Well, the headline sums up my entire thesis.
The rest of this is just … Why?
First of all, let me backtrack a little bit.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about how the whole mandatory long-form census crisis was essentially a smoke-and-mirrors sideshow put on by that master manipulator Stephen Harper to (successfully) distract the opposition (and, unfortunately, the media) from real issues during the summer doldrums.
I was travelling at the time and couldn’t connect with the www.torontosun.com site, so it became the blog post that was never posted. But I could connect with Facebook and posted it there (my life — and Facebook page — are more or less open books, so you can look it up if you want).
I don’t want to clog/blog things up now by repeating the whole piece, but I’ll add it later — without change from two weeks ago — as a comment at the end of this piece.
I said then — and say now — that Harper will easily and expeditiously backtrack on the long-form census edict in a month or so, after having wasted everyone’s valuable vitriol time for the summer.
The only thing Harper didn’t count on is just how much of an impact the red-herring census issue would have on the Conservatives’ standings in the polls.
After all, David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal (“Liberal Democrat”) coalition (concept!?!) did the same thing in Britain a few months earlier with hardly a whimper.
The backlash in Canada has more to do, I think, with a general dislike of Harper than a specific love of the mandatory long-form census questionnaire.
The issue gave a focus to that dislike, but the idiot Liberals have not been able to capitalize on that general antipathy, even though they swallowed Harper’s bait and surged after the census issue at the cost of hitting him where he was more vulnerable.
Now Harper has another issue in which he will set the terms of national political debate instead of the opposition: The good ship Sun Sea.
I’ve already said the Harper government will take a hard line on the mainly Tamil refugees/terrorists/freedom fighters/TB carriers aboard the MV Sun Sea.
Why? Because the Canadian people, in general, want him to.
Why do they want that? Because, for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is the Vietnam-like experience we are currently going through in Afghanistan), Canadians are tired of being seen as international patsies.
Whether they will admit it publicly or not, most Canadians have now developed a gut instinct that the rest of the world sees us as easy-going pushovers — “marks” in the con-game vernacular — and they are tired of it.
The MV Sun Sea — like the NHL’s Kovalchuk deal — is the straw that broke the camel’s back and the people aboard the Sun Sea — pregnant women and ailing children as well as Tamil Tiger terrorists/freedom fighters — will be the ones who pay the price.
(By the way, I’m not saying a crackdown on the whole refugee boondoggle isn’t a good idea — I think it is. I’m just appalled by the political cynicism that seems to be driving the issue at the moment.)
The PR campaign has already begun.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is leading the formal government charge, but a more telling sign is the interview Canada’s former high commissioner to Sri Lanka gave to CTV on Thursday.
Canadian diplomats — even retired ones — don’t go public unless someone high up in Ottawa says it’s OK.
Here’s part of what Martin Collacott had to say to CTV’s Canada AM:
“We accept about 50% of people who manage to reach our soil and make refugee claims. The average for other countries is around 15%, so your chances of getting accepted in Canada are much greater.
“And even if you’re turned down, the chances are we won’t be able to remove you. We remove a few, but we’ve had people who have been turned down 20 years ago, but are still appealing….
“We took 37,000 refugee claimants from Sri Lanka over one 15-year period, more than from any other country in the world.
“Our acceptance rates were much higher. In 2003, for example, Britain accepted 2% of claims from Sri Lankan Tamils; Germany, 4%; Canada, 76%. So, if you can get to Canada to make your claim, it’s like winning the lottery.”
Collacott said refugees are given state-funded lawyers, welfare and health care, which leaves the Canadian system as “the Rolls Royce of claiming refugee status.”
Good stuff. All true (as far as I know), all valid — but, boy, does it play well for what the Conservatives will do in the next few weeks and months.
I guarantee you Martin Collacott will be on the VIP invitation list the next time Stephen Harper gives a dinner speech in Vancouver.
So the 400 men, 60 women and 30 children (roughly) aboard the MV Sun Sea — sounds like a cruise ship, doesn’t it? — who have been surviving in appalling conditions in a small boat in the Pacific Ocean non-stop since at least May will pay the price for the 37,000 other Sri Lankan refugees we — as the collective Canadian people — let into the country over a 15-year period (according to Martin Collacott, anyway; I don’t know the real number and the fact that Collacott said it doesn’t make it true — just quotable).
Vic Toews is already saying “intelligence reports” indicate the Sun Sea was a test vessel, with several others ready to invade our shores as soon as the 490 people (or so) aboard the Sun Sea are granted refugee status.
“Okay, you Tigers — let’s send out a test ship in April or May and see how Canada reacts when it reaches B.C. in August.”
Keep in mind the Harper government couldn’t even keep its “intelligence reports” straight enough to announce the correct time the Canadian navy boarded that sad, stinking ship off the B.C. coast.
So, to sum up, my position is that a hard line is probably a good line. It doesn’t make up for the monumental lapses of the past 30 or 40 years, but it’s a start.
