Monday, March 12, 2007

Who is Stephen Harper?

Well, he's been our Prime Minister for 14 months now. And yet, the question remains: Who is Stephen Harper?

Like so many other things, the answer seems to lie in the beholder. To some, he's an egomaniacal neo-con control freak, pretending to care about populist issues while holding the course on his long-held plan to decentralize power to the provinces, weaken Canada's place in the world, and pursue his agenda helping Big Oil and his friends in the evangelical movement. To others, he's a man of principle, politically savvy, unconcerned with the media and shifting his opinions as new information becomes available to him while sticking to his guns on issues that he feels matter to everyday Canadians.

But who is he, really?

I fear we may never know. The truth is, like so many current political figures, Prime Minister Harper is a polarizing force on the political spectrum. It's truthfully quite hard to even have a civil conversation about the man with someone who has a different opinion than yours.

Left-leaning people tend to sneer even at the mention of Harper's name. They cite his "God Bless Canada" postscript at each speech as proof that he wants to a) be American, and b) be George Bush (a.k.a. "The Great Satan", at least to leftists) when he grows up. They bring up the child care allowance as proof that he's out of touch, and doesn't care about children. They point out that his lack of support for Kyoto proves that he's an idiot, incapable of understanding science, a dinosaur, and a puppet for Big Oil. He wanted a free vote on same-sex marriage, so he's a homophobe. He wrote the Firewall Letter, so he hates the rest of Canada. He cancelled a promised Liberal income tax cut to drop the GST, so he's a tax-hiker. He supports the military with increased funding and hasn't withdrawn them from Afghanistan, so he's a warmonger and (again) wants to kiss George Bush's ass. He flip-flopped on Income Trusts, so he's a bald-faced liar. These aren't just inventions of my imaginations, they're characterizations I've heard and read all over the place, including many blogs that claim to be non-partisan, or progressive - and despite those claims, they seem completely unwilling to accept that there is room for debate on the man and his charater. "If you don't agree with me that Harper is a neanderthal, you're as bad as he is". I've seen responses to pro-Harper blog postings such as THIS gem: "Why don't you join Blogging Tories, since you are one?" My god, is this how far the quality of debate has dropped? Calling someone a "tory" is an insult? Many of these people would condemn Harper for calling the Americans "our friends" in a speech... and then, if the Americans attacked us and Harper condemned them, they'd accuse him of "flip-flopping". If he said it was noon in Calgary, they'd say it was 7 pm Greenwich, just to avoid agreeing with him.

People on the right, though, view Harper as the Great Right Hope. He's a "true blue" tory, someone who put his job on the line in a party merger that he pursued in order to give the nation an alternative to the Liberals. An absolutely BRILLIANT political tactician, Harper knows he won't get any help from the national media, so he doesn't even make an effort to woo them, instead strictly controlling his message and releasing it directly, via the internet and rigidly choreographed press-conferences. He's a man of principle, but open-minded enough to have those principles and ideas challenged when the information changes. He's someone who values "made-in-Canada" solutions to the problems that plague us, rather than accepting the pressure of foreign governments who really, couldn't care less about our economy or quality of life. He's a man of faith, but willing to accept the rule of law over the idea of theocracy. A champion of senate reform and a supporter of the military, he values keeping Canada's commitments on the international stage, so long as they are practical and logical. He's willing to take heat in the media to do what's needed for the common good (income trusts). Anyone who disagrees with Harper is a central Canadian elitist, arrogant, after provincial rights and steeped in the legends of Trudeaumania, so good luck discussing Harper's character with a "true believer".

The reality of the man is somewhere in the middle... the only universally accepted Harper fact, on both sides of the aisle, is that the man is good at the political game. He knows how to play, and knows how to play dirty when necessary.

The bottom line here, is that Stephen Harper is many things, to many people. The only people who may TRULY know the man and his innermost thoughts, beliefs and opinions are those closest to him. What he thinks, and why, are open to interpretation by individuals - and, on both sides of the spectrum, they're not shy about expressing themselves. But at the end of the day, we need to be able to have discussions about the man's policies without exchanging insults. The bottom line, Nation, is that we need to talk about IDEAS without being IDEALOGUES.

Then, and ONLY then, will we be able to have a meaningful dialogue about anything political, be it Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Stephane Dion, Kyoto, Income Trusts, Afghanistan, Tax Cuts, Child-care, Senate Reform, Greenhouse Gases, Ed Stelmach, Equalization... too bad we have so little of import to talk about.

- ES


pumpernickel said...

This is my first time visiting your blog.

The comments that you make about PM Harper are fair. However, the atmosphere that was created over the previous years by, yes conservatives has degenerated, not escalated the level of debate in the country.

The PM did break his ill-advised, mid-campaign income trust promise. This is a fact. He has not kept his campaign promises on creating additional child care spaces nor the wait time guarantee. Also facts.

This, in politics, must be fair game for criticism.

The problem for Canadians is that the PM is trying to govern as though he has a majority when clearly he does not. I have given him credit when due, but that has not been often because of his steadfast unwillingness to cooperate with the majority in Parliament represented by other political parties.


Enlightened Savage said...

Pumpernickel: Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts! Please stick around!

I agree with the fact (because, after all, it IS a fact) that the Prime Minister promised not to tax income trusts, and then did just that. Whatever reasons he had for that action, whether you agree with them or not, are irrelevant to the argument. He said he wouldn't, and then he did.

I'd humbly suggest that the degeneration of debate into name-calling and cat-calls is as much the fault of those on the left as it is those on the right. You need look no farther than the antics of the Rat Pack in the Mulroney years to see evidence even then that not even a signed note from God Herself would get the Liberals to agree with a single word issued forth from the capacious mouth of Brian Mulroney.

The sad reality is, this lack of respect is a 2-way street, and both sides are equally to blame. To liberals, a "conservative" is a heartless, intellectually stunted, bible-thumping automoton devoid of any human compassion and working solely for the love of being in power, greed, and for the good of big business. To a conservative, a "liberal" is an elitist know-it-all with no common sense and even less scruples, who will do or say anything to get elected and make sure to kiss the derriere of as many Quebeqois as he can on the way there.

Neither side is right, and this kind of prejudiced view of "the other guy" makes our democracy weaker, not stronger.

And as for P.M. Harper's style of governance... it seems this is the type of government we're doomed to get in Canada in ANY minority situation. This is exactly the same style of governance as the previous P.M., Liberal Paul Martin, practiced in his minority situation. And unless we go the Israeli route and have formal parliamentary coalitions, I'd suggest we should probably get used to this kind of government - we may have it for quite a while, since it looks as though NO party will be able to secure a majority, and the parties seem completely unwilling to act in the best interests of the country, no matter WHICH party has the most seats.

This pursuit of power over the pursuit of the common good is why I firmly believe that the party system will be the death of democracy. But more on that later...

- ES

pumpernickel said...


Just a note to say I agree that there is plenty of room for blame on poor decorum and bad bevaviour side.

Just an observation about partisanship not getting in the way of progress which should be cause for hope.

During the decade or so of Liberal rule under Chretien/Martin, the 2 most constructive partners in any of the federal-provincial discussions that I witnessed or followed closely were, gasp: the NDP government of Manitoba under Doer and the PC government of Ralph Klein (with a few notable exceptions which I chalk up to mugging for the camera).

So I, like you am a partisan, but frankly am also someone who believes that a heck of a lot more can be done through dialogue, negotiations and discourse than bluster. Your point on minority governments is nag on.