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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.

Friday 17 February 2012

Whatever The Forum, The Same Key Rule of Partnership Applies:

The same holds true for marriage, friendships, consultant/client or employer/employee relationships, business ventures, democracy.  Communication is always, always a two-way street.  We hold each other accountable and between us, make a better world.

Plus, if you want to make a user-friendly product, you have to start by empathizing with the user.  The trick to doing that well is to make empowering that user your why.

Which is what altruism is all about.

Censorship in Canada

"Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society … It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff."

Who said this?

It's funny how a little power can change one's perspective...

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Did Vic Toews Think Before He Spoke?

Think fastis Vic Toews anti-privacy or pro-safety?

There’s been a lot of discussion about Toews’ lawful access bill, well represented (in my opinion) by John Ibbitson.  I won’t try to retread ground already well-covered – especially when there’s something more interesting to consider.
Above, I asked you to make a snap judgment – for or against.  This is, essentially, a repeat of the “with us or against us” argument Toews himself used to defend his bill and attack its detractors.  An argument he denied making in an interview with Don Martin.
Toews’ second statement is clearly a misrepresentation of the first; the words he suggests are a “far cry” from what he actually said are, in fact, the exact words he did use.  Did he tell the truth?  No – but I don’t think he consciously lied, either.
Say what now?
There was no pause between Martin’s question and Toews’ response.  I’m willing to bet that Toews didn’t sit down and rehearse answers to questions like this beforehand (and for his sake, I hope I’m right); he therefore didn't have the answer ready prior to the question being asked.  His false statement wasn’t a response to the question, but rather, a reaction to it.  It’s like a reflex test at the doctor’s – the response is autonomic, happens without your even thinking.  Except in this case, Toew’s response was verbal.
Is that not a facetious thing to say?  How can you speak without your conscious being involved?  The answer is counterintuitive – as discomforting a notion as it is, consciousness is not as big a determinant of thought as we give it credit for.  If you’re not convinced, take a couple minutes and read this.
South of the border, Barack Obama has often been criticized for pausing before he answers questions.  Some have even suggested it’s indicative of shiftiness, or a lack of intelligence on his part.  Even his supporters have urged him to get angrier – be more reactive – on certain issues.  Issues like Iran, which one would think deserve more careful consideration than others.  Logic tells us to think before you speak, but how often have we felt that thinking before an answer is disingenuous?
What Obama does when he pauses is think.  He absorbs the question, considers its implications, draws from his experience and positions then answers.  He doesn’t shoot first, ask questions later – he makes sure he understands and addresses the question, rather than focus on what the question says about who is asking.
Obama, you see, isn’t selling a message – he’s communicating.  There’s a big difference between the two – when you’re selling a message, you react to anything you feel challenges it and embrace anything you feel is for it.  We can all relate to this – we’ve all had to back down from positions we’ve taken in high emotion.  It’s not easy; our pride, our sense of self, is at stake. 
Communication, on the other hand, isn’t about selling a message; it’s about creating mutual understanding and finding common solutions.  It’s a tough process, but ultimately, it’s often the only way forward in a social setting.  Even Toews and the Tories are now expressing willingness to budge from their previous “with us or against us” stance.
Politics isn’t about communicating – it’s about selling a message.  Political science is all about developing tools to get your message across at the expense of your opponents.  Policy, on the other hand, is about finding common solutions to social challenges.  The two spheres have different objectives, yet are joined at the hip.
Toews isn’t the only one with a communication problem to resolve.  At least, that’s my perspective.
What do you think?

UPDATE DEC 1 2014:
But Levant believes what he says because it feels right to him.  Interesting, is all.

Either You're With Us...

Tuesday 14 February 2012

The Politics of Indifference: Are We Repeating History?

Tightening The Screw

An article in today’s Toronto Sun boasts the headline “Bogus Refugee Claims on the Rise.  The article asks us this question: “with all the hostility and turmoil in the world, why would more than 20% of all refugee claimants to Canada last year be coming from the European Union?  Is Hitler back? Tito? Mussolini?” 

