Cameras flashed as Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty announced that the federal surplus had come in at $14 billion, far in excess of their forecast. The photographs showed the Prime Minister and his minister of finance
wearing the broad smiles and emitting the easy laughs of lottery winners. Golly, we’re not going to change our lifestyles because of this, Harper seemed to be saying. Cut to the duo frolicking in a cash-covered bed like Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal.
On one hand, the runaway surplus had to be disappointing for Harper. He has tried so hard to spend like a Liberal, to piss away billions, to deliver budgets that are everything to everyone. And still he came up short. Surely Ralph Goodale had to fight the urge to phone with advice: the key is to keep spending constantly and indiscriminately—you need to do both, rookie.
But hand Stephen Harper lemons and he’ll order someone to make him lemonade—which he’ll then shove aside, grunting, “I asked for iced tea, dammit.” The Prime Minister managed to find a bright side to the supersized surplus—it was proof positive of how, by being exactly the same as the Liberals, he is completely different from the Liberals.
That may sound contradictory, but not in Harper’s world. And really—wouldn’t it be great to live in Stephen Harper’s world? It is a world where yours is the only voice; a world defined by a strict ethical code that, happily, applies only to others; a world where hypocrisy is rank and detestable—except for your own hypocrisy, which is very pretty and smells like spearmint. Also in Stephen Harper’s world: donuts have, like, three calories and Abba never broke up. Truly, it is a paradise.
In opposition, Harper seized on each oversized surplus as evidence that the Liberals were either incompetent or squirrel-
ling away cash for a sinister purpose, probably some kind of jamboree for same-sex vegetarian dope smokers. “Flagrantly untrue,” he said of Goodale’s forecasts. Got that? When Liberals bring in a surplus, it’s because they’re corrupt pinheads. When Stephen Harper does it, it’s because he’s a benevolent supergenius. Now where’s that damn iced tea he ordered?
Harper the economist knows a little thing called “the economy” makes it tricky to predict revenues. Harper the man could have gone before Canadians and copped to having learned something about fiscal forecasting. But Harper the politician is so used to going for the jugular that he fails to notice when his hands are wrapped around his own throat.
I find myself wondering: as Harper waited to make the surplus announcement, did he worry that such a blatantly hypocritical comparison would be greeted by reporters with gales of laughter? Probably not. Several in the national media have been in his pocket for so long they’ve got the imprint of his house key on their cheeks.
Indeed, many reporters dutifully highlighted his promise of a $725-million “tax cut.” (Dear each and every adult Canadian: you know that $5501 just took from you, even though I didn’t need it—here’s $30 of it back. You’re welcome! Love, Steve.)
Harper must stare at the media horde and wonder to himself: what line of hooey won’t these suckers swallow? Maybe tomorrow I’ll send troops to Iraq and deny having denied having supported the invasion in the first place. Don’t think he could pull it off? Remember that the press gallery routinely reports that Harper has achieved his five priorities from the 2006 election, even though wait times haven’t been reduced, the promised 125,000 new child care spaces won’t be achieved, the GST hasn’t been cut to five per cent and Harper killed his own anti-crime legislation when he decided to prorogue Parliament. But, you know, apart from all that…
Can I make a confession? There are moments when I feel genuine non-dislike for Harper. I admire the enthusiasm with which he represents Canada in the world. His support of our military role in Afghanistan has seemed consistent, genuine and logically motivated. His evolved stance on global warming, while far from bold, at least has the merit of practicality. Compare that with Stéphane Dion, who rhetorically reveres the Kyoto accord, even though his own government did the sum total of jack and squat for years after signing it.
There aren’t many lessons to be learned from Ralph Klein’s political career—apart from, “Keep Tylenol by the
bed”—but here’s one: a little humility and contrition go a long way. Alas, Harper can’t admit when he’s wrong and can’t fathom that anyone else is ever right. And remember: this is what he’s like when he’s got a minority and is trying to be charming!
Harper’s smug hypocrisy reminds us—the two-thirds of Canadians who didn’t vote for him in 2006 and don’t support him now—of what makes us uneasy: the sense that he has to be the smartest person in the room, even if it means kicking everyone else out.
I hear people say that Stephen Harper has put on weight, but I don’t see it. To me, he still looks like a small man.