Monday, February 01, 2010
The Wrecking Crew
Last October, Michael Bliss speculated that Stephen Harper was on the verge of becoming this country's next Mackenzie King: "The government's policies are broadly acceptable to Canadians," he wrote, "it continues to inch upward in the polls, and it would very likely eke out a majority in a general election today."
On Friday, he appeared again in the pages of The Globe and Mail, proclaiming that the public outrage at Mr. Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament was "a tempest in a teapot and the opposition parties are trying to keep it boiling." Instead, Bliss advised, the Opposition should "take a golden opportunity to rest, reconsider and recuperate." For Bliss, it's all a blip on the radar screen. He appears to favour the government's agenda; and the means of achieving that agenda is not an issue.
Because Mr. Harper and the recently retired American president have so obviously drunk from the same well, Mr. Bliss's opinions should be considered alongside those of Thomas Frank, whose book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, is a fascinating chronicle of the second Bush administration and its discontents. Frank says that neo-conservatives, like Bush and Harper, champion four key objectives once in office. First, they oppose bringing top notch talent into government service. Second, they wreck "established federal operations," because they disagree with them. Third, they make a cult of outsourcing and privatizing. And, finally, they pile up "an Everest of debt" in order to force government into crisis. The results are cataclysmic. "The ruination they have wrought has been thorough;" Frank writes, "it has been a professional job. Repairing it will take years of political action."
When one considers what the present government has done in office, the parallels are stark. The way it has treated Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy and Richard Colvin speaks volumes about its ability to attract and keep good talent. Its handbook advising caucus members on ways to obstruct government is a cynical attempt to shift blame. And Mr. Flaherty's last fiscal update mimics his colleague, former Ontario Education Minister John Snobelen, whose prescription for forcing change was to "create a crisis." The debris Mr.Snobelen left behind still clutters the province's schools.
Professor Bliss would have us believe that all it would take to change things would be for the opposition to have the courage of its convictions and force an election. But, as Mr. Frank makes clear, democracy is not just about elections. It's about what governments do between elections. And, the truth is that -- while Mr. Bush and Mr. Harper have no trouble with government -- they have a visceral hatred of responsible government. The issue is, how do citizens hold a government accountable between elections? Professor Bliss is unconcerned with that conundrum.
Joseph Campbell once remarked that the road to a full and a fulfilling life lay in "following your bliss." If, in the present circumstances, Canadians were to follow the good professor's advice, they would be collaborators in catastrophe.