First, to Mississauga. Specifically to a park adjacent to a narrow river that just so happened to have a gaggle of Canadian geese bobbing down it quite mythically shortly before the Prime Minister’s fleet arrived. On the menu: hamburgers, chicken, steak and pork shish kabob. Organizers pegged attendance at 1,000. But CP’s guess of 400 was probably more accurate.
The PM was about a half hour late to the stage (in fairness, traffic on the QEW was typically messy). He was introduced by Wajid Khan and arrived with Jim Flaherty by his side. Dean Del Mastro was also nearby, standing ready to laugh hysterically at even the slightest sign of a joke.
What followed was another lecture in tax policy and Stephane Dion’s various personal failings. With a couple notable exceptions.
First, Harper made a mildly amusing attempt at flipping the “hidden agenda” meme, suggesting the Liberal carbon tax was indeed evident of some long-held, but barely concealed, secret plan to tax the Canadian public into poverty (or at least socialism). Look forward to a future issue of Maclean’s with Mr. Dion on the cover under the headline “How Scary?”
Second, Harper made a rather novel claim to compassionate conservatism. Forty-four percent of Mississauga-Erindale’s population identified as a visible minority for the 2001 census and the crowd tonight reflected that. The Liberal MP (Omar Alghabra) was born in Saudi Arabia. The MPP (Liberal Harinder Takhar) was born in India. The Conservative candidate, Bob Dechart, is resolutely not a visible minority.
But here’s the spin. The Conservative party is the party of multiculturalism.
To paraphrase the PM, the first female prime minister was a Conservative. As was the first female member of the federal cabinet. The first Chinese MP? The first Japanese MP? The first Sikh MP? All Conservatives. (As was, for the record, the first Black MP.) Giving women the vote? That was Borden. The bill of rights? That was Diefenbaker.
A couple of those gains, mind you, were indeed Harper’s. But otherwise this was a claim to the Tory legacy—which seems a bit rich given Harper’s past and path to power. (Never mind the small matter of almost all power players in the Harper government being both white and male.) Richer still is a man with the support of a third of the population claiming to have properly united a country that was ruined by division until he took power.
Harper though understands very well that it doesn’t matter so much what he is, or who he is, as much as it matters what he can convince you he is, has done and plans to do. That’s elementary politics, sure. But there’s something to be said for mastering the basics.
Coincidentally, in the wee hours of Monday night, CityTV was replaying clips from a 1984 broadcast of Pierre Trudeau’s farewell in Ottawa. Pierre Elliott stood on stage and mused, quite similarly, of all the Liberal strides toward equality. He made a greater show of it—all dramatic pauses where Mr. Harper charges onward. But the argument was essentially the same.
And it’s at the exact moment that Stephen J. Harper and Pierre E. Trudeau begin to sound alike that one should probably begin to question everything they believe to be true.