(Oct 9, 2008) -- 'The Harper platform is a vapid document, full of slogans but lacking a substantive plan to tackle the current economic and social challenges.'
Stephen Harper just doesn’t get it.
Elections represent an opportunity and responsibility for political leaders to present themselves to Canadians and describe where they want to take our country.
Yet Harper has been bubble-wrapped the entire election, campaigning in staged events and refusing to speak with anybody except his strongest supporters and inner-circle of advisors.
In fact, Harper didn’t release his party’s platform until more than a month after calling the election – and only a week before Canadians cast their ballots. By unveiling the platform at the 11th hour Harper was obviously trying to avoid proper scrutiny by the voting public.
Having said that, the Harper platform is a vapid document, full of slogans but lacking a substantive plan to tackle the current economic and social challenges. Previous Commentaries
This campaign and his government’s record over the last 31 months have confirmed my initial suspicion that Harper has his head in the sand and is out of touch with the anxieties, hopes and values of Canadians.
Harper’s secret and authoritarian style
Canadians want a government that believes in transparency and will work with others to find practical solutions to the problems facing the country.
But since assuming office, and throughout this campaign, Harper’s leadership style has been marked by secrecy, fierce partisanship and a culture of authoritarianism.
- For two years Harper refused to take questions from the national media, choosing instead to make himself selectively available to local reporters in particular places where he thought it might help his political prospects.
- Harper belittled political opponents on a personal basis, describing opposition MPs as betraying Canadian troops in Afghanistan because they questioned his Afghan policy. During the current campaign, Mr. Jim Davis, the father of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan, was dismissed as a Liberal when he questioned Mr. Harper’s stance on the war in Afghanistan.
- When the Canadian Medical Association Journal criticized Harper’s handling of the listeriosis outbreak and his approach to public health, Harper dismissed the editorial as something written by a Liberal.
- Harper shut down the public database of access-to-information requests used by reporters, researchers and ordinary citizens to hold governments accountable.
- He fired Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, after she tried to protect public health and the environment during a medical isotopes shortage.
- When federal ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro clashed with Harper over how to investigate political wrongdoing, he was pushed out the door.
- Harper accused Elections Canada officials, who are investigating his party over whether it broke federal election laws, as having a Liberal bias.
- The president of the Canadian Wheat Board, Adam Measner, was forced to resign for disagreeing with Harper’s policy of stripping the Board of its key responsibilities.
And the list goes on.
Taking Canada down a dangerous path
On the policy front, during his time in office Harper has been a rigid conservative ideologue, parroting the Bush administration’s failed ideology of unregulated free enterprise, militarism, and reactionary social policies.
- Harper’s do-nothing economic policies have brought no relief to families in the face of massive job losses in the manufacturing sector; a credit crunch; surging energy prices; failing productivity; and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that have depleted public funds that could be used for social spending and health care.
- His government continues to allow the number of private health clinics to increase rapidly, pushing us closer to a U.S.-style for-profit health care system.
- He has denied the science of global warming, avoided doing anything about climate change, and worked hand in glove with the Bush administration to undermine effective action by the international community.
- He has dismantled Canada’s roles as a neutral middle power and peacemaker. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake yet Harper said publicly that if he had his way Canada would have followed Bush into Iraq. He has committed Canada to a long military occupation in Afghanistan, without providing proper equipment to Canadian troops and failing to improve their quality of life here at home. And he has abandoned Canada’s traditional even-handed approach in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The litany of failed policies and contempt for government goes on:
- Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety programs and inspectors, shifting ever greater responsibility to the food companies themselves.
- On crime his government engages in fear mongering while trying to push an ineffective American-style justice system, while offering no hope to beleaguered frontline justice workers who badly need more resources to provide the custody and care that will ensure safer communities.
- He eliminated the early learning and child care agreements that would have provided $5 billion dollars as a first step to building a national child care program.
- He cut funding for minorities, women’s groups, literacy programs, culture and the arts.
- Harper is the only federal party leader not to sign our Worker’s Bill of Rights and refuses to enact international labour standards that other Western nations have implemented.
Free market ideology bankrupt
Canadians intuitively know the financial meltdown in the U.S. will spill over into Canada. They’re worried about whether they’ll be able to make their mortgage payments, keep their jobs, and ensure their retirement is secure.
Yet Harper has been in denial, offering worried Canadians nothing more than the limp and absurd assurance that “the fundamentals of the economy are sound.”
In the last few days of the campaign Harper has slightly backtracked and said he’s working on a “secondary plan."
The reality is that Harper’s primary and secondary plan is to simply tell Canadians “ready or not, you’re on your own.” That’s not a plan. That’s politics at its worst.
But it’s not surprising. Harper has never believed in a constructive or compassionate role for government in our economy or society.
We need a different vision
Harper just doesn’t get it.
We need a government that has a plan of action, not a rigid ideology. We need a government that believes in a collaborative approach to meeting the collective challenges we face.
We need an activist government that is willing to wield the tools of government to protect and support Canadians in difficult times.
Otherwise we’ll lurch from crisis to crisis — and the crises will get bigger and bigger.
NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer Larry Brown will make some specific proposals tomorrow about the kind of government action needed to address the difficult economic situation we’re facing.
But we can be sure that Harper won’t release any specific plans or come out of his political bubble because he is terrified that if he did people might actually stop and think about the consequences.
As I said at the beginning, elections represent an opportunity and responsibility for political leaders to present themselves to Canadians and describe where they want to take our country.
On both counts Stephen Harper and his government have failed Canadians.