I think one comment of Stephen (Stay The Course) Harper's before unveiling his platform today says it all. "If you are making up [policy] in response to the latest news, or the latest changes in the stock market, then it is obvious you really don't have a plan."
It's possible this was FDR's thought on learning America had just lost its Pacific Fleet. Don't be hasty. It will look like you're panicking. All the same, FDR was on Capitol Hill the next day, Dec. 8, 1941, with what turned out to be a hugely successful proposal, seeking Congressional approval to make war on the Empire of Japan. Change of plans.
The ability to adapt, and quickly, to an abrupt change in circumstances, is one of the qualities by which we define "leadership," the vague term the Tories have campaigned on since the writ was dropped. Also hope and empathy, which, as Bob Rae said today, Harper doesn't do well. (Neither did Rae, come to that, while Ontario premier during the province's worst recession since the Depression.)
What's striking about Harper's platform is its determinedly minimal impact. Its $8.6 billion in new measures, spread over four years, works out to 1.08% of the approximately $200-billion annual federal budget. And three-quarters of that sum is tax cuts. As we saw from the U.S. stimulus package earlier this year, which George W. Bush insisted be in the form of tax credits, and which was utterly ineffectual in boosting the economy, you can't tax-cut your way out of a downturn.
This might be one of the major distinctions between conservatives and progressives, although neither speak much of it. Progressives understand that people with little or no income derive little or no benefit from tax relief, because they don't have income to tax. What such folks need is money - a job, more generous jobless benefits, daycare subsidies, a hike in the minimum wage...
The only thing more prolific in the Tories' thin platform "brochure," as Dion dismissed it, than photos of Stephen Harper (22, no less) is promises that don't cost money, the easiest kind to make, which in many cases are hollow because they won't come to fruition.
For instance, there's a renewed Tory promise (threat?) to remake the Senate as an elected body with term limits. Putting aside the fact there are maybe 17 Canadians overwrought by this issue at this moment of collapsing financial institutions and stock markets worldwide, Harper knows he can't reinvent the Senate without reopening the constitution and negotiating with the provinces - inviting another Meech Lake psychodrama. He pledges more Commons seats for growing provinces - Ontario, Alberta and B.C., which won't happen because Quebec, with its declining population, won't allow it. The Tories propose an impressive sounding Charter of Open Federalism that merely re-states the constitution's original division of powers among the provinces and Ottawa. (How about a new Commonwealth of Canada that formally enshrines the existence of 10 provinces and three territories while they're at it?) The Tories will "allow" Canadian victims of terrorism to sue terrorists and rogue nations that harbour them, something they don't need Ottawa's permission to do. And the Tories will drop their planned film-tax changes that would have enabled the feds to indirectly censor film projects the Harperites didn't like. Now there's a promise: A promise not to do something we earlier promised to do.
With just a week before Election Day, Harper is rolling the dice that Canadians will put their anxieties about a looming recession aside and vote for a do-nothing Tory agenda. There's something spooky about how Harper has let elections slip away at the last minute - in merely reducing Paul Martin to a minority, in failing to gain a majority in 2006, and now blowing a commanding 41 per cent in the polls in Week One, reduced as of today to 31 per cent out of perceived insensitivity to the concerns of everyday Canadians. All for having shown little empathy or hope, which, ironically enough, also are cost-free.