Conservative foible # 1 : Lying
Okay, I have to fess up... I voted Conservative in the last election. Yes, that big guy in the fancy suit is there (partially) because of me. Let's face it though, plenty of people felt the same way. People were sick of the Liberals, who had become a little too comfortable in the big chair. They were tired of Paul Martin's sneaky outster of Jean Chretien. They were sick of the Sponsorship Scandal. They were sick of the state of Canadian politics. In came Harper, with strong words promising strong action, and the prospect of standing up for what he believed in. He promised to make government more accountable, more functional, and more transparent.
In he came to power, and now we have a government that has clamped down so hard on the message that Conservatives can't make a peep without passing it by Harper, fifty aides, and a hundred or so monkeys with type writers (exaggerated for dramatic effect). But in all seriousness, Harper controls everything in the government message. Furthermore, access to information has been severely curtailed. So much so, that last year the Toronto Star ran an entire series on Harper's "Secret Capital" and the complete lack of transparency of the current government.
And accountability? How about firing an independent safety commissioner for doing her job simply because her view is politically inconvenient, and removing her from the picture just as she is about to testify about her side of things? If nuclear safety is regulated in this manner, then maybe nuclear power should not be the answer to Canada's energy woes.
Conservative foible # 2 : Inverting our national image
A lot of people appreciate Harper because of the strong persona he projects. We feel that with such a strong, adamant guy we will get the credit we deserve as a developed nation, a world power, a big dog. And yet, Harper is often viewed as towing the line of our neighbours to the south - and that administration is certainly not going to be there for long.
One of Harper's major disappointments has been with Kyoto. Not long after taking office, Harper declared Kyoto dead - an accord that Canada and many other nations had already signed onto. Taking back our word (after not trying at all), he released a "made-in-Canada" solution that was completely panned by environmental critics as having no substance. At a recent international summit of developed nations Canada received stark criticism from many others as having held back environmental initiative, pushing for a weaker statement of intent. It was certainly an embarrassing moment to be Canadian.
Harper furthermore continually shuns nations with which his administration disagrees. One of the more recent examples is his decision not to attend the Beijing Olympic games, another insult to one of the world's largest powers. Even President Bush attended the games, and certainly they proved to be ceremonies to behold. Casting off Jean Chretien's (and many others') approach of constructive engagement, Harper continually alienates a major world power, demonstrating his limited appreciation for the need for mutual and international respect.
Conservative foible # 3 : Negativity
Prior to the Harper administration, Canadian politics at least presented itself with the facade of having more substance and less flash than that of our neighbours to the south. However, the Conservative government has consistently shown itself to be always on the prowl for an opportunity to attack. In many cases, the Conservatives make a lot of noise for the people to hear, toting criticisms of other (read: Liberal) parties that involve distortions of the truth. These inevitably take hold in the public mind... their spurious truthiness does not matter.
For instance, when Dion released his intent to put forward a Green Shift plan (a reasonable plan, at least in principle, that will be discussed further on), Harper's government immediately ran a series of attack ads at gas station advertisement screens. They criticized Dion's "tax on everything" - misrepresenting the concept, being unashamedly negative, and spending tons on advertising despite the lack of anything resembling an election.
On Sunday, an independent MP joined the Green Party providing them with a member sitting in Parliament. This, combined with their increasing national presence provided them with a compelling case to be included in the televised debate that will accompany (the likely imminent) election. Harper spokesperson Kory Teneycke responded that because "Ms. May and Mr. Dion have an agreement for electoral co-operation... you can't have two candidates from essentially the same party in the debate." That's ludicrous. I don't really know how the Conservatives come up with this stuff. So when two parties have similar views on an issue and agree on cooperation for a time, they become the same party? Well I guess it worked for PC and Alliance...
Conservative foible # 4 : Playing every side
As it may be clear by now, many of Harper's more questionable features (e.g. negativity) revolve around foible # 1 - Harper's antagonistic relationship with the truth. Indeed, we have often seen Harper court every side, making a decision, and then pulling it back after realizing what a public relations disaster it is. He frequently makes what often prove to be poor decisions in the desire to win votes. Ironically, one of Harper's claims during the election (that feels so so long ago now) was that he was someone with firm moral conviction, that could chart a course and then stick to his guns.
Harper has in particular gone to great lengths to court the province of Quebec, with their nationalistic (that is, the Quebec nation) tendencies. He has offered them great latitude in terms of their independence. Now, switching to personal opinion, I do believe that Quebec is an important part of Canada. I respect their people, and the role they play in our history, our present, and our future. However, I also believe we need a Prime Minister that can step up and be firm with Quebec. A Prime Minister that does not let Quebec run all over the place, but instead challenges the wide-spread (with Quebec) and false convictions that Canada is the source of all Quebec's woes. Oh yeah, two words: Maxime Bernier.
