Been awhile since we’ve checked in with Ken Dryden. And, admit it, you’ve missed his irony-free, dauntingly earnest, but probably necessary, ranting against the current state of Canadian politics.
Completely unsolicited, a copy of a speech he delivered today has been passed along. Here it is for your review. The shouty bits appear to be in caps. Imagine Ken trembling as you read.
We’re now about a third of the way through this election campaign. What’s been happening up until now? Where does it all seem to be going?
Stephane Dion has been talking about our economy – our economy now and in a very changing world; about the environment; about poverty, what it does to people, to kids, and the need to engage that fight now.
But really, up to this point, Mr. Harper has controlled the message of this election. Yet, this message has often been odd and surprising.
Like their slogan: “We’re better off with Harper.” This is their slogan; their ad – “We’re better off – with Harper” – like saying “taking everything into consideration, despite all this or that, on the whole, really, probably we’d have to say, (“we’re better off with Harper”). Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Nothing energizing about it, nothing exciting. Nothing that makes you want to wake up in the morning and race into the possibilities of your day. Yet this is their message. Even in their dreams they can’t quite express anything stirring, anything big. Is this what being a Prime Minister is about? What Canada is about?
Then there’s the blue vest, the “Mr. Nice Guy” ads. Ad firms are paid millions to tell the story their client wants told. It’s much easier for them when it’s a new “product” or a new “person” launch. When the information they provide is the only information – when the public knows nothing else. The problem for Mr. Harper is that the public does know something else. They’ve been watching him for 2 ½ years and Stephen Harper, they know, may be lots of things, but he’s not a “nice guy.” He’s not.
Nice guys don’t cut literacy programs. Nice guys don’t cut funding to women’s groups, aboriginal groups, health and childcare and poverty and disability groups. Toying with them month after month, teasing them with silence and desperate hope. If, they say to themselves, if I don’t say anything, if I just go quiet, maybe I might get something. Please. Then crumbs, or nothing.
Nice guys don’t decide there’s only one voice in this country that matters. Not these voices of our communities. Not those of his own Cabinet or Caucus. Not voices in the arts who get their programs cut because they say things that might make us squirm. Not any voice competent and professional who disagrees – Linda Keen, Adrian Measner, Jean-Guy Fleury – who then feel the pulverizing weight of a Government machine come down on them just so they know: you don’t mess with “the vest”.
Arts groups, literacy and poverty and childcare groups – it’s the same story. Nice guys don’t make the weak weaker and the vulnerable more vulnerable.
Nice guys don’t act like there are Canadians and not-quite Canadians. Those who fit Mr. Harper’s understanding of how life is supposed to be lived, and those, Canadians too – single mothers, addicts, gays and lesbians – who don’t.
And nice guys don’t take someone else’s person, as he did Monsieur Dion, they don’t take their personality, their character, their life, what they’ve worked hard to build, what is decent and substantial and good. What they’ve earned. They don’t take that, twist it, stretch it, caricature and distort it. They don’t buy air time and in front of millions of people, assassinate it. And pretend, ahh, that’s just politics.
Oh, and the puffin and the poop – oops, sorry. Didn’t mean it. Just like I don’t mean all the other just-as-new ads on the Conservatives’ website, that reach tens of thousands just like the Mr. Nice Guy ads on TV, that are just as abusive as the others in the pre-Mr. Nice Guy time.
If it quacks like a duck, put a blue vest on it, it’s still a duck.
But who says you need a “nice guy” to be a Prime Minister? It’s a tough, often disagreeable job. As they say about war – with the enemy all around, who do you want in that foxhole next to you. In politics, in sports and business, some not-so-nice guys are good leaders and win, and some nice guys are good leaders and win too. And some nice guys and not-so-nice guys fail. Being a good leader isn’t about that. It’s something more.
From these first 13 days, it is clear that Mr. Harper has decided this election is about him. He’s saying to Canadians: I’m a leader. I know what I want – I’m decisive – I deliver. And that, he says, is leadership. And in uncertain economic and global times, he says, Canadians need that and want that. But what Mr. Harper confuses is the posture of leadership, and the substance of leadership. Leadership is . . . leading – getting others to follow. But critically, fundamentally, leadership is direction. It is going . . . somewhere. The question is “where”? Leadership matters because the “where” matters, and it’s the job of a Prime Minister to know better than anyone else what the best “where” is. For the country. For your life and my life. That’s real leadership.
