The man who ended a decade of Conservative rule in Ottawa has turned out to be Stephen Harper “with a smile and a hug,” showing little interest in improving Canadians’ lives, according to author and social justice advocate Harry Smith.
Two years ago Smith was travelling around Canada as an election neared, aiming to persuade citizens to eject former prime minister Harper and raising concerns about growing inequality.
Now the 94-year-old said he doubts Harper’s replacement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is concerned about actually helping regular people improve their lives.
“His sunny ways have showered,” Smith said in a phone interview from Belleville, Ontario.
In the United Kingdom, where he lives part time, Smith is a well-known progressive whose opinions on politics fill newspapers and receive wide reach on Twitter, where he has almost 100,000 followers. A few months ago he began his own podcast, Harry’s Last Stand.
His books on his gritty childhood in the U.K. and life during and after the Second World War detail the misery of the impoverished classes in the Western world at the time.
They also express his concerns the West is headed back to a similar era due to government austerity and inept policy.
Smith is also a vocal supporter of socialist U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who, despite losing the recent election, achieved a stunning breakthrough, gaining 32 seats.
While heavily involved in the British political scene, each year Smith returns to his home in Ontario.
He ended up there after immigrating to Canada in the 1950s and raised a family while working in the carpet business.
Smith finds the oppressive humidity in Southern Ontario in July a challenge to his comfort, but he endures.
“Even with the heat, Canada in summer is the prettiest place this side of paradise,” Smith said while explaining his yearly migration. “It is just glorious.”
Less glorious is the recent behaviour of Canada’s prime minister, who Smith calls a “razzle dazzle man.”
“He’s not giving any indication at all that he is going to be very interested in changing the lifestyle of people here in Canada,” he said. “He’s actually more interested in appeasing people above him who are telling him what to do.”
Those “above” the prime minister mostly include members of the one per cent who want leaders doing their bidding without question, Smith said.
The broken promises on electoral reform and commitments to Indigenous people and attempts to appease U.S. President Donald Trump are some of the complaints Smith has about the Liberal government.
He’s also concerned about the infrastructure bank and privatization, which he said would only ensure Canadians pay more for public assets they need.
It would be much cheaper to go to a regular bank to get cash for infrastructure, Smith argues.
Meanwhile, tax loopholes still allow people to pay less than their fair share, hampering the government’s ability to provide things the country needs, Smith charged.
And a report last week from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada showed income inequality and precarious work are a growing concern in Canada’s cities.
The report says the onus is on federal and provincial governments to tackle the problem, but Smith isn’t seeing an effort to solve such inequality from Trudeau.
He dismissed initiatives like the Canada Child Benefit, saying they don’t actually reduce inequality as the Liberals often claim.
Parents need affordable childcare and good wages, not payments that effectively subsidize the businesses paying their low wages, he said.
It’s all left Smith wondering where the prime minister’s heart is.
“He’s not his own man,” he said. “I have a feeling, a gut feeling, there’s someone behind him pulling strings and he’s obeying orders.”
In a March 2015 interview with The Tyee about Harper, Smith characterized the former prime minister as having “one consideration, and that is to let the rich get richer and the poor fend for themselves.”
At the time he was concerned about child poverty in larger cities, tax loopholes for the wealthy and government service cutbacks under the Tories.
Harper was arrogant and refused to admit when he was wrong, Smith said, but the problems that persisted under his government continue because Trudeau “doesn’t have any thoughts of his own” on how to improve the country.
“If he was saying he’d found a way to provide cheap housing to all the people who have been waiting for years… then that would be something he could be proud of,” he said. “We have too many people in this country sleeping under bridges and railways and have no hope of finding places to live.”
Whatever Smith believes, Trudeau has still been enjoying fawning press coverage.
Approval ratings show he is still the most popular party leader, even though those ratings have taken a tumble this year.
The prime minister also continues to enjoy warm public receptions.
At his cameo at Toronto’s Pride celebrations two weeks ago, Trudeau drew praise from media and the public for his socks honouring Eid, the Muslim holy day.
Trudeau’s continued popularity has Smith wondering whether or not Canadians pay attention.
“Canadians to me have become so apathetic about what is happening in their country that it’s frightening,” Smith said. “They just meander along. I don’t think they read anything, I don’t think they think anything.”
But there is a glimmer of hope in Canada, Smith said, pointing to the recent events in British Columbia where the BC Liberals’ 16-year reign was ended by an NDP and Green Party alliance.
BC NDP leader John Horgan is waiting to be officially sworn in as the premier.
His party has promised a more progressive agenda to help a broader range of the population, such as building thousands of new units of affordable housing.
“I’m so happy that it’s happened there,” Smith said. “I’m sincerely hoping it’s just the start of a rumble that will careen across the country province by province until we can get rid of all these people.”
In the meantime, Smith said, he intends to continue his fight for equality until his last breath, and that includes calling out the “razzle dazzle” of Prime Minister Trudeau.