Harper's dirty, divided game could win him another election

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Watching Stephen Harper envenom not only the politics of the day but hammer at our deepest societal framework -- the rule of law, democratic process -- is to wonder what will be left of our self-respect as a nation if he wins the next election, thanks to a splintered electorate.

Harper is a genius at totalitarian-style manipulation that feeds on the divisions that it has itself created, and at keeping the public confused. The fact that his party is still in the game at all according to the polls, despite one anti-democratic binge after another, attests to that.

Despite everything, he comes out with only a few light scratches over his scandalous attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on a trumped-up accusation.

This is not just a nasty spat. The Harperists have been attacking the courts from Day 1, and their problem is not with this or that judge -- it is with the rule of law itself. The PMO's reported fury at a string of setbacks suffered at the hands of the Supreme Court tells us ever more clearly that the Conservatives see the law as their plaything, to be bent to their purposes.

Harper is a clear-headed ideologue -- all the more dangerous for that. Having bragged to the effect that "you won't recognize Canada after I'm through with it," his stated goal is to destroy the Liberal party and turn his own into the "natural governing party."

The time for natural governing parties is probably over, but he can take some satisfaction in the reduced state of the Liberal party. The Harperists' one telling argument is that Justin Trudeau "is not ready for prime time." As regularly as Harper assaults democracy, Trudeau puts his foot in his mouth. And the recent signal given by its exclusion of pro-life candidates on the abortion issue is that the Liberal party is no longer a "big-tent" party. Three little-tent parties suit Harper fine, because small, dirty and divided is his game.

One would hope that by the time the next election rolls around in a year and a half, the game will be absolutely clear to the electorate. The idea of Harper in power another four years to rip up treaties, pervert the electoral process, pass manipulative omnibus bills, deepen the hold of oil and other resource companies over government, rig the tax system for partisan purposes, politicize the bureaucracy, plus attack environmentalists, scientists, civil society groups and parliamentary watchdogs, among others, should give us pause indeed.

Actually, many people get it now -- the Harperists linger at some 20 per cent in the polls in Atlantic Canada and at 13 per cent in Quebec, raising the prospects of election night opening with fewer than a half dozen Conservative seats east of Ontario, and maybe none at all. The Prairies won't budge much, despite some Conservative libertarians objecting to Harper's iron grip, leaving Ontario and B.C. to decide. There, the Harperists are behind the Liberals, but not by much.

Harper's argument there is that he's going to heroically balance the budget and cut taxes. That is, he's going to slash at everything, like services to veterans, and, especially, dump costs on the provinces. (Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer doesn't know what exactly is being cut -- that's hidden in the last omnibus bill.)

With these savings, he'll propose to cut taxes aimed at key voting groups in the money belts around Toronto and Vancouver that can be counted on to put self-interest above country.

If only Canadians saw what the outside sees. Once the light of the world on many fronts, Canada is now denounced regularly on environment, foreign aid and other things. Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation, which rates governments every three years, has Canada slipping fast in "good government" ratings. Of the "high-quality governance structures" Canada once had in place, it said in its most recent report, "the actions of the Canadian government ... have jeopardized this situation."

Meanwhile, last November, with the media saturated with the Senate and Rob Ford scandals, Canadians heard nothing of the thrashing we got at the Warsaw climate change conference, where several studies put us down with Saudi Arabia, which flares off oilfield gas, and a couple of others as one of the dirtiest nations on Earth per capita, thanks mostly to the tar sands.

Meanwhile, the opposition Liberals and NDP, which two-thirds of the electorate would like to see come together to put an end to Harper, instead are locked in their own frenzied combat, making it more likely that the Conservatives will slip through in those contested areas. And another Harper victory, even in a squeaky minority, would kill any chance that this country can retake its place as a positive force in the world.

Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist in Yarmouth County. This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: pmwebphotos/flickr

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