Columnists

Ralph Surette
Harper's changing political fortune in Atlantic Canada

| April 22, 2013
Photo: M. Rehemtulla/QUOI Media Group

Twice the same day recently I heard this, spoken in dismissive rage: "That idiot, Harper" and "that fool in Ottawa."

In my decades watching politics, I've found that tone of voice is more indicative of political fortune than either polls or rational argument.

One speaker was a fisherman, angry at ham-fisted fishery management reforms, the other a guy who fixes houses for sale and had just been told by his bank manager that uncertainty over EI changes made an already catastrophic real estate market in Western Nova Scotia even worse.

Both probably voted for Harper last time, and neither thinks much about politics -- the type of "Tim Horton's crowd" voter the Conservatives target.

Now, however, the pileup of cuts, scandals, ideologically driven "reforms" and assaults on democracy have little fires like this smouldering all over the Harper edifice, although the façade is still standing.

Yet even the façade has wear and tear. Harper supporters usually put it this way: He's for self-reliance, smaller government and sound finances, so what's wrong with that?

Up to a point, nothing. The problem is with the way he's doing it. What Harper means by being self-reliant is having oil in the ground. People without are slackers, notably Maritimers. It's simple neo-con theology: money is virtue.

As for smaller government, I agree with that, too, up to a point. We've been building up bureaucracy since the 1960s without really reflecting on it. The public service must deliver what we want as a society effectively and efficiently, and it's necessary to make it do that. What Harper's doing is the contrary: assaulting the public service in a spirit of vandalism, driven by party ideology.

And talking of oil, new discoveries of heavy oil in the U.S., plus conservation and a slack economy have got the Alberta oilsands on the skids. Since that's the main pillar of the Harper view of the economy, and the basis of his claim to be a great fiscal manager, if they're on the skids, so is he.

Plus the old black magic borrowed from the U.S. Republicans is arguably no longer working. The swift attack on new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is, by all appearances, just alerting media and public of the Harperites' nasty habits. Dirtbag advertising, I predict, will rebound to their discredit, making them the issue rather than the intended target.

Besides, the Liberals and NDP are wise to the tricks. Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, off balance, were easy prey.

The Conservatives haven't attacked NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, in part because he bites back. During a recent trip to the U.S., where he criticized the Keystone pipeline, the Conservatives attacked him for badmouthing Canada. He merely pulled out old Stephen Harper quotes badmouthing Canada while in the U.S. and that ended that.

There's a rich lore of Harper quotes ready to be thrown back at him from his less subtle days as a right-wing ideologue, and it's time he got them back.

As for Justin Trudeau, I don't much like the idea of a political royal family -- it indicates that things are out of whack and that a society is desperate for someone to rally around -- but I think the kid will get the benefit of the doubt until he finds his feet.

The only question in all this is how the Liberals and NDP will share the vote, which according to the latest polls, is 70 per cent between them.

The Conservative appeal in Ontario and beyond, through targeted tax cuts and giveaways to the politically half-conscious class, has been to put self-interest before country. I'll make an act of faith and say that that's changing.

As for Atlantic Canada, we wiped out both the Mulroney Conservatives and the Chretien Liberals in the 1990s when they were too annoying. Given Harper's blatant contempt for the region, we'll be pathetic indeed if we don't do the same thing to him.

This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: M. Rehemtulla/QUOI Media Group

Comments

Funny how if you say "small government" it sounds good and "big government" sounds bad. But try "strong government" vs. "weak government." A little different, eh? Or try "activist government" vs. "passive government." I've always thought the Conservatives ought to be tagged with their real motto, which is "We can do less!" Yessir, if we all pull together, tighten our belts, give 110%, go into the corners, and make a few sacrifices, we can do less. Live the dream.

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