Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Less We Care the Better Harper Looks. How Incredibly Sad

I just read a piece by Colin Horgan for the UK Guardian that made me so incredibly sad. It was headed Canada's frozen political waste: With Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Canada's Stephen Harper, barely anything does.

We seem to have resigned ourselves to no longer holding a place in the world. Harper can play piano, so nothing else matters. Our media can't go a day without saying 'sponsorship scandal', to justify every corrupt, insane action of this government, and Canadians are just shaking their heads and walking away.

This sure isn't the Canada I grew up in. After four years of continuous attack ads and frat boy behavior, which appears to be quite acceptable now, we no longer care. Last place on climate change. Who cares? European Union wants nothing to do with us. Shrug. Foreign diplomats are asking 'where's Canada'? So what.

The problem with this government is that they constantly tell us what's wrong with their opposition, so that they now no longer have one. I used to love Jim Carrey, but sadly he's "just visiting", so who cares?

Canada's frozen political waste
Colin Horgan,
October 24, 2009

Down is the new up: Canadians suddenly like Stephen Harper, but for the wrong reasons.

Michael Ignatieff's announcement on Monday that his Liberal party will not "actively seek to defeat" the Conservatives "by proposing their own confidence motions," was an almost direct contradiction to his resounding cry in September that Harper's "time is up". The Liberal threat to dismantle the Tory government is now effectively dead, and many Canadians couldn't possibly care less. We like Harper now. Unfortunately, it will get us nowhere.

The biggest political story of October hasn't been Ignatieff's troubles or the widening poll gap between the Tories and Liberals, or even some Tory MPs slapping their names or their party logo on government stimulus cheques. Instead, it's been Harper's performance of the Beatles song With a Little Help From My Friends at a gala benefit at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It sparked an immediate response and softened some of his harshest critics. The media cooed, and Harper – formerly known for his wax-like public persona – became a YouTube hit.

Only days earlier, Harper had stood in a Tim Horton's coffee shop and proudly told Canadians (and the world, who had expected him to address the UN) that the Tim Horton's head office had returned to Canada. With that came the reminder: "The United States is a great place to visit, but let's face it, there is no place like our home and native land, there is no place like Canada."

In a recent column for the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson speculated on the chances of a Canadian election in the near future. He concluded:

"One way or another, the opposition parties will have to find some way to keep this government alive through the rest of the year or face the consequences at the polls. Parliament will then recess until the end of January. And with February comes the Olympics, and who wants an election during the Olympics?

"For 17 days, Canadians will become Americans – fiercely patriotic, waving the flag with abandon, cheering on our athletes and celebrating what everyone hopes will be a magnificent games that will make all Canadians proud to be Canadian."

It's mostly true, except the part about becoming Americans. We should be so lucky to have such a vibrant – although obviously at times overly vitriolic – public discourse. While our neighbours to the south struggle with issues that strike at the heart of their national values, Canadians are talking coffee. Why? Because with Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Harper, barely anything does.

Harper's schmaltzy publicity stunts are only striking a chord because, thanks to the way his government has framed Canada's current objectives, there's nothing else that can. "Our priority is the Canadian economy.

Nothing takes precedence over the economy," said Harper's representative, Dimitri Soudas, after the Tim Horton's appearance.

Granted, Canada must recover now in order to spend money later, but focusing only on economic recovery limits discussion by omitting other topics. It also frames discourse in such a way that future policy ideas – even important ones like those on climate change or healthcare – are discussed solely based on their current price tag, not their potential future benefit.

In other words, challenging the framework is political poison. Any suggestion of future government spending that isn't in the form of a stimulus cheque seems immediately outrageous, and makes people like Ignatieff look crazy. Conversely, it allows Harper to appear all the more in control, because essentially, there are no future plans. And the more Harper appears to be in control, the more Canadians can relax.

Under Harper, there is no pressure on Canadians to make decisions about the future, apart from what we'll wear to the Olympics. We just get our money. Under Ignatieff, with a more extensive outlook, all bets appear to be off – he is uncertainty personified.

Harper's popularity might be on the rise, but it's not because of his piano playing or aw-shucks coffee shop patriotism. It's because he allows us to be apathetic. And the less we care, the better he'll look.

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