3.28.2008

just how different is this harper government?

Wmtc reader Lisa sent me this scathing piece from Paul Wells, which I also saw at Idealistic Pragmatist. I've had some trouble following the Federal Government Hates Ontario campaign, and even more difficulty understanding why Harper wants to go this route. To my mind, alienating Ontario can only backfire. Voters will not remember the details. They will just remember that the Harper government dissed us.

In our emails, Lisa had this to say about what we've been witnessing, reprinted here with her permission.
...I think Harper's style is finally wearing thin. Thank god. His pettiness, intense focus on partisanship rather than focusing on governing, permanent negative campaigning, and utter disregard of the conventions of cdn federal political culture were/are driving me slowly insane. I've NEVER seen a federal govt like this one. He's completely debasing the political discourse. It used to be different...really! You know, the major political parties used to actually get along. They really did.

And later:
[Paul Wells' piece is] also sort of a "demonstration" that Harper et al is not politics as usual here in Canada (which I imagine you've gathered), esp the way he treats the media at such arms length. And it's pissing people off. . . . Their approach to governing is really at odds with how things are usually done. Slipping immigration bills through by attaching them to other ones, federal ministers interfering in provincial affairs (in a really partisan way), the micromanaging of Cabinet ministers, picking partisan fights with civil servants, the constant negative ads about the Liberals outside of election time etc. It's just not the way things are done here.

Reporters in Ottawa, who've been following govts for years are definitely noticing this.

You (like me and everyone else) probably have no sense at of the Harper cabinet for example (other than Flaherty), because they're never in the media. This is really really unusual. In the past, even if you only followed federal politics in passing, you'de be able to name and visualize most Cabinet ministers.

This is really interesting to me! I am sick to death of Stephen Harper and can't wait to see the end of this government. (And I'm sick of the Liberals for handing him a de facto majority!)

But Lisa's email made me think: perhaps I don't realize just how different this Government is from previous Governments, because I have nothing to compare it to. We moved here at the end of August, 2005; the Martin government fell in late November, and Harper was elected in January 2006.

Your thoughts and observations are welcome.

38 comments:

Cicely said...

There is no question that Harper's style of governing is completely at odds with Canadian experience. Our politics has traditionally been less ideologically driven.
Although it should be noted that the centralization of power in the PMO has been a growing problem since the 1970s, Harper has taken it to an outrageous level. But you are also right to criticize the Libs for their complete lack of action. They are the official opposition and have been too involved with their own leadership machinations to do their duty.
Luckily the fourth party (NDP) in the House has been standing up for Canadians. It is time that people with progressive values put their faith (and vote) in the party that has their eye(s) on the ball.
Unfortunately that will only happen when the media realize that Canada is not a bi-party but a multi-party state.

John said...

The traditional view of the Prime Minister's role is "first among equals". He or she is powerful, but the cabinet ministers also have their power bases and national following, and are sometimes the PM's political rivals. They tend to have a fair bit of latitude in how they handled their portfolios.

In the 90s, we got used Chretien running things by the force of his charisma, while Paul Martin plotted against him in the background. Martin was credited as much or more than Chretien for eliminating the budget deficit. Brian Tobin, the minister of Fisheries, also used to get a lot of ink (particularly over the Canada-Spain turbot war), and was viewed as a possible Chretien successor.

Harper, by contrast, seems to view the PM's power as something like the divine right of kings. His ministers are expected to keep their mouths shut and not draw undue attention.

James said...

One of the big contrasts between Canadian politics and US politics (to my mind) is that, traditionally, our head of government is expected to be an administrator. Sure, we will sometimes go for the charismatic type (Trudeau), but that's rather rare.

The US, of course, tends to go for the dramatic leader type, with frequently disastrous results.

Most of our PMs are rather bland -- and I prefer it that way. I don't want a an individual with a bold personal vision driving the country, I want a competent committee to consider various solutions to problems, research them, and converge on a solution that optimizes the results. Sure, it's boring and bureaucratic, but it's a lot better than getting tens or hundreds of thousands of people killed in pursuit of personal policies designed to help Glorious Leader's business buddies.

