Stephen Harper: Leading through Apathy Since 2006


Some say it’s a weak opposition. Others say Stephen Harper is a centrist at heart. Heck, some even call him the most intelligent politician in Canadian history.


Or, just maybe, it’s a lot simpler than any of that.


Take this past week. First, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveils the federal budget for Canadians. The headlines are uniform in the daily papers of all political stripes: the budget contains very little details and no new information pertaining to several austerity-centric measures. It was as though he thought Canadians would shrug and move on.


And he was probably right.


Then, just a few days later, our media inundates Canadians with, wait for it, panda bears. Yeah, that’s right. Our prime minister is tight lipped about the budget which affects all citizens, but he rolls out the red carpet and puppeteers the media talking heads for the symbolic gesture of China loaning our country cute little panda bears.


Even Ron Burgundy would call that a slap in the face.


So why is Prime Minister Harper so blatant in his lack of details with the public on vital domestic issues? The answer is two fold. First, he believes Canadians are ruled by apathy and a lack of appetite for politics in general. History shows he’s probably right about that. Second, his entire style of governing depends on apathy. But that’s just the beginning.


In order for a government to run itself on the collective apathy of a nation, it must run like a bloated PR agency. While most governments use public relations and media speak when handling the press, the Harper government uses these tools to handle the citizens of Canada, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


They don’t even try to hide it anymore. During the days of a minority government Harper could afford to communicate just enough to get by, and even when he prorogued Parliament in order to stave off the warning of a coalition government, he simply retreated to 24 Sussex until apathy was in full force, then placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of separatists and their enablers.


With the cost of the F-35 fighters jets he stretched out an explanation for so long, Canadians practically begged the media to stop reporting. Same with changes to EI and the Canadian pension plan. Same with the Nexen deal. In fact, giving China an all-access pass to our most profitable industry without giving Canadians details was only topped by the condescending manner in which he defended Canadian interests: by passing new rules on foreign takeovers the week AFTER the deal was sealed.


After all, it would only be in the news cycle for a few days, then its off to Apathy Land again for Canadians.


The worst part about leading this way is not how insulting it is to ordinary people. That’s just the accent. The real stinger is how majority government status prevents Harper and Co. from even trying to appear as if he is genuinely interested in the pulse of the nation. He isn’t, and until that pulse reads anything other than “in a coma”, Canadians should feel ashamed and responsible for everything this government does, quietly or not.


Ignoring the youth vote

From the Toronto Sun:

Politicians don’t speak to city’s twenty-somethings

By: Rachel Sa

Mention the municipal election in a room full of twenty-somethings and you’ll hear a chorus of crickets chirping. You may even see a tumbleweed drift by.

The youth vote is notoriously difficult to mobilize. My peers vote in appallingly low numbers. But is youth an excuse?

At 29, I have every reason to be engaged in this election. Like my friends and neighbours, I live in this city, pay taxes, ride the TTC and access services.

So why do my eyes glaze over whenever one of our leading candidates appears? Moreover, why do so many of my peers feel the same way?

Enter 34-year-old James Di Fiore. He’s a senior copywriter and freelance journalist — and he’s running for mayor.

You probably haven’t heard of him. He is one of the 34 candidates vying for the city’s top job, and one of the so-called fringe candidates who remain largely off the public radar as the frontrunners jostle for the spotlight.

Di Fiore caught my attention with his campaign goal: To break through the apathy of young voters. No small feat.

He notes that, in the last election, just one in five voters younger than 40 cast a ballot. Pathetic.

“I don’t think young people have ownership when it comes to apathy” he says. “In fact, it’s the older generations who are apathetic when it comes to reaching out to youth.”

Di Fiore believes one major answer to why the under-40 set remain unengaged is simple: The candidates aren’t talking to us.

“The general consensus is that politicians don’t want the youth to vote. If they did, they would talk to us. If they did, then guys like Rob Ford would be campaigning at keg parties and Rocco Rossi would show up to DJ an event in the entertainment district,” Di Fiori says. “Instead of getting to know us, they’re using tactics that were around when Alf was still on TV.”

Funny, but is it a cop out? After all, this is municipal politics. How sexy can it get? And when you’re not a teenager anymore, isn’t it time to pay attention to some of the “grown up” issues like taxes, development and transit?

Di Fiore believes that engaging youth doesn’t have to be about catering to youth-specific issues, but about how candidates reach out.

“Even the community organizations that try to engage us, they mean well, but they come off sounding like after-school specials.”

The front-running candidates are like Walkmans, he says. Our generation wants the iPod touch.

So, then, is it just about how we package the issues and ideas? I like to think we young’uns aren’t so shallow.

