David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Stephen Harper is the new Pierre Trudeau

Brandon Sun, April 10, 2011 - David McConkey

A bizarre idea occurred to me thinking about the Prime Minister and the election: Stephen Harper is the new Pierre Trudeau.

That seems absurd. How can the somber Harper compare with the sexy Trudeau?

But it makes a lot of sense in the style and substance of the two PMs.

When we think of Trudeau, what often comes to mind are bilingualism and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. 

And Harper has consolidated the Trudeau legacy.

Bilingualism? Harper has embraced the concept that those from outside Quebec should learn both official languages. (Since Trudeau, except for the few months of John Turner and Kim Campbell, Harper has been the only PM from outside Quebec.)

Harper speaks French all the time. He calls French “Canada’s first language.”

Sexual revolution? Again, Harper has cemented the gains that Trudeau introduced. These included liberalization of divorce laws and legalization of birth control, abortion and homosexuality.

Divorce – Harper is the first Prime Minister to have a spouse who has been divorced.

With abortion, Harper does not allow the topic even to be discussed by members of his government. (Reminding us of the Trudeau quip that “there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”)

The Harper government has been more outspoken than any other in defending the equality and rights of women.

Take the new guide for immigrants to the country, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.

The guide asserts the equality of men and women and that Canada does not tolerate “barbaric” cultural practices such as spousal abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other “gender-based violence.”

The guide has received quite a bit of attention for so boldly criticizing other cultures for their treatment of women.

Also notable: the only other mention to “marriage” in the guide refers to its availability for gays and lesbians. And gays and lesbians are celebrated as part of “Canada’s diversity.”

So far, so good.

But there is a darker side to both Trudeau and Harper.

For one thing, an autocratic style mixed with contempt are hallmarks of both PMs. 

Trudeau greatly concentrated power in the prime minister’s office. He called MPs “nobodies.”

Harper has consolidated even more power in the PMO. And he was found to be in actual contempt of Parliament just before the current election.

Trudeau and Harper both flip-flopped on their views, yet scorned anyone who objected.

Trudeau, at first a civil libertarian, later introduced the War Measures Act during the October Crisis.

Harper, at first gung-ho about the engagement in Afghanistan, later decided to “cut and run.”  

Yet those who raised questions were labelled by Trudeau as “bleeding hearts” and by Harper as supporters of the Taliban.

Election campaigns bring out more Trudeau-Harper similarities. 

The last election, in 2008, had echoes of the election in 1980.

In 2008, St├ęphane Dion proposed a “Green Shift,” which included an increased tax on fuels like gasoline.

In 1980, Joe Clark proposed a “short-term pain for long-term gain” budget, which included an increased tax on gasoline.

Trudeau and Harper ridiculed these ideas and in effect said to citizens: “You don’t need to think about policy. Don’t worry about issues like taxes on gasoline. You can consume all you want; you don’t need to think about the future.”

Trudeau offered a lower gas tax; Harper a balanced budget.

Trudeau and Harper were both talking nonsense.

Trudeau later raised the gas tax and the deficit.

Harper brought in Canada’s biggest-ever deficit just a few months after the election. 

But the opposition and the media have a hard time pinning down Trudeau and Harper on their policy flip-flops.

The media seemed to sum up the Trudeau era with: He must have been the best choice for Prime Minister – he was so arrogant and dashing.

And Harper: He must be the best choice for Prime Minister – he is so arrogant and dour.

The leaders up against Trudeau and Harper are depicted as decent, thoughtful men. But, to be Prime Minister, they are portrayed as lacking something, a certain je ne sais quoi.

And so are dismissed Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, Paul Martin, St├ęphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff.

But democracy can be surprising.

Clark actually defeated Trudeau once.  

And Stanfield is widely regarded as “the best prime minister Canada never had.” 
* * * *

See also:  

Canadian Author Wonders What Harper is Reading

Is it an Election About Nothing?

Prime Minister Obama?

Issues for the Next Election?

Can’t We Do Better Than This Same Old Political Routine?

Vote Early, Vote Often, and Vary Your Vote

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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