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STEPHEN HARPER AND JUSTIN TRUDEAU: TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE AT WAR

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

    Agreed to have a battle;

For Tweedledum said Tweedledee

    Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,

    As black as a tar-barrel;

Which frightened both the heroes so,

    They quite forgot their quarrel

                        – Lewis Carroll

I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others. – Thomas Jefferson

Our inequality materializes our upper classes, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class. – Mathew Arnold

Frank A. Pelaschuk

THE SLAUGHTER

For some, Justin Trudeau’s sudden and totally surprising decision to expel the 32 liberal senators from the federal liberal caucus at the end of January, following months after his announcement that MPs would post expense travel and hospitality claims, was the clearest evidence to them that he had the true makings of a leader: he could keep a secret, make decisions, and act upon them in a ruthless fashion. Others are not so sure. It was true the move took almost everyone by surprise, not only because of its brutal suddenness, but also because of its sweeping implication of indictment, judgement and verdict: none of the senators affected, most of them liberal loyalists to the core, were consulted, and all were treated with equal shabbiness without regard to stature, status, and quality. Repudiated by Trudeau and the liberal party, tainted, Trudeau’s denials withstanding, apparently for drinking from the same public well poisoned by conservative Harper appointees Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and liberal Mac Harb, the senators were no longer welcome. Stunned, bloodied, tarred and abandoned by their own, still calling themselves liberals, they must have wondered what had hit them.

What was the message intended in that massive expulsion? Was it a George W. Bush moment, Trudeau saying, “I’m the decider” and flexing his muscles lest there be any doubt? Or was the move, as Trudeau suggests, the first step towards eliminating partisanship and returning the chamber to the days of sober second thought. Don’t bet on it. Some have offered that the move was merely a pre-emptive strike, in anticipation of the senate report to be released by the auditor general, Michael Ferguson, Trudeau’s desperate effort to dissociate himself and the liberal party from the seemingly endless Senate scandal in expectation that revelations would show that skimming from the public trough is not merely the purview of the three Harper appointees and the lone liberal prodigal. I would bet on that. Almost certainly, even if inadvertently, the move has effectively stigmatized the reputations of all liberal senators in the eyes of the public. What does Trudeau know or anticipate? It was neither right nor just but it was dam clever. The ball was thrown in Harper’s court. The buzz was immediate: “bombshell’ (National Post), “tactical masterstroke” (The Province). Trudeau was indeed the decider, the boss, the man in control. To Andrew Coyne, Trudeau “is the liberal party” (National Post, February 23, 2014). Some claimed it to be the most significant change to the senate since its inception. Bold it was; Trudeau had achieved the buzz he craved and needed; he had proven himself one tough bastard. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, the only party that has consistently sought the abolition of the Senate, had apparently been caught flatfooted. The gadflies, those lovers of eye candy over substance, were in love with Trudeau all over again, only more so; his ratings soared. He had done something exceptional; they just didn’t know what or its significance, but it looked and sounded good.

THE SPIN

Smearing and sacrificing others for one’s own ambition is not new in politics. Harper has made an art of such behaviour throwing scores of individuals under buses, some deserving, some not: if you’re not for them, you’re the enemy. Trudeau has not reached that stage; nevertheless, in aping Harper in the manner with which he dispatched the senators, he demonstrated that liberals and conservatives are both sides of the same coin, each as self-serving and as single-minded in the pursuit of raw power as the other: get in the way, you’re toast. If it’s legal, if it’s effective, if it’s headlines and boosts one’s image, anything goes. This is war; there are always casualties.

From the day he decided to run and was elected liberal leader, it has always been Trudeau’s party. While there had been a few naysayers within and without, liberal fortunes almost immediately reached new, dizzying heights: few had doubts this was the new saviour of the Party even though it appeared he had little to offer except charm, youth and inexperience; for the public, this apparently is enough. Few had doubts those soft Tory supporters, disenchanted with the Harper gang, would eventually drift back to the liberal fold. Thus the cult of personality, with the name of another Trudeau, had been reborn. Still, there were those niggling, irritating, doubters, the pragmatists who wanted only to know what he offered that was new and different, what were his party’s policies, what new ideas he brought, and where he stands on certain issues: abortion, assisted suicide, proportional representation, unions, public servants, healthcare, power sharing between federal and provincial governments?

Policies? Ideas? Well, they can wait. Enjoy the moment, let the world love him.

