Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stephen Harper's strategy - Counting on voter ignorance

Stephen Harper is turning into the Homer J. Simpson of Canadian politics. Avid fans of 'The Simpsons' may recall an episode where Homer decided to run for the position of Sanitation Commissioner. The incumbent was more than competent, but Homer was able to win in a landslide by using the slogan:

"Can't Someone Else Do It"

Springfield's resident moron promised to beef up garbage collection with sanitation workers doing all the icky jobs people hate. And he delivered on his promise, bankrupting and utterly destroying the town in the process.

Of course 'The Simpsons' is just a satirical cartoon. But good satire is based at least on some fact. And just as Homer was able to play on the ignorance of voters, Stephen Harper is hoping to do the same's worked for him before.

During the last election Harper and company ignored the economic storm clouds on the nation's horizon. We were promised continued surpluses for the federal treasury, and continued reductions in our taxes. That he only managed to win a minority shows that Canadians aren't as dumb as the Prime Minister was hoping.

He was more successful playing to the ignorant amongst us when his government was facing defeat late in 2008. With the prospect of a Liberal NDP coalition taking his place Harper went into full rant telling everyone that: 'You don't get to be Prime Minister after losing an election'. He didn't stop there, he referred to the potential partnership of his political rivals as 'a coup', an overthrow of a democratically elected government.

That none of what he said was true didn't matter, enough people bought it, and public support for the coalition tanked. Readers who aren't in need of a remedial civics lesson know that Canadians don't elect a Prime Minister. We elect Members of Parliament to represent individual ridings across the country. Even the people in Harper's Calgary riding didn't elect him as PM, they chose him as their local representative.

The party with the most seats after an election forms the government. And the person chosen by that party's members as leader assumes the office of Prime Minister. If the governing party has a minority of the seats, then they have to garner the support of one or more of the opposition parties to ensure a working government. If they're unable, the government is defeated, and two possibilities exist. An election can be called, or the Governor General can call on the leader of another party (typically the one with the second most seats) to form a government, provided they can demonstrate that they have the confidence (or support of the majority) of the house.

That's all history now of course, and totally moot in any case. Harper was able to whine and yell loud enough that the GG granted his request for Parliament to be put on time out. Ignatieff came in as leader of the official opposition and quickly put the notion of a coalition to rest. Which leaves us in our current state, with Harper governing as if an election is coming any day now.

And that brings us back to the original Homer J. Simpson comparison, and how Stephen Harper is playing to the ignorance of the voting populace.

Stephen is telling us what he thinks we want to hear, that government services won't be cut, and that taxes won't be raised. Sounds wonderful doesn't it? Too bad its irresponsible and dangerous. The Conservatives aren't trying to run the country responsibly, they're trying to get re-elected, the consequences be damned.

Expenditures are up, and revenues are down....that's why we're going to be looking at a deficit of some $50 billion this year. And it just keeps piling on, 5 years down the road projections have that total swelling to $150 billion, and possibly even more.

But do Canadians really care? Stephen Harper is banking on enough of us being ignorant to the long term consequences of his "plan". Of course it really isn't a plan at all, unless he's intentionally trying to destroy the country.

Imagine a single income family with no savings and tons of bills. The bread winner comes home and says he's been forced to take a 25% cut in his wages. Fearful that his wife will leave him he says:

"Don't worry honey....we're going to maintain exactly the same lifestyle irrespective of our financial situation".

If the wife in this scenario is smart she'd give serious consideration to packing up...that or looking at some therapy for her spouse.

Here's the script the Tories will be following in the coming months, borrowed heavily from John McCain's failed bid for the U.S. presidency.

Get ready for Harper to start decrying Michael Ignatieff and the other parties as tax raising spend thrifts. When we're not hearing some quote of Iggy's from 10 years ago, we'll be hearing about the Liberal leader's acknowledgement that taxes may need to be increased down the road because of all the debt we're racking up now.

Again I'll ask the question. Do Canadians really care?

Are we so self centred and detached that we fail to realize that we belong to a society? Do we understand that when politicians promise things like increased military spending, more money for health care, a beefed up law and order agenda...Do we get that these things cost money?

Harper is hoping that Canadians will believe that we can have our cake and eat it too. That he can deliver the world, without it costing us an extra dime. And if he succeeds Canadians will go back to seeing ever increasing portions of our tax dollars going into the black hole that is interest charges.

Do Canadians really want to see 25 cents and then 30, 40 and 50 cents of every dollar we give Ottawa...doing nothing except paying for the excesses of an ego maniac consumed with maintaining power?

My faith is that Canadians are smarter than the residents of Springfield.

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