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Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 in At TMV, International | 0 comments

Stephen Harper: Smugly Complacent

As Stephen Harper celebrated his fifth anniversary as Canada’s Prime Minister, some commentators — such as James Travers and Lawrence Martin — wrote that the prime minister has slowly but surely moved the country to the right. Last week, in an effort to demolish their arguments, Jeffrey Simpson cited a report by Focus Canada — which claims that Canadians haven’t changed much in thirty years:

On crime – the Harper government’s big thrust – Canadians are way offside with the government’s approach. Eighty-two per cent of Canadians don’t fear crime in their neighbourhood, and 77 per cent aren’t afraid to walk there at night.

By a whopping 58 per cent to 36 per cent, Canadians prefer prevention programs and education over tougher punishments as a way to combat crime. This sort of approach, of course, is diametrically opposite the one chosen by the Conservatives, who keep announcing headline-grabbing but functionally useless “tough on crime” measures. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” support federal gun regulations.

And, when it comes to spending priorities, Canadians are not Mr. Harper’s people:

Focus Canada’s survey finds Canadians’ top spending priorities to be education, health care, elderly programs, the environment and reducing child poverty. At the bottom are foreign aid, justice, defence, domestic security and arts and culture. The ordering of these priorities hasn’t changed much in two decades, except that support for defence spending – which soared with the Afghan engagement – has returned to the low levels of the 1990s.

But amid all the counter intuitive data, there is one very disturbing number. “The Harper government can take heart,” wrote Simpson, “that 52 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with the country’s direction, compared to 40 per cent who aren’t.”

How does one square that circle? It would appear that Canadians have adopted the mantra of Harper and Company. We are smugly complacent. In the face of impending disaster, we chill out. Remember Jim Flaherty’s line in the last election, just before the Great Recession? “Canada,” he said,” will run a small surplus.” His message hasn’t changed much.

Nowhere is the complacency more evident than in the Ministry of the Environment. Jim Prentice got tired of having nothing to do and left the government. The newly minted Environment Minister — former broadcaster Peter Kent — appears quite happy to dance to the sound of nothing.

But one of the factors behind the turmoil in Middle East these days is the sky rocketing cost of food. Some people, Paul Krugman wrote this week, claim there is a conspiracy in the financial markets. But

While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Last fall, when Canada lost its bid for a Security Council seat, the world looked at Mr. Harper and the other public faces of his government — recycled ministers from the old Mike Harris regime — men like Flaherty, John Baird and Tony Clement, and saw a cadre of the wilfully ignorant. If we truly believe these men have put us on the “right track,” we should be deeply ashamed.

Owen Gray grew up in Montreal, where he received a B. A. from Concordia University. After crossing the border and completing a Master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, he returned to Canada, married, raised a family and taught high school for 32 years. Now retired, he lives — with his wife and youngest son — on the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This post is cross posted from his blog.