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Prime Minister Stephen Harper waits to speak at a campaign event in St. John's on Thursday April 21, 2011. The Prime Minster said he would not reopen the abortion debate. (Frank Gunn/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waits to speak at a campaign event in St. John's on Thursday April 21, 2011. The Prime Minster said he would not reopen the abortion debate. (Frank Gunn/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Opinion

Anyone but Harper: A dissenting endorsement Add to ...

Having contributed to The Globe and Mail since 1997, I have been quite dismayed to read the paper's editorial endorsements of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party in the past three elections, their third appearing in Thursday's edition. (Read it here: The Globe’s election endorsement: Facing up to our challenges )

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While it could be argued that the first endorsement was justifiable, given that the Liberal Party was buckling in the wake of the sponsorship scandal, endorsement No. 3 is harder to take.

One of the editorial board's key reasons for the endorsement is what they refer to as the "successful stewardship of the economy." On this point, however, it could be persuasively argued that the Liberals' solid managing of the economy in the 13 years prior to Mr. Harper's election is what made Canada especially resilient after the severe 2008 recession. The Liberals beat back an excessive deficit and have rightly been praised internationally for having done so.

The Globe editorial correctly points out that Canada's health-care system - and the burgeoning costs that go with it - is a growing concern. But this is hardly reason to support the Tories. On the contrary, after five years in office and with increasing anxiety among a majority of Canadians about our health care, the Conservatives have not made a single major policy initiative in an effort to mend it.

It's a bad sign when a Tim Hortons coffee shop is being used as a temporary emergency room due to overcrowding. This shouldn't be happening in Canada. Instead of talking about doctors, nurses and hospitals, the Tories have instead pledged billions toward building new prisons.

While conceding that Mr. Harper should loosen his "grip" on Parliament, the Globe editorial praised the Tory leader for his "bullheadedness" and "strength of character." That's funny, but from my daily diet of news across the ideological spectrum, Mr. Harper chooses opacity over transparency, refuses to answer questions forthrightly, if at all, and displays a downright dishonest streak.

And this is what I found most surprising in the Globe's endorsement: It wasn't so much what the editorial said, but what it left out. Consider what the endorsement didn't bring up:

In tough times, we need an honest, trustworthy and transparent government. Mr. Harper and the Conservatives have consistently fallen short on this count, making honesty an expendable virtue more than a few times in the past several years.

Conservatives often speak of having respect for law and order, an issue that resonates with all Canadians and crosses party lines. Why, then, did Mr. Harper choose to ignore the police report on the long-gun registry, which clearly describes the registry as a crucial weapon in fighting crime and gang violence?

When the Tories promised to spend billions building new prisons, Stockwell Day was asked about the value of such an investment, given that crime rates are declining. He answered by describing a phantom crime wave - one that had not been documented anywhere but, he insisted, did indeed exist.

On the census, Maxime Bernier suggested his office had received thousands of complaints about the purported invasiveness of the mandatory long-form survey; but when asked to produce evidence of such complaints, he couldn't deliver the goods.

More recently, and most disturbingly, Bev Oda thought it perfectly acceptable to alter the intended meaning of a legal document by 180 degrees after it had been signed. Most Canadians know that if they did such a thing while on the job, they would be out of one. Mr. Harper stood by her, effectively condoning such an act.

This dishonesty transcends the kind of white lies that people expect of politicians; it suggests hostility toward the truth. Indeed, in some of the government's stranger moments, the Conservatives appear to have lost touch with reality altogether, blinded by ideology while caught in their own spin cycle. Witness their response to being the first government in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament. To the Tories, this was a mere difference of opinion. The Globe endorsement made no mention of that.

To me, this election goes beyond ideology: it's about trust. The very fact that Mr. Harper and his entourage could behave in such a dishonest manner and still get The Globe's endorsement is an indication of how cynical we've become about our political process under this government.

The Globe's endorsement correctly pointed out that Canada will face serious challenges in the years ahead. Like many Canadians, I'm convinced that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are not up to the job. My alternative endorsement echoes the now-famous one by Newfoundland and Labrador's former premier, Danny Williams, during the last election: Anything But Conservative. Both Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton have given us far more reason to believe they are trustworthy, honest leaders who have a grip on the reality Canadians face.

Matthew Hays is a Montreal-based writer whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Daily Beast. He teaches courses in journalism and communication studies at Concordia University.

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