The naive among us predicted that, after winning a majority, Stephen Harper's governing style would change. Secure in the knowledge that he had the votes to get his way, they argued, he would act like a statesman.
But on the anniversary of his victory, Andrew Coyne writes, nothing has changed:
All is stealth and indirection, surprise and ambiguity, as before. Big changes, when they happen, are done suddenly, casually, without warning or justification, as if they were of no importance: buried deep in an omnibus bill, sloughed off in the course of a committee hearing, tucked in at the end of an answer in Question Period, dropped on the table at a premiers’ meeting. The closest thing to a vision statement, the speech in which the Prime Minister mused, indecipherably, on the need to reform pensions, was delivered in the Swiss Alps. When the President of the United States wants to announce a major change in policy, he goes on national television. When Harper does it, he scribbles it in the margin of whatever mystery novel he’s been reading and leaves it on the bus.
For the truth is that Stephen Harper lacks the courage of his convictions. A courageous man --particularly a man with a majority mandate -- should be able to debate the wisdom of his case. But, in the Harper government, there is no room for debate:
Time was when a government that wished to implement some major reform would first issue a green paper, to kick off discussion; then a white paper, containing more finely tuned proposals; and only then proceed to legislation. But this government has no wish to win hearts and minds. Its strategy, rather, is to take ground in a series of lightning-fast guerrilla raids; to neutralize opposition, as by the defunding of advocacy groups, rather than to rally public opinion to its side.
Stephen Harper knows that when Canadians discover how little wisdom is behind his program, they will rise in angry opposition. So, the name of the game is to treat them like mushrooms. If you're going to throw manure on their heads, it's best to keep them in the dark.
However, that strategy has a limited shelf life. Coyne writes:
And so, a year after it was elected, having been careful throughout to avoid the public’s wrath, it nevertheless finds itself down 10 points in the polls. It has been able to rely upon guile and deception to get by until now. But what will it do for the next three years?
When Canadians figure out that the prime minister is afraid of them, he will be in trouble. Just ask Brian Mulroney.