The article goes on to say that nearly “half of last year’s bogus European refugee claimants were from Hungary."  The suggestion is that these are economic migrants, seeking better job opportunities or, perhaps, are hoping to milk the Canadian system.  A disproportionate number of these claimants are Sinti-Roma, often referred to as “Gypsies.”  Canada’s Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has singled out Sinti-Roma, suggesting they, as a social group, are actively attempting to abuse the system. 

Reading headlines like these, it all seems so much an over there problem.  We’re here in Canada, worried about jobs for our youth, the viability of our pensions and whether there will be a doctor available when we need one.  With debt crises and unemployment challenges, we’re already worried; we don’t need to add anyone else’s woes to our mix.  In short – we are anxious enough to be receptive to messages that validate our fears.

This is a big part of why Canada has recently elected a majority government whose key campaign theme was protecting Canada against “troubles lapping at our shores.”  In Ontario, the Conservative Party’s recent election campaign focused on pointing accusing fingers at “foreign workers” for stealing local jobs and “foreign students” for taking opportunity away from local students.

Does this sound familiar?  It should. 

What Has Happened Before…

During the lead-up to and beginning of World War II, Canada embraced a closed-door immigration policy that stigmatized foreigners and “special interest” groups specifically.  Canada’s Director of Immigration (Equivalent to today’s Immigration Minister) of the time, Frederick Charles Blair, focused in particular on Jews.  Between 1933-1939, while anti-Semitism and hate-crimes were on the rise, Blair allowed less than 5,000 Jews, mostly European, into Canada.  A shameful example of his blatant refusal to assist a persecuted people was the turning away of the MS St. Louis and its 907 Jewish emigrants.  Apparently, Blair once asked a prominent Jewish Torontonian "Why don't you people learn to live with your neighbours wherever you are?  Why are you hated?"

Canada confabulated justification for ignoring people in need with essentially the line that it wasn’t our problem; we had enough concerns of our own to worry about.  In fact, we did even worse – fearful of the enemy without, we started to look for enemies within.  Nazi Germany had its Concentration Camps and Soviet Russia had its Gulags, but Canada had Internment Camps of its own.

I can only assume that the Frederick Blairs of the world actually believed that external firewalls and internal containment were in the country’s best interests.  I would certainly question who from our populace they saw as true Canadians.  That was a different time, though, when we had less understanding of genetics and largely viewed “ethnic groups” as Others posing built-in threats because they were different.  Surely we’ve learned since then? 

… Will Happen Again

It doesn’t seem like it.  We have Kenney’s railing against Roma-Sinti immigrants, giving plenty of generalizations and half-truths to justify his position.  Internally, he’s finding palatable ways to put constraints on minorities.  His colleague Vic Toews is pursuing a new anti-terrorism strategy that will target any group of “vulnerable individuals” with issues “based on grievances – real or perceived.”  Prime Minister Stephen Harper questions the patriotism of any group or individual who disagrees with his positions.  This all sounds familiar, too.

I’m not trying to invoke Godwin’s Law, here.  My goal is never to point fingers, but to identify concerns and present solutions.  Here’s the problem I want to raise today.  Canada is cycling back to political divisiveness.  As economic uncertainty fosters social anxiety and as competing media (both old and new) fight for dramatic headlines to attract an overwhelmed audience, we are putting on blinders to what’s happening beyond our shores.  As our politicians attempt to outdo each other with feats of policy muscularity, our vision is becoming clouded with fear and anger.

What’s happening as a result of existing anxieties and political jockeying is that we are falling into a predictable, unfortunate political cycle of contracting tension and explosive release.  As we become more insular in our focus, we are confabulating reasons not to look at and address the challenges that surround us.


