A Nation Regrets

Last week Canadians watch those who would be Prime Minister debate the issues live on national television. There really wasn’t much debate.

The consensus of the people I talked with afterward was that it was more a recitation of talking points mixed with personal attacks. None of the leaders really came across as leaders. Is this the best Canada has to offer?

It isn’t – but it is to late now to look back at past leaders. Or is it? Too late for this election anyway – voting day is less than a week away.

It was about this time last year that I read former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s book Right Here Right Now. It had just been published and I wanted to see what he had to say. I had always respected Harper’s political acumen – and found him to be very personable the times I had met him – not at all like he had been portrayed by the media. (I wonder if the media found Harper standoffish because he was – towards them. The politician/journalist relationship is rarely amicable.)

The book is a must-read for anyone interested in politics, though mildly depressing in the  light of current realities. It’s probably not what you expected from Stephen Harper. Retired politicians usually start by publishing a memoir, something to defend their legacy. That’s not what this volume is about. This is a post-Brexit, post Trump examination of the new political reality. It is a sobering and insightful read.

Not only is it a look at recent trends, it is a call for action by those of a small-c conservative mindset. Those more liberally minded will find a lot to dislike here, though I warn you, Harper’s logic might have liberals changing their attitude.

Stephen Harper trained as an economist, which may be one of the reasons Canada did comparatively well in the 2008 recession. Unlike most politicians (many of whom have a legal background) he understands how the economy works. I don’t think that is true of his “the budget will balance itself” successor or the many-times bankrupt businessman president to Canada’s south.

People are feeling disillusioned and disengaged and no longer have reason to trust in social institutions. Yet there is a hunger to be led. That opens the way for ideologues and demagogues to seize power. That’s not quite the way Harper phrases it, but that essentially is what it means.

As we look at countries and their leaders around the globe, you can see that playing out in Turkey, in Russia, in the UK and the USA. You could even argue that in Canada Harper’s 2015 defeat was a populist reaction to his steady management.

Right Here, Right Now is a clarion call of the need to do things better. In this final week of the federal election campaign maybe more people should be reading this book than whatever party propaganda gets delivered to their doors.

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