Looking back, we should have seen the warning signs. Well, that’s not quite right. We did see them—His portrait gallery, His personal awards program, His taking the general salute on Canada Day, His sending Parliament home with a snap of His fingers, His naming the government after Himself. We watched His hand-picked Senate turn back bill after bill after bill humbly submitted by the House of Commoners.
But we were all in denial. Even those of us who evoked dark historical comparisons, half tongue in cheek, had no inkling of what was in store. We watched our fragile democratic institutions crumble all around us, but nobody else was panicking, so why should we? The Opposition seemed more interested in corporate tax cuts and EI reform. Canadians watched hockey and groused about their hydro bills.
“Royal prerogative” allowed Him to declare war and extend military missions at will—which He did. The courts refused to allow Him to exile Canadians, but that was only a relic of the dead past; new appointments to the bench and to various agencies, boards and commissions, also His personal prerogative, slowly turned the ponderous ship of state around.
The tipping point, though, was the 2011 election. The Opposition had unaccountably decided to oppose the government budget without seeing it. Some on the political fringes suspected something was not right, given the commanding lead held by the government in several public opinion polls. The New Democratic Party, known as the conscience of Parliament, could not obtain sufficient concessions for it to prop up the government, and the Bloc Québécois did not get the $5 billion ransom it demanded. So the government fell—and rose again with a sweeping majority.
It was too easy, really. The campaign turned out to be all about leadership. The Opposition Liberals were led by a man on a bicycle who mused about making Latin the official language of Canada “in the interests of national unity.” The NDP was eclipsed. The BQ remained strong in Quebec, but “what care I?” asked the Prime Minister, as He was then called. “Maîtres chez nous is all very well,” He quipped, “but I have a bigger nous.”
The Leader ended up with 235 seats in the 308-member Parliament. And things began to move—fast.
Yet, through all the rapid changes—appointing His friend and confidant Charles McVety to Cabinet, compulsory military service, new federal prisons for delinquent children, the dismantling of medicare, the abolition of unions, the privatization of the CBC, inspection agencies and penitentiaries, and the outright abolition of the corporate tax (offset by a new levy on food, clothing and books)—He remained unsatisfied.
He embarked on a new project: constitutional amendment. The provinces were now putty in His hands: six provinces, including Ontario, did not want their equalization payments cut off, and Quebec was offered quasi-autonomy in return for its support. In the end, only gallant little Newfoundland & Labrador stood its futile ground.
So followed the abolition of the Charter of Rights and the office of the Governor-General.
Soon after, the Criminal Code was applied to all minors, and capital punishment returned—for murder, treason and abortion. Newfoundland and Labrador was officially re-christened Codswallop.
And then came the renaming of our entire country.
Early on, during one of His fireside chats, He had expressed the wish “to have the same name as that of Our glorious nation.” There was no serious opposition to what seemed like personal whimsy, until the constitutional amendment swept through the House of Commoners and the provincial legislatures almost overnight.
Harperia. It did take a little getting used to. It made the anthem difficult as hell to sing, until that too was changed. But there was method, perhaps, in His madness.
“Frankly,” He said, “it would have been a little odd to change My name to ‘Canada.’ It just seemed better the other way.”
And for the first time since He came to power He looked truly happy and at ease.