Harper seems to want to be a US type "leader", rather than a Canadian type "administrator", but he hasn't got the pseudo-charisma or the skill at media manipulation that US candidates exploit.

John said...

Oh, and I have the following unfair personal observation about the Prime Minister: he has dead eyes. Perhaps he cannot help this. Regardless, I feel that he could have been a great success in Hollywood, playing professional hit men and the like.

L-girl said...

Harper seems to want to be a US type "leader", rather than a Canadian type "administrator", but he hasn't got the pseudo-charisma or the skill at media manipulation that US candidates exploit.

Yes, he's so completely devoid of charisma, whether pseudo or real. And people are reacting negatively to his bid to be a US-style leader, because it isn't Canadian, it's out of step with what people here want.

West End Bob said...

I am sick to death of Stephen Harper and can't wait to see the end of this government.

Glad to see you are as disgusted with harperco as we have been since he assumed the position of "Pree-mere". I seem to recall a time when you cautioned us to not be overly concerned about him as he could never reach the depths of right-wing US pols. It appears he is working toward that dubious distinction of late. The repuglican political machine has an excellent student in Stevie-Boy.

Time for him and his ilk to leave the building, but the Libs don't appear to have the cajones to get the job done . . . .

L-girl said...

Glad to see you are as disgusted with harperco as we have been since he assumed the position of "Pree-mere".

Sorry, but I don't think I am. Although I don't like him and want to see him gone, I do not see him as the evil that you do.

I seem to recall a time when you cautioned us to not be overly concerned about him as he could never reach the depths of right-wing US pols.

I still believe that.

As I say every time you bring this up:

I never liked Harper.

I never would vote for him.

I never want to see him get a majority.

I do not think he is Bush-lite or Bush-like.

I do not think he is Americanizing Canada.

I do not think he is anywhere near the kind of evil we are seeing in the US right now. Not by a long shot.

I don't see these thoughts as contradictory at all.

Also, I don't think it's accurate to say that I said not to be overly concerned. I felt people were exaggerating and panicking about the Harper government bringing US-style neoconism to Canada. I did then, and if people still think that, still do.

Jennifer Smith said...

Oh, and I have the following unfair personal observation about the Prime Minister: he has dead eyes.

When Harper was first elected, my savvy 13 year-old son observed that he had 'Karla Homolka eyes'.

L-girl said...

Thanks for your thoughts, all. I appreciate the input.

lisa said...

Interesting comments!

"I do not think he is anywhere near the kind of evil we are seeing in the US right now. Not by a long shot"

I completely agree with this. I don't like his leadership style, and I don't like (what I perceive to be) his vision for Canada, but he's not Bush, and even if he were, we do have something of functioning democracy. He's had to shift somewhat to the left of where he stood during the Reform Party years to stay electable. Speaking of democracy, it does have to be said that he and the Conservatives do represent the will of a sizable number of Canadians, who feel as strongly about the gov't "spending THEIR money" on, say, nationalized daycare, as I do about, I don't know, military spending, or cuts to social programs. Fair enough, I guess.

As long as I'm being fair, the PMO was pretty centralized under Chretien, I think, and he was accused of being an autocrat by many in his day too.

This is the closest to charismatic I've seen Harper recently (the whole clip is pretty funny..):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7bkaMAyZAM

Jay said...

(And I'm sick of the Liberals for handing him a de facto majority!)

Well lets pressure the liberals to trigger an election that they will lose, the NDP will lose, and so will the greens. Then we can hand Harper an ACTUAL Majority.

Get the point of why liberals are abstaining? They are the only ones with a shot at replacing the the CPC as government. The Greens, NDP, and Bloc can scream and oppose all they wish but as soon as the liberals vote against the government we are into an election that could very well give the tories a majority. The liberals are in no position right now to win so do you think they should risk a Harper Majority?

Complain and diss the liberals all you want, but they are the only ones that can prevent a Harper Majority and all the negativity about them generated by those on the progressive side will make it harder for the liberals to ensure they don't.

Great job.

Maybe thinking about cooperation among progressives would be a better way to go don't you think?