For liberals, any glimmer of appearing to be open, transparent, and honest, is seized upon and brandished with the smugness of righteousness. When that glimmer happens to be from Trudeau, that sparkling darling of the media and the public, as when he “reported” on himself for a “mistake” in claiming $840 to which he was not entitled, the liberals went into paroxysm of self-congratulatory ecstasy. He had put himself on the line, revealed that he, too, was capable of weakness, of making mistakes, was close to being just like them; it was risky; what if others saw him as just another politico taking the high road only because he was about to be caught or exposed. Not to worry; the risk paid off, Trudeau was a hero, a virtuous, self-effacing young man in the dirty world of politics. He was willing to suffer the slings for admitting to making expense claims he should not have made. Oh, how everyone loved this, especially the liberals; what further proof of integrity was needed?

But how had this happened in the first place? As reported by CBC’s Leslie MacKinnon, these were “errors” “inadvertently” made when he used “one of his parliamentary travel points to pay for a trip to a paid speaking engagement in 2012…” The mistake was “due to a ‘human error’ by his staff”. How could that be when Trudeau had, in June of 2013, stated unequivocally he had not used parliamentary resources for his public speaking events? As Mulcair pointed out, in that same CBC report, “he’s stolen a page from Stephen Harper’s playbook – deny, deny, deny – until you get caught and then you apologize” (CBC, Leslie MacKinnon, Jan. 16, 2014). Errors. Inadvertence. We’ve heard it all before from Harper and his crew time and again when caught in a lie or breaking the rules: “it’s an opposition smear campaign”; “it never happened”;  “I made a mistake”; “someone on my staff messed up”. No one owns anything, least of all his or her own wrongs.

I have never held any hope for better from Harper and have not been disappointed. There was just something about him I have never liked and it had more to do than with him being a conservative, intransigent and relentlessly partisan, though these were and are more than reasons enough for me to detest him; it was the folks with whom he surrounded himself, Pierre Poilievre the architect of the odious so-called Fair Elections Act meant to rig votes and disenfranchise tens of thousands to the advantage of the conservatives, and Dean del Mastro, Shelly Glover, Vic Toews, Rob Nicholson, Peter MacKay, Joe Oliver, Rob Nicholson, and on and on. Vicious, partisan, self-serving, mean-spirited and, more than a few, truly ethically challenged.

We all know about Harper’s loud denunciations of the liberals for their lack of openness and transparency when they held power and we know of his avowals to do better if elected. Well we have learned over the years that those were just words, his fingers crossed and his tongue forked. Instead of openness and transparency, we have in Harper and his regime the most secretive, deceitful, vicious, corrupt and anti-democratic government in recent memory. Most shocking is not that he and his conservative crew had early on shown signs of holding the electoral and democratic processes in contempt, but that they have actively and systematically acted on that contempt without any appreciable drop in their core base of support: the “in-out” scam; robocalls, illegal campaign claims, illegal corporate donations, all attempts to subvert the electoral process; had the new Bill, C-23, been in effect, it is doubtful we would have learned of these. But even all that is not enough for the conservatives. Devoid of shame, decency and credibility, in the full, proud awareness of their own vile corruptness and clearly content to spread their poison, Harper, Poilievre and the rest of these hypocritical, anti-democratic monsters, not content with the gerrymandered extra seats they will gain with the redrawn boundaries have, with the recent, offensively misnamed Fair Elections Act, set out to completely rig the game in their favour, striping Elections Canada of the right to investigate campaigning fraud and inform the public.  Still, even that is not enough for them. Having eliminated as acceptable IDs the election information card and vouching, that is, declarations by others that you are who you and the card say you are, in place for decades, conservative Brad Butt, to buttress the justification for doing so, made the claim that he had seen campaign workers pick up voter cards discarded by recipients in an apartment building. These cards, he said, were to be handed over to other people who would then be vouched for at a polling booth. There he was, standing up in the House offering, while miming the actions of those nefarious workers that would have done the Gong Show proud, a vivid description of what he, personally, had witnessed. The implication was clear, based on that one sighting, voter fraud was rampant and he had seen it with his own two crooked eyes. The thing is, it was all a lie. Bogus. A fabrication. An untruth. Fiction. Later, in the House, by his own admission, he stated he had witnessed no such thing. He said he had “misspoke”, he had been “mistaken”. Misspoke! Mistaken! About what he had publicly and loudly claimed to have personally witnessed with his own lying eyes? Butt’s ludicrous but damaging story may have changed but not my opinion of him; to me, he will always be a lying horse’s ass. If it’s not a staffer’s fault, and it usually is with conservatives, it’s a “mistake”. But this was no error. It was a deliberate attempt to deceive and mislead in order to bolster conservative claims of widespread voter fraud as justification for the changes to the Elections Act. Come hell or high water, the conservatives would disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, those least likely to vote for them. When asked in the house about the figures regarding voter fraud, Harper could give no concrete answer to the amount saying that Elections Canada, the very body he intends to muzzle and deprive of investigative powers, could give the numbers. The conservatives just know, they have this gut feeling, this thing Stephen Colbert called “truthiness”, that the poor, the elderly, those on the margins are cheats, liars, fraudsters. They never, ever look into their own befouled nest. Bill C-23 will be the real Harper legacy for future generations: it is a template of vileness and corruption to be admired and emulated by like-minded politico scum. Deceitful, dishonest, detestable! For conservatives, all that is beside the point; to them, all that matters is that we believe they are economic wizards. They promise to erase the debt and have a surplus expected to be of about $10 billion just in time for the 2015 election. And they will, off the backs of 19,000 public servant jobs and public service retirees, with closures of Veterans’ offices across the country, by withholding $3.1 billion from the DND (to be paid back later by future generations), by slashing services and ignoring the infrastructure. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Economic wizards? Yes, economic with the truth, economic with the facts, economic in ethics and integrity.

