Commentary | Extreme makeover: greening the PM

Stephen Harper needs a makeover, fast. Since last October’s federal election, things have been going from bad to worse for our Prime Minister. His public image needs to change, or he risks being kicked out of 24 Sussex Drive for good.

From the fall budget update, to the prorogation of Parliament in December, the appointment of a convincing opposition leader, and now the awkward unveiling of an essentially Liberal budget, Harper has found himself in a precarious situation that few would have imagined possible last October.

Although it might seem artificial and somewhat unorthodox, Harper’s greatest chance at reinventing himself could be by taking a page out of Stéphane Dion’s “Green Shift.” With Dion’s exit as Liberal leader last December, the award for most environmentally conscious prime ministerial candidate is now up for grabs. Not that being green pays electorally. Indeed, Dion’s very poor showing last election can be explained in part by the Canadian electorate’s lack of commitment to environmental causes. We would rather vote for a candidate who exudes confidence, leadership skills, and delivers on the basics like the economy and health care. Sadly, the environment still ranks below the personality of our political leaders.

This is exactly where Stephen Harper has the greatest deficiency. When it comes to lacking personality, he pretty much takes the cake. And this is where the environment comes in: Hollywood stars can all attest to the fact that there is nothing that can gain public sympathy like going green. Harper’s popularity levels could greatly benefit from the construction of a couple of high -speed trains, the slowing of development, and the imposition of cleaner extraction procedures on the Alberta tar sands, or even by simply befriending Al Gore. What’s most important is that he comes off looking human.

More than ever, the leader of the Conservative party gives the impression of being an ideologue who cannot be trusted at the head of a majority government. Harper’s obvious misgivings about providing a significant stimulus package to ward off a possible depression has only contributed to this negative perception. Fortunately for him, conservatives of all stripes – such as David Cameron of the British Conservative party and Brian Mulroney, believed to be Canada’s greenest PM ever – have become some of the greatest advocates for environmental causes. In fact, the environment provides Harper the perfect opportunity to reach out to a majority of the population without alienating his Reformist/Alliance supporters.

What’s left to be seen is whether our federal government will adopt responsible environmental policies in an effort to appease international eco-critics, or whether Conservatives will have to be forced down that eco-path by the Obama administration.

The possibility to provide popular leadership is too great for Harper to pass on.

That being said, one should not expect Harper to undergo the green makeover any time soon, despite its limited risks and obvious political benefits. By positioning environmental interests as inherently contradictory to economic ones in the last federal election, he has made any reconciliation with the former highly unlikely. This is unfortunate from an environmental standpoint, but also represents a lost opportunity for Harper, one that may be sorely missed in the upcoming months.

David Searle is a U1 History student. Send green tips to david.searle@mail.mcgill.ca.


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