stephen harper

Trudeau and the need for leadership

With news of Justin Trudeau's candidacy for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, some polls are suggesting that Trudeaumania is about to descend on the country, enabling the Liberals to regain control of the government, draining support from the NDP. Justin Trudeau in 2010

How likely is a Liberal government now? Do they really stand a chance of winning back the support of voters who chose orange instead of red? The NDP had a strong showing in the last election, in no small part due to the efforts of the late Jack Layton. While Layton was clearly the catalyst for the so-called Orange Crush, I suspect the move towards the NDP was also due to a long-term frustration with the lack of credible Liberal policies. I'm not convinced that Trudeau can swing support back from orange to red.

The Liberals have faced a number of problems over the last few elections. Neither Ignatieff nor Dion had much in the way of charisma. In RPG terms, charisma was their dump stat. Their popularity was mainly as an alternative to Stephen Harper. Before Iggy and Dion, Paul Martin was beset by scandal, and the fallout from an internal power struggle in the party. The only Liberal leader in recent memory who had charisma was Chretien, and I'm still not entirely sure how he pulled that off.

Jack Layton, however, represented the spirit of change. He was a clear choice to the direction that Harper's Conservatives have taken, and he was a true parliamentarian. While many Canadians--particularly those who voted Conservative--may have disagreed with his policies, he was a popular figure. He was authentic, in a way that many politicians don't seem to manage.

Thomas Mulcair may not have the charisma of Trudeau or Layton, but he's certainly not the wet blanket that Dion or Ignatieff were. The NDP platform still resonates, in a way that the Liberal platform has failed to capture the attention of Canadians over the past several years.

Can Trudeau's charisma bring the Liberals back to prominence? I don't know. Trudeau as leader will revitalize the party, and attract new people. But why should Canadians put their trust back in the Liberal party now? Aside from Trudeau as a leader, what policies do the Liberals stand for, that differentiate themselves from the NDP? What policies does Trudeau himself hold?

This highlights the largest problem facing the Liberals. For Trudeau to win the leadership, and lead the Liberals back to form the government, he needs to start leading on policy, across the board. He has spoken a great deal about issues of social justice, but very rarely on matters of economic policy. In the current economic crisis, any leadership candidate needs to make their stance on economic policy clear. As journalist Andrew Coyne argues, Trudeau doesn't really have a public stand on many issues.

Will Trudeau's leadership of the Liberal Party bring them back to power? I rather doubt it. Until the Liberal Party can present a valid case, not just as an alternative to Stephen Harper's Conservatives, but also to the NDP, I think the Liberals will remain a secondary opposition party.

Murdoch Mysteries

The realm of television crime dramas is rather crowded. With the remaining Law and Order spinoffs, there are the various CSIs, the JAG spinoffs of NCIS and NCIS:LA, and any number of cop and lawyer dramas. It's difficult to find a part of the market that isn't already saturated with the competition. Murdoch Cast

Murdoch Mysteries, which airs on City TV, fits an interesting niche, breaking new territory as a Victorian era detective story set in Toronto, which strives for period authenticity, within a fictional narrative. There doesn't appear to be a lot of competition in this admittedly small niche.

Stephen Harper in cameo for Murdoch Mysteries

Still, it is a niche that has found its fans, including our current Prime Minister. Murdoch Mysteries is not the first show in which Stephen Harper has played a cameo role. Like former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Harper has previously appeared on Corner Gas. What's not to like, for our prime minister? Victorian crime fighters may have had limited tools, but punishments were severe. Capital punishment was still on the books, and a failed hanging formed the plot for one episode of the show. The current government's "tough on crime" persona seems to be a good match for Murdoch Mysteries, where the lead character is morally upstanding, almost to a fault. Murdoch's morality works to humanize the Toronto of the 1890s, bringing compassion to the otherwise unenlightened days of criminal enforcement.

What then, can we find of interest in Murdoch Mysteries? The fictive detective brings a scientific method to his investigations. Detective Murdoch investigates crimes using the precursors to the more modern techniques used in shows like CSI. The writers appear to take pleasure in their numerous anachronisms, by playing this man of science against adherents of other, more traditional forms of investigation, mainly coercion and interrogation.

