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Harper then and now

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Five years ago, Stephen Harper swept into power partly through a high-powered Conservative blitz of the airwaves, capitalizing on Liberal corruption and offering a fresh alternative.

Accountability, especially in the aftermath of the sponsorship scandal, was the iron pillar to his campaign resonating soundly with the Canadians that would reward him with his digs on Sussex Drive.

“Hundreds of millions dollars go missing and no one’s in jail,” a faux-news anchor prompts Harper in this ad five years ago.

“Well, look who’s in charge,” the now-Prime Minister replied, taking a dig at the Martin-led Liberals.

Last week, however, Canadians were told that the Government of Canada Harper Government had lowballed their projections for the untendered contracts of F-35 fighter jets. Last July, the Harper Government promised would spend $9 billion; three days ago, the nonpartisan parliamentary budget officer said it could be more than $28 billion.

Regardless of whether money is misspent on government advertising or inaccurate figures are given to the public, Canada again finds itself lacking for federal programs- short “hundreds of millions of dollars” in 2005 and six years later spending billions more than citizens had originally agreed to. 

“Well, look who’s in charge.”

A concerned-looking woman, television interview-style, lobs another question at Mr. Harper in the same ad.

“It’s like you get to Ottawa and no one can touch you,” she says. “How will you change that?”

The answer’s at the tip of the PM’s tongue.

“You change the people in charge, but you also have to change the system,” he replies. “The first thing I’ll do is pass the Federal Accountability Act.”

Of course, in a few short years, Stephen Harper would prove that not even Parliament itself, it seems, could hold his government accountable. He shut down the House of Commons twice in unprecedented maneuvers that got the Conservatives out of sticky situations like the Afghan detainee affair. Highly effective and brilliant politics, yes, but hardly what he promised in this particular ad. 

And even the vaunted Federal Accountability Act, which, to be fair, has responsibly banned large corporate and personal donations and increased the power of the Auditor-General, is not without its flaws. Just look at the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, one of the multiple oversight officers that make up the Act’s bread and butter. 

That’s the former office of the Harper-nominated Christiane Ouimet, who was tasked to independently investigate allegations by public service employees who raise flags on government misconduct.

Last week, she finally appeared in front of a parliamentary committee to explain an audit claiming she had only opened seven out of 228 cases during her tenure, and finding zero instances of misconduct. That, and her $500,000 severance package, complete with gag order, she received last October.

But there are other Harper ads from the past that raise eyebrows today. Take a look at this one denouncing, of all things, negative attacks during campaign season. 

The Conservatives, however, have already done better. They went negative too, but even before the writ was dropped. Harper’s already lobbed the first clip of “Ignatieff. He didn’t come back for you” ads into the airwaves, while his party’s top brass repeat endlessly that they are not looking for an election.

“He listens to concerns,” an ethnic Canadian says in yet another 2006 ad. “You can trust him,” a young man adds. “Someone you can have as your neighbor next door,” says a final, baby-toting citizen.

They’re describing the man whose government finds itself in contempt of Parliament on two separate offences, whose trusted lieutenant, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, had to answer red-faced to evidence that his office was persuading instead of welcoming new Canadians, and whose party has been found in federal court guilty (but in another instance, innocent) of an in-and-out electoral financing scandal that allowed the Conservatives to spend over their allotted limits on the federal level.

I don’t know which part of town you live in, but, recently, this Prime Minister isn’t looking much like the concerned, trustworthy neighbor that we were told he was back in 2006.

In one of Stephen Harper’s first ads as leader of the new Conservative Party (indeed, he still needs to introduce himself), he stands in front of a desk asking Canadians what they demand of their leaders. 

“When does a government decide it’s time to be accountable? After ten years?” he opines rhetorically. “After they’ve proven just how reckless they can be with our money?”

Reckless to the tune of billions of dollars in poor fighter jet estimates? Or $26 million over three months- more than McDonalds and Tim Horton’s would spend by expert estimates- to advertise the Economic Action Plan on television’s most expensive time slots: the Super Bowl, Hockey Night in Canada, and the Oscars?

“When does a government decide it’s time to be accountable?”

After five years, Mr. Harper?

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