Conservative foible # 5 : Bullying
Nobody likes that big kid in the playground, always shoving other kids into the ground. The Conservatives are that bully. They push public opinion around with their barking (see: lying) and they ram a lot of legislation down the throats of other parties. Most of the time this legislation is ridiculously unpalatable, but knowing that the Liberal party is still in the midst of gathering itself together, declare such legislation matters of "confidence", taunting others to pass the bill or call an election.
Stephen Harper Score Card
Harper's government likes to make a lot of noise. They twist and distort the truth to shift public opinion, and when public opinion is against them they change their tone or make some poorly conceived concessions to win them back. They don't treat our neighbours (except maybe the big one to the south) with respect, and while they like to bark, all barking is censor approved. The party sticks to the official message with a designated fall guy in case foul play comes to light. In other words, they keep their mouths shut until they're told what to scream about. Oh yes, and they lie. A lot.
In conclusion, Harper is slimy. He's a big, good-looking guy who knows how to twist the truth and talk real smooth, but certainly not the one I want to be running my country anymore. He's also about as close to a dictator as a leader of a democratic nation can get.
The Green Shift: Why Dion?
Stephane who? I remember months ago watching the Liberal leadership race with anticipation. I had my reservations about front runners Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. The former had spent much of his life in the US of A and had an uncomfortably American flavour for the leader of one of Canada's two major political parties. The latter, though highly intelligent, was largely dismissed in Ontario after a very unsuccessful term as premier for the NDP. Out came the dark horse of the race, Stephane Dion (a favourite of my brother and sister), pushed to the front of the pack by Gerrard Kennedy. Dion was a smart, intelligent, honest guy and I was excited! Lots of people were excited.
Months later, Dion has made very little movement and very little noise. He (hopefully) has been working on putting his fractured party back together as well as forming some serious policy. Is all of this part of his strategy? It's true that most Canadians don't pay attention to politicians until there is an election, and even then many don't. So perhaps Dion is saving his strength for that key time. I sure hope so. But I wish he would fight back a little.
The Green Shift, at its core is this: increase taxes on consumables (the things we don't want to be using), like pollution producing energy resources, and decrease taxes on the things we do want (like income). I talked to my cousin (who is American) about this, and he said this is a very clever plan. It addresses the environment, but does so in a very sensible manner. In fact, this way, you should actually be able to save money - and it's all under your control. Under the new plan, if you want to save money, you simply consume less. Under the current system, if you want to save money, you... make less money? Work less hours? The Green Shift makes a lot of sense in principle.
Let's talk about Dion's character. I've watched his videos and interviews, and I've read about his history. He's an intellectual. A professor hand picked by Jean Chretien, a quiet thinker. He's an underdog. And he's honest (as far as anyone can tell). He did a solid job as cabinet minister in the Liberal government (even the Green party agrees), and he has a very earnest straightforward approach. He's also white as a bedsheet when it comes to government scandal. So Dion is a smart, honest guy. If he could speak up a bit more, he could be Harper kryptonite.
I've heard some people say that Dion was stupid to release his Green Shift plan, since people are going to be opposed to taxes, whatever their purpose. However, this is a demonstration of Dion's character. He believes in Canadians, and has formulated a plan to enact what he thinks Canada needs. He is willing to engage in debate, saying, "This is what I plan to do, will you agree with me?" If Harper wanted to enact the same plan, he'd get elected on lies, and then after he was in office, he would enact his plan. Dion is giving us a choice.
Demolishing the polls: Why Canadians are wrong
I just wanted to touch on some of the statistics mentioned in the article (http://www.thestar.com/article/488050) that prompted me to blog about this:
45% of Canadians view Harper as a strong and decisive leader, 10% for Dion
It remains to be seen whether Dion has the guns to be strong and decisive. Harper certainly can be decisive, but obviously not in the direction I am interested in.
36% of Canadians think Harper understands complex issues, 27% for Dion 33% think Harper understands the problems facing Canadians, 23% for Dion
If there is one thing I'm sure about Dion, it's that he's a smart guy - an intellectual. He understands the problems, and poses viable solutions. Harper short-sightedly stumbles from one issue to the next, using rhetoric to get what he wants.
30% of Canadians think Harper inspires confidence, 11% for Dion
31% of Canadians think Harper is honest and trustworthy, 30% for Dion
Dion actually has a stellar record for being an honest, earnest guy. Harper has a history of bullying, lying, and attack politics. That fact that 30% of Canadians see him as honest and trustworthy makes me cringe a little.
At least Canadians believe Dion will be better for the environment...
What do you want from a leader?
The question falls to you now. What do you want for a leader? Do you want a loud and seemingly assertive leader who talks well, but lies, twists the truth, and dictates everything without consultation? That clamps down on the message as he leads our country down a distinctly undemocratic and un-Canadian path? Or will you choose the quiet intellectual, who is distinctly poor in public relations but who seems trustworthy, cerebral and has already presented an intelligent plan?
Canada won't be the same after another term of Conservative rule. I can already feel the atmosphere changing from the country I grew up in, knew, and love. If you agree, please share these points with your friends, family, and others. Communicate Harper's character, and change public opinion one person at a time.