If only running a minority government were as easy as getting toddlers to agree upon their favourite animal or ice cream flavour -- one would say "tiger" and the rest would follow suit. Despite the difficulties of a minority situation, Stephen Harper's Conservative government has been able to exact a remarkable degree of harm upon the internal and external state of Canada in just five short years. Even more remarkably, they are leading the polls against the Liberals with enough of a gap to withstand a decent scandal. As election rumours come to the fore, let's take a merry saunter down memory lane and examine the Conservatives' record.
Harper came to power five years ago on an optimistic wave of change. Transparency was his main platform. Since then our government has become significantly less transparent. The most disturbing example of this came last year when the government refused to reveal uncensored documents of whether or not Canadian forces handed over Afghan detainees to be tortured -- an allegation that would amount to war crime charges. Parliament was conveniently prorogued to further avoid the issue and the government demonized whistle-blowing diplomat Richard Colvin.
Numerous other civil servants have been fired for doing their job, such as Linda Keen, a scientist who was the government-appointed president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Her crime? She had the gall to recommend that the Chalk River nuclear reactor, which produces medical isotopes, be shut down to avoid a catastrophe. The risk of meltdown was one thousand times greater than the recommended safety limit according to Keen, but hey, what's a tragedy of epic proportions between friends? Though her decision was roundly criticized and reversed by the Harper government, her successor saw the same danger and temporarily closed down the reactor a little over one year after Keen had been fired.
Financial mismanagement has also been a Conservative hallmark. Harper promised not to tax income trusts in the January 2006 election. People had confidence to invest in them as a result, but when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced on Halloween of the same year that the government would tax them, panic ensued and the Canadian economy lost over $30 billion according to Liberal MP John McKay -- quite the "trick" indeed. This betrayal of confidence made the shock much worse than if Harper had been in favour of taxing income trusts from the start. The fact that the Conservatives claimed not to have foreseen the cash cow potential of income trusts nine months earlier shows a marked lack of foresight from people who supposedly know how the economy works. When the smoke cleared there wasn't much left to tax.
Flaherty has also presided over the largest deficit in Canadian history: a whopping $55.6 billion last year. While our enormous deficit is partly a result of opposition pressure to enact a stimulus package, the government had actually been running monthly deficits before the Economic Action Plan had been conceived thanks to tax cuts it simply could not afford. Recent decisions to cut corporate taxes and to spend over $10 billion on mega-prisons that will not prevent crime put further unnecessary strain on the budget.
"Canada's Economic Action Plan" also provides a good example of how Harper has placed politics ahead of governance at all costs. Action Plan signs cost up to $7,000 apiece, according to the newspaper Le Devoir. The government has made some of the recipients of its funding install, photograph and record the GPS coordinates of these signs before they could receive any money, all so that the Conservatives may proudly proclaim "look what we did!" at the taxpayer's expense.
This politicization has embarrassingly carried over to the world stage, where Harper has explained to other national leaders that our failures as a nation (the environment, UN security seat, Justin Bieber, etc.) have been due to the previous Liberal government or the currently divisive actions of that rapscallion Michael Ignatieff. It seems that Harper was only joking when he promised an accountable government, but the giggles don't end with the prime minister: John Baird took his schoolyard bully act on the road at a 2007 environmental summit in Bali, where he obstructed progress and refused to accept assistance from opposition climate change experts, humiliating Canada in the process. That's not how grownups act.
An ineffective childcare program, an ambiguous environmental policy and a failure to implement the historic 2005 Kelowna Accord for aboriginal living conditions have also demonstrated that the Harper government is unprepared to face the not-so-new challenges of the 21st century. They do possess a clear agenda -- to obtain a majority -- but why should we give them that power when they lack both the competence and dignity to improve the plight of our country? We are better off with that rapscallion Michael Ignatieff.