With Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Canada's Stephen Harper, barely anything does
Saturday 24 October 2009 17.00 BST
Down is the new up: Canadians suddenly like Stephen Harper, but for the wrong reasons.
Michael Ignatieff's announcement on Monday that his Liberal party will not "actively seek to defeat" the Conservatives "by proposing their own confidence motions," was an almost direct contradiction to his resounding cry in September that Harper's "time is up". The Liberal threat to dismantle the Tory government is now effectively dead, and many Canadians couldn't possibly care less. We like Harper now. Unfortunately, it will get us nowhere.
The biggest political story of October hasn't been Ignatieff's troubles or the widening poll gap between the Tories and Liberals, or even some Tory MPs slapping their names or their party logo on government (read: taxpayer) stimulus cheques. Instead, it's been Harper's performance of the Beatles song With a Little Help From My Friends at a gala benefit at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It sparked an immediate response and softened some of his harshest critics. The media cooed, and Harper – formerly known for his wax-like public persona – became a YouTube hit.
Only days earlier, Harper had stood in a Tim Horton's coffee shop and proudly told Canadians (and the world, who had expected him to address the UN) that the Tim Horton's head office had returned to Canada. With that came the reminder: "The United States is a great place to visit, but let's face it, there is no place like our home and native land, there is no place like Canada."
In a recent column for the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson speculated on the chances of a Canadian election in the near future. He concluded:
One way or another, the opposition parties will have to find some way to keep this government alive through the rest of the year or face the consequences at the polls. Parliament will then recess until the end of January. And with February comes the Olympics, and who wants an election during the Olympics?
For 17 days, Canadians will become Americans – fiercely patriotic, waving the flag with abandon, cheering on our athletes and celebrating what everyone hopes will be a magnificent games that will make all Canadians proud to be Canadian.
It's mostly true, except the part about becoming Americans. We should be so lucky to have such a vibrant – although obviously at times overly vitriolic – public discourse. While our neighbours to the south struggle with issues that strike at the heart of their national values, Canadians are talking coffee. Why? Because with Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Harper, barely anything does.
Harper's schmaltzy publicity stunts are only striking a chord because, thanks to the way his government has framed Canada's current objectives, there's nothing else that can. "Our priority is the Canadian economy. Nothing takes precedence over the economy," said Harper's representative, Demitri Soudas, after the Tim Horton's appearance.
Granted, Canada must recover now in order to spend money later, but focusing only on economic recovery limits discussion by omitting other topics. It also frames discourse in such a way that future policy ideas – even important ones like those on climate change or healthcare – are discussed solely based on their current price tag, not their potential future benefit.
In other words, challenging the framework is political poison. Any suggestion of future government spending that isn't in the form of a stimulus cheque seems immediately outrageous, and makes people like Ignatieff look crazy. Conversely, it allows Harper to appear all the more in control, because essentially, there are no future plans. And the more Harper appears to be in control, the more Canadians can relax.
Under Harper, there is no pressure on Canadians to make decisions about the future, apart from what we'll wear to the Olympics. We just get our money. Under Ignatieff, with a more extensive outlook, all bets appear to be off – he is uncertainty personified. Harper's popularity might be on the rise, but it's not because of his piano playing or aw-shucks coffee shop patriotism. It's because he allows us to be apathetic. And the less we care, the better he'll look.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Posted by Fillibluster at 1:13 PM