The Sun asks us, has dictatorship returned to Europe?  While it poses the question sarcastically, what if that is actually the case?  There are real concerns being expressed not just by Hungarians, but by the EU and the US that Hungary, under the reign of the Fidesz Party, is on the slippery slope towards dictatorship.  Power is being increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few; the voices and opportunities for expression of opposition are being suppressed.  A noose is slowly closing around the neck of dissent.  At the same time, there are questions of state-facilitated racism, labour camps, etc.  Beyond Hungary, racism and anti-democratic sentiment is on the rise in Europe, fueled by the Eurozone crisis.  The Roma-Sinti are being targeted now just as they have been before.   

The Canadian government is not demonstrating any interest in raising concerns over the democratic processes of a foreign government.    Doing so doesn’t fit into the theme of “trouble lapping at our shores” as well as Islamic terrorists or the threat of war with Iran do.  More to the point – if Stephen Harper were to denounce the slide from democracy in Hungary, how much credibility would he have?  He has repeatedly dismissed Canada’s democratic laws and tradition to further his own ideology – he has given Canada a glass roof when it comes to commenting on respect for democracy.

 Feeding the Beast

This is where I part company from many detractors of the Harper regime.  I’ve no interest in calling Harper a dictator, nor branding his Ministers as racist.  Labels like that brand and isolate the problem without doing anything to provide a solution.  To me, the Harper team is victim of the same structural flaws that people around the world have twigged on to.  That's where our focus needs to be.

Our political system is a zero-sum game; one player’s success can only come at another’s expense.  This makes it a survival of the fittest contest.  To the victor go the spoils – therefore, the ends justify the means; all else is collateral damage.  Under this banner, I have seen Parties of all political stripes embrace wedge-issues they knew were detrimental to the interests of their constituents, eat their own young to strengthen or save the people at the top and ignore the issues that mattered in deference to the issues that had traction.

It’s an exact repetition of what’s happening on the national scale.  I don’t see this as coincidence – I believe that the polarization of politics is informing the polarization of the populace in general.  Seeking shocking headlines, the media is simply feeding the beast.  So long as the worst of the problems are “over there”, we feel we can get away with this.  In doing so, we are abdicating our social responsibility to make the world a better place than it was as we found it.

My grandfather is a Holocaust Survivor.  Through a tragic twist of fate, he was one of 168 Allied Airmen that ended up in Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  Having signed up to fight for a cause he believed in – stopping the Nazis – he ended up witnessing first-hand just what mankind is capable of when we make the choice to either ignore or give in to fear and hatred.  Another survivor of Buchenwald, Elie Wiesel, drew this lesson from his experience of the Holocaust:

I have been to Buchenwald.  I have talked to Jewish survivors of the Camp, to political prisoners who survived the Camp and to Sinti-Roma survivors of the Camp.  I don’t believe I’ve spoken to homosexual survivors of the Camp – there weren't many gay survivors.  I have also talked to the children and grandchildren of these survivors and asked them this question – “what’s it like today?”

The answer is disheartening.  Racism is on the rise.  Disenfranchisement is on the rise.  Suppression is on the rise.  There are political challenges happening not just in Hungary, but elsewhere in Europe, too.  Of course, the Eurozone is in crisis and more than a few nations (and nationalists) are pointing fingers of blame at each other.

It is wrong for us to willfully ignore the problems of our neighbours, be they across the street or across an ocean.  All the justification in the world cannot undo the damage that is done when we turn away from the suffering of others.  Sticking our heads in the sand doesn’t isolate us from the problem – instead, it brings it that much closer to home.

We have to care about the state of democracy, here and abroad.  We have to speak out with our votes and our words and our dollars against any system or group that would tell us security trumps diversity or that success comes only at the expense of others.  It’s our responsibility to let our politicians know we do care – about our political processes here in Canada and about the problems of friends, relatives and even complete strangers abroad in places like Hungary.  It means telling the world that Canada wants to be part of the solution, not a contributor to the problem.

