Stephen Harper’s only discernible principle, is to achieve and consolidate political power. I have no doubt that he thinks this is for the greater good; all politicians tend to think so. And since the alternative prime minister is Stéphane Dion, with a party like the Liberals behind him, I am not, necessarily, opposed to Mr Harper’s presumption in itself.

It should be obvious that none of the other parties can form the government, and a good thing too. Jack Layton’s views went down with the Berlin Wall, Gilles Duceppe’s with the fall of Quebec, and the only thing I can say for the Green leader—Elizabeth May—is that her party usefully siphons votes from men like Layton and Duceppe.

To whom do we entrust real power: Stephen or Stéphane? Local candidates may be better or worse, but as Canada is now governed, they are only counting pieces. For as Pierre Trudeau observed of MPs, “when they get 50 yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer Honourable Members, they are just nobodies.” (I have always appreciated his use of the Imperial instead of the metric system, in estimating that distance.) Trudeau referred specifically to opposition members, but he knew perfectly well the same applied to the voting fodder sitting behind him.

Our Parliamentary system degenerated many decades ago into a form of elected dictatorship, ruled from the PMO. The only truly independent votes on the floor of the House of Commons are those a government is eager to lose without consequences, such as the Potemkin vote Mr Harper ordered to wash his hands of the same-sex marriage issue, and his similar deaking on abortion. Those were acts of betrayal, against a large part of his own constituency, not soon forgotten.

Yet it was not that, but his failure to react decisively, or in any other way, when Canadian “human rights” commissions began laying charges against prominent Canadian writers and editors, and against Christians defending core Christian beliefs, that I took as a more personal betrayal: and not only because it has consequences to me.

Mr Harper’s promises to revisit abortion and same-sex marriage in the last election were chump change to secure the “social conservative” vote he needed to win office. Those who take chump change have their reward; they are not entitled to expect leadership from such fay commitments. Whereas, Mr Harper’s failure to rise in defence of free speech showed a flaccidity below my lowest expectations.

Likewise, his hand-washing on the issue of the Morgentaler award; and his last-minute evisceration of a bill to restore at least half-recognition, in law, to the fact that a pregnant woman is not the single victim of a violent crime. In each of these cases, we who are eager to restore the legal protections and moral standards of the common law, have discovered that Mr Harper is a false friend. He will do only what is politically expedient. More deeply, he lacks both the spine and the imagination to use his powerful position to frame such debates on favourable terms.

His “promise,” as it were, to walk away from Canada’s commitments to Afghanistan by 2011—presenting this as a fait accompli, beyond debate—is another betrayal, in this case of the honour of our country, and of the men and women who have served at huge risk in Afghanistan’s front lines, and given their lives in the struggle against the Taliban. To announce withdrawal in advance, regardless of consequences, is the height of irresponsibility. Not only are our allies in Afghanistan betrayed, but the morale of our armed forces is eviscerated.

Given Mr Harper’s position, every soldier he sends into harm’s way between now and 2011, is sent on a hopeless mission, quite possibly to a meaningless death. Worse, possibly, Canada herself has walked, from the most solemn commitment to chase down to source the perpetrators of the 9/11 strikes.

To put it plainly, while I have great respect for many of the “nobodies” on the Conservative back benches (and several in the other parties, too), Mr Harper disgusts me.

But the alternative is Stéphane Dion. He appeals to me because, natural loser as he appears to be in the game of politics, he is not as cynical. I think he actually believes in his policies, including centrally his ridiculous “Green Shift,” and the climatological buncombe that lies behind it. But how does one choose between an intelligent unprincipled cynic, and a relatively honest foolé

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