Saturday, July 01, 2006

Harper puts on Presidential performance in Washington

Unlike most people nowadays, I tend to get much of my news from newspapers rather than television or radio. I also from time to time check out online news sources as well. But my interest in television news has waned over the years. It has become too sensational and too emotionally manipulative, e.g. “after the break Mark Grinface will explain why your next trip to the dentist could be your last.”

But when it is actually covering an event rather than simply shamelessly manipulating us to try and grab our attention, television news gives an immediacy and a sense of “being there” that no other news medium, including the internet, can touch.

So I was glad that I caught the coverage of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s July news conference in Washington with US President George W. Bush. Bush with his faux “jus’ folks” routine was as cringe inducing as ever. To borrow a line from a bumper sticker, every time I see President Bush I can’t help but suspect that somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot.

So Bush piled on the corn pone routine, referring to Prime Minister Harper as “Steve” and then inviting people up to the podium on what was his 60th birthday. While Harper looked on with a horrified grin/grimace on his face.

What the television cameras conveyed was a no-nonsense Prime Minister who quite frankly was far more Presidential in his decorum than was his host George Dubbya. There was no treacley sentiment from Harper, he was all business.

It is a similar approach that Harper has taken towards governing Canada. For example, instead of just promising to do something about new equipment for Canada’s military, as successive Liberal governments have done since the Trudeau era, the Harper government is now going out and making purchasing decisions.

Although much ink has been spilled over the fact Harper has not gone out of his way to court the Ottawa Press Gallery, the fact is that Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s disdain for the media was even greater than that of Harper’s. The difference is that Trudeau was a political showman whereas Harper is anything but.

I still remember as a kid watching Jack Webster attempt to corner Trudeau on his BCTV morning talk show. Webster who spoke with a Scottish Burr wagged his finger at Trudeau and said, “How do you plead guilty or innocent!”

Trudeau gave his famous shrug and casually replied, “I plead ignorance because quite frankly Jack I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I rolled on the ground roaring with laughter and even in the studio Webster was smiling at how easily Trudeau had sidestepped the verbal trap he had attempted to lay for him.

However as much as people try to portray Harper as inflexible and authoritarian, the fact is that he has shown more flexibility and respect towards the provinces than perhaps any other Prime Minister in Canadian history. In so doing he has caused support for separatism to plummet in Quebec while sharply reducing the sense of alienation that many Western Canadians have felt since the 1970s.

In a similar vein Harper’s decision to provide funding directly to parents with children aged six and under to assist with childcare expenses is much fairer than setting up some multi-billion dollar government run daycare program. Why? Because a government run program would have only benefited working mothers who were content to let the state raise their children.

What about those mothers who decide to stay home? Generally a stay at home Mom provides the best quality of care for a young child. So why should these families not get the same benefit? Again the Harper government approach shows far more flexibility and respect for the differing needs of Canadian families than the centralized bureaucratic approach to daycare advocated by both the federal Liberals and NDP.

Harper is a hard guy to like, but he is an easy guy to respect. As long as he continues to govern pragmatically and not ideologically then his reward after the next election will be a majority government.