Op-Ed | Time To Say “Good-bye” to Harper (Sorry Bryan Hayes!)

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This could very well be the most important Canadian election in a generation, and potentially a historic one. What conclusions have you drawn? Are you still undecided? Is your support for a particular party or candidate starting to take shape? What questions still remain?

If there is one value Canadians share and are willing to defend, it is the concept of fairness. Can we afford to lose that value, and still call ourselves Canadian?

A CTV news story published on July 29th started the dominoes falling for me. In that story, they highlighted a Nanos poll which reported that 66% of Canadians ‘wanted change’. This didn’t seem terribly striking to me, because the Conservatives were polling in the 30% range at the time. So, it made obvious sense that since two-thirds of Canadians were leaning towards another voting option, the poll was simply reflecting the current voting attitude.

However, contained within the story, was a really shocking fact. In that same poll, Nanos also reported that on the question of ‘who would best manage the Canadian economy’, Stephen Harper experienced a deep decline in confidence, and Thomas Mulcair of the NDP was now tied with him! Take a moment, and really consider the implications of this! The Canadian public was now of the opinion that the NDP, who have never been in power on a federal level, and carry a stigma of scaring off big business, was now just as qualified and equipped to handle the economy as the Conservative Party!

This rocked me for days. Couldn’t get it out of my head. What was happening in Canada, that led the voting public to this shocking conclusion? What were they basing this on? It didn’t make sense to me on any level, and I could only conclude that this opinion was based on emotion, rather than fact. But still, what would have Canadians so disgruntled with Stephen Harper’s leadership, that they would declare the untested and relatively unknown NDP on equal footing with Conservative economics?

And so I went back through all my internet searches, all the headlines, looking for clues. This time, I took off my filter of fairness, and paid more attention to the negative rants directed at Stephen Harper’s government, in an effort to understand why such a large segment of the population was so lathered up, that they could make such a declaration. What I found, in that quest, has altered my perception of this election. I must now be considered as one of those Canadians ‘wanting change’.

Perhaps I still have a childlike view of Canada. Maybe I am naïve to the workings of the modern world. That may be a fair assertion, but even as I cruise into middle-age, my perceptions of Canada still persist. Canada, to me, is a beacon of freedom and fairness in the world. We respect the rights of others, we believe in openness, and value the institutions that keep us safe and informed. We don’t start wars, we make peace. We don’t muzzle our people, we don’t exclude others. We consider each other, and respectfully agree to disagree. It is in the light of this context, that the things I have discovered about Stephen Harper’s leadership are so unsettling to me.

All you need to do is look at the campaign trail, for proof of what I’m saying. The Conservative Party has made all campaign events ‘closed’. You need an invitation to attend, you need to be a card-carrying Conservative member, and you need to be vetted by the Party, before you can even get in the door. Reporters are tightly controlled, questions limited, and some have even been refused entry.

Does that sound like a Canadian election campaign to you? If the idea is to garner new support, how can Harper attract new voters, convince people to change their minds, if the only people admitted are already ‘on board’? How can the general public get the information from these events, if the media is kept on a tight leash? What message does this send to the rest of Canada – that he’s not really interested in getting new voters, he just wants to mobilize those he already has?

Despite all the efforts at control, spectacular glitches have occurred. The internet has gone wild with the footage of one Conservative supporter in Toronto, sporting a ‘Doug Ford’ button, completely losing his mind over questions posed on the Mike Duffy scandal. His reckless tirade and insult hurling has provided lots of fodder and entertainment for the titillated masses, but what came before that outburst, is far more damaging.

A grief-stricken elderly Conservative supporter, who ran the gauntlet of getting an invite, went through the vetting process, and was no doubt considered a ‘safe bet’ for the Party, made a heartfelt statement to a reporter. He was crestfallen and dismayed, convinced that Stephen Harper must have known about the Mike Duffy payment, and was questioning his loyalty to the Party. It was this moment that triggered the outburst from the Conservative supporter that everyone has now seen. Both him and the old fella that made the emotional disclosure, were whisked away by unnamed Party officials, in a failed effort at damage control.

