All the newspapers are in and the endorsement race is split exactly where you would expect it to be. Postmedia and the Globe have endorsed the Tories (with varying degrees of support) while TorStar and its affiliates have endorsed the Liberals. Here in my endorsement I want to start with why I cannot support Stephen Harper’s conservative party even though in one of the ridings I could vote in, I was considering voting for my local conservative candidate.
So it’s the Thursday before election day and 3.6 million people have already gone to advanced polls with what looks like another 11 to 14 million headed there on Monday (given a 60 to 75% turnout). With four more days of campaigning ahead, it is time for people to start making their predictions for the final results of this long campaign. I see a few possible results based on the past few weeks of polling, and though I’m not quite ready to make a firm prediction yet (that will come on Sunday morning), I do have an interesting proposition I want to throw out there.
For a long time, I was of the view that the electoral and political successes of Stephen Harper, Canada’s 22nd prime minister were purely Machiavellian and straight out of the world of House of Cards. I saw the way he manipulated the message of the 2008 Constitutional Crisis in a counterfactual direction and watched cabinet minister after cabinet minister doing devious things in a way that felt distinctly un-Canadian.
However, with age comes wisdom and as we ponder the question of who to elect as the next government of Canada, we should heartily consider that Stephen Harper is not an evil person. I know my liberal and socialist friends, that this seems antithetical to the anti-neo-liberal discourse we are so accustomed to operating in. However, it makes a lot more sense to view Stephen J Harper as a slightly devious person who wants to reshape Canada in one very specific way, than to view him as a totalitarian evil. What is the one thing Stephen Harper wants to change about Canada you may ask? Well, over the past few months I think we can see a pattern emerging from some of his decisions that speaks to a fundamental decentralizing of federal power.
“But Mynt!” You must be thinking, “Stephen Harper has overseen the largest centralization of power into the Prime Minister’s Office in Canadian History.” Yes, that is true. However, that consolidation of power into his own office is only political powers, not necessarily policy powers. To get started, let me give my first piece of evidence – First Minister’s Meetings/Councils of the Federation.
Stephen Harper has only called two of these meetings, both of which were discussing the economy in the heat of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Since then, the Premiers have met every year and Harper has attended none of those meetings. For a power hungry dictator this seems like an odd decision. He has no way of exerting his power over the provincial governments if he doesn’t show up to the table. Well, it was at the last Council of the Federation that got me thinking about this. A lot of work has been done at these meetings encouraging inter-provincial cooperation on all sorts of issues, from resource sharing to partial pharmacare to pension plans and yet Stephen Harper does not attend.
The second clue came in some news from after the Council of the Federation. Apparently, despite not showing up, the Harper government decided that the mass buying of drugs that the provinces have been engaging with to lower the price for consumers suddenly became a good idea and the feds wanted to buy in.
To say clearly what I’m suggesting here: Stephen Harper is less interested in enforcing specific policies of his own and more interested in weakening the total power of the federal government.
It’s the reason he doesn’t engage in any of the capital-L leadership we generally expect of our head of government. He doesn’t engage in what he sees as provincial or local issues unless he absolutely has to, and he is trying to shape all parts of the Canadian government to only deal in federal issues with as little interference in local populism as possible. This is the reason that safe injection sites are popping up in different places across the country without federal approval, oversight, or much punishment. This is why there is a cannabis industry working quasi-legally on the west coast. This is why, in spite of minister’s comments for show, Harper has done nothing to slow Ontario’s spending on refugee health care or its pension plan. This is why the lion’s share of the Harper government’s stimulus is given to businesses and individuals rather than infrastructure spending with lower governmental bodies. This is why Harper has spent most of his time in office appointing judges to lower courts that are less willing to strike down laws unequivocally.
Other than his policies aimed at getting re-elected, I would submit that Stephen Harper’s policy doctrine is informed by his background as an economist and political strategist from the Calgary School/Reform Party tradition that feels that the changes to Canada in the Charter era were too widespread and, to a certain extent, undemocratic. I would submit that the reason he hasn’t reopened debate on abortion or same sex marriage or wanted to publically discuss issues like prostitution and physician assisted suicide is because Harper, at heart, is more libertarian than he lets on. He wants the federal government to get out of people’s business and the courts to get out of the business of interrupting government.
This, to me, makes significantly more sense than the Harper as evil dictator narrative I’m too used to hearing among my friends. That is not to say I agree with this vision that I think Harper has for Canada. I want a Primer Minister to offer national leadership on issues and I want a strong federal government. However, this narrative offers me insight into the vision of Stephen Harper as a person rather than as a devil. And I’d rather engage with the conservatives I know on a human level rather than think they are evil sheep puppets being controlled by their evil puppet master.
So what do you think? Could this possibly be the real Stephen Harper?
Many a Golden Hawk these days is pissed off at the administration of our university. To be fair I understand why. I have been among those to rail against, what I see as, massive financial mismanagement of WLU since the double cohort and an attitude towards the students of this university that goes from dismissive at best to outright offensive at worst. I don’t hold my words when they come to me and I’ll target anything that I think deserves the criticism.
A number of my peers have been particularly incensed at the recent announcement of the construction of 22 bronze statues commemorating the Prime Ministers of Canada that will be placed around Wilfrid Laurier University over the next 2 years. While I think there is some criticism needed of this process (the lack of public consultation) and the statues themselves, I’m not going to sign the petition calling for the halting of the project, and will go further to say that I want Laurier to have not only these statues, but more of other prominent Canadians.
