This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper released his latest economic statement. Announcing an end to recession in Canada, Harper praised himself and his government for their success in slaying the economic crisis and putting Canada back to work. In a curious departure from custom, the prime minister released this paean of self-praise on the prime ministerial jet, en route to China.
On arriving in Beijing, the press corps filed their stories at 5 a.m. Eastern Time, permitting the Conservatives to deliver their own performance review to news outlets across Canada before opposition politicians were out of bed. No sense spoiling a straight-A report card with a lot of derisive comments in the margins.
Heaven knows, the government could use a little good news this week. Harper’s arm is all but in a cast from the twisting it took to convince him to go to Copenhagen, where he will spend his time dodging shoes over Canada’s climate-change recalcitrance. While there, he will be defending his government’s refusal to pursue real cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when 65 per cent of Canadians believe that climate change is “mankind’s defining crisis.”
Good economic news might also help to turn public attention away from the growing stench of coverup surrounding the transfer of Afghan detainees into torture. Whatever effect the denial parade of generals and senior civil servants last week had on public opinion will surely be reversed if the public continues to follow the story.
Each day the evidence grows that senior military, diplomatic and political authorities all knew, or should have known, of the likelihood that Afghan security forces beat, whipped, electrocuted, starved, and sodomized prisoners, and that those apprehended by Canadian soldiers were at particular risk because of our failure to keep records after the handover.
By now any Canadian with a television has seen the blacked-out pages of Richard Colvin’s e-mails the government claims are redacted for reasons of national security.
Even at that level of secrecy, some nasty little tidbits have slipped out. We now know that officials of the Red Cross held at least four meetings with senior Canadian officials in early 2006 to express their concern that Canada was sending prisoners into the notorious dungeons of the Afghan security police with no system for tracking them. Two of these meetings took place in Afghanistan, one in Ottawa, and another in Geneva.
Peter MacKay still clings to the tattered remains of his story, that he never received any credible report that would lead him to believe Canada was handing prisoners into the likelihood of torture. From the Conservative point of view, the less scrutiny this fable receives, the better. Sooner or later, Canadians will insist on knowing why the staff members who withheld evidence of possible war crimes aren’t under investigation, or at the very least out of a job.
As regards the economic good news, Harper’s self-administered report card was missing a couple of subjects on which an unbiased examiner might give him something less than an A-plus. There’s unemployment, for instance. In October, 43,000 fewer Canadians were working, despite the third quarter growth that officially spells the end of the recession.
Or how about the deficit, at one time Harper’s number 1 political priority? According to the Annual Financial Report for 2008-2009, government spending outstripped revenues by $5.8 billion even before the major bail-outs and incentive programs began.
Not to worry, whatever the final cost of Conservative tax-cuts and gifts to big business turns out to be, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has a plan to get the government’s finances back on track. With cuts to the civil service and to grants for NGOs, as well as hikes in employment insurance premiums, we should be able to conquer the deficit and still manage to subsidize tarsands development for decades to come.
A month ago, public opinion polls showed the Harper government well placed to win a majority. In the past couple of weeks that support has plummeted - a 10 per cent drop according to last week’s Harris Decima results.
Given the Liberals’ chronic wasting disease and the rise of the vote-splitting Greens, an election today might still return the Conservatives to a minority. On the other hand, it’s unlikely their faked report card will stand up under the harsh light of an election campaign.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.