy will slow because Europe’s and America’s will slow. I don’t see how having a Prime Minister ‘feel our pain’ can fix any of that. If we want hugs we should be electing our moms…

    Beyond a general slowing down there is no European / American style economic crises in Canada right now, there is no need for bank bailouts here. The concern right now is over capital being removed by investors because of the American and European credit concerns and falling oil prices. We are not Iceland. The financial situation as you see it on the way to work will be the same in six months or a year no matter if it’s a majority or minority government, or if it’s Layton, Dion or Harper as Prime Minister.

  • Carmen

    Zoom, extremely well written! Thank you!

  • Shocking behaviour. I want to put on the record that I am, in no way, related to the Empty Chair.

  • Things are dire in the UK right now. Poverty abounds and now it will only get worse. We’re not poor yet, but we’ve had to tighten our belts. We’re making hard choices.
    We’re heading headlong into a dark period. There’s been so much frustration recently with governments spending money unwisely, and here they’ve gone and done it again. The energy crisis and global warming will take a back seat. The populace will want to eat first, do the best they can for their families. Britain is used to this I guess, but I’m not. I have very strong feelings of bitterness, resentment, and hatred towards those whose greed will now destroy the lives of decent hard-working people everywhere.
    It’s all a lie, and at some point the the struggle to voice that truth just wears one down. If McCain wins the US election next month I think I will unplug for awhile. Take up basket weaving. Learn how to like lentils. Carve little pieces of flesh from the soles of my feet.

  • The chair was empty for the arts debate too.

    If the PIP is seen to be there for pummeling not conversation…I can see the point of why be masochistic enough to show, even if slapdowns do build sympathy votes…

    so many sides and so little time.

  • Oma

    One of your best, Zoom. The perspective is excellent, and the leit motif of the chair is a wonderful unifying device.

  • deb

    Excellent post. Gabriel feels that there is no sense in the Conservative Member showing up because they would just be the butt of abuse. If the Conservative member is afraid of confrontation at an All Candidates Meeting, maybe they are in the wrong profession???

    I am pleased also to see that you have people from all walks of life, economic position, and political opinion feeling comfortable to post their opinion on here, even when it is soooo different from yours.

  • I live in one of the most conservative ridings in Ontario, and my MP — a Conservative cabinet minister who has been the MP as long as I’ve lived here — hasn’t bothered to show for most of the all-candidates debates in our riding. He doesn’t need to — he won 56% of the vote last time, and almost everyone on our street who has a sign has a Conservative one. I don’t understand how people who live in the same kind of circumstances I do, with the same sort of education as I do, can be such strong Conservative supporters. It’s frustrating!

  • Gabriel – I don’t want to tackle all the points you’ve made, but I’d like to correct a misunderstanding. The reason I brought up the economy is because Harper underestimates the number of people who care about poverty. Quite apart from those already living below the poverty line, there is a sizable contingent of middle-class Canadians who feel vulnerable to povety and fear that this economic crisis might push them under. By dismissing poverty as a fringe issue, Harper underestimates – at his peril – the degree of concern about poverty among Canadians.

    Carmen – you’re welcome. And thank you.

    the Chair – ha ha! I was actually thinking about you when I wrote it, and hoped you would not feel maligned. I would never paint all chairs with the same brush; some of my best friends are chairs.

    Andrew, I was right there with you until you started carving pieces of flesh out of your feet. If McCain wins, I’ll eat lentils, but that’s as far as I’ll go!

    Pearl – the Empty Chair attended the arts debate too? Did he make the same sort of statements there?

    Oma – thank you. What is leit motif??

    Deb, I agree – I know not all my readers agree with my political perspectives, but I’m pleased when they feel comfortable enough to disagree out loud.

    Lynn, do you think maybe they were just born into Conservative families, grew up Conservative, and never really thought about it?

  • The chair was empty at my son’s high school also. The Liberal and NDP chairs made fun of the Conservative Chair saying that He doesn’t show up for much and mostly because the Conservatives don’t have a platform and would fall down.
    Yup, my son’s first exposure to a ‘real’ political event!

  • Oma

    A leit motif is a recurring image.

  • “Gabriel feels that there is no sense in the Conservative Member showing up because they would just be the butt of abuse…”

    My point is it’s pretty rare for the elected MP, if they’re from the party in power, to show up at these things, especially if they have a lead but extra-especially if the events are single issue meetings. People wrote the same things about Liberals under Martin and Chretien.

    It’s standard media-relations, you don’t send your candidate into a position where they’ll be a target for the opposition parties over one issue all night unless you know the crowd will be on your side… in which case it’d be rare for the other parties to show up.

    In a general all-issue debate an incumbent candidate from the ruling party can answer a question and move on, but at a single-issue meeting that candidate is a target for two hours and the chair might as well be empty because they’ll just repeat the same three sentences: we’re looking into it; we’re concerned about that as well, and; our opponents did it worse…