Saturday morning, while flipping through TV channels, I came across an interview with Jean Vanier, the founder of l’Arche, as well as a well-regarded humanitarian. He spoke of the pressing need for society to care the most for the least of us.
A devout Roman Catholic, he comes to his empathy and compassion through his deep faith in Jesus Christ. I have no such faith but I think he and I would be on the same page in many respects. On my Facebook page, I quote this essay by Ian McEwan: “Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.” Ultimately, my philosophy, such as it is, seeks to ask “To what purpose is this and whom does it help?”
Politics, no matter what end of the spectrum you find yourself, should have compassion and empathy as its foundation. Otherwise, they’re only in it for the power.
There are a few signs that Stephen Harper, contrary to public opinion, is a human being who feels things in the same way other humans do. For one, he is a hockey fan and is writing a book on the subject. Therefore we can assume that he enjoys the thrill of competitive sport. That’s human. He also walks on two legs and appears to have reproduced in the traditional human manner.
One might assume that, as leader of a national political party, after three trips to the polls and the failure to create a majority government, such a person would behave cooperatively with his opposition parties whose numbers are greater than that of his own party. One would assume that he would seek to offer our constitution’s request for “peace, order, and good government.”
Not our prime minister. No, instead, he choses to create confrontation after confrontation with the other guys rather than attend to the tedium of governing. His latest throwdown, an underwhelming financial update that includes the elimination of the $1.95 political subsidy for every 2 votes cast for every vote cast for a party receiving at least 2% of the vote, as well as a ban on strikes by public sector unions through 2011.
The rest of the G7 is dealing with the economic crisis in various ways but Harper has decided that, for now, Canada is doing ok but what Canadians are really worried about is the unconstrained extravagance of public financing of political parties. Now we may have the possibility of a coalition Liberal-NDP government which normally would suit me fine except that the Liberals kind of need someone to be prime minister so they need a leader who’s not packed his bags already. The vote subsidy measure is gone and the confidence motion has been delayed a week but who knows if that will be enough to stop this from happening.
Despite his indignation over the actions of the opposition, and his claim that this is an illegitimate way to create a government, Harper asked the Governor-General about doing the same thing in 2004 when he was in opposition and Paul Martin was the guy with the minority. But then, our recent federal election was a dismissal of his own fixed-date election law. I think he believes that when he says and does things, he expects that people won’t remember.
So, to what purpose is this and to whom does it offer help? Well, the Conservatives and, well, that’s about it.
Now, they’re pulling the most controversial items out of the financial update but I can’t help but wonder if it’s too late to stop this. It’s not as though the country as a whole is begging for Stéphane Dion (or Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae or Jack Layton) to be prime minister.
And that’s the funny thing about all of this. In disguising a partisan tract as a financial update, Stephen Harper has blundered so badly, that his government is now in danger of being brought down a party that, at the moment, effectively doesn’t have a leader. You need a special kind of blundering to pull that off. Even if he manages to survive this, he’ll always be haunted by the simple fact that Stéphane Dion, his nerdy nemesis, could have brought him down whenever it suited him.
I just don’t know where my compassion is supposed to rest.
Edited to add: But I wouldn’t mind seeing all parties involved acting more like adults and actually, you know, govern this craphole.