The conventional wisdom holds that Stephen Harper's base is old and intellectually lazy. I suspect that's true. But we need be neither physically nor intellectually frail as we age. Michael Clague, who will turn 75 this year, reminds us of that simple truth. He certainly carries no brief for Harper's anti-government:
The very idea of government that Mr. Harper conveys is not in the tradition of our three great parties. His Conservative party campaigns on being anti-government. Previous debates among Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats were around how much government should itself provide programs and services, but all recognized that government has a responsibility to make sure they are provided. It was part of the social contract with citizens. Now our federal government takes no interest in the idea of a social contract. Let the chips fall.
This federal government does not inspire Canadians to believe in the best our country has to offer. It mobilizes us through fear. Fear of crime. Fear and anger of Big Government. Fear of external threats. Fear that environmental action will destroy our economy.
Like the man who has insisted that the present government bear his name, Clague knows that he and it are not who or what they claim to be:
I would have thought such fundamentalist conservatism would include a staunch defence of civil liberties, human rights, transparency, truthfulness and the need for public, democratic accountability. Instead, we have an aggrandizement of unaccountable political power in the prime minister and his office. Omnibus budget bills contain so much policy over so many subjects that profoundly affect Canadian lives that it is impossible for the opposition parties, the public and the media to decipher them for meaningful discussion and debate.
And he knows what a true leader does:
Whether my next prime minister is 56 or 75, I'm looking for a leader who is frank with Canadians about the immense challenges that are shaping our future, who reminds us that there are no simple solutions, and who recognizes that compromise and give and take are essential. I'm looking for a leader who calls Canadians to public service and commits to making a difference for the health and well-being of all members of society. I'm looking for a leader whose inspiration engages us to take responsibility for building a better a country -- a leader who is accountable, who acknowledges her or his shortcomings, who encourages divergent views, and who does not pander to our base instincts.
Mr. Clague reminds us that, sometimes, wisdom comes with age.