Harper plays chess... while Rome burns

Well, I looked. There’s not a line about changes to political party funding in the risible excuse for a platform Stephen Harper released in the last few days of what I had been calling, perhaps prematurely, “the campaign of 2008,” with no ‘s’ on campaign. But then, the 2006 platform didn’t have a word about senators in cabinet either. The immediate post-election period is Harper’s favourite time for little surprises, so he can show everybody what a super-genius 3D Vulcan chess master he is.

But you know, it’s a funny thing. I’ve heard from a lot of people since the election, I did Q&A sessions at two speaker gigs where people from politics and business asked a lot of questions about how Harper would handle the current economic storm. And not a one of them said, “Is he going to do something clever to wrong-foot the opposition? I sure hope he’ll be clever. Our sales are collapsing and we can’t get any financing, so please tell me, Paul, that we’re going to get some o’ that old Vulcan chess from the tactical genius.” No, that’s not what people have been asking for.

The stock market is a bit of a mess these days. Every week another massive pillar of American capitalism collapses. The OECD and Kevin Page say we’re headed for a deficit and probably a recession, and I profoundly don’t care if Jim Flaherty disagrees, because he’s not in the credibility business, is he? There’s a religious gang war in the streets of the world’s largest democracy and the latest quarterly report from Afghanistan suggests, as cheerfully as possible, that that benighted country is slipping a little deeper into the drain despite the most heroic efforts of our best men and women.

So you’d really have to be Stephen Harper to survey all of this wreckage and tell yourself that this is another excellent buying opportunity.

It’s bad enough, as Heather Scoffield points out, that much of the world is taking a different policy track from Canada. Harper would be free and might be well advised to take a different path. But even Angela Merkel, the poster child of the anti-stimulus set, passed a budget this week. Barack Obama, meanwhile, had three news conferences in three days to put serious, serious people in charge of economic policy.

And Harper has not led any kind of anti-Keynesian resistance. In Peru on the weekend he called deficits essential. So on the economy as on the war in Afghanistan, he is now in the full-time business of spinning like a weathervane. But then, wars and jobs aren’t what Harper’s in politics for, right? No, he just likes to play chess.

So, drawing his inspiration from Jo Moore, the Downing Street spin doctor who thought 9/11 would be a “very good day” to get some embarrassing news releases out, Harper decided an economic crisis would be an excellent cover to use for a little political kneecapping. What could be more clever? That’ll show them he’s a serious guy.

So the real outrage of yesterday’s economic “update” is not that it seeks to impose on most parliamentarians a change to funding rules that most of them would never ordinarily accept; it’s that it accomplishes nothing else. It’s that in the most dangerous economic times Canada has faced in 20 years if not far longer, this prime minister can’t wipe the smirk off his face and grow up a little.

What comes next is beyond my ability to guess. The forces facing Harper do not look more encouraging, for me as a taxpayer, than the forces arrayed around Harper. But so what? Too much of our politics in recent years has been given over to warring camps who don’t care what their guy does as long as he’s their guy and he wins. A lot of the rest of us care less about the colour of the winning team so much as they desperately hope that whoever it is, he might take the job seriously.

At least since September, we have not been so lucky. Stephen Harper is my prime minister and for all I care he can go on being my prime minister as long as he cares and can win the little fantasy confrontations that so excite him. But he is acting like an idiot and I am ashamed of his behaviour.