In Ottawa, the times may, indeed, be ‘a changin’

One election cycle is over and another begins. All eyes in this province now turn to Ottawa to observe what will certainly be a year of such political posturing that it will make the New Brunswick election appear, by comparison, a game of whist played by courteous septuagenarians in a decorous parlour.

On the street where I live, a sign has appeared in a window of a nearby house. “Stop Harper”, it instructs. That’s it. No explication. No fancy design. No cartoonish renderings of Canada’s famously hard-arsed, fearless leader. Just stop him. Now. Forever.

I’m not the first pundit to notice a palpable loathing of our Prime Minister among both the hoi polloi and the elites of this country. A couple of weeks ago, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente penned this:

“Something alarming happened over the summer – several of my friends came down with Harper Derangement Syndrome. ‘He’s gotta go!’ fumed one middle-aged man who had voted for him three times in a row. ‘I just can’t stand him any more,” said another. Both are independent voters who pride themselves on their rational, non-partisan approach to politics.”

What happened? Ms. Wente theorizes: “Is it the Duffy affair? The militant foreign policy? The highly dubious tough-on-crime agenda? No, not really. It’s just. . .him. He’s too controlling, too snarly, too mean. He picked a fight with Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. He sounded callous about murdered native women. It’s not the policies or even the scandals – it’s the tone. They just don’t like the guy.”

I think that’s just about right.

The irony, of course, is that Mr. Harper cruised into power on a platform of substance over style; yet it would be his style that largely upends him next fall.

He’s been a durable, if unimaginative, steward of the economy. His social policies have not been completely disastrous. His track record on the environment has been no worse, and oftentimes better, than those of either of his Liberal predecessors, Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien. His appreciation of Canadian history, while selective and even fetishistic, has, at least, confirmed his true patriot love.

Still, it’s his dour, sour-faced demeanour (even, astonishingly, when he’s smiling) that people notice first.

He seems to loathe journalists almost as much as he does his own backbenchers who, like gadflies, periodically swarm him in Parliament. He appears to brook no dissent, let alone discussion or compromise.

He comes across like the uber control freak, the natural Alpha male in a high school dominated by members of the computer and chess clubs. He kicks sand in the face of both jocks and nerds, equally and democratically. And woe betide anyone belonging to “glee”.

All of which may explain why the Prime Minster’s Office has become so bloated with able bodies over the past six years. A man who promised Canadians that he would consult with his Cabinet as no other chief elected official has in the nation’s history has, instead, left many of those lieutenants to twist in the wind, thanks to decisions his burgeoning ranks of professionally ambitious, personally calculating, mostly young supplicants have made on Big Daddy’s behest.

That the anti-Harper campaign has found purchase in the youth produces more exquisite ironies.

The first is that more young people than ever before — those who are unaligned with the PMO — may actually vote this year (because they despise the political process that installed the current prime minister).

The second us that, by voting, the aspiring progressives in the under-30 set of this nation might actually grab the opportunity and wherewithal to set the political agenda for the first time in a very long time.

And so the sign on my neighbour’s window stands not so much as a indictment of politics as usual, but as a rejection of those who practice it, in high office, with obvious disdain for the people — some of whom elected them; some of whom merely tolerate them.

It stands as a reminder of the transience of election cycles, which come and go with the  autumn winds, and the counter-cultural permanence of disappointment breeding in the bones of every sentient voter everywhere in the world.

It is the sign of our times.


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