Stephen Harper’s mad scramble to save his skin reminds us that political news is its own kind of soap opera. The afternoon soaps, aimed at women, are mainly about emotional relationships within families and among friends. The nightly news soap is about power relationships among men dressed in business suits with the odd woman thrown in for dramatic effect. Thus, Michaëlle Jean, our glamorous Governor General, gets to decide whether the Harper government lives or dies after the incredible screw-ups perpetrated by the PM and Sunny Jim Flaherty, his finance minister sidekick. Flaherty, one-time president of the Head Injury Association in the Oshawa region, obviously wasn’t wearing his helmet when he crashed and burned delivering last week’s economic statement. As experts warned of a looming recession with hundreds of thousands already out of work, Sunny Jim forecast small budget surpluses thanks to $15 billion in cuts that would include reductions in civil-service salaries, suspension of their right to strike and the trashing of civil-service pay equity settlements. Flaherty also announced he would axe the $1.95-per-vote payment that political parties now get instead of donations from corporations and unions.
The Liberals, NDP and the Bloc, which depend heavily on this money, angrily accused Harper and Flaherty of using an economic crisis as a pretext to cut their balls off. They also condemned Flaherty’s economic statement for failing to promise any measures to create jobs, protect pensions or cushion the vulnerable from the effects of a worldwide recession. And so, they put together a coalition that could knock the Harperites out on their asses. In one stroke, our ultra-right-wing PM had achieved the impossible---uniting the liberal-left against him. As George W. would say, “Way to go, Steve!”
Now the thing about soap operas is, they go on and on and on as the plots twist and turn. Soaps are supposedly low-class entertainment, yet, to their credit, both the afternoon soaps and the nightly political ones dig deeply into contentious issues. The afternoon soaps, for example, examined abortion and homosexuality long before prime-time TV would touch them. And the political soaps routinely delve into high-stakes political struggles. Soaps are also great at revealing character. Stephen Harper may be a fine husband and dad, but in his role as the leading character in Canada’s political soap, he comes across as a cold control freak. The Globe nailed it pretty well when it described him as an economist with a tin heart and a politician with a tin ear. I’d say he’s as stiff and creaky as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, but not nearly as nice. Few will weep if the opposition parties bring him down.
Occasionally, the news soaps also bring us moments of high comedy. Our own Peter MacKay starred as Bozo the Clown confidently predicting the opposition parties would swallow the Canadian Reform Alliance Party’s economic CRAP. “When they play chicken,” MacKay crowed to the Herald, “they wind up looking like chickens.” Soon, it may be Peter’s turn to roost on the opposition benches, a well-deserved fate for a pol who won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party, then sold the party down the river to the right-wingers in CRAP.
As everyone knows, soap operas can be addictive. As the dramatic tensions rise and fall, viewers can’t help tuning in for the latest exciting instalment. And no one can ever be sure how things will turn out. Even if a panicky Harper persuades the Governor General to give MPs an early Christmas break so they can’t vote him down next Monday, won’t that only postpone his inevitable defeat? If the plot plays out the way it should, the Tin Man will sooner or later be toast, a fitting and delicious ending to the latest dramatic saga in Canada’s endless political soap opera.