Which leads us to the Mike Duffy scandal itself. Stephen Harper rose to power on the misfortunes of the Liberal Party during the sponsorship scandal. He made all kinds of platitudes about integrity, transparency, and openness in government, and put responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the Liberal Prime Minister. But in doing so, and some years down the road, Stephen Harper has painted himself into a corner that all the platitudes and wiggling in the world cannot resolve.

Here’s the paradox. Everyone in Canada is well aware that Harper controls his Party, and all government communication, with an iron fist. No one can argue that he doesn’t micro-manage every aspect of his government, and keeps himself intrinsically connected with all elements of leadership. He is renowned for it.

So, when it comes to the Mike Duffy scandal, two scenarios exist, and both result in failure for him. Either he knew what was happening with the Mike Duffy repayment and distanced himself from it in a deceptive fashion, or he was unaware of the repayment, and finds himself leading a clandestine organization in which he really has no control at all. Regardless of which outcome is true, his image is destroyed. This sad truth is not lost on Conservatives, as the contrast between the crestfallen supporter and the irate rambler who followed, clearly show.

Mike Duffy is not the only Conservative who has been dragged out on the carpet, and publicly scrutinized for corruption. There is a long and growing list of high-profile Conservatives who have run afoul of either the law, or the rules. Roughly one-third of the current Senate is being probed by the RCMP. And it is not just the media or political opponents to the Conservative government simply smearing the Conservative brand for their own purposes – the Canadian Court system has jailed several of these key figures in Harper’s government. Therefore, it is not just a ‘witch-hunt’, or character assassination at play here. It is simply a fact.

And so, Stephen Harper’s campaign is battered by strong headwinds, and all the efforts to contain the media have fallen by the wayside. Only three weeks into the campaign, Harper looks haggard and strained, and cannot escape relentless questions about the Duffy scandal. So, what does he do, to change focus, and regain the initiative for his campaign? He embarks upon a series of announcements and campaign promises related to terrorism and the military!

I don’t think I can conjure the right words to express my inner revulsion, when I realized that this was what he was doing, in an effort to change the conversation. Honestly, Mr. Prime Minister – sabre-rattling, that’s your answer to your election woes? You want to frighten Canadians into voting for you? Use the military as pawns in your election game, draw attention to Canada across the world, and put our people at greater risk for terror attacks, because you aren’t happy with where you sit in the polls? Can you actually be that simplistic and shallow?

Everyone realizes that ISIS is a waking nightmare. Everyone knows that something must be done to stop the horrific slaughter of innocents in the Middle-East. Everyone knows that Canada must play some role, in restoring freedom and peace to a troubled world. Canadians are not stupid, but we aren’t reckless, either. The very idea that our Prime Minister would throw militaristic banter around, to distract the public from other pressing issues, offends me deep at the core of everything it means to be Canadian. This was the final straw for me, and I will not vote for Stephen Harper, based on this one issue alone.

This is really unfortunate on a local level, because MP Bryan Hayes, who heads into this election campaign as a Conservative incumbent, has basically done a pretty good job. He has brought some developments and investments into the area, and was heavily involved in trying to salvage the train service north of the Sault. I feel he was unfairly attacked by rival NDP candidate Skip Morrison on the issue of the train service. Bryan Hayes did manage to secure an extension for train funding, and while there were some missteps on a government level, the real responsibility for our loss of train service lies with Railmark for failing to secure the funding resources needed, and with CN, for picking them in the first place, and showing no real interest in helping to keep the trains running when things went afoul.

Bryan Hayes isn’t mentioned as one of the Conservatives under scrutiny for questionable expenses or corruption. Bryan Hayes doesn’t shy away from media scrutiny, as is evidenced by his playful interview with Steffanie Petroni here on the Northernhoot. Bryan Hayes hasn’t been running around trying to scare people with rhetoric about terrorists, in an effort to change the conversation. Over all, Bryan Hayes appears to be a pretty straight-up kind of guy, doing what he can to represent his area, in a climate of economic uncertainty, and local stagnation.