This isn’t about tackling insurmountable problems.  It’s not about pandering to the weak or interfering in the lives of others.  Simply put, it’s about learning from past mistakes so that we don’t relive them.  My grandfather, like so many grandfathers and grandmothers, was victimized by the Holocaust, which happened because people around the world - including Canadians - decided what was happening in Nazi Germany was not our problem.  People to this very day are being slaughtered, beaten, starved and oppressed – because our inaction lets it happen.

Don’t let our grandfathers’ sacrifices be in vein; don’t force our sons and daughters to relive them.

Captain Kirk and the Yin/Yang of Politics

In the Classic Trek, there was an episode called The Enemy Within that saw Captain Kirk split into two halves (best seen to be understood).  One of the halves was empathetic, patient, but indecisive; this Kirk lacked strength of will, authority, bodacity.  The other Kirk had all the things the other Kirk was missing; decisiveness, boldness, but also belligerence, aggression, and hyper emotionalism.  The message the episode tried to convey was that it was the combination of these two halves that made Kirk the leader that he was. 
To me, this is a great metaphor for the political spectrum.  To woo voters, Parties of the Left and Right will attempt to define each other as being at the extreme of the left-right political spectrum, as wholly separate creatures from themselves.  This is a conceit Parties and Party leaders sell to themselves as much as they sell it to us.

Truth is, the best and most successful governments hover around the political Centre.  When they move too far in one direction, they divide the country and impact voter intention.  This can be strategic, or not.

But is the left/right sepctrum the only way to look at our politics?  I tend to think otherwise.  Governments from the political left and right can be equally controlling and opaque.  In fact, a more reflective political spectrum might look like this: 

I look at politics through the eyes of an anthropologist - what I see more than the left-right divide is a selection-of-the-fittest vs a support of the collective divide. 

Little or no social support, little or no public education, tough-on-crime, gun ownership, pro-life and pro-capital punishment - these positions are all about empowering people to be naturally tough, able to survive completely independently.  It's a fun theory, but in a social context, the weak don't die off, nor can we simply ostracize them, round them up and lock them away or simply do away with them.  Weak people in a general populace leads to crime, epidemics, etc.  Plus, in a power struggle, there are always subjective decisions that get made about what traits count as more genetically fit than others.  That's not an approach that ever goes over very well.

On the other hand, complete social support doesn't work, either.  If you give people everything, they atrophy.  The don't develop the capacity to think critically or emotional and physical resiliency, etc.  The example I hear most often is the playground; if you ban monkey bars so that kids don't get hurt, how will they learn how to not get hurt in the concrete jungle?  Even more important - if everyone's on the receiving end, who's delivering?  Who's innovating?  Nobody, is the answer.  We've seen how poorly that plays out, too.

The best political advice one can offer, then, is hold to the centre - on both spectrums.  View your competitors not as enemies, but as essential threads of the fabric of what makes a nation great.  The whole is more than the sum of its parts, etc.

Opposites create each other – and the opposite of hate is not love, but indifference.  Wedge issues make for great politics, but seldom great policy.  People aren’t dumb; they pick up on the pandering and become disaffected and disengaged. 
And an indifferent society makes for a poor democracy.

Monday 13 February 2012

SOCIAL MEDIA: You Can't Stop the Signal

Social media is the bottle; we're the genie.  There's no getting us back in.  As we keep on seeing, time and again.

People are hard-wired to communicate.  Like a flower looking for light, we always seek the opportunities to express ourselves.  This technological trend has been to make this communication quicker, more expansive, and in shorter bursts.  The very structure of Twitter makes it irresistible as a tool.

There are consequences to this; the more we say, publicly, the more accountable we will be held.  If we can't stop ourselves from talking and relationships, even careers can be on the line when we share, what do we do?

This is how The Concious Society begins.

Don't forget the patients

Yes, but who are the doctors writing prescriptions and ordering tests for?  Patients. 

