The important news first…
Those of you who have been following the blog closely know that November (and a fair chunk of October) was a nasty month for the family in terms of our health. I still have a lingering, occasional cough from the flu bug that dogged us during that period, and Erin spent the last week floored by an acute and viral inner-ear infection (called “acute labyrinthitis”) that made her feel like our house was a ship at sea. During a storm.
Well, this weekend, the bugs finally were blown away by our immune systems, and Erin could walk around without doping herself with anti-vertigo medication, and she was ready to go back to work, feeling fine. Except, the moment — the moment! — she stepped out of the car, she slipped on a patch of ice and hit the back of her head. She doesn’t actually remember the fall or its immediate aftermath, and the doctors and nurses that checked on her noted that she couldn’t remember what day it was, what year she was born, or how to spell her name. So she was sent to the hospital.
There she was diagnosed with a concussion, but fortunately a mild one that she is recovering from. Within a couple of hours, she was far more herself, and right now though she has a splitting headache, she is aware of who she is and what she’s doing. Mostly, she’s furious at the fates, right now.
Erin’s grandmother diagnosed her with “strange luck”, which really describes the situation to a ‘T’. We’ve had a month of exceptionally good, life changing news with the announcement that Arthur A. Levine at Scholastic would be buying her novel Plain Kate, and we’ve been unable to really enjoy that news what with being so sick. And the day that she’s actually feeling good, this happens? It’s almost like some crazy see-saw attempting to make things balance out.
Anyway, I guess we are lucky in that Erin wasn’t as badly hurt as she could have been, but I’m sure she’d rather have been lucky enough not to have taken that fall.
And now for the news of the week…
I am amazed at how fast the news has moved over the past five days. If you had told me, just this past Wednesday, that we’d be looking at the serious possibility of a change in government, much less a Liberal-New Democrat-Bloc coalition, I would have thought that you were crazy. But the past five days have provided us with exciting times, and provided me with a lot of fodder to blog about. Indeed, almost too much fodder.
As I’ve been writing fast and furious, the drawback of blogging has manifested itself. Blogging is writing without the presence of editors, and we bloggers are on our own when it comes to fact checking our statements. So it’s only natural that sometimes my readers have to point out points that I’ve gotten wrong. I appreciate the service, and would like to correct the record of the past five days, or at least explain some of my statements.
On Saturday, when I wrote this post on why I felt the Conservative government deserved defeat, I mentioned the Gwen Morgan affair, saying, “Then there was Harper’s political tantrum over the decision of the opposition members on Harper’s long-promised public appointments commission to vote down Harper’s proposed chairman Gwyn Morgan after Morgan’s statements deriding immigrants, low wage workers and the New Democratic Party became public.”
The situation was actually more complicated than that, and Mustafa Hirji called me on this, saying, “I think it fails to show the subtlety in analysis you showed when originally reviewing his comments. He in now way was saying that all immigrants and low wage workers were bad—only that there are some and that this needs to be addressed. Your statement implies that he derided all immigrants and low wage workers.”
That’s a good point. The situation with Gwen Morgan, summarized here, was more partisan. The full text of Morgan’s damning (in the eyes of the opposition) speech can be found here. The comments on immigrants and low income workers are really rather tame, and it’s more the comments against the New Democrats that would make any opposition member question whether Mr. Morgan would be willing to work seriously with members outside of the Conservative government. Indeed, it was Conservative members and supporters who tried to trump up the claims that the opposition was attempting to vote down Mr. Morgan because of his comments on immigration and low income workers, thus attacking his freedom of speech. But, as I noted, Morgan’s position should have been non-partisan, and his comments on the NDP certainly called into question his ability to function in a non-partisan fashion. For example:
The grasshopper is soon dead of a drug overdose and the NDP blames it on the obvious failure of government to address the “root causes” of despair arising from social inequity.
Now, how Canadian is that!!
Moving on, Mustafa also noted, “You wr[o]te, ‘while [Harper] came from the right wing of the spectrum, he believed in democracy enough that he was going to provide Canadians with the pragmatic, centrist leadership they wanted.’ I’m not sure where this ‘believed in democracy enough’ business comes from. It implies that Harper doesn’t believe in democracy fully.
That was not my intention. What I wanted to convey is that, while Stephen Harper has expressed political views on the record that can be categorized as pretty right wing, particularly the base sentiment of his ‘Alberta Firewall’ letter, it was because he believed in democracy (or said he did) that he was respecting the call of Canadians to provide competent leadership on policies that he himself had spoken out against. That would be believing in democracy more than the average individual. It’s a remarkable individual who can step forward with a particular personal belief and set aside that belief because the people who elect him to office believe in something else, and you believe that their beliefs should take precedence. And if you discount recent events, Harper’s record on this isn’t that bad at all.
Mustafa also believed that my statement that Harper proved to be an opportunist rather than a pragmatist to be an over-generalization. It may well have been, but it depends on your definition of opportunism. Pragmatism and opportunism are so close together in appearance, it’s often hard to tell the two apart. The key criteria, however, is the intent of the action. Pragmatists follow policies which they believe to be right (or of value to the electorate), regardless of whether said policy is popular, or even in their own self interest. Opportunists follow the same (or different) policies based more on self-interest. And Harper has moved heavily in the realm of self interest.
