Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blowing In The Wind

Stephen Harper loves to make these kind of statements:
"This party will not take its position based on public opinion polls. We will not take a stand based on focus groups. We will not take a stand based on phone-in shows or householder surveys or any other vagaries of pubic opinion.."

The Conservatives are guided by principle not popularity, which assumes they act without self-interest or political considerations. The problem with the rhetoric, this government's actual actions suggest the polar opposite- everything is a political calculation and the finger is forever in the wind. Case in point, the recent relevations of the government's polling to gauge public opinion.

A couple weeks ago we learned that the Environment Minister polled Canadians to gauge which issues are most important to Canadians. Instead of formulating policy based on expert analysis and moral necessity, this government decided that their approach would be based on what policies would maximize potential votes. Saving the environment or saving their backside?

Today, we learn this tidbit about the softwood lumber deal, which establishes the trend:
The Conservative minority government appears to have been on firm political ground as it aggressively pushed for a softwood lumber agreement with the United States, a poll obtained by The Canadian Press indicates.

The poll, done May 18-20, was produced for the Department of International Trade by the firm Strategic Counsel three weeks after Ottawa and Washington initialled a framework for negotiations that led to a final text on July 1...

The poll results and a later analysis produced in June by the Privy Council Office were obtained by The Canadian Press under an Access to Information request.

A section of the analysis entitled Messaging Considerations was censored under part of the access legislation that shields advice to ministers.

Reid said the May poll gave the strategists in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office the ammunition they needed to override industry objections to a deal.

"I think that David Emerson, who's the minister in charge of this file, and people in the PMO who look at this kind of polling very closely, would have correctly assumed that, hey, we're not going to get hurt by this and in fact it may help us a bit," he said.

I don't mean to suggest other parties don't engage in polling or focus groups to test the waters. However, I do believe that on a question of degree, Canada has never seen a government so consumed with calculations. The opposition to the softwood deal, from people in the know, was ignored because the government concluded they were on the right side with the public. The government could even threaten an election, push the country into uncertainty, because this issue had no risk politically. The government was also aware that Canadians wanted a deal, which may have contributed to the sellout and the lack of concern. The best deal for Canada, or the best outcome for the Conservatives?

Harper loves to claim the moral high ground with the principled government angle. With each decision, at every turn, we see further evidence of a corporation masquerading as a government, in the ultimate pursuit of greater market share(i.e votes). This philosophy isn't about "results for Canadians", it's really the narrow view that comes from naked self interest.


Olaf said...

Interesting post, and I think you're bang on as far as domestic issues go, but you'd have to admit that Harper's foreign policy decisions seem to be based on something other than public opinion.

Steve V said...


Point taken, although when Harper came out strong in support of the mission, the polls were quite favorable. Having said that, I see the foreign policy as an extension of the lust for power.

Robert said...

Good post.

I'm curious to see how this "Energy Superpower" motif plays out.

I wonder if we'll hear the Tories claiming they made Canada into a superpower.