Patients have to run the gauntlet, trying multiple access points to find the right service; more often than we'd like to admit, the wrong solutions are found, exacerbating the underlying problem.

The first step in addressing our health care woes is to better understand patient motivations and how patients interact with the system.  That means, through overcoming the mental health stigma to determine and accommodate the root cause of patient behaviour.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Through a Lens, Darkly: A Lament for Stephen Harper

This is not an endorsement of oppression or corruption, but rather an acknowledgment of the facts.  Survival of the fittest is a zero-sum game and sooner or later, the odds will always slip out of your favour.  Lasting success doesn’t come from destroying your opposition or suppressing your populace or trying to distract them with bread and circuses.  Political and social success work the same way as evolution does – to stay competitive, to stay relevant, you need to adapt. 

The only way to create opportunity for adaptation is through embracing diversity.  When you close yourself off, no matter how powerful you are, the path you walk is stagnation.  It’s a path with a built-in dead-end.  When you open yourself to difference (of opinion, of language, of culture, etc – the genetics of culture) you create access to the tools of your own success.  The inbreeding of ideas has the same impact as does genetic inbreeding.

How does this relate to Stephen Harper?

As Prime Minister of a majority government, Harper is in charge of planning Canada’s policy future, of coordinating our internal machinations and of representing our nation abroad.  What informs Harper’s choices, then, is what motivates our nation.  It’s worth our while to ask, then – why does Stephen Harper want to be Prime Minister?

I think it’s a safe bet to suggest Stephen Harper is a neat freak.  His musical performance is as controlled as are his speeches; while he doesn’t dress to dazzle, his appearance is always a well-groomed one.  A focus on external cleanliness is symptomatic of broader control issues; not ironically, Harper has a reputation for these, as well, something even his conservative predecessors have commented on.  I’ve heard more than a few stories about him losing his temper (though it’s funny how hard it is to find any of them online).  The PM’s iron-fisted control of his caucus is legendary, as is his need to force his will upon everyone else he interacts with, the press being an obvious example.  In dealing with his political opponents, be they opposition parties or stakeholders, Harper holds true to form – his inclination is never to work with, but to control.

Harper’s brand stands on three legs.  First is the notion that he’s a master strategist.  He himself has admitted he thinks “about strategy twenty-four hours a day.”  He carefully manipulates his opponents into corners, laying traps at each and every opportunity.  His public comments are frequently derisive, often inflammatory.  Harper seems to almost enjoy this – there is a relish in the way he attacks those who threaten him. 

Coupled with these public assaults and strategic manipulations is a barely-hidden contempt/fear of his opponents.  Unlike a Brian Mulroney, say, or even a John Baird, Harper does not relish the repartee with political foes.  Harper doesn’t appear to enjoy working with other politicians; he doesn’t enjoy bantering with reporters; he doesn’t even enjoy engaging with average Canadians.  These things are basic facets of political life, as crucial to the role of political leader as the policy pieces.  If Harper dislikes politics so much, then why is he in it?  We’re back to his obsession with control.

The second key piece of Harper’s brand is his self-portrayal as an economist.  It’s not atypical for conservatives to portray themselves as the best fiscal managers; small government, free enterprise, so on and so forth.  Much of what he stood for in his slow rise to power was the reduction in public spending, public oversight and direct interference.  His whole notion of abolishing the Senate was very much tied to this theme.  What has happened since he’s been in power?  Not a leaning towards “free” market, “free” votes or “free anything,” nor a lessening of government control mechanisms or an increase in transparency.  Instead, a shrinking, increasingly insular group of people directly responsible to him are consolidating more and more control, with less and less accountability.

What’s the last peg on which Harper hangs his brand?  It’s actually not about Harper at all.  A big part of what Harper has always stood for is standing against.  From the infamous firewall letter to the whole “trouble lapping at our shores meme, Harper has always been about closing others out and maintaining increasingly tight controls of whoever is left in his bubble.  His office, his caucus, the dramatic (if precedented) decline in Parliament itself are reflective of this.  Again – it is always about control.

