So it’s been just over 2 years since the Conservatives won office and it's about time to look back on how this once “new” government has been doing. I’m obviously biased, but I’d like to take a look back at what were some of the good and bad moves by this government from a political standpoint. They'd have you believe everything they did was strategic brilliance, but it would seem to me that the bad moves clearly outweighs the good, but that may explain why Harper has been so hopeless at raising his party’s level of support among Canadians. Canadians aren't buying the kool-aid they and their supporters have been trying to dish out for so long. So these are my opinions, feel free to chime in with what you think were the major acts of brilliance and blunders that I missed.
The Good/Smart Moves:
- The cabinet shuffles: One in January 2007 and then one near the end of the summer at the least moved out some people who were doing really poorly in their posts (e.g., Toews at Justice and Ambrose at Environment – though the latter was really Harper’s fault since he controlled everything on that file – in January and O’Connor at Defence and Oda at Status of Women this past summer). They also showed that Harper can at least absorb some of the criticism directed towards his team (of course and realize when some of them need to go elsewhere.
- The Quebec By-elections (Sept. 17): Calling the byelections when he did was an extremely smart move by Harper. Obviously if had any integrity he would have called the ones in the other parts of the country at the same time, but we all know why he didn’t. The Conservative win in Roberval definitely provided a big boost for Harper and seemed to show that his Quebec strategies seemed to be winning him some support in rural Quebec
- The appearance of a plan for the environment: The actual plan goes in the bad below, but as late as last year the Conservatives were seen in polling as being horrible at the environment and very few people thought they took it seriously (after Harper has a long written record expressing doubts that man made climate change is happening and seemed to think Kyoto was the worst thing Canada had ever signed on to in our history). So the Conservatives were at least smart enough to make it appear like they cared – shuffling out Ambrose and primping up their Green Plan to make it appear real tough (this has continued with Harper’s fear mongering on the economy saying that his tough green plan is gonna hurt). Even though I don’t buy it, I’m sure many other Canadians may now think that Harper cares more about the environment than he did before. If he didn’t do this, I think you’d be seeing them in the mid to high 20’s in the polls now so this a must for Harper to accomplish.
- The first set of attack ads on Stephane Dion: This seemed to work quite well at first. Define Dion before the Liberals did and their impact still shows to this date in how the media talks about him. Since then Dion has done a lot to battle the perception that “he’s not a leader” and by now the saying is getting pretty old from the Conservatives but it’s been something he still is fighting against. He’ll show his leadership skills well on the campaign trail I’m sure, but he’ll still be up against that Conservative narrative.
- Re-instatement of Liberal tax cuts: The GST cuts never should have happened, but neither should the Conservatives have raised taxes in their first budget. So re-storing the Liberal tax cuts that were in place before they took office was a sensible move.
- The Afghan Panel: I can’t believe John Manley agreed to it, but even though the panel was still somewhat critical of Harper it has put Liberals on the spot now and if the Americans agree to pony up more troops for Afghanistan this panel will serve to benefit Harper in the long run as he now will continue to point to a prominent Liberal (and former Foreign Affairs Minister no less) who agrees with him on extending the mission.
Though it’s a shame that the PM has to play politics with absolutely everything though and can’t just sit down with the opposition to actually work out a sensible way forward in Afghanistan. I personally think the Liberal position is the right one and that’s supported by a majority of Canadians, but Harper seems willing to do whatever it takes to ram through whatever path he wants to take.
The Bad Moves:
I don’t have all day, so I’ll just list a bunch of things that come to mind:
- The Afghan detainee scandal: Allegations of torture of prisoners Canadians handed over completely threw the Conservatives off their game. Stories and fresh denials were all over the place each and nobody knew the heck they were talking about as ministers would start contradicting themselves. This was the first time (that I can recall anyway) people in the media started referring to the Harper government as incompetent. Things have gotten even worse lately with the revelation that detainee transfers stopped months ago and the government hasn’t been honest about what it knew when or what is even happening to prisoners now. A complete disgrace and continued black eye for Canada for sure.
- The isotopes fiasco: Blaming the looming shortage of medical isotopes at Chalk River on the Liberals and Linda Keen was low-ball politics. In the end this was a very serious issue and there were serious questions about whether the reactor was safe to go back online. The Harper government essentially should have seen this shortage coming and it was more convenient for them to blame and then fire Linda Keen then own up to their own mistakes. It didn’t have to end up this way and Harper’s handling of it just made the conservatives look like they have no respect for independent regulators and more may yet be uncovered that might show just how much they could have done to prevent this kind of crisis from taking place in the first place (we already know from the AG report that Lunn wasn’t honest about when he was first informed of the reactors problems..
