Monday, September 29, 2008

Leave It To Stephen

Bob Rae, the former premier of Ontario and now the Liberal Foreign Affairs critic, says that watching Prime Minister Harper operate in the House of Commons is like watching reruns of a 1950's television show -- a show he calls Harperville.

"Harperville is a land of conformity, not freedom or diversity," writes Rae. It is a land where "Daddy goes to work and Mommy stays home. There are good guys and bad guys. The bad guys get killed or go to jail. . . Daddy definitely knows best and his word is law. If you like Daddy you can talk to him or even have your picture taken with him. If Daddy doesn't like you, he will be very stern with you, and he won't even talk with you."

Looking in the rear view mirror, the Conservative Party has been playing and replaying the same theme throughout this election. It's called Leave It To Stephen. The problem, of course, is that the world Harper tries to personify never existed -- except on television. The world was never that simple and the lines were never that clearly drawn. But he and his party are betting that, surrounded by terrorism and economic uncertainty, Canadians will come around to the conviction that Stephen Knows Best.

However, one needs to ask the question, "What, exactly, does Stephen know?" For openers, it's worth remembering that when George W. Bush was looking for countries to join his Coalition of the Willing, Harper -- unlike Jean Chretien -- couldn't wait to join the parade. That show hasn't ended yet, even though Mr. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" four years ago. And, on the subject of economic management, Harper has -- in less than three years -- spent money, reduced taxes, and left the cupboard bare -- even though he started with a $14 billion surplus. Over the last couple of weeks, world markets have reminded us how that show ends.

And what promises has Harper made during this election? Not many. But he has vowed that he will lock up fourteen year olds for life, if their crimes warrant it. And, on the subject of government support for the arts, he has declared that "when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming that their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up -- I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people."

And how does all of this mean spirited pettiness translate into policy? The result, writes Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe and Mail, is that "policy incoherence between Ottawa and the provinces reigns everywhere. The Harper preference for 'open federalism' means provinces can do what they want, enter international agreements, frustrate national coherence."

We have had twenty-five years of this kind of hokum. And, as we head to the polls, the consequences are all coming home. The central question of this election is the question Groucho Marx asked two generations ago: "Who are you going to believe? Mr. Harper or your own eyes?"

No comments: