One of my Ottawa Operatives tells me there is a joke going around Ottawa about Stephen Harper’s new nickname.

“They are calling him ‘shrub’,” says my contact. “A small Bush.”

Okay, okay….not exactly a screamer, but neat just the same, for the man who is busily trying to adapt the theory of the Imperial Presidency to the Presidential Prime Ministership.

Indeed, every time Prime Minister Stephen Harper opens his mouth or makes another move, it is as though his American Idol is speaking in his ear.

Which is to say, the truth cannot be found in anything the government of Stephen Harper does or says.

When Mr. Harper says he is protecting loved ones from the evil and relentless media by not allowing media coverage of the body bags as they come back from Afghanistan, he is lying. The only people he is trying to protect are Stephen Harper and the politicians of the Conservative party — protecting them from a Canadian public which just might start asking tough questions about the reason Canadians are being killed fighting a nonsensical war launched by his good buddy Mr. Bush.

And when Mr. Harper desecrates the memory of those Canadians who are killed and dismembered on behalf of Mr. Bush in the rough and rocky terrain of Afghanistan, he does so only so that we are not exposed to visible reminders of this feckless national adventure.

Indeed, there is only one reason for every action and every lie — the election of a majority Conservative government next spring.

I’ve read and listened to much talk about the recent budget. I have digested the learned insight, analysis and opinion — is it a conservative budget? Is it too conservative? Is it not conservative enough?

There is one simple and obvious answer — all of the above, because it is a totally political budget designed to propel the election of a majority Conservative government.

There is one caveat — that the majority Conservative government be elected before enough Canadians realize they have been had.

We are in the midst of a Conservative Party election campaign, financed by Paul Martin and his former Liberal Government. Only because Mr. Martin and his confreres turned over a treasury overflowing with taxpayer cash, can Mr. Harper’s Tory hordes attempt what they are trying to pull off.

That’s the unusual part. What is ever more evident with every passing day is that it is old-fashioned politics as usual, with taxpayers yet again having their new found political loyalties being bought with their own tax money.

It may be smart politics, but it does play hell with the country and its social and economic systems.

It matters not which of Mr. Harper’s “Five Priorities” you select, the pattern is the same — the question is not what works best for the people — it is which works best for the Conservative Party?

The philosophy is totally amoral and unethical.

The party of Stephen Harper is in the process of stuffing Canadians with candy, and hold the broccoli.

Thus, middle class families who want their kids playing organized sports get $500 to spend on shoulder pads and basketball shoes; except it’s really a tax credit which will net them less than $100.

Guys who wear hard hats get a handout for tools. Same deal. They are not getting $500 at all.

And families with youngsters under six get 100 bucks a month to spend on day care if they choose, or beer and popcorn if they want. All they can be sure of is that they are being conned, and most of the handout will be taxed back.

It is the great political game and the great political maxims at play: in the words of Walter Lippman, “a week is an eternity in politics” and in politics, perception passes for reality.

The political game is to give perception the aura of substance.

The end game is to ensure that substance never catches up to perception until it is too late.

Mr. Harper has been busily making speeches and issuing media releases, zipping about the country as he bestows goodies on some segment or other of the populace, and all the while insulating himself from the media’s attempts, however clumsy and misguided, to wrest some semblance of substance from the utterances.

The speeches are revealing, even in the way they are set up in tiny bite-sized phrases and sentences, direct from the George Bush way to political flim flam — addressing the party faithful in Toronto and sucking up to les Québécois in Montreal where the Conservatives think they can demolish both the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois a year from now.

They are campaign speeches by any other name, ostensibly to launch some program or cash giveaway in spending the Liberal financial legacy, but always including a shot or two at one or the other opposing political parties, dismissing the Liberals as those “who would like to turn back, to go back to polarization, confrontation and corruption.”

Sadly, the sucking up in Quebec is working. One recent poll found him with a 70 per cent approval rating in that province. The Bloc is in freefall, and the Liberals are stuck at the bottom, ahead only of the NDP.

His speeches are those of divisiveness. He uses the Bush technique of dismissing national media and concentrating on local outlets where his visit is treated as a celebrity event — less confrontation and more exposure.

Then there are the jokes like this knee slapper: “I asked the cabbie who drove me here today who he would support (in the Liberal leadership race). He said he’s running himself.”

Yuk Yuk!

It may come as something of a surprise to y’all, but according to our Prime Minister, Canadians are in Afghanistan “defending our national security” among other things.

It’s all part of the Bush strategy of deflecting questions about our role in that misbegotten country, by charging that such queries betray our brave service people.

“And we must always stand behind our men and women in uniform,” Mr. Harper intoned to a Conservative fund raiser in Toronto.

His defence of the budget contains this memorable phrase: “There will be no more wasting money on ever-changing priorities. We are investing in things that matter to ordinary Canadians.”

He does not specify what these things are nor explain that expenditures on the environment, the curbing of global warming, the provision of day-care spaces, and an almost total gutting on government encouragement of the arts will go by the wayside so we can build more jails to hold more Canadians longer because of changes to the criminal code that will not, repeat, not do anything to lessen the crime rate in this country which has been diminishing all by itself.

He does not explain why he feeds us emotional candy at the expense of the substance that might sustain us on the planet; that just might create a Canada our children’s children may live and prosper in; a society that cares about the least of its citizens. Taking billions out of the budget meant to improve the environment, killing the Kelowna accord and selling out the Aboriginal peoples will not do that.

That will guarantee more candidates for the jails he’ll spend millions more building — again the model of his mentor to the south.

He sends Peter MacKay to Charlottetown to hand out one million dollars for repairs to Confederation Centre and then kills $342 million pledged by the Liberal Government to the arts across Canada, including $5.8 million to the same Confederation Centre.

It’s simple see — Liberals bad, Conservatives good. It’s also childish and destructive in the use of prime ministerial power.

Stephen Harper’s five priorities amount to only one priority: a majority government where he can put the real conservative agenda into operation. All the rest is pandering, smoke and mirrors, and deliberate political shell games.

Mr. Harper’s agenda is simplistic nonsense. It will resolve none of the societal challenges it purports to tackle. It merely apes the techniques of the man now being seriously considered for the title of the worst president in American History, Mr. Harper’s American Idol — George W. Bush.

We are driven to seek refuge in the verity of one of the greatest of American Presidents, Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all of the people some of the time; and some of the people all of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”