Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

The Sky Still Hasn’t Fallen

By Jason Menard

Recently at a hospital clinic the specialist greeted my wife and I with a simple, but telling, comment. He said, “Well, one week into a new government and the sky still hasn’t fallen.”

If that doesn’t sum it all up, I don’t know what would. We’re in a national wait and see position. The left-leaning among us are watching and waiting for that other shoe to drop – some would say in a goose-stepping fashion – and the expected Conservative deluge to come forth.

Most importantly, all of us on both sides of the electorate, are waiting to see what Stephen Harper’s going to do. He’s waved the saber at the Americans over the Arctic waters – partly because it’s the right thing to do, and partly to distance himself from the U.S.-based conservatives who threaten to stain Harper’s Conservatives with a little Bushian Republicanism. The Prime Minister-designate has also committed to continuing Canada’s role in supporting international initiatives, such as overseeing the elections in Haiti.

Most of us don’t know what he’s going to do first — and we’re waiting with bated breath.

As the medical specialist said, the sky isn’t falling. But most of us aren’t ready to tear down the scaffolding just yet, because we’re worried about the shaky foundations that our country’s future is built on.

Really, you have to feel bad for Harper. He can’t even field a congratulatory phone call from George Bush without some looking at it as validation of the U.S. right-wing’s glee over a new, conservative-minded regime running things north of the 49 th. If Bush called Martin after a victory, no one would have blinked an eye, but the allure of a Bush/Harper marriage is too much to resist.

So where does Harper go? Knowing that this minority probably won’t fare much better than its predecessors, he has two options before him. He can go conservative, which ironically means that he’ll have to be a softer, more-Liberal, Stephen. Or he can go all out and push the limits and resilience of his opposition. And somewhere, in the back of his mind, that option has to look appealing.

Knowing that the Liberals are in full-scale rebuilding mode and with several of their supposed leadership candidates eschewing the allures of the top post, Harper knows that the Liberals don’t want another election any time soon – especially if it means that Paul Martin and his baggage is back for another kick at the can.

As well, he has to be aware of voter fatigue. We’ve gone through two federal elections in under two years. We’ve borne a great expense for our dedication to democracy, and Harper would be wise to warn his opponents that any action that brings down the government will be presented to the public as a waste of taxpayer money. Nothing frightens an opposition more than the idea of being blamed for forcing us to spend another 150 million plus on yet another election.

So why not go for it? Why not be bold and put most or all of his eggs in one basket? Commit to the drastic tax cuts, the increased spending, and the social changes that he ran on in the first year of power. Force the opposition to make the choice between swallowing a bitter mandate pill or face an angry electorate.

Playing it safe and appealing to the middle-of-the-road voters would only anger the hawks in his own party and lead to inter-party squabbling down the road. The best offence is a good defense – and with three left-leaning parties in opposition and no apparent common ground to stand upon, the Conservatives’ best strategy may be to engage in an aggressive establishment of his platform.

That would mean that the sky would truly be falling for all the left-wingers out there – but the skies would be clear and sunny for all those right-wingers who have been waiting 12 years for their moment in the sun.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Be Careful for What You Wish

By Jason Menard

The smile is there and all the right words were said, but somewhere deep inside one has to think that Stephen Harper realizes that just about the worst outcome came to bear on Monday night.

Sure, his name will go on the list of Canadian Prime Ministers, but things are set up in such a way that he may join Joe Clark as nothing more than a footnote in the leadership history of this country. He has the power, but in name only.

Conversely, another man destined to be a Prime Ministerial footnote goes out the same way he spent his entire Liberal tenure – as the good soldier. For years, Martin’s been the solid backbone of the Liberal party, biding his time, and playing second-fiddle to the more extravagant Jean Chrétien. And, once the reins of power were finally turned over, Chrétien and the political culture he fostered again rose up to stab his old nemesis in the back.

Today is a new day for Canada – and the beginning of the end of the Conservatives.

Harper’s House is stacked with enemies around every corner. While the Liberal minority was buffered by socially similar allies in both the NDP and Bloc, the Conservatives find themselves alone on the right. There’s no way that the left-leaning parties are going to support any of the Tories’ more aggressive platforms, so the Conservatives will find it increasingly difficult to get anything done in this Parliament. And that alone spells doom for Harper.