Before condemning me, I'd drop the liberal party tomorrow if there was another that could from government but there is not.

Dana said...

Jay, the rancour happening in the centre-left to left political swarm in Canada is exactly the same as the rancour splitting the Democrats asunder and threatening to throw the presidency and congress to the Repuglicans again.

Exactly the same.

It's going to take the Liberals and NDP a good many years now to realize that they've got more in common with each other than either has in common with the Harperites. In the meantime of course they will have thrown Canada to the Harperites. Certainly it will take the Libs/NDP as long as it took the PC/Reform to morph and it may take much longer. The traditional relationship between the CCF/NDP and the LPC, that led to things like the pension plan and national healthcare, is all but dead now thanks to Layton, Martin and now Dion.

And I disagree that the Harperites et al aren't dangerous. Certainly they're not Bush/Cheney - even though Harper is inspired by the same political movement that spawned those two.

Harper is dangerous to *us*, in *our* country, to *our* traditions and sovereignty. He's dangerous in *our* context. He's not going to be bombing any countries under false pretexts or squelching extra-territorial popular governments that he doesn't like. But he's hell bent on destroying the ability of the federal government to enact national social programs. He's hell bent on turning confederation into a republic in all but name. He's hell bent on getting the federal government back into the business of legislating morality.

Don't underestimate them just because they're not as evil as the most evil example you can think of.

They're evil enough.

L-girl said...

Jay, why the sarcasm? Why come around here with this meanspiritedness and sniping? Your comments are welcome, your opinions are welcome, but couldn't you please state your opinion without the snark? It's hardly necessary.

The liberals are in no position right now to win so do you think they should risk a Harper Majority?

I think a huge reason they are in no position to win is that they have not distinguished themselves from the Conservatives, have capitulated to everything the Tories have wanted, and that every time they do that, they appear weaker and even less effective. They had a decent shot at a minority government, but after rolling over and caving in at every opportunity, they've made themselves look like imbeciles.

Before condemning me, I'd drop the liberal party tomorrow if there was another that could from government but there is not.

No one is condemning you, merely disagreeing with you. Hopefully you can see the difference.

L-girl said...

the rancour happening in the centre-left to left political swarm in Canada is exactly the same as the rancour splitting the Democrats asunder and threatening to throw the presidency and congress to the Repuglicans again.

Exactly the same.


Not only isn't it exactly the same, it's not even close.

The difference between the various Democratic candidates is minute. What you're seeing is standard primary fare. It goes on every four year. The candidate that gets the nomination will be essentially the same type of Democrat (centre-right) candidate that always does.

There is nothing analogous to the NDP in the US, so the situations cannot be the same.

It's going to take the Liberals and NDP a good many years now to realize that they've got more in common with each other than either has in common with the Harperites.

The Liberals have much more in common with the Conservatives than they do with the NDP. That's why the Liberals keep voting with the Tories. They're not all that different.

And I disagree that the Harperites et al aren't dangerous. Certainly they're not Bush/Cheney - even though Harper is inspired by the same political movement that spawned those two.

I never said they weren't dangerous. I said they were not Bush/Cheney. I've been hearing for years that they are, but they are not.

Don't underestimate them just because they're not as evil as the most evil example you can think of.

They're evil enough.


Perhaps you did not read carefully?

As I clearly stated above, I do not like Harper and a Harper majority would without a doubt be dangerous to Canada.

He is not, however, Bush. I constantly see and hear him described as such, and it's simply not true. That was my point above and remains so.

L-girl said...

Speaking of democracy, it does have to be said that he and the Conservatives do represent the will of a sizable number of Canadians, who feel as strongly about the gov't "spending THEIR money" on, say, nationalized daycare, as I do about, I don't know, military spending, or cuts to social programs. Fair enough, I guess.

Lisa, this is an important point and is so often lost in discourse here.

Canadians who vote Conservative are no less Canadians than their Liberal, NDP, Bloc or Green neighbours. They are not Americans in Canadian clothing.

I dislike the insinuation that appealing to more conservative Canadians is "Americanizing" Canada. It's as short-sighted and insulting as the Liberals describing themselves as the natural governing party of Canada.

