When the Conservative Party won a minority government in 2006, I was glad because that non-performing ass, Paul Martin, had lost office, but also unworried because I didn't think that the old Reform social agenda would ever come into law. As explained in a recent post, I thought that Harper would keep his promise about bringing gay marriage to a free vote in the Commons, that it would be reaffirmed there, and that the issue would then die away. This has come to pass, I think -- though God knows how many people are huddling in dark corners in Red Deer muttering about the evils of gay marriage, and plotting to bring capital punishment back.
But at the time, I did worry about anti-intellectualist tendencies in the Conservative government-to-be, and Harper's alarming lack of belief in the ideal of Canada. I'll return in a moment to that lack of belief. But first, a couple of other things.
Two years later, I want to acknowledge that the Government has done some good things. It corrected Chretien's dangerous neglect of the military. It courageously eliminated income trusts -- this tax dodge, though quite beneficial for individuals, had not only resulted in alarming corporate tax avoidance, but also in the smothering of global ambition in many large and successful Canadian companies, who were offered an incentive to de-globalize. The government has also played the Quebec question quite adroitly, though Quebecers have since wized up that if they don't keep sovereignty on the simmer, they will lose bargaining power in Ottawa.
OK. But there are also some disgraceful things. First, Harper cancelled the Kelowna accord -- the all province plus Federal government agreement that was Paul Martin's one substantial achievement as Prime Minister. Kelowna would have seriously addressed the native question that so blights and disfigures the Canadian nation today. Harper did apologize to the natives in the Commons for the abuses they have suffered over the years -- and that was remarkable. But he has not done anything to replace Kelowna. Sooner or later, Canada will suffer for not righting this historic and momentous wrong. We are rightly proud of Canadian social justice -- but we tolerate something not far short of apartheid within the state. Kelowna would have been a step toward dismantling the current system. Harper cancelled it. He simply reneged. He went back on a promise given not by the Liberal Party, but by the Government of Canada with the agreement of the provinces. (He did the same with Kyoto.)
Secondly, Harper has promised to treat fourteen year old criminals as adults in the criminal justice system. This is the most barbaric proposal I have encountered in my thirty plus years as a Canadian. Can you imagine bringing children to adult court? But this isn't all. To add insult to injury, the proposal is only for Canada outside Quebec. In Quebec, the age will be sixteen! Right, let's leave it there . . . I don't think I need to say more.
But what I find most disspiriting about this government is its utter rejection of any Canadian ideal. Judging from the constant loud denials in public media, we all know that Canada has a bit of an identity deficit. But contrary to what Canadians tend to believe, we are not alone in this. The Dutch, the Danes, the Belgians -- quick, what's their identity? Do you think that say Malaya has a national identity?
Now, I tend to think that the identity deficit is a bad thing. The Americans and Brits and even the poor besieged French and Germans have an inbuilt cultural crutch to rely on in moments of reduced cultural genius. Even in periods when the best of British literature is a bit enervated, as it is today, they still have their great literary past, and a confidence that someday the spark will return -- ditto German science and French style. (So: yes, there will be good British novels again, even if Ian McWho?en is as good as it gets today.) But we and the aforementioned northern Europeans are only as good as our performance on the day. When our geniuses die or become senile, our whole culture is diminished.
There is a way to build up our identity. It is to stand for something. Back in the sixties and seventies, when we and the rest of the Commonwealth were pulling ourselves out of the swamp of postcolonial insecurity, Canada did stand for something. The Canadian welfare state was built then, and is today much celebrated -- as was Canadian multiculturalism, Canadian foreign policy (think of opposition to apartheid by the Conservative Prime Ministers Diefenbaker and Mulroney; think of Canada in Suez and in the UN), and (yikes!) even Canadian architecture and design. This is the Scandinavian way too, and it is so even today: if you don't have an identity, at least have some values. Then you can wear your maple leaf with pride -- as Canadian hippies did in the seventies.
Harper is viscerally against this whole line of thinking. He hates state-sponsored values (even when they are not state-manufactured). He's even against state-identified values. He is all for strengthening the military (and so am I), but he is not for strengthening External Affairs and Canadian diplomats. He doesn't like state-funded culture, and he doesn't think that anybody else did -- except for the people who directly benefit from Canada Council grants. He was probably taken by surprise when his arts-funding cuts lost him significant popularity in Quebec. (Interestingly, this might deny him his majority. Just imagine: cut grants to effete opera-huggers, and you lose a government. There's Canadian identity for you: just when you discount it, it jumps up and bites your leg.) Economically, he is generally in favour of individuals doing better -- but he does not like the idea that Canadian collective entities should be strong global entities, whether they be corporations, or cultural organizations, or NGOs.
We have all been diminished by this neglect of the collectivity. I cannot support the person who is responsible. C'mon Harper: let's have a little 'country first'.