Think back just a few months ago to when many in the Tory camp weren’t just ready for Harper to fall on his sword – they were lining up to give him a little push! Faced with a stiff opposition to his minority rule, his ineffectiveness will no doubt rankle the Hawks in his party who have had enough of playing the patient game. Now that the tape is off their collective mouths, what’s to stop them from flying off the handle very early into the mandate?

Now that the Conservatives are in power, they have the responsibility for cleaning up Parliament – as they’ve promised. But with the final Gomery report on its way, what happens if the systemic corruption to which the Tories have alluded never actually materializes. They’ve used the spectre of greater improprieties much in the same way as the Republicans used the treat of Weapons of Mass Destruction – so what happens if the Tories’ search ends up as “fruitful”?

So we turn to the Liberals, who now are searching for a leader in the wake of Martin’s decision to step down. What better way to wipe the slate clean of the sponsorship scandal than to usher in fresh, new leadership? One gets the impression that this election was more a referendum on Martin’s leadership than a coronation of Harper. And, in the end, the Liberals showed much stronger than expected. What does that say about the Canadian voters’ interests?

A new leader, a renewed focus on the social issues that matter to Canadians, buffered by the financial strength displayed over years of government make the Liberals an attractive option for people looking for long-term stability. A Liberal party that many Canadians already support headed by a new leader without all of Martin’s baggage? That’s a recipe for victory.

So what is Harper to do? He can’t call a snap election in the midst of a Liberal leadership race hoping to capitalize on the leadership fallout (much as the Liberals tried to do with the questions about Harper hanging over his head). If he does that, two things happen: Martin pulls a Trudeau and comes riding back on his white horse to rally the troops back to battle; and the electorate – already frustrated with two elections in two years – fights back against the opportunism and ineffective governance that the Conservatives will have provided.

In the end, Harper can only sit and wait. The Liberals will rise, his government will be handcuffed by its minority status, and it will only be a matter of time until the Conservatives are calling for his head. And the Conservatives going into another election with a lame duck candidate, reeling from the arrows in his back, and an electorate looking for the stability and five-year security of a majority government all spells a Liberal resurgence sooner rather than later.

But at least, until that time, Harper will have a nice place on Sussex Drive to fiddle from as his party slowly burns.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Swinging for the Fences on a Decentralized Canada

By Jason Menard

Generally, in an election campaign, you win by promising to do more. However, Conservative leader Stephen Harper may have finally connected by, of all things, promising to do less as Prime Minister of Canada.

Of course, instead of hitting a home run, his blast went just to the outside of the foul pole – but at least he was swinging for the fences. The idea of provincial autonomy is good. The idea of Quebec representing itself in international organizations, like UNESCO, is not.

Decentralized government has been the buzz word in federal-provincial relations for the past few years. The idea of provinces having more autonomy on spending and resource management is a great deal for certain areas. Alberta, for example, would have no trouble with the idea of federal hands being removed from their pocketbooks.

And on a national unity level, increased provincial autonomy over matters of state would go a long way towards quelling separatist movement in the province of Quebec. That’s the whole basis behind the much-ballyhooed distinct society clause – recognizing Quebec and its predominantly French population as unique and worth preserving.

But how much is too much? Individual provinces representing themselves at International organizations, trade functions, and the like only serves to marginalize the country as a whole and reduce our ability to bargain from any position of leverage. Would the have and have not provinces sit around the same table, undercutting each other for the right to new contracts, simply because they only have their own interests at heart?

There still needs to be a strong federal presence in the global marketplace. The power of one clear voice outweighs that of 10 separate voices all clamouring to be heard over one another.

So if not on the global stage, where should the provinces earn the right to do more? Where it counts most – in their own backyards. Once upon a time, the federal government allocated lump sums of money to the provinces in the form of transfer payments, with which the provinces could do as they pleased. Need a little extra in health care this year? Fine. How about taking some of that public works pot and balancing out the education budget? Great!

But that transfer payment pot has been steadily shrinking. An increase in no-strings-attached transfer payments from the feds to the provinces would allow the provinces to meet the region’s priorities on a local level – not dictated by a federal overseer.

