Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Rising Revolt

Nova Scotia premier Rodney MacDonald is in Ottawa today trying to shore up support for Nova Scotia in its battle with the Harper government over his province's claim to off shore oil and gas resources. Thus, he joins Newfoundland premier Danny Williams in calling Harper a promise breaker. It is worth remembering that, some years ago, Harper expressed contempt for Atlantic Canadians and their "culture of dependency." Now that they have the opportunity to join Alberta in petro-prosperity, Harper says he wants a piece of the action. And his response to Messers. MacDonald and Williams has been, "So, sue me."

This is a strange response from the nation's politician-in-chief. But then it is not unusual, either. When Conservative MP Bill Casey complained about the Harper government's treatment of his province, he was drummed out of the caucus. The same thing happened to MP Garth Turner when he complained about the first Clean Air Act. Turner, after sitting awhile as an independent, joined the Liberals. Harper has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish. Unfortunately, he lacks the people skills to do it. And that apparently does not concern him. In fact, Harper displays what the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald called "a vast carelessness" in his dealings with people.

He appears to care even less for the will of the people. A case in point is his recent support for George W. Bush's proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe. As Linda McQuaig points out in the Toronto Star, Harper "promised in the last federal election campaign that he wouldn't reverse Canada's opposition to [the proposed missile defense system] without a vote in the House of Commons, which he knows he could not win." Harper has "in effect [done] an end run around Parliament and the Canadian public, and helped advance a position that is at odds with Canada's own official policy."

On domestic policy Harper and his brethren cancelled the Kelowna Accord when they came to office. They say that they will introduce legislation which will expedite native land claims; but, as the recent federal budget makes clear, they have abandoned the promises made in that agreement. The rising tide of native frustration appears to be the last thing on Harper's agenda. And his refusal to heed premier Dalton McGunity's request for a ban on handguns continues to alienate Canada's urban dwellers, who only have representation because Harper co-opted Liberal MP David Emerson and appointed Montrealer Michael Fortier to his cabinet.

So, however Mr. Harper may deny it, he has earned his reputation as a promise breaker. He appears to believe that whatever policy promises the Liberals made were hogwash. The fact that they were Liberal policies, by definition, gives him the right to nullify them. What is interesting is the public revolt against his actions. One would expect an outcry from the Liberals. But, more significantly, he has managed to alienate two of the country's last three Conservative premiers. The other premiers are all from rival parties. And his support for Jean Charest in that province's recent election proved far from helpful. It takes a special talent to create this kind of mess.

How does one account for such an outcome? As a technocrat, Harper appears to suffer from a genetic weakness. It is the belief that he knows better than anyone else because, when push comes to shove, he really is the smartest guy in the room. He is not the only leader, public or private, who suffers from the affliction. The movers and shakers at Enron caught the virus. Paul Wolfowitz, another carrier, has been cashiered from his job at the World Bank. And Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are in the last stages of what has become -- for them -- a terminal disease.

The most recent polls indicate that Canadians are not impressed with any of their elected leaders. But, as the tide of opposition grows, I suspect that they are particularly happy that they didn't hand Mr. Harper the keys to the car in the last election. Recent history has proven that the smartest guys in the room can be remarkably stupid.

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