Friday, April 29, 2011
Why I'm not voting for Stephen Harper
Some people think you’re not supposed to get personal in your politics. They contend that what matters most in a political leader is whether he or she can run the country, not whether you like them.
Part of me agrees with that. Government has to be able to function like a business to get things done efficiently, and having leaders with a half-decent head for such things is pretty important.
But I’d argue that there are times when judging political leaders by the way you feel about them is perfectly sensible. When it happens in other areas of our lives, we call it “a gut feeling” and go with it. Why should it be any different when picking the people who will lead our country?
It’s something of a standing joke in Canada that women don’t like Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I’m one of them.
And I admit, it started out as a feeling. But it grew to much more than that soon enough. My reasons for disliking Harper may have been visceral initially, but so many of his actions since then have confirmed my original gut call.
That’s the thing about gut reactions - there’s usually a reason for them. It might not be obvious in the moment, but give it time. Watch the video “Canadian Women’s Favourite Pick-up Line” on YouTube and you’ll see that women have all kinds of legitimate reasons for not liking Harper.
His handlers tend to view that as an image problem. Maybe, but I’d sure hate to think it’s as easy as putting an argyle sweater on a guy and a baby in his arms.
But what do I know? Even I had a small, sweet thought for Harper when I saw the TV clip of him singing at the piano at the National Arts Centre gala in 2009.
And now he’s in line to be our prime minister again after Monday’s election. Something must be working for him.
I got into a brief back-and-forth on this issue recently with a Facebook friend. Something close to despair has overcome me lately at the seeming inevitability of Monday’s election outcome, and in a moment of weakness I had posted a couple of anti-Harper links.
My Facebook friend took a pragmatic view of Harper: He didn’t like some of Harper’s positions either, but figured he was the candidate most ready to lead and with the most potential to do good things for Canada.
But is that true? Given the views that Harper holds and the policies his government promotes, could Canada ever end up thriving under his leadership? He represents certain kinds of Canadians very well, but there’s a significant contingent of us who he barely hides his contempt for.
Of course, I’m from B.C. I’ve long had the sense that B.C. doesn’t matter much to Ottawa and that the feeling is mutual. Beyond the occasional foray west to destroy our fisheries, we’ve learned not to expect much from the feds or to count on our votes mattering.
But then you get a prime minister like Harper and realize that it has to matter. You go from feeling rock-solid certain and even proud about the progressive nature of Canada, to feeling embarrassed, worried and fearful about what your government might get up to next.
If Harper’s only fault was that he focused on Canada’s short-term economic performance more than he did on the well-being of its people, that would be one thing. That seems to be a standard flaw in conservative governments.
But Harper has those Reform-Alliance roots, and it shows. That segment of the conservative movement packs a lot of moral judgment into its decision-making. You end up with governments that are willing to make genuinely stupid, harmful decisions just because they think they have the moral high ground.
The argyle sweater has never been made that could convince me to like Stephen Harper after seeing his government in action - scrapping the census, wiping out women’s services, campaigning against same-sex marriage, threatening to close Vancouver’s safe-injection site.
Harper is the kind of guy who manufactures an entire fiction around youth crime just to scare uninformed voters into his corner. He prorogued Parliament, thwarting democratic process just because he could.
So yes, things feel pretty personal between me and Harper right now. But not without reason.