Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

The trust gap

Despite that unexpressive, grey-play-dough demeanour about him, Stephen Harper doesn’t make life easy for himself.

Mainstream Canada’s biggest problem with Harper isn’t even his policies, but it’s the distinctly untrustable air about him. 45% of Canadians find him “secretive” – this is his highest scoring attribute, just edging out “arrogant” and “out of touch.”

This being so, why does he continue to believe that the best way to implement policy is to do it outside the scrutiny of Parliament?

Two controversial decisions in the past two weeks – 1) an untendered purchase of $18 billion state-of-the art fighter jets which we never knew we needed, and then 2) the axeing of the long form of the national census.

It’s not just that the decisions were both bad – though they were – but it’s also the summertime, extra-parliamentary situation in which the government announced the decisions. It’s that unmistakable stench of sneakiness.

The census move was a clear and simple sop to his hard-core, anti-government, Reform Party base. And we can’t be surprised he’s going to appeal to them anytime he can, because he comes from that base. He isn’t a moderate trying to woo the right-wing fringe: it’s absolutely the reverse.

But wherever one sits on the debate as to whether a compulsory census is good or bad, there is a wider issue: that of accountable, consultative policy-making within earshot of critical Opposition parties. The government miscalculated in thinking that this is a risk-free time of year to reward the nutbar fringe without mainstream Canadians noticing. With it being summertime, and no Parliament in session, there must have been a logic in the Tory war room that Canadians in the centre and in the majority just “won’t notice” these decisions. Any mild controversy will die alone, while Canadians book flights and go camping. Why not procure billion-dollar stealth jets without any competitive bidding while we’re at it? Voters won’t notice or care.

But, as Team Harper does so often, this has been a real miscalculation and misreading of the public mood. Canadians are already fairly sensitive to the view that Harper will try to slip fast ones by us at any opportunity – proroguation set that image in stone. So now, any big, sudden policy shift, outside the scrutiny of a sitting Parliament, actually rings real alarm bells for Canadians.

The very fact that Harper prefers making big decisions quietly and out-of-view hardens Canadians’ view of the PM as a secretive, arrogant, and out-of-touch sort of guy. And to think he was only going for “ordinary.”

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