assembling the 51st state

What hidden agenda? According to US ambassador David Wilkins, “personal chemistry” between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and American…

What hidden agenda?

According to US ambassador David Wilkins, “personal chemistry” between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and American President George Bush was a key factor in clinching last week’s deal on softwood lumber.

A lot of Canadians are beginning to wonder if the chemistry involves a transfer of genetic material, with Harper at the downstream end.

After the recent federal election it was widely predicted that while he had a minority Harper would lie low, play the moderate, and try to appeal to the majority of Canadian voters, who hover around the muddy middle of the political spectrum.

Then, when the polls were favourable, he would either call an election or force a vote he must lose.

Returning with a majority, the prediction went, he could pursue his secret agenda of American style politics.

To almost everyone’s surprise, Harper has done nothing to hide his agenda. In truth it was his accuser-in-chief, former Prime minister Paul Martin, who tried to play both sides of the fence with the US, pursuing a policy of military and economic integration while offering up protestations of independence and defence of sovereignty for public consumption.

Since replacing Martin, Harper hasn’t even bothered to disguise his love for George Bush and conservative America.

Harper seems openly to emulate Bush at every opportunity. His first act in office was an official visit to the troops in Afghanistan, and though there’s nothing unusual about a head of state visiting the forces, Harper seemed to go out of his way to speak in Bushisms throughout the trip.

Canada, we learned, will “stay the course” and we will “support the troops” and not “cut and run.”

When you consider how easy it would have been to find a couple of made-in-Canada clichés to make the same point, it’s hard to accuse this man of hiding his agenda.

Since coming to office Harper has done all in his power to tame the unruly Parliament Hill press gallery, to make them more like the White House press corps, who mind their manners at carefully controlled press conferences and never chase the president with annoying questions.

Instead of answers, the press gets “briefings.”

Last week the Afghanistan war gave Harper at least two more opportunities to emulate the Leader of the Free World.

The White House banned photographers and TV crews from covering military funerals.

It was well known that pictures of flag-draped coffins tend to erode support for war, and it was obvious there were going to be a lot of coffins coming.

The simple solution was to prevent the pictures from getting on TV and onto the front pages.

When Harper chose last week to follow US policy and prevent the press from covering the funerals of four Canadian soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan, he gave precisely the same reason for the decision that Bush gave.

It’s a gesture of respect for the families.

The country gave a huge collective “oh yeah?” but Harper stuck to his guns, and the funerals were dignified by the sight of photographers on stepladders trying to shoot over the barrier.

When confronted with its obvious dissimulations the Bush administration has resorted to a kind of stonewalling technique allegedly perfected by presidential adviser Karl Rove.

It works as follows: when caught in a lie, half-truth, or misstatement, continue to repeat the untruth until it either becomes the accepted truth or the press get bored and try some other question.

To judge from the run of editorials, comments and letters-to-the-editor in Canadian newspapers, few Canadians are buying the government’s line on the flag-draped-coffin story.

It didn’t help that the decision was part of a package: no more flags at half-mast, no more coffins met by the prime minister at the airport. Taking the three together it was hard to escape the impression that the government wasn’t acting strictly out of respect for military families.

No matter. The thing is to stick to the script.

Look for the same kind of on-message performance as criticism grows around the so-called accountability act.

According to information commissioner John Reid, “No previous government, since the Access to Information Act came into force in 1983, has put forward a more retrograde and dangerous set of proposals,” than Harper’s.

In a move highly reminiscent of White House doublespeak, what is touted as accountability is actually secrecy.

The law allows 10 new exemptions to the Access to Information Act, making it much easier for governments and beaurocrats to withold public information.

The Harper government demonstrates by its actions that it plans to keep secrets, to control the flow of information, and in general to work toward manipulating Canadians rather than representing us, but in this one area they have shown no sign of secrecy: they love the American Way, and they intend to bring it north whenever possible.

You never know, the strategy might work for them. After all, Bush got re-elected. There’s one telltale sign that will let Canadians know if Harper has decided to employ the Bush strategy for re-election, without any room for doubt.

If they start to install electronic voting machines before the next election, the conversion will be complete.

You know what they say, if it works in Ohio, it’ll work anywhere.