Is Harper up to the job?

The gap between a minority Stephen Harper government and another Harper minority government is closing in. Around two weeks remain before voters head to the polls and repeat history – unless another blip shows up. That seems to be the common wisdom.

A week ago it seemed the potential for a majority government was well in hand. But alas, three weeks in politics can be a lifetime and the option of News formats that run 24/7, can make hours seem like a lifetime.

Somehow, as has happened to more than one politician of import, the internet has tripped up Stephen Harper. An old speech showed up, with a little help from the Liberals, that should raise eyebrows across the country. In an astonishing News flash, every appearance is that a speech given by Harper in 2003 was, in good part, word-for-word comments made by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in support of going to war in Iraq. Harper’s communication people, as of Tuesday, described that old speech as irrelevant and not worthy of comment when questioned by the CBC. The spokesman further lamented that the speech was given when Harper was head of the pre-cursor to the present Conservative party, so really it has nothing to do with today.

Plagiarism is pretty serious. In fact, many a student has been hauled to the principal’s office and faced suspension, or in the case of reporters and professionals caught cheating, termination. Outrage has surfaced on message boards, both against Harper and defenders of his, suggesting this was so long ago it barely rates a shoulder shrug today.

The question of relevance, however, rests with the voters currently deciding on who in fact should lead the country come election day. It would be very unfair to blame Harper for plagiarizing if the speech were written by someone else. Secondly, though just as important, did Harper believe in the text he was reading? For someone so measured to offer anything but what he believed in would seem out of character.

As troubling as cheating is, our own greater concern is that our once proud country – happily independent in thought and in deed – would somehow capitulate our free expression, using the words of another nation as our own. This incident merits a public apology and explanation how in one fell swoop a speech by Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance at the time, could echo that of another country’s Prime Minister as if their talking points came from the same memo.

This latest incident adds further fuel to concerns shared by many Canadians that the Conservatives have added a Republican edge to Canadian politics that we could do without. It is a recognized fact that negative campaigning works; certainly the taxpayer-funded mailers that skirted the rules this summer have done a good job of painting the Liberals as unable to lead.

In recent weeks, as announcements spill forth from each party about carbon tax and environmental issues, the Conservatives speak to forgetting those issues and focusing on the economy – which grows more desperate by the day. While other parties speak of new programs, the worsening economy, and the prospect of deficit budgets, Harper speaks of holding the line – that in full knowledge of having spent the surplus cupboard bare.

As other parties speak of child care and better education, Harper speaks of incarcerating 14-year-olds as adults. Those adolescents have yet to legally vote, legally drive a car, or legally consent to sex, yet they should be tried and sentenced as adults according to Harper.

As other leaders dismiss their candidates for impropriety, a Minister of the Crown in charge of Agriculture gets away with casual comments on deaths resulting from the Listeriosis crisis.

As good paying manufacturing jobs leave Canada for less costly climes, Harper handed out last minute pre-election cheques to industries and workers long abandoned under consecutive governments enamoured with globalization. Any counter argument to laissez-faire economics by other leaders is painted as more costly programs we cannot afford.

Over the coming two weeks, it will be interesting to see if, in fact, Harper himself is up to the job. With the world the way it is, the job looms large.