Friday, September 19, 2008

Mr. Harper's "catastrophic decisiveness"

An op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen by Professor Errol Mendes that's well worth a read this evening as we contemplate the leadership style of Mr. Harper, "Decisiveness isn't always a virtue." Mendes' piece is a call to focus on notions of strong leadership that the conservative leaders of the world want the rest of us to focus on without sufficient attention being paid to the consequences that the quality of such decision making brings. We have a litany of decisions that Mr. Harper has made that we are beginning to understand the consequences of after two years and we've got an opportunity to do something about it now.

Here's Mendes setting out the misguided attractiveness of the decisive leader archetype:
The style of leadership that can be characterized as "decisive" is often very attractive initially to an electorate as was the case in the U.S., with George W. Bush, especially in times of crisis on the scale of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. However, it is often only a question of time before what is perceived to be strong leadership results in catastrophic consequences to the country and its people.

Some may well argue that Conservative leader Stephen Harper is also in the same mould of catastrophic decisiveness as a character trait. He demonstrated early on the appealing show of strong leadership with a focused, five-point legislative agenda on taking office that he claims he achieved even if others vehemently disagree. However, the catastrophic version soon started to appear.
Yet as Mendes points out, in example after example, the folly of elevating this decisiveness above all other considerations blinds us to what is being done to our country. One of the most significant decisions Mr. Harper has made may end up gutting the federal government's capacity for years to come:
History may well judge such catastrophic decisiveness to be the catalyst of many ills that this country could face for many years. For example, against the advice of almost all the country's economists and the advice from his own bureaucrats in the department of finance, Mr. Harper has decimated the federal revenue base by cutting the GST by two percentage points. As an economist himself, Mr. Harper is aware that the most effective form of tax reduction is through personal income taxes rather than through consumption tax reduction. The Canadian federal state will lose approximately $60 billion over five years, raising the possibility of unintended deficits and providing little adjustment relief for the loss of manufacturing and forestry jobs due to the economic downturn in Central Canada.

What could be even more worrying is that in the case of Prime Minister Harper, he combines this form of catastrophic decisiveness with the instinct to control all the levers of government. That could make the decisiveness even more catastrophic. (emphasis added)
Is crippling the federal government the strong leadership Canada needs? Is this the kind of Canada we want? This is a welcome reminder of the stakes in play in this election and the kind of economic leadership Stephen Harper has provided.