Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Everything New is Old

It has been interesting to watch the Harper government's two pronged strategy as it tries desperately to clothe itself in green. But, like the St. Patrick's Day Parade, where everybody claims to be Irish, it's a momentary extravaganza. Wearing green doesn't make you Irish; and claiming to be the Green Party doesn't make it so.

Cynicism abounds in the nation's chattering class. On the right, perhaps the most interesting take on the Conservative make-over comes from columnist Andrew Coyne. He's buying none of it. Says Mr Coyne, "Having allowed the issue to fester for eight months while it tried to decide what if anything to put in place of the Liberal programs it had scrapped, the government has now put itself in the position where nothing it does will be seen to be sufficient, or even sincere."

On the left, James Travers writes that, while the Harper government knows something about politics, it knows very little about policy -- something that troubles the mandarins in the civil service. "The effectiveness of public policy is proportional to the depth of analysis," he writes. It is becoming more obvious with each passing day that what Jeffrey Simpson calls "the Harper Party" is long on conviction and short on analysis.

The evidence to support this conclusion rests on the fact that Harper's green platform is essentially the old Liberal platform. And, while the Conservatives trot out different elements of that platform each week, they run television ads showing clips from the Liberal leadership debates claiming the Liberal record on the environment amounted to nothing -- a charge that contains a lot of truth -- and that "Stephane Dion is not a leader." That's the strategy: Recycle old policies and attack the new leader.

The strategy isn't about the environment at all. Harper revealed that the other day when he said that you can't expect Canadians to radically change their lifestyles. Technology, he said, will save us from ourselves. The truth is that technology offers us hope, but only we will be able to save ourselves. And Mr. Harper cannot conceive of a government which shapes public policy to encourage people to act in favour of the planet. The guiding star in his firmament is the principle that, first and foremost, people act in favour of themselves.

What he can conceive of, with laser-like precision, is a majority government. That -- not the long term future of the planet -- is what he is focused on. Everything he has done in the last year has been in support of that objective. Policy for Harper is a path to power; the long term efficacy of that policy is irrelevant. Whether it be placing Michael Fortier in the cabinet as the unelected Minister for Montreal, or the Quebec is a nation within a nation resolution, or his green light on the road to Damascus environmental policy, it's all about power -- gaining it and maintaining it. If anyone doubts this, note that it is Harper who makes every substantive policy announcement, while his ministers stand in the background, nodding approvingly.

In that Mr. Harper is like most other Prime Ministers -- Conservative or Liberal. There is nothing new in any of this. Actually, he has a lot in common with Mordecai Richler's Duddy Karvitz. Duddy knew exactly what he wanted -- and he got it. But he only got it because his victims allowed him to manipulate them. All except his grandfather. One can only hope that Canadians, like Duddy's zeyda, can spot a con man when they see him.

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