I'll give Elizabeth May credit for one thing: she puts her opinions on the record. Since her 2006 election as Green Party boss, she's written a couple books and dozens of editorials -- including many for this site. You can tweet her and she'll likely tweet back. She updates her own Facebook page and runs her own blog.
In short, she's one of the least guarded figures in contemporary Canadian politics. Which is great for her critics -- we'll never be starved for ammunition.
Last Thursday Elizabeth May wrote an editorial for HuffPo Canada that's so appallingly hateful, ignorant, and just plain dopey it has to be read to be believed. To say it's beneath the dignity of a supposed "major party leader" would be too generous. It's beneath the stuff you find under rotting linoleum.
Its origins were classic May. During a Wednesday interview with Global News, the Green leader stated (in an obvious moment of flippancy -- I had " virtually no sleep," she later lamely explained) that the prime minister of Canada was "not Canadian" because his political ideas differed from her own. This casual bit of chauvinistic name-calling prompted an immediate backlash on social media. But May doubled down and penned a 1,200 word defense of the Harper-ain't-Canadian thesis.
May's line of reasoning -- to the extent her argument is linear or contains reason -- goes like this:
When the PM was a university student, he once attended what May describes as "Young Republican summer camp south of the border." This formative experience filled lil' Harper's soft head with the glories of Americana, and caused him to be "drawn to a different system" than our own. And now his American dream motivates him to run Canada as a dictatorship.
Seriously, that's her argument.
May presents a lengthy list of Harper's crimes against the "Westminster Parliamentary system," most of which are either flatly untrue ("Harper was found guilty of contempt of parliament in refusing to turn over the documents in the Afghan detainee matter" -- no, this never happened), naive ("first prime minister to run a system of rigid party discipline in parliamentary committees"), or completely insane and unprovable ("first prime minister to visibly chafe at the reality that he is not head of state" -- who keeps the stats on prime ministerial chafing?), on the pretext that that good, patriotic, Canadian prime ministers never engage in such tyrannical behaviour -- only traitorous closet-American ones.
Or something. Drawing on her status as an American émigrée (a background she claims to be unashamed of, but almost never mentions unprovoked), May gushes that she's always "loved that we have a system of government premised on respect for traditions."
"If not for self-restraint in the exercise of powers," she adds, "a prime minister could become a virtual dictator." This is a bizarre caveat, but more on that later.
Like him or hate him, it's breathtakingly ignorant of Canadian political and constitutional history to assert that Harper's authoritarian style of rule reflects a unprecedented break from the Canadian norm, as opposed to the norm itself.
In his 2001 book on Canadian government, unambiguously titled The Friendly Dictatorship, Jeffrey Simpson described an "imperial prime ministership" in which the PM "is the Sun King around whom all revolves." His main frame of reference was the Liberal administration of Jean Chretien.
A few decades earlier, Peter Brimelow's 1986 book The Patriot Game, observed the Mulroney and Trudeau governments presiding over "a relentless reduction in the powers and privileges of Parliament" in which "the balance between the executive and legislative branches that so impressed the philosophes has also disappeared."
Hell, back in 1891 the traveling Scottish essayist Goldwin Smith summarized in his book, Canada and the Canadian Question, that the political system under John A. MacDonald was a "government of the Boss, by the Boss, and for the Boss."
While we can debate specific tactics of the Harper government, the fact that our PM heads a autocratic administration that undermines MP independence, suppresses parliamentary debate, rams through legislation, and channels executive power to a narrow clique of unelected sycophants is simply the standard reality of Canada's poorly-designed and excessively top-heavy political system.
The underlying root of such dysfunction is not undue veneration of the United States, which possesses (and it's absurd one even has to emphasize this) a constitution that starkly separates presidential power from that of Congress and requires legislative approval for most executive desires, but rather the gushy fantasies of parliamentary fetishists like May, who hype the superiority of an alternative system any five-year-old could foresee is doomed to fail: a self-policing tyranny in which the benevolence of the man at the top represents the only safeguard against misrule.
May's romantic dream that Canadian government is based around honoring "fundamental notions of the supremacy of Parliament, constitutional monarchy, representative democracy in which every MP is the equal of the other and the prime minister is merely 'first among equals'" is not, nor has ever been, an accurate summary of how the Canadian constitution actually works.
It wasn't true when Lester Pearson imposed cloture on the House of Commons to change the flag, it wasn't true when Pierre Trudeau put Quebec under martial law, it wasn't true when Brian Mulroney stacked the Senate to pass the GST, it wasn't true when Jean Chretien prorogued parliament to escape heat from the Somalia inquiry, and it wasn't true when Paul Martin ignored a vote of no-confidence to dodge an election.
Indeed, for all of May's ugly anti-Republican conspiracy theories, it's her exaggerated veneration of her adopted homeland that embodies the American mentality that actually threatens this country; the self-loathing idea that the United States is a nation so monstrous and wicked it has nothing to teach, and that "checks and balances" are a hideous Yankee heresy, rather than the sort of practical reform Canada's system desperately needs.
In that sense, Harper's greatest sin may be that he's not American enough.
Elizabeth May sure isn't.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets behind the bar at the Victoria pub in Montreal Friday, March 16, 2012 where he stopped in to meet some supporters and have a drink for St. Patricks Day.
Stephen Harper and wife Laureen in 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8472663517/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper stand next to a tray of hot cross buns at a bakery in Mississauga, on April 23, 2011.
