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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 21 November 2013

What Would Harper Do: Why Canadians Are Cynical About Politics

This letter, written by none other than Canada's Prime Minister, is circulating in in the mailboxes of Brandon-Souris.  Their byelection is on November 25th.  One might like to hope that the top politician in the land would focus on matters of national importance, but that's not how we do politics in Canada any more.  It's all about the partisan win and everyone from the top-down (in Harper's case, everything is top down) is functionally fixed on beating opponents.

It's political cynicism, but whatever - we've become immune to that.  What still drives Canadians nuts, though, is rank hypocrisy.  What drives me nuts is people that are so entrenched in their talking points that they are blind to how far they've veered off course until it's too late.

Here's where Harper's message and reality part.

In his letter to the people of Brandon-Souris, he calls Canada an advanced economy.  Advanced in what way, exactly?  Harper's entire economic policy is focused on natural resource extraction and export - an approach being abandoned by other nations, even oil nations that are seeking to diversify their economic portfolio.

He's not pursuing advanced manufacturing.  He's not investing in the Knowledge Economy.  Countless studies, including Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada's Research Strength and Innovation Weakness have made clear that our laissez-faire reliance on hewing wood and hauling water is an unsustainable practise and we need to start promoting and monetizing our research ability.  Harper ignores all of this evidence because it doesn't support his personal narrative.

Think about that for a second; we have a Prime Minister that stifles and challenges the science and studies that could really help Canada become an advanced economy because he's functionally fixed on supporting an industry that gave him his first job, in a mailroom.

Related to this - the truly Advanced Economies out there have realized the need to increase service capacity, reach and efficacy by redesigning funding and social service delivery into integrated, collaborative models that put the end-user first.  The Mowat Centre and KMPG have discussed this trend and identified best-in-class practises Canada could borrow from in The Integration Imperative: Reshaping the Delivery of Human and Social Services.

What's Harper doing?  He refuses to speak with Premiers, micromanages Canada's top bureaucrats and is doing his damnedest to fragment Canada's service delivery.  It's all well and good that Harper's government is transforming healthcare transfers to make Canada's health funding more sustainable, but in the tradition of a Paul Martin, all he's really doing is outsourcing the burden to the provinces.  This is an abdication of responsibility that does nothing to help actual Canadians who need and deserve integrated, user-friendly healthcare services.  

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure putting Canada behind the curve on economic opportunity, falling behind other nations on service integration and punishing sick Canadians to make the federal books look good doesn't help Canadian families any.  In fact, it sets them back.  I guess planning ahead is a bit too much like committing sociology for our PM.

But the hypocrisy gets worse.  One of Harper's key partisan planks has been that he is tough on crime, that no bad deed will go unpunished on his watch, being the responsible, accountable and transparent guy that he is.  It's the other guys who would defend wrong-doing among their own until the blowback from doing so became too great to avoid.  It's the Lefties that hug thugs and suggest crack-smoking, law-breaking bullies really just need help.

Except Harper has defended his own hires, leaving his strong, stable message blowing in the wind.  At least, he defends them right up until they become a liability, at which point he throws them under the bus. 

Two cases in point, obviously, are Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.  It's all in the past, Harper will tell us; his don't ask, don't tell style of leadership (which is in complete contrast with his tendency to micromanage, but that's his cognitive dissonance to square) he's moving on, why can't you?  Sorry, Prime Minister, but when you constantly focus on the entire career history of your opponents as fodder for attack, you don't get to play the "the past doesn't matter" card.

Then there's the saddest example of the PM's cognitive dissonance - Stephen Harper's fishing buddy, Rob Ford.  Ford is a deeply troubled man who should never have run for Mayor in the first place.  He did so because Right Wing political operatives wanted to have a winning horse in the race, whether he had a checkered past and an untenable populist streak or not.  

Throughout his troubled mayoralty, Harper has been a Ford enabler, chiefly because he wanted to use the man for partisan gain.  Now that Ford has become toxic, Harper is keeping his distance, a reversal that has surely come as a blow to the Mayor who revers the PM.

Harper may have abandoned Ford, but is still counting on Ford Nation to supply votes in the 905.  It's for this reason that Harper's unwavering, tough-on-crime approach turns to jello when if comes to Ford, his drug abuse, drunk driving and litany of other sins.  Justin Trudeau is clearly a dangerous man, what with his pot-smoking talk; when it comes to Ford, or any other sitting Conservative and substance abuse, however, Harper turns the other cheek.

See, he frankly doesn't care whether criminals get punished or not.  What he cares about is smearing his opponents, winning seats and retaining power.  Despite what he tells himself, Harper's ethics are matters of partisan convenience.

Harper probably believes his own rhetoric and sleeps well at night, assured that he is righteous, his foes are villains and therefore, anything he does is justified.  The problem is, his delusion is feeding into Canada's disillusionment about our democracy on the whole.  We don't trust politicians because holier-than-thou folk like Harper are so transparently full of shit.

Harper has a choice - he can put what he stands for first, or he can put his partisan wins first.  He can't have it both ways.  If he truly puts his agenda and values like integrity, transparency and accountability first, he would commit political seppuku and set a good example for his peers, his team and the nation.

But clearly, he's not prepared to do that - which is why pretenders to his throne like Jason Kenney and James Moore are starting to do to Harper what Harper has done to Ford.

It didn't need to be this way.  If Harper had put what he believed in first from day one, people would take him seriously.  Instead, despite his rhetoric, his agenda has shifted with the winds of opportunism, turning his Party into exactly the sort of entitled, self-serving and stagnant entity Harper got into politics to fight in the first place.

On November 25th, the people of Brandon-Souris have a choice to make.  It's not my place to tell them how to vote, but I will leave them with this question - if Stephen Harper, with all the things he says he believes in, were an non-partisan voter looking at the complete cognitive dissonance between what the Prime Minister is saying and what he's doing, what choice would he make?

I think the answer to that question says it all. 

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