According to the polling firm Ekos, the Harper Conservatives enjoyed a brief “Olympics bounce” of 10 per cent over the Liberals in the wake of the gold medal hockey game. The number dropped to three per cent a couple of days later when presumably the country woke up to the fact that despite the photo ops, Harper didn’t actually score that winning goal against the Yanks.
So my question for you, Canada, is, are you over it yet? Because we have some serious business to attend to, and they’re not going to be handing out any bronze or silver medals. In this sport, you get it right or you get it wrong, and there is no second place.
I’m not speaking of politics here, in which there are always shades of winning and losing, but of the life-and-death business of government, in which a wrong move can lead not simply to disappointment at the podium, but to child poverty, unemployment, crowded prisons, endless war, war crimes, and a host of other evils.
So, if we could set aside for the moment the question of who owns that podium, it might be time to take a look at the business of Parliament, and the reason why we are having a throne speech and new budget this week. If you think way back to the days before the Games, you may recall that Harper prorogued Parliament because he had run out of ways to dodge questions about the torture of prisoners and the apparent involvement of cabinet members in the coverup thereof.
Just before Harper cut and ran, the House of Commons had found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to hand over subpoenaed documents regarding said torture and coverup. Now, Harper’s government faces a private members bill that could potentially see cabinet ministers under arrest, or the Commons’ sergeant-at-arms marching into government offices and seizing documents.
Should this occur, particularly should it occur while the Conservatives are still riding that “Olympic bounce,” expect to see an election quite soon. Harper has repeatedly employed the tactic of making his least popular bills “matters of confidence,” meaning they would lead to an election if the government lost. A three-point lead isn’t much to take to the polls, but it’s better than facing trial for war crimes, or being hauled out of the House for contempt.
Opposition parties have good reason to be concerned about the polls right now, too. We have a government that ran on fiscal responsibility and then ran up deficits that will be around for decades. We have a cabinet full of old Reformers who have reneged on their promise to forgo their government pensions.
Elected on a promise of openness, the Conservatives have put a clamp on the flow of information. Trumpeting support for the armed forces, they have abused the soldiers’ trust by ignoring repeated warnings that government policies were implicating them in war crimes. By any standards, including the ones they themselves have set, they are clearly the worst government Canada has seen in decades.
So what’s wrong with the opposition that they can’t get any traction against such a useless government? There is, of course, always the excuse of the crowded left. It would help matters a lot if the Bloc Quebecois would close up shop, now that separatism is officially dead. It would help if the Green Brand would wake up and realize that their efforts are inimical to any real achievement on the environment. But we need more than that.
Canada needs leadership that it can trust, and sad to say, Michael Ignatieff doesn’t fit the bill. He’s an new politician without new ideas, and when he criticizes the government he comes across not as a workable alternative, but as a grouchy old academic. He performs so poorly in public that even the wooden Harper, with his phony smiles and his dismissive shrugs, looks more prime ministerial.
When the Olympic feel-good ball quits bouncing and we turn our attention to the position of Canada after four years of Harper’s rule, it’s not going to be a happy day. Now that the medals are all handed out it doesn’t much matter who owns the podium. What Canadians need to ask now is, who owns Parliament?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.