In Stephen Harper’s world, one does not publicly ask why.
To seek root causes is a sign of weakness.
To launch an inquiry, to bring decision-makers and experts together, is seen as an invitation for opponents to strike or a forum to extort money from the federal government or a waste of time when talk turns his black-and-white world grey.
So while Harper endures well-deserved criticism for his refusal to consider a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in this country, those slinging that criticism can hardly be surprised.
There is no nuance in the prime minister’s world. There are bad guys and good guys and there is no public questioning about how we got where we are.
A crime is a crime, it is to be solved and the perpetrator brought to justice. To concede a “sociological phenomenon” is to invite all manner of inconvenience for his government.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is right to call Harper’s comments in the wake of the brutal murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine “outrageous.”
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is correct when he says, “it’s not just a crime, it’s a situation that speaks to who we are as citizens and how we treat each other.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has long said this situation would not have been tolerated if these were women from Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says Harper is on the wrong side of history.
But summits and inquiries are something Liberals do, in Harper’s view.
It is an evolutionary process. Early in his tenure, he did call inquiries into Brian Mulroney’s business dealings and declining salmon stocks.
Harper has already endured an Idle No More movement, large street demonstrations and a very public fast by a native leader and did not blink.
When a divided aboriginal leadership rejected his First Nations education reforms, his government withdrew the bill.
He was not about to listen to a United Nations rapporteur who called for a national inquiry because this government accepts no advice on domestic matters from the UN and he has ignored a call for an inquiry from provincial premiers.
We know what he thinks of any public musings on root causes of any ill facing the country or the world.
When Trudeau raised “root causes” in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings, Harper pounced, effectively painting the Liberal leader, then in the early hours of his new job, as a naif, a quisling — a teacher.
In Harper’s world, you don’t look for root causes, you respond, you preach law-and-order and protection of Canadians, and there is no doubt there is a market for this cut-and-dried view of the world in significant slices of the country’s electorate.
It serves him well in international affairs.
No one is suggesting we look for the root causes of the Islamic State, but Harper has never publicly asked the “why” about failed Middle East peace initiatives or Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
On the latter, Putin has always been evil in Harper’s eyes, a judgment made early and a judgment that has been borne out.
On the former, Harper has never shown any nuance, continuing to back Israel’s right to defend itself and blaming Hamas for using human shields should there be a disproportionate loss of civilian life in Gaza.
He is accused of bluster and bullhorn democracy, but the judgment is firm and any room for nuance is choked off.
This does not serve Harper as well on domestic issues.
In this case, the reticence to look at the bigger picture is doubly puzzling because Harper and his Conservatives did not create this problem with aboriginal violence. It could only win support for being the government that tried to deal with it in a significant way.
But this is “one-off” government.
Harper does not call big, national, first ministers’ meetings, preferring one-on-one, private, sometimes unpublicized, meetings with provincial and territorial premiers.
He didn’t ask why or how when it came to the future of health care in this country.
He gave the provinces some cash and told them to work it out.
He didn’t ask why his pipeline project hit a wall in the U.S., he merely said he would not take ‘No’ for an answer.
The epidemic of missing and murdered women in Canada is a “sociological phenomenon” and the betting here is that Harper knows that. That makes his refusal to call an inquiry more disturbing because he is refusing to deal with a national shame for purely political reasons.
Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.