Anything but a Harper majority – National/Politics – Anything but a Harper majority: Atwood explains why she’s prepared to support even Gilles Duceppe if it means denying the Conservatives full control
October 6, 2008. MARGARET ATWOOD

I recently said I’d support Gilles Duceppe — that ardent separatist — if I were in a swing riding in Quebec that might otherwise go to a neo-conservative. I’m unrepentant. I’m with Danny Williams and Elizabeth May on this one: It really is Anything But a Harper Majority Time.

A question we’re increasingly asking ourselves about Mr. Harper, in view of the present economic chaos: How can this Stepford Prime Minister Meets World Financial Meltdown b-movie actually be happening? What kind of What-Me-Worry glazed-smile drugs is Stephen Harper on?

Why do I feel so strongly about this? It’s not just the arts. True, Mr. Harper doesn’t understand the arts — especially the arts math, the $87-billion, the 1.1 million jobs. But his arts position is symptomatic of his deeply worrying, out-of-touch, out-of-date boy-in-a-bubble thinking towards everything. Like George W. Bush, he sticks to his ideology and ignores the evidence – so even though arts-bashing was hurting his polls in Quebec, he didn’t climb down. Instead, as Mr. Duceppe paraphrased in the French-language debate, he seems to think artists are “spoiled children.”

If that is indeed how Mr. Harper views grown-up artists, then what are grown-up voters? They, too, are children: a view Mr. Harper learned well during his University-of-Calgary-Reform-Party-firewall-around-Alberta think-tanking days. I just got back from Edmonton, and that’s what I heard there. People should be managed from behind the scenes by a few superior intelligences such as his; they must be told sugar-coated lies; and you should decide everything really important about their lives without consulting them.

This is how Mr. Harper has proceeded. For instance, in the September 29th issue of Canadian Business – hardly a pinko rag – there’s a piece called “Listerionomics.” It tells us that, even as Canadians were dying from the recent listeria oubreak, the Harper neo-cons already planned to put the food industry in control of its own inspection – a surefire recipe for corner-cutting and cover-ups – and also to deregulate food-labeling, so manufacturers could say anything they liked on the labels. Even the Food Processors, the article reports, thought this idea was “idiotic.”

Doesn’t Mr. Harper understand that some kids have lethal allergies? Doesn’t he understand that parents want to know what goes into their children’s mouths? We need to be able to trust our food! Mothers, don’t let Stephen Harper kiss your baby: you don’t know what kind of germ-packed, death-dealing cold-cuts he’s just been eating, and his ingredients are not on the label.

Here’s another Conservative secret agenda. Right now, Canada is involved in discussions concerning the SPP — the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. It’s a White-House-led initiative, thus a creature of Bush and Cheney. It sounds nice — who doesn’t want security and prosperity? — but what does it really mean? It means Deep Integration. It means we’ll have to throw out our own institutions and procedures and do everything the way the Bush Americans prefer.

Considering the massive crises the world is now in – caused directly by lack of fair and balancing regulation – the American government has just undertaken a massive intervention. But Mr. Harper hugs his True Believer hardcore neo-con faith — deregulate and do nothing, aside from weaponry and jails – and he’ll stick to it, no matter what he says during this election.

The SPP could also affect our health-care system. The Americans have the most expensive health-care system in the world, yet, even so, 47 million of them aren’t covered by it. Their system is fine if you’re rich, but it ruins middle-class families struck by illness who run out of their private insurance money, and leaves out the poor entirely. The Americans themselves know their system is awful — that’s why health care is such a big election issue south of the border. Why would we want to Deep Integrate with that?

During the debates, Mr. Harper kept saying, “Canada is not the United States.” He forgot to add the word “yet”: If he has his way, it soon will be. These SPP changes will be made without you ever voting on them, and they’ll be extremely hard to change back.

Finally, there’s Ontario. Dalton McGuinty is right: through “equalization payments,” my province is carrying a tax burden way out of proportion to what it is now earning. According to the Toronto Dominion Bank, we pay out $11.8-billion a year more than we should be paying. We all know how crumbly our cities are getting, but the cash drain is hitting smaller towns, too. We feel it in health care, in schools, in support for small businesses. Put back into our province, that money would be an enormous re-energizer of our economy, including our technology and manufacturing — and it would improve a lot of schools and hospitals.

When Mr. McGuinty raised this matter, he was told by the Harperites to stop whining, to which the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, helpfully added that Ontario was the last place in the world anyone should invest.

Mr. McGuinty wasn’t whining – he was making a just request on behalf of Ontario taxpayers, who are getting thoroughly ripped off. But have the Harper Conservative MPs from Ontario lifted a hand to help their own province? You elect MPs to stand up for you, but the Harperites have been mute. They’re the most expensive seat-warmers Parliament has ever known; we could save a lot of money by replacing them with the plug-ins from Canadian Tire. Thinking they’ll be allowed to do much of anything for Ontario if you put them into Parliament is delusional.

Mr. Harper got elected by promising to consult, to be transparent, to be accountable, but he’s delivered the extreme opposite. He doesn’t consult with anybody but himself in the mirror; he has the most secretive government Canada has ever known; and his accountability consists of “If I make a mistake, you’re fired.” Real leaders know that the buck stops with them, but Mr. Harper is an amazing buck-passer. He won’t own up to his own stuff — such as his heartfelt support for the Iraq invasion — unless shoved up against the wall, and even then he mumbles.

People sometimes ask me about my eerie ability to predict the future. Nobody can really predict the future — there are too many curve balls — but we can make informed guesses. Today’s informed guess is this. Dear fellow Canadians: If you give the Harper neo-cons a majority government, you’ll lose much that you cherish, you’ll gain nothing worth having, and you’ll never, never forgive yourselves.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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