Editorial Comment

Pig Wars

 

When this country’s high foreheads and think-tank brainiacs are pondering why the electorate is largely apathetic, or worse, filled with antipathy toward our federal government, they need look no further than the gamesmanship that is prevalent in the corridors of power.  It’s not just any game that these politicos love to play, however. It is The Game; the grand-daddy of all Canadian political games. It’s called the Parliamentary Institution Game, or PIG, for short. 
Participants in this high-stakes game come from an extremely select group of individuals. It is limited to just Federal politicians, although PIG players are heavily coached by lobbyists, contractors and senior bureaucrats.  Provincial premiers are lead to believe they are playing PIG but it is more like when you let your little brother roll dice and move around the Monopoly board pretending to have a turn.
The goal for PIG players is to achieve “power” using lies, innuendo, hypocrisy and even the truth occasionally, to garner “Public Approval Points” (PAP). During a turn, a player will use one of two types of prewritten cards to advance around the board, collecting PAP, on their way to the top of Parliament Hill. One set of cards is for the sole use of Government gamers while the other set is strictly the purview of Opposition members.
For example, a Government player will throw down an “idea” card; perhaps the, “Let’s buy a bunch of pricey military equipment” card. It works equally well for F-35 jet fighters as it does Griffin helicopters. Other “idea” card include the “Let’s reform Medicare” card, the “Let’s cut/increase the civil service” card, and, of course, the ever popular “Let’s get tough on crime” card. The Opposition Player must immediately play a card to quash any “idea” card the Government might play no matter what it might be.  Agreeing with any government idea is the equivalent to throwing a trump an “idea” card, the Opposition may play the “We need food for starving, homeless waifs more than expensive war machines” card”. The Government player will then use one of their “expert” cards to demonstrate the need for the purchase; either the “The military says their hardware is obsolete” card or, more likely “Opponents of military aquisitions don’t support our troops” card. Although the first choice is closer to reality, the Government knows they usually get far more PAP from appealing to the public’s emotions rather than their intellect.
Game play proceeds as each side alternatively lays down various “expert” cards” until a) one side runs out of cards, b) the only cards left in players’ hands are the ineffective “Yes it is!” and “No it isn’t!” cards or c) the public has tired of the hand and went onto a more interesting one.
With the start of a new hand, it is the Opposition’s turn to go first and they will select, from their array of cards, some of what are called “Accusation” cards. These are powerful cards that can win the game if skillfully played, although they also have the power to come back to haunt you when a new game begins and those in Opposition form the Government. “Accusation” cards include such dillies as “The Government has a secret agenda” card, “The Government doesn’t respect the principals of democracy” card and “The Government is using patronage in awarding Senate seats, committee positions and foreign affairs appointments to all their cronies and party hacks“ card.
The wonderful thing about these cards is that they can be used by any political party that finds itself in either the Government or Opposition benches. The cards are non-partisan and non-denominational.  Stephen Harper was playing the same cards in Opposition as the NDP are doing now. 
It is unfortunate there are no “Reasonable Compromise” cards for either of the groups to choose from; that would be too easy. Then it would be a co-operative game, instead of a competitive one. We certainly do not expect co-operation between political parties. Playing PIG in its current form wouldn’t allow it. 
There are actually two sides to the PIG debate. To some, the fact that our duly elected leaders have the luxury of playing such games is a reflection of a safe, secure, business-as-usual approach to government.  Supporters of this view make the valid point that, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth through the ages, this system has provided we Canadians with, arguably, one of the most stable, open, democratic governments on the planet.  Sure, there’s wastefulness, shiftiness, and no small amount of arrogance within both the Government and Opposition benches, but in the big picture, even including the PIG picture, Canada has historically enjoyed fairly decent leadership. 
On the other hand, however, opponents of “PIGmanship” will point out that this game that politicos love to play so much does more to illuminate governmental hypocrisy than all the seasons of both W-5 and This Hour Has 22 Minutes combined. It doesn’t take a political science expert to see through the game and come to the realization no matter who is in power or in opposition, little will change. As long as each political party can use the same, identical “attack” cards on each other, it actually keeps both parties safe from too much scrutiny. Irrespective of the political stripe of those in Government, the tired same arguments and counter-arguments go back and forth like some traditional Canadian folk dance.  Eventually the lines between the different parties become so blurred, taxpayers simply lump them all into one: The Guilty Party.
The only way to change this common public attitude is to fundamentally change the game of PIG. This can be done with just one alteration; the introduction of the “compromise” card.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for it.
 



 
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