The Sad Essence of Harperism, Jamming, 07/02/2016

A lot of ink has spilled and data has streamed asking questions about what the hell Canada experienced in the last decade with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. His priorities, methods, and ideals determined what the Canadian government did, for better according to some, and for much much worse according to others.

Understanding just what kind of a monster Stephen Harper was has been a major task for my country’s professional writers, journalists, and artists. We know that we were upset, we know the object of our anger, but I’m not sure that we could quite yet say in a single keen statement precisely what upset us.

We could go on and on, of course. Logically speaking, the most precise statements are actually the longest. The more detail you put into your statement and the more attention you pay to your words as you write them all down, the less room there is for misinterpretation.

And nothing will stand in his way.
I’ve read and produced plenty of this ink and data so far. Daniel Gutstein’s Harperism got a multi-post appearance on the blog, but I’ve tried wrapping my head around him plenty of times

I think I’ll actually make the Harper years a subject in the Utopias manuscript. It’ll have two purposes: 1) to reflect its position as a Canadian work, and 2) as a prominent example of the hypocritical conservatism that animates the contemporary Western right wing. 

A couple of Facebook friends posted an article by Michael Harris that I found remarkably insightful for two reasons. Harris described the essential priority of Harper’s government very clearly, so that it foregrounded its transformative power and its pettiness.

Harper was an epochal Prime Minister for Canada. There’s a before and after line in Canadian history, and Harper’s leadership is the transition inside that line. So writers can get pretentious as all fuck trying to define the Harper period of Canadian history. But as Harris describes, there’s a very simple idea animating it all.

Harper’s government did everything they could to develop the oil sands and its pipelines as fast as they physically could. The Conservative provincial government in Alberta had their backs the entire way. 

Harper hobbled or outright demolished every institution in the Canadian government that could slow down the pipeline approval and construction process. Harper government omnibus bills frequently included legislation that removed environmental protections for almost all of Canada. 

Compromise is for the weak. The strong crush their
Harper’s silencing of any voice that could conflict with the interests of the Alberta oil industry even included restrictions on scientific research and freedom to speak and publish. Government-employed or funded ecological scientists couldn’t engage the public without direct, micro-managerial approval from the Prime Minister’s office

They also pulped huge chunks of government scientific archives and cut funding to all but those scientific projects that would aid oil development. 

More than just removing roadblocks, the Harper government sought to demonize and marginalize even democratic agencies like environmental organizations and citizens’ groups. This was behind their hostile tax audits of environmental charities, and why their public relations on the subject frequently lumped environmentalists with extreme violent terror groups

As Harris says, this hardball strategy backfired, as informal protests of Harper’s policies grew and grew. Indigenous people took their concerns over ecological destruction to the courts, and frequently won. The Canadian public, broadly speaking, grew tired of Harper’s own hostility to any criticism.

Admittedly Harper never had the opportunity to stack Canada’s courts fully in his favour. And his communication office demonized critics of the Conservatives to such an intensity that right-wing partisanship in Canada has become insane

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister under the right-wing (but socially progressive) Liberal banner, still makes boosting the Alberta oil industry a priority. And it’s a higher priority in this time of political instability in many oil producing regions and cratering global crude prices. 

True victory is not about overcoming your opponents
through brute force. It's about making peace with them,
and so changing them, until you achieve what you
always wanted as easily as a dolphin swims through
a calm, placid sea.
It’s just that Trudeau recognizes that Harper’s polarizing support of the oil industry was a failure. And it failed because it alienated any possible public support from anyone who wasn’t already an enthusiastic petroleum partisan.

Justin Trudeau is the PR Prime Minister. It’s his greatest skill. And he’s going to use it to rebuild the public support for oil industry expansion and export that Harper’s uncompromising support of the oil industry destroyed.

A lot of Harper supporters hate Justin Trudeau precisely because he takes a soft, conciliatory approach to opponents of the oil industry. They hate him because they think softness is a sign of weakness. Trudeau haters don’t understand that softness and conciliation is actually how you win allies and change minds.

Ruthless oil industry partisanship was the practical engine of Stephen Harper’s politics. It backfired because your opponent will respond in kind to a blackened eye. Justin Trudeau will probably achieve all the same economic and oil industry ascendence that Harper wanted. Kind words make opponents into friends. Friends of Big Oil across Canada.

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