Stephen Harper’s Canada

Stephen Harper’s Canada

Heidi Rathjen says she was inconsolable for three days when the Conservatives won a majority in May. Rathjen is a wonderful person, multilingual and graceful. She was at the Polytechnique on that fateful day when Marc Lepine murdered 12 of her fellow female students.

The trajectory of Rathjen’s life was completely altered by the Polytechnique massacre. Rathjen has become one of Canada’s most effective tribunes for gun control.

She and the families of the women who were murdered were stricken when Conservative MPs threw a celebration after their bill to abolish the gun registry passed second reading.

Suzanne Laplante-Edward’s daughter was shot down by Lepine. "I am outraged," she said in a statement. "I cannot believe that my taxes are being used to pay for a party where the Conservatives are dancing on my daughter’s grave."

Whether it’s an anti-abortion bill being snuck in through the back door or the out-of-control jet fighter contract or the prison building outrage, there is consternation across Canada about what is happening in Ottawa. And Justin Trudeau touched on it.

The first reaction to Trudeau’s comments was widespread editorial page derision and a feast for cartoonists.

At second glance what Trudeau said to Franco Nuovo on Radio-Canada’s Première Chaîne last week wasn’t so crazy.

Here it is:

"Je dis toujours que si, à un moment donné, je croyais que le Canada, c’était vraiment le Canada de Stephen Harper et qu’on s’en allait contre l’avortement, contre le mariage gai, qu’on retourne en arrière de 10,000 façons différentes, peut-être que je songerais à vouloir faire du Québec un pays. Oh oui. Absolument." ("I always say that if at a certain point I believed that Canada was really Stephen Harper’s Canada and that we were going against abortion, against gay marriage, that we were going backwards in 10,000 different ways, maybe I would think about wanting to make Quebec a country. Oh yes. Absolutely.")

He went on to say that he is profoundly saddened by the right wing direction in which Stephen Harper is taking the country. Later he told Nuovo that Quebec can help restore the balance, and that he believes deeply in Canada.

The outcry was loud in English Canada.

Meanwhile, the independence movement is heading to the ramparts, lighting the cauldrons of vituperation, determined to wedge Quebecers away from Canada. Led by spinmeisters like Jean-François Lisée, the separatist movement is determined to demonize all of English Canada as being right wing Harper look-alikes. For the independence movement the Harper government seems to be a gift from the gods.

Pauline Marois has been trying to rally the troops by conjuring up the scarecrow of a Conservative government. And Harper seems determined to fulfill her scariest predictions. For example, Harper’s idea of industrial policy seems to be breathing life into the toxic asbestos industry in Quebec. For the sake of preserving one seat in Quebec, that of Christian Paradis, they are willing to sacrifice Canada’s reputation internationally. Over and over again they are attempting to govern without even the slightest nod to Quebec.

Bob Rae stepped in to add another dimension. Rae said Stephen Harper is not Canada. Stephen Harper is Stephen Harper. One should not confuse what is great and permanent about Canadian life with a specific period in politics, said Rae.

Bob Rae went on to joke that Justin was still his Valentine. Once again Rae showed a sensibility that is making him a formidable force inside and outside the House of Commons. We can only pray that the absence of leadership being shown by the NDP is because the front bench is away campaigning to be leader. We can only hope that when one of the candidates takes the leadership we will see a reborn Opposition.

Michael Ignatieff was not always wise during his short political career, but he was right on target during the election campaign when he told Michael Valpy that job one for a Canadian prime minister is to keep Quebec attached to Canada. So far, Harper’s Quebec strategy seems to be limited to speaking French in public ceremonies during state visits to foreign countries.

The NDP would be wise to draw some lessons from the foofaraw over Vic Toews’ cyber crime bill. The Minister said that you are either with him or you are with the child pornographers that the bill was supposed to target. Opposition to the bill caught fire on social media, forcing Toews to apologize and send the bill to committee for redrafting.

There is a lesson here for the NDP. Since the election, the NDP has been virtually invisible in Quebec. They are blowing a grand opportunity. At its best, the party is the sum of all the aspirations of tens of thousands of Canadians who have worked all their lives building a civil society. Perhaps it’s time for the NDP to reach out to its allies in that civil society, allies like Heidi Rathjen, to draft a strategy to take on the Tories, before it’s too late.

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