Promises Kept, at All Costs

You have to give him credit, Stephen Harper is bound and determined to make good on every promise he’s made, whether it’s good for us or not.

In tough economic times, with unemployment at unenviable levels, he’s making good on his promise to trim the public service by putting thousands out of work and on employment insurance support. Despite all empirical evidence to the contrary of his claims, he’s forcing through a “get tough on crime” bill that will result in billions of dollars spent on corrections for a problem that doesn’t exist, but may in fact be created by the very measures being introduced. This week it was announced that Canada’s future $30billion fighter jets, despite not serving the primary purpose of our airforce, will also be delivered with inferior communications gear to the current equipment and will, in fact, not work in the theatre of operations they are intended for. Nevermind the fact that they also will not be able to refuel. Add to that today’s announcement that they are finally getting satisfaction for their long-held wish to get rid of the long gun registry, and I have one simple question: other than doing exactly what he wants and keeping his word, is Harper doing anything that will actually benefit us? Or is keeping his word and following his own agenda just that much more important than actually benefitting Canadians?

Alright, that was two questions.

Evaluating all of the information and making an educated decision makes sense and seems to be the responsible way for someone to act in a leadership role. Ignoring information that doesn’t mesh with your ideology and stubbornly resisting a change in your agenda in the face of strong evidence that contradicts your position seems, well, considerably less responsible.

I would like to charitably believe that all people act in accordance with their values and with the best intentions, particularly our leaders. I’d like to think that someone who leads a country is truly motivated by what they feel is right for the country, and that their actions are dictated by an abundance of concern for the people they are responsible for. Believe it or not, as biased as I am, I even extend this initial optimism towards people who support opposing viewpoints, until such time as their actions make it too difficult for me to maintain that belief. I thought this about Harper, way back in the good ‘ole days before he trashed Martin and took over the country. He talked a good talk about wanting a government that was transparent and accountable and believed in governing honestly.

But, it gets difficult to contrive in my mind how Harper is truly concerned with what’s best for us when he makes the moves he’s made over the last while. His “Accountability Act” has been evaluated and deemed to actually increase the level of government secrecy, rather than increase transparency. He’s stomped on anyone in his own caucus who disagrees with his agenda, and has fired people in the public service for questioning his actions. He is insisting on paying for projects that are ill-conceived to begin with by cutting jobs and sending more people into unemployment, because he doesn’t want to pull back on the tax incentives and benefits he’s offering to that 1% that the other 99 are whining about in parks and cities.

And, I mean, jets without satellite radios?

Seriously?

The F-35 was passed over by the US because they were too expensive and didn’t even have an engine at the time of concept. Harper wants them for Canada, where one of our primary concerns us the ability to defend the north and the Arctic border. The F-35 has been panned as better suited to air to air missions, while Canada usually fields fighters for air to ground support. The F-35 is also a developmental project, meaning that it has absolutely no real world performance or reliability history. Its performance in relation to other aircraft is speculative and based largely on simulations. Apparently, it will be delivered only with line of sight communications, which will not work in the far north and arctic. The refueling method for the F-35 is also incompatible with the current fleet of Canadian refueling aircraft.

So, our $30billion purchase hasn’t been combat tested, isn’t best suited to the types of missions we fly, won’t be able to communicate as well as our current aircraft, and won’t be able to refuel. I’m not against upgrading our equipment (far from it), but this doesn’t sound like the best fit.

Today, Harper is announcing the introduction of a bill that will scrap the Canadian long gun registry. This has been a particular bone of contention for Harper, and not the first time he’s tried to scrap it. In fact, after his last attempt was voted down, he swore that the topic was not closed and that he would eventually get his way. Well, I guess with a majority government at his back, this is his chance to make good on that promise.

The issue critics have is the sheer cost involved in putting the registry together. I’m sure that the fact that it was a Liberal initiative doesn’t help its case, either. The long gun registry is not the first time that Canada has had a mandatory registration program for firearms; we actually had one back around the time of the Second World War. However, this new registry was signed into law in 1995, and has cost an estimated $2billion dollars since. Unless I get my math wrong, that’s around $12million a year, though the current annual operating cost is around $60million. Hunters hate it, because they have to register their rifles and shotguns every five years, which is an understandable inconvenience and a relatively slight cost ($60 a gun, roughly). There are plenty of pundits to say that it hasn’t done anything to prevent crime, which it may or may not have done. After all, most criminals intent on commiting a crime won’t legally purchase a gun and register it beforehand. However, surveys of police have been overwhelmingly in favour of the registry as a tool to assist them in their duties, and the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs has supported the registry all along. Whether the registry has actually prevented crime can’t really be shown, as doubtful as it is, but the fact that it is a tool in the arsenal of police agencies, who have successfully decreased crime year after year to levels unseen in the last four decades can’t be dismissed.

Unless, of course, you want those $75million someodd to spend on fighters without radios that run empty.

I believe that if the police say that the tools are needed, they probably know better than I do, particularly since I have never done their job. I would even throw out the olive branch and say that if the air force says they need jets, they probably do, and our ailing fleet of CF-18s is evidence to support the assertion. The better question is whether this particular jet is the tool that they need, or the one that best suits their requirements. As for the registry, I don’t hear anyone proposing an alternative, which means that instead of replacing one tool with another, we’re just saying “do without.” Even I’m not saying that about the ridiculous F-35 purchase. I’m just suggesting that less money could be spent more immediately on a machine that is more proven and better suited to our tasks.

But, apparently for Harper a promise made is a promise he will deliver on, logic be damned.

And, hey, don’t get me wrong; I fully support a politician who follows through on his promises. However, I would hope that those promises at least approximate something that looks like common sense. I’m not the brightest bulb in the candelabra, and I don’t profess to knowing the subject matter inside and out, but as we move further and further away from the collective global wisdom of our peers in the G8, I have to wonder if we’re pioneering a new and better direction, or if we’re falling off the path to be left behind.

Maybe one of those unemployed public servants who have martyred their salary for a jail cell or a button on an F-35 seat has a better grasp of the inner workings of these decisions.

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