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Harper Is Gone, Will Our Harsh Divisions Go Too?

The man behind blue eyes polarized Canada like no other leader in decades.

By Bill Tieleman 20 Oct 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

No one knows what it's like / To be the bad man / To be the sad man / Behind blue eyes. -- "Behind Blue Eyes," The Who, 1971

Stephen Harper -- the bad man behind blue eyes to some, the only choice for others -- has dominated this election campaign and our country like no other leader in decades.

And now he's gone. Last night's stunning results show just how loathed he was. Voters overwhelmingly turned to his political opposite, Liberal Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau, as the best way to end Harper's scary reign.

Despised by not only New Democrats, Liberals and Greens but by many former Progressive Conservative and even some Reform Party supporters, Harper has polarized Canada in a way not seen since prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau.

But even that former blustery Conservative and disdainful Liberal respectively didn't engender the same level of loathing that Harper accomplished in just three terms in office.

"No one knows what it's like / To be hated / To be fated / To telling only lies," The Who wrote in a powerful and disturbing song, narrated not by a hero, but a villain.

And to a great number of voters, that's exactly what Harper is -- a bad man.

A country divided

From the implicit racism of fighting the niqab face-covering worn by a handful of Muslim women, to rejecting an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, Harper has deliberately pushed hot button topics that either infuriate or delight different voters.

Many were appalled by Harper's Senate shenanigans with Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, and by party members convicted of elections violations, such as ex-MP Dean Del Mastro, Harper's own former parliamentary secretary.

Yet there are other voters who see Harper as an economic saviour -- cutting taxes for them and big business, stimulating investments, fighting unions and reducing public services they simply don't want.

That creates extreme views going well beyond the "wedge issues" favoured by politicians to gain an advantage over their opponents.

"There is a segment of Canadian society, about 50 per cent, who absolutely detest Stephen Harper," veteran Canadian pollster Angus Reid told Shaw TV Voice of B.C. host Vaughn Palmer earlier this month.

Indeed, an Ipsos poll confirms that 57 per cent of respondents disapproved of the performance of the Harper Conservative government, but 43 per cent approved of it.

How can Canada be so divided, and hold such contradictory views about one politician? And how could Harper say in television ads that: "This election isn't about me, it's about you" with a straight face?

'I have hours, only lonely'

The answer might also be found in The Who's lyrics. "But my dreams / They aren't as empty / As my conscience seems to be," they wrote of their bad man.

Harper and his supporters' conservative dreams of smaller government, fewer public services, lower taxes and less regulation of business are the nightmares of other Canadians.

And the Conservatives' approach to their opponents has never been more fierce and uncompromising.

Even many longtime party supporters I know are personally offended at the total war waged by Harper and his lieutenants on any and all who stand in their way, from judges to journalists.

Why are those Conservatives so angry?

Again, The Who's lyrics haunt when applied to Harper: "I have hours, only lonely / My love is vengeance / That's never free. / No one knows what it's like / To feel these feelings / Like I do / And I blame you / No one bites back as hard / On their anger / None of my pain and woe / Can show through."

The man behind blue eyes often seems to be containing his rage, and biting back on his anger so as not to explode in public.

Two new solitudes

You could almost feel that anger shine through in the last week of the campaign, when Harper joined forces with disgraced former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his brother, ex-city councillor Doug, at two suburban Ontario rallies.

Many media observers wrongly saw it as indicative of Harper's desperation in his final days to associate with a mayor known internationally for his bad behaviour simply to protect a few votes.

But Harper was allying himself with two other polarizing politicians who deeply understand his situation -- both Fords are also the bad men behind blue eyes, and can empathize with Harper's fate to be hated.

This extended 11-week campaign has shown that Canada has two new solitudes -- no longer between Quebec and English Canada, but an ideological divide perhaps even more disturbing for its lack of tolerance and promotion of discord.

Beyond this election, Canadians will have to find a way to share their dreams more cooperatively in the years ahead.

Otherwise, every new prime minister will soon be the next bad man behind blue eyes.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Election 2015

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