But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Give these people on the Sun Sea a chance — the same chance you would want for yourself if you had survived three months of terrible conditions at sea to escape what you considered certain — or at least probable — death in the land of your birth.
The number of people aboard the MV Sea Sun is statistically about the same number of people who arrive in Canada by commercial air carrier and claim refugee status in any given week of the year.
But, also statistically speaking, we beat up more on people who arrive by leaky, rusty boat than we do on people who arrive in a sleek airliner.
Beat ‘em up all the same, I say, or — at the very least — don’t beat up the boat people more than the jetliner people.
Fix the system. Don’t screw the people who are running for their lives.
Terrorists? Freedom fighters? They’re all the same thing.
If you had a boatload of republicans trying to escape fascist Spain in 1936 or 1937, what would you call them?
If you had a boatload of Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany in 1939, what would you call them?
Oh, right, you’d call them the MS St. Louis — the Voyage of the Damned with 900-odd German Jews aboard who were rejected for asylum by the Canadian government in Halifax harbour.
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King said the fate of the MS St. Louis was “not a Canadian problem.”
Most of the Jewish passengers were eventually accepted as refugees by other European countries after all the nations of the Americas denied them safe haven, but it is estimated that about half of them died in Nazi concentration camps.
I’m not saying present-day Sri Lanka is Nazi Germany, but I am saying that if I was a Tamil Sri Lankan who had been fighting for independence/separatism, I would be running for my life right now.
I still want the buggered-up Canadian refugee system to be fixed, but I don’t want to be standing in Mackenzie King’s shoes, waving goodbye to the MS St. Louis.
July 30: The Great Census Crisis Con
For starters, the whole kill-the-long-form-census kerfuffle is a fraud and a complete non-event.
The mandatory long-form census form will still be a part of the next national census in 2011.
Why am I so sure? Because large corporations and municipalities across Canada absolutely NEED the in-depth information the long-form questionnaire provides.
Stephen Harper, of course, does not give two hoots about what Canada’s largest municipalities want — they all vote Liberal or NDP or BQ anyway. But he very deeply cares about what the biggest corporations in Canada think.
He needs them more than they need him — and they need that deep-core information from the census more than they need him.
So, rest assured, the mandatory long-form census form is not dead.
The census thing doesn’t really matter to Harper, anyway. The idea of killing it was idealogical and sprang from the heartland of Harper Nation — Alberta. But he’s not politically committed to killing it and he knows it’s really just a red herring.
So why did he force Tony Clement to walk into that hailstorm of abuse to announce the imminent death of something that mattered deeply to various other people but not particularly to the PMO?
Well, first of all, Clement owed Harper big-time for all the G-8 money that flooded Clement’s riding over the past 18 months. Harper is a bit of a bully, so he made Clement sing for his supper — and bow to the Boss.
Of course Harper wouldn’t pull a stunt like that just to humiliate Tony Clement, who was known to favour keeping the long-form manadatory blah blah. That was just a manipulative bonus side effect.
Harper created this tempest in teapot because he has become a master at setting the agenda of national debate and baiting the opposition — and, sad to say, the media as well — to chase whatever red cape he waves in their faces.
Just stop and think: What were the major issues of contention in Canada’s political forum before the whole census stinkeroo started? Well, it was mmmmm, hhhhh, let me think, errrrr, but that damn census decision! Grrrrr!
There were actually quite a few important issues on the go, from the Afghanistan mission to the G8-G20 fiasco to environmental issues in the Alberta tarsands and the Arctic. There were also some serious personnel issues within the Harper cabinet that the opposition was dogging him on. But pouff! Up in smoke as soon as Harper dragged the baitbag of census “reform” in front of their quivering noses.
The opposition thought Harper had made a bad blunder and they suddenly had a sexy (yet important) issue to hammer him on and score big with the Canadian public.
How many times will Harper be able to pull this bait-and-switch manoeuvre on the opposition until they catch on to the fact that HE is the one setting the debate agenda — and it’s an agenda that is far less threatening to him than the debate agenda that preceded it.
The Liberals, especially, will lose any summertime traction from hammering Harper on real issues where he is vulnerable. Instead, Harper will play possum through August and suddenly announce that — by gosh — there really is a strong impetus to keep the long-form mandatory blah blah … and although he, personally, thinks it’s a massively flawed and hugely expensive intrusion into the private lives and businesses of Canadians, he is prepared to put his own feelings aside in favour of the general concensus. After all, he, Harper, is a true democrat and the man Canadians elected to be their prime minister … unlike those loser whiners over in the opposition who just wasted the summer chasing their tails.
And by the way, we’ll just slide through this new $6-18-billion stealth fighter-bomber acquisition while you’re chasing same-said tails. Nice timing.
Canada really does get the government it deserves. And unless the Liberals can start setting the national debate agenda instead of chasing Harper’s decoys, we’re in for a long, long spell of Conservatives in power — whether they deserve to be there or not.
It feels like deja-vu all over again with Harper playing the Jean Chretien role this time around.