A government, like any organization, has to manage a number of competing interests simultaneously. The economy must be watched and occasionally massaged, health care has to be funded, as does a military, as does scientific research, as does infrastructure like roads and bridges. It’s a massive undertaking, requiring a wide variety of non-overlapping competencies and skills simply to keep going, let alone to improve.
Unfortunately, I live in a country whose government is a quasi-Soviet cult of personality, convened somewhat ironically around a man who has none. Stephen Harper runs what some refer to as a ‘tight ship’, but what is actually a gaggle of completely incompetent buffoons who, if the need was urgent, might be able to muster enough collective brainpower to run an alarm clock (provided the clock was small and it was okay if it lost a little time now and then). As a result, they seem to take not only their marching orders, but indeed their nouns, verbs, and syntax wholesale from the Harper machine.
This works incredibly well for a political party:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads into 2013 with most Canadians opposing him but still backed by a “solid” coalition of voters that delivered him a majority victory in the last election, a new poll has found. The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted exclusively for Postmedia News and Global TV, reveals that Harper’s governing Conservatives, 20 months after winning re-election, are maintaining a steady core of support among voters.
Pollsters say that at this point in a government’s mandate, public opinion has often begun to turn against an incumbent prime minister. But that isn’t happening with Harper’s Tories, who were elected with 39.6 of the vote in the May 2011 election. On a range of questions — such as whether Harper is doing a good job, is representing the “values” of people, and should run again in the 2015 election, the prime minister has support levels among Canadians that exceed 40 per cent.
You read that correctly. Despite the myriad of unbelievable fuckups, bullying, contempt for Parliament, muzzling scientists, absurd attacks against his enemies, characterization of Canadians as enemies (and child pornographers to boot)… I mean really just take your pick, Stephen Harper enjoys pretty much the exact same level of support that he did when he won the last election. Which means that pretty much nothing he does, or at least nothing he has done so far, has mattered whatsoever to the claque that evidently thinks that $45 billion in mismanaged fighter jets funds are excusable, but $14 million in questionably-allocated ads is an unforgivable offense for an entire political party, apparently in perpetuity.
So yes, I live in a country where governing badly (and not bothering to hide it) is good for staying in power. Unfortunately, it’s not good for anything else:
Two government audits show Ottawa is earmarking about a billion dollars a year to build and repair First Nations infrastructure, but its myriad of officials are not keeping proper tabs on how the money is spent. Even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper accuses the Attawapiskat First Nations of mismanaging federal funds, the internal audits posted recently suggest the criticism could apply to the federal bureaucracy as well. The audits say there are “significant gaps” in how the on-reserve infrastructure funding is controlled, and that the financial reporting system is riddled with inconsistencies.
I attended question period when I was in Ottawa in December. I had the great misfortune of sitting above the Conservative bench, which allowed me to see the open binders the sitting MPs had in front of them. Within these binders was not, as you might expect, information. On the contrary – they were filled with talking points. Identical talking points, that each MP had to recite like a gramophone of inane horseshit whenever they were so prompted. Often, the responses had nothing at all to do with the questions (“did we rig an election? Well I think the Canadian people really want to know why union organizers are in Brazil at an anti-Israel conference!”). The Prime Minister’s Office cared enough to make sure that MPs were prepped to deliver non sequiturs in a sparsely-attended Parliament chamber, so that those answers would be recorded on a channel that hardly anyone watches.
It didn’t care enough to make sure First Nations across the country had housing and potable drinking water.
But that’s perhaps not the most appalling thing the government simply doesn’t care about:
A letter obtained by Greenpeace through access to information laws and passed on to the CBC reveals the oil and gas industry was granted its request that the federal government change a series of environmental laws to advance “both economic growth and environmental performance.” Within 10 months of the request, the industry had almost everything it wanted.
The letter, dated Dec. 12, 2011, was addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. It came from a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), which is made up of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (now the Canadian Fuels Association) and the Canadian Gas Association.
On April 26, 2012, the government introduced the first of its omnibus budget implementation acts which completely re-wrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and made major changes to the Fisheries Act and the National Energy Board Act.
At this point, the government doesn’t even care enough to write its own bills. It just inclines its ear to the oil and gas companies, and transcribes their wishes straight into law without pausing long enough for a stray thought to impede the process. Because hey, it’s not the government’s job to protect the environment. That’s for companies like Enbridge – fine corporate citizens with sterling environmental reputations and a spotless safety record*. As everyone knows, corporations are motivated solely by their overwhelming desire to do the right thing, even if it costs them money. Furthermore, if a corporation were to damage sensitive environmental areas or do anything unethical, why, they’d never make another penny of profit in their lives!
So yes, it turns out that whatever Stephen Harper’s government’s other priorities have been thus far, they have been successful in achieving their top one: ensuring that they win re-election and stay in power, so they can enjoy 4 more years of not giving a shit.
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*In the time it took you to read that sarcastic sentence, three more Enbridge pipelines have leaked into environmentally sensitive areas.