What’s it all about Stephen?

The good news is Stephen Harper did not win a majority. The bad news is we may never know what scary things were lurking behind the carefully wrapped and controlled Conservative campaign, from Harper’s new, warm and fuzzy blue-sweater image, to the national-stage muzzling of just about everyone else in the one-man show masquerading as a political party.

On second thought, the bad news may also be that, with what he regards as a “strengthened” mandate, the newly- reelected Prime Minister Harper will feel entitled to act like he has the majority government he must have thought was well within reach when he called the election.

Make no mistake, it’s clear enough this is a man who wants to run the show; who doesn’t want to kowtow to anyone, let alone leaders and members of other parties who don’t share his views about how Canada should be run. A Harper-Conservative majority win in the election would have given such a man way too much power. We are fortunate that Canadian voters, at least the 58 per cent (lowest ever) who chose to vote, were savvy enough as a group to deny him a majority, and made sure the new Parliament they elected came with strong checks and balances on any dictatorial tendencies. I suspect, getting back to the scary things that may have lurked behind the Conservative scenes, that means the CBC will not be privatized. It could also mean Harper’s controversial plans to get tough on youth crime by having young girls and boys as young as 14 tried as adults for serious crimes and possibly sent to jail for life also won’t fly. Good thing too. That’s a foolish, blatantly populist idea designed to appeal to social conservatives who don’t know any better. In fact youth crime is not the serious, growing problem the Conservatives made it out to be before the election, in those infamous mail-outs at public expense.

The youth-crime plank in the Harper platform didn’t go down at all well in Quebec. Neither, in a province where culture is considered pretty important, did cuts to arts and culture funding, and the Prime Minister’s less than flattering remarks about “gala” arts gatherings. To be sure there are lots of multi- million-dollar real and imagined artists in the world of pop culture, but most artists trying to keep the fires of Canadian national culture alive struggle to make a living, just like most of the rest of us. A majority government was Harper’s to win or lose, but he blew it in Quebec, where many voters apparently figured there was something about the man and his party they just didn’t like after all. As well, Harper had to campaign in La Belle Province without his former Quebec Lieutenant, and rising star, Maxime Bernier. (Yet, for some reason known only to themselves the voters of Beauce re-elected the fired External Affairs Minister, who left confidential papers behind at his former girlfriend’s home, by a wide margin. Go figure.)

It’s too simple to say the issue — Conservative majority or minority — was decided in Quebec. The repackaging job wasn’t quite good enough, not for Canada’s two biggest cities. The right-wing agenda was still too evident to voters in Toronto and Montreal where Harper’s hopeful candidates were completely shut out, again. Otherwise, rural southern Ontario was a sea of Conservative blue, including the three ridings in this area.

And then there was Newfoundland- Labrador Premier Danny Williams’ ABC (Anybody But the Conservatives) campaign in that province. Keep in mind Williams is a Tory too, though still of the old Progressive Conservative variety. He and Harper had a falling out over a promise made and allegedly not kept about the province’s share of oil revenues.

Locally, in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, there probably wasn’t much chance Larry Miller wasn’t going to be reelected, despite the revelation late in the local campaign that he had interfered with a matter before the courts and thus broke a basic democratic principle. But he apologized, the judge in the case said Miller’s letter didn’t influence his decision one way or another, and the world kept turning.

For some reason I’m thinking of a line from a movie I saw years ago, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Or was it the song? Whatever. The point is Harper said he had to call the election because uncooperative opposition parties had made Parliament dysfunctional for his minority government.

Now he says he’s happy with the outcome –“strengthened” mandate and all that. Give me a break. Unless he thinks he got it, despite the numbers, we should all be asking, “What was it all about, Stephen?”

My elderly mother thinks the whole exercise has been a “waste of millions and millions of dollars.” And trust me, mother knows best.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2008.


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