As a golfer, I can hit the ball a long way. The problem is I can’t hit it in the right direction. And a ball hit – decisively, competently – in the wrong direction is a ball that goes further and further and further into the woods. History is filled with leaders who have competently, decisively gone in the wrong direction with disastrous results.
Where is Mr. Harper’s “where”?
He doesn’t seem to want to talk about that. In making this election all about him, he is doing his best to make this election about nothing. It’s his “Seinfeld campaign.” But in 2008, how can that be? This is a time when the cost of carbon economically and environmentally is forcing the world’s countries to re-imagine the future. To reward the constructive and punish the destructive. To act. To change. To create the hard-won possibilities to compete in the economy ahead.
It’s a time when the gap between rich and poor is growing. When too many Canadians live the way no Canadians should have to live. When too many don’t have a real chance at a real future.
It’s a time when our children need more and better opportunities to learn – when they’re young and need a good start; later in college and university. A time when aboriginal peoples finally and forever need the chance of a full Canadian life.
It’s a time when, as Canadians, we need to think about ourselves differently. We are 33 million people – one of the world’s largest economies; one of the world’s richest nations; with a land mass so big and abundant amidst a world of countries that have neither. We are safe, secure and stable; we can count on tomorrow, plan for tomorrow, imagine and build tomorrow, when just about everyone else cannot. With our French and English past, with our present where people from almost everywhere live within our borders – we are a country which has learned to live with difference, accept difference, learn from difference; live the global world of the future, when to much of the rest of the world difference still means guns and blood.
Countries come and go, prominent at one time, pushed to the sidelines in another. History is a long time. And undeniably, whatever Canada has been in the past we will be far more in the future. The world knows that. We need to know that too. And our leaders need to know that, and embody it and act that way in everything they do.
There is more to us, more to Canada, than tax breaks as the answer for everything. More to Canada than life as pieces and parts – East; West. Quebec; the Rest of Canada – firewalls everywhere. More to us than Mr. Harper’s small, pinched vision of ourselves and our future.
“Better off with Harper”?
We are more than this.
This election is about something.
Stephane Dion may get a lot of criticism, but he is trying to make this campaign about something. Mr. Harper is not.
Leadership, real leadership, is first of all, most of all, knowing what’s important – then focusing on it, sharing it with others, then determinedly, relentlessly, together, getting there.
I don’t believe in “hidden agendas.” I find arguments like that just too easy. I just want to know where Mr. Harper’s going. Tell me. Tell us. What is your vision of this country? How should it work? What should it be? What is the best “US” now and for the future? How does Canada become what Canada can be? Tell us. We need to know. Tell us how, person to person, we, as Canadians, should relate to each other? What we can expect of others, and what others can expect of us? Tell us what role government should play, and shouldn’t? Tell us about families, in busy, complicated real, not fanciful lives, how as parents we give ourselves and our kids a real chance at all that’s in us to be. Families are not just card games with kids – tell us. We need to know.
And once you’ve told us that, tell us why you’re not saying to Canadians that to realize this vision, one you believe so important to our present and future, so unbelievably exciting to you and to all of us, that you need us, all of us, that you need a majority to do it? Say it, say it, why wouldn’t you? Shout it from the rooftops – – after you’ve told us your vision of the country, and for the country. After you’ve decided this campaign is not about nothing.
Mr. Harper wants this campaign to be about nothing because on all those things the campaign needs to be about, he has nothing to offer.
This campaign is NOT about Mr. Harper. It is NOT about him. It is about our present and future economy, about climate change, poverty and learning. It is about all Canadians having a real chance. It’s about encouraging, allowing, seeking out voices different from our own, that make us smarter; that bring us to our best and keep us from our worst. It’s about our understanding of ourselves as a country, about the importance of Canada in the world of our future. This is a campaign about BIG, IMPORTANT things.
In an election about nothing, Mr. Harper will win. In an election about something, we will win. We have 23 days.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT HIM. THIS IS NOT ABOUT NOTHING.