1) The Cost and the Aesthetic
This is a bit of an inconsequential point but it’s important in how it contextualizes my feelings towards this. Laurier, while I love it, is a bit of a pedestrian university. The architecture crosses numerous styles that oftentimes clash, the campus feels cramped and unremarkable, and the school feels like a bunch of buildings tied together for no reason and without adequate parking. The fact that a relatively consistent number of students come here is actually astounding given how unremarkable the campus so often feels. These statues, for a significantly lower cost than they would have cost Victoria Park in Kitchener, are going to bring a degree of prestige to this 100 year old university. There’s something about statues that I just find aesthetically pleasing, and given the Macdonald statue currently sitting in the quad, I have high hopes that the rest of them will make Laurier stand out a little more, which certainly merits the menial cost of the statues. As much as I have problems with the administration, this university is important to me and I’d like to have more people come here, and these statues would have attracted me when I was applying.
2) A Conversation About History
I want to hold Dr. Blouw to his word that “We will also contemplate extension of the prime ministers project by augmenting it with additional national figures including aboriginal leaders, prominent women, and other historically significant people.”
I am regularly embarrassed by the discourse around Canadian history and heritage that exists among my cohort. Even with the release of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, Canadians are still massively unaware of the history and present of Indian policy in Canada. Not only are they not aware of the policies themselves, they are unaware of the role that our Prime Ministers played in those policies. I have to laugh a little at the assertion from Mike Carroll of the sociology department when he says these statues have no place at WLU. Wilfrid Laurier himself was Prime Minister for at least 3 major revisions to the Indian Act which included measures that allowed aboriginal people to be removed from their lands forcefully and the expropriation of parts or the entirety of reserves if it was deemed “expedient”.
Not only do these statues have a place at WLU, they seem to be ideally suited to WLU. We are not only named for a man who played a large part in the expansion of Indian policy in Canada, this commemoration of our 7th Prime Minister was meaningless because he has no connection to this area of Ontario or this school. These statues can be a good thing as long as in front of them we mark out, very specifically, both the achievements of these people and the negative and destructive actions of their administrations.
I think that this project will not only make Laurier a better university, but will make this university a better place for the production of informed Canadians for the future as long as we commit to making these statues a space to talk about Canadian history and not blindly and insultingly commemorating is.
3) Ideals Not Within Their Grasp
John A. Macdonald is a fascinating figure in Canadian history for a similar reason that Thomas Jefferson is in American History. Both men had high ideals about humanity and government and believed in things that their actions are not consistent with. Jefferson, the writer of that phrase, “We find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, held slaves. Macdonald on the other hand, believed that language and culture did not need to be a barrier to self-determination for Canadians. While not as pithy as Jefferson’s phrase, Macdonald’s quote on language was this:
“I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or to render it inferior to the other. I believe it would be impossible if it were tried, and that it would be foolish and wicked if it were possible”
In that age, suggesting that you could have a multicultural democracy was quite an impressive suggestion. And given his treatment of aboriginal people, his comments about the wickedness of linguistic oppression and assimilation seem as hypocritical as Jefferson’s words in the declaration of independence.
Another analogous figure in American history to John A. is Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did not believe in slavery, but coming into his administration he was willing to put forward an amendment to the US constitution that would have effectively entrenched slavery if it would have stopped the seceding states and the civil war. But more importantly, he, like Macdonald, promoted the construction of a trans-continental railroad which killed thousands of Chinese and Irish immigrants and displaced many more indigenous peoples.
The history of the leaders of Canada and the United States can be summed up as this, men with ideals beyond their grasps. Canadian leaders in particular can be said to have a distinct support for human rights while rarely understanding the consequences of those ideals.
Does anyone think that Pierre Trudeau understood the legislative impact that section 35 of the Constitution Act would have? Did the nine premiers that signed the constitution in 1982 imagine the impact that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would have on this country? Did John A. Macdonald understand the impact that his support for a bilingual country would have on the future of this land?
The answer to all those questions I think would be no. And I don’t think that people today have an idea what the impacts, positive and negative of their lives and ideals will have on the Canada of the future. Because we are all people whose ideals are out of reach and often out of sight.
I don’t believe that the commemoration of all leaders is warranted. But there is something special about Canada’s Prime Ministers because of the ideals that they stood for, even when their actions undercut those ideals as significantly as they did. None of Canada’s Prime Ministers are equivalent to Nathan Bedford Forrest or Alexander Stevens or George Wallace. They are our Thomas Jefferson, our Abraham Lincoln, our Lyndon Johnson. They built this chronically complicated and fundamentally flawed country on the idea that different cultures could exist in a nation, together, without squeezing each other out, without assimilation. And even when their policies passively or actively stopped this from applying to many of the groups that have been and are oppressed in in this country, the cultural idea of a unified nation built of many culturally distinct groups is the one thing that I can actually identify as a Canadian culture.
We need to recognize that. We need to recognize the ideals and the flaws. We need to remember the atrocities and the great leaps forward. And all of this, in spite of other salient details that people hold up in the discussion of these statues, is why I want them there. Why I want them and more. I want physical reminders of their ideals and how they broke with them. I want physical reminders of the people that resisted them. I want Canadian history in a way that reminds us of what this country might one day be, even if we aren’t there yet.
I want to remember the words of Jack Layton,
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
While also remembering that those words were paraphrased from Wilfrid Laurier,
“Let me tell you that for the solution of these problems you have a safe guide, an unfailing light if you remember that<b> faith is better than doubt and love is better than hate.</b> Banish hate and doubt from your life. Let your souls be ever open to the promptings of faith and the gentle influence of brotherly love. Be adamant against the haughty, be gentle and kind to the weak. Let your aim and purpose, in good report or ill, in victory or defeat, be so to live, so to strive, so to serve as to do your part to raise even higher the standard of life and living…”
And recognize that this heritage of ideas is what makes Canada, Canada.