“I don’t understand why you would allow yourself to lose the public and media relations battle when you’ve actually done quite a bit of it,” he said in an interview.
“I don’t think they’re doing that bad a job, but everybody else seems to think they’re doing a really bad job, and I’m not sure that’s true.”
That's a professional economist who has actually made a living as an economist speaking.
Then, there's this from the federal level:
The federal government cannot account for billions of dollars that were devoted to combating terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks, Canada’s Auditor-General says in a new report.
Stephen Harper, the Economist Prime Minister, can't account for 3 billion dollars of taxpayer funds. If I hire an economist to help me sort out my finances, I would kind of expect them to look backwards, forwards, under every rock and around every corner to make sure we have a good understanding of where we're at so we can figure out where we can go.
The Harper government hasn't done that. What they have done, conversely, is spend huge sums on Canada's Economic Action Plan ads, muzzled dissenting opinion and attacked opponents.
Which is exactly what Mike Harris did when he was Premier. They threatened and bullied opponents and spent heavily on advertising to promote the message they wanted people to hear.
Oddly enough, whenever Liberal governments start to focus on message over substance, that's when they start to go astray on program management, too. Conversely, when they focus on policy implementation instead of dedicating oodles of their time to brand-building, they get whacked for it. The more they get whacked, the more energy they need to divert from accomplishment to branding.
The reason why this happens is simple, but not sound-bite simple, which is probably why no one pays attention to it.
People rationally understand we need complex, collaborative solutions to our complex, collaborative social problems but emotionally, we respond more strongly to symbolism; messaging, branding, chest-thumping.
Aggressive, hard "C" Conservative governments function like lions on the savanna - they spend as little energy as possible on doing anything other than looking magnificent and smacking down opponents. They aren't interested in making a system work or supporting the nation - their sole focus is on dominance. Be it Stephen Harper or Rob Ford, the style of governance creeps ever further towards feudalism, with the King providing both judgement and direction in the absence of research, evidence or a cross-section of public opinion.
So, Harper's Canada has stifled debate, issues personal attacks on opponent after opponent, tried to threaten foreign scientists over data release and walked away from any international conversation they don't feel they can be top dog at. Control is increasingly isolated at the top and starved of exposure to the realities of the people being governed.
Cynical Harper operatives pat themselves on the back for cleverly "starving the beast" by cutting off StatsCan, CIDA, national healthcare planning, etc. at the knees, thinking they've pulled a fast one on the Socialists and Separatists and irrevocably made Canada more conservative. The actual result is that our national brand is diminishing and public confidence that government knows what it's doing is decreasing.
The solution to this, of course, is more dehumanization of opponents and more pumping of self, extending the peacock's tail a little further. This increased focus on appearance and marketing will come at the expense of more government programming, which will result in more embarrassing slip-ups. The Tories are painting themselves in to a corner and hastening the demise of their emperor's cloak of a Canadian conservative movement.
The pendulum will swing back and a more liberal government will take the reigns, start re-opening conversations and start rebuilding the infrastructure necessary for a complex system like a country to function. If it doesn't happen through the electoral process, there are groups like Anonymous who will eventually make sure it happens regardless. Post defeat, it won't take long for the Political Right to start their process all over again, focusing on self-promotion and oppositional attacks, egging progressives to respond in kind. If and when the progressives do, they'll become more partisan, less focused on the system and start emulating the same damned mistakes that do in every Party.
Competition is the natural state of play - it's as true for human beings as it is for any other animal. Competition is resource-intensive and isolationist; you work against, not with. Progress, however, comes through collaborative efforts, planning and dialogue. Humans are a progressive species, which is why we're not running from lions on the Savannah plain any more.
Society is the result of progress, not competition. Competition is more about branding and appearance than it is about substance. If you doubt that, explain to me why fashion remains such a lucrative industry and why the more money people have, the more gets spent on image. At its extremes us-vs-them competition chips away at society; wars destroy infrastructure and kill children. We do these harmful, wasteful things because when we're reacting, we're not thinking.
Progress trains children to innovate and build infrastructure. You simply can't think ahead if you're always focused on fight or flight.
In a social context, the value that Hard Right Conservatives provide is again, a natural one - they act like brushfire, clearing away outdated and tangled infrastructure to make way for new growth. Or you can call it synaptic pruning - it amounts to the same thing.
We're in the "clear space for new connections" part of the social cycle now, though there's a growing trend towards committing sociology. If we took the time to understand why we react the way we do, we could accomplish this transition without the associated pain and frustration - but that takes a level of foresight we simply don't have at the moment.
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