THE SEARCH

On most things, we know where Harper’s conservatives stand and for whom (not you and I). We know they are self-serving, venal and absolutely ruthless; theirs has been a quest for POWER and, having achieved it, keeping it, by any means. We know all critics are viewed, not just with suspicion, but also as enemies. We know Harper’s ambition has been to exterminate the liberal party. There is nothing admirable or noble in any of this though one would not know this by the strength of core conservative support.

But where does Trudeau stand? Where are the liberal ideals, vision, and policy? Referencing Jack Layton more than once, Trudeau talks of hope. Hope is not enough. Where is the beef?

Ask that of any of his supporters. Oh some might speak of his promise to legalize marijuana and the liberal wish to legalize assisted suicide, but most would simply blink before the lights went out. They don’t know because Trudeau himself doesn’t appear to know or, if he does, he’s keeping it to himself. Even his stand on assisted suicide is uncertain; it seems to be the position of liberal members rather than of Trudeau who, according to reports, had left the convention during the vote.

Blinded by the brilliance of his smile, supporters might have also become deaf to the emptiness of his offerings. To quote Gertrude Stein, “There’s no there there.” Stein was referring to her home in Oakland, California, which had been razed and, to all intents, no longer existed for her. I believe Trudeau is a decent man, but that is it: as of yet, there is no there there. Harper and his crew, on the other hand, have lots of substance, but it’s all in the form of meanness, spite, vindictiveness, and self-serving venality. No, nothing admirable about them.

Perhaps, in time, Trudeau will prove there is more to him than I believe; as he stands today, there’s nothing that suggests he should be the next prime minster any more than Harper should be now. I bear no grudge for Trudeau, he seems a likable fellow, but I do not see the maturity and depth one should expect, nay, demand, of a leader. Anyone who goes for a cheap laugh, as he did on a Quebec program with the referencing of the troubles in the Ukraine, with the loss of many lives, tying it to the Russian hockey game at the Olympics, needs to grow up. Now I do not for a moment believe that was callousness on Trudeau’s part. Rather, it was the callowness of youth and inexperience. Of course, Conservative Chris Alexander and other conservatives were quick to leap on their high horses indignantly harrumphing against Trudeau as clear evidence that, in the world of global politics, he would be a lightweight disaster. Maybe. But this comes from members of a government whose “economic diplomacy” allows them to do business with regimes notorious for human rights violations and where child brides are legal. These are the members whose government will not fund organizations that provide safe abortions for war rape victims and forced child brides. That is the obscenity, not Trudeau’s careless attempt at levity.

To his credit, Trudeau publicly apologized and he did so again to the Ukrainian ambassador. But only after much noise from the other parties though liberal MPs staunchly declared he had no reason to apologize. When he did so, they appeared uneasily subdued. But Trudeau did apologize and that should not be diminished. I can’t image Harper or his thugs doing so as easily. Truth, doubt, self-criticism, self-examination. Useful for the children of light but meaningless for Harper and his gang.

