Heartless! Worry-wart! Make up your mind! Or, failing that, ours! - Macleans.ca

Heartless! Worry-wart! Make up your mind! Or, failing that, ours!


Oct. 7: Harper ‘so insensitive’ on economy: Dion

Oct. 8: Mr. Harper’s empathy deficit

Oct. 8: A lively Dion slams ‘Out of touch’ Harper

Dec. 16: PM’s pessimistic talk makes bad situation worse, critics say


Heartless! Worry-wart! Make up your mind! Or, failing that, ours!

  1. B-b-b-but Paul! It is the opposition’s job to oppose!

    I vaguely recall Harper in opposition soming out to reporters saying that a (Martin? Goodale?) budget was “better than expected” or something “we could live with.” So there were no hoots of derision when the budget was supported. Dion spends a Parliament badmouthing everything (except for the Afghanistan mission) a government does and then failing to put his caucus votes where his mouth was. So the hoots of derision were richly deserved.

    At least here, the opposition is offering an alternative to the perspective of the government. It is the MEDIA’s job to highlight the bobbing and weaving, and so for this I thank you.

  2. I think the point is that it’s a fine balancing act where you feel empathetic, but you don’t predict armmegedon, and Harper isn’t finding the balance.

  3. “Especially during difficult times, leaders have to inject confidence and hope into their citizens and Stephen Harper has done precisely the opposite with these comments.” John McCallum, Dec 16, Globe And Mail

    On Monday, I seem to recall McCallum and Brison claiming that Flaherty had cooked the books and were demanding to see the ‘real’ numbers. Nothing ‘injects confidence and hope into their citizens’ like claiming the Finance Minister is a crook when you have no proof to back up your claims, I guess.

  4. If the point is to engender sympathy for the battering of Mr. Harper in a difficult situation ….. no mercy here.

    If the point is to point out the delightful inconsistencies of sound-byte politics, well done.

    The hobgoblins of small minds and all that ……

  5. I love it:

    In September, Dion partakes in “the most irresponsible behaviour of a Canadian political leader” Harper has ever seen by driving down “confidence in the Canadian economy”.

    Now, “leaders have to inject confidence and hope into their citizens and Stephen Harper has done precisely the opposite with these comments”

    These guys swap talking points like hockey cards: “Hey, you done with that ‘confidence in the economy’ talking point? Cause we could really use it about now…”

  6. jwl, the proof is that the PBO and private sector economics all predicted worse conditions, and the Minister was afraid to supply his assumptions. That is pretty damning.

  7. I love how oblique the media is.

    Harpy has been bullsh*tting outrageously since September and the Globe refers to it as his “evolving views.”

    *ewps* I should tone it down. I don’t want to upset the market.

  8. or Darwin.

  9. The wonders of nature, infinitely wise, infinitely creative!

  10. I don’t see any inconsistency, except in Harper himself. As Prime Minister he should be reassuring Canadians that (1) he is connected to reality (so don’t say everything looks fine and there won’t be any deficits, when that obviously is not true) and (2) he is prepared to do what he can and is capable of leading the country during these difficult times (so don’t say it is unpredictable and I’m really worried). Telling the truth does not mean the PM has to tell Canadians of all his nightmares. Tell us the facts and plans, not what lurks in his psyche.

    Both of Harper’s responses deserve to be slammed – one for simply lying and the other for expressing worry and uncertainty instead of leadership. Both undercut our confidence that we have a government capable of coming up with and implementing a plan which recognizes the international and national situations.

  11. Both of Harper’s responses deserve to be slammed – one for simply lying and the other for expressing worry and uncertainty instead of leadership.

    Ok, just so we’re clear, Harper can’t say that the economy is in good shape, and he can’t say the economy is in bad shape? What do you want him to say, exactly?

    “My fellow Canadians, let me be perfectly clear: the economy is kind of on the fence at this point. It could go either way. When making major economic decisions that will affect your families and your businesses, it would probably be best to just flip a coin. God Bless Canada.”

