Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canada's New Government Turns Five

Five years ago, we all watched Stephen Harper become Prime Minister - an idea which seemed uterly ridiculous a mere 6 months earlier.

Here's what I wrote about that election last year in my moment of the decade series:

For about two weeks, everyone who liked politics started talking in staccato: “There’s no mayonnaise. On my sandwich. No mayonnaise. In Canada. I’m not making this up. I’m not allowed to make this up.” I went to a model parliament the weekend after the election and there were 12 "soldiers in our streets" jokes during the first 5 minutes of our mock question period.

But, for all the flack surrounding "soldiers in our streets", I think the commercials that really made a difference were “Change” and “Entitlements”, shown below:

The first (which I can’t find a video for anywhere) was released at a time when things seemed to be going well for the Liberals. They were up by 5 or 6 points in most polls (and a dozen points in most Ekos polls). Yes, there had been the beer and popcorn gaffe. But Harper had released his entire platform and it hadn’t exactly lit the world on fire.

But the signs were all there. Sure, people said they’d vote Liberal, but Stephen Harper had caught up to Paul Martin on the best PM question, and voters paying attention to politics were flocking to the Tories. People were ready for change after 13 years, and the ad played on those feelings.

The second ad was released the first day after the Christmas holidays, right after the Income Trust investigation had been announced. It played on the corruption theme perfectly and, having already announced a relatively unscary platform, Harper was now free to go neg.

From there, the Liberal campaign went into free fall. No matter how perfectly clear Paul Martin made himself, the media decided Liberal policy wasn’t quite as exciting as the Liberal mole and sagging poll numbers. John Duffy and Mike Duffy went at it on air before the debate. (Imagine that! A Liberal strategist daring to question the journalistic integrity of Mike Duffy.) Later that night, Paul Martin launched his often-ridiculed notwithstanding clause hail mary. Not that it really mattered, since everyone was busy talking about the aforementioned soldiers ad.

So it looked for a while like Harper might get that majority, but the man has always been kind of like BJ Ryan when it comes to closing the game. So he complained about the liberal civil service, judiciary, and senate. This was back when the “Stephen Harper Bogah Bogah!” tactic still had some resonance, so he was denied the landslide many had expected.

Despite those late stumbles, it was still a beautifully run campaign by Harper, and the election I would use as a case study if I were ever teaching a first year Poli Sci class.

Sure, there were gaffes and the income trust wild card, but I don’t think those made a difference. Rather, the Tories understood the mood of the electorate and played on it. They controlled the agenda from day 1 – getting ugly issues out of the way early, then rolling out daily policy announcements early each morning to control the day's media cycle. This served as an early inoculation against the hidden agenda attack, allowing them to go for the jugular on the corruption issue after Christmas. They had popular policies and could tell voters how those policies would impact their lives.

They were well prepared but willing to adjust and call the occasional audible – when Martin challenged Duceppe to a national unity debate then backed down, Harper volunteered to fill in. When Harper moved from challenger to front runner for the second round of debates, he changed his tone accordingly.

It may not have been the most exciting, the most shocking, or the most important election in our nation’s history (I’m sure Paul Martin would disagree). But it was far more memorable than the 2000, 2004, or 2008 campaigns, which failed to crack the top 10 of this list. And it’s not hard to argue that the change from Liberal to Conservative government was the defining political moment of the decade.


  • He has succeeded in dividing us more than any other PM.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 p.m.  

  • "He has succeeded in dividing us more than any other PM."

    No, Trudeau gets that honour. Do you think we'll EVER forget the NEP, the one-finger salute, or wage and price control?


    By Anonymous Larry, at 5:54 p.m.  

  • well Larry those of us that aren't that old don't remember that stuff. And I'm no teenager myself.

    By Blogger Gene Rayburn, at 6:10 p.m.  

  • Ah, but many of us do. And us old geezers have long memories.

    By Anonymous Larry, at 7:23 p.m.  

  • Gene: oh, you don't remember it? Well then by all means, Harper MUST be more divisive.


    (In case you can't tell, and judging by your last reply I wouldn't put it past you, I'm being sarcastic.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:32 p.m.  

  • Harper is without doubt the most divisive PM I've ever seen in my lifetime.

    And now this talk of the death penalty, shudder to think what would happen with a majority.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:48 p.m.  

  • I still think that you have to look at the intervention by the RCMP to announce an investigation, and all that followed as the turning point.

    This begs the question as to how it's possible that the RCMP inserted itself into an investigation.

