Harper wins when voters snooze

OttawaCitizen.com – news/canada-in-afghanistan
January 27, 2012.    By Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen

It is hard to decide what is more astonishing: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inconsistencies and course corrections, or the fact they have done no serious damage to his standing in the polls.

His original appeal – even to those who don’t share his vision – rested on his image as a solid, personally incorruptible, straight shooter. Said what he meant, meant what he said. Limited in life experience, uncompromising in his free-market views; but principled and predictable.

An incomplete portrait, as it hap-pens.

He accused critics of wanting to “cut and run” in Afghanistan, but, after nearly a decade of futile struggle, conceded the war was unwinnable and began withdrawing Canadian forces. He was never going to downplay China’s human rights abuses in the name of the “almighty dollar” – until it became useful, recently, to ardently court China as a customer for tarsands oil.

There were other surprises: Mulroney-style Senate appointments, the unsavoury Chuck Cadman affair, the creative use of G8 funding to help Tony Clement secure re-election, the inexcusable defence of an EI watchdog agency that has done no work, has no immediate work to do, yet has already cost the treasury $3.3 million, with no end in sight.

As for Harper’s promise of ac-countable, open government – no one is available to comment. Ever.

It is said voters are willing to overlook egregious examples of Conservative pork-barrelling and selective frugality (defunding ideologically suspect aid agencies; expanding PMO staffing) because Harper is skilfully managing the economy.

To be sure, he is successfully surfing on earlier Liberal decisions to tighten bank regulation and pay down deficits; he repeated this refrain in Davos this week.

But overwhelming his promise of new jobs (and the reality of weak employment gains) is the threat of lost jobs – high-quality jobs in the federal public service, in the high-tech hub of Kitchener-Water-loo where RIM is struggling, and among young Canadians whose skills don’t match emerging needs. For them, Harper’s economy is un-welcoming.

Harper’s answer – his econom-ic-actionplan. 2 – is the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Selling Canadian energy to the highest bidder, ship-ping unrefined product and jobs to other places seems to be as complicated as it gets. Despite his talk of innovation, Harper’s Canada is a vast reservoir for a resource-thirsty world.

But, then, he has never believed in meddling in the market – until he does. Favourable tax treatment to the oil industry, weakening environmental reviews (coming soon) and trash-talking foreign environ-mentalists don’t count as interference, apparently.

At the same time, the prime minister is embarked on a new moral crusade: Iran.

True, that country’s leadership is hateful, deluded and possibly dangerous. But Harper’s apparent readiness to back multinational military action unless Iran abandons its nuclear program should worry Canadians.

Military intervention didn’t work in Afghanistan; it exacted a terrible price in Iraq; and Iran’s military is far superior to Libya’s.

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