  12. Yes, Paul, the economic dynamic has been completely linear since October – certainly, it couldn’t be a case of Harper being completely off-kilter at each step of the way…

    Ti-Guy’s correct, Harper’s been recalibrating his response at every turn, and yet it’s been conducted at exactly the wrong time and creating exactly the opposite effect, both politically and economically.

    Imminent economic downturn? Nah, says Harper. Fundamentals are strong, Canada will ride it out with narry a job loss while keeping our budgets balanced.

    Economy starts tipping? Meh, shrugs Harper. Fundamentals still strong, and heck, it’s a buyers market.

    Economy starts sinking with dire effects on Canadians? Heh. Guess a depression is possible. Who knows?

  13. Catherine – you captured the nuance nicely – the PM has not walked the line well.

    At this point, however, given the focus the economic turmoil and the PMs stature and performance on the ‘economy file’ – I suspect he has little-to-no influence on Canadian consumer confidence.

    If the government sent a bar of gold to everyone – I predict it would be used to pay down debt.

  14. I think the Liberals are more or less taking Scott Reid’s advice and avoiding any impulse to show Harper mercy. After two years of sustained ‘not-a-leader’ attacks, Harper, et al, may come to learn what it’s like to be the pinata.

    Fair? Not really. Deserved? Oh yeah.

  15. Olaf, there is nothing wrong with Harper saying the economy is in bad shape. It is a question of whether he can convey that he both recognizes the situation and is the right person to steer us through these times. So far, he hasn’t been able to.

  16. Olaf: October was a message of denial. December was a message of no-hope.

    What we needed, both times, was an acknowledgement of the difficulties along with a message of hope.

  17. What I love about this comment board is how absolutely nobody clings to party lines in defiance of logic or changing circumstance. It’s that willingness to leave party affiliation at the door that makes these conversations so rewarding and full of surprises.

  18. Honesty about the state of the countries finances would have shown leadership, yes…but I suspect that he would have had to reveal how utterly incompetent his “stewardship” has been in promoting policies that have seriously destabilized our economy.

    The CPC is just flapping in the wind on the economic file, and I would much prefer to see them fall on this sword of their own making to underline their complete stupidity…


  19. Q.E.D.

  20. he he….. I think I’ve had that response in the past. It was good then too.

  21. Thwim: What we needed, both times, was an acknowledgement of the difficulties along with a message of hope.

    Competence and inspiration? We’re talking about Stephen Harper here, not Barack Obama. Quit trying to Americanize our politics.

  22. I’m trying to think of those regular commenters who tend to be neutral – at least in a party sense. It’s a pretty short list, so far…

  23. Paul, I think the point here is that Harper wasn’t willing to consider any possibility of the Canadian economy being in dire straits in the coming months (remember “our economic fundamentals are strong”?)…. BEFORE the election. Now the communications strategy is:… by the way, we’re all doomed! A certain inconsistency dontcha think? (a quality you recently beat up Dion over, regarding his change in the support of a Coalition).

  24. I think it’s fair to ding the PM on inconsistency. I’m just not persuaded by an article that says, “Saying bad things is bad,” and whose only sources for that argument are John McCallum and Peter Donolo (the piece then quotes economists who say, “Actually, saying bad things isn’t particularly bad”). I’d hope a newspaper is something more than a Skinner box designed to shock the rat no matter which way it turns.

  25. Well(s)…timing *is* everything :)


  26. I used to be neutral pre-Harper, but the times call for engagement, not neutrality. Is it really too much to expect a Prime Minister to be capable of both staying in touch with reality and exuding some competence and confidence during difficult times?

    I suspect the really worried, so unpredictable spiel is simply a tactic Harper is employing. Fear can be useful in politics and if we might be heading into another election, making people even more worried is one strategy Harper might successfully employ. It won’t do much for the economy though.

  27. I have a sinking sense that it doesn’t matter one whit what the PM does or does not say these days. Nor that there’s much 30 million of us can do in the face of this global economic meltdown, by way of positive or negative attitude.

    Maybe we should just permanently prorogue things and let the Queen take charge again.

