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Stephen Harper treats Canadians like imbeciles

In the recent issue of Inroads Journal, political scientist  Reg Whitaker  compared the minority government that Lester Pearson led to that of Stephen Harper.

He said: “Pearson employed his skills as a diplomat and conciliator to achieve major policy innovations out of parliamentary chaos: Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and the Canadian flag are among his accomplishments. Harper will be remembered not for diplomacy but for his belligerent insistence on acting as if he wields an unchallenged majority. Twice he has simply shut down Parliament, first to avoid facing a vote of confidence he was cer­tain to lose, and again to put off a censure of his government by a parliamentary majority. Yet apart from damaging the fabric of parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister has precious little to point to in the way of legislative accomplishments.”

In the past few months the Harper Conservatives have been warning the populace against the specter of a phantom “opposition coalition” that is bound to destroy civilization and all that we cherish in Canada. We should all be terribly afraid and head for the hills, they say.

Throughout his time in office, Harper has treated Canadians like imbeciles -- and he’s doing it again. Conservatives are attempting to position their ballot question as a choice between a Conservative majority and a coalition government.

At roughly 33 per cent, and with its demonstrable inability to competently govern this complex country, it is perplexing – and humorous – that Harper thinks he will be taken seriously in asking for a majority mandate. Most polls show that the Conservatives are in a statistical dead heat with the Liberals. The half-hearted attempt to instill more fear – something the Conservatives do well – and apprehension amongst Canadians is designed keep the base motivated.

The very idea that Harper will get a majority is delusional and preposterous. Even the Conservatives don’t believe it. Canadians are sick and tired of this minority parliament, and they crave genuine change. The Conservatives know this. That’s why they have been veering far right and scratching the ugly underbelly of their base: their best hope is to cling to a minority.

In his National Post column of a few months ago, Don Martin said: “How a government, which has emptied the public purse far into the future, ratcheted up the deficit to historic highs and bloated the bureaucracy to unprecedented size can stand for re-election as a conservative-friendly government is beyond me. To succeed with that hard sell, they must throw every far-fetched demonization allegation they can dredge from the barrel’s bottom at all three opposition parties and hope some of it sticks before their rivals smudge the government’s record.”

For Harper’s governing style, however, it’s all about how to scrape that very last vote in “target ridings.” To do so, he must by definition create East versus West tensions and throw a wedge between men and women, the educated and the ignorant, and Canadians and those hoping to become citizens. Harper’s strategy requires that fear be used as a blunt instrument and that misinformation and outright fabrication be carpet-bombed into the consciousness of voters.

There are a few fundamental facts of our parliamentary system. In the House of Commons, the agenda and tone is set by the prime minister, who is the leader of the governing party. His cabinet follows that lead, as do his backbenchers (particularly under Harper). Opposition parties respond to government proposals and legislation. And sometimes in the cut and thrust of what passes for parliamentary debate, common sense is pushed to its limit. But there is no doubt that the tone, style, comportment, debate, and agenda in the Commons is established by the prime minister. Since Harper became prime minister almost five years ago, the environment has been toxic.

Is that an unfortunate coincidence, or does it say something about the conduct, attitude, and agenda of Harper and his Conservative Party?

On the first day of the Harper administration, two incredible flip-flops occurred at Rideau Hall which jarred the political world. The first was the appointment of Michael Fortier, a Harper campaign manager, to the Senate and to the cabinet. The second was the stunning appointment of David Emerson, who days before had promised to be “Stephen Harper’s worst nightmare,” to the cabinet. As these two men (both of whom I know personally, like, and respect) were being sworn in, we caught our first real glimpse of Stephen Harper as prime minister. It was the first of a great many u-turns: in both cases, Harper did something that he promised he would never do. That’s been his consistent and unbending pattern for almost five years now.

Our House of Commons has been shamelessly debased by the tactics of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. For the past five years, this has been a dysfunctional parliament. But who bears the responsibility for that? Minority parliaments have historically worked well in Canada. A precondition was a prime minister who set a constructive tone and who respected the institution that he is sworn to serve with honour.

Sadly for Canada, that key ingredient has been sorely missing since Stephen Harper stepped into 24 Sussex.

Stephen Harper a political careerist. And political careerism is based on short-term expediency in the pursuit of long-term survival. It stresses political survival at all cost. Responsible government, fiscal prudence, and the national interest be damned.

What Canadians are now demanding is a leader that inspires hope and optimism. Who challenges us to bridge divides. Who believes that leadership at home and abroad can appeal to our aspirations, not stokes our fears. Who brings us together to accomplish great things. Who will strive to achieve the true promise and potential we know in our hearts is Canada’s destiny.

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