There’s a trend here.  Whatever Harper’s public persona – whatever he even tells himself – the true nature of his brand is not about strengthening Canada’s economy, or about his cleverness in doing so, or in the dangers that face Canada from beyond our borders or from within our ranks.  Stephen Harper is motivated by a pathological need to control.

For many of his supporters, this isn’t a problem.  They like the idea of an alpha male calling the shots.  In this view, leaders are supposed to be tough, aggressive, ruthless, devout in their ideology; leadership isn’t about motivation, it’s about bending others to your will.  Coercion and fear are legitimate tools of (wait for it) control.

There are two problems with this; one, in modern politics, you can’t kill your opponents.  You can certainly try to eliminate them (and if your strategy is sound and your enemy weak enough, you can even come close) but what you can’t do is stop more from taking their place.  Dominance is survival of the fittest; as I’ve already said, survival of the fittest is a zero-sum game that nobody can win in perpetuity.  Harper’s approach has battered our political system and embittered and factionalized the Canadian populace.  It’s also left him looking a bit like a petulant child on the global stage.

This leads into the second problem – how in conscious control is Harper, really?  So far, his attempts to engage in a more muscular foreign policy have been met with indifference on the global stage, if that.  His “I’ll take my toys out of the sandbox if you don’t play my way” approach hasn’t helped him build a reputation as a strong leader among nations, nor has his obstinacy done Canada’s global reputation any favours. Despite its own, massive internal challenges, the Liberal Party of Canada has not disappeared; Harper’s role in the fortunes of the NDP has been minimal at best.  Despite the massive, manipulative effort he has made to re-engineer Canada in his image, much of the goings on in Canada (ranging from the economy to relations with China to the fortunes of political parties the federal and provincial levels) have largely been out of his control.

On a personal level, Harper’s health has visibly and negatively been impacted as his political “successes” accumulate.  Harper himself has talked about being thin in his younger years, but has since been in a constant battle with his weight.  I don’t mention this to be mean or vindictive, but to raise a point – whatever you think about his career trajectory, Harper’s political success doesn’t seem to agree with him.  That’s more a comment about the state of politics than it is about any particular politician.

I don’t think his expanding responsibilities weigh lightly on his mind.  I don’t believe he feels confident in his capacity to meet the broadening responsibilities of his position, as much as he tries to convince himself otherwise.  In fact, I don’t think he’s changed much at all from where he began.  As leader of Canada, Harper can expose himself to any and every opportunity that could even potentially exist in the whole country.  What’s innovative in Qu├ębec?  How are Ontario manufacturers adapting to the shift towards a knowledge economy?  Who’s ahead of the curve in the Maritimes?  What can be done to show leadership on health care?  Of all the opportunities for growth, innovation or national leadership Harper could pursue from everything Canada has to offer, what has become his focus?  The Alberta tar sands.  Where did Harper grow up?  Alberta.  What was one of Harper’s first jobs?  Working in a mail room for Imperial Oil.

The same holds true for the big picture; instead of finding a couple of areas of foreign policy that have been neglected or are in sore need of leadership, Harper has played follow-the-leader on files like Israel and Iran and has simply expanded his propensity for firewalls from the provincial to the national stage.  Even when it comes to China, Harper has only really begun exploring a relationship with them because Obama wouldn’t play by his rules on the pipeline.  What about the environment?  If Harper doesn’t like Kyoto, fine, but what’s his bold alternative?  He doesn’t have one.

This, then, is where Harper’s control peters out.  I don’t say leadership, intentionally, because I don’t think Harper really has any leadership intentions about him; he’s not in it to be the boss; he doesn’t embrace any of the spoils that are available to the victor.  He’s not in it to bring forth a vision; if anything, his governance has suffered from a dearth of fresh ideas.  He’s not in it to establish a stronger Canadian unity; divide-and-conquor politics has been his bread and butter.  His default position is attack – which he’s done with “socialists and separatists”, his opponents, the media, the provinces, even art.  The only reason I can fathom Harper wanting to be in control from the sum of his life story is that same, pathological need to be in control. 