- Endorsing the Death penalty and Backsliding on human rights: I’ve said it before but I’ll say again because I think a lot of Canadians aren’t happy where the government has gone on this. Canada up until now was seen as a world leader on human rights and there have been several troubling new directions this government has taken us in that greatly threatening that reputation:
- Cozying up to Columbia (which has a terrible human rights record) on free trade
- Praising Barrick Gold (a mining company which has been cited for treating its workers extremely poorly and for multiple human rights abuses) while ignoring all the allegations against them and the complete lack of interest in enforcing standards for Canadian mining companies operating abroad
- Withdrawing Canadian support for the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people
- The shocking lack of concern for the possible torture of prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers (whom if actually tortured might make Canada complicit in breaking international law)
- Being the only western country in the world that supports Guantanamo Bay and that has refused to lobby to have its citizens stand trial (even Harper’s ideological soulmate John Howard lobbied to bring his citizens home to stand trial and those people have now served their time in prison).
- Essentially endorsing the use of the death penalty abroad by refusing to appeal for clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty in the U.S. and withdrawing Canadian sponsorship for a motion at the UN to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
Amnesty International even put out a report back in December ago noting that Canada has gone from leader to laggard on human rights. Meanwhile Peter Van Loan has the nerve to say this Government is “second to none” in the world on human rights? That’s one of the biggest flat out lies I’ve ever heard from this government. I hope this becomes a real issue in the next federal election, because it really should. I highly doubt the Conservative stance impressed many Canadians
- Sham of an environment plan: Introducing an environment plan that was condemned by every single independent group basically showed that this government is more interested in smoke and mirrors than actually doing anything about climate change.
- Bali: Further to that, was the disgrace in Bali. Canada has never fared so badly on the world stage: We were tied for the lead in fossil of the day of awards (and had the most first place finishes), we won the fossil of year award, and has Harper pasted in ads right alongside fellow obstructers Japan and the USA, Baird skipped most meetings and scheduled and Canada was essentially condemned by the head of the UNPCC. Never has Canada been so isolated in its stance on a major issue. When the final declaration was agreed upon even the USA signed on before Canada did (who only did so once Baird realized that Canada and Russia were the only hold-outs). It was simply an absolute disgrace for Canada on the world stage on an issue that is slowly becoming the most important for Canadians. Dion was smart to go to Bali and meet with many dignitaries and show that Canadians don’t actually support the approach Baird brought to Bali and I was impressed by how much blogging he did (http://www.liberal.ca/baliblog) while he was there (unfortunately the media didn’t give much coverage to his blog though).
- Lack of an independent foreign policy: Time and time again, Harper’s government has not be able to stake out an independent foreign policy for Canada. For instance, on Pakistan after the tragic assassination of Bhutto Canada should have been doing as Lloyd Axworthy suggested playing a positive role in helping Pakistan establish order and set a clear date in the future for holding elections under better circumstances, not parroting the American line of elections being held on January 8th even though the situation on the ground was completely inhospitable to that. And on countless other issues such as the possible development of Iranian nukes (which a recent report showed hasn’t really been happening), at Bali (taking the exact US “you first” environmental stance), on Guantanamo (Harper has not once criticized it and seems to think fair trials occur there) and Bush’s War on Terror policies in general, Harper has mimicked the U.S. line when there were saner more sensible approaches that could have been followed.
Name me ONE issue where the ultimate response of the Harper government didn’t pretty much exactly that of the Bush Administration? Personally I believe the whole Harper is the same as Bush line is tired and stale and not completely accurate, but for goodness sakes he hasn’t taken a single independent stance for Canada on any foreign policy issue. Canadians don’t want a leader who is bashing the Americans all the time, but we also don’t someone who always follows their lead. Harper should remember that.
- Handling of Mulroney-Schreiber: This made Harper look ridiculous. So full of bravado in saying there will be no inquiry and then within a very short time holding a press conference looking completely depressed saying there will be a public inquiry. Harper knew about a lot Mulroney’s shady past before he so thoroughly embraced, he should not have gotten so close to Mulroney. There also remain serious questions of Harper’s willful ignorance of all those letters Schreiber sent him. Was he covering for Mulroney? These things have yet to be answered satisfactorily. At the same time Rob Nicholson looked ridiculous by continually insisting that he couldn’t halt Schreiber’s extradition despite all evidence to the contrary and then basically admitted he was wrong.
- The second, third, fourth, fifth (and sixth?) attack ads on Stephane Dion: The Conservative gained a lot of ground in the polls after the first set of attack ads so those definitely paid off for them, but I really think they were getting diminishing returns with the seemingly never-ended new sets of ads telling us new and exciting ways how Stephane Dion against was “not a leader”. The latest GST ad against him completely flopped. I didn’t see any evidence that anything beyond the first set of attack ads helped the Conservatives and instead I think the 3rd, 4th, 5th installments were starting to frame up the Conservatives as a government with nothing positive to say about itself and that can only attack all the time. It’s played right into perceptions that Harper is a completely cold uncaring Prime Minister who is only interested in partisan advantage at all costs.
