Prime Minister Harper’s keynote speech to the Conservative policy convention illustrated once again how out–of-touch the Conservatives are with the majority of the country, not to mention the 21st Century.

Let’s start with the introductions. Health Minister Rona Ambrose made fun of Justin Trudeau, joking, “Trudeau’s plan to make marijuana legal is not an economic plan.”  First of all, Justin Trudeau didn’t suggest that. Indeed, Harper chided him for discussing pot before putting forward an economic plan.  And second,  the devastated state of Michigan reports legalized medical marijuana pumped $2.8 billion back into the state’s distressed economy in the first year. 

Then John Baird delivered one of the most puzzling sentences I’ve ever heard from a Minister: “Those values that make us distinctly Canadian should be reflected in our government, not the other way around.” If I parse that sentence correctly, I’m still left wondering why the Conservatives have had to employ such draconian and deceptive tactics in order to make over the Canadian federal government to reflect Conservative values. 

Harper’s well worn, highly partisan keynote speech added to the incongruity. Even among party faithful, even among a crowd who waited patiently an extra hour in a smaller room before being let out into the ballroom/auditorium, even among the almost 2000 loyalists who stayed with convention while their brethren were strolling the four blocks to Calgary’s downtown core, name tags flapping on convention lanyards as they escaped — even among those who stayed, the Prime Minister’s claim that the Conservative party “is the only party that ‘gets’ childcare,” seemed to fall a little flat.  

However, the crowd quickly responded when the claque sitting onstage behind the Prime Minister leapt to their feet, cheering and clapping their indigo thunder sticks. “We took money out of the hands of the lobbyists, academics and bureaucrats,” Harper went on, “and we gave it to the real childcare experts. Their names are Mom and Dad!”

Mind you, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Harper plan costs Canadians $13 billion a year, and works out to a refundable tax credit of $1200 per preschool child (at most), with the poorest families excluded. For most families, the net amount would barely pay for a babysitter and a couple’s night out once a week. 

Harper also reinforced his urgent desire to court the military-industrial complex, saying, “our Conservative government is giving the Canadian Armed Forces the respect they deserve, and the equipment they need!” Indeed, Macleans magazine reported that the military budget shot up from $15 billion to $22 billion in the Conservatives’ first six years in power, although lately they’ve been cutting back. However, in a world where cyberwarfare and drones are taking over more and more surveillance and combat duties, investing in heavy armaments manufacturing might seem short-sighted.

As for the respect Harper pledged Canadian troops, the government is appealing a B.C. court decision giving a group of ex-soldiers permission to launch a class action suit against the Harper government for changing the lifetime disability pension for wounded soldiers to a single lump sum payment, which the veterans say violates the Charter of Rights. The Harper government is appealing the Court’s decision.  

Perhaps most curious artefact of the speech was Harper’s summation, that the Conservatives were fighting for ordinary Canadians. The advance copy of his speech (provided to media) sets out his text almost like free verse. His closing words resemble a poem, but with the punchlines removed. I have added the punchlines here, in italics.

Harper said,

“These are the Canadians
for whom we strive…
for those unsung Canadians…

“The cab drivers,
(who may well have PhDs)
The small business owners,
(often economic immigrants chosen instead of refugees)
The farmers and foresters and fishermen
(whose fields and forests and fish have been sold to foreign bidders)
The factory and office workers
(whose jobs have been outsourced overseas)
The seniors who have
spent their lives contributing
(whose public pensions the Harper government has looted repeatedly).

“These are the Canadians for whom we strive,” he said. I have to wonder how many of them he has actually met.

Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...