Dana said...

"What you're seeing is standard primary fare. It goes on every four year. The candidate that gets the nomination will be essentially the same type of Democrat (centre-right) candidate that always does."

I disagree that this is standard fare. I've been watching US politics since the mid-sixties. Hillary's campaign is the first I've seen openly muse that the Republican nominee would be a more appropriate POTUS than her Democratic opponent.

Which is why I said it's the same scrap as the traditional historical Canadian political cooperation between Libs and CCF/NDP.

The Clinton campaign appears willing to sufficiently rend the traditional historical alliances that make up the Democratic party so as to toss McCain the election.

You voted Nader in 2000 didn't you?

Canrane said...

Hmm...now that I think about it, you're right...the cabinet is almost non-existent! I used to know the fisheries, transportation, enviornment, heritage, foreign affairs, finance and health ministers off the top of my head. I also knew what the were doing about various issues. But now, other than people who have pissed me off recently (flaherty for example), it's all Harper, all the time.

It's a pity because if it goes on for too long, I'm scared our politicians (and the public) will forget how things *used* to be, and make this the norm. That would be horrible!

Sarah O. said...

Canadians who vote Conservative are no less Canadians than their Liberal, NDP, Bloc or Green neighbours. They are not Americans in Canadian clothing

My only qualification to this would be that many Average Joe conservative Canadians (at least, the ones I know) do want to emulate the U.S., even if they don't do it successfully. Maybe they think all conservatism is the American-style conservatism, or maybe they want to align themselves with the more powerful version of conservatism, I don't know. I just know that if in practise they are still Canadian, in aspirations they aim further south.

If I am mistaken here, it's probably due to the type of conservative sample I have to draw from. In my experience, social conservative, evangelical types look unabashedly to the U.S. for an idea of 'how it's done.' Conservative evangelicals in Canada almost desperately want the same sort of power American evangelicals have wrangled. I grew up hearing the sermons (That's probably why I took that Walrus article about Harper a bit more seriously than you did).

L-girl said...

I disagree that this is standard fare. I've been watching US politics since the mid-sixties.

Well, I've been watching it all my life and it has seemed standard to me. But, as I've said in another thread, I'm purposely not watching this campaign, so perhaps it has suddenly turned very different and I'm not aware of it.

On the issues and on voting record, though, there's very little difference between the candidates. Their styles are different, but what they could be expected to do in office is pretty much the same.

My voting record, for whatever relevancy that has here:
1992 - Clinton
1996 - Nader
2000 - Nader
2004 - Kerry

Remember that I lived in New York State, which is never a threat to go Republican. So my vote never counted anyway.

L-girl said...

My only qualification to this would be that many Average Joe conservative Canadians (at least, the ones I know) do want to emulate the U.S., even if they don't do it successfully.

I agree. But they are still Canadians, and if that's what they believe, they're entitled to it, and to try to move the country in that direction. I strongly disagree with them, but I think it's wrong when people imply that only liberals and progressives are "true" Canadians.

I hear liberal/progressive Ontarians and people from BC question the "Candianness" of conservative Albertans. *That* sounds American to me - and it's wrong.

L-girl said...

(That's probably why I took that Walrus article about Harper a bit more seriously than you did).

Well, the Walrus article definitely scared me. But when I asked around about it, almost every progressive Canadian I knew said it they thought it was exaggerated and fear-mongering!

L-girl said...

A longer and more precise response to Jay's first comment can be found here, including the comments.

Sarah O. said...

I hear liberal/progressive Ontarians and people from BC question the "Candianness" of conservative Albertans. *That* sounds American to me - and it's wrong.

I think we're completely on the same page, here. The dominant history of Canada from the 1960s-onward is that we are an inherently center/center-left nation, which means all Canadian conservatives are unnatural - or American. It's an erasure of history, regional movements, and people, and it's no better when liberals do it than when conservatives do.

