A new era in Canadian Politics has opened as two of the country’s most-controversial politicians suddenly face unparalleled challenges after years of persuasive, steadfast authority. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto mayor Rob Ford together signal a trend, and not an anomaly. The trend is one less indicated by parallels in leadership style and including in a common unflinching, self-assured and self-declared, paramount right to exercise power.
The Prime Minister is caught in the thick of a veritable spreading wildfire of senate scandals that seems to hint at routine quasi-corruption. The mayor of Canada’s largest city has topped his own infamous bullying tactics and foul-mouthed bullheadedness with the use of hard-drugs, likely in the company of criminal comrades. Yet for these two, calls to resign are apparently taken as little more than the latest chants of rhetoric from an irreverent and trivial opposition. It’s not the first time leaders have been reluctant to follow advice to “take a break,” but these two vehemently resist possible demotion or suspension of their prosperous reigns as if their very lives depend on it. Ford, in particular, has lost any facade of aplomb as he descends rapidly into a wasteland of headstrong sciolism and denial that would make Macbeth look like a political pushover. Yet, onwards, the reckless power-trip continues.
It’s especially ironic considering resignation, historically, has hardly been a death sentence for influential Canadian politicians. During the “King-Byng Thing” some 90 years ago, Mackenzie King infamously resisted resignation during a controversial spat with the Governor General over a call for dissolution of Parliament. But he did, eventually, resign with dignity and reticence over the bribes taken by Minister of Customs, and was subsequently re-elected – twice. Rewinding all the way back to Canada’s founding figure: Sir John A. Macdonald’s own resignation gave way to his eventual re-election as leader of the Conservatives (if not without its own problems). In Macdonald’s final, impassioned speech before he turned to the Governor General to step down, Macdonald famously acknowledged: “I am equal to either fortune. I can see past the decision of this House either for or against me, but whether it be against me or for me, I know, and it is no vain boast to say so, for even my enemies will admit that I am no boaster….” Neither Harper nor Ford could hardly give the same speech with any sincerity, but either could resign without losing the remnants of their popular support.
Even as recently as Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, resignations of party brass occurred with evident reluctance, but the public was spared from flaunting acts of resistance. Meanwhile, Harper and Ford push back fiercely against critics even on their own side of the political spectrum, hanging on to their respective torches as the flames of criticism spread rampantly and lost friends pry at the grip of their knuckle-locked digits.
Ford is destroying the possibility of a smooth transfer of power to beckoning political heirs with near identical agendas. His Worship will likely determine the landing position of the twirlybird that spins between the flailing right and left wings of political persuasions in Toronto following the 2014 civic election – but not as mayor. By not only clinging to power, but also running as an incumbent, he jeopardizes the budget-busting conservative destination he’s set for the city by splitting the right vote between those who are – and are-not – willing to overlook incoherent murder-threatening, hard drug-using, name-calling, victimizing and gang-related behavior in their civic leader.
Harper, on the other hand, has maintained the support of most heavyweight Conservatives – and would probably achieve reelection to party leader breezily in the case of an internal battle – but continues to drag down broad support for the party. Last month, an Ipsos-Reid poll confirmed that two-thirds of Canadians disapproved of Harper’s handling of the Senate scandal, while popular support for the party was pegged at just 28% – behind 40% for the Trudeau Liberals – in a Forum Poll conducted for the National Post.
Even the mainstream media – which heartily supported both candidates before experiencing their anti-journalism shindigs and dubious leadership styles – have turned against both Ford and Harper. Yet, this seems to have had little effect on the leaders….
If Harper’s and Ford’s conduct is evidence of deteriorating integrity and quality in Canadian politics, they’re not the only ones to blame. While indicating that they may deflect their votes in an election that’s 2-years away may seem like a good start for anti-Harper Canadians, running back to a party that’s barely recovered from its own scandal and ensuing identity crisis is hardly inspiring. More importantly, it’s not nearly enough to oust Harper from power now. More troubling is the fact that it’s taken criminal corruption for the country as a whole to express its dissatisfaction with a government that’s repeatedly made a mockery of democratic process. Whether in the omnibus bills that ram critical social and environmental policy changes through parliament under the guise of “budget implementation,” the strategic partisan use of prorogation or through the fraud proven to have been widely committed in the 2011 election, there is no shortage of evidence that we should cut short Harper’s contract for the commandeering of Canada. On the other hand, the continued support for Rob Ford from his constituents – approval ratings increased amid the worst of the allegations – represents nothing less than a frightening lack of self-respect that will forever scar Toronto and its global reputation.
As a Canadian, I feel it’s no longer good enough for us to accept the depravity of moral faculty demonstrated by our leaders, or the plunging status quo they establish for future generations of politicians. Whether our inclinations are left or right – whether we dream of environmental sustainability or fiscal prosperity, social evolution or personal freedoms – we have to snap out of the harmful illusion that our ambitions for the country bind us to anything less than our national mantra of “peace, order and good government.” If that means demanding resignations where no sense of dignity prevails, than Canada must demand what it deserves.