On the electoral politics front here in Canada, we have been living in pretty interesting times of late. Who would have guessed, even a few weeks back, that a newspaper such as the Sun would have editorials in the same week calling for Rob Ford and Stephen Harper to step down. If that is the view of the friends of the Conservatives one can only imagine how their enemies feel.
For all of the Prime Minister’s straight-shooter/man-of-the-people reputation he is remarkably unable to justify or even acknowledge any of the decisions he has made lately. In the style of a television crime boss, rather than accept any responsibility for his action, when facing scrutiny the PM opts to dig up dirt, real or imagined, on his opponents. On the one-hand, we are morally superior to the other parties and on the other, we engage in precisely the same type of shifty behind-closed-doors dealing. This Grade 2 ‘but Timmy does it too’ tactic is neither credible nor inspiring. The order of the day: deflection, deflection, deflection. And if Harper truly believes in the vacuous notion that government should be operated as a business, perhaps he should take responsibility for those he has appointed – both those in the Senate and in his own office. Some CEO! Reminds me how the Conservatives always attack the Liberals and NDP on economic issues, while a quick look to the past reveals that if the Conservatives had had their way with respect to deregulating financial institutions, Canada would be in the same bind as many other struggling countries. No need to mention that I guess when you have a flashy media-friendly (if barely existent) ‘action plan’.
And while the Harper administration talks about reeling in spending they are not even credible on this front – their supposed forte. This very week a Toronto Star headline read ‘Harper’s Office Spends More As Rest of Government Holds The Line’. Wait, isn’t it the crazy, spendthrift, unionized public service that is wasteful and in desperate need of trimming? That’s what we’ve been told. Still, I guess there is no need for data when ‘common sense’ is on your side. The same Star piece goes on to speculate, “What the numbers suggest is that in Harper’s world restraint is virtue … to be practiced by others.” And what about the Globe & Mail headline from earlier this summer that noted ‘Federal Deficit Balloons Despite Harper Agenda’. A short, but interesting, read. You don’t even have to have a long memory, or be a political scientist, to realize the Harper administration is not serious on this topic. The ideology is not so much about saving taxpayer money, as it is to reallocate existing funds to specific Conservative-friendly sectors and programs. This is the contemporary (sans Progressive) Conservative reading of fiscal responsibility.
As incredulous-laugh inducing as he often is, the Rob Ford fiasco feels more like a tragedy than a joke. If the mayor of Toronto does indeed have problems there is no shame in admitting and acknowledging them. Still, it is his willingness to ignore the needs of the city over his own personal issues that is so astounding. Part of the mission of a politician is to bring people together with an aim of consensus building and compromise. Current issues aside Ford has been a remarkably divisive politician. As with all contemporary conservative politicians Ford is marketed and sold as ‘salt-of-the-earth’ and ‘one-of-us’ rather than as the elite he truly is. You need to do more than coach a sports team or drive your own vehicle to dispel what is at core a sense of privilege and superiority. If anyone needs more proof that the Conservatives have a class-based sense of entitlement they need go no further than recollect recent comments made by Wallin and Duffy in the Senate. Imagine, these poor souls might temporarily lose their salary … and benefits! Gasp! One feels we are not far from hearing one of our illustrious Senators say of the public ‘let them eat cake’
While I can’t help but feel somewhat gleeful this week as the Conservatives implode and start eating their own, I’m also constantly uneasy. What is the larger story here? As the conservatives in this country have made a case for occupying the moral high ground in recent years it is perhaps not surprising that some in the right wing base are shocked by the recent activities of Ford and Harper. But to me such personal failings, artificial populism, dodgy handling of issues and hypocrisies are not the problem – or maybe they are linked to something else. It is not a ‘few bad apples’ or some ‘poor choices’ but how the Conservatives present a hollow and bankrupt market-based ideology. Units replace people. What is sellable? The very ‘do as I say not as I do’ and ‘lets operate government as a business’ attitude demonstrates an ideology that is class-oriented, divorced from citizens and ultimately a void. Harper is friends with Ford, appointed Duffy and Wallin and claimed he was going to clean up the Senate for the same expedient reasons – to raise funds and score easy political points.