  28. Is it really too much to expect a Prime Minister to be capable of both staying in touch with reality and exuding some competence and confidence during difficult times?

    A Prime Minister? No. This Prime Minister? Yes. Especially the reality part.

    For the record (yes, you can quote me, Paul), I can’t imagine many people are awaiting Harper’s pronouncements on the economy with baited breath at this point. When you change your mind 7 or 8 times in the span of a few months you tend to lose a bit of credibility. I tend to think that McCallum’s claims re: our politicians God-like affect on the overall confidence in the economy are as nonsensical now as Harper’s were during the election.

    Then again… maybe a few fireside chats couldn’t hurt. Fortuantely, Harper’s voice and demeanor are just sooo sooooothing.

  29. Thanks you, Paul Wells, this is one reason why I read your work and blog, this post was timely and so were your ensuing comments.

    Sean Stokholm: I think there are few neutral commenters (I myself am not neutral along party lines), but I don’t think it is neutrality that is lacking, it’s (in Paul’s words) “defiance of logic or changing circumstance”. It’s people who talk out of both sides of their mouths, arguing mutually contradictory statements.

    Sometimes people will twist themselves into pretzels because there is no logical consistency to what they are saying. Occasionally I will engage in debate, but I know there are certain commenters here to avoid.

  30. catherine: “Is it really too much to expect a Prime Minister to be capable of both staying in touch with reality and exuding some competence and confidence during difficult times?”

    Have you actually spent any time or effort paying attention to what other people are saying?

  31. sf,

    You’re right. Flexibility is a better word, I suppose.

  32. Austin So, you deserve another one:


  33. Sean Stokholm: humility is another word, or consistency, or the expression “arguing in good-faith”

  34. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what Harper says. But, for the record, this is some of what Harper actually said:

    “I’m very worried about the Canadian economy. … The truth is, I’ve never seen such uncertainty in terms of looking forward to the future.”

    Personally, I think he should have left that stuff on his mother’s (or his therapist’s) couch. No one wants to hear how worried and scared their PM is – whether it is actually the “truth” or just meant to scare the hell out of us.

    On the upside, Harper also said in the same interview that he was going to enjoy being Prime Minister as long as it lasted.

  35. Given Harpers less then steller batting average on predicting theeconomy, why would anyone take him seriouly now. There’s a storm a comin, he says, maybe a depression. Well this is one ol boy you aint gonna fool again. On the contrary ihear there are still some good buying opportunities out there.

  36. I can’t imagine many people are awaiting Harper’s pronouncements on the economy with baited breath at this point.

    Man, I just shudder to think what this phrase means. I suppose you mean “bated”, see dictionary.com. But “baited breath”???? — not a pretty picture!

    Carry on!

  37. Here’s a thought on how to predict the economy; Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

  38. Don: What is this, English class? My illiteracy is no one’s business but my own, thank you very much.

  39. Maybe Harper needs a catchy new slogan. How about: ‘ The future aint what she used to be’ Pithy, succinct, and doesn’t use the D word once. Trouble is, can he deliver it? Casey Stenghal he aint.

  40. heh, heh, no, not English class, but I am a self-appointed internet malaprop policeman.

    As for the topic at hand, I had the same reaction as PW regarding this latest headline. It seems like Harper can’t with for losing (with some).

    On the one hand, I think the current crisis is partly manufactured by the Chicken Little’s in the media, and on the other, I think that whoever attempts to authoritatively forecast the future is doomed to wearing egg repeatedly. I would rather Harper had made a steady on type statement …something like, “Things are serious, we need to be careful, we are talking to several experts and seeking to navigate the best way forward.” etc. Not over alarmist or over optimistic.

    But then he is who he is and I wouldn’t want his job for anything. I am much too thin skinned and would just pop off at the mediots who pepper me with inane questions. (Yes, I know, mediots is not a word.)

  41. Err…thanks sf…

    But really now…putting it all these manufactured soundbites together to get something absurd…is this surprising?

    Media, fickle? You don’t say…


    BTW…Personally, I think my opinions of the CPC under Harper do not lack consistency (perceived partisanship notwithstanding). They certainly provide me with more predictive value and they certainly wouldn’t be the same under a guy like Prentice.

