Has Canadian public life ever seen a more delusional, fiction-obsessed revisionist than the former finance minister? Proof of that statement abounds; the latest is his recent op-ed piece penned for Chairman Godfrey at Postmedia arguing that the damned Liberals are erasing the glorious legacy of Stephen Harper.
One commentator on the page asked a good question: Was Oliver’s column a special to the National Post, or a cry for his mama?
Oliver tried to make the argument that the Trudeau government is overturning all the wonderful things done by Side Door Steve (he doesn’t sit in Parliament — he lurks there). Take the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF). Joe sees this Harper-era initiative as a giant step forward for mankind. Others, whose comfort zone isn’t necessarily the Middle Ages, prefer the separation of church and state — a secular approach to governance. (Yes, Joe, it’s a radical thought. But a lot has happened since the Battle of Hastings.)
No wonder Joe pines for the now-defunct ORF. It was just one more example of the CPC using public money to pay for their political machine. For one thing, ORF reported to that well-known religious figure John Baird, not Parliament. Archbishop Baird and his personal diocese over at Foreign Affairs were about as multi-partisan as Jenni Byrne’s appointment book. That was not an Office of Religious Freedom. That was a $20 million train robbery (over four years) to advance the Conservative agenda.
The name was misleading from the start. It should have been called the Office of Evangelical and Neo-Con Freedoms; Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs amounted to mere after-thoughts. If the ORF was anything more than a taxpayer-funded sop to the Conservative cause (and red meat for the base), why did the Harper government’s foundational meetings for it feature evangelicals and neocon-friendly types — and no one from Amnesty International, or any other human rights group?
Joe also slammed the Liberals for scuppering such Conservative initiatives as increasing the OAS retirement age from 65 to 67. And yes, Trudeau did reverse that in his government’s first budget, as promised.
What Joe neglects to mention is that Side Door Steve once promised to never touch Canada’s pension system. Then, one day, he woke up on the other side of the bed and did just that. He even made the announcement in Davos, Switzerland, rather than in Parliament. There was no supporting Finance Department white paper to justify the move. That sent coffee rockets jetting out of Kevin Page’s nostrils. It was Steve in communion with his belly-button — again.
Joe seems not to have noticed the uprising in the land over Harper siphoning funds from Canada’s most vulnerable demographic. Making them walk further for their mail and wait longer for their checks apparently still makes excellent sense to Joe.
In a word, Joe Oliver — like a lot of Harper loyalists — has chained himself to a burning house. Many of the policies and attitudes that got the Conservatives turfed in 2015 are the very ones Joe now argues should be preserved: We should have kept those bombers bombing in Iraq, we never should have imposed all those pesky environmental restrictions on pipeline projects, we should carry on stripping citizenship from convicted terrorists and we should have invested $3.2 billion on military spending right away, instead of delaying it.
There is, by the way, a deep irony buried in Joe’s lamentations over Trudeau deferring all that military spending until later, rather than adding to the burgeoning deficit now. It was Oliver who, as finance minister, wanted to pass a law against what his own government had been doing for seven years — bringing in deficit budgets.
But the deeper irony in Joe’s Last Past the Post article is in his dire warning to Justin Trudeau. If Justin isn’t careful, Joe says — if he continues to undo the neo-con legacy — the people of Canada will rise up and judge him.
Actually, the real danger for Trudeau would be the consequence of not reversing key elements of Harper’s dubious legacy. If he faces a political threat down the road, it will be because he endorses the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Saudi arms deal, ill-advised pipelines and a one-sided foreign policy with regard to Israel/Palestine. It won’t be because he had the good sense and honour to dump the rest of Harper’s baggage overboard at the first opportunity.
If Joe wants to debate with adults, he’s going to have to remember an embarrassing fact that rather undercuts his arguments in the Post: It was the Harper government that reserved the right to reverse any policy of previous governments, based on its majority. Which is exactly what Harper did.
The Law Reform Commission, disbanded. Katimavik, obliterated. The National Roundtable on the Economy and the Environment, abandoned. Kelowna, dumped. Kyoto, ditto. The Wheat Board, sold. The long-form census, cancelled. The convention on fighting drought in Africa, defenestrated. CIDA, castrated. Priceless diplomatic assets such as Strathmore in Ireland and the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence in the U.K., auctioned off for short-term gain.
There are two lessons to be learned from Oliver’s absurd arguments in the Post. They’re not the ones he had in mind.
The first lesson is for the Conservative Party of Canada itself. As long as Harper loyalists like Oliver continue to defend Harper and his legacy, there will be no renewal in the party. The same phenomenon can be seen in the bevy of Harperites who continue to attack Sen. Mike Duffy on behalf of their boss, despite Duffy’s robust acquittal by Justice Charles Vaillancourt. It’s an injustice — and politically, it’s a dead end.
Leadership candidate Maxime Bernier has adopted a far wiser course. He said the judge’s ruling showed that the former PM and his people have to own the Duffy fiasco. That’s a position to build on.
The second lesson is for Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey. If the Post wants to promote the Conservative Party of Canada (and it’s pretty obvious that it does), it has to acknowledge that the election is lost and that, when it comes to rebuilding the party, Harper’s legacy is the problem, not the solution. Going to the wall for it is just plain foolish — especially when the arguments are coming from a defeated candidate who doesn’t seem to understand why he’s writing columns these days instead of preparing budgets.
Godfrey and Postmedia don’t need a political dinosaur like Oliver — the man who once called environmentalists “foreign radicals”, who only managed to fool the balance sheet by raiding the Employment Insurance and contingency funds and dumping 73 million shares in General Motors. How’s that for fiscal conservatism?
Surely the CPC can offer Godfrey a warm body who isn’t sitting in the backward-facing baby seat, gazing steadfastly into the past.
Author: Michael Harris