About this dismal business of federal politics. The way I figure it, we’re waiting for the Harper government to finally shoot itself in the head after shooting itself in the foot roughly every three months. We’re also waiting for the Opposition Liberal party, which is already dead on the floor, to show signs of life.
One thing the vast majority of us are distinctly not waiting for is for the Harper government to actually improve anything, especially not to advance the cause of a properly functioning democracy. On the contrary, the drift is ominous: towards a tyrannical control from the Prime Minister’s Office aimed at dismantling large parts of the Canadian state, punishing anyone who questions its aims, manipulating information, and turning the society into an alloy of right-wing religion and big money.
The truly ill-omened part is that Stephen Harper can do this while in a minority. That is, even if the Conservatives do shoot themselves in the head — and they came close by destroying the census long form as a useful public instrument — they’ll keep governing in zombie form if the opposition remains as fractured as it is. And even more ominously, it’s not just us.
South of the border, the undead detritus of the Bush/Cheney devastation still stalks the land and, amazingly, may well capture control of the Congress this fall, their main hope being to prevent the Bush tax cuts for the rich from coming to an end on schedule, which would have devastating consequences for national finances in the long run. There, the combination of fundamentalism, big money and right-wing ideology works to keep as many middle- and lower-income people as possible ignorant and voting against their own best interests. It’s working. They’ve got 20 per cent of Americans believing, among other things, that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and wasn’t born in the U.S. Plus they’ve got him befuddled and looking like — well, Michael Ignatieff.
These are the Harper government’s mentors. The corrosive attack ads, the dirty electoral tricks, the manual on how to disrupt parliamentary committees — this is all borrowed from the Republican bag of deceptions, including the selected target audience to keep the party in power. Anyone who knows anything, including top civil servants, experts of all kinds who tend to correct their fantasies, and so forth are to be stiff-armed while the target demographic is people distracted by sports or entertainment who don’t follow politics closely and can be easily influenced with less-than-honest ads.
Nothing, apparently, will breach the walls of Harper’s ideological fortress. There’s nothing in sight either that will bring together the opposition parties, the political fragments that represent nearly 70 per cent of the Canadian electorate. That leaves the Liberal party, the biggest of them, to get up off the floor.
The Liberals, after the sponsorship scandal sank them, took to eschewing attack ads in favour of a civilized approach, hoping the public would see the light. Alas, that led them to Stéphane Dion as leader and electoral disaster, and now the intellectually aloof Ignatieff struggling to connect.
But one need not abandon the civilized approach to start holding Harper to account, especially since the fellow is dragging a chain that gets steadily longer, capped off recently not so much by the census debacle as by the move to build billions of dollars worth of unneeded prisons as the cornerstone of a menacing social policy.
Recently I got a mailout from the Liberal party slagging several Harperisms — notably cutting the funding to Kairos, the national interfaith organization, for its international projects because of some perceived slight to the Conservative Truth. It seemed to me pathetic in its lack of reach. I long, like I’m sure many Canadians do, for a total accounting — there’s simply too much stuff to keep track of, which is how the Big Lie technique works. One just keeps forgetting.
This is a bigger project. Get to it, opposition parties. I even have a suggested cover photo for this publication. A friend of mine down the road was watching a documentary on TV a couple of years ago on Jack Abramoff, one of the crooks among the Bush Republicans who actually went to jail. One shot had Abramoff shmoozing among his cronies. Standing right behind him, says my astonished friend, was Stephen Harper! I told him that would be when Harper went down to Texas soon after his election to meet Bush and came back declaring Canada to be an “energy superpower.” He’s not convinced.
Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County.
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