Brave New Year
Photo by Reza Vaziri.
Think about what an average day for Stephen Harper must be like. You wake up, you pet your kitties, you pull on your sweater vest, then you jauntily leave 24 Sussex for another national dress-down—from Parliament, from the lib’rul media, from your own foreign service—and then it’s back home to cry yourself to sleep. Hell, they even had a field day with his bathroom habits. It’s got to be dark times for Canada’s honest, accountable poster-boy of government done absolutely right. Maybe that’s why he’s suspending Parliament until March 3, for the second year in a row.
Though Canada’s alleged complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees has fractured the country, it’s not like the polls have given Mr. Accountability any reason to quake in his boots. Even with the flip-flopping of our military’s brass, contradicting the government’s stated position, Harper’s esteem as an alternative to anything and everything Liberal—or those evil, chest-thumping socialists, or the separatists who Steve would never, ever throw in with—has been more or less unassailable. From the sweaters to taking the wheel of a C-130 to the gingerly calibrated rhetoric, Harper’s well-honed public image duped Canadians on a spectrum of issues. Most significantly, it left them believing that a man who would rather stall Canadian democracy than confront it—twice—is, somehow, the best man to lead the country.
Leading the country, however, has been eclipsed in priority by saving his agenda, not to mention his own ass. In 2008, it was the prospect of a united opposition unseating the minority Tories that prorogued Parliament. The three parties comprising the coalition, supported by the Greens, came together after the federal budget over the Tories’ lack of a stimulus plan and the denial of public funding for federal parties, a move they called an attack on democracy at worst and, at best, proof that the government had failed.
Demonstrators call for a progressive coalition at Nathan Phillips Square on December 4, 2008. Photo by Mademoiselle T
In turn, the Tories stoked a firestorm of public outrage in which the opposition’s very coalition, despite the workings of Canadian government, was itself an abomination, reducing Canada to some democratically bereft banana republic. But before the thirty-eighth Parliament, Harper—as leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition—told the CBC that, “We’ve always said we’ll support the government when they do things that we can accept… [but] the government can only be brought down because it alienates several parties in the House. And the first obligation in this Parliament, if the government wants to govern, [is that] it has to come to Parliament and it has to show that it can get the support of the majority of members.”
“I can’t forget my first responsibility,” he said, “which is to be the Leader of the Opposition and that’s to provide an alternative government.”
During the twilight days of this year, another prorogation means time for the Tories to gather momentum and majority on Senate committees, and adds up to an underhanded move to duck Parliament on the Afghan detainee controversy. Worse, as the opposition parties have repeatedly warned, it’s a means to sweep the issue under the rug, disrupting a parliamentary investigation into why, as Richard Colvin testified, the Harper government flatly ignored warnings of torture for transferred detainees. The fact that Parliament won’t reconvene until March, after the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, means no bad press when all eyes are on Canada. Yet again, Stephen Harper has conjured up a scheme to save his own government at the expense of the democracy that barely legitimizes it. For now.
When the crisis of 2008 was at its peak, Harper, at the very least, managed to paint the House as stymied, or even threatened, by partisan interests. Not so in 2009, the year that saw the NDP, of all parties, supporting the Conservative Party of Canada in order to see EI reforms passed. By seeking the prorogation of Parliament over an investigation into his government, and for other reasons motivated entirely by self interest, he has officially and terminally sealed the casket on any myth of Harper-era Tory accountability. In Harper’s own words, an alienated opposition means the collapse of a minority government, and it’s hard to imagine the opposition parties more alienated than they are right now.
In 2010, that will mean it’s time for Harper to go.