This country needs to be run like a business, with the provinces acting as franchises. A decentralized government at its best would oversee the national social programs, national trade, and the laws of the land, while leaving the more administrative duties to the provinces. As managers of their own regions, the provincial leaders would be able to take their federal funds and channel them towards the programs and issues of most demand for their constituents.

Overall, the various franchises will continue to work together to ensure that that brand as a whole – Canada – is stronger than the sum of its parts! You won’t see one McDonald’s bad-mouthing another franchise down the road, just to boost its own sales, so why would we want to encourage that type of behaviour in inter-provincial relations?

We need that federal presence to ensure we remain a country. All this talk from provinces such as Ontario and Quebec who complain that they’re either paying too much or receiving too little from the federal-provincial relationship miss the point that confederation isn’t an equal-in, equal-out proposition. If we decentralize to the point of provincial autonomy, we will lose this national support network and focus on Canada. We will become little enclaves, standing up for only our own best interests instead of that of other Canadians.

That’s not a Canada in which I want to live. If my overtaxed Ontario dollars are going to subsidize a less fortunate Atlantic region, then I can live with that. In the grand scheme of things, we want to make this country stronger as a whole – not just select regions of prosperity.

So while Mr. Harper’s first swing at a renewed concept of federalism may have resulted in a foul ball, a few adjustments in his stance and keeping his eye on the big picture may see him hit a home run with an idea for a new Canada.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Tax Cuts Good, Just Choose the Right One

By Jason Menard

Stephen Harper, reeling after being undercut by his own deputy and lighting a fire under a long-cooled debate, is trying to right his ship by jumping on the bandwagon that all voters can agree on – cutting taxes.

Unfortunately, although the idea is good, he’s chosen the wrong tax.

As much maligned as the Goods and Services Tax has been since its inception in January 1991, it is Canada’s fairest tax. The GST is a consumption tax that actually offers the proportional taxation levels to which income tax aspires.

Simply put, the more you buy, the more you pay. Since those with more money tend to be the ones that buy the bigger toys more frequently, they end up paying more in GST over the course of a year. Conversely, those who are on fixed incomes aren’t at liberty to spend as much, so they don’t incur additional taxation in the form of this consumption tax. And because our financial leaders had the forethought to exclude basic staples from the grips of the GST, the essentials of life are generally free from this type of taxation.

So, in the end, Harper’s promise to cut the GST ends up being yet another tax cut for the rich – a far cry from the softer-sell conservative image that Harper’s been trying to put forth. Upon closer inspection, the GST tax cut benefits exactly the type of people that Harper’s been trying to distance himself from – rich, fat cats, and corporate interests. It distances himself from the very people of whom he needs to woo – middle to lower-income families, stretched to the breaking point under the burden of debt and taxes.

A reduction in the GST from 7% to 5% is a sexy concept that draws the big headlines. And, more importantly, a reduction offers the immediate relief that those who are in need of it the most will latch onto and can be a significant factor when it comes to going to the polls.

However, the problem is that this type of mentality is short-sighted. While paying less when heading to the store sounds great initially, the fact of the matter is that this lost income will have to be made up elsewhere. Whether it’s through increases in income taxes or through other venues, chances are we’re all going to be paying for it anyways. At least the GST allows the distribution of the burden to be placed proportionately amongst those who can best afford it.

Harper’s not a dumb man. As his campaign is reeling from early missteps and internal conflict, he chose to use the old magicians’ trick of deflecting our attention. We’re so enamoured with shiny little things and hot sound bites that we often fail to chew upon their ramifications. Those shiny statements tend to lose their luster upon careful reflection.

Real tax relief has to come from better management of the federal coffers, a reduction in income taxes, and sound investment. In fact, an increase of the GST would be preferable if it meant that our personal income tax burden could be reduced. The problem is that with our national rapid-fire attention span, any politician advocating an increase in a tax would be automatically vilified. The message of a lowered personal tax that would offer long-term benefits would be overpowered by that initial sticker shock of paying a few bucks more on a new TV.

So, in the end, Harper has spent a bit of capital earning our national goodwill through the concept of tax cuts. Unfortunately, that short-term capital is going to be paid off long-term with interest by the taxpayer. Compound that with the fact that we have grown accustomed to paying certain prices for products. Any short-term reduction in taxes will be quickly gobbled up by savvy business interests who realize that the upper limit of their product pricing has yet to be reached. Within a very short period of time, profit margins will eat up any relief brought by a reduced GST.

