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Hugo and Harper

By: Alan Murdock

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 16, 2013 06:00 am

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If ever one wondered how mean-spirited a person can be, one had only to read the pontifical reaction of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the passing of President Hugo Chavez. Maybe he was trying to curry favour with members of Congress and the White House. After all, we are at a critical time in our efforts to get the Keystone Pipeline approved and bad-mouthing Venezuela has been part of the strategy. Elsewise one would have expected him to act more charitably to the head of state of a country from whom we buy oil.

Hugo Chavez has certainly been a thorn in backside of the American empire. He was among the best of the strutting actors on the international political stage. Still, behind the curtains, the real business of buying and selling petrochemical materials has been going merrily along to the benefit of all.

President Chavez was not a benevolent leader for all his people, but he did focus heavily on trying to abolish poverty. His methods are unsustainable but he had the active support of the military and the adoration of the majority of Venezuelans. In this he must be regarded as successfully acting for the benefit of most of his people most of the time.

Which brings us to our own prime minister. One of the politically admirable accomplishments of the right honourable gentleman has been his ability to accomplish something that all prime ministers since William Lyon Mackenzie have sought. Canada has a system of government based on the political supremacy of Parliament. The government of the day is constitutionally accountable to Parliament.

Prime Minister Harper has deftly altered that impediment. He has seemingly convinced most of the people, most of the time, that he is in charge of running the country. Maybe he is. After all, he has twice been able to have Parliament prorogued at his will.

He governs by omnibus bills and personally avoids Parliament as much as possible. When he does show up, he speaks sparingly, making eye contact only with the chair the Speaker occupies.

The long-standing advisory role of the public service in policy development has been expunged and transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office. He has stacked the Senate with Harper party camp followers – regardless of where they live.

Which brings us to Mr. Harper’s legacy. He has wisely followed the advice of David Carney. If he leaves the Bank of Canada alone, we should have an equally well balanced successor. But our PM delights in personal power and control. Why else would he ask the Supreme Court to grant him power to decide on the future of the Senate without having to consult the provinces?

We have seen what is happening with aboriginal affairs. That is now run out of the PMO. Our defense contracts, traditionally loaded with political incursions, are in a disastrous state. The F35 won’t fly and now Boeing says it can meet the requirements with 50 per ent lower operating costs. Really?

The federal government ship-building program was launched with government-forced lowball cost estimates. The Harper government has downgraded the equipment and delayed delivery by six years. As for CSIS, the prime minister’s appointee to head the Security Intelligence Review Committee is a forger who had been running a Ponzi scheme and is suspected of being involved in the construction rackets in Quebec.

Of course our prime minister must be tempted to take a page from President Hugo’s mantra and blame everyone else for his failings.

If he succeeds, President Chavez will have truly earned a curtain call and a standing ovation.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.


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