His way, or the highway

Lana Payne
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Some leaders rise to the occasion of their times, others, like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are more focused on dampening expectations, catering to the lowest common denominator.

It is the antithesis of leadership.

And now Canada's anti-leader has struck a particularly low note by refusing to meet with the leaders of the provinces and territories on the very important issue of the economy. Who cares that Europe is ready to implode? That China is revising its projected growth, that banks are gone mad again (if they ever stopped) and that Ontario, Canada's biggest province, has had an anemic recovery since the last recession?

To be fair, the prime minister says he has no problem meeting with premiers one-on-one. He just isn't interested in having a collective discussion about the economy. (Although as far we know, he still has not agreed to meet with Premier Kathy Dunderdale, despite her request of many weeks back.)

Perhaps Mr. Harper can get away with such disdain for the premiers during this blistering summer we have been having.

But how much longer can a prime minister show such open contempt for his provincial and territorial colleagues and not pay a price?

It is stating the obvious, but federal-provincial relations are at an extremely low point.

Last December, you may recall that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty derailed discussions with his provincial and territorial colleagues by laying down the law on health care funding.

The labour market is for the most part a provincial jurisdiction. Yet the Harper government, with no consultation with provinces and territories, has set in motion a number of major policy decisions that will radically change the country's labour market, including new rules for Employment Insurance and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The Conservative government's new crime legislation will download massive costs to provincial coffers. Ottawa pushed ahead despite real concerns from the provinces.

These are but a few examples of Mr. Harper's "my way or the highway" attitude when dealing with the premiers and provincial and territorial governments.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter mused that he could not understand why a prime minister would not want to meet to talk about "something that is fundamental to the best interests of the Canadian public - a strong economy."

That perhaps was mistake No. 1. Canada does not have a prime minister that is concerned with what is in the best interests of the Canadian public. He is interested in ultimate power, acting unilaterally and changing the face of the country. None of these is necessarily in the best interests of Canadians.

In the face of a rigid prime minister, will the premiers continue to act collectively?

Certainly the premiers worked hard at putting forward a united front during their recent Council of the Federation meetings in Halifax, with the exception of B.C.'s Christy Clark.

They supported each other on a variety of public policy issues. For example, Alberta's Alison Redford picked up for her Atlantic counterparts on the matter of employment insurance, noting that she understood their concerns.

For the first time in a long time, it appeared that the premiers made some good first steps towards working together. Working together! Now there's a foreign concept for Mr. Harper.

But he is an expert at the politics of division and fear. More and more Canadians, though, are tiring of his political machinations. His first year in power has been disastrous.

Scandal after scandal. Electoral fraud woes. A mobilized public. Ticked off doctors, scientists and lawyers. A budget that slashed services, laid off thousands, raised the age of eligibility for OAS to 67, and gutted environmental review protections. Expensive orange juice. Entitled and smug limo-driven cabinet ministers.

And he is paying a price in the polls. Step up premiers.

It is an ideal time for the premiers to get their act together.

John Kenneth Galbraith, a Canadian economist who went on to advise U.S. Presidents, once said that "all great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership."

Rising to sub-par expectations is not leadership or confronting the major anxiety of our times.

Perhaps working with premiers is too much to ask of this prime minister. Working with anyone, building consensus, is totally out of his comfort zone.

After all, this is a prime minister who had shown over and over again that he is not occupied with the state of the nation, merely with keeping his political base happy and charged up.

The rest of us, the majority, are left with this anti-leader. We are left desperate for a real leader to step forward, recognize the anxiety of our nation and rise to the occasion by speaking to the best in all of us.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Her column returns Aug. 25.


Organizations: Employment Insurance, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, Europe, China Ontario Ottawa Nova Scotia Halifax Alberta U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Stephen
    August 12, 2012 - 21:24

    I guess the writer would have us vote for the new demoncrap party.

  • David
    August 12, 2012 - 08:57

    Given the long-running, completely disfunctional state of Newfoundland politics, the non-existence of any sort of provincial economy, and the socialist welfare mindset of virtually the entire popualtion, I take great comfort that the viceral hatred for Harper in this province is compelling anecdotal evidence that he really is one of this country's very few effective and decisive leaders.

  • A Long-haired Layabout
    August 11, 2012 - 21:38

    To "A business man"... what are you doing wasting your time posting your inane right-wing commentary on this site? You above all should know that time is money, and time wasted is money wasted. Dummy up and go make some more money to pay the taxes the rest of us need to enable us to draw pogey/welfare so we can all stay home and waste time in the proper manner by posting our anti-business left-wing commentary on this site, while you morons go off to work to support the rest of us with your hard-earned tax dollars. Thanks, by the way.

  • a business man
    August 11, 2012 - 13:25

    I support Mr. Harper. I am happy that Canada is losing blue collar jobs, because we all deserve that blue collar work. I am happy that with the new Employment Insurance rules because the EI system is being abused and I am footing the bill. I am happy with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program changes because I want cheaper workers. Thus, I am happy that Harper is not talking with the premiers because he is doing what he was elected to do. He should not talk to anyone, but stay the court and do what the majority of voters elected him to do....

    • P. D. Carswell
      August 11, 2012 - 23:06

      A Business Man. First: your comment about Blue Collar jobs doesn't make sense. Second: you are a good example of "I've got mine, so forget the rest" thinking.

    • a business man
      August 13, 2012 - 06:53

      to clarify, my first sentence should have read that ' I am happy we are losing blue collar jobs, because we all deserve BETTER than blue collar work. >>> Secondly, I have a democratic right to practice "I've got mine, so forget the rest" thinking, so while you disagree, please respect my choices. I don't get up in the morning for anyone other than my family, and I don't cast my ballot for anyone else other than my family.

  • P. D. Carswell
    August 11, 2012 - 12:01

    Excellent column. You speak for those of us - and there are many - who are becoming more and more fed up. I hold out hope that Canada's premiers, judicial system, First Nations and possibly provincial and municipal police forces will act to counter the idiocy that the Harper government is imposing on us. War of 1812, yeah, right.

  • Christopher Chafe
    August 11, 2012 - 10:55

    It's about bloody time we had a Prime Minister tackle the abuse of the EI system. Surprise, Surprise Newfoundlanders & Labradorians (albeit not all of us) are up in arms over the fact that they can no longer abuse the EI system and get away with it. BOO HOO FRICKEN HOO!!! Now if we could only get Dunderdale to do the same thing with the Welfare program this province would be much better off!

  • Justin Flontek
    August 11, 2012 - 09:12

    harpo is quickly loosing all support. The more he bullies his way through our democracy the more resistance he's going to come across. Soon, harpo will be the one sent packing, right into a cozy little cell, with Bubba.