Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gerald Caplan: Harper the enigma...

By Gerald Caplan, Globe and Mail, September 17, 2011
Stephen Harper has just declared that the greatest security threat to Canada is something he called “Islamicism.” I’ve seen no sensible dissection of this remarkable comment because no one can make sense of it. It goes without saying that vigilance against any potential terrorist attack is vital. Has some new peril now been discovered that no one else knows about? Are Canadians in imminent danger? Might we not be fretful about a nice homegrown Christian version of Norway’s notorious Anders Breivik as well as extremist Muslims? Why does our leader choose to feed into the bigotry of those who are determined to smear all Muslims as terrorists?

In terms of what really menaces Canadians, is “Islamicism” really scarier than global warming? What is it about these conservatives that make them care so little about their kids’ future? What about water scarcity, a looming crisis? Or the fragility of the global economic system? Youth unemployment? What about the bottomless need everywhere in Canada for new or repaired or upgraded infrastructure? Who’s going to protect us from exploding road rage on our gridlocked roads? What about glaring, growing inequality and our declining quality of life?
Then there’s the never-ending scandal of exporting Canadian asbestos to poor countries where it will certainly kill poor labourers. It’s an issue in which the Harper government stands virtually alone in the western world, and no one can fathom why. Asbestos touches directly only one seat in Quebec. Can that possibly explain Mr. Harper’s stance? His government has been harshly condemned by every health agency that exists, both in Canada and around the world. What possible benefit can outweigh this blow to Canada’s reputation, let alone the untold suffering the Prime Minister’s stand will cause?

Taking the heat at the moment for her boss’s incomprehensible intransigence is newly elected Conservative MP Kelly Leitch. Ms. Leitch is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. (Why a youngish specialist wants to trade her precious skills for politics is another question.) Ms. Leitch has now been directly targeted by 250 fellow medical colleagues who wrote to remind her that she’s taken an oath to do no harm, and by 40 Canadians who personally lost family members to asbestos.
Mr Caplan, long of platinum reputation as one of the leading thinkers in the social democratic movement including the NDP, posits a couple of other Harper enigmas in his piece:
  1. the failure/refusal/ Harper's inaction on calling a by-election to replace Jack Layton and
  2. the insertion of "royal" into the names of two of the Canadian military forces, Air Force and Navy.
It says here that Mr. Caplan's irony is much too genteel, too kind and too incisive..he also has a wonderful line poking fun a those political pundits, like himself, he calls "bloviators". It reads as follows: Just as the technique of politicians is often to fake sincerity, so the skill of the pundit is to fake intelligence. Whether through a newspaper column or TV panel, the bloviating pundit offers up insights that ordinary folks lack. It’s a great gig if you can get away with it. To Caplan's list, we might humbly add: the politically bloviating blog.
Not to be able to comprehend, or explain, or attempt a hypothesis for the actions and statements of a political leader is about as scathing a critique one can have. The pundit renders the actor and the script as virtually inconsequential, whether benign or malignant.
Let's put on our "thinking caps" as our grade five teacher, Miss Thompson, would request, for our consideration of the Harper enigmas, as outlined by Mr Caplan...and "speculate" as many of our best English teachers would have us do about the most clouded piece of T.S. Eliot poetry.
Is Harper deflecting attention from his otherwise unsupportable and frankly quite dangerous over policies?
Is Harper merely playing with the Canadian reporters and voters, by throwing out bones on which they might chew, unsuccessfully, while all the time playing hardball politics behind closed doors as he struts his political-diplomatic muscle in Libya, and formerly Afghanistan, and who knows where next?
Is Harper using his majority to create camouflage, for his campaign to dramatically alter the culture and the consciousness of the Canadian political landscape, into the kind that would agree with those in the back rows of the Republican debate this week in Florida, who responded to a question from Wolf Blitzer of CNN about a destitute and seriously ill patient who arrives in the emergency room of an American hospital without medicare or medicaid, "Are you prepared to let him die, and not treat him?" the cat-callers eagerly and loudly replied, "Yes!"
Is Harper, on the other hand, deliberately and in an overt Machiavellian mode, disdaining both the intelligence and the right to know of both reporters and citizens, as he does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants, without regard to even a modicum of public accountability, while he struts about in his own bubble of rarefied helium, or some other equally foreign gas, (to the rest of us living on the planet) oblivious to our definition of reality, and the disconnect between ours and his definition of reality?
When Pierre Trudeau told the reporter who asked how far he would go to tame the "apprehended insurrection" in Quebec, "Just watch me!" we all gasped in both awe, for some, and embarrassment and anger, for others. When he gave the finger to those out west who disagreed with his policies, we all smiled and muttered, "There goes Pierre, once again!" When he performed that famous pirouette behind the back of the Queen in a London Commonwealth conference, a conference he did not wish to attend, but was forced to by his advisers, we were a little taken aback, smiled, joked at the water cooler, or whatever surrogate for that listening post was current back then.
But those gestures, while shocking at the time, are like a little glitch in the Canadian archetype of reserved politeness, compared with the insults that are emitted by the current prime minister. Those who support him must find him and his "leadership" acceptable, if a trifle awkward. Those who oppose him find his approach beneath contempt, but are powerless, for the next four years, to do much to alter the political and cultural and historical landscape, except to work as hard as we can for Harper's political demise.
It cannot come too soon!

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