Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Case of Bait and Switch

The buzz in Ottawa this week has been all about how Maxime Bernier engineered his ignominious exit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In fact, the ripples from the story spread beyond Ottawa: they made the hourly newscasts on National Public Radio in the United States. Bernier -- like Gordon O'Connor and Rona Ambrose before him -- was another minister whose lack of experience and judgment made him too small for his portfolio.

Amid all the sound and fury, it was easy to overlook a more important personnel change which the Prime Minister made last week. He announced that his chief of staff, Ian Brodie, was leaving the government -- and that he would be replaced by Guy Giorno, who used to do the same job for Mike Harris in Ontario. Giorno is more than competent. He will not let information slip out and become part of the American election campaign, as did Brodie. And he will not leave sensitive government documents on a lady's coffee table, as did Bernier.

But the appointment of Giorno signals the government's philosophical and policy direction more clearly than anything the prime minister might say. Giorno's job was to put Harris' Common Sense Revolution in place, by employing more or less the kind of shock therapy recommended by the professors in the Economics Department at the University of Chicago, and chronicled in tragic detail by Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine.

However, long before Klein wrote her book, Dalton Camp was warning Canadians about what was to come. Back in 1999, in a column in The Toronto Star, Camp wrote that the country's two "conservative" superstars -- Alberta's Ralph Klein (no relation to Naomi) and Ontario's Mike Harris -- were not who they claimed to be. "We need to understand what the present rulers of Ontario and Alberta are all about, and it is not tax cuts. It is an effort to limit the role of the federal government, lessen public confidence in it, and destabilize Ottawa's existing relations with the provinces." But there was more. "The two premiers are wired to private interests and remain aloof from serious public interest issues and politics. The premier of Alberta would cheerfully privatize the provincial school system; both he and Harris would welcome the creation of a right-wing political party, subservient to corporate Canada (and America) and committed to their agendas."

Given what has happened since Camp's death in 2002, this all sounds pretty prescient. Two years before he died, in a lecture at The University of Waterloo, Camp returned to his argument that these so called "neo conservatives" were not conservatives at all. Citing Tom Wilson's book, No Ivory Tower, Camp argued that, as Wilson said, "The term neo-conservatism is a misnomer, unless we mean to turn away from the established meaning of conservatism," which is, "opposed to unbridled individualism, and stresses instead the beneficent and necessary functions of community." He then quoted Adam Smith, who Camp claimed neo conservatives have never read: "Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality. . . . The affluence of the rich suppose(s) the indigence of the many." Great property and great inequality were the twin legacies of the Common Sense Revolution, which Giorno worked tirelessly to implement.

Klein and Harris are gone; but, under Harper, Giorno gets one more kick at the can. And what does Harper get? According to James Travers, in The Toronto Star, "More than a fresh face for a tiring party," Giorno is, "the wise guy Ontario strategist Harper needs to make wedge politics work in the province that decides federal elections."

Camp did not trust the new conservatives. "Until we survive the reign of Harris and Klein," he wrote, "the nation is in peril and no Canadian is safe." The Prime Minister's appointment of Guy Giorno should remind all Canadians of the sense of foreboding which Camp took with him to his grave. An old advertising man by profession, he knew what bait and switch was all about.

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