It is unlikely that, years from now, hundreds of Newfoundlanders (and possibly Labradorians) will proudly tell their grandchildren about being present on March 31, 2011, when then-incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his legendary “Without raising taxes” speech in St. John’s.
Listing his government’s supposed accomplishments with the gusto of a self-satisfied braggart, Harper followed each item with, “And we did it without raising taxes,” to which the assembled supporters and sycophants chanted along, “Without raising taxes.”
This is Canadian electioneering in the 21st century, and it was made worse by the audience’s tone of servility and mindlessness.
I’m glad I wasn’t there. It was embarrassing enough just watching it on TV.
Life is so unfair.
Some people have to listen to the banal bleating of “Without raising taxes,” and some people get to hear John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am one with Berliners”) speech, in which he flamboyantly told Berliners in 1963 that the rest of the world would not forsake them even though the Soviets had partitioned and walled off their great city.
Some people have to endure the droning of “Without raising taxes,” and some people get to hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, in which he passionately expressed the desire for blacks and whites in the U.S. to live as equals.
Some people have to suffer through the insipid stumping of “Without raising taxes,” and some people get to be present at great moments in history, such as in Gettysburg, Pa., in 1863 when Abe Lincoln delivered a short, eloquent speech about freedom and liberty and … well, you get the idea.
Canadian leaders are built for banality.
In fact, the most famous quote attributed to a Canadian prime minister is Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s 1970 quip, “Just watch me,” and he wasn’t talking about how far he would go to create his idealistic Great Society — he was talking about implementing martial law and curtailing civil liberties.
The best thing about the federal election campaign so far is that hardly anyone describes Harper as “brilliant.”
When he rose to power, the accolades regarding his intellectual prowess were such that you’d think he was Albert Einstein’s grandson.
As of this writing, the Tories are 14 per cent ahead of the Liberals in the polls. Harper might win back the “brilliant” description, but it won’t be because of his dexterity with ideas or language, à la Kennedy, King and Lincoln.
Harper’s main skill is manipulation. His favourite phrases of this campaign are “unnecessary election” (sometimes altered to “unwanted election”) and “reckless coalition.”
He is wrong in both cases. His argument is irresponsible and reprehensible.
Actually, this election was necessary (in the absence of the governor general exercising the option of asking the opposition parties to form a coalition government). In a parliamentary democracy, when a minority government loses a major vote in the House of Commons, an election can be held.
Coalitions are a valid aspect of democracies, and there is nothing “reckless” about them. Ponder this scenario: on May 2, the Tories win another minority. Within a year or so, the opposition parties bring down the government with a non-confidence vote. Harper goes to the governor general and asks that an election writ be dropped. Ironically, the GG replies, “That’s unnecessary,” and instead asks the Liberals and NDP if they can agree to form a new government.
Such a situation would be legal and within the rules of our Parliamentary democracy.
Harper’s disregard for the facts is reckless. Succumbing to his manipulation is unnecessary.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.