Harper’s Goal

In observing Stephen Harper for the past 20 years, I have often been reminded of the line from Shakespeare: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Replace lawyers with scientists, and you capture the role that the irrational plays in the politics of the prime minister.

It shows up everywhere:

Over a dozen new crime bills and billions on prisons when the science tells him crime is on a steady downward trend.

A determination to close Insite, Vancouver’s safe injection site, despite several studies that show it saves lives and gets people into treatment (and off heroin).

An obsession with ending the long-gun registry, despite its constant use by (and support from) every police force in the country.

Massive cuts to science funding agencies, which promoted scores of critical studies and helped keep Canada in the forefront of several disciplines.

A foreign policy driven not by a rational determination of Canada’s interests, but by a kind of visceral and absolute dedication to the interests of another country, Israel.

Determined support for Quebec’s asbestos mining, when literally every health agency and every credible study tells him it kills 100,000 people a year.

And the killing off of the long-form census, which every expert on governance said was critical to the delivery of government services.

It may be only a slight exaggeration to suggest that if science supports something, there is a good chance Harper will oppose it.

Many commentators have compared Harper to George W. Bush, regarding both his political ideology and his born-again Christian religion. Journalist Ron Suskind, writing in the New York Times magazine, described a remarkable encounter with one of Bush’s senior aides. Suskind related how he was criticized by the aide for being a member of “what we call the reality-based community” as contrasted with Bush’s “faith-based community.”

This reality-based community, said the aide, was made up of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” Suskind nodded in agreement and started to reply when the aide intervened, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality… we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.”

This pretty much describes Harper’s anti-rational arrogance in all these policy areas. Dismissive to the point of contempt, Harper gives the impression that the facts are little more than an irrelevant annoyance — just another opposition tactic aimed at interfering with his agenda.

Harper sees himself as one of history’s actors — creating a new reality vis-?-vis crime by passing a raft of new laws that will result in a huge increase in incarceration rates, regardless of the fact that incarceration does not reduce crime, that crime rates are falling, that with a $50 billion dollar deficit we cannot afford to build new prisons, and the fact that crime experts from police to academics decry the policy direction. Harper will create the new law and order reality and we — that is, everybody else — will study it.

Creating the new irrational, faith-based reality is Stephen Harper’s great re-engineering project. Social engineering was the right’s favourite epithet for all the years it was in the political wilderness. Libertarians like Harper really believe that the so-called welfare state was the result of a conspiracy of Liberal (and liberal) politicians and humanist bureaucrats. As such, turning back the clock on the activist state is legitimate even if the vast majority now support it.

The article by Suskind went on from the aide’s comments to suggest that the attitude he expressed was rooted in Bush’s apparent belief that he was directed by God in most of his decisions.

Is Harper just a northern George Bush? In many ways, he does not appear anything like Bush. His penchant for obsessing over strategy suggests a hyper-rationality in the pursuit of power. His absolute rejection during the election of any return to anti-abortion laws while he was PM was highly rational. Here, at least, it seems Harper is not interested in creating a new abortion “reality” because it would damage his long-term electoral strategy.

As arrogant and narcissistic as he is, it is highly unlikely that Stephen Harper believes he is following God’s orders in his decision-making. Harper’s irrationality is much more calculated and is aimed for the most part at securing his Christian base and maintaining his incredibly effective fundraising machine. This in turn is part of his strategy to drive a stake through the heart of the Liberal party.

But other aspects of his apparent irrationality are motivated by his ideology. The termination of the long form census, the $20-30 billion on useless jet fighters, his disdain for the professional civil service all fit with the National Citizens Coalition slogan, “More freedom through less government” — less that is, except when building up the security state.

So if we can expect even more irrationality in the next four years, where might Harper be vulnerable to a rejuvenated civil society and a resurgent NDP Opposition? One area is the economy. where Harper will continue to try to maintain his edge on other parties. He is very vulnerable here, as the dollar continues to rise, the U.S. economy declines and the Conservative-created housing bubble eventually bursts.

The appeal to the irrational will not work if the economy begins to tank. This is one area where Opposition forces need to focus and not get distracted by Harper’s efforts to keep his base happy.

The same applies to the jet fighter issue. If the economy begins to decline (and with it revenues), as many expect, this outrageous expenditure will be more and more vulnerable and it must be a focus of opposition, both the NDP and civil society. The government is right now looking at billions of dollars in spending cuts. Asking Canadians whether it should come from Medicare or jet fighters will be a potent political question.

The same is true of the tar sands issue. The hell-bent-for-leather development of this dirty oil has even attracted the criticism of former Alberta Conservative premier Peter Lougheed, who has called for carefully phased-in expansion. This issue relates to the economy — tar sands expansion drives up the dollar, hurting manufacturing — as well as the environment.

Harper has yet to make a decision on the Enbridge tar sands pipeline from Alberta to the BC coast, which would lead to hundreds of tankers plying the dangerous waters off the B.C. It may be the most important single issue on the political agenda — the thought of a giant oil spill off the West Coast appalls every Canadian, but in the west would generate massive civil disobedience.

The last two major issues for which even Harper’s Christian base demands rational policy are Medicare and economic security for seniors. Harper knows that seniors vote in much higher percentages than the general population and the NDP put the issue squarely on the agenda before the election. It needs to stay there — both because it is good policy, and because it will make Harper’s budget slashing more difficult.

Medicare will be Harper’s biggest test. He hates it and would dearly love to get rid of it altogether, but if he does not tread carefully and slowly, it could be his downfall.

These are the issues that need the energy, resources and imagination of those who fear the worst from a Harper majority. The other issues — like the outrageous appointments to the Senate of three losing Conservative candidates, the elimination of government funding for political parties and the rest — important as they are, will be distractions from the goal of taking back our country.

Murray Dobbin, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He has been a columnist for the Financial Post and Winnipeg Free Press, contributes guest editorials to the Globe and Mail and other Canadian dailies and now writes a bi-weekly column for the on-line journals the Tyee and rabble.ca. He can be reached at mdobbin@telus.net


More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes