Despotic hypocrite Harper triggered election in desperate bid to gain powers of a majority
Harper claimed he was forced into the election call but instead he could have softened his draconian Bills
The non-confidence vote was over his apparent abuses of Parliament and had little to do with the new budget’s array of vote-buying goodies
BY JOHN TWIGG
Special for TheCommentary.ca
Yes we are not yet like Yemen, and thankfully we live a long way away from Libya but still we must lament the sorry state that Canada’s federal politics have fallen into, featuring blatant lies, obvious hypocrisies and a strategy of deceits that stretch from coast to coast.
The latest sorry example of Canada’s pathetic politics was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lame responses to the combined Opposition passing a no confidence motion against his Conservative regime by 156 to 145 on March 25, which flowed from the Harper regime’s refusal to release any cost estimates for its massive anti-crime program, subsequently estimated at around $16 billion for dozens of new jails and other items.
Harper’s initial reaction was to feign disappointment at being forced to call an election, and he tried another feint when he accused the Opposition of defeating the government over the new budget introduced March 22, which was laden with good-news announcements, and sadly much of the mainstream media let him get away with such untruths when really it was already obvious and now is moreso that Harper himself was itching for an excuse to call an election so he could try again to get a majority government and thereby be able to govern like a despot even more than he already does.
The Harper Conservatives had their campaign plans ready long ago and their campaign signs went up the moment after Harper had visited the Governor-General on Saturday and arranged for the dissolution of Parliament, triggering a national vote on May 2. And it’s not just a coincidence that a lot of taxpayer-funded promotions of the Harper government’s Economic Action Plan will be disseminated during the ostensibly “snap” election campaign.
So what is the truth of these things? Well we do know that Harper has done fairly well to maintain control of political affairs since he won a minority mandate in 2006 and tried again in 2008 but we also should realize that from Harper’s perspective a lot of his policy priorities were getting hung up in the Senate, or sidetracked into Parliamentary committees and filibustered to death.
The prime example of things being thwarted by the left-leaning quasi-coalition of Opposition parties was the Harper regime’s anti-crime package, most notably Bill S-10, which was introduced in the Senate as a little-revised version of a Commons Bill imposing draconian new penalties on various drug offences including even for simple possession of cannabis. The Bill had been forced through the Harper-stacked Senate but was languishing at First Reading on the Commons Order paper when the House was dissolved.
But there were numerous other pieces of Harper legislation being hung up because they were contentious, such as a seat redistribution that would have benefitted B.C., Alberta and Ontario, limits on Senate terms, enabling easier citizen arrests, ending the faint-hope clause for lifer convicts, some copyright reforms and more than 30 other items.
Thus we can appreciate why Harper in his early campaign appearances in NDP-held ridings in Burnaby and Surrey was openly calling for a “strong, stable Conservative majority government” whereas in previous elections he was strategically muted about how many seats he wanted to win, apparently well aware that his weakness was already perceived to be that he’s become too much of a control freak.
Indeed Harper’s reputation as a sort of dictator was added to this week when he unilaterally sent some of Canada’s military planes into combat over Libya and then asked Parliament to pass a motion ratifying his move, which it meekly did. That follows a somewhat unilateral decision to order new jets costing multi billions of dollars, apparently without debate in Parliament.
And similarly when problems developed over the last-minute selections of two Conservative candidates in B.C. ridings the way they were handled suggested the party is not a democracy but an autocracy in which higher-ups send orders down to minions who do their bidding.
That also was seen to some extent in the revolving door of staffers and pols and aides and friend-and-insider advisers in and around Harper’s government, including more than a few individuals getting caught in peccadilloes, and meanwhile the already-vaunted Privy Council office is emerging with more centralized control than ever.
One must acknowledge that the Harper Conservatives have done some good things in their previous minority terms, perhaps most notably the job-stimulating Economic Action Plan which appears to have helped Canada’s economy weather the global storms better than any other nation in the G-7 (but which also was in some ways imposed upon Harper by the combined Opposition), and in the latest budget they intended to enable federally-owned Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert to obtain financing for much-needed expansions.
But on the other hand a recent poll by Nanos Research for the Globe and Mail and CTV found that the Canadian public’s already high distrust of Harper’s government has been heightened by a series of small scandals, with 41 per cent of respondents saying they have less trust than a year ago, and even 26 per cent of Conservative voters said they have less trust now.
So have those economic gains been worth the social costs?
That is, more than a few areas of social policy have suffered under the Harper regime, such as the arts grants cut in Quebec and the homeless problems somewhat ignored in B.C., and now it is looking like the democratic machines in Ottawa were being shuttered too. Whether that is acceptable will be answered by voters on May 2, or maybe sooner in opinion polls.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff seems to have found a groove against Harper, criticizing his “abuse of power” and “pattern of contempt” and “politics of fear . . . and division” so he should be able to portray Harper as a man grasping unduly for power, as Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe has already done in Quebec, but at the same time Harper will be uncharacteristically out and about glad-handing and telling targetted groups what they want to hear, especially recent immigrants now being courted by the Tories, so the election outcome is not yet predictable.
Federal NDP leader Jack Layton is focussing on a few dozen ridings that are winnable for the NDP and also has quickly found a theme – noting that in many parts of B.C. and elsewhere the only way to stop Harper is to vote NDP.
Perhaps that sort of tag-team attacks will fuel Harper’s more or less phoney claims that he’s running against a de facto coalition but on the other hand the common themes of criticism could help spread the notion that Harper’s controlling style really is a problem worth getting rid of.
Meanwhile we must put up with some five weeks of shenanigans like Green Party leader Elizabeth May immediately criticizing the other three leaders for being too negative by calling Harper a liar, which she promised not to do herself, and then moments later she called Harper a hypocrite.
Still, I think it’s a good thing we’re having an election even if it does cost a few hundred million dollars because Parliament clearly was not working as it was intended to and this way someone will get a mandate and if there is no clear mandate then hopefully Harper as the most-likely holder of the most seats will finally learn that being Prime Minister does not entitle him to govern like a top-down dictator and instead he needs to better heed public opinion, which is true whether he has a minority or majority mandate.
It’s obvious that Harper and many of his social-conservative theocrat colleagues would like to punish and persecute the sinners in society, whether they’re merely puffers of more-or-less harmless pot or truly perverted repeat pedophiles, but it’s equally obvious that most Canadians want a more permissive and tolerant and small-l liberal government than Harper has being delivering.
That doesn’t mean there should be a massive move to tolerate criminality, but it does mean that Harper needs to be more respectful of civil liberties and instead focus his more draconian penalties only against truly bad offenders, and if he can’t learn to do that then he should be tossed out of office.
Party standings at dissolution were 143 Conservatives, 77 Liberals, 47 Bloc and 36 NDP in a 308-seat House.
John Twigg (www.johntwigg.com ) is an independent journalist, former press secretary to premier Dave Barrett and former interim leader of the BC Refederation Party. He frequently provides analysis for TheCommentary.ca.