“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Those words, not surprisingly, come from Abraham Lincoln. And they provide an apt backdrop to the shenanigans we have been witnessing on the political stage in recent times.
First, let me admit that I have been well and truly amused at the trials faced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Senate scandal, and tribulations of that most bizarre of all current Canadian political creatures, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
I suppose in the latter case, my amusement leans more toward dismay when I see Toronto residents jump to Ford’s defense, vowing to support him as he rehabilitates himself after having been outed as a drunk, a crack cocaine user and a liar.
Now, in many situations, a “cast the first stone” attitude might be taken as admirable. But in Ford’s case, this gong show, train wreck of behaviour really warrants no such forgiveness. He’s a politician who has a take-no-prisoners approach of his position, a guy who bulldozes those who get in his way and says whatever he needs to say to maintain his position of power.
Given that the role of mayor isn’t an especially great power base — it comes with only one vote on council — the person filling it has to be primarily satisfied with being a spokesperson and having as a high a public profile as he or she aspires to.
In Ford’s case, it’s not so difficult to see how he’s attracted a large following, having vowed to shrink civic government and grease the skids for the business community. It’s not easy to watch otherwise reasonable people (one assumes) simply dismiss Ford’s astonishingly bad behavior because they like his political bent. Keep in mind that this tale of intrigue has crimes up to and including murder swirling around it. Perhaps it comes down to a “better the bully we know” conclusion from a population that is so down on politicians that keeping the worst possible choice in office means things can’t get any worse.
At the other extreme is Harper, a squeaky clean public figure if there ever was one. And yet I sense a growing unease that his Machiavellian manipulations to discredit the Senate and pave the way for its reform are all just too, too much for the average Canadian.
It’s no secret that Harper embraces the old Reform concept of a Triple E Senate. Making the country’s second house of sober second thought equal, elected and effective has its appeal. But by any measure, his methods of reaching the goal have been Triple C — clever, cunning and combative. Appointing the likes of Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and others with high profiles were surely made in the knowledge that they would make Canadians even more cynical than they have been about this chamber of political whores and wheezy, weaselly has-beens.
Make no mistake — Harper knows that the much-anticipated Supreme Court opinion on Senate reform isn’t going to give him carte blanche to overhaul it. The Constitution is clear — that can’t happen without the support of the provinces. The Senate was created to protect them from a federal government that runs roughshod and it will not be in provinces’ best interests to let it become a toothless extension of the feds. Think about it — Harper, having stacked the Senate with those who will do his bidding, has already managed to turn it into an extension of the Prime Minister’s Office. Do you really think provinces like Quebec are going to turn over the Senate keys to him, even if he already has taken its doors off the hinges?
Ford and Harper might not be cut from the same cloth, but they are evidence of Lincoln’s observation that adversity can bring out the best in people but power is an entirely different kettle of fish. Theirs is an us-against-them philosophy, one that leaves all too many out in the cold. That they will eventually implode is undeniable. What remains to be seen is the devastation they will leave in their wake.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.