THE STAR

Trudeau promises to be different and better. Last summer, he and the liberals proudly declared that they, MPs and senators, would voluntarily post their travel and hospitality expenses and challenged the other parties to do the same. Supporters immediately trumpeted the move as a seismic leap into openness and transparency. The conservatives accepted the challenge but the NDP dismissed it as a stunt insisting that such postings would be meaningless without verification, which would necessitate the involvement of the auditor general. As it stood, the NDP correctly pointed out, the Trudeau “stunt” allowed MPs and senators to cherry pick what would be declared and revealed. On Monday (Feb 24), when the liberals released their expenses for the period from September to December 31, that’s exactly what was revealed: the NDP had it right, the postings were incomplete and did little to inform the public of the true costs of the travel and hospitality claims. Surprisingly, when the conservative senators posted their claims, they had done better than the liberals; they had included the costs of their spouses. The ex-liberal senators did not saying the information included were based on what MPs currently release. Liberals promise to add spousal costs in the future. Different? Better? Certainly meaningless if meant to demonstrate openness and transparency. But what is revealed should give pause to taxpayers. Do we really need the Senate? What does Trudeau think?

Well, Trudeau had a chance to let us know his thinking on many issues last weekend with the liberal party policy convention. Unfortunately, it got off to a rocky start.

Among the stars at the convention was one on whom Trudeau appears to pin much hope, his senior advisor on foreign policy and defence, retired, much decorated, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie considered a shoo-in liberal candidate which may disturb some liberals who took Trudeau at his word when he said that nominations for candidates would be open and free. He was to speak at the convention introduced by retired Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, another much respected veteran and one-time liberal senator until he and his colleagues were booted from the liberal caucus. Leslie did get to speak but Dallaire did not do the introduction . He was no longer wanted or needed. Shades of Harper. Is this the road to take with one of Canada’s heroes?

But, if Trudeau and Leslie were expecting an easy ride, the conservatives had a surprise for them. The day before the convention began, the government had leaked documents revealing that star Andrew Leslie might prove a problem for the liberals. Taxpayers had funded his move to a new home within the same city and only a few blocks from his first home for a cost of $72,000. Clearly this was no ordinary move, no ordinary bill. Given the Senate scandal and the public’s sudden concern for how their tax dollars was being spent, the conservatives saw their opportunity and took it and pounced; the NDP joined in. Leslie was just another big spending liberal living high on the public trough. Immediately, the liberals were screaming foul and defending their man. ‘“It’s quite clear that this government is ready to be vicious and ruthless with anyone, even with a Canadian hero, that dares disagree with their ideology and their approach,” Trudeau told reporters…’ (CBC, February 18).

Leslie’s move was not illegal. He considers it a “benefit” for his years of service in the military. Perfectly right, he’s entitled to his entitlements would say those more concerned with the niceties of legalese than the naïve niceties of perception. For them, judgement, optics, even the ethics, of claiming such an entitlement for a move of only a few blocks within the same city at such an exorbitant cost to taxpayers, is of little concern. The liberals, however, see this as a concerted conservative smear campaign. Of course it is. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that there is something unseemly about accepting such largesse at taxpayer expense. Seventy-two thousand dollars. Seven years ago, my wife and I moved from Richmond, B.C. to a small town in Ontario east of Ottawa. We hired a reputable trucking company that estimated the total weight of our goods to be slightly over 8000 lbs. The charge for the move, three months storage, for our flight, and final delivery to our new home came to slightly over $13,200. For an additional $1,100, we also shipped our car. Even accounting for inflation, even taking in that Leslie’s belongings may have exceeded the weight of ours and that there may have been costs that we did not incur, it is difficult to imagine how the $72,000 move in the same town can be justified or excused. Yet the liberals did exactly that. Their surprise and indignation, while clearly political posturing, is misplaced and should lead them to look at Andrew Leslie in a new light. This was the new and better? It was a “benefit” to which he was entitled, he claimed. Maybe so. However, because one is entitled to something doesn’t always make it right that he take it. The hypocrisy all round, from the conservative leak to the sputtering liberal outrage, is breathtaking and unseemly. Everyone seems to be in on the take. What’s in it for me? With what can I get away? One needs only look at the behaviour of conservatives Bev Oda and Peter Penashue, both gone, of Shelly Glover, James Bezan, Deal del Mastro and the three Harper Senate appointees. Offensive as it may be, Leslie’s moving claim was legal at the least.

Leslie and the liberals have their supporters. These charge that going after Leslie on this issue is tantamount to going after our military veterans. Give me a break. We know that’s what conservatives do; this is another matter entirely. Canadians should be more concerned about equity rather than defending what is clearly questionable. There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. Unfortunately, Leslie opted to follow the letter rather than the spirit. And that is a shame. Canadians should be asking themselves this: Why are certain military retirees like Leslie entitled to make outrageous moving claims while hundreds of other military personnel are suddenly thrust into bankruptcy selling homes for tens of thousands of dollars less than their value because of forced transfers? These military men and women have been abandoned by the government, the military and the public. It is this that should elicit howls of outrage rather than a rush of support for Leslie.

THE SCAM

Leslie and the liberals have accused the Tories of going after Leslie for purely partisan reasons because of his role as Liberal advisor to Trudeau. No kidding. From day one, Harper’s gang has demonstrated that no vile, dirty trick is too vile or too dirty not to be used including vote rigging, making it easier for wealthy parties (i.e. the conservative party) to make more telephone calls without claiming them as expenses, and striping Elections Canada of the power to investigate campaign fraud and reporting on them. Harper’s thugs, in effect, have entrenched the right to cheat during elections. So why the (gasp) surprise? Even before the convention was to begin, the Toronto Star had released documents outlining Conservative plans to undermine Trudeau. And they did, with Leslie. That is in their nature. For Tories, smearing opponents is a Pavlovian response; to criticize them is to immediately have them slavering and straining against the chain to get at you. In this instance, reprehensible as the tactic is, vile as their motives may be, which have nothing to do with informing Canadians or saving them money but everything to do with discrediting Leslie, the public has every right to know of these expenses. But, we should also be aware of the source and of the reason why it was made public. No one walks away clean on this.

Yet there is something else about Leslie that is just as telling as his claiming of his entitlements. While speaking at the convention, he had suggested that the conservatives had courted him and he had rejected them. But that wasn’t quite the story. According to the oily anti-democratic minister of democratic reform, Poilievre, it was Leslie who had approached them, which Leslie appears to confirm. Surely Trudeau could not have been happy with this turn. On CBC’s The House with Evan Solomon, Trudeau, while claiming there had been “no active courting” of Leslie, had this to say of Leslie: “He had a range of conversations with different people, different political parties and I’m quite pleased that after reflection…he chose to serve his country through the Liberal Party” (CBC, February 22, 2014). Even with something as straight forward as this, those politicos have to spin: where is the pride in being second choice or in having a star candidate who is clearly shopping for the best deal – for himself? Leslie is no kid; one would think he would know which party most represented his philosophical/political leanings. Apparently not. Perhaps he had difficulty in differentiating between conservative and liberal ideology, which is easy enough considering how much they agree on when it comes to the Keystone XL Pipeline and helping themselves to their entitlements. Of course it could just be as simple as this: Leslie sees the liberals as the sure bet for next election, and he’s a winner. Or so the liberals are betting. Political philosophy? That can wait.

Leslie “chose to serve his country through the Liberal Party” Trudeau said. Leslie was a victim of a smear, Trudeau said, because he “dares disagree with their ideology and their approach,” It’s painfully obvious and sad because so patently untrue. This is to what politics has come, a star candidate willing to palm himself off to the highest bidder and the buyer gilding the lily. If a rookie to politics, Leslie sure acts like a pro: he may not know what he believes but he certainly knows what he wants. Crass opportunism has degraded politics to its present state. It has less to do with serving one’s country than serving one’s self. And that is a shame.

We have seen too much of that from the conservatives, those who cherish no belief but the economic Darwinism of capitalism: What’s in it for me? With the certitude of their own superiority, Harper and crew are not prone to doubt or self-examination, why should they accept such from others? They don’t. The liberals show every sign of following the Harper example and that, too, is a shame.

Hope. Different and better. Nice sentiments. Even rumblings of the rebirth of the Just Society invoked by father Pierre Trudeau. Platitudes and public stupidity appear to be the winning combination conservatives rely upon. It appears the Liberals do as well.

Would Trudeau be a better leader than Harper? I don’t know. I know this: turning a blind eye to the failings of one of your own while zeroing in on the same failings in others is nothing but hypocrisy. Too, demonstrating the ability for ruthlessness is not necessarily a quality of leadership but, rather, a demonstration of power fuelled by fear and the desire to impress. That’s a sign of weakness.

I dislike Harper. I don’t like what he and his crew have done. As a leader, I don’t believe he is fit to lead an outhouse brigade. But then, there I go, wrong again. He does. They govern this nation.

I do believe Trudeau a better person than anyone in Harper’s gang, but how much better do you have to be to eclipse bottom-feeders?

We need a change, a real change. Conservatives and liberals rule as if by divine right; they have been the only parties that have governed since Canada became a nation. We need to change how we vote so that the results are truly fair representation. Though Harper and gang would have us believe otherwise, there is more to governance than “economic diplomacy” and rigging the game. Nor is it enough to turn to Justin Trudeau’s liberals with the same platitudes we heard from Harper; liberals are just a softer image of the same message Harper offers. Surely we have had enough of that.

We could do a lot worse than Mulcair and the NDP. We have done. We still are.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

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