Historian Michael Behiels commences his Citizen op-ed on the present constitutional emergency by describing the prime minister as “our not-so-benign dictator”. Kind of a remarkable rhetorical ploy, that. I’m from the tribe of Westerners who used to gripe about the Liberal “benign dictatorship”, but I realized how and silly overwrought this sort of language was on the day the B.D. Himself was ousted by his own caucus without so much as a “Thanks for the customized golf balls”. Ever since then, my Zen answer to every kerfuffle, foofaraw, and flibberty-floo about Parliament and its powers has been the same, no matter who was in power. Parliament has just as much power as its members care to take. No more, no less.
But little did I realize what a favour I was doing the dictator of old by consenting to describe him as “benign”, despite actual ethical misgivings about several of his policies! The Tom Flanagans of the world felt the need to throw that word “benign” in there as a pre-emptive apology for their own excessiveness. But now Behiels–unashamed! Unflinching!–has upped the ante: Stephen Harper’s not just a dictator, he’s one of those evil dictators. McLuhan would weep to behold such mastery of figure-ground effects.