In the past month, I’ve been warned by a couple of commentators that I’m too angry. I have penned some vicious commentary criticizing the current Conservative government. I have raised my voice (inasmuch as it’s possible to do so on this blog) over various misdeeds that have taken place during the campaign, from pulling Canadian citizens from rallies for partisan reasons, to swiping a podium and shooing out reporters before a political opponent spoke, to making a big scene and trying to swipe a ballot box as a result of a simple misunderstanding with Elections Canada. I’m too angry, some have said. I’m too quick off the mark to believe the worst in this government, and I overreact to what amounts to small slights and little mistakes.
Looking back, I have to admit that I am a lot angrier now about the state of politics in this country than I was in 2008. Back then, it was still possible for me to say good things about Stephen Harper or his ministers, and I have the posts to prove it. I had a lot more faith about what this government was trying to do, and I can’t help but notice that I had a lot more conversations with partisan Conservatives that weren’t strained. Now, when I write a note to Stephen Taylor, it goes unanswered. And I have un-followed certain people on Twitter in order to lower my blood pressure.
I am angrier. And maybe in this respect you need to take my words with a bigger grain of salt. But I also believe that, after five years, I’ve more things to be angry about. Back in 2005, Harper was honing his message and broadening his tent. He was proposing interesting things that could have done this country good. Now, after five years, he has a record to look back on, and there are many things about that record that I just don’t like.
For me, the past few years has provided more than a few examples of individuals who have been adversely affected by the Harper government’s malfeasance or incompetence. There’s the cases of Abousfian Abdekrazik and Suaad Hagi Mohamud, Canadians citizens both, who were left in dire straits outside the country thanks to the government’s hostility (in the former case) or laziness (in the case of the latter), who had to resort to the courts and the media in order to shame the government into doing the right thing. Then there’s the failure of this government to live up to the promises it made before it came to power in 2006. The party that promised openness and accountability now runs the most closed shops in years. The Public Appointments Commission that was to ensure that all government employees be vetted by a parliamentary committee was basically wiped out when Harper refused to accept that committee’s decision to vote down his preferred choice for chair. A number of public departments are now run by Conservative partisans, who owe their positions more to their loyalty to Harper than to any actual competence.
If you look at each and every incident in isolation, I suppose it’s easy for someone to just shrug their shoulders and say ‘so what?’ or possibly ‘that’s unfortunate, but it’s just an isolated incident’. I suppose it’s easy (and accurate) to point out that similar mistakes have been done before, and worse, by previous Liberal and Conservative administrations. But I’m cursed with a bit of a long memory. Taken together, and the Harper government’s record has been a steady drip-drip-drip of random acts of incompetence, callousness and greed. Each new incident, however small, re-enforces the old patterns that have rubbed me the wrong way. For me, it’s like Chinese water torture; especially after thirteen years of the same drip-drip-drip coming from the previous Liberal administration, it makes me angry. It makes me want to shout ‘stop!’
Then again, maybe my anger is part of the perils of incumbency. Harper has a record now that he didn’t in 2005. Similarly, Martin had a record in 2005 that he didn’t have in 2003. Within two years of his becoming prime minister, I had some choice words for him as well:
Unthinkable though it would have been for me to say this at the beginning of this year, in four short months, Paul Martin’s Liberals have lost the moral right to govern this country. They no longer deserve victory, and the sooner they are relegated to the opposition benches, the better for this nation.
This isn’t about the sponsorship scandal, it’s about Martin’s inability to govern. Since hesitating on calling a spring election, it has become clear that Martin did not intend to govern this country until after a presupposed election victory. Now his legislative agenda is anemic, his departments are scrambling for issues to bring before parliament, and bad news hits the front page again and again. Martin’s team has shown no ability, or interest, in healing the rifts with the Chretien Liberals, and the party’s civil war has been allowed to take centre stage.
…frankly, Martin can take this humiliating defeat and choke on it. I don’t have time for people whose naked ambition for power pushes out all, including a persuasive vision for where to take the country. It’s clear that Martin expected the promise of a Diefenbaker-style majority to sweep him into office, and he felt no need to justify my vote. He promised me brilliance. He delivered dithering. He promised me leadership. He delivered nothing.
Going back further, practically to the start of this blog, I had similar choice words for Jean Chretien:
Will we be seeing the same thing (Paul Martin leaving the party to attack Jean Chretien from the outside, as John Crosbie did to Joey Smallwood in 1972) come February 2003? We have a vigorous leadership candidate in the form of Paul Martin. We see a politically savvy incumbent (and sitting premier) in Jean Chretien becoming more mired in policies many Canadians find arrogant or corrupt. The February 2003 gathering is not a leadership convention but a leadership review, but this is just as much a referendum on Jean Chretien’s leadership as the 1969 convention was for Joey Smallwood.
Casting my mind back further, I remember being delighted when Trudeau resigned as prime minister for the last time. I remember cheering the ascension of Brian Mulroney as prime minister. And you can be sure that I cheered even louder when Mulroney’s Conservatives went down to defeat nine years later. Indeed, I think the only living prime minister that I actually liked throughout his political career was Joe Clark, and that’s probably only because he was prime minister back when I was in grade one.
So, yes, I am angry. And maybe I’m sweating the small stuff, and maybe I’m letting this stuff get to me, and maybe I’m not thinking one hundred percent rationally. But is it wrong to want better things out of our governments? Is it wrong to believe that those in power should be held to account when they fail to live up to their promises?
Do I expect too much out of our political leaders? Do I put them on a pedestal, expecting them to do their best for their country, only to be sorely disappointed again and again and again? Should I just give up? Should I just resign myself to the fact that this country is incapable of producing the political leadership it needs? Should I expect all further prime ministers to fail, so as not to disappoint myself in the future?
I wonder how that would feel like, or what sort of country that attitude would produce.