Polygonic

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

The Liberal obsession

Imagine Obama dealing with the Gulf oil spill by saying “Dubya handled Katrina much worse than this.” Would Americans accept that as an answer? Is that the language of leadership, or of someone who actually wants the job? Because it seems to work for Stephen Harper.

Here we are in the year 2010 – the future is indeed upon us. Yet, you open the newspaper to find that the Conservatives are still trotting out the bogeyman of the “sponsorship scandal” in their vast arsenal of anti-Liberal talking points. It begs the question: how do we explain Conservative obsession with the Liberal Party?

Perhaps both wings of the modern Conservative movement have inherited their own unique reasons. The Progressive Conservative wing (such that it is) were effectively destroyed by the Liberals in the 1990s. The humiliation of going from the party of government to unofficial party status in one fell swoop is certainly enough to breed a lust for vengeance as powerful as any comic book villain.

The Reformers were always a party of opposition – not only regarding their status in the House of Commons, but at the core of their manifesto. Like the Bloc, they were a regionalist, anti-establishment party. So, you oppose, you moan, you criticise, and you do so without any of the cumbersome responsibilities of ever aspiring to represent more than your base, of ever being the establishment.

Now add those humiliated Red Tories from the PC days to the froth-mouthed anti-everything Reformers, and you have a party populated by people who’s primary unifying feature is their obsessive hatred for the Liberals. Not by a common vision for the country that they seem to share – but by a dark, angry desire to squeeze the pride out of their vanquished enemy for its own sake. It’s bloodsport, not simply as a political means, but as a political end as well.

After four years in government, though, it doesn’t really do for the Conservatives to continue behaving like an opposition party. When facing challenges over political interference in appointments of public officials, which is a charge Harper’s facing this week, the PMO can’t simply change the channel and talk about Liberal mistakes of a decade ago. When, in a time of fiscal restraint, they blow $10 billion on super-prisons to lock up fictional criminals, they can’t simply accuse the Liberals of softness on the crimeness. They talk as if Ottawa’s the problem – without admitting that they are Ottawa.

Attack ads work, and negativity works. Sad but true – paint your opponent as a monster and some of that shite will stick. But the point’s going to come when Harper loses out through this negative obsessive anti-Liberal strategy as he increasingly comes off as someone with nothing very positive to say about his own party, and someone whose reactive, contrarian language betrays a desire to just go back to being an opponent again. Well Steve, as ever, we’re happy to help.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

Senate reform or Reform Senate?

If by reform he meant “Reform,” then Stephen Harper has delivered. But I get the feeling that most people expected that Harper was serious about creating an elected upper house, not on simply stuffing it with his friends – in a manner that exceeds the worst cronyist excesses of Prime Ministers past.

By appointing his 34th partisan friend to the Senate, Harper’s generated a Senate majority for the Conservatives. It’s a majority that he’s conspicuously failed to achieve in the House of Commons, after three elections as party leader. Clearly he’s frustrated that he can’t be officially the boss of the room, so the irony is a bit biting – this erstwhile would-be “populist democrat” is only able to secure his deep-seated dream of political power through the patronage route – not through the route of electoral democracy.

The irony is perfectly reflected in the appointment itself. Our new Tory senator, Salma Ataullahjan, is a failed Tory candidate for MP. The view seems to be: what you can’t win through elections, you secure through patronage.

With that in mind, how open do you think Harper can really be to the concept of elected Senators? More democracy does not seem to generate more Conservatives.

Ah, but these were the days!

“Despite the fine work of many individual senators, the Upper House remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister.” — Harper leadership website, Jan. 15, 2004.

“Stephen Harper will cease patronage appointments to the Senate. Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the Upper House.” — Harper leadership website, Jan. 15, 2004.

“Canadians . . . are ashamed the prime minister continues the disgraceful, undemocratic appointment of undemocratic Liberals to the undemocratic Senate to pass all too often undemocratic legislation.” — Stephen Harper, House of Commons, March 7, 1996.

Ah, youth! Ah, idealism! Ah, duplicity and a corrupting lust for absolute power!

Harper’s newly-friendly Senate met, obviously and by no coincidence, just in time to pass horrific legislation. The passage of last weekend’s omnibus “budget bill,” stuffed with unrelated poison pills that hadn’t passed in the democratic chamber but were added to this confidence motion, was obscene – not only a violation of any straight-faced concept of democratic accountability, but more galling, a violation of quite precise promises made by Team Harper thoughout his political life. Promises that got him elected in the first place (if barely).

A big question to me is why conservative voters aren’t putting more heat on the government that they elected to deliver these promises. Aren’t they disappointed? Didn’t they feel such reforms were really important, and they thought Harper would bring them into being?

There appears to be a real preference among too many conservatives to continue indulging in pitifully obsessive, collective attack-doggism against the Liberal Party – as though the Liberals continue to maintain a dark, shadowy control over the real levers of government. They do it through the civil service, and they do it through the CBC. They do it through sorcery and they do it through hypnosis. It’s a comic paranoia that’s not a million miles off from My Uncle Napoleon.

As if Harper hasn’t been in power for a full four years, with more than enough time to be in a position to now take responsibility for what government has failed to do. What relevance “adscam” in 2010? None – but it’s an easier subject for the Right to grapple with, I suppose, than trying to digest the complex fact that their Reform-a-Tory leadership are effectively “out-Liberalling the Liberals” when it comes to crude arrogance, cronyism, and an aloof disregard for promises broken.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

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