So, I want to make it perfectly clear that when I say I can’t support Stephen Harper for Prime Minister, this is not in any way a reflection of how I feel about Mr. Hayes, or the contribution in public service he has made to this community. Perhaps, when all the smoke clears, Mr. Hayes can remain as one of those Conservatives still standing in Parliament, as a symbol that some integrity still exists, within Conservative ranks.

There are dozens of other reasons why I cannot bring myself to support the Conservatives in this election, but to list them all would turn into a novel, rather than an opinion editorial. Canada’s belligerent posture in the world when it comes to climate change, is one glaring example. It dovetails with Stephen Harper’s muzzling of Canadian scientists, and the suppression of their findings. Harper’s sabre-rattling about terrorism smacks particularly repugnant, given the fact that veteran’s organizations are ramping up efforts to throw him out of office for his poor treatment of our soldiers, once they return from the battlefield. Harper’s callous remarks back in 2008, that ‘ordinary Canadians don’t care about the arts’ still rattles in my brain. And I can never fully forget Harper’s adamant insistence that Canada should join the ‘coalition of the willing’ while leader of the Opposition. He later admitted that Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but I have trouble letting go of such a glaring error in judgment, even after all this time. Wanting to get our people killed over a packet of lies is not something I can wipe from my hard drive. Perhaps this is why Harper’s recent banter about terrorism irks me so.

And so I close the books on voting for the Conservatives in this election. That provides some relief, but does not solve my problem. Of the two major parties still in contention, which one is the best choice?

Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are making a strong case for progressive values, and blending it nicely with economic overtones, and this is resonating well with Canadians. They remain atop the polls, and have actually gained a little ground, likely from the slow erosion of the Conservative base over the Duffy scandal. I will have to keep watching this campaign, and see what other strategies Mulcair can come up with, before making a final decision. I will have my handy calculator ready, watching for signs that the NDP promises will over-step the public purse. If I see that happening in a serious way, I will have to reconsider lending them my support. I still have fond memories of crusty old Jean Chretien, and those golden years in which the public debt itself, looked certain to disappear. I recall it with fondness, and would eagerly vote for any party, that could deliver that same relief.

Which leads us to the Liberals, and Justin Trudeau’s campaign. Trudeau was the first leader in the campaign to visit the Sault, and he caused quite a stir. He received a rock star’s welcome, and had local candidate Terry Sheehan gushing like a school girl over his visit. Sheehan couldn’t contain his excitement, and must have uttered the word ‘amazing; about a dozen times before handing off the microphone to Trudeau, who made a very brief statement, before trucking back down the campaign trail. To be fair, I realize that this is Sheehan’s first run at federal politics, and I found his unfettered enthusiasm refreshing, rather than alarming.

But here I sit, still waiting for something concrete coming out of the Liberal camp that could win my vote. As mentioned before, I would jump at the chance to vote for a party that will rock the deficit, and restore the economic glory days of Jean Chretien. I know the Liberal machine is mighty, and there are plenty of seasoned pros in their ranks, who can deliver a government that can put Canada back on track.

I sincerely believe that Trudeau would energize young Canadians, and improve our standing on the world stage .There is a genuineness in his youthful passion, that coupled with the Liberal legacy, could make for a very exciting period in Canadian history. But guys, you aren’t going to get to Ottawa on good looks and fond memories alone. At some point, you are going to have to deliver the goods, and convince Canadians you have a real plan that will turn the economy around in a meaningful way. So, far, I don’t see the winning formula.

For me, the race to October 19th has become a two-way affair. But has it really? Is there anything Stephen Harper could do, to win back my vote? Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. If Stephen Harper was to have a watershed moment, if he got closer to election day and realized his days of power are drawing to a close, and if he had a heartfelt revelation, a sudden Gestalt, in which he realized that he represents all of Canada and not just those who support him, and had a sincere change of heart on how to lead this country effectively, I just might change my mind. It’s a long shot, one that would likely resemble the epic moment the Grinch grew a heart on the mountaintop and decided to bring back Christmas for all those down in Whoville, but I have to think it is still possible.

I suppose only time will tell.

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