a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Harper after 5 years in power

What’s interesting about all the coverage of the fifth anniversary of Conservative rule is how little attention has been focused on the party.

Instead the stories have been about Stephen Harper, the man who became Prime Minister after leading the merger of the old Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.

Mention of the party Harper happens to lead is only incidental.

When you compare what the Conservatives under Harper in five years of minority government have achieved in tangible accomplishments with the minority under Liberal Lester Pearson of 1963-1968, resemblance is very slight.

Pearson’s government gave the country a new flag, a national health care system, the Canada Pension Plan, the foundation of a bilingual civil service, social insurance numbers and so on.

Harper’s government has given us the Federal Accountability Act, which tightened up legislation governing lobbyists (with loopholes) but also rolled back provisions of the Access to Information Act. His government also cut the GST by two percentage points and introduced a ton of law and order legislation despite Canada’s declining crime rate.

Harper’s government also introduced fixed election terms in 2007 – a law it disregarded a little over a year later.

And yes he made the dubious decision of eliminating the mandatory long form census while failing – at least so far – to get rid of the long gun registry.

The Harper government’s legislative record looks pretty slim compared to most governments.

But that is not why we are so fixated with our Leader.

There is no question; politics in Canada has changed under Harper. Historians will probably look at Canadian politics in terms of before and after Stephen Harper.

The authority of Parliament, which the textbooks tell us is supreme to the executive, has been diminished under Harper. Parliamentary committees have been openly undermined under Harper. Public servants who dare to be watchdogs instead of lapdogs are very publicly disposed of by Harper’s government.

Yet Canadian media seem to devote most of their scrutiny to the weaknesses of the Leader of the Opposition as opposed to the tactics of the man who leads our government.

Time was when Canadian Conservatives fancied themselves as rugged individualists who weren’t afraid to speak their minds. Now dissent, at least publicly, is unheard of in the Conservative caucus.

Recently, Toronto Star writer Linda Diebel wrote about the climate of fear that is consuming Ottawa under Harper. That story was no exaggeration.

When Harper campaigned in the 2006 election, he promised a new era of accountability and transparency. That message clearly resonated with most voters.

Once elected Harper began rolling back the very things he promised to increase. Secrecy became the new normal. Yet the public for the most part has accepted that.

There must be something in human nature that submits to a forceful, alpha-dog of a leader much like Quebec allowed Maurice Duplessis to be ``Le Chef’’ for so long.

Harper may not be able to win a majority in the next election. But he will be able to rule like he had one as long as he continues to have a strong hold on the national psyche.

As we know from history, once Duplessis was gone, the party he founded, the Union Nationale, began a long spiral to oblivion. Will the same thing happen once Harper is gone?

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