It has been said that once you reach 80 years old you can get away with saying anything you like (not least because no one any longer pays attention to anything you say).
Even though still a few months short of the four-score mark, let me test that theory by uttering the most outrageous statement it is possible to utter in this country at this time, let alone to flourish it in everyone’s faces in a column in a newspaper.
This heretical proposition is that a good case can be made that the best result for Canadians and for Canada in the election due in 2015 would be the re-election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Having just offended almost all my personal friends and colleagues and, far more serious, enraged an overwhelming majority of Star readers, let me admit hastily that defects in this proposition are easy to enumerate.
Harper is probably the least popular prime minister we’ve ever had but for R.B. Bennett in the 1930s, although what Canadians really hated then was the Depression more than the prime minister of the day.
Harper is today’s R.B. Bennett. But in Harper’s case the culprit is his character rather than his actions (even the Senate scandal, while it has deeply shocked the public, is in itself not that big a deal).
Put bluntly, even cruelly, almost no one likes Harper. He’s seen widely as mean, insensitive, crassly partisan.
He’s seen by many, that is to say, as un-Canadian, or not in the way most Canadians see themselves, and want their leader to be.
Some of this is unfair. Harper happens to be an introvert while today success in politics depends on an ability to persuade voters that you really do, really and truly, “Feel their pain.”
Never search in politics for fairness or for logic. A substantial part of Canada’s current economic success, certainly so in comparison to all but a handful of other industrial democracies, is due to Paul Martin Jr. for his mid-1990s overhaul of our then out-of-control finances: Martin’s reward for that accomplishment was to be immediately heaved out of office — by Harper.
So why re-elect a prime minister whom even many among the dwindling number of Conservatives who still support him now do so because they themselves are rock-ribbed, bitter-ender conservatives rather than because of him?
The very fact so many Canadians dislike Harper is the very reason why he may now be the right man in the right place.
That is, at this point we may be better off having a son-of-a-bitch running the show rather than a caring, sharing charmer.
Economically we’re at present as well off, relatively speaking at least, as it gets. But after every rise, comes a fall.
Our omens are no longer favourable. We’re losing industries in the most painful way — watching them cross the border. Our oil and gas boom is being overshadowed by the far larger American energy boom.
For a long time, much of our economic growth has been in the public sector. The 6,000 jobs due to be shaved from the Post Office is a sign of what lies ahead. Our universities cannot continue educating young people for jobs, as in the humanities, that simply don’t exist.
Who better to get the nasty but necessary reforms and belt-tightening done than someone everyone loves to hate?
We’ll all be grumpy as hell while these corrections were being imposed but we would be able to vent our rage and pain upon an individual rather than upon each other.
An obvious flaw in my proposition is that Harper may pre-empt it by deciding to hell with the job, and the ungrateful voters, and quit before the next election.
A way to keep him there does occur to me. Rather than trying to be nice and one of the guys, Harper should re-cast himself as one of the most successful of current TV characters. He is the grumpy, insensitive, truth-telling Doctor Martin.
Anyway, even if you do reject everything I’ve said in this column, as most will, do catch the next episode of Doc Martin.