Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Stephen Harper and his bogeyman strategy

This is not what a Prime Minister should be doing: "Tories to stoke fear of opposition coalition." It's bad for our democracy on so many levels. The coalition is long dead. The only rationale for reviving it as a political tool is for some theoretical political benefit for Stephen Harper. But a Prime Minister should put the national interest ahead of his or her own.

We've seen indications of this bogeyman strategy recently from the Prime Minister. Of late, he and his staffers have offered us nonsense like this:
PM, Sept. 3: "People know that there's a deal between the NDP and the Bloc and the Liberals," he said. "People didn't like that. I don't think we want to go there."

PM, Aug. 5: "Do not doubt for a minute that the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will get together once again any time - any time they think they can get away with it," Harper said on Tuesday.
So the PM is well into implementing this strategy, he and his team have been pushing it now for more than a month. Why is this rhetoric so wrong then?

First, it's reckless to the cause of national unity. Look at any of the videos on YouTube and watch the fighting among Canadians on the streets in cities and towns across the country. Consider the impact in Quebec of once again demonizing the Bloc that this strategy will entail. It's not just the Bloc as a party that Harper's inflammatory coalition rhetoric inflames. It attacks those Quebec voters who support the Bloc federally but who aren't necessarily supporting separation by doing so. And the rhetoric can have the effect of ratcheting up support for the Bloc, solidifying its vote to the detriment of federalist parties in Quebec. Is that a way to break through this voting "block" in Quebec? Mr. Harper may have calculated he can afford to lose Quebec seats and pick up others elsewhere by pursuing this inflammatory strategy. But it's clearly unforgivable for a Prime Minister to play with fire like he has and seems to be prepared to do again on the national unity front.

Second, this coalition bogeyman strategy is dishonest. In making statements to Canadians in which he speaks as if the coalition exists or is a possibility, the Prime Minister is misrepresenting the facts. In both the CBC link and the CFRA links above you will see emphatic statements from both Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton that there is no coalition agreement, it is dead. To keep repeating otherwise is ridiculous. He should be called on it every time he waves his arms and cries coalition.

Third, it's more damaging divisive politics. As the Globe article suggests, Harper will forgo seeking to make parliament work with other parties because he prefers to play divisive politics with this coalition argument in an election. How backwards is that? He's not bringing people together when he moves his chess pieces in this manner, he's playing groups of Canadians off against each other. East versus west, French versus English. These partisan ploys reinforce division in the country, driving wedges among us. It seems as if it's the only game this Prime Minister knows how to play and the rest of us are being held hostage to his special brand of divisiveness.

If the Prime Minister goes this route, he's leaving the door wide open for someone else to make a striking contrast, one that's already begun.

The battle between liberal and conservatives in our country is therefore a battle over the role of government in maintaining the unity of the country. In other countries, the unity of the state is a settled question, and so a politics of division can have no fatal consequences. In the United States, intense partisanship, attack ads and ideological vituperation do not endanger a country that settled the question of its unity in the American Civil War. In our country, a politics that arouses ethnic and regional resentment, creating wedges in order to mobilize a conservative base vote, is playing with fire. Last December, the current Prime Minister sought to survive a constitutional crisis of his own making by playing region against region and language group against language group. In our country, this is a dangerous game.

Canada is sturdy and enduring, but it is also fragile. All politics, in our country, is the politics of national unity. Leadership that fails to understand that is bound to fail.
Is Stephen Harper going to play with fire once again? It's a big risk he's subjecting us to and a big risk he's taking himself. Based on his track record, there's no reason to believe he'll take the wise course though. Get ready for it.