  42. Perhaps the PM is saying there is uncertainty because, well, it is actually true. Back in September and early October, many economists thought they could see bottom for the U.S. economy, and as such thought they could predict when recovery might begin. (At that point, the consensus was that the U.S. housing market would finally bottom out in Q2 2009, and a slow recovery could begin after that.)

    Now of course, the hits just keep on coming. A perfect example is today’s newspaper headlines. If someone had told you three months ago that the U.S. Federal Reserve would have a Japanese style zero percent interest rate by mid December, would you have believed them? Until we get a better handle on how and when the U.S. economy will steady itself, predicting the future direction of our own economy is incredibly difficult.

  43. If politicians are suddenly saying that it’s really, really bad, I am thinking that they are preparing us for them taking some drastic measures that we would not ordinarily have accepted. If our laissez-faire and ultrapartisan Prime Minister is saying it, I just wonder what he is preparing the ground for.

    Of course, it may also simply be that they could deny that things were really, really bad before and not really get called out on it. I don’t recall anybody during the election asking Harper, “Prime Minister, this liquidity crisis has the potential to turn into something really, really bad – what’s your plan ?” Just a reminder : Election Day was 14 October, on 10 October banks virtually stopped lending to each other as the TED spread went up to a record 4.64% (it usually hovers around 0.5%), Paulson’s $700 billion bailout plan was first announced on 19 September. Lots of time for everybody to understand this problem was already really, really bad before Election Day. If I’m wrong about this, please don’t hesitate to point me to an interview where a journalist tried to nail Harper down on this.

  44. Mulletaur, it is unusual for reporters to get to ask Harper questions.

    However, Harper did speak on the economy in the last weeks of the election, and said the fundamentals were strong and he would have a surplus and never run a deficit. He said he didn’t need a plan because everything was fine. He said the fact that Dion had a plan showed that Dion was in a panic and needlessly causing alarm.

  45. The media harms Canada. It harms Canada. A Canada with no media would be superior to a Canada with media. The costs of the media as currently constituted vastly exceed the benefits.

    The public interest and a nation’s agenda are too precious to leave to either the government or corporations. Neither has Canada’s best interest at heart. A peoples’ news co-operative, funded by the people and with the people’s interest at heart, can and should overtake the corporate media.

    Ten, twenty years from now we will look back at today when we let domestic corporations and public service pension funds dictate the national agenda and say “what were we thinking?”. An overseas owned news entity is free and clear of Canada’s oppressive libel laws and human “rights” commissions; I see this as enormous opportunity for Canadians to break free from the surly bonds of manufactured consent.

    Allow 100% foreign media ownership NOW! It can’t possibly be any worse or more seditious than the pap they churn out today. See, you have to truly despise Canada and Canadian taxpayers to advocate for $30-60 billion in new spending; no foreigner can possibly manage that level of antipathy towards Boring Canada and her good citizens. Win win.

  46. Dennis : “If someone had told you three months ago that the U.S. Federal Reserve would have a Japanese style zero percent interest rate by mid December, would you have believed them?”

    The answer to your question is, emphatically yes – absolutely.

    Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 on 15 September, the biggest banko in U.S. history with over $600 billion of assets at risk. When a bank that big and that important fails, it means only one thing : liquidity crisis. Remember what happened during the Great Depression : a huge speculative asset bubble burst while a recession had already been underway, leading to a collapse of the banking system. Exactly the same circumstances we found ourselves in by mid-September of this year, except that this time the U.S. Treasury tried to take some action to stop the financial system from collapsing, having learned at least that lesson from the 1930’s.

  47. Just before, maybe during, the last campaign, as the chicken-littles were getting louder and louder, Harper said at a campaign event somewhere, in response to the high-decibel need to throw money around as fast and as indiscriminately as possible: “Now is not the time to do anything rash or stupid.” Bravo.

    Now that he returned with a minority Parliament, his government will not survive unless this government does stuff that is rash and stupid. Stimulate! Stimulate now!

