Monday, June 15, 2009

Naked Ambition Nets Canada Zero, Harper and Ignatieff One

Naked ambition. Doesn't look good on a woman. And it doesn't look good on two men right now. Naked ambition got Prime Minister Stephen Harper the leadership of the new Conservative party, and naked ambition got Michael Ignatieff the leadership of the Liberal party, the only difference is that Harper retained a semblance of democracy by running for his leadership, while Iggy got his cronies to crown him. For a guy that didn't want to wait around for his kingship, he certainly is dragging his feet now, or so it seems, until you realise that power is the ultimate goal for these two men.

It's not that power is bad or that no one else wanted it this bad -- I remember former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney machinations to get into power and John Turner's long wait -- it's that neither seems to know what to do with it. It's one thing to want the power of the Prime Minister, to centralize it so that you become the de facto government; it's another to know how to run Canada. Reporters and talk radio show pundits sometimes talk about how they like our politicians, how they're decent people, but I wonder why these decent people are doing so little for our country and so much more for feeding their own power needs.

Harper first got elected to run the government in 2006. Unfortunately for him, it was a minority. The ultimate power is a majority, and so he played chicken and egg with the Liberals as they scrambled to find a new leader; he played with the smaller opposition parties to get his own way but had no problem calling Liberals traitors when they played that game this past winter; he ran attack ads and got away with it so kept it up and stayed in perpetual election mode, paying little attention to what was happening to the world's economy and the people of Canada and still got elected; but then he pissed off the Liberals, and Stéphane Dion showed backbone. Such an un-Liberal thing to do! So Harper goes sniffling off to the perfectly coiffed Governor General, called the coalition all sorts of names -- he doesn't like people stealing his ideas -- and got the electorate and Iggy to believe his lies, all to cement his power. But that running got him on the ropes for the first time. At last the Liberals had a way to get the Conservatives to run the country.

And so they promptly ditched Dion and hared away from the coalition, screaming with fear at such a democratic idea, and "elected" Ignatieff to replace him. Like Harper, he'd been plotting his ascent to the ultimate throne for awhile. But unlike Harper, he did much of it in a foreign country, not growing along with the rest of us as Canada found a new place in the world and a new sense of herself. Having secured the penultimate step to the ultimate power, he promptly folded before the Harper budget. I mean, could he have been more cowardly? Could he have been less like a leader? Could he have been more Harper-like? The man dismally disappointed. Acting like the mealy-mouthed wishy washy Canadians of yesterday who liked to opine on how we have no identity and we're not warriors, he talked about holding the Conservatives to account with these quarterly economic updates and asked for not one concession, not one change, not one addition, not one leadership-like policy, not one innovative idea. Oh no. Ignatieff plotted and schemed so that he could sit on his hands, until the Liberal war chest is ready for an election, and talked tough like the Emperor with no clothes. For him only the black-and-white American idea of one party governing will do. Harper doesn't like the coalition because it will put him in the Opposition; but he does like it if he gets to lead. Iggy, being more familiar with the American system now than the Canadian, can only think in terms of one party being in power and negates the opportunities a coalition would provide. Of course naked ambition doesn't like sharing power either.

Meanwhile, Harper, being in perpetual election mode, and perpetual pouting against anyone who stands up to him, fired the chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission over the shutdown of Chalk River as an antidote to acting, and with the complicity of the Opposition, led by the Liberals, did nothing, absolutely nothing to replace it, repair it, ensure a continual supply of medical isotopes. This action or non-action is typical of the new Harper-Ignatieff. All talk, no governing.

Fifty years ago real leaders in Canada decided to be more than hewers of wood and built Chalk River. Their leadership created value-added jobs to our resource jobs, bringing stimulus to our economy for the long term and keeping our bright brains here. It also led to us becoming a major supplier to the world. That means we now have a duty to the world to ensure a reliable supply, not just to our own sick fellow citizens. And so what do these two power-hungry politicians do?

