the art of the bare faced lie

Steve Harper has some big travel plans for November. Canada’s interim prime minister is off to Hanoi this month to attend a meeting of…

Steve Harper has some big travel plans for November.

Canada’s interim prime minister is off to Hanoi this month to attend a meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) leaders, and later he’ll be in Riga, Latvia, for a NATO meeting.

However, the rigors of parliamentary democracy have forced Steve to cancel another event planned for this month — the Canada-EU summit that was supposed to take place in Finland on the 27th.

The European leaders are said to be incensed at Harper’s rudeness in calling off an important summit at the last minute.

The sudden cancellation was certain to be a slap in the face for the Finns and other European leaders no matter what, but it might have given less offence if Harper’s excuse wasn’t such a blatant lie.

In a phone call last Thursday, Steve informed Finnish Prime Minister Maati Vanhanen that, as the leader of a precarious minority government, he can’t afford to be out of the country when Parliament is sitting.

Vanhanen might be excused for doubting this, since the summit was scheduled for two days after Harper’s as-yet-uncancelled NATO appearance.

Europeans are probably not unaware of the parliamentary practice known as “doubling.”

Doubling means that when Steve goes to the NATO meeting he won’t need to worry that Parliament will fall for lack of his vote, because a member on the opposition side will have agreed to refrain from voting in the PM’s absence.

So far there’s been no indication that doubling will suddenly become defunct the day Steve boards the plane in Riga.

The real reason Harper scuttled the Canada-EU summit is that, had he showed up, he was bound to take some loud criticism for his total failure to act on the looming climate-change crisis.

Many European leaders realize that the Kyoto Accord was barely a beginning, and feel betrayed by Canada’s abdication from even those rudimentary protocols.

To go ahead with the summit would be to face the certainty of a public scolding, and Harper and his handlers see no percentage in it.

Harper’s failure to present even the semblance of a real explanation for snubbing the EU leaders is part of a disturbing modern trend toward the bald-faced lie.

To be sure, there is nothing new under the sun, and plenty of politicians have ridden out a storm of controversy by picking a good lie and sticking to it, but the trend toward blatant untruthfulness and denial of the patently obvious is out of control these days, most especially among Steve’s favourite role models, conservative Republican Americans.

Perhaps inspired by their old rival Bill Clinton’s unblushing assertion that he didn’t have sex “as such” with an intern and a cigar, the Bushies have made a great success out of simply sticking to their original story long after it’s been exposed as a lie.

So Dick Cheney, for instance, can tell a sympathetic audience there’s nothing wrong with near-drowning, and later deny, against all deniability, that he was acknowledging and endorsing the infamous CIA torture called waterboarding.

Donald Rumsfeld can claim, bare-faced, that “things are well in hand,” while Iraq’s gutters run with blood. They know that informed citizens will know they’re lying, but they count on the support of the uninformed.

With the support of the uninformed, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice continued to maintain that there was a known connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, long after this has been demonstrated false.

Puppy-dog right-wing media — most famously Fox News — help to present such lies as truth, and millions believe them.

Too bad for the other millions who see through the deceit, are insulted by the brazenness of the lies, and can’t do a thing about it.

Here in Canada we have Peter McKay’s denial that he employed a canine metaphor in reference to his former girlfriend on the floor of Parliament as a minor example of the look-em-in-the-eye-and-lie genre, a mere fuddle-duddle compared to Harper’s lie to the EU leaders.

But it’s characteristic of the trend; here was a case where the lie wasn’t even necessary — a simple apology would have sufficed — but the liar pushed ahead with it, because he could.

Harper needs to find some new role models, and some new friends.

For as long as his tenuous tenure lasts, he is the prime minister of Canada, and should behave as if he took the office seriously.

Instead of running for cover when the climate threatens to heat up for him in Europe, and then inventing silly excuses for not attending, he should have had the courage to face his detractors and the wisdom to listen to what they say. 

You never know, he might have learned something.