Thursday, July 25, 2013

Canadian Custer

After the cabinet shuffle last week, commentators began to speculate about whether Stephen Harper was opening the door for his successor. The truth is, no one knows what Harper is planning. He doesn't trust anyone enough to give a hint about what he's really thinking. But we have suffered the man long enough to make judgements based on what the man has done, as opposed to what he has said.

And, therefore, Devon Black writes, it's fair to ask: What legacy will Stephen Harper leave after he goes? You can see signs of what's to come:

Given that we’re already seeing the need to mitigate the effects of climate change, I suspect that the changing climate may be the next generation’s greatest challenge – but even if I’m wrong, there’s a good chance that the greatest challenge will be access to water, or declining biodiversity, or resource depletion. Whatever other problems will need solving, they’ll all occur against the backdrop of a damaged environment.

Despite the harm that climate change is already causing, Canada’s current record on environmental issues remains abysmal. The government has instead focused its efforts on raising penalties for criminal offenders, pursuing dead-on-arrival Senate reforms, and letting Canadians know how much money they’ve put into the Economic Action Plan. Spending money and being tough on crime makes for great stump speeches, but it doesn’t make for a particularly memorable contribution to the great Canadian project.

Great leaders see what's coming and they move a country into the future. Mr. Harper is steadfastly trying to turn back the clock, even as he stubbornly refuses to admit that the future of the planet lies in the balance. Ironically, the Conservative Party -- that is, the Progressive Conservative Party -- once made the environment a central issue:

The real shame is that protection of the environment used to be an important part of Conservative policy in Canada. In 2006, Corporate Knights declared Brian Mulroney the “Greenest PM in Canadian History.” The award’s wording might have been hyperbolic, but Mulroney’s record on the environment speaks for itself.

Mulroney hassled U.S. President Ronald Reagan for years on an air quality agreement to combat acid rain, before finally getting his successor, President George H. W. Bush, to sign on. Under Mulroney, Canada was the first industrialized country to ratify both the Convention on Biodiversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Mulroney saw the passage of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and the creation of the National Round Table of the Environment and Economy (NRTEE).

Under Harper, Canada’s environmental protection legislation has been gutted. NRTEE has been shut down, and its research hidden from the public. Canada has become notorious for not just ignoring, but for downright impeding the creation of international agreements to protect the environment.

Stephen Harper has guided the country into a box canyon -- a twenty-first century version of The Little Big Horn. And he is a twenty-first century version of George Armstrong Custer.


Anonymous said...

I think that Harper has not guided the country into a 'box canyon'. Instead, he has guided his ragtag regiment of Reformers into a 'box canyon'. And the outcome will be similar to the outcome experienced by Custer at Little Big Horn.

Owen Gray said...

It would be poetic justice if only the Reformers met Custer's fate, Anon.

Unfortunately, the longer Harper manages to stay in power, the more people he will take down with him -- Reformers and non-Reformers alike.

Lorne said...

While I agree with your assessments of what great leaders do, Owen, it is very disheartening to see, at least from my perspective, that neither of the two main opposition parties appears to be led by people with those qualities either.

Owen Gray said...

We live in a time when our leaders lack vision, Lorne. However, they do know where the money is -- and who has it.

The Mound of Sound said...

A leader who chooses not to look up toward the horizon can never see what's coming. How did Harper, a self-proclaimed "professional economist" fail so miserably to see the Great Recession of 2008 steamrollering down on Canada? Easy, he wasn't looking for it. A massive recession didn't fit his prime ministerial record of defunding the federal government, it didn't fit his agenda, it challenged his narrative.

As you noted earlier, Harper is Ahab and we are all aboard his Pequod.

Owen Gray said...

In the case of Ahab, Mound, we foresee his end long before he does.

The frustrating thing about Harper is that there are just enough people -- distributed by chance or stealth -- to keep our Ahab afloat.

They will -- like Harper himself -- never see the catastrophe which lies ahead.