    I'm shocked that no one has mentioned it the media, save James Travers a few times.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:22 a.m.  

  • Honestly, I think Trudeau was more divisive. That's not neccesarily a bad thing - a lot of the hard core separatists hate him, because he kept Canada together.

    Harper? He's driven straight for the centre since taking power and has been relatively innofensive.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:18 a.m.  

  • With all due respect to Anonymous' opinion, Larry is absolutely right.

    Trudeau was by far the most divisive PM of recent history. Dude caused permanent rifts with the West (NEP, Wheat, etc) and Quebec (Repatriation).

    If you know a bit of history, you'll know how divisive Mackenzie King was, especially on the matter of conscription. And the country was very divided until Laurier came along.

    I don't think Harper is divisive. I think the left-vs-right culture war of the US has spilled over into Canada, but that's not his fault.

    If Harper was divisive, think about what he would have tried to do:
    - Restrict abortion
    - Ban gay marriage
    - Slash (or even freeze) spending
    - Scrap the Senate and/or CBC
    - Send forces to Iraq
    - Stop equalization payments
    - Accelerate CO2 emissions
    - Scrap multiculturalism and/or bilingualism
    - Restrict immigration
    - Allow private delivery of health care
    - etc.

    Harper is many things. But the most divisive prime minister in Canadian history? Dude can't hold a candle to Trudeau. (Who can?)

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:32 a.m.  

  • No one can call the Liberals divisive. Their strength in francophone Quebec and western Canada are proof of how national and inclusive their vision of Canada is.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 12:46 p.m.  

  • No matter how perfectly clear Paul Martin made himself

    Very, very.

    Very, very, very.


    Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:35 p.m.  

  • I remember the NEP (and the fact that Lougheed and the feds actually reached an agreement on it, and that a world wide recession did more harm than the NEP did) and the other things we disliked Trudeau for; but he also brought in the Charter of Rights, which Harper will destroy if he can in incremental bits.

    As a woman, I say Harper does women harm and is the worst PM we have ever had. He is widening the divides between women and men, making women less equal; and widening the divide between rich and poor; and widening the divide between democracy and corporatist rule. And those divides are more important than provincial rivalries.

    And he is as offensive as hell.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 2:23 p.m.  

  • Holly, I find your opinion very interesting. From a woman's perspective, what could Harper have done or said differently to have avoided what you've seen happen to the divide between men and women?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 3:22 p.m.  

  • Budget differently:

    Commit to bringing more women into government:

    Recognise that maternal health includes reproductive rights:

    Restore the Court Challenges program and research funding on women's issues:

    Etc., etc., etc. He's not alone among male politicians who ignore the interests of half the population; but as a rightwinger he's more misogynistic than some.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 6:49 p.m.  

  • Thanks Holly, appreciate the answer.

    I hope I'm not saying this in an offensive way, but I'm actually thankful that we live in a time where someone with Harper's views is considered a misogynist.

    Do you think women's issues and right-wing policies are incompatible in general? Or just Harper's?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 8:31 p.m.  

  • Basically I would consider most social conservatives to be misogynists who think women are inferior to themselves. As for fiscal conservatives, they are still members of the old boys club, and while perhaps less likely to think women ought to be be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, they may not necessarily realise how much women contribute to society.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 9:57 p.m.  

  • Just one comment Robert, you mention Harper being divisive as including accelerate CO2 emissions.

    I would submit that he has indeed done that...

    By not doing anything they would necessarily increase or "accelerate", particularly as tar sands production increases.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:01 a.m.  

  • Harper's a guy from another generation and time is all - "misogynist" is laughable as labels go. Progressive attitude towards women? Absolutely not. Old-fashioned and a bit clueless? Sure. But like Robert, I'm glad we live in a time (and place) where Stephen Harper is people's idea of "misogynist".

    As a queer person, I don't particularly find him homophobic, either. From another generation?, definitely! But people who look at him as the epitome of homophobia (or misogyny) just haven't traveled enough around the world, or picked up a real newspaper lately...

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 10:23 a.m.  

  • A government that claims it wants to improve maternal health in the third world but will not include birth control or access to safe abortions is misogynistic. A government that cuts all funding to women's groups which advocate is misogynistic.

    Harper is not just old fashioned and clueless in a fuzzy blue sweater, he is a spiteful creep who wants to do women down. Remember when the Harper government took the word "equality" out of the mandate of Status of Women Canada? No, of course you don't, but women noticed this.

