(Through Rose-Coloured Glasses)
by Peter Harris
This is it. As Canadian politicians race down the homestretch to May 2nd, can you feel the excitement? If you can, there is a good chance you have not been sitting next to me on Stephen Harper’s campaign bus. After nearly a month bouncing around at the back of the Tory bus, all I seem to feel is a bit, well, uneasy – and it isn’t just the motion sickness.
Before you assume I am talking about the Conservatives’ ‘hidden agenda’ and accuse me of Liberal bias, let me tell you my unease stems from a much more basic, non-partisan place: I feel I am letting down my mom by not doing my job.
Hear me out.
By now, everyone knows Stephen Harper doesn’t like taking questions. I am told by people much smarter than me – and reminded by the Tories themselves – that voters love it when journalists whine about how they are mistreated at the hands of political parties. I will be the first to admit journalists can be whiny sometimes but maybe – just maybe – there is something behind all these complaints?
Try thinking of a campaign as a conversation, mind you a very long conversation stretching from the second the government falls to the second the last polls close in B.C. This month-long dialogue should give voters a better sense of who the leaders are, what their promises might be, and where they want to take the country.
Journalists probing in ways the candidate might not like helps keep this conversation flowing with essential ‘yeah, buts.’ Imagine a conversation with someone you’re trying to get to know but this person tells you when you can say or ask something. The conversation wouldn’t go very deep, would it?
Imagine, once you get the chance to pipe up with a ‘yeah, but,’ someone else in the conversation starts shouting to drown you out. This past weekend, Stephen Harper turned the conversation to protecting religious freedom. After announcing a new office to keep tabs on religious violence, his supporters cheered for exactly 39 seconds. Moments later, a journalist had the chance at his ‘yeah, but’ and asked a question about a Tory candidate’s ties to religious extremism. Harper supporters cheered and jeered for exactly 59 seconds to kill the back-and-forth, literally putting more time into silencing freedom of the press than celebrating their own promise to protect religious freedom.
How does all of this let down my mom? She has been asking me to update her about what’s happening on the campaign, especially asking me to size up Stephen Harper.
I can tell her what he has told me over and over again without any ‘yeah, buts’: he believes his political survival depends on finally getting a majority government, he promises to make $11-billion worth of cuts in the next four years, and he believes the country is on the right track. What I cannot tell her is what he plans to do with a majority, how he will make those promised cuts without digging into essential services, and where exactly he thinks this ‘right track’ actually might lead.
The last time I checked, questions are an essential way of getting to know the other person. After weeks on this bus I’m not convinced I am any closer to knowing Stephen Harper and his plans – sorry, Mom. After spending weeks on this bus, I don’t believe I know Stephen Harper and his plans anymore than I did at the beginning of this campaign.
Peter is a Global National correspondent based in Ottawa.
Follow him on Twitter: @PeterHarris.