Thursday, December 07, 2023

Not Mortal Enemies

Time changes things. Consider the picture that appeared a couple of days ago. Lawrence Martin writes:

The image leaped off the screen a couple of days ago. A photo of Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien grinning like lifelong buddies in each other’s presence.

“Always wonderful to catch up with a true gentleman and friend,” wrote former prime minister Harper, who posted the pals pic on X. The Conservative warrior obviously wanted his close ties to the lunch-bucket Liberal well known.

Mr. Harper’s protégé, the hyperpartisan Pierre Poilievre, probably wasn’t too thrilled. Mr. Harper, he knew, despised Liberals. Few could doubt that. David Emerson, the floor-crossing British Columbian who served in the cabinets of the Liberal Paul Martin and Mr. Harper, once told me that one of the big differences was the degree of contempt Mr. Harper had for Liberals. It was visceral, he said. “Sometimes it was just startling to me.”

So what was he thinking, giving a former Liberal prime minister a shout out while Mr. Poilievre, headed for an election, works to paint the Liberals as destroyers of the country?

These are, indeed, different times:

What’s pleasing about the Harper-Chrétien photo is that it is such a departure from the temper of our times, which sees polarization at a brutal level and many complaining that the country has never been so divided.

The perennial gripe about Canadian disunity gets a little tiresome. Yes, there are fissures, some of them serious. But when hasn’t there been? And why wouldn’t there be? Given our giant sprawling land mass, given the differences between east and west, between French and English speakers, between Indigenous Peoples and others, between right and left – what is to be expected? That there shouldn’t be divisions is irrational. That the divisions won’t endure is a pipe dream.

The new information age that gives vent to all the yellers and haters makes conditions seem worse. That they are worse than ever, as some claim, is delusional. As I have previously noted, we need only go back to the early 1990s, when we had a separatist party as the official Opposition, when the Reform Party was staging a rebellion in the West, when there was a deep recession with third-world debt levels, and when a Quebec referendum put the country on a knife edge.

That was when Mr. Chrétien was in power and Mr. Harper was soon to be. They were on opposite sides; their ideological differences mirrored those of the country and still do. But despite the differences, they maintained respect for one another.

Their good rapport is driven by a number of commonalities. They were tough-minded, fiscally prudent, problem-solving non-visionaries. They were suspicious of elites and passionate about the Canadian North. Historian Arthur Milnes, who has been in meetings with them, said: “What I witnessed in private is that both men are very funny behind the scenes and simply enjoy each other’s company. I recall them meeting privately at the late Ralph Klein’s funeral in Calgary. With their funny stories about him, they had each other, and me, in stitches.”

That doesn't mean that differences disappear:

Their camaraderie doesn’t mean there’s been a narrowing of the philosophical divide. Mr. Harper chairs the International Democratic Union, a global alliance of right-wing parties. Mr. Chrétien wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole.

But they remind us that political opponents don't have to be mortal enemies.

Image: National Post


zoombats said...

Seeing that photo today reminds me of the recent one i saw with Harper showing his awe and admiration seated beside Kissinger. A quick google will reveal numerous like minded shots with all the great ones from Netanyahu to Putin. This man will never cease to amaze me with his Cheshire cat grin and his ability to continuously step out of the shadows into the press limelight. He must think Canadians are stupid and or forgetful. Just to enlighten my disdain I took a long shot and also found numerous photos of him with the "Muldoon". Now there's a party in the making.

Owen Gray said...

They're part of the Leaders Club, zoombats. It collects strange bedfellows.

Danneau said...

Ami I wrong in recalling that Chrétien got elected in a wave of revulsion at the scandals and high-handedness of the Mulroney gang? and that his Red Book called for repeal of the GST, the withdrawal from NAFTA, and the ax to the helicopter contract? Much promised, none delivered, substituted in a wave of cost cutting and abandonment of housing and health programs in the stampede to look good in high finance circles. Could it be that there just isn't that much of a gap in a lot of the Liberal and Conservative programs?

Owen Gray said...

Some would say there never has been much of a gap, Danneau.

Northern PoV said...

" Could it be that there just isn't that much of a gap in a lot of the Liberal and Conservative programs?"

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....”
― Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

Owen Gray said...

Chomsky understands how things work, PoV.

zoombats said...

Happy Birthday to Noam Chomsky today at 95. Like Danneau I will never forget the promise to scrap the GST made by Cretien. I have lodged it there with electoral reform as the greatest lies to enlist the voting public.

Toby said...

So, who is doing the limiting of "the spectrum of acceptable opinion"? And how?

Owen Gray said...

The list of broken political promises keeps getting longer, zoombats.

Owen Gray said...

There are many actors, Toby. But their product is what John Kenneth Galbraith called "the conventional wisdom."

Northern PoV said...

"So, who is doing the limiting of "the spectrum of acceptable opinion"? And how?"

Come on Toby, try harder. Willful ignorance is not seen at Northern Reflections from Owen and rarely shows up in the comments.

OK, to wit:
Self-censorship is practiced by reporters, editors etc on up the chain. They know that the corporate media owners will simply fire them if they venture beyond the Overton Window.

And it is getting worse. Based on his credentials, Sy Hersh should be prominently published by the NYT (the place he exposed My Lai in the 70's) instead of his obscure sub-stack.

Recent examples:
Rachel Gilmore here at home and this ...

Owen Gray said...

It's always been true, PoV, that you have to carefully choose your sources of information.