Friday, June 19, 2009

Harper is Reckless, Petty, Arrogant, Incompetent, Paranoid, Sinister....

... and those are his good points.

No, I did not say those things about Harper, but they are the words of Professor Lorne Sossin of the faculty of law at the University of Toronto, and every word is true and then some.

I came across this opinion piece in the Toronto Star from around election time in October, and sadly nothing has changed. In fact he may actually be worse.

Feared but not much loved
PM effectively muzzled bureaucrats, diplomats members of his caucus and cabinet ministers
October 12, 2008
Haroon Siddiqui

Stephen Harper is clearly not the right-wing ideologue he once was. Whether he has abandoned his views, especially on domestic issues, or is merely holding them back, only he would know.

He has certainly grown in the job and does exude a prime ministerial presence, albeit in scripted settings. He is disciplined and hard-working.

Yet a significant percentage of Canadians do not trust him. In fact, they fear him. The concern is not confined to partisan Liberals or New Democrats. It permeates large swaths of the electorate.

The explanation surely is more than that he looks so smug or that he failed to shed a crocodile tear on TV in empathy for the growing economic fears of Canadians.

There are more substantial reasons: the Prime Minister's track record on policy, his public pronouncements and his personality traits that do impact on his job.

That he has been a clone of George W. Bush on Kyoto, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Israel, Hamas and Lebanon does matter to a whole lot of Canadians.

There's a debate over whether he feels that Ottawa must always stand with Washington to protect our trade, or because he's ideologically committed to the Bush doctrine.

This much is certain: Harper did knowingly join Bush's sinking ship. That was either an act of great courage or stunningly bad judgment.

Harper shares several traits with Bush. He can be excessively partisan: you're either with him or against him. If you don't back his disastrous and costly Afghan policy, you are unpatriotic, unfaithful to Canadian troops and an apologist for the Taliban.

He is secretive and authoritarian. He does not tolerate dissent.

As is well-known, he muzzled his caucus, including ministers, and the federal bureaucrats, including our diplomats. Never before in my 40 years of travelling abroad have I run into so many envoys at our embassies so fearful of giving even off-the-record briefings on the countries they are posted in. The John Manley commission on Afghanistan found this appalling, saying it has prevented our diplomats from representing our interests.

We also know what Harper did to the heads of three independent commissions who challenged him.

Linda Keen was fired as head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, hours before she was to appear before a parliamentary committee, over disagreements on the shutdown of the Chalk River reactor.

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand was berated and taken to court for prosecuting the Tories for accounting tricks to get around the Elections Act limits on spending.

Peter Tinsley, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, has been blocked at every turn from probing allegations of possible Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees.

"In each of these dust-ups," wrote professor Lorne Sossin of the faculty of law at the U of T, the Harper government looked "reckless, petty, arrogant, incompetent, paranoid, sinister and/or just plain vindictive."

Harper and his close associates are known to settle scores. Last year, he shocked the legal community by bypassing Dennis O'Connor for the job of Ontario chief justice.

The Court of Appeal judge had been number two to then retiring chief justice Roy McMurtry, who endorsed his candidacy, as did all the other judges on that bench.

It was speculated that perhaps the Prime Minister was unhappy with O'Connor's conclusions as chair of two commissions, one probing the Maher Arar tragedy and the other the Walkerton disaster, in which seven died after drinking contaminated water.

It was said that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in particular, had been miffed over the Walkerton report. It turns out that he was and did have something to do with turning Harper against O'Connor, two senior Tories have told me.

In separate interviews, both said that in his private conversations Flaherty made no secret of his displeasure with O'Connor.

Flaherty had been a key minister under Mike Harris and he blamed the judge for the Tories losing the 2003 election under Harris's successor, Ernie Eves. Now that Flaherty was the senior Harper minister from Ontario, O'Connor wasn't going to get the top job.

Harper has also been accused of saying one thing and doing another. Almost all politicians are a bundle of contradictions but he seems more so than most.

He says he is a private man. But he goes on TV to proclaim his love for his son. He invites the cameras to record him escorting his daughter to school. He drags his mother into a discussion of how the market meltdown might affect her.

He is a law-and-order man who broke his own fixed election date law to call a snap election.

He promised to re-establish the primacy of Parliament
but repeatedly shut down committees and derailed witnesses.

All politicians cater, first, to their respective constituencies. Some pursue, as Mike Harris did, a divide-and-conquer strategy.

Harris pitted Toronto against rural Ontario. Harper pits Ontario against the rest of Canada (and now Quebec). Harris pitted teachers against parents. Harper pits "subsidized, gala-going" artists against "ordinary working people."

Harper told the Star's Tonda MacCharles that he governs in the interest of all Canada and won't offer "a different program in every province or every region." Yet he just promised Quebec it would be exempt from his proposal that 14-year-old criminals be jailed for life.

Finally, on the economy, Harper's shrill warnings that a Liberal government would spell doom for Canada ring hollow, given that he and Flaherty have blown a $12 billion surplus left by Paul Martin.

Harper and most conservative leaders talk of fiscal responsibility but end up emptying the treasury through massive tax cuts, mostly to corporations while resisting increases in minimum wages, and through high defence spending.

Brian Mulroney left a $42 billion deficit; Harris-Eves a $5 billion deficit and a record $111 billion debt; Ronald Reagan left a massive deficit and debt, while Bush turned a $230 billion surplus into a deficit of about $500 billion, and accumulated a debt of $10 trillion.

As St├ęphane Dion said Wednesday: "History shows us that in tough economic times, it is progressive governments that put economies back on track. Clinton after Reagan and Bush. Blair after Thatcher and Major. Chr├ętien and Martin after Mulroney. And, of course, McGuinty after Harris."

I want my country back and the only way that will happen is with a Liberal majority, to clean up another Conservative mess.

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