Looking back on Harper’s time in office
This past Sunday, January 23, was the fifth anniversary of Prime Minister Harper’s time in office.
It’s difficult to fathom that the Conservative Party has stayed in power as a minority for over five years now. It speaks volumes not only to the type of electoral system Canada has, but also to the sheer lack of any figure around which non-Conservatives can gather. Traditionally, the leader of the Liberal Party has formed the nexus of opposition to any Conservative Prime Minister in power, but in the last five years the Liberals seem to have faltered at every turn.
First, the Liberals put forward that powerhouse of charisma, Stéphane Dion. He soon came to be known throughout English-speaking Canada as “that guy who can’t speak English” – not a good start for an aspiring Prime Minister. His green initiative, while commendable, was totally shredded by the Conservatives.
It wasn’t difficult; with gas prices during his time as Leader of the Opposition skyrocketing well above a dollar, a tax on Carbon emissions seemed like dumping salt on an open wound. Unsurprisingly, many Canadians were more concerned about their wallet than about the environment.
The real pièce de résistance, however, was the hastily-filmed speech defending the attempted coalition takeover of Parliament, which proved that while the Liberals knew how to use a cell-phone camera, they did not know how to lead a country.
Not surprisingly, shortly after the much-debated “constitutional crisis,” Dion was out. Enter Michael Ignatieff, the man that makes smiling look horribly painful. Since “Iggy” took control of the Liberals, the game has been cautious acceptance of the Conservative Party in power. So far, the Liberals have managed to avoid an election on any issue. And despite a nationwide bus tour this past summer, Iggy just doesn’t connect with voters very well.
This isn’t to say that Ignatieff and Dion are fully to blame for their inability to defeat Harper. Harper is a master of the Parliamentary game, and he is willing to spin anything in the news. For example, because Harper wanted an election in late 2008, he began accusing the Liberals and the NDP of wanting an election. For quite a few weeks, Harper repeatedly said that the Liberals refused to work with Parliament, and that they wanted an election. Since Canadians had that horrible affliction of democracy called “election fatigue” (not to be confused with “Trudeaumania” or “election fever”) in 2008, blaming the Liberals for an election no one but Stephen Harper wanted was an excellent tactic.
And it is also not the fault of Dion or Ignatieff that the minute they came to power within the Liberals, the Conservative Party released advertisements on television attacking their qualities as leaders. Remember the image of Dion with his arms outstretched, asking Canadians if we “think it’s easy to make priorities” – an obvious allusion to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to make the tough decisions that Conservatives find so easy to make. And need I remind you that Ignatieff is really “just visiting” Canada? He also hasn’t offered any plans for the economy; he’s only run attack ads. (Can you say irony?)
Meanwhile, Canadians are becoming more and more polarized. Since there is no real debate occurring in the political discourse anymore and no opposition party can nail down anything Harper does to oppose vehemently – or perhaps Canadians don’t have the attention span to oppose anything for an extended period of time – it is increasingly easy to attack Harper as a person rather than attack what he says and does. There is no way to count the amount of times I’ve read “Harper is the devil” or “Harper is pure evil”. There are people who will oppose Harper based solely on the fact that he is Harper, paying no attention to any of his policies. And yet, at the same time, no one is rallying around Iggy or Layton because it doesn’t seem like they would be any better.
How to sum up five years of Harper as Prime Minister? Has he worked his Conservative magic and banned abortion, or ended gay marriage, or forced Christianity upon the masses? No, he hasn’t. Has he run Canada into the ground with ridiculous expenditures and sold out our country to the United States? Well, that’s a little fuzzier, but the main reason there is a budgetary deficit right now is because the opposition parties demanded a stimulus plan, and Canadian banks are actually buying out American banks in the wake of the recession.
That doesn’t let him off the hook, however, for the ridiculous spending surrounding the G8 and G20 summits this past summer, for squandering Canada’s image as a peacekeeping nation around the world, or for his broken promises of more transparency in government. And it certainly doesn’t let him off the hook for his total lack of vision of what Canada should be. He’s not inspiring; he seems to just be a place holder until someone better comes along.
Perhaps the next election will see a new prime minister, but it is doubtful. There just isn’t anyone better than Harper in a position to defeat him, as much as it hurts to admit it. That’s likely the best way to sum up his tenure.