Paul Wells

Stephen Harper’s not-so-smooth re-elections

Want the truth? You'll have to wait. Paul Wells on broken promises to come in the election lead-up

Fred Thornhill/Reuters

Fred Thornhill/Reuters

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Some governments coast smoothly to re-election. Stephen Harper’s has never been one of those. Before the 2008 and 2011 elections, the Conservatives developed an alarming rattle in their machinery. Bits of ethical and managerial debris fell off as they taxied toward the runway.

In 2008 Harper abandoned the spirit of his fixed-election-date legislation and blithely disregarded global economic turmoil. “Our election platform is not full of grandiose, costly promises,” Harper wrote in an op-ed the Toronto Star published on the day of the 2008 election. The very day. “It’s a prudent approach. We can afford it. We’ll never go back into deficit.” He won the election. Weeks later he was running really big deficits.

In 2011 the opposition parties found the Conservatives in contempt of Parliament for refusing to reveal information about the costs of the F-35 program. Harper campaigned on wounded pride at the effrontery of his foes, won the election, admitted the costs of the F-35 were a horror show, scrapped the purchase, started over from zero, and will announce the new choice for a next-generation fighter purchase . . . well, maybe after the next election.

It’s getting to the point where half the fun of re-electing the Conservatives is watching them admit truths they steadfastly denied before the election. Admittedly, some voters may prefer other sources for their fun.

This year the pre-election crashing and banging includes a few paragraphs in the budget implementation bill that are designed to make things legal, in the past, that were illegal when they happened. The RCMP destroyed records from the long-gun registry after a citizen asked for the records under the Access to Information Act. The citizen had a right to the records. The information commissioner wrote to the government and warned it of its legal obligation not to destroy the records. The RCMP destroyed the records. That was against the law. Now the government wants to change the law. Not for the future, but for the past. And it’s tucked this bit of time travel into a budget bill.

One suspects—one is pretty sure—the Supreme Court, composed mostly of Harper appointees, will make short work of this nonsense, sometime after the next election.

There’s more. On a Friday afternoon (the quasi-official moment in the week reserved for things the government hopes you won’t notice), Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq revealed Canada’s new carbon emission targets for 2030. Having to update these targets every few years is an unfortunate byproduct of the Conservatives’ longevity in office. In 2009 at the Copenhagen climate summit, the Conservatives promised a 17 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. Now they’re promising a 30 per cent cut from 2005 levels by 2030.

And how’s it going? “In 2012, we concluded that the federal regulatory approach was unlikely to meet the 2020 Copenhagen target,” Julie Gelfand, the federal government’s own commissioner of the environment, wrote last autumn. “Two years later, the evidence is stronger that the target will be missed.” The Harper government did not contest her findings.

Canada will miss the target Harper set for 2020 by a mile. Now it is setting more ambitious targets for 2030. How ambitious? Simon Donner at the University of British Columbia says that cutting transport emissions by half, freezing growth in the oil sands, eliminating coal power and halting all new building construction would, together, still not be enough to meet the target.

In other words, you can’t get there from here. I’m not sure who the target voter for Harper’s new emissions targets could be. Environmentalists know his latest targets are worth no more than his last, and that he will not lift a finger to meet them. People who think the very notion of climate change is a socialist fraud might wish for a prime minister who would say out loud that he agrees with them. This Prime Minister, who vaunts his straight talk on other issues, has none to offer on this issue. Maybe there’s a niche market in voters who care passionately about the environment but will believe anything the government tells them. Won’t they be surprised after the election!

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