This is Harper the micromanager; as the burdens of unwanted office weigh upon him, so they weigh upon those under him.  Micromanagement is disruptive of staff and stunting of productivity in business – it’s equally harmful in politics.  Our reputation overseas is suffering.  Our internal and external opportunities are being neglected.  Canada’s social cohesion is strained – in fact, the last time we felt anywhere close to united through the inspiration of a leader was thanks to Jack Layton.  How do you think this impacted Harper’s confidence in himself?

Here’s a biological fact for you – low self-esteem is tied to the neurotransmitter serotonin; serotonin is equally connected to depression, obsessive and negative thoughts and obesity.  Caffeine, poor diet and anger are factors that contribute to low serotonin.  I have read (but again, can’t find online) that Harper likes his pop and, as mentioned before, has been known to fly off the handle.

If it isn’t clear by now, I’ll make it blatantly so – I think Harper has been a disappointment as PM.  I don’t, though, demonize him for his actions.  Like so many in politics, I see him as a victim of factors he doesn’t even realize are controlling him.  As such, I see Stephen Harper as a tragic character; I feel a bit sorry for him.  I believe that he would be much happier out of politics than he is in it; I’ve always seen him as the kind of guy who would probably have found his niche somewhere in the bureaucracy, rather than leading it. 

Problem is, he does lead; he is our Prime Minister.  Harper’s control issues are acting themselves out on a broader scale, to our detriment.  Focused so intently on his starting-gate positions and his fear of the unknown, Harper is making one short-sighted decision after the other.  His need to be in control is tying the hands of Parliament and the bureaucracy; much of the nuts-and-bolts, autonomic functions of government are grinding to a halt because of the climate of fear and uncertainty Harper has fostered. 


Which brings us back to China.  It’s here that the things which have propelled Harper to the top of the Canadian political pile – his urge to control, his obstinacy, his manipulative condescension and his fear of the unknown – leave him teetering on the brink of a significant failure for himself and Canada.

To some extent, China is Harper writ large – they don’t have the four-year cycle to impede on their planning; their message control is legendary; the media come with strings firmly attached.  The Chinese government doesn’t have to settle for meek legislation to keep subversive groups in line; they simply send in the army.  Whatever messages they feed the global public about the concerns raised by their detractors, they don’t much change their tune.  They play with others only to the extent that doing so serves their interests and have no qualms with using both carrots (or pandas) and sticks to achieve their goals.  This has relevancy for oil, yes, but through that, for Iran.  With China, Harper has met his Machiavellian match; the player is being played and, most disconcerting, despite the evidence supporting this, Harper seems to be missing it.

I’m sure there is CSIS intel on his desk relating to Chinese agents and interests in Canada; there’s a ton of literature on the subject available to the general public.  Who knows, Harper might have some carefully hatched plan to ensure Canada’s interests are preserved as he breaks down his firewalls and lets China in.  From the evidence laid out above, I highly doubt it. 

Harper has said that Canadians don’t care about procedure – hopefully, this was mere wishful thinking on his part.  Now, more than ever, Canadians need to pay attention.  There is opportunity with China, just as there is always opportunity through collaboration; in fact, innovation can’t happen without it.  This holds true equally for collaborative opportunities between nations, provinces, political parties and even within Harper’s own team.  As another Canadian leader has said, we move forward together. 

There are always risks attached with new ventures, though; you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t understand yourself.  Knowing yourself and the content and context of a situation, you have a much better chance of determining the consequence.  Or, in the words of a famous Chinese strategist:

The lesson that we as Canadians must take to heart is the same one Stephen Harper needs to consider; while victory is always supported, you fail alone.