At first I was optimistic that the Stephen Harper Conservative government might be a good thing for the country. Given its minority status after the last election, and the fact that the Liberals and one other party can bring about Canada’s third national election in less than four years, I expected a humble, conciliatory government that works closely with other parties. You know, the kind of government they said they’d be during the last campaign.
Turns out that Harper has about as much interest in working with other parties as he does in holding a civil discourse on the issues, which is to say he has no interest in this government but his own. Elected under the pretense of bringing integrity and accountability back to Parliament, Harper has so far been all swagger, all the time.
Here’s why I’m scared:
His language and attempts to frame the debate on certain issues seem to echo the failed Bush administration south of the border – for example, it’s "tax relief" not tax cuts, and anyone who wants to discuss the Canadian mission in Afghanistan like an adult is accused of wanting to "cut and run".
These days Harper is gambling, and rightly, that the opposition parties won’t risk forcing another election so soon after the last one. Harper is currently enjoying a honeymoon 40 per cent approval rating – almost enough for a majority government if an election were called tomorrow. But what’s going to happen in another few years when the honeymoon is over and other parties can safely challenge Harper?
Instead of looking down the road and toning down his swagger Harper is actually daring the other parties to vote against his initiatives. He dared them to vote against his child-care allowance plan. He dared them to vote against extending the military’s involvement in Afghanistan to 2009. He dared the Liberals to use their Senate majority to block the first budget, which includes income tax cuts, huge cuts to Liberal programs, and a one per cent reduction in the GST.
When his nominee to head a non-partisan commission that reviews public appointments was nixed by Parliament (because said nominee was revealed to be a staunchly partisan conservative), Harper accused the other parties of playing politics and decided to drop the whole commission until the Conservative Party has its majority. In other words, it’s Harper’s ball and he’s going home.
That move prompted more than one commentator to use the word "petulant" in describing Harper, meaning "childishly sulky or bad-tempered". The perfect word – all Harper had to do was come up with another, and less publicly partisan, nominee to head the commission, but instead he chose to throw an embarrassing tantrum.