    I wish Harper would have the guts to point out more forcefully the stupidity of certain arguments from certain opposition corners (of the alleged error of sucking fewer billions out of the economy — tax cuts — thereby limiting the ability of government to decide where best to throw those billions away — stimulus). He doesn’t. Mainly because that was one of the arguments in the now FU’d FU. When all you hear is that the sky is falling, I guess a politician needs to parrot a certain amount of the same stuff, or be labelled, what’s the word, out of touch.

    Hey, I’m a small-c conservative happy to support or mock Harper when required. Back off with that QED branding iron, Paul.

  48. I just read that Flaherty has changed his forecast for 2009 from positive growth to negative growth. He was criticized for the positive growth prediction (which he made a couple weeks ago) because it contradicted independent reports predicting negative growth. He is now in agreement with those reports.

  49. Well, Mulletaur, you are a better man than I. While I knew the situation was grim, I had no idea that the Federal Reserve would fire the last arrow in their quiver this soon, and guessed that they would endeavour not to fire it at all if they had to.

    The Department of Finance put out an interesting document this afternoon regarding the rapidly shifting forecasts for the economy over the last six months:


    Not only have the forecasts constantly trended downward, the consensus amongst the experts that usually exists is now disappearing, with sharply diverging views on how 2009 might unfold in both Canada and the U.S.

  50. Dennis, that is the government’s position — that the private sector forecasts changed. However, when Flaherty predicted growth a couple weeks ago, some said he was ignoring private sector forecasts which said there would be decline.

    Basically the situation is the Opposition said Harper-Flaherty were ignoring data and presenting a misleading, positive picture and the Opposition now says Harper-Flaherty have come around, while Harper-Flaherty say things have changed in the last couple weeks and they were right then, but what was right two weeks ago is wrong now, and now they are right again.

  51. And how about a big hand to Canadians for a Proper Media, for shattering the previous record for “Most Uses of the Word ‘Media’ in a Single Blog Comment,” previously held by Jason Cherniak.

  52. The Bank of England was already ringing the warning bells as far back as April 2007 :


    Here’a a good article analysing the sources of the financial crisis back in February 2008 :


    The bomb was ticking for a very long time – in fact, since asset pricing models for the derivatives at the root of this crisis did not include the possibility of decreases in housing prices in the United States, and as this decline started in 2007, it was not a question of ‘if’ it would go off but rather ‘when’ and how big a mess it would create.

    By the time the Bank of England lent £3 billion as lender of last resort in September 2007 to the Northern Rock, a British bank which didn’t even have any direct exposure to sub-prime mortgages and associated derivatives, there was already a very big financial poopstorm on the horizon. Unfortunately, both Congress and the Bush Administration decided to allow it to play itself out rather than intervene at an early stage.

    It was just like the old Leonard Cohen tune, “Everybody Knows” …

  53. Harper is definately not my favourite person in the world – but a reality check is maybe what we need. C’mon, are the unions not paying attention? Ottawa transit and postal workers on strike and the world economy collapsing?

    I think we’re in never, never land.

  54. Catherine,

    calls Harper a LIAR?

    It must be quarter past the hour.

  55. Paul Wells,

    Kudos for the post: a straight shot, right to the kisser.

    The more that’s done, the healthier this industry becomes.

  56. I think the object would be to suggest, yes, we are in tough times but we know what we’re doing. You get the feeling that these characters are floundering around like a fish dropped on a deck. Not the first time I’ve got this impression. At least Dion had the Carbon Tax – Green Shift – which was a direction toward economic sustainability, several growth industries, mass transit for cities and more money for railroads to haul freight and food instead of semis. And that was before the fiscal meltdown. I mean, if you love fiscal disaster wait until the Masterminds of the Universe receive word that yesterday was the best time to fix the Global Warming. A lot of fish on that deck. We all breathe the same air.

  57. Actually, ol’ bionic-hands, fish don’t breathe the same — oh, never mind…

  58. Paul
    Only you and Olaf make sense in today’s comments. That’s 1 or 2 more than usual. You got the rich debate you’ve been looking for!