What is the price of winning an election? Steep, if the ultra-busy summer by the Conservative government and its MPs is an indication.
The Harper government, which lays claim to fiscal responsibility, has been giving money away like it has developed an allergy to the plastic in the new currency. Or at least the prime minister, cabinet ministers and members of parliament would have us believe they have suddenly discovered the need to put billions of taxpayers’ dollars back into their pockets.
In one of the boldest and brazen moves in my political memory, about $3 billion was mailed out or deposited to the accounts of parents last week, purportedly to help with the cost of child care. Can a thousand bucks (for parents of two preschoolers) buy a vote? Time will tell. But if it can, it will be the vote of a person with a spectacularly short memory. Keep in mind that this is the same government that knocked off the Child Tax Credit not so long ago, putting parents deeper into the hole at the time. And now, suddenly, about 100 days from a federal election, the Conservatives are spending like Santa and ignoring that fact that they have been saving like Scrooge, all at the expense of the families for which Team Harper expresses such great fondness.
It’s hard to find fault with the folks who got the money (and who will get monthly payments in the future), but if they think they are coming out ahead on the deal they might think about auditing their kids’ math classes. After losing the Child Tax Credit and then paying taxes (the bill will come long after the election) on the new largesse, they won’t be much further ahead than they were a few years ago.
Meanwhile, Conservative MPs having been putting miles on their vehicles in what is usually the quiet summer period, presenting cheques for projects and even elbowing their way into photo ops for money that has already been spent. Personally, I’d be embarrassed by the whole thing, but then my job doesn’t involve ruining a country and claiming it’s for our own good.
As pathetic as last week’s vote-buying scheme was, I was equally offended by another bit of news that barely made a blip in the media. Federal bureaucrats and media flacks were instructed to produce three press releases each week that focused on the theme of terrorism. A frightened electorate is less likely to vote for change, and terrorism is almost as frightening as the way this government runs our country.
When the directive was made public, Harper’s response was as predictable as it was facetious. We will not apologize to Canadians for making them aware of the threats we face from terrorists, he said.
I was reminded of a class back when I was studying journalism. We learned of the infamous coverage provided by American newspapers in the late 1800s, when papers owned by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer made up stories in an effort to shape public support for a war against Spain over its involvement in Cuba. The story goes that a reporter sent to Cuba telegrammed Hearst saying that all was quiet and that “there will be no war.” Hearst was long reputed to have replied, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” That particularly incident might have been apocryphal, but it serves as a fair illustration about how Hearst newspapers operated in those days.
With the concentration of national media today the reporting of news is easily manipulated, and there is no reason to believe that Conservative-leaning newspapers, radio and television won’t delight in running with government-reported news releases about terrorist threats. Under Harper’s leadership, federal policing has largely moved its focus from crime to the supposed threats of terrorism, in large part because the latter keeps the population uneasy and fearful. Uncle Steve, much like Uncle Sam, is watching over us and protecting our best interests, the Conservatives would have us believe.
Hogwash, I say. But this Hearst/Karl Rove-like approach worked to perfection in electing and keeping George W. Bush in office for eight years and it’s hardly surprising that the prime minister has bought into the program.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.