Dec 20 2009
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is accused of acting like a dictator. The real issue is why an experienced editorialist can’t act like a professional.
It is a well-understood principle in most editorial and blogging circles that when you compare your opponent to Hitler, you’ve automatically lost the argument. Reductio ad Hitlerum arguments say far more about the one making the accusation than the target of the attack.
This rule also applies to an only slightly lesser extent when one compares their opponent to a dictator, particularly in a country like Canada. Let’s face it, when you use the word “dictator”, the face that most often comes to mind is Austria’s most notorious firebrand. Unless you’re talking about Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, labeling someone a dictator, or more cautiously using the phrase “acting like a dictator”, is not just wrong — it’s stupid.
So it’s disappointing when I see this sort of accusation leveled against our Prime Minister in a publication like the Toronto Star. Haroon Siddiqui’s clownish piece, Harper acting like an elected dictator, is a perfect example of the genre.
Not to delve too deeply into this muck, but one would at least expect such an outlandish assertion to be backed up by some sort of, well, evidence. An excerpt of Siddiqui’s piece:
Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.
Let’s see. Harper has “centralized” power within the PMO. So what? The PMO doesn’t make laws. The House of Commons does. The Conservatives are still hamstrung by their minority status. It makes little difference whether Harper keeps a firm leash on his closest cronies, so long as their leader and party must answer to the people in parliament.
Harper has not defied parliament on the Afghan file. He has defied a select number of MPs who are doing all they can to sap the morale of our citizenry and military for short-term partisan gain. There’s no question which political parties have actually tried to bring our soldiers into disrepute; apparently for the high crime of turning over our captured common enemy combatants to our Afghan allies to deal with before they’ve reached a civilized enough state where terrorists’ rights take precedence over those of their victims.
As for muzzling civil servants, Harper has done no such thing. Bureaucrats have always been subject to privacy rules and confidentiality considerations determined by their elected masters. This is hardly something unique to the Conservatives. And civil servants certainly don’t have any right to lifetime job security.
Extreme language and partisan rhetoric have ruined public discourse. I expect more from an editorialist in one of our nation’s most well-read newspapers.
Is this really how Canadian PM Stephen Harper starts his day?