Wednesday, February 7, 2007
He isn't Eddie Scissorhands, but Stephen Harper does have a sharp mind.
You don't get to be the leader of a bastardized party, unite the right and become Prime Minister, without some sense of intelligence.
However, after one full year (and 14 days, sorry for the procrastination!) the vision of Canada's New Government™ is very disjointed. There is no overall masterview, besides the Conservative mega-mantra of 'Lower Taxes!' et al that entails.
Certainly, one could say the issue with Jean Chretien's government was that it was without a major focus, a primary purpose beyond proving Iona Capagnolo’s toss-off to the ’84 leadership runner-up 'First in our Hearts' slogan. However, that doesn't really give credit to Chretien's genius -- and those two words are seldom joined in a sentence, but when you roll to four majorities, fractured opposition or not, street smarts is a MBA-worthy currency.
Chretien took on the monumental task of manhandling the deficit, and in partnership with Paul Martin, put Canada in great shape financially. It was something Brian Mulroney, despite eight years of skating and stickhandling, couldn't solve.
Yes, that's right neo-cons, the LIBERALS turned a doomed ship around. While I wince whenever I hear a Liberal candidate or MP crow that the Liberals put Canada in the black again -- after all, a little modesty and nod to the Canadians who empowered the Liberals would be prudent – it is an undeniable fact.
Paul Martin failed to communicate his vision effectively and swiftly enough, but the effort was there. You had accords of the nature for national daycare, First Nations and the environment — despite the blatting from NDP and Tories, Martin's first budget after the 2004 election put Kyoto into a priority status. He didn't pull out an actuary's calendar and point to some far-off in the distant date and say that's when your grandchildren, if any, will see the rewards of our program.
Martin was brought down by an old but freshly autopsied, scandal, and an inept campaign. The likeability and respect factor that many Canadians held for the former finance minister salvaged a respectable showing in last year’s vote.
Which leads us to Harper.
I'd be a fool to expect the leader of the Conservatives to have a big-government plan, other than downsizing its function and responsibilities while embracing tailored tax cuts that reward those with the most money the most.
But is there no depth to his vision? Is he just The Man of a Thousand Cuts, who can devolve governmental opportunity while enticing the populus with clipped coupons of targeted tax breaks?
One year after his election, his popularity sits effectively frozen in minority territory. For someone of his determination and ideology, a repeat result on the stump would be considered a failure, because none of his true fantasies can be unwrapped without the safe harbour of a majority — there’s today’s scary Tory allusion.
Take past Conservative-minded governments as a blueprint, along with Harper's own words over the years, and you have enough evidence to be concerned about the changes the men behind the curtain would implement if given unbridled power.
What was Mike Harris' record regarding fiscal prudence and addressing social justice and social services? Pretty
scary, frightening, right? Well, somewhere the mainstream media has forgotten to say : Hey look, Jimmy Flaherty! Weren't you the finance minister responsible for the hidden deficit? John Baird? Wow, I thought you were finished in politics after that ugly stint in charge of Ontario's
Even Harper’s ‘hometown issues’ can't be framed simply, because there are inconsistent messages in the books or hypocritical acts on record to show that these Conservatives have authentic convictions or moral fibre.
But where does that leave their leader? He wants Canadians to remember his five priorities (of the moment) in their sleep, to dream that everything is safe. Crime, accountability (just don't look too closely), tax cuts (get
your coupons!), the environment (it’s a beast eat beast world) and international security (Arar! You the man!) are each safely (?) addressed.
In all his responses to even his core priorities, Harper has talked big but aimed low. He has effectively sold his message, made himself out to be a 'Do-er' and curiously 'A Man of Int-e-gritty' while achieving very little.
But even Conservatives need a true mantle piece to hang their hats on, and Harper hasn't found his yet – or has he? I'd argue that he has spent so much time and energy
on trying to put the blackjack to the Liberals, that he has had little option but to offer a piecemeal package until he feels satisfied and victorious. That appears to be his purpose in life. De-bone the Liberal party and bring Canada to a place where his favourite forms of gov’t – the US, Australia, the UK – offer a limited menu with little vascilation.
Perhaps that is his true big plan for this first term in office.
If he completes this job, dismantling what has been accepted as Canada's Rightful Governing Party, Harper will have laid the groundwork for Reagan-omics and their trickle up comfort for his financers.
It seems he’s done a good job of trying not to look like he has an evil plan, but it’s hard not to deny it, either.
Chretien took too much fun in watching the opposition right trip over their own feet, and threw the occasional branch in their way, but rarely went out of his way to make their lives difficult – for example, their leadership race. He purposely allowed them a window to avoid new financial compliance laws. Harper specifically rushed a lot of the so-called Accountability Act into the house just to for its impact on the Liberal leadership race.
Will Canadians wake up to this nasty nature of their ergo leader? Will the mainstream media stop reflecting mere soundbytes and begin looking under the hood?
His precarious view on the environment, his awkward understanding of finances, and his robotic attempt at being ‘The Leader’ have passed muster so far.
The goal for Liberals and un-ideological progressives is to expose that Achilles before it is too late.