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Lots of people like him, but maybe they've just been brainwashed (AFP/Getty Images, The Canadian Press)
Lots of people like him, but maybe they've just been brainwashed (AFP/Getty Images, The Canadian Press)

MARGARET WENTE

Is Stephen Harper the Dear Leader in disguise? Add to ...

Is there any difference between Stephen Harper and North Korea’s defunct Dear Leader? Maybe not as much as you might think. Many eminent Canadians are warning that Mr. Harper and his hard-right Conservatives are turning our beloved nation into a thuggish, dictatorial, one-party state.

In an exit interview the other night with As It Happens, outgoing Senator Tommy Banks (appointed by the Liberals, and best known as a jazz musician) declared that he is deeply alarmed about the country’s direction. He vowed to keep fighting as long as he has breath to set things right. Chronicler Peter C. Newman is similarly distressed. In his book When the Gods Changed, he argues not only that the Natural Governing Party is finished, but so too is the Canada he once knew and loved.

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A lot of people in my postal code (adjacent to the University of Toronto) believe that our progressive paradise is lost. “The most remarkable feature of the first half year of Conservative majority rule is how quickly we have been herded toward a one-party system,” writes critic Michael Harris. Our international reputation is also on the skids. By abandoning Kyoto, Mr. Harper has turned us into a pariah state.

Contempt of Parliament. Authoritarian rule. Demagoguery, deceit and dirty tricks. Abuse of power, along with the growing stench of corruption, as the country hurtles down the wrong track. Why, it almost sounds like – the Chrétien government circa 2000!

If this indictment sounds familiar, it’s because the Conservatives made the same case against the Liberals when their positions were reversed. Majority governments in Canada have a lot of power, which is great if you’re on the winning side and awfully frustrating when you’re not. Their power is even greater when the opposition is hopelessly fragmented, essentially leaderless and out of new ideas. Today, the federal centre-left in Canada is furiously impotent – just as the centre-right was for most of a decade.

If you happen to identify with the out-group – as Mr. Banks and some of our leading public thinkers do – it’s a whole lot more satisfying to demonize the bad guys than try to unite the good guys. Perhaps that’s why so many of them insist that Mr. Harper is “dangerous,” or even “extremely dangerous.” This view was recently expressed by Stephen Clarkson, a prominent liberal academic, who warned that Canada is being crushed under the jackboots of the reigning proto-fascists. Mr. Harper, he wrote in the Literary Review of Canada, is “a dangerous figure” who “threatens the country’s constitutional heritage,” and “has rejected consensual centrism in favour of a program carefully conceived to overturn the social-market legacy he has inherited.”

If you are a faithful follower of the mainstream media, you will also know that Mr. Harper is guilty of valorizing the military, being indifferent to the plight of downtrodden aboriginals and clamping down (at vast expense) on imaginary crime. He has also created a quasi-totalitarian world called Harperland in which no dissent is tolerated.

But here’s the worst part. Canadians don’t care! In fact, they claim to be pretty happy with the way things are going. According to a new poll published in Maclean’s, 86 per cent of us believe Canada is the greatest country in the world. For some unfathomable reason, we are way more optimistic than either the British or the Americans. On top of that, the Harper government’s dangerous and misguided policies are overwhelmingly popular. According to a poll by Ipsos Reid, two-thirds of Canadians approve of its efforts to boost the military and fight crime. Sixty per cent of the public feel the government is enhancing Canada’s reputation in the world. And a whopping 80 per cent agree with its decision to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies – a move derided by much of the progressive left.

It doesn’t get worse than that.

To tell the truth, I don’t agree with all of Mr. Harper’s policies myself. (e.g., the niqab.) But it seems obvious to me that his government is far more in touch with mainstream Canadians than all those critics who accuse him of abandoning the mainstream. He’s worse than an extremist – he’s a populist. Or else he has duped and terrorized the masses so effectively that they are powerless to resist. Kind of like you-know-who.

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