    So don't tell me Harper is just oldfashioned. He's a goddam bigot.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 12:10 p.m.  

  • Holly I'm pleased your life has been so sheltered from serious and true anti-female hatred, as not all of our sisters are quite so lucky.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 12:29 p.m.  

  • BTW... You do realize, of course, that while I agree with you on, say, reproductive health issues, there are many women who don't agree with you and I on the issue?

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 12:30 p.m.  

  • I really hope I'm not saying this in an insulting fashion, but it appears that you feel the same way towards conservatives as misogynists feel towards women, Holly.

    That is, you have made certain pre-judgments about them all based on a few that you have met. At the very least you can therefore relate to misogynists. Given that you have something in common, it's probably easier for you to understand Harper than the rest of us.

    I hope that helps.

    P.S. To halfkiwi: How can "doing nothing about CO2" be divisive if that's exactly what the previous government did, and would probably still do in their place?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 1:03 p.m.  

  • Robert Vollman, you are being insulting, and you have not actually dealt with the issues I raised.

    Jacques Beau Verte said...
    "BTW... You do realize, of course, that while I agree with you on, say, reproductive health issues, there are many women who don't agree with you and I on the issue?"

    There are many more who are far more realistic about women's need for reproductive choice in order to keep themselves and their children healthy. The unrealistic anti-choice believers who don't care about women who die from unsafe abortions or from too many pregnancies are a minority.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 1:11 p.m.  

  • Hi Holly,

    I was worried I had crossed a line, but I thought the point was worth making.

    For what it's worth, I don't consider your remarks insulting. I asked you a question, and you answered honestly.

    Living in Alberta I've been fortunate enough to meet a lot of social conservatives, and come to understand where some of my judgments were wrong and a little unfair (and which ones were right! :)

    And my apologies for not dealing with your points. I wasn't looking for a debate, I was looking to learn. Maybe someone else will offer you some counter-arguments.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 7:17 p.m.  

  • You wrote: "it appears that you feel the same way towards conservatives as misogynists feel towards women."

    Now leaving aside the insultingness, the fact is that that remark is quite stupid. You are trying to make a parallel between conservatives and women? That makes no sense. You are trying to suggest that a misogynist who feels that women are inferior and should be forced to obey men's rules is like me because I don't like the political philosophy held by certain people, especially the ones who use it to impose their bigotted religious views on other people?

    Misogynists oppress women if they can get away with it. Women hate misogynists because we hate being oppressed. There is a difference - think about it.

    You have a lot to learn. To start with, don't make mealy-mouthed remarks about not wanting to seem insulting and then go on to insult people. Either don't insult them at all, or else make it a straightforward insult.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 7:43 p.m.  

  • You are trying to make a parallel between conservatives and women?

    No, I didn't mean to do that.

    I meant to draw a parallel between your thoughts below on one group, and the type of conclusions misogynists reach about another.

    Basically I would consider most social conservatives to be misogynists who think women are inferior to themselves. As for fiscal conservatives, they are still members of the old boys club, they may not necessarily realise how much women contribute to society.

    Let me put it this way. A true misogynist would dismiss women's opinions, wouldn't want a woman in charge, and generally thinks very little of women's character and intellect. Would you agree?

    Well, perhaps I'm reading too much into your quote, but it sounds like you feel the same way about conservatives.

    In any event, I really didn't set out to change your mind about anything, and in retrospect you're right - I probably should have kept my mouth shut.

    Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I feel I'm walking away with a dozen tangible things that could have been done differently as it relates to women's issues.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 9:15 p.m.  

  • Holly, you're a moron. I'm not as polite as Robert.

    I'm as tired of Stephen Harper as a person can be -- I'm exasperated and ready for a new and better PM without nasty partisan BS in his veins

    "Scary Stephen Harper" didn't work

    "hidden agenda" didn't work

    Cry and whine all you like but demonizing (or pathetically trying to) him never worked out very well - it's a fool's game, and that makes you a fool.

    And yes Robert, her attitude towards conservatives is exactly the same one as misogynists towards women. I too wish conservatives like Stephen Harper would catch up to the 21st century (or even the late 20th, or in same cases, the 1890s), but buffoonish overreacting on anyone's part isn't going to make it happen

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 11:21 a.m.  

  • Jacques, you're a moron. You wank on about how Harper isn't really a misogynist, but just oldfashioned and clueless.n You know SFA about it. Your own misogyny is showing, jerk.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 4:01 p.m.  

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