Parts of the show have been filmed in Cambridge, Ontario. With modern signs covered up by period pieces, it retains the feel of Victorian Toronto.

While the show attempts historical accuracy, it very much plays to our modern conceptions of the Victorian era. Historical figures such as Nikola Tesla, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.G. Wells figure in the plots of several episodes, emphasizing the science and imagination that Murdoch represents.

A significant theme of Murdoch Mysteries is retrofuturism, particularly when compared to these historical figures. While the television show remains too firmly grounded in historical reality to be truly considered steampunk, there are clearly elements of several episodes which could be seen as steampunk. In particular, the season three finale, the "Tesla Effect" involved a microwave death ray machine.

Of the characters in the show, perhaps the most amusing is Constable Crabtree, whose youthful enthusiasm leads him to extrapolate towards modern technology from what he sees Murdoch use on the show. As noted on the Steampunk Scholar blog, Crabtree's role in the web series "Curse of the Lost Pharaohs" leads much closer to the realm of steampunk, incorporating other common steampunk elements.

Harperland: The Politics of Control

While my selection of non-fiction is usually restricted to science-fiction, or philosophical literary texts, Lawrence Martin's book Harperland: The Politics of Controlwas far too intriguing to pass up, especially since I took a media theory course last term.

One thing made clear in the text: as Stephen Harper doesn't like positive books, written by close colleagues, Martin's critical text would clearly have drawn the ire of the Prime Minister's Office. This text also doesn't pull any punches. While Martin is newspaper columnist, this is not an impartial book. The language is slightly coloured at times, in describing Harper's actions. That said, everything is well documented, and Martin relies heavily on interviews with former insiders.

Harperland does take a clear stance: a great deal of Harper's success in Parliament is due to the strict control of information put in place when the Conservative minority government was formed. Despite having campaigned in terms of government reform and transparency, Martin shows how Harper's Conservative government has gone to greater lengths than any previous Canadian government, or even American governments, in controlling and restricting the flow of information, and controlling the flow of government committees.

In particular, Martin shows how Harper's form of leadership is particularly divisive. Through a numerous string of specific examples, Martin shows how Stephen Harper's inner circle attacked not only those in the Liberal Party, but any member of their own party who showed dissent. While promising Canadians parliamentary reform, Martin instead presents us with a prime minister who threatens Canada's democratic traditions, dividing and conquering.

These wedge politics were crucial in the 2008 elections. As Martin notes, Harper used the election to directly attack the leadership of Stephane Dion. Throughout the campaign, the Conservatives spent more time and energy attacking the policies of the other parties, then announcing any significant new policies of their own. The manner in which cuts to arts and culture was announced was seen as a direct attack against Quebec's language and culture, leading to serious drops in the polls in Quebec.

Martin also explains how Harper used wedge politics during the coalition crisis, painting it as an alliance between the Liberals, the socialists (NDP) and the separatists (Bloc Québécois). While this succeeded in buying Harper the time needed to defeat the coalition, it also seems to have caused future setbacks in Quebec. Wedge politics are aptly named. Rather than bridging together the differences between Quebec and western Canada, Harper has driven a further wedge between them. Whether this will continue in the future remains to be seen.

Martin's book suggests that Stephen Harper has a "dark, vindictive side of his character--a side that at times he could not subdue, and that on several occasions, such as the government's budget update in November 2008, threatened to bring him down" (175). This book is frightening in it's implications. While many Canadians may be aware of some of the broader elements in the book, especially those who keep a wary eye on our politicians, the depth and breadth of the secrecy implemented by the Harper government, and the scope of the changes occurring in the government bureaucracy is surprising even to those who already suspected as much. That Harper has made this many changes in a mere four years, while in control of a fragile minority government is telling, and leads this reader to wonder what further changes will occur if Harper receives the majority government he so clearly desires.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in politics, from either side of the political spectrum. While Martin's book does not present Stephen Harper in the best light, it clearly shows how Harper has been so effective during a minority government situation.