John’s essays are always such good reads…enjoy!
Harper’s Support Falters, Declines
by J. F. Conway
Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist.
Prime Minister Harper and his government are very busy aggressively pursuing their right-wing agenda, despite a tenuous hold on power. What with the “honeymoon effect” (aw’ shucks, give the guy a chance), a less than probing media, the wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan dominating the news, a leaderless Liberal party, and Layton and the NDP playing cute opportunist games, Harper has enjoyed a bit of a cake walk through what should have been a series of damaging political mine fields.
But that era seems to be at an end, as both a few media types and the public begin to wake up to the long-term implications of what Harper has been doing as our illustrious prime minister. Even the Liberals and the NDP have begun to awaken from their slumber. And a large part of this wake up call has been the fact that for the first time in memory rank-and-file Canadians are increasingly ashamed of Canada’s role in international affairs. Harper’s reckless foreign policy, a pathetic partisan echo of that of Bush and the US government, has deeply offended Canadians.
All the recent polls show a steep drop in support for Harper and the Tories. The biggest drop was recorded by the early August Decima poll. The Tories and the Liberals are in a dead heat (32 % Tories; 31 % Liberals; 16 % NDP – this with a leaderless Liberal party showing very little opposition and with Harper and his ministers dominating the news on a daily basis. Worse for the Tories, the Liberals are significantly ahead of the Tories in Ontario, Quebec and the large urban centres.
Most commentators suggest Harper’s fall from grace can be largely attributed to the opposition of a growing majority of Canadians to his pro-US/Israel stance on the war in Lebanon and his continuing commitment to the Afghan war. Some pro-Harper commentators argue this downward blip is temporary, and, as the conflict in Lebanon recedes from the headlines, Harper will make a comeback.
Perhaps. But other Harper initiatives are beginning to rankle growing numbers of Canadians. Some of them provide a peek at Harper’s extremely conservative social agenda, dangerous territory if the Tories hope to win next time. Others reveal Tory hypocrisy as patronage is pumped out and ideological friends are rewarded with government largesse.
The inevitable negative fallout from Harper’s cancellation of the national day care program and his substitution of $100 per month per child under 6 in direct payments to all parents has begun to hit the Tories. This decision was clearly an attack on the typical Canadian family, while revealing Harper’s cherished support for the declining traditional family with dad at work and a stay-at-home mom. The typical Canadian family has two earners (54 per cent of all families in 2001, projected to grow to 58 per cent by 2016), and desperately needs quality, affordable, publicly subsidized day care. Harper’s preferred stay-at-home mom family – the one Reformers used to rant was under attack by a feminist conspiracy – is rapidly disappearing (16 per cent of all families in 2001, projected to fall to 11.5 per cent by 2016). Yet this dying relic of families past is the favoured focus of Harper’s program. And as this realization hits Canadians, it spells trouble for Harper.
Justice Minister Vic Toews’s proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility for children from 12 to 10 set off alarm bells among experts on children. This was another Reform party favourite in the 1990s. Toews wants to deter children from crime and has not ruled out incarceration. Old Reformers and Harper Tories are already on record supporting adult sentences for young offenders and would dearly love to scrap the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Heather Perkins-McVey, a lawyer for the Canadian Bar Association, expressed the fear and anger of many when she blurted, “does he want the death penalty for them too,” while accusing the Tories of “going back to the Dark Ages” and “work houses.” This attack on troubled, at-risk children will not help the Tories.
Harper’s refusal to attend the International AIDs conference in Toronto, and his government’s refusal (so far) to support the provision of clean injection sites for addicts (about one in three new cases of HIV/AIDS infections results from sharing needles), reminded Canadians of the old Reform party views on HIV/AIDS. Many Reformers were convinced it was God’s wrath visited on the abomination of homosexuality, thus representing a divine retribution. Others just want no truck or trade with the scum of the earth by pursuing any policy that might encourage addicts and homosexuals in their vile lifestyles. Harper is not saying such things (he wouldn’t dare), but his actions speak almost as clearly. Does Canada want a prime minister who is not only out of step with a world campaign against HIV/AIDS, but drags his feet on supporting rational public health interventions?
Harper’s gutting of federal environmental agencies, his withdrawal of Canada from the Kyoto Accord, and his cancellation of all federal funding for climate change research remind Canadians he is owned by the Alberta oil and gas industry. Clearly Harper is supporting the anti-climate change propaganda campaign pursued by the energy lobby. Does Canada want a prime minister who is in denial about climate change and the whole looming environmental catastrophe?
Harper’s decision to increase military spending by more than $15 billion with no parliamentary debate reminded Canadians of his pro-Bush, war-mongering tendencies. This decision played a part in his government’s decline in support, particularly when $8 billion of the spending appears to be dedicated to acquiring aggressive military hardware, like the 4 C-17 transport planes (very useful for invasions and occupations). This anger among Canadians deepened when the Tories, who made much of the patronage and corruption of the Liberals, invoked the national security exception clause allowing them to steer the patronage fallout to favoured political regions essential to winning a majority government, like the West, Atlantic Canada and Quebec. (The patronage fallout results from the policy that when a military contract is awarded, the recipient must spend a similar amount in Canada.)
Speaking of hypocrisy on patronage, the Harper government is red-faced about revelations that a $1.75 million contract awarded to a friendly consultant to make recommendations on how to save money in the Public Works department, increased to $24 million in 9 months with no explanation. There is also public embarrassment about a trip to Britain by two Public Works advisors to investigate “public-private partnerships” (the latest rage in far right privatization strategies). The advisors took their spouses, cancelled meetings, claimed to attend a lecture that never happened, plagiarized their report from British web sites, and fudged the figures to make public/private partnerships look bigger than they were. Ah, the Public Works department, it seems, always attracts those who wish to drink deeply from the public trough. It was ever thus, since the days of Sir John A. Macdonald.
The longer Harper is in office the clearer his agenda becomes. And it is not an agenda supported by a majority of Canadians. Once the Liberals have a new leader, and Jack Layton gets principled and stops suffering from the delusion that he can replace the Liberals by attacking them while giving Harper a pass on a lot of things, Harper will face greater scrutiny and confrontational opposition. If he has fallen this far in the polls with little or no opposition, his future is less than assured.