Going Home at Last

  • National Newswatch

Probably one of the less noticed but significant things to happen in the 2015 election campaign were some complimentary remarks regarding Justin Trudeau from an unlikely source: former Progressive Conservative Party Leader Brian Mulroney.For those who know him, Mr. Mulroney's public expression of Mr. Trudeau's formidable skills as a politician and attributes as a leader was no surprise.  While a Conservative partisan to the core, he has always been a Canadian first.As prime minister, Mr. Mulroney fought for big and consequential things like national unity and reconciliation, free trade, the GST and tax reform, privatization of crown assets that no longer served a public policy purpose, and lessening the regulatory stranglehold on entrepreneurship.He waged the fight to secure the right of self-government for First Nations in the constitution.  He sat down regularly with provincial premiers in formal First Ministers' conferences.  He pressed hard to strengthen Canada's economic and social union, and understood that he couldn't do it alone.  He forged a place for Canada at the most senior councils of global affairs, while taking highly principled stands that reflected the broad national interest and best of Canadian values and traditions.He took on Ronald Reagan over environmental policies and ending Apartheid.  But he was also a trusted friend and ally to him and to America. He advanced peace and security in the world helped by nurturing a place of confidence as a trusted bridge and honest broker between NATO and the Soviet Union.  Mr. Mulroney was on the regular call list and a valued advisor to President Bush (41) during the dangerous and transforming dismantling of the Soviet empire and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.  Mulroney's government was an open one, where ministers had discretion to make decisions - and mistakes.  During the Mulroney era, Canada's doors were open to immigration and generous to refugees. People were appointed to the bench because of their intelligence, competence, and track record, not their ideology.  Prime Minister Mulroney always had a hand outstretched, had a great respect for the House of Commons, and was privately gracious to those who were public political opponents.A consistent thread woven throughout Mr. Mulroney's public life was a drive and effort to bring people together and make Canada stronger.  Like his Liberal predecessor and Liberal successor, he appealed to our better angels, not our worst fears.The Progressive Conservative Party of Brian Mulroney was inclusive and worked hard to expend and grow the tent.Stephen Harper did the opposite.  His was the cold calculus of divide and conquer and of divisive wedges.  The culture that he personally nurtured was not only to win, but to destroy and vilify.  He knew how to appeal to baser instincts and insecurities.  In fact, it was a deliberate strategy to do so.In the Harper years, Canada had ceased to become a constructive and respected voice in the world.  Our national discourse had become anchored in confrontation and divisiveness.  It was always "if you're not with us, you're against us".  Entire swaths of the Canadian public were given grudging lip service or were simply ignored.  Big national projects were frowned upon; and the new, dulling to the senses, mantra became "gradual incrementalism".  The overarching philosophic and operational underpinning of the Harper years became, in Harper advisor Tom Flanagan's words, "In politics, it doesn't have to be true; it just has to be plausible".  Everything - absolutely everything - was seen through the prism of electoral politics, not the national good.During the past nine years, reputations of those considered "enemies" have been shattered; those once "friends" but with the temerity to do something displeasing to Mr. Harper were ruthlessly abandoned; valuable agencies such as Statistics Canada and the National Roundtable on the Economy and the Environment have been destroyed.Precious years were wasted, the rules of parliament repeatedly abused, the federation itself weakened, and the trust and confidence in the institutions of democracy, and the people who are toiling in them, profoundly undermined.The new government of Justin Trudeau will have to do a lot of heavy lifting to repair the damage.Stephen Harper has been no stranger to Canadians.  Still, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Harper Conservatives on Monday, I've been reflecting on what took Canadians so long.  After all, if anything, Stephen Harper and his brand of ruthless and deeply divisive and cynical politics have been consistent from before he assumed the leadership of the contradiction in terms they called the "Reform Party".  Everything he's done - and not done - has been far from a surprise, even in his last gasps.  In some cases, it may have been abusive and even abhorrent.  But we shrugged and let it happen.That is, until we didn't.Early numbers estimate that 68% of eligible voters cast a ballot on Monday, the best turnout since 1993.  The great lesson in this election is the ultimate power of the people.  It should put to rest the fiction that "my vote doesn't count".  It does count.  A lot.  It's arguably the most important responsibility we have as citizens.On Monday night the outgoing prime minister said that the judgment of Canadians "is always right".  Damned right it is -- when we choose to exercise it.The genesis of the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper was protest and alienation. His has been a party of grievance.  And from it emerged a closed, defensive, insecure, small-minded government.  His regime was the very antithesis of the "open, transparent, and accountable" government Conservatives had promised Canadians.Today, many of their senior ranks are coming out of the woodwork with criticism of their former leader.  They are the very same "reformers" that went to Ottawa riding their high horse of "transparency and accountability" and once there, supported and actively and aggressively enabled precisely the opposite.They could never shake the angry opposition mindset.  However well-intended when Preston Manning created the Reform Party movement in Western Canada, the Harper Conservatives become a dark, cynical, and divisive government.Canadians decided that they had had enough of it.  They voted them out, opting instead for a hopeful, optimistic, and bold promise.The question I have is this: What on earth took us so long to send the coarse and corrosive Harper Conservatives back home, where they belong?Mr. Veniez is a Vancouver businessman. He served as a senior policy advisor in the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and was the Liberal Party of Canada's official candidate in the 2011 federal general election in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast- Sea to Sky Country.