Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Bogeymen

Paul Wells writes that, when Stephen Harper's attempt to eliminate public funds for his opposition rivals blew up in his face, the Prime Minister was in a very black mood. He was certain that his government -- which had won a minority mandate five months before -- was going down to defeat:

Let them win, he said, with no great conviction. Let St├ęphane Dion try to run the country, with Jack Layton calling the shots and Gilles Duceppe sitting in judgment over the whole mess. It’ll fall apart in six months. We’ll pick up the pieces in the next election. Come back stronger than ever.

Then he saw that picture of his rivals shaking hands. And he saw the bogeymen. He and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty began to fulminate -- in apocalyptic terms -- about the dangers of a "socialist-separatist coalition." Flaherty, who grew up in Montreal, should know better. But then, for generations a significant portion of the English population there lived behind the barricades and rarely travelled east of St. Lawrence Boulevard. Harper doesn't understand Quebec. But he knows a wedge when he sees one -- and this was the biggest wedge of all.

Chantal Hebert tells the story of a Montreal businessman who found himself in a Calgary airport lounge as a report of the newly formed coalition appeared on television: "I figured it was not a very good time," he said, "to speak English with a French accent."

If there is any one decision which offers insight into Stephen Harper's character, it is his reaction to his imminent defeat in November, 2008. He fanned the flames of paranoia then prorogued Parliament. He will put personal, partisan advantage ahead of the country's national interest.

And you can bet that he'll use the same argument in the next election. He is a master of McCarthyism -- shrewd but not courageous. More importantly, he personifies what John Kenneth Galbraith wrote over fifty years ago: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

That is the claim he makes about Michael Ignatieff. It would appear that the pot is calling the kettle black.

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