Stephen Harper with wife Laureen and their chinchilla Charlie. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8425819048/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves after going for an ATV ride as he visits a farm for a campaign event in Wainfleet Ont., on Monday, April 4, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper eats maple taffy as he visits a sugar shack in Norbertville, Quebec on Tuesday, April 5, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives his wife Laureen a kiss following a day of G-20 meetings in Toronto. June 27, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=938&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays with foster kittens at 24 Sussex. May 1, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper throws a small snowball at photographers after talking with reporters at a campaign stop in Guelph, Ontario Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives Taylor Swift the book "Maple Leaf Forever" before her concert at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. May 20, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Stephen Harper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/23/harper-wedding-photos-ottawa_n_2006374.html" target="_blank">surprises an Ottawa couple on their wedding day</a> in 2012.
Laureen Harper laughs as she holds a husky dog with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as they tour Caribou Crossing, Yukon, south of Whitehorse Monday August 20, 2012.
Stephen Harper, his children Ben and Rachel, and wife Laureen cross Abbey Road in 2009. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OfGXN" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hams it up with Bonhomme Carnaval in the Prime Minister's Centre Block Office. November 25, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1238&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, far left, watches a third round match between Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, and Serbia's Jelena Jankovic with his children Rachel, center, and Benjamin, right, at the 2012 US Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, in New York.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speaks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2011.
Part of a painting of Prime Minister Stephen Harper fully nude, by Kingston artist Maggie Sutherland, is shown at the Central Kingston public library in Kingston, Ont. on May 18, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his son Ben watch a bloopers show while attending the Calgary Flames NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Calgary, Saturday, April 11, 2009.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper practices a few chords after arriving at home from work. February 19, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1457&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Conservative leader Stephen Harper gets a hug from his mother Margaret during a visit to his campaign office in Calgary, Saturday May 29, 2004.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper holds up a moustache scarf to kick off the start of ‘Movember’, November 1, 2012 Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8146161138/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Senior Legislative Assistant, Katherine Locke, left, and Government House Leader Special Assistant, Zoe Lawson, show off their House of Commons gingerbread house to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his office on Dec. 16, 2010. The gingerbread house was filled with rows of gummi bears as members of Parliament. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1355&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to tourists as he walks on the beach after the closing of the VI Summit of the Americas on April 15, 2012 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays a game of table tennis with Team Canada's Mo Zhang at Canada House in London on Tuesday, June 5, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tries on an old hockey helmet at he tours the Yukon's Hockey History exhibit at the McBride Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon on Thursday, August 25, 2011.
Stephen Harper, his son Ben, and Wayne Gretzky watch the men's ice hockey team's gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8457917081/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Stephen Harper and his son Ben hit balloons into the crowd after his speech at the party's three-day policy convention in Montreal on Friday March 18, 2005.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jamie Robinson (guitar) play along with Blue Rodeo's front man Jim Cuddy, and recording artist Jimmy Rankin as they belt out a tune during a Juno Awards reception at 24, Sussex March 31, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=2099&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, looks up from dishing out pancakes at Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, July 10, 2011.
Stephen Harper welcomes two Chinese pandas at Toronto's Pearson Airport on March 25, 2013. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8588948719/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
A young Stephen Harper.
Clowns ham it up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick. July 19, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1037&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, throws Senator Gerry St. Germain's cowboy hat into the crowd after presenting him with a new one as his wife Margaret St. Germain, right, laughs during a barbecue at St. Germain's ranch in Surrey, B.C., on Monday August 6, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the thumbs up from the cockpit of his campaign plane as he arrives in Ottawa,Tuesday May 3, 2011.
Stephen Harper presents Justin Bieber with a Diamond Jubilee Medal on Nov. 23, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8212520594/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Stephen Harper and Wayne Gretzky, joined by students on an outdoor ice rink in Saskatoon on Feb. 5, 2010. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/ZTlKy6" target="_blank"> Facebook</a>
Stephen Harper, wife Laureen and Suraksha, Grade 10, visit an IMAX theatre in Bangalore, India on Nov. 8, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses for a photograph with Halloween trick-or-treaters at his official residence in Ottawa, Wednesday, October 31, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper bundles up in a parka as he tours Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Thursday, February 23, 2012.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper adjusts his hat prior to the arrival of Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, for the official start of the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alberta, July 8, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen play with some furry friends at the official opening of the new Ottawa Humane Society facility on July 6, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1724&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Met Batisse X, official mascot of the Royal 22nd Regiment, prior to welcoming French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault to Ottawa. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8554783327/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper receives a cricket lesson from Ankur Biswas, cricket team captain, at the Bishop Cotton Boys School. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OffwT" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper drives a dog sled after meeting mushing teams at the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, N.W.T., Monday, March 10, 2008.
Stephen Harper meets Canada's women's hockey team, gold medal winners at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/17v6qKa" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen, left, make cookies with 10-year-old brain cancer survivor Baxton Wacholtz, right, and his mom Michelle, of Telkwa, B.C., during a photo opportunity at Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday August 7, 2012.
Canadian musician Jens Lindemann visits Stephen Harper before a concert. "His blue trumpet reminded me of Sgt. Pepper," according to Harper. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8519328992/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Met with Constable Dan Allen of the Child at Risk Response Team (and Cagney the dog) while in Calgary. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8640427193/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper points out the camera to baby Grayson, dressed up as a giraffe, during his first time trick-or-treating at 24 Sussex. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/10ppG5w" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Stephen Harper hugs his daughter Rachel Hugging Rachel as results come in after the 2011 election. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/15WI2TY" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
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