Stephen Harper will go to his grave believing that Canadians made an unforgiveable mistake by rejecting his leadership and policies. Perhaps more than any of his predecessors, though, he set himself up for what will forever be known as a fall of epic proportions. He recreated a government that wasn’t designed to give so much power to one man and he surrounded himself with a small circle of confidantes and advisors to do his bidding. I doubt he would have tolerated anyone saying that by creating a narrow worldview he was in fact distancing himself from too many Canadians, denying them their right to be heard and have their interests represented.
As I sat and watched the results — and can we please, people in the media, stop treating polls like they are news — I couldn’t help but reflect back over what I think historians will eventually refer to as our Ten Lost Years. Stephen Harper was prime minister in one of the most tumultuous times in our, and perhaps the world’s, history and he was so obsessed with tearing apart the old Canada and making it into Canada Inc. that he set back anything that might be considered progress, leaving the mess for his successor to clean up.
This Conservative government was hardly the first to come up against the dreaded expiry date syndrome. But hubris wins when you look new and different and it loses when you start to look old, indifferent and — here’s the great irony for a guy who hates the word — entitled. I first began to think the Conservatives might be in trouble after the Alberta election when I talked to an MP’s constituency assistant and asked if his party got a wakeup call from the stunning NDP win. Oh, no, he said, that can’t happen federally. We know the numbers. Sheer hubris.
With that in mind, I offer some advice to future prime ministers:
Don’t govern like you only work for the people who gave you their votes. Even people who disagree with you and your policies deserve to be heard and represented.
Don’t forget you live in a country that is a federation. Simply pretending that provinces are irrelevant or inconvenient does not change the fact that they, too, have great responsibilities. Why fear sharing the stage with people you don’t necessarily agree with? A true leader finds strength in diversity and accomplishes most by bringing out the best in people, not the worst. Have regular, open and spirited meetings with premiers — they are closer to their constituents than you are and they have much to offer.
Respect the laws of the country. They are not an inconvenience and impediment designed to make your job more difficult. You lose moral authority when you pick fights with an independent judiciary and then tell the public you respect law and order. And don’t build more jails when they aren’t needed, just so you can look like the tough guy.
Don’t underestimate the public. Repeating the same words and the same lies over and over again does not make them true, even if it might work over the short term. Don’t create a deficit when you inherit a surplus, run up record debts, operate in deficit for seven years and then run an election campaign that boasts about your brilliant economic acumen. You might have a special ability to blot out the recent past but don’t assume others do too.
Few of the wars fought in the post-Hitler era have had the results the western world would have liked. It’s time we starting learning from past mistakes.
Work toward fostering a diverse economy that gives Canadians a sense of self-sufficiency and self-worth. Fifty years ago there was talk about how we should no longer be seen as hewers of wood and haulers of water. We should not see ourselves as being only as wealthy as our non-renewable exports all us to be. Don’t pay oil companies to destroy the environment as they scramble to maximize the value of the stuff in the ground before it becomes worthless. If you are going to pay corporations at all (in the form of subsidies and tax breaks) make it for being innovative, creative and environmentally responsible. Destroying boreal forests, poisoning water and strip-mining liquid bitumen does not count.
Do not, repeat, do not, work to convince people that their only value is as a cog in the economic engine. The economy is important, but it is not the only thing.
Finally, and most important of all, do not try accomplish what you want by creating and fostering fear. Like it or not, you will not get the best out of people by keeping them fearful. We live in a country whose geography and resources give us a special advantage in this world. Don’t govern like you created that advantage.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.