Re: the Walrus article, I think I have to go back and re-read it to remember a bit better, but I do know that my impression of Harper as a pragmatist meant I wasn't terribly worried. I also thought the article was reasonable, however. I think Canadian progressives have no idea what is going on in evangelical churches in this country, and they should be paying attention.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Sarah. I appreciate that.

but I do know that my impression of Harper as a pragmatist meant I wasn't terribly worried.

That's a good point, worth remembering.

I think Canadian progressives have no idea what is going on in evangelical churches in this country, and they should be paying attention.

I agree we should be paying attention. If they influence government, they are dangerous to a progressive society.

And insidious. With all the focus on Bush/Cheney, many people forget (or perhaps don't realize) that the Religious Right was winning seats on state legislatures, and reshaping state laws in their image, for decades.

It may be homegrown, but it's still very dangerous!

lisa said...

I have such a hard time imagining the religious right gaining a very strong foothold in Canada. Yes, we must be vigilant, and absolutely, many progressives have no idea what's being said in evangelical churches, but talk is just that, talk. And evangelical types seem to have an inflated sense of self-importance!

The Alliance, under Stockwell Day, was pretty quickly discredited as a contender because of the overt fundie tone, which rubbed a lot of Canadians the wrong way. Harper keeps them under wraps for a reason.

The Conservatives are made up of a mixed bag (like the Republicans), and it's the neo-con element, not the theo-con that scares me more. Marci McDonald's article "The Man Behind Stephen Harper" in the Walrus gave me far more chills than the theo-con one did! I'm more worried about the general worldwide trend (30 years) against "big gov't", and the globalization race to the bottom. The example of Australia under Howard is more frightening to me than the Bush example.

Wild English Rose said...

Evangelical Christianity and the Religious Right are not the same thing. I can see where the confusion comes in - and there are a lot of conservative Christians, particularly in North America, who like this confusion as it helps to promote their own political ends.

But, the definition of an evangelical is someone who expounds the gospel. A gospel that promotes the values of justice for the poor and inclusion of outcasts. The only mention that taxation gets in the gospel is the injunction that believers should pay them...

I hesitate to leave a comment of a 'religious' nature on this site, please feel free to delete if it offends. But I think that the rejection of evangelical Christianity by the left can lead to a 'bunker' mentality whereby Christians whose beliefs would lead them to the left, end up moving to the right and concentrating on issues of personal morality rather than global justice because they feel more 'accepted' in that group.

Werner Patels said...

This is one of those things that leave me scratching my head. It doesn't make any sense.

Regardless of who's right in this fight, sending your finance minister out to attack a premier is not the way to voters' hearts.

Besides, whatever happened to the Conservatives' commitment to leaving provinces alone? Ottawa should not interfere in provincial affairs (such as budgets).

It's at times like these that politics don't make much sense ...

Sarah O. said...

Evangelical Christianity and the Religious Right are not the same thing.

I see how you may have thought I was confused on my definitions, but I was not confounding evangelicalism and the religious right - I was actually referring directly to "conservative evangelicals" in Canada. And I wrote only about conservative evangelicals and not the "religious right" because I don't know how and what other conservative religious groups such as the RCC may be doing to influence public policy in Canada. I do know what my church's national affiliation is doing.

What I meant specifically, to give an example, is the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada - an association so "evangelical" they feel the need to distinguish themselves from 'normal' Baptists (female ordination, forsooth! Such heathens). FEBCC has been re-organizing in the last few years, hiring American advisers with success in massive church growth and 'public outreach.' No, I don't think their main goal is nefarious political maneouvering, but well-organized, well-funded conservative religious organizations such as FEBCC see it as their duty to try and shape public policy in Canada.

Of course, church growth is mostly stalled right now, though not so bad as in the more moderate churches.

L-girl said...

I thought Wild English Rose's comment was in response to mine - because I did use the words evangelicals and RR interchangeably.

In the US, the RR uses the expressions interchangeably, or at least they seem to.

Of course I know that there is a religious left, and I'm forever reminding other non-religious people on the left that religion itself is not the problem, that religion can and often is used for the greater good. Although I am nonreligious myself, I know enough about people's movements to know that.

However, I don't think left-leaning religious organizations describe themselves as evangelical.

