THUNDER BAY – Government’s get tired. It always seems to happen when they are in power for an extended period of time so it should be no surprise that, after seven years in power and with three more to go, the Harper Government is increasingly looking like a tired one.
The idea that governments can get ‘tired’ is not a partisan one. It happens to governments of all political stripes. They run out of ideas, become increasingly out of touch with average citizens, and increasingly suffer from incompetence and/or ethical lapses. Some or all these symptoms will inflict every politically successful government – eventually. In the current case of the Harper Government though, all of the symptoms of a tired government are there and becoming more obvious by the day.
When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were first elected to power in 2006 they ran on a simple, yet effective, platform of “ideas.” Taxes and crime rates were too high, the Liberals couldn’t be trusted to spend our money ethically or wisely, and Canada’s military was underfunded, underequipped, and underused. It was a clear set of ideas and Canadians seemed to agree with many of these points. Heck, even New Democrats agreed with some of them.
And so the Conservatives were elected in 2006. For the first three years taxes were massively slashed across the board with little regard to the real or potential impact on the public purse, new categories of crime were created and penalties increased across the board, military spending doubled in a few short years. About a third of Canadians seemed reasonably happy with Harper and his Conservatives and subsequently elected them to another minority government in 2008, and last year to a majority mandate.
In the last two elections, the Conservative platform was essentially the same as the first with one tag line added in each case. First, the opposition parties couldn’t be trusted to govern (2008 election), and then the Conservatives needed a majority government to help the economy recover and avoid a new economic crisis (2011 election). These election platforms, or lack thereof, were the first hint that the Conservatives were running out of ideas. Once in government this suspicion was confirmed as the primary focus of the Conservatives increasingly became inflicting damage upon their political opponents instead winning the public over by providing responsible government.
While Harper’s crew skewered their opponents with negative ads Canadians families suffered. The global and Canadian economy weakened, unemployment spiked, and businesses and families faced uncertain futures. An economic update in 2008 failed to acknowledge that Canada was already in recession, and instead took aim at labour rights, women’s rights, and public funding for political parties. Eventually, the majority opposition united and the Conservatives were forced to acknowledge both the recession and the need for stimulus spending. It was obvious by then that Harper was too focused on his political opponents and not enough on jobs, pensions, and healthcare which is what most Canadians wanted their government to get to work on. The problem has only worsened since 2008 as the government has tried to end its record string of budget deficits – the largest in Canadian history – by making Canadians under 54 work two years longer before collecting Old Age Security and making it harder for displaced workers to collect Employment Insurance.
The more terminal symptoms of a tired government are now setting in and quickly. The incompetence of the Harper Government has been on full display with its botched purchase of 65 F-35 fighters which have gone from an initial cost of $9 billion to $29.3 billion (and counting) as of this spring. Lest we think incompetence inflicts only one of his ministries, Harper’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty saw fit to spend $56,000 this spring on a press conference to announce the end of the penny. It’s also hard to forget International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda spending thousands of dollars a night upgrading from one five-star hotel to another and her $16 glasses of orange juice, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay getting personal military helicopter rides to and from fishing lodges.
By 2015 the Harper Government will be in its 10th year and, like all long serving governments before and after them, the evidence is mounting that they are becoming a tired bunch indeed.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River