- Their continued unquestioning defence of the RCMP at all costs: After multiple scandals involving the RCMP this year the with the taser scandal being the latest it seems Stockwell Day is always out there front and centre saying “nothing to see here, this isn’t as bad as it seems, let’s talk about drunk drivers instead” or something along those lines. Stock and Harper need to realize that the force needs a real overhaul because its reputation is going down the tubes.
- The continued caving to the gun lobby: Harper and Stockwell Day continue to be advised by gun’s rights groups and continue to trash the gun registry despite all the evidence that the police were using it regularly, that it helps and even intense efforts by the police associations, the Ontario and Quebec Premiers themselves to keep the gun registry working this government won’t listen to reason. If Harper really wants to win urban voters, he’s got to out of the holster of the gun lobby.
- Dumping Candidates in Toronto Centre and Guelph: It’s terrible optics to be dumping democratically elected candidates. It’s even worse when one of your candidates is dumped solely because he wants to talk about urban issues that matter to voters in his riding such as poverty. Basically it’s saying screw you to the cities by kicking someone like Mark Warner out just for speaking his mind. Some democratic grassroots party they’ve got there. The lack of free debate in the Conservative party today is quite scary indeed and by booting these candidates it just puts that on display to the public.
- Continued Neglect of Ontario and cities: Harper’s government and Peter Van Loan in particular continues to pick fights with Ontario (calling McGuinty the “small man of Confederation” weeks after his landslide victory). The electoral reform bill is a blatant attempt at gerry-mandering that is completely unfair to Ontario (you just can’t justify fixing an injustice for two other provinces and leaving another in place for the third). Meanwhile other Premiers have backed the Ontario position and you don’t hear the same criticism directed towards them from the Conservatives. This government just seems to keep saying it doesn’t care about Ontarians, well keep it up and good luck to you in keeping the seats you have let alone one in new ones in this province.
Harper’s doing the same thing with cities. Conservative and Liberal mayors alike have joined forces to point out the huge funding needs of cities these days that if they aren’t met will cause huge economic and infrastructure problems down the line. The Conservative response: “suck it up and stop whining!”. You see the Conservatives had some support among these mayors before and this kind of approach just flips them over to another party. Meanwhile Harper has ignored the issues many progressive minded city voters care about: poverty, gun control, the environment and so on and he keeps out candidates that talk about these things. Harper can’t win a majority without cities, but I guess he just can’t help but hide his disdain for them anyway.
- The GST Cuts: Everyone says this is great politics, but it sure as heck didn’t help the Conservatives gain in the polls and instead the latest cut is draining the federal coffers by $6 Billion a year at no benefit to the economy just as we may be on the cusp of a huge economic slowdown. Smart move guys and it’s one you’ll have defend come election time and I’m not so sure you’ll be able to do so very easily.
- Eliminating the Court Challenges Program: You know maybe they didn’t realize it, but Canadians believe strongly in the Charter and the rights its given to Canadians. By tearing down a program designed to help Canadians uphold their Charter rights, Harper showed Canadians where he stood. His utter silence on the 25th anniversary of the Charter was further evidence of this. I think really didn’t do this homework on this though, because many of the biggest court victories derived from this program were on language issues coming out of Quebec and the program was very popular there, so Dion would do well to keep bringing this issue up again and again there when he can.
- Income Trusts: Sloppily made decision that cost seniors billions. Unheard of in Canadian history and I think will come back to haunt them when seniors turn out to vote in big numbers next time as the Liberals actually have put forth a fairly reasonable solution.
- Softwood Lumber deal: The deal was not what Conservatives promised in the election and was basically a bad deal all around that did not solve the problem once and for all like they claimed. The United States’ continues to challenge Canadians effort to help its forestry workers to this day and in turn they are worse off now than they were before the deal was put in place.
- Neglect of Aboriginal Issues: Aboriginal issues seem to be an extremely low priority for this government and I don’t think we’ve heard much of anything from this portfolio since Jim Prentice was shuffled out of it. Their continued defaming of Kelowna which was signed by all 10 Premiers and the Prime Minister and his complete unwillingness to tackle is taking us further backwards on an issue that has too long been a Canadian disgrace. We need much more action on this file and Kelowna was a positive and the PM ripped that to shreds and that’s something no one should be happy about. I guess they feel they aren’t enough votes here to be won
- Neglect of Women’s Issues: The slashing of funding for Status of Women was absolutely shameful, as was changing its mandate and the government’s fantasy proposition that gender equality had already been achieved so there was no need to fight for it anymore. To date Harper has shown no evidence that he cares what women think, he has shown no commitment to bringing more women into politics and one cannot point to a single powerful woman in cabinet who has Harper’s ear right now. The only powerful woman who was around was instead made a scapegoat for Harper’s first disastrous climate plan and shown the door. On women’s issues, Harper is taking us back decades and not only are Liberals ashamed but I’m sure privately all of the PC supporters form the days of Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell must be as well. This will hit Harper hard in the next election I’m sure.
You know right now I can’t think of a single accomplishment of their own by this government that I am proud of, but given the list above I think I’ll be writing about a different government this time next year.
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