Monday, February 06, 2006

On The Other Hand....

...all of the shouting about David Emerson has obscured some of the more interesting cabinet choices and omissions, good, bad, and ugly.

Peter MacKay is a curious choice for Foreign Affairs, as he has demonstrated little interest in the position before, and his propensity to shoot his mouth off might cause problems on the world stage.

As best I can figure, Stephen Harper had a delicate balancing act with the justice, public safety and foreign affairs portfolios and their expected holders (Vic Toews, MacKay, and Stockwell Day). The media and Red Tories were screaming doomsday predictions if Toews got Justice and Day got Foreign Affairs; Harper could chance one of the two serving in Cabinet in their critics' positions, but not both. MacKay seemed a better fit for Justice or Public Safety, but once Toews got Justice, Day had to get Public Safety, and that left MacKay in his unexpected new role.

Defence lobbyists will be cheering at the news of Gordon O'Connor's appointment to National Defence.

The Harris team rises again with Jim Flaherty at Finance, Tony Clement at Health and John Baird at Treasury Board. People complaining about the rise of the Red Tories should take heart at these appointments.

Anyone else notice that Quebec now has three of the biggest pork barrel departments: Public Works & Government Services (Michael Fortier), Industry (Maxime Bernier) and Transport (Lawrence Cannon)? Politics as usual, but that's the price of doing business in Quebec. As long as you're not too odious about it.

Monte Solberg was never going to get Finance, but it's surprising to see that he's getting Immigration. Surely we could have lured Joe Volpe across the floor because of his unequalled experience and understanding of immigration issues and the irreplaceable Toronto perspective?

One appointment that should have floored people: Marjory LeBreton as Government Leader in the Senate. She was one of the loudest voices against the PC-Alliance merger. Almost as shrill as Joe Clark and Sinclair Stevens. And she found a way to make peace with Stephen Harper and his leadership.

A lot of surprise expressed about the exclusion of Diane Ablonczy and Jason Kenney, but four Calgary MPs in Cabinet would have been politically impossible, and Jim Prentice's expertise in Indian land claims is indispensible.

Three Ontario MPs who didn't make the cut could very well have: Garth Turner, Peter Van Loan and Guy Lauzon. Turner did serve in Kim Campbell's cabinet for about five minutes, but he's had his own ethical problems from his days running thinly-disguised stock-touting infomercials on Millennium Media Television . Van Loan would have been a prime asset as a former PC Party president with Toronto connections, and Lauzon would have been at least a valuable token as the traditional francophone outside Quebec.

Except for the two stinkers, a reasonably good Cabinet.

1 comment:

CuriuosityKilledTheCat said...

Harper’s One-Man-Band, and Pretzel Tories.

So, a little time has passed, and Harper’s daring moves to impress the electorate with his political acumen have now sunk in a bit. Reaction across the country to his cabinet appointments – and abandonment of principles espoused during the election – have varied from sheer disbelief, to shock, to amusement. Never has a Canadian politician fallen so far so fast. Usually it takes time for power to corrupt, but Mr. Harper is a man in a hurry.

Many Tories have had to swallow their tongues and bend themselves into pretzels defending the indefensible. Some MPs have said they fear going back to their ridings because they will have to explain to their supporters how the Harper crew did a sudden U-turn on the accountability issue, which, after all, was the Tory strong point in the election. Harper ran as Mr. Clean, and painted Martin as Mr. Corruption at every opportunity he had.

Even the rightwing press is stunned and disappointed.

Examples of press reaction:

The Vancouver Sun:

“"I expected some of the superficial criticism I've seen," Mr. Harper told The Vancouver Sun in an interview. "But I think once people sit back and reflect, they'll understand that this is in the best interests of not just British Columbia but frankly of good government." Mr. Harper referred to his statements on Monday, when he said he recruited Mr. Emerson to Cabinet to give Vancouver -- which didn't elect a Tory MP in five city ridings -- a voice in Cabinet. He used the same rationale to explain why he appointed Tory national campaign co-chairman Michael Fortier, a Montreal businessman, to the Senate and as Minister of Public Works. Montreal, like Vancouver, did not elect a government MP. "I think I was clear what I did and why I did it," Mr. Harper said yesterday.

The Calgary Sun – Roy Clancy:

“Stephen Harper must be breathing a sigh of relief today. Just minutes after being sworn in as prime minister, he relieved himself of one of the biggest burdens he had carried into the job. No longer must he live up to the impossible standard of political purity and ethical integrity saddled upon him by a naive electorate. ...But as widespread moans of anger illustrate, many Canadians took Harper seriously when he promised Monday to "begin a new chapter for Canada." No wonder they were disappointed when they learned within moments that this new chapter looks a lot like the old one. ...Harper's pragmatic moves may not have violated the letter of his promises to change the way government is run, but they shattered the spirit. .... Monday's manoeuvres quickly lowered the bar when it comes to public expectations of this new regime.“

The Calgary Sun - Rick Bell:

“See the Tories wriggle. Wriggle, Tories, wriggle. Ah yes, one party's turncoat is another party's principled politician. No anger now. No demands to step down and face the voters now. No nasty name-calling now. No sympathy for the poor electors of the riding of the quisling now. ... The trouble with talking about the moral high ground is you actually have to walk on it or, like the kid standing by the broken window after throwing the snowball, insist without shame you've done nothing wrong. ... So the rationalizations flow, the lame explanations are exhaled into the hot air and only those who have drunk the Conservative Kool-Aid will follow as good old ideological ants.”

So, what lessons can be taken from Harper’s first exercise of Prime Ministerial power? Here are a few for you to ponder:

• Just as it is unfair to accuse every Republican of having the same moral vacuity that President Bush has displayed, so too is it unfair to say that all Conservatives – and all voters who voted for the Tories – lack good moral and political judgment. It is very clear that there are a lot of people who voted Tory because they sincerely believed that it was time for the Liberals to mend their house, and for another party to bring in some anti-corruption measures. These people still have high standards; they are as bewildered by the events of this week as others are.

• Harper obviously believes he is above trifling things like having to take the feelings of others into consideration. This exercise of Prime Ministerial power shows that he will think things through – apparently mostly on his own – and then decide on the best way forward. If he explains his thought process, it is obvious to him that voters will then understand why he is right, and fall into line. There is a word for this: paternalism. Harper shows clear signs of seeing himself as the Big Wise Daddy of Canadian politics. His use of the word “superficial” to describe the reaction of others to his crass abandonment of some of the major planks of his election platform illustrates this very clearly.

• Harper is focused on winning a majority in the next election, to happen within 18 months. Everything he will do or say is geared to that. If lesser mortals within his own party do not understand this, that is their problem. They must suck it up and stay in line. Big Daddy knows best.

• Harper does not believe in a democratic party for the Tory government. It is his way or the highway (witness Stronach). This is perhaps the most worrisome aspect for many Tories: did they realize they were electing a dictator rather than the leader of a parliamentary party fashioned along the lines of a Westminster democracy? How many more decisions will be made by The Leader, and rammed down the throats of the caucus? And how can Canadians expect such decisions to be the best, if they are not tested by vigorous debate within the governing party before being made?

If Harper continues in the same vein for the next 12 months, expect him to join the ranks of the Clarks, Campbells and Martins as a short-lived blip on the Canadian political firmament.