One ignores the report on Chalk River and decides to close it down without replacing it. Harper does not even follow up on one of the key recommendations to convert the nuclear research reactors in universities across Canada to create medical isotopes. No, that would take him away from hobnobbing with foreign reporters à la Pierre Trudeau and Mulroney when they were on their pre-retirement farewell tours. Instead, Harper announces we're returning to the hewers of wood days and will get out of the medical isotope business. The world is in the information age, when power is in knowledge and money is in innovation. And Harper thinks the best thing for this country is to get out of one of few innovative things we're good at. (However, I do have to ask, why were we able to build a reactor to create isotopes 50 years ago and cannot today? Have we collectively become stupider?) Iggy must agree. Afte all, the Liberals watched over the beginning of this decay when former Prime Minister Jean Chretien slashed the innovation budget to useless levels and ignored the Chalk River situation, and now Iggy is pretty quiet on the whole idea of becoming even less innovative.

But it's more than just usual Liberal do-nothing-more-than-we-have-to to get elected crap. Iggy rose to power on the strength of his brain, his ideas, his ability to think. But like the comfortable professor in the armchair of George Orwell's essay, he has done little but talk. And talk and talk and talk. He's brought forth no ideas of substance. I believe he didn't even want to talk policy at the so-called leadership convention this past Spring. Imagine if the coaltion had gained power; imagine if Chalk River was being replaced, not mothballed as Harper with Iggy's
blessing is doing now; imagine if Dion had put into action his environmental plan or even NDP leader Jack Layton's; imagine our economy being stimulated into the paths of innovation and knowledge, not just pothole filling. That's what we gave up when we rewarded these men of naked ambition.

We have a third choice in the next election. But Canadians, for reasons beyond me, are as afraid of it as Iggy and Harper are of leading.

2 comments:

Aerodoq said...

You know what? In some ways I get it. You can't keep having elections over and over and over again. The populace will rise against politicians as a whole. There will be complaints about the waste of money -- although as someone noted on Twitter today, a $300M election is a pretty spiffy and immediate economy injection.

On the other hand, Harper and his cronies are clearly running the country into the ground. Between not repatriating Canadians abandoned abroad, the disasterous handling of the isotopes issue and political corruption associated with that, the feeble economic plan and implementation, the kinda-sorta ACOA-esque bailout of car companies -- all these issues show that they are failing Canada and failing Canadians.

Yet these things don't really seem to be bothering the Liberals. How many threats have we heard from Dion and now Ignatieff about how they don't like what the government is doing ... but then end up supporting the government anyway. They need to read the story about the boy who cried wolf. Their excuse is that "timing isn't right" or "Canadians aren't ready for another election". Well, tough. If someone has broken into your house and is smashing everything in sight, you do something about it right now.

I want politicians and their parties to stand up FOR ME. Not for themselves. I want politicians and their parties to stand up FOR CANADIANS. All Canadians, not just the folk who line the parties' pockets with donations. Not just the folk you agree with. Not just your supporters. When you are elected to government, you have the duty to be beholden to everyone.

I want politicians and their parties who do not attempt to cower, intimidate, and instill fear in the populace.

And like you, I wonder why Canadians are so afraid of the third choice. At this point it must be a million times better than what we have now.

The sad fact is that as long as the left is splintered, we're going to have a hard time getting the Cons out of power. As long as we don't have electoral reform, we going to continue to have voices muffled and public interest in politics wane. As long as the Cons govern this country, the things the majority of Canadians value will be eroded.

I am left to wonder. Who Will Lead?

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Wow, thanks for your insightful and passionate comment!

It's been a long, long time since any leader has dreamt big dreams for Canada, whether we agree with them or not. The last one was free trade under Mulroney. Since then it's been just about the deficit (which was good turning it into a surplus, won't deny that, but there are other things too in running a country) and political power posturing.

I'm not sure I see any diff between Liberals and Conservatives these last few months. Given the direction Ignatieff has taken, I wonder if there would be any change if he became PM beyond the mug we see on TV.

Ontario did elect an NDP gov't once. The problem was it was more stunned than the populace. I don't think that mistake will happen again. The NDP are quite different than the Liberals, especially now Iggy is in power -- I've watched Layton "grow up" politically as he's from here. And I think all the parties but Libs/Cons have SOME ethical backbone and wouldn't let our country rot from neglect and Canadians rot abroad. I still can't get that young woman's voice out of my head who's being held hostage in Somalia.

And I agree we need electoral reform. We ought to look north for some inspiration! And then maybe we'll get the leader Canada deserves.