And what replaces the 1-2% GST monies that have been reduced? Increased income taxation? Reduced services? Increased federal debt load? It’s a simple concept that if you reduce the amount you take from one area, you’ll have to make up the shortfall in another.

The tax money has to come from somewhere. At least the GST lets it be a proportional burden.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

United Left Harper’s Worst Enemy

By Jason Menard

Well, that certainly didn’t take long. Not even 24 hours into the federal election campaign and Conservative leader Stephen Harper threw down the first sequined gauntlet, promising to hold an open vote on the question of legal marriage in this country.

Yet, what Harper and both capital and small-c conservatives haven’t figured out yet is that if they want to reach out to the soft middle, the gay issue has to be kept aside. Otherwise, the same ol’ fears that keep Harper out of a Sussex Drive address will continue to flourish – and a polarized left will rise to send the Conservatives to defeat.

At a time when there are so many other topics with which Harper could effectively campaign from, he chooses to bring up an issue that was cooling nicely on the back burner. What’s next? Will Harper advocate a plebiscite on the return of the death penalty? How about introducing a motion to make kids recite the Lord’s Prayer in school? Maybe a little missive on abortion laws, just to keep the conversation going?

Instead of promoting talking points that are inclusionary, he has to choose to turn the heat up on one of the most divisive issues affecting our country. And when you take one side of a polarized issue, it’s only natural that an opposing side will unite to fight back – which is exactly what the Conservatives don’t want.

The Tories best chance at unseating the Grits is to play to the soft centre of Canadian politics. They’ve already wrapped up the right-wing vote – in fact, they’re the only game in that town, so why the need to focus on those polarizing issues that cause anyone that leans a little to the left to run screaming away from his party?

Harper could run a successful campaign simply focusing on the Liberal’s lack of accountability, the need for a new voice in Parliament, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility – which was the hallmark of the Liberal party until its recent string of budgetary/campaign promises running up to the non-confidence vote.

But no, that gay issue obviously is quite the bee in his bonnet. Instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, he’s decided to grab it by the tail and wave it around. Now, he can only hope that this particular dog doesn’t come back and bite him.

There’s a reason why the Liberal’s 2004 campaign included allusions to a hidden agenda. It’s the same reason why so many left-leaning voters chose to support the Liberals instead of the NDP at the last minute. Rightly or wrongly, a significant number of people believe that the Tories actually do have a secret agenda. And it doesn’t help when lesser issues like gay marriage come to the fore at the first available opportunity.

This election is ripe for the picking. The Tories could have it easily if they just learned to be compassionate conservatives. Canadians want a viable alternative to the Liberal party but they’re also leery of losing what it means to be Canadian. Rightly or wrongly, the Conservative party has been painted as threats to our social programs and our inclusionary culture – and taking on gay marriage doesn’t soften that perception one little bit.

The Conservatives have to stop preaching to the converted and realize that they’re playing right into the Liberal’s hands. Those who lean to the right will support Harper, while those who lean way to the left are going to support Jack Layton. But it’s the majority of us who reside somewhere in the vast middle that will decide this election – and that’s the demographic that the Liberals have been able to leverage so effectively over the past couple of decades.

Harper needs to realize this and stop alienating the soft Liberal. In the end, while he may see a few former Liberal voters come into his camp, his best option is that he prevents the fear-mongering and polarizing effect an “anything-but-Conservative” campaign can produce.

If he stays away from the hot-button points – or at least stops bringing them up on his own – then voters may be lulled into a feeling of security where they feel that they can comfortably cast a vote for the NDP. That way, the Conservatives can split the left and walk up the right lane, uncontested, to assume the mantle of power.

To Harper, a vote for Layton is just as good as a vote for himself. Secure in the knowledge that the Canadian centre-to-right will support his party, as they’re really the only viable option, then his focus has to be on preventing a unified left from rising up to challenge him in this election. And to do that, he doesn’t necessarily have to appeal to left-of-centre voters, but he does have to avoid being demonized.

Unfortunately, he’s already stumbled coming out of the gates and tripping over the relative non-issue of gay marriage. The Tories have to hope that he rights himself and sticks to issues – not opinions – in order to stake their claim on a very winnable election.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved