September 23, 2009

Stephen Harper; A Colonial Mind

"At the core of the colonial mindset is its self-destructive logic. It is unconscious nihilism. Insecurity often drives an elite to believe itself incapable of taking the lead in its country's own affairs. For reassurance it seeks out and clings to some outside force, thus hoping for special consideration. Consideration for what purpose? To provide a direction and, as if by association, a certain importance. Typically this is called a 'special relationship' by the insecure party. As for the outside force, it rarely bothers to call such a relationship anything at all, except when poked by the weaker party seeking more reassurance.

And when the much-hoped-for special consideration does not materialize, the insecure party is confirmed in its fears. The false hope for security becomes the mechanism for turning these fears into a reality."

~ John Ralston Saul, A Fair Country (pg.250)

Stephen Harper's entire tenure has been about appeasing someone or something else. Whether it has been the U.S., the West, his past professors and mentors, etc. Harper has done little for the good of Canada and even less to make Canada a leader in any area. Rather, it could be argued he has negotiated away and intentionally withdrawn Canada's capacity to be a player on a world stage.

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Much of his work prior to being a legit politician was about how Canada shouldn't do certain things or that Canada was doing to much and as such he viewed Canada as weak, a "welfare state" and "second-tier socialist country". Never was his work about how strong Canada had become in any area or recognizing that Canada was succeeding in many areas, both social and fiscal. That the very programs and ideals that he viewed negatively were actually contributing to the strength of Canada, both within and outside of the borders.

Even after joining the House of Commons, Harper has continued to look down on Canada. When the government of the day refused to enter the Iraq war, Harper ran to the US media to proclaim his support. And during his tenure as Prime Minister he sold-out our industries to foreign interests, whether it was softwood or high-tech, etc. and undermined many contemporary policies that deal with the environment, women, minorities and so forth. At any point if there was leadership to be found or had for Canada, Harper has allowed it to simply slip away and let others take over.

What is it that has Harper so fearful of being a leader within Canada and allowing Canada to be a leader within the world? What is so wrong with Canada standing up for its citizens and values that both have gotten Canada where it is and made it significant and unique in the world?

It seems Harper is stuck in a colonial mindset. He seems to beleive Canada can't be a leader. That it can't stand up for itself. To him it's just Canada, a provincial country that is meek in comparison to the great powers. And as such it should behave accordingly.

As a conservative Prime Minister he has also shown these tendencies when it comes to running the government. He's constantly playing politics rather than governing. Willing to cater directly to his core supporters, saying one thing in public only to contradict himself in private. He'll even as going as far as fashioning policies to favour his base (environment, employment insurance).

It's easy to say that he's just power hungry, which there seems to be little doubt anyway, but it has to be more than just power. With power comes real responsibility and certain privileges. Both of these Harper has shied from. Really, he's afraid; Afraid of having to put himself or Canada in the spotlight. He's afraid of taking risks both personally and as a country. He's afraid of possibly having to truly lead.

If he wasn't afraid then the Harper in private would also be the Harper in public. He would show confidence in his ideas, the policies he believes in and in the strength of this nation. He would stand up for Canada and therefore have Canada stand up for itself. But being afraid at home means Canada has become afraid outside. So instead he plays politics, rather than govern, because he fears what might be and what is. He would rather sell himself and Canada out to others in hopes that they will do something for him and us.

US not following the rules when it comes to softwood lumber? Sell out the industry. Maybe they'll return the favour later and make him look good... Oops, that didn't work.

Climate change a global issue? Well, release several plans that take more effort to print and publicize than it does to understand how little they do. But don't forget to make sure the tar sands get more favourable terms. And internationally, let's disrupt any possible progress and shake hands with other hold outs. They'll thank us later...Well, that didn't work out for us either, since all the other deniers are now from power.

How much longer can this 'please notice me' attitude continue? As long as Harper and the Conservatives are in power is the simplest answer. Canada has lost face internationally in almost every area since Harper has become Prime Minister. Our global economic prowess has decreased significantly, it is now common policy to abandon our citizens in times of need, and so on. All just so Harper can tread lightly and buddy up to those with ideas and with the courage to lead and hope that they take us along with them.

Canada wasn't built on the attitude of being subservient or new but shy student in the class. Canada has a long history of stepping out of the box, building consensus, taking risks. Generally speaking, that is how we got to where are today. Those leaders in the past that also played into a colonial frame of mind, didn't last very long and are even easily forgotten by students of Canadian history. Our founding fathers were all strong, proud Canadians who had a very clear idea of what they wanted and believed Canada could be. It didn't involve hiding in the corner, afraid of others. It meant standing up for your convictions and what's right. That's what Canada needs from its leaders and the effects are obvious when it's absent.


Jennifer Smith said...

Every politician in this country should be locked in a room and have 'A Fair Country' read to them. Repeatedly, if necessary, until they get it.

ALW said...


Wow, you are really getting off on the wrong foot when you start with a quote from John Ralston Saul of all people about self-destructive logic. Before we examine the Conservative record on the world stage since 2006, we need to look at what it is deviating from.

Canada’s “voice” on the world stage prior to 2006 consistent of the following formulae: (1) wait to see what the EU says, copy it (2) Wait to see what the Bush administration says, mouth some platitudes about how its view differs somewhat, but not actually do anything substantive to oppose it (3) Talk the talk (“we’re signing Kyoto!”) but don’t walk the walk (do absolutely nothing to implement it) (4) wait to see what everyone else at the United Nations says, then take the same position (5) on any international dispute, split the difference.

The reason you say that Stephen Harper is “appeasing” someone else is because he’s pursuing policies you happen to dislike, nothing more. That doesn’t say anything about leadership or Canada’s role in the world. Why try to dress is up as something more than that? Canada took a position on, say, climate change, that you don’t like. It doesn’t therefore follow that Canada isn’t “being a leader” (as if we were before, by following everyone else?). It just means you don’t like the policy. Fine! So just say so! If Micheal Ignatieff were Prime Minister, and he did what you wanted and what I disliked, I could just as easily say he was “appeasing” you and ignoring me, or “appeasing” the European Union and the Annex and left-wing professors. But it all just comes down to the exact same thing: I don’t like what he’s doing.

Take your criticism of Harper talking down Canada. What, precisely, is Michael Ignatieff doing these days? Is he pointing out that we have come through a worldwide economic crises in quite possibly the best shape of any industrialized country? No: he’s pointing out what he seeing as its current shortcomings. Why? Because that’s what opposition politicians, and other malcontents who don’t have any power, do. They emphasize the negative. So in this respect, there’s no difference between Stephen Harper ten years ago and Michael Ignatieff today.

Your entire post equates “leadership” with “pursing policies I like”. So, if a politician doesn’t pursue policies you like, he’s not showing leadership. How deep.

Canada on the world stage has an independent voice now. Our military is no longer a joke. We actually take positions at the United Nations without looking over our shoulder now to see what others are saying first. We active defend our interests and our views without worrying first about who it’s offending (see: China, Iran).

It is under Liberal governments that Canada has been a diplomatic coward, a water-carrier for Europe, a vassal to multilateral bodies, a sidelined, irrelevant, bit player that no one paid any attention to and took no notable positions on anything. We were content to bask in our high self-regard back home while our armed forces crumbled, convinced that everyone in the world outside our borders respected us and viewed us as “honest brokers” - the evidence for which seems to exist largely inside our heads, rather than anywhere substantive in the world abroad.

So I take a different view. Now, for the first time since the Mulroney era - when we were leaders in the fight against apartheid - we have an actual coherent, consistent, independent foreign policy.
You may not like those policies. But that’s not the same as saying there’s no leadership.

Kyle said...

I think it's clear that I have little use for Harper's politics or his views.

There may be some correlation between my disdain for his 'policies' and my opinion of him as not a leader. Though it's not as superficial as you'd make it seem.

If Harper stood up for something or even stood for something period, I definitely would think there are leadership tendencies there. However, Harper continues to show he doesn't believe in what he's done, won't openly talk about what he does and in the interim has done little of substance. That is why I don't think he's leader and full out, I think he's a coward. He panders in hopes that someone or something will either return the favour or give him the boost he needs.

As for most of your (talking) points. I'm not sure reality agrees. I will agree with your point on Mulroney and apartheid, but only so far as it was more situational. Real, substantive foreign policy probably ended somewhere around Pearson and Trudeau. Mulroney was an exception to the current situation that ties the decline of substantive foreign policy with the changing of ministers of foreign affairs every couple of years.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)