Let us be clear, Stephen Harper is the front runner in this election. The last thing a front runner wants is to lose control of the agenda or to get put on the defensive or to make a gaffe. So the smart thing for him to do has been to carefully control his public appearances to avoid any unfortunate incidents where he is forced to answer tough questions. Hence the Potemkin rallies with carefully vetted crowds. Hence the "only five questions a day" refusal to speak with reporters. But with the number of scandals continuing to mount - former aide Bruce Carson illegally lobbying to score some cash for his escort girlfriend, the return of the Helena Guerges circus, Bev Oda's Not-gate and now Dimitri Soudas being found out as an influence peddler - Stephen Harper's silence was finally starting to become an issue.
Canadians, the Conservative focus groups undoubted discovered, were starting to balk at the idea that we should give Stephen Harper a political blank cheque without him making some effort to explain why he deserves it.
So last night Stephen Harper finally deigned to speak to the Canadian people via an interview with Peter Mansbridge - an interview very carefully stagemanaged to try to make him look like a regular guy. He stands in a hockey rink in Newfoundland in his quilted Canada jacket, tieless, doing his best to look like a minor hockey coach instead of someone who has never really had a job outside of politics. (A hockey rink? My first thought was that the Globe and Mail's John Doyle is righter than he knows: Harper doesn't just keep his hair in the fridge, the CPC keeps him in cold storage at all times!)
The interview itself is telling - if you read between the lines and look at the way Harper answers or doesn't answer the questions. He goes out of his way to try to look like a reasonable guy who is beset by unreasonable opponents who are conspiring (coalition!) in diabolical ways to seize power for their own sinister ends (tax increases! Separatists in power! reopening the constitution!). To someone looking at Canadian politics for the first time, someone who has no idea of his track record, he might even pull it off.
But notice how many times Mansbridge, who is hardly a confrontational interviewer, calls bullshit on Slick Stevie. Notice how often Harper says something about his opponents and Mansbridge responds with "but that isn't what they've said."
Notice how Harper refuses, several times, to admit that any form of coalition is valid and that the party with the most seats doesn't necessarily get to govern if they can't win the confidence of the House of Commons. He keeps trying to argue that it is somehow a vague and nebulous notion that constitutional scholars disagree about and that "regular Canadians" would never accept.
It isn't. They don't. We have. Stephen Harper is just plain lying.
He tries to make it sound as if his government was brought down over the budget. It wasn't.
He tries to make it sound like he doesn't know why we are having an election, when he pretty much engineered it through his own brinksmanship on parliamentary privledge. He gave the opposition the choice of either letting him walk all over the notion of the government being accountable to the House of Commons or forcing an election while they trailed him by enough in the polls that he might get a majority.
And thanks to a divided oppostion, he very well might get his majority. Notice how he doesn't really say why he needs a majority other than to talk about "stability" and "unnecessary elections"-odd given that he has forced the last two. Notice also that he won't really say what he will do with a majority that he hasn't been able to do with a minority.
At the end of the interview Mansbridge asks: "Why should Canadians trust you with their vote on May 2?"
Harper replies, "I say look at our record, look at the direction the country is going. What other country would you want to be living in right now?"
I agree. Look at his record. Look at the direction the country is going. Ask yourself what other country Stephen Harper would rather be living in right now.
Me, I'd rather be living in a country where the government doesn't fire the head of the nuclear regulatory agency for doing her job. I'd rather be living in a country that is willing to investigate credible accusation of complicity with torture. I'd rather be living in a country where the prime minister doesn't suspend parliament every time he gets his tail caught in a crack. I'd rather be living in a country that spends a billion dollars on helping the poor instead of dispensing political pork and encouraging police thuggery as part of an international dog-and-pony show. I'd rather be living in a country where the government wasn't providing instruction manuals to its members on how to disrupt parliamentary committees.
I'd rather live in a country where decisions are based on solid census data and scientific fact, not one where we spend a fortune building new prisons for criminals who don't exist outside of the imagination of fearmongering politicians.
I'd like to live in the tolerant, economic and socially progressive Canada I grew up in, not in a country run by a control-freak micromanager hell-bent on turning it into a laboratory for Randites, frat boys, authoritarians, religious zealots and ignorant yahoos.
I'd like to think that is what most Canadians want and why Stephen Harper won't get his majority.
I'd like to think that, but then Willy Loman posted this video and reminded me why our country is in trouble to begin with.