Consider the 2008 election. Harper called this election a year early, breaking his own election law to do this — in spirit if not in letter (it was a pretty meaningless law). He had not yet lost the confidence of the House when he made this move, so why did he do it? It seems likely that he did it because he thought he could put the opposition at a significant disadvantage and run this country in a less encumbered fashion, despite the fact that he’d committed on paper to trying to work with the minority government until October 2009. To me, that’s opportunism, rather than pragmatism.
And that act calls into question his other pragmatic moves. Were his moves to the centre brought about because he respected where a number of voters wanted him to go? Or did he move to the centre in the hopes of bringing the voters to him, so he could achieve his much desired majority and rule without constraint for at least four years? The answers to these questions are subjective, to be sure, but in my opinion, the pattern of behaviour suggests an individual who is looking out for his own aims more than respecting the aspirations of his fellow citizens.
On my point “Government has been a battle for him, and his opponents, be they on the opposition benches or standing in the streets, are not Canadians with legitimate points of view of their own, but enemies to be crushed and humiliated,” Mustafa states, “I think that’s true of opposition parties, but I don’t see how it is necessarily true of the public. You could perhaps point to how he attacked the arts community for the cuts to arts funding, but in this situation, he was also publicly attacked by the arts community making them voluntary players in national political discourse. I don’t see that as the same think as attacking people ‘standing in the streets’.”
Well, it’s true that Harper has no equivalent of a Shawinigan Handshake (although his security cordon has tightened to George W. Bush levels of isolation), but he has taken his partisan attacks well beyond the realm of Question Period. The Linda Keen affair is a case in point. All of the reasons he could have given to override the decision of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Council, all of the steps he could have taken to resolve the problem without controversy, he decided instead to attack the credentials of a public servant based on which government appointed her. The same goes for Elections Canada chief Marc Mayrand. Our public service is supposed to be a-political, its individuals as diverse a group of people as the Canadian public. If they are attacked on political grounds for doing their jobs, how different is that from Stephen Harper attacking Liberal or New Democrat voters standing in the streets?
And what about the case of the Conservative practise of setting up “go-to people” in opposition ridings, encouraging voters to bypass their duly elected members of parliament in accessing services from the government? What is the implication of this policy? To me, it means that if we as voters in a riding choose to vote for a non-Conservative member of parliament, the Conservative government reserves the right to punish said voters by depriving them of access to government services. Similar rhetoric was raised warning Newfoundland voters of the consequences of shutting out the Conservatives from the province. That isn’t too different from attacking voters standing in the streets, in my opinion.
I believe that a government has an obligation to serve all Canadians to the best of its ability, regardless of how individual voters voted, and I’m not alone. It’s why so many of us were incensed at Liberal MP Tom Wappel’s callous and partisan mistreatment of an elderly voter in his riding, and why we were so upset when Bloc MP Andre Bellevance gave the cold shoulder to Legion members in his riding asking for help in obtaining Canadian flags from the Heritage Ministry. It’s your job to serve everyone without favour! How dare these politicians forget this!
We did not see similar actions taken to such a degree during previous changes in government in the latter part of the 20th century. The ability of the Canadian public service to switch gears between the priorities of the Trudeau and Mulroney governments in 1984 was a point of pride for them, and there were no mass firings to make this happen. Similarly, I don’t recall Jean Chretien ever attacking public servants on the basis of who hired them, and this came during a time when Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest instructed the Conservative majority in the Senate to block Liberal legislation that stripped a couple of private companies of the right to sue (this for the Liberals’ reversal of the Mulroney government’s decision to privatize Pearson Airport). Attacks against “Conservative appointees” were muted, even then.
We only start hearing this type of rhetoric when Paul Martin becomes prime minister and starts sacking people seen as “Chretien loyalists”, and more often than not this activity was seen as highly partisan and politically destructive — not something that Harper should have tried to emulate.
So, to make a long story short, my statement that “Government has been a battle for him, and his opponents, be they on the opposition benches or standing in the streets, are not Canadians with legitimate points of view of their own, but enemies to be crushed and humiliated” is one that I stand by.
Finally, Mustafa notes “You write, ‘Stephen Harper has proven himself to be more partisan, more arrogant and less accountable than any prime minister before him.’ I think that is an exceedingly strong statement, and not one I think can be defended.”
I agree that it is an exceptionally bold statement, and not one I would normally make if I wasn’t this upset at this government. Thinking about this in the cold light of day, I realize that I’m putting Harper up against the antics of Trudeau and Mulroney, and who knows how many other people in history. But Trudeau was able to co-operate with the Clark government in getting American hostages out of Iran. Mulroney expanded the Privy Council to include NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin when the first Gulf War started. Harper, ignoring the advice of his ministers and his Chief of Staff, used the coming economic downturn as an excuse to insert incendiary language and policies designed to “kill” the opposition parties.
The most partisan, most arrogant move? Yes, I agree, that’s way open for debate. But it’s certainly far more partisan and arrogant than Canadians deserve from their prime minister.
According to this article, Stephen Harper has accused Stephane Dion of “playing the biggest political game in history.” I guess you could call it that. Though, I’m reminded of some lyrics from Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris’ CD, All that Roadrunning, from the song Belle Star
It don’t take a genius, baby
There ain’t no big mystery
You can’t play it safe
And still go down in history
So saddle up the horses
‘Cos we’re headed for the hall of fame
Whatever your opinions about this, we can at least credit Stephane Dion for making history, here. Who’d have thought this was possible last Wednesday?