Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are criss-crossing the country, trying to articulate the central question behind the upcoming election. For Gerry Caplan, the question is simple and straightforward
: Can Stephen Harper be trusted with another term in office?
For Caplan, trust is the bedrock issue:
In a real sense, the entire history of Mr. Harper’s almost 10 years in office has revolved explicitly around trust. Time after time, his government pushed initiatives that were harshly criticized by experts in the field. Each time, we had to ask ourselves: Do I believe what the government is telling me or do I go with the scientists, academics, health experts, constitutional maven and all the other specialists who have attacked so many of the government’s initiatives?
From the perspective of trust, Harper's record shouts back at voters:
The Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette reported that the government will run a billion-dollar budget deficit this year, despite explicit assurances from the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Joe Oliver that the budget will be balanced.
What should us poor citizens do in the face of such a disagreement? How can we know what’s true? Since most of us can hardly be experts in all areas of governance, we really have no choice but to accept one side or the other. The answer, as so often in the past nine years, boils down to this: We can only believe the government’s blanket assurances if we disregard the evidence of the experts.
And Harper has nothing but contempt for the evidence of experts:
When the Harper government tells us that certain forms of asbestos are not necessarily toxic, yet virtually all scientists agree that all asbestos kills, there is no middle ground. We need to decide which side has the most credibility. This is not a hard one.
When the overwhelming number of scientists believe climate change is a clear and present danger but our government refuses to take the issue seriously, implicitly denying the scientific findings, whom do we believe? Another no-brainer, I’d say.
When the government actively pursues its law ‘n’ order agenda while Statistics Canada reports that violent crimes in Canada have generally fallen for the eighth straight year, what should we believe about how dangerous our streets are? And why does this issue remain a Harper government priority when the facts tell a different story? Are we talking about ideology and political opportunism, or evidence-based public policy?
Or when a large variety of experts warned against the excesses and dangers of the anti-terrorist bill C-51, while the government turned a completely deaf ear? There was no middle ground: You had to trust either the government or its authoritative critics. Again, not a particularly hard choice.
And the examples multiply still. When the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada publicly disagree, who do we believe? When armed forces veterans and the government bitterly disagree, what do we think? When the Prime Minister insists he had nothing to do with Mike Duffy being paid $90,000 by the PM’s own chief of staff, can we believe Mr. Harper? Wouldn’t that depend on how credible he’s been on other matters?
Can we trust Mr. Harper? You've got to be kidding.