Saturday, October 24, 2009

Canada's frozen political waste

With Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Canada's Stephen Harper, barely anything does

Colin Horgan,
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.


austin said...

"Because with Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible."

Except for the fact that he has not done anything.

CanadianSense said...

Several mistakes in this article. PM had no speaking opportunites scheduled until the G20 meeting.

His speech was scheduled for Saturday.

So PM skipped out from hearing some windbags trash the security council and ranting of despots.

Good call PM.

PM and OBAMA both made similar announcement about a stock buying opportunity. How did the media in each countr report it?

The WK index shows a 20% gain from that date. Irony?

The Polls reflect the failed opposition namely the Liberals who can't get their feces to stick regardless of how many time they throw it and cry wolf.

Latest popularity for OBAMA shows his days in obamania are over.

Canadians are not ignorant, and do not support the games by the opposition. If and when they want to replace the gov't the Polls will capture that as well.

Anonymous said...

Harper said there would be no recession.

Harper said he wouldn't run deficits.

Harper guts the vote subsidy that he didn't campaign on then says other parties should work with him.

Listeriosis, isotopes and now H1N1

Harper's a bum, wipe him out of office.

Anonymous said...

If Harper was so freakin' smart, he would have invested the stimulus money in the market and gave us all a big rebate check.

CAITI said...

Oh yeah, Harper is a really bright guy. Pffft. He really knows how to pander with the best of them by presenting his own (absurd) rosy view of the economy with these kinds of idiotic feel good statements during the midst of a federal this nonsensical and empty false reassurance from September 15, 2008:

“My own belief is if we were going to have some kind of big crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now. ..."

Reminds of the pandering of 2006 when he promised that he would never tax income trusts.

What a deceitful joker for a "trained economist" we have as PM.

Maybe after he leaves office he could go work in some boiler room operation selling the latest Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme investments to Canadians seniors and those gullible enough to believe his utter malarkey.

Brent Fullard

CanadianSense said...


Harper does not have to be a bright guy or the funniest.

He only has to be --->better<--- than the opposition.

If he is not better than he only needs to bring out more voters to win first past post.

So your assignment if you choose to accept it: is to bring out more voters and convince them your team is better. Goodluck.

Clearly the Polls reflect that, don't you agree?

Dr Mike said...

Canadian Sense

The polls only reflect one thing , people are sick & tired of all the political games from both sides.

They see no reason to change as the devil you know , in uncertain times , is better than the devil you don`t.

Harper`s policies have been unremarkable to say the least & I am not going to the Tax fairness plan as that was just plain devastating.

When a piano performance is the best vote getter I have seen in 2 years , then you know that the people of this country are looking for any glimpse of humanity among the present crew in Ottawa.

Sad but true.

Maybe it is time to get the old crew together & run the Murphy House Dog again.

Dr Mike Popovich

Anonymous said...

The polls reflect that nobody wants an election. Hopefully Harper's nature, like the scorpion, forces him to call one.

Richard the Vitriolic said...

Had this A-hole Harper followed his own election law mandating we go to the polls in October 2009 this “genius” would have had his majority. Instead, he broke his own law, called the election for last year and got another minority. A lot can change between now and 2012, when were next due at the polls. A week is a long time in politics. Harpass and his crowd of fascist goofs can’t help but step in the doggy doo-doo.

austin said...

Richard are you going to get angry if the opposition calls an election and breaks the law? Didn't think so. The fact of the matter is, is that law was not meant for minority governments so you and everyone else needs to get over it, Harper broke no law.

CanadianSense said...

Richard can you link the court finding to back up your statement about the "illegal election"

If you are going for the Narnia spin at least try to produce a fairytale that has wider appeal.

Sadly the "A-Hole" is killing your guy in every demographic including the female vote.

Rather sad your team can't even break 30% during the worst economic crisis since WWII.

austin said...

Yeah! Really pathetic