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Zach Paikin Headshot

Harper Will Keep Playing Dirty, So Long as we Let Him

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Last election, the ballot question effectively crafted by Stephen Harper was one that presented a dichotomy in electoral choice -- between a strong, stable Conservative majority government, or a "reckless coalition" of left-wing parties.

Underlying that question, however, was a more profound message: The Conservative party won its majority by gambling that Canadians didn't care about what goes on in the Ottawa bubble, appealing to them on economic issues instead.

Here's the problem: Harper's gamble paid off. Most Canadians don't care about what happens in Ottawa. And that's a problem.

Harper's government was the first in Canadian history to unilaterally shut down Parliament through prorogation in order to circumvent a confidence motion it was certain to lose. His was the first in the history of the Commonwealth to be found in contempt of Parliament.

The list goes on: the in-and-out scandal, former Harper adviser Bruce Carson being convicted five times of fraud, the Helena Guergis and Bev Oda affairs, and the Muskoka G-8 scandal. All this and more took place during or before the election campaign of 2011.

Canadians still rewarded Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a majority government. And now the Tories think they can get away with anything.

The tragic lesson of modern Canadian politics is clear: Parliamentary crime pays.

Since the election, we've seen more. Calls were made by the Conservative party to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's constituents to spread false rumours of his impending retirement. Closure on parliamentary debate has been invoked at an unprecedented level -- 13 times since the election and seven times in seven weeks this past fall.

Liberal policies were equated with Nazism. Opposition members were told that opposing the government's internet privacy bill would be equivalent to supporting child pornography.

And now, news has emerged of a voter-suppression scandal. Allegedly, Liberal and NDP supporters in at least 34 ridings were either harassed or misled with regards to their polling station information, although it has yet to be completely proven beyond doubt that Conservative operatives were behind this.

This ends-justify-the-means style of politics is unbecoming of a Canadian government. The Liberals yelled and screamed last election about the abuse of democracy -- urging Canadians to "rise up" -- to no avail.

The Liberal party clearly identified the problem. Now it needs to come up with the solution -- a way of beating the Harper Conservatives in the next election. That means articulating a coherent vision for the country and messaging it effectively to Canadians -- the politics of hope at its finest.

Stephen Harper won the 2011 election by playing to the public's disengagement with politics. That is perhaps what is most regrettable -- not simply that Harper's Conservatives have abused democracy but that Canadians don't care about these abuses.

Yet Harper's majority wasn't the only story of the last election. The rise of Jack Layton's NDP also took place, for they were able to articulate a vision for the country (albeit one that many Canadians disagreed with) and message it effectively. Perhaps even more importantly, they portrayed considerable authenticity in the process.

Canadians are looking to be inspired. They aren't naturally turned off by politics. Rather, their current increased apathy is due to the behaviour of politicians themselves.

Thanks to effective fundraising and communications -- among other things -- the Tories have created a battlefield in which personal attacks and the politics of fear reign supreme. As a result, the public becomes increasingly disengaged, which in turn benefits the Conservatives once again -- it's a vicious cycle.

Sun Tzu was adamant in stating that one should never engage one's enemy on their battlefield of choice. The challenge for Liberals starting now will be to create a new political battlefield -- an arena in which the Liberal party positions itself above partisan politics and articulates a vision that puts the long-term future of Canada and Canadians first.

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