A kinder, gentler Stephen Harper?


Election madness is sweeping over North America. Maybe it doesn’t affect you, but I’m sorry to say the madness is starting to affect me.

After months of watching Hillary and Barrack, I am now thoroughly sick of hearing either of their voices. Hillary’s shrill voice wore out quicker. But now I find the sound of Obama’s pontificating oratory even more nauseating. On the other side of the fence, I would be quite content to never hear John McCain say, “my friends…” ever again.

Of course there are some serious issues going down south of the border. Their national debt has ballooned out of sight, not to mention their annual federal deficit. The Chinese and Saudis own large chunks of the US economy. Their housing market is in the crapper after the sub-prime lending fiasco. Consumer confidence is in the tank. Millions of American jobs have been shipped overseas thanks to globalization. The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen dramatically. (So much for the Ronald Reagan trickle down theory.) More than 20% of US citizens have no health care coverage whatsoever. The high cost of oil is bankrupting the American transportation industry. The Russians are sabre-rattling or much worse in Georgia. Then there are those two pesky wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, costing billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. And finally, there are the gridlocked partisan politics, the lobbyists and the special interest groups hijacking the entire US political process.

With all that going on, it’s kinda nice to be a Canadian, isn’t it? Or is it? Well, if you’ve been watching Canadian television ads, you’d have to conclude that our issues are rather tame, and we’re so very fortunate to have that nice, smiling Stephen Harper at the helm. In these schmaltzy 1950s-style ads we’re told that he’s the best choice we have. Sounds like that “lowered expectations” skit on Saturday Night Live a whole lot of years ago.

And really, what a pile of horse hockey. We’ve all seen the boxy, stone-faced Harper touring the Arctic or reviewing the troops in the field. Or the smirking, sarcastic Harper during Question Period, dismissing the opposition with a patrician wave of his hand. When I saw the first “nice” Conservative ad with the smiling Harper, I was sure his face would crack.

So here’s the low-down from a reformed advertising man. When a TV ad is telling you something, it’s usually trying to mask a fear of the exact opposite. When the Conservative Party starts to spend a lot of money advertising that their leader is a nice guy, what they’re actually afraid of is that most people think he’s not a nice guy. And by doing that, they’re acknowledging that they, too, know that their leader isn’t such a pussycat.

How could it be otherwise? Here’s a man, our prime minister, who makes a commitment to the Canadian people to have fixed terms and fixed dates for elections. And then he breaks that commitment at the first opportunity—a favourable popularity poll, and the need to get ahead of the US election just in case the “liberal” Democrats win an set the tone for a Canadian election. But it’s just politics as usual, right? Cynical, dishonest and utilitarian.

We Canadians do have a few serious issues. Harper has been busy over the past two years decoupling the provinces from the federal system. Thanks to the Canadian oil agenda, he’s quickly moving us from a nation of equals to a federation of unequal states, if that’s all right by you. And then there’s this little issue of the Canadian military acting as a spare backup battalion for the US Army over there in Afghanistan. Here at home we have the prospect of a disappearing Arctic ice sheet in summer, which will completely impact not only the Inuit culture but the future of all Arctic species. And with all that open water up there comes a big sovereignty issue with the Northwest Passage and untapped oil and gas reserves, which will be hotly contested by those two old rivals, the US and Russia, right on our northern doorstep. And who could forget that we’re completely indexed into the US economy, which hasn’t been doing so hot lately? I guess we’ll be kissing our manufacturing and forestry sectors goodbye for a while.

I had a coffee yesterday with an old friend. We got into some of the same topics, and his big concern was apathy—how ordinary Canadian voters seemed to care so little about getting involved in politics. I had to agree, and I’ve written about this before. It must be getting pretty bad when the Conservative candidate, Greg Thompson can run nearly unchallenged, and the federal Liberals here in Southwest New Brunswick, while they seem to have a candidate, don’t even have a riding president listed on the Liberal website. And with just a little over a month to go before the election.

This might concern residents of the region. While we know that Greg’s a good man, the ruling Conservatives have a big interest in maintaining Arctic sovereignty. Inevitably, this may include the occasional trade-off—say for instance, allowing the US to park one or two Liquified Natural Gas terminals on their own side of the border in Maine, and letting their LNG tankers run through Head Harbour Passage—in order to secure our bigger interests up north.

The old adage says that politics is the art of the possible. Which, I suppose is code for “situational ethics” or flat out utilitarianism. And therein lies the importance of the passionately involved citizen. If all politics lead politicians toward compromise, then it’s only by the grace of an ethical electorate that we’ll ever get the spine we need. Which means you matter. As a citizen, you’re the one with the uncompromising ideals and the independent voice.

And that’s exactly what the party system of government is lacking. Party politics turn party supporters into true believers. The party line becomes the important thing. It becomes a religion. What we need today are more vocal, highly skeptical, disbelieving voters.

Frankly, I don’t give a fig about Conservative principles or Liberal philosophies. It all ends up in a power game, in which absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I hope we haven’t all forgotten the purpose of government—which is to protect. Not to protect a ruling political party, or the politicians, or big businesses. But to protect ourselves. And if we do it right, we also get to protect our future generations.

I know it sounds hokey, but I just don’t trust our politicians to do it without us.


Popular Posts