“It goes deeper than wanting new packaging,” Di Fiore says. “We, the youth, are the stewards of technology and innovation — we’re the generation born with the Nintendo in our hands. We have a more heightened awareness of issues like the environment. So we’re creating the ideas and pushing things forward, then we’re not given a seat at the political table.”

It’s that innovation and forward thinking that Di Fiore believes young potential voters crave and are not getting from the frontrunners.

“We can’t keep looking to 20th century solutions for 21st century problems …” Di Fiore pauses. “Oh, man, that really made me sound like a politician, didn’t it?”

It did. But that’s okay.

Di Fiore is realistic about his chances of winning: None. But a win is not his ultimate goal.

“I want to be a catalyst,” he says. “I want young people to vote. If they cast a ballot and it’s not for me, then the greater good was served.”

But the only way to get the politicians speaking to us is to let them know we’re here — and we’re listening.

Toronto Election 2010 – None of the Above

By: James Di Fiore

It has been a strange municipal campaign so far in the process to decide Toronto’s newest mayor. We have seen marijuana charges, a freezing out of Canada’s largest newspaper, Sarah Palin comparisons and charges of racism – and that’s just one candidate.

On paper, you might think this has been a nail-biter; an election with such excitement that the city will be holding its collective breath until October 25th. In reality, the city is asleep.

Here is a quick breakdown of each ‘viable’ candidate in this year’s race for mayor:

Rob Ford – Widely considered the front-runner in most polls, Ford is a slapstick version of former Toronto Mayor, Mel Lastman. I know, crazy eh? Ford’s campaign follies are punctuated by his inexplicable popularity among older folks. His one-trick-pony message of lower taxes and lower spending has resonated among small picture conservatives, but his mouth won’t let him get the kind of lead he needs to prevail. This Chris Farley meets Rush Limbaugh politician can’t afford any more screw-ups, even though the field of other so-called front runners are too impotent to capitalize on his mistakes.

George Smitherman – Dubbed The Invisible Man by this blogger/candidate, Smitherman is either getting a raw deal by the media or just hasn’t been savvy enough to make any real headway. The former Deputy Premier hasn’t quite shaken off the eHealth scandal that cost tax payers over 1 billion dollars, and his lack of bite in the campaign is a surprise to most pundits. He took a lot of flack about his temper before the race began, so perhaps he has been advised to keep it in check. However, since Ford has been able to gain a lead through snide remarks and an unrelenting arrogance, methinks the time has come for ‘Furious George‘ to be let out of his cage.

Rocco Rossi – He might be the nation’s most disingenuous politician. Every time Rossi takes the podium the natural reaction is to dry heave or throw something…hard. His over-rehearsed style and repetitive messaging is more than nauseating, it is simply not working. He has accredited an Einstein quote to his father, habitually speaks to voters like they are pre-schoolers, and even tried to bait Ford on-camera after a rally at City Hall. Rossi used an opener about his parents being immigrants before shouting questions like “Why are you running away Rob?” in that phony, uncompelling voice of his. He is a perfect case study of why lifelong strategists should take a page out of Warren Kinsella’s handbook and never, EVER run for office.

Sarah Thomson – The lone female candidate in this year’s race, Thomson redefines the term ‘shell candidate’. Her self proclaimed image is that of a fiscal conservative who also happens to be hip with environmental issues, but dig deeper and you find a woman whose business experience is exaggerated and whose political leanings are akin to the Tea Party south of the border. Thomson has a Clintonian way of explaining how she is the co-owner of a neo-libertarian web site whose address is the exact same as her campaign headquarters: “I have nothing to do with it.” Bravo. Unfortunately for her, yet fortunate for Torontonians, her message is delivered in a style that reeks of steadfast memorization and without any natural flair for the issues.

Joe Pantalone – David Miller’s spendthrift sidekick over the past 7 years has had a difficult time connecting with anybody during the campaign. Not to sound politically incorrect (but what do I care?), Pantalone’s accent is sometimes difficult to decipher and is often more front and center than the actual issues. He’s a backdrop personality whose experience works against him, especially now that David Miller is being portrayed as an incompetent lefty who turned Toronto into Flint, Michigan.

The choice for mayor this year has proven to be not just sparse, but embarrassing. The youngest voters (ages 18 to 35) represent over a third of the city’s overall population, yet these candidates spend their days pandering to seniors and hurling insults at each other. Their strategists have clearly advised them to not bother with youthful voters, likely citing apathy as the unconquerable obstacle among the most savviest demographic. They might be right, or they might be blowing an opportunity to tap in to the only group of voters that could help one of them take the keys to City Hall.

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Fringe Candidates coming soon…