Careless Words and Lost Constituency
Stephen Harper’s International Policy and the National Gamble
By Aaron Binder
Stephen Harper has always been a fairly straight-forward guy, polite but always ready to strike with a razor’s wit. It is a trait of personality he’s been able to develop and utilize in winning elections and allies, he’s used it to decimate political opponents, he used it most importantly in tandem with his persistence to finally achieve the title of Majority Government. Five years after becoming Prime Minister, three won elections and a cabinet firmly under his grasp, Harper has finally earned a chance to prove himself as a capable, strong leader.
Unfortunately for him, some of the first steps are seemingly blunders.
Politics is a game of poise and preparation, two skills Harper does possess, also two skills he seemingly tossed to the wayside in a recent interview with Peter Mansbridge on CBC. Taken within context, Mansbridge asked Harper what the biggest Terrorist threat to Canada is. Harper responded with “Islamicism”. Not “Militant Islamicism” but just Islam in general.
There are some things that affect a great many people in negative ways and this statement may prove to be the catalyst for our country entering into the new era of politics. Polarization has been the name of the game, not just in North America but in many countries across the globe. With the advent of 24/7 media a decade behind us, partisan channels, reporters and pundits have taken over what was once a fairly unbiased medium. Validation for ones beliefs has created the inability to change in people and the necessity for political parties to focus more on creating an attractive message instead of good policy.
Harper’s statement to Mansbridge may seem rather innocuous, an honest answer to a simple question. However, there is far more at stake for the Conservatives and our country. The inability Harper seemed to exhibit in not identifying militant Islamicism was certainly a mis-step. His inability to clarify after the fact ensured that he had said exactly what he wanted to portray.
A growing portion of the Conservative party’s voter base comes from new immigrants to Canada, a slew of new immigrants hold similar political leanings to the right of centre, a number also follow Islam. It seems a strange move to alienate so many people who just voted for your party. This type of statement also sets a precedent for future immigrants, your government may not be as tolerant as you’ve been led to believe. Shades of Holland.
Not just in Canada, but across the globe a statement like that tends to stir the pot, Islamic nations will no doubt cry afoul, but how dangerous are they really? Going back to poise, this does, at second glance seem like a poised statement, especially with controversy surrounding increased military expenditures. With political unrest abroad, is this perhaps Harper’s opening move to involve Canada in more international missions at the loss of some initial support?
Harper and the government’s he has held in the past have been extremely good at weathering scandal, they won a majority after being found in contempt of Parliament, and this has all the markings of a hot-topic that will be pushed under the rug within a month. That doesn’t justify the comment though. A statement like that is too easy to misconstrue and take out of context, people on the left have done so, centrists have done so and right-wingers have done so. However, the most dangerous aspect of the honest answer was the validation it gave to many, that it is okay to hate others because extremists within their religion hate us. Ultimately this only divides Canada more, the division has become more apparent and the Harper government seems keen on believing that they have carte blanche when it comes to policy and public addresses.
Poised as he was, Harper took a risky step, it may pay off internationally with alliances in NATO and another possible run at the UN Security Council, but nationally it only divides a country that now more than ever requires understanding between citizens of all colour.