WER says:

"But, the definition of an evangelical is someone who expounds the gospel."

I have heard - countless times - that an evangelical is someone who *promotes and spreads* the gospel. That means proselytizing, and imposing one's belief system on others.

WER, feel free to correct me or explain further. I would only delete a comment if it was actually proselytizing. It's ok to talk about religion - that's different from religious talk, if you know what I mean.

Sarah O. said...

I thought Wild English Rose's comment was in response to mine

Oops! That's what I get for late-night posting. I hope my response wasn't snarky. I was trying to explain my particular frame of reference.

I think the religious right does claim exclusive use of the word evangelical - because they also claim pretty exclusively the only "correct" gospel.

Anyway, if it is any comfort (and if it's also more on-topic), I can tell you that some of the latest "lobby your gov't re:___" pamphlets that have been coming down from the national church affiliation haven't exactly been complimentary of Harper - they don't seem to like the way he has been tagging 'their' legislation on to omnibus bills and then dropping them at the end of the year/proroguing parliament, etc. (I specifically remember mention of the age of consent bill). They want to be able to have these discussions up front and in the public eye, and Harper has been keeping them under the radar whenever possible.

L-girl said...

I hope my response wasn't snarky.

Not at all!

I think the religious right does claim exclusive use of the word evangelical - because they also claim pretty exclusively the only "correct" gospel.

I bet there are many liberal-minded Christians who do not agree with those claims.

They want to be able to have these discussions up front and in the public eye, and Harper has been keeping them under the radar whenever possible.

He is very shrewd that way.

Thanks for the info. Yes, it is a comfort.

Sarah O. said...

I bet there are many liberal-minded Christians who do not agree with those claims.

Oh, definitely, myself among them. But I have still been asked how I can call myself a "Christian" and actually vote NDP. Apparently God disapproves of the NDP - Paul condemned them specifically, somewhere in Corinthians, you know.

He who yells loudest...

Wild English Rose said...

L-girl and Sarah O - Thanks for your understanding response to my comments.

One thing L-girl mentioned is the proselytising nature of evangelical Christianity. Again, I absolutely understand where this viewpoint comes from. The interesting thing is that the New Testament churches, the tradition of which evangelical Christians generally claim to follow, barely proselytised at all, in many cases they were underground movements due to the persecution they suffered, yet their numbers increased rapidly. The same is true in many countries today where the church is denied free and public expression.

Another thing L-girl mentioned is that left leaning organisations tend not to describe themselves as evangelical. Whilst in the main this may be true, there are some examples, particularly in the Trade Justice and Drop the Debt movements of explicitly evangelical organisations (e.g. Tear Fund, Micah Call etc.) engaged mainly in 'left wing' issues.

L-girl said...

"The interesting thing is that the New Testament churches, the tradition of which evangelical Christians generally claim to follow, barely proselytised at all, in many cases they were underground movements due to the persecution they suffered, yet their numbers increased rapidly."

But modern religions rarely - if ever - follow their ancient precedents. While religious leaders often act like their teachings are THE WAY IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN DONE, in reality religions are always changing, either adapting to the current times or reacting against them, but never remaining static.

It's interesting to hear there are left-leaning evangelicals. Thanks WER.

I'm impressed that if you are religious you still like this blog. I can be so anti-religion sometimes, and some wmtc readers even more so. I hope I haven't inadvertantly offended you. I try to always write "usually" and "in my experience" and such, rather than make sweeping statments.

Wild English Rose said...

Thanks L-girl. No, I've never been in the least offended. I love this blog.

L-girl said...

Thank you, I'm glad to hear both of those. :)

The Key said...

I was in the audience to a speaker who canvased with Stephen Harper all over Alberta a couple of years ago, before he became a big name in Alberta or nationally.

Apparently, Stephen is one weird dude....

John said...

I was in the audience to a speaker who canvased with Stephen Harper all over Alberta a couple of years ago, before he became a big name in Alberta or nationally.

Apparently, Stephen is one weird dude....


Tell me more! What kind of weird are we talking here? Mackenzie King? Howard Hughes?