Hidden agendas? Hell, I’m worried about the open ones. Like what? A sage seven-year-old recently said, after watching Oliver! the musical, “I’m glad they don’t put kids in jail any more.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the Harper agenda includes sentencing 14-year-olds as adults, with stiffer terms, but no plan to attack conditions like unemployment that breed youth crime and violence.

The problem isn’t that this lacks compassion or is ineffective. The problem is it’s counterproductive. As evidence, I cite: the United States. Research and common sense indicate that you simply incubate more grim behaviour by increasing desperation and alienation while reducing alternatives. The same effect occurs internationally. The Bush war on terror has expanded the amount and range of terror it claims to be fighting, for the same reason: It refuses to deal with incubating causes and, in the process, becomes a cause itself.

Take Iraq. Due entirely to the U.S. invasion in the name of defeating terror, Iraq has turned into the main global spawning ground for fundamentalist terror. Zealots drawn there are now returning to Afghanistan with new techniques — suicide attacks, remote-control roadside bombs — developed in Iraq. Canadians are recent victims and will be again, despite our absence from the tinderbox of Iraq.

A Harper regime would apply these one-sidedly punitive, counterproductive policies both domestically and internationally. Who benefits? Not crime’s or terror’s victims, who remain vulnerable. Maybe they offer peace of mind to the inflicters: “At least we did something back to those 14-year-old bastards.”

The turning point: There’s something Greek and classical to the moment in which this campaign turned against the Martin Liberals: the news the RCMP were investigating Ralph Goodale. That’s when polls finally budged. Why? Well, the Martin team had accepted claims that Canadians felt it was time for a change. Accordingly, they had to identify themselves as the essence of change. Once they got tied, via corruption charges, to the old and bad, they were in trouble.

But why buy in so totally? Was the “overwhelming mood” for change so overwhelming? One can imagine Jean Chrétien whittling it down: “Yes, it’s time for a change. Everybody would always like a change. But will it be a change for the better?”

I’d say the Martinites were profoundly convinced it was time for a change — but of a different sort: time for them to run the party and country. They’d grown bitter and frustrated by Jean Chrétien’s stalling. They sat around at Earnscliffe’s offices choking back the bile. They became obsessed with hate, frustration and the injustice of being delayed or even denied. What if Paul got too old as Jean dawdled? It was time for a change, way past, in fact. This dovetailed with the change theme played by pollsters.

But all it took was a nudge from the RCMP to strap them to everything that needed to be left behind. So they weren’t just unlucky. It wasn’t only the fault of the Mounties, or the NDP, which asked for the investigation, or the journalists who keep demanding change so they can cover new stories, with new players etc. The Martinites had a hand in their own fate, whatever the eventual outcome, just like Greek drama.

The squirming point: Can anyone get Stephen Harper to stop saying God bless Canada at the end of a speech? It is too squirm-inducing. How did it happen? They needed something to counter Paul Martin’s boast that he could say “I love Canada” and Stephen couldn’t. (More power to Stephen on that one.) Perhaps someone suggested an actor’s trick: Conjure up a phrase or feeling you’re familiar with, then substitute.

So Stephen imagines he’s American, maybe the president, maybe just a senator. He starts off with: “. . . and God bless Amer-” but inserts Canada. Maybe he should just say, God bless Canada, too. Reminds me of Mike Harris. When he took over in Ontario, he changed the name of our local school governing body, which he hated, from board of education to Toronto District School Board, solely because that’s what they’re called in the U.S. — just before bombing the whole system.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.