Imagine this. It's Calgary. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. You're running for prime minister and this is your hometown. As luck would have it, you're actually in town this day campaigning ... [but] as the puck drops on a night when millions of Canadians are glued to their TV sets, where is Calgary's favourite son? Where is Stephen Harper? Nowhere near the Saddledome. Hours before, the leader of Canada's Conservative Party actually pulled out of Calgary, headed for Vancouver. (1)Rather odd behaviour for a man who is supposedly Canada's number one hockey fan, isn't it?
Or maybe not.
Could it be that Stephen Harper is not really Canada's number one hockey fan? Or a hockey fan at all? In fact, he never mentioned the word until Republican strategist Frank Lutz told him to use Canada's favourite pastime for political gain.
During his speech, entitled Massaging the Conservative Message for Voters, Luntz drew a communications roadmap to bring the Conservatives to a majority government a roadmap that Harper's government already appears to be following in several respects. Focus on accountability and tax relief, said Luntz. Images and pictures are important. Tap into national symbols like hockey. "If there is some way to link hockey to what you all do, I would try to do it." (2)Now he's writing a book on hockey, and given his way with words, it will probably be a real page turner. That is if the book exists, or will ever exist.
Paul Wells wrote a column for MacLeans: What Stephen Harper has in common with Glenn Beck. The main theme is the creation of toxic politics, thanks to Fox News and voices from God, like Glen Beck's. And given that they have actually now brought the Republicans to the point where they will probably win Congress in November, Toxic, venomous politics will probably be the new norm.
But Wells also goes into Canada's political culture wars:
... in Stephen Harper’s Canada, the gulf between cultural visions on the left and right is so wide the two sides cannot even speak comprehensibly to each other. Ottawa lifers have taken to calling the two sides Starbucks and Tim Hortons, but the rift is deeper than one’s choice of coffee. It’s the gulf between daycare and church, between the faculty club and the tool shop. It is coming increasingly to define our politics, and to envenom them.Wells then compares the political climate to that of Australia:
“At the cultural level, there is a gulf between middle Australia and an educated elite concentrated in inner-urban areas who hold values at odds with one another,” an editorial in the Australian said last week. “Middle Australia is more socially conservative, comfortable with religion, patriotic and sports-loving; while the inner-urban group is progressive, secular and likely to mock suburban Australia.”This cultural divide was created by political strategists with the help of the media. We've seen it recently with Kory Teneycke's attack on Margaret Atwood.
Of the secular, mocking urbanites, the Australian noted that “the political class, particularly Labor, is dominated by this group and the ABC”—Australia’s equivalent of the CBC—“broadcasts to them. The Canberra press gallery is part of this culture ... This might be the moment to point out that the Australian is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox News, which makes him Glenn Beck’s boss, too.
Of course Canada’s own political debate has been framed in similar terms at least since Stephen Harper became leader of the new Conservative party in 2004. More than any Conservative leader since Diefenbaker, Harper has worked to pull our politics onto the treacherous but potentially highly rewarding terrain of culture, patriotism and religion. Who believes Christianity is an endangered religion in Canada, or that there is not enough appreciation for our veterans? Enough people to give the Harper Conservatives a tenacious voter base is who.
And whenever the Reform-Conservatives make a decision that makes no sense at all, they dismiss experts as "elites" and higher education as something to be ashamed of. You're a "university type", and therefore have no relevance.
And who says sports lovers have to vote Conservative? Liberal MP Ken Dryden is a former award winning NHL goalie. Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, attended school on a hockey scholarship. Liberal MP Martha Hall-Findlay was a silver medallist in the 1976 Canadian Ski Championship, and was named to the national training squad. Michael Ignatieff was captain of his varsity soccer team and is an avid baseball fan.
And as for holy rollers, most Members of Parliament, from all parties, are regular church goers, and several are evangelists. Tommy Douglas was an Evangelist and NDP. Lester Pearson was an Evangelist, and Liberal. Liberal MP John McKay is also an Evangelical, and the Bloc had an MP, Raymond Gravel, who was a Catholic priest.
Just because a politician doesn't feel it's their job to preach, does not mean that they are not devout. What is unconscionable, is exploiting religion for political power. And that's what Stephen Harper has done, and that's what the Republicans are doing.
So for the record: I am an agnostic. I love hockey. I know my way around a tool box but have never been a member of a faculty club. I care about our troops and our veterans. I love this country and I drink Tim Hortons coffee.
But I would rather poke my eyes out than vote for Stephen Harper or any leader of the destructive Reform movement.
1. Profile of Stephen Harper for The National, CBC News, June 24, 2004
2. American strategist teaches Tories tips on keeping power, CanWest News Service, May 7, 2006