It took several days, but Stephen Harper has finally done the right thing. He has apologized to people who registered to attend his rallies, and were then told to leave after being admitted.
The issue has been gaining plenty of attention over the past five days, and despite his party’s claim that few people are interested in mundane campaign details which they call “process,” it may end up having an effect on the overall election.
Harper is seen by many people as being in a bubble, allowing no access to anyone who doesn’t agree 100 per cent with his views. He takes few questions from reporters who travel with his campaign (maximum five a day), has not taken part in any events involving representatives of other parties, and his rallies are run with military precision.
People who wish to attend must pre-register. They must then show identification to enter. After they are given name tags and show ID, presumably organizers then surf Facebook and check the parking lot, as those bounced include a political science student who posted a photo of herself with Michael Ignatieff on Facebook. Another one who was bounced had an NDP bumper sticker on his car.
The RCMP, who provide a security detail for Harper and other leaders, have been enforcing the orders to kick these people out of the rallies — something the force now acknowledges it should not be doing.
What happened to candidates being unafraid to discuss issues with voters who don’t agree with them on everything? Has free speech, which is a cornerstone of democracy, been sacrificed so that the Conservatives can cruise to a majority?
Some years ago, when Harper appeared in Langley as the new leader of the Canadian Alliance, he made a good speech at Newlands, but made almost no personal contact with the audience. He is not a people person — and that’s fine. Not everyone is.
However, if he wishes voters to elect his party’s candidates and give him a majority government, his campaign has to be a lot more open than it has been thus far. An election is a contest of ideas — not a tightly-scripted infomercial.