Two-faced Harper can’t decide

Losing integrity or just losing face?

James Culleton

Stephen Harper does not seem himself lately. Gone are the days of the fiscally responsible hardliner, with his dogmatic adherence to the government bottom line. That persona seems to have died the day that the ill-begotten trio of opposition party leaders raised their collective voice in outrage at the timid Conservative government response to the country’s economic plummet.

Harper was left with a choice, and he decided to sacrifice the basic principle of minimal government spending he’s preached since the old Reform Party days, instead initiating a massive government deficit. The prime minister who never compromised, who never backed down from decimating the lamb that is his Liberal Party opposition, now finds himself devoid of the macho posturing of last October’s election. Where there once stood a man fresh on the heels of a “strengthened minority” now stands a humbled quasi-statesman. In fact, he now seems to stand for nothing other than what is needed to remain prime minister.

It is almost as if the sweater-vested Harper of early fall was finally made whole. Now, he must not only look the part of a kinder, gentler prime minister, but he has to act like one too. And in Parliament that involves playing nice with others, no matter how much hatred one has for dissent.

Even his once near obsessive penchant for blaming everything on the Liberals has dissipated somewhat, replaced with talk of working together with the opposition. It seems as though Harper finally looked into the meaning and functioning of a minority Parliament.
Unfortunately, Harper’s equally appalling tendency to take credit where it is not due remains as much a part of his prime ministerial reign as that half-crooked smile he is photographed with so often.

And so there he was last month, on CNN no less, espousing the virtues of government stimulus spending in times of economic crisis. He even said he believes in the practice of bailouts, deficits and genuine government intervention. All this coming from a man who in early December refused to even entertain the coalition’s dangerous talk of a stimulus package.

By far though, the most surprising characteristic of the new Harper is his grasp of just how hopeless the future is for Canada’s military in Afghanistan. On the same CNN program, Harper admitted to reading Afghanistan’s history – a task apparently overlooked by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin – and deducing from this history that the country has always had some sort of insurgency.

Perhaps in a time without such economic turmoil, this statement would have become a massive story. The man whose patented government response to the questioning of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan was to equate the questioner with Taliban collusion now admits that the insurgency cannot be overcome by military might. The Harper of old derided all those who believed Canada’s Afghan excursion should end as cowards and terrorist sympathizers. But now he agrees at least in principle.

While most politicians come off looking like two-faced jackals when they recant their political views in lieu of looming defeat, Harper has so far managed to find success by negotiating between positions of convenience in order to placate his deluded opposition. It should be kept in mind however, that a politician who stands only for matters of convenience, in fact stands for nothing at all.

Andrew Tod is a University of Winnipeg student.

Published in Volume 63, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 26, 2009)

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