After much prodding by other bloggers, I set this up for my own writings. The name is in honour of the two women that mentored me throughout my life on politics and intelligence issues, as well as being wonderful family members, now alas deceased. I hope to live up to their standards at this site.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Harper harpoons Harper's ethics harping in his first week

Well, this is effectively the end of the first week of Stephen Harper's new "clean cut" Conservative government that he sold to Canadians and won his small minority government with. One of the best overall assessments I have read so far comes from Dave at Galloping Beaver here. I have to say I agree with him about just how profoundly Harper has misunderstood not just the will of the electorate in the election but the general Canadian public as well. How anyone could have thought having Emerson cross into his Cabinet two weeks after the election day would not cause a massive uproar is something I still cannot understand. Let alone someone that campaigned not just for the last election but for many years on the notion of ethical, transparent and especially accountable government doing this on the very first day of his very first government, indeed the very first CPC government in history. Especially not when the election question was ethics in government. Whether the CPC and Harper are willing to accept that the skepticism from Canadians is fair or not, Liberal media brainwashing or not, they have to acknowledge that it is there. Indeed, the last election campaign in its stealth nature demonstrated that understanding within the CPC and Harper. So why in the name of all that is holy would they expect that skepticism to evaporate between the election where they got such a weak minority and two weeks later on their very first day being sworn into government???

Harper blew a lot of CPC capital with his actions on Monday AND his absolutely horrible defences of them as well as the explanations provided by both Emerson and Fortier defending these decisions. He rocked the boat within his own base, as demonstrated by the clearly split reactions inside the online Conservative community noted in an earlier post here. He also killed not just the media honeymoon governments normally get for their first weeks to months thanks to not just these decisions but their inability to defend it afterwards and their effectively nonexistent media machine to sell it to the public and explain why these were such good decisions despite their "unusualness" and "inconsistency" with what was pledged in the election campaign. Finally, as Dave noted he completely misunderstood the level of scrutiny his government would get in its first days. That in many ways I think is the most damaging thing of all.

The election results make it clear that Canadians despite clearly feeling the Liberals needed to be dismissed from government were not comfortable with the CPC alternative. After what was a brilliantly crafted and run campaign designed to make Harper and the CPC look mainstream/moderate and trustworthy to the Canadian public they were able to get the small minority they have. So it should have been obvious that the public would pay attention to the first moves made by this government to see whether their skepticisms had any real basis in reality, or whether they had been suckered by a political fear campaign as the CPC and Harper had always claimed was the case. So the importance of the symbolism of the first day should have been apparent to a first year poli-sci student, let alone the new government and PM. Yet their conduct and decisions make it clear they did not expect this.

What bothers me is why didn't they expect this? Why didn't they realize that they were on shaky ground, despite an election just having passed? Why have they appeared to forget all their own cautions to Martin when he won his minority about arrogance and such when they have a minority even weaker than Martin got from the electorate? These decisions seem to have been taken with the belief that no matter what they do, no matter how much they might be controversial, they can make decisions for the first say 6-12 months with effective impunity because the electorate doesn't want an election again soon and because of the Libs needing to find a new leader. That demonstrates a level of arrogance completely at odds with the Harper of the election, yet is completely consistent with that which was said about Harper by his opponents. So why feed this perception like this? Does Harper believe that this perception is really that weak in the public despite all the evidence to the contrary? Does he believe he will have long enough as a government to allow people to forget these decisions and the underlying arrogance of them? Does he believe that ultimately it doesn't matter how people perceive him so long as he can run a campaign that looks nice new and shiny?

I mean really, what would the CPC have done if the Libs had made their Minister of Public Works one of their unelected (not even defeated but not even run in the election) Quebec bagmen/organizers right after putting him in the Senate at the same time? Fortier is the decision that is truly worrisome in terms of potential corruption practices within the CPC government. Emerson is bad enough in terms of demonstrating contempt for the voters, but Fortier is unelected, could not be bothered to run to be in Parliament by his own words, suddenly controls pork/patronage central AND is entirely unaccountable to the elected House of Commons for his Ministry?!? Put these together and you have a really massive turnaround from everything the average citizen was led to expect from a Harper government. Adding a lobbyist to the Defence Ministry is also a really lousy move as well, and the thing of it is all three of these appointments/decisions impact the main selling point the CPC and Harper had, honesty/accountability/integrity in government and that they would be different from the past, especially the Liberal past. Yet to defend Emerson and Fortier they have had to rely on examples of Liberals doing the same in the past. Do they not understand just how badly that undercuts their credibility with those that were still not convinced about Harper and the CPC but were willing to give him this chance to see about him?

On a related point, I should add that trying to dismiss the criticism of these appointments when made by Liberals with a "well who are they to lecture us on ethics" works far better when there is some question as to whether there is a serious ethical question there to begin with. Unfortunately for the CPC/Harper, Emerson in particular by going to the Cabinet immediately after the election in another party is something very easy for people to grasp the ethical challenges of. Worse for the CPC the explanations both Harper and Emerson gave make it clear that if Harper had not offered Emerson a Cabinet position then Emerson would have stayed the Liberal he was elected as. That is impossible to sell as anything other than the sale of a seat and the willingness to purchase one, no matter how qualified for the government Cabinet the individual in question is. I have seen the defence of floor crossing is a historic tradition in this country, which is true, although usually on matters of principle. However, I wonder how many times in Canadian history has a minister in the Cabinet of the defeated government/party been retained by the incoming party/government as a member in its first Cabinet, especially where the Minister must change party affiliation in the process? I somehow doubt there are many examples of that in our history, and that is part of why this is causing such grief for Harper. Especially two weeks to the day after the man was elected under his first party affiliation.

The irony is that these were all self made troubles by Harper and the CPC. None of this had to happen to them on what should have been their moment of shining glory as they took over the reigns of power/Parliament for the first time ever. Instead Harper and the CPC have seriously weakened their position with the public and quite likely impaired their ability to move their agenda through what would already be a difficult environment in Parliament because of his weak minority. I will be extremely surprised if at the end of the day this ends up having been anything other then a net negative for this government, Harper, and the CPC itself. The arrogance that was so bad that the Liberals were turfed for it appears to have shown itself in the CPC on the first day of power, and that is not a good sign/omen in most people's books whatever their political interests. The clear contradictions between what Canadians heard Harper and the CPC say about Stronach are already ringing in their ears as they watch Harper and the CPC defend Emerson. If/when the public starts to understand just how unusual it is for the Minister of Public works to be an unelected campaign chair that also got a Senate appointment out of it on his word he resigns it to run in the next general election, not byelection, general election that ethical lapse will really be used against the CPC. Harper needs to be trusted by the public to be able to run a trust me government. So far he is not off to a good start for doing that, and given his reluctance to defend his choices vigourously in the media other than to effectively say trust me this is going to be a problem for him in the longer term I suspect.


Blogger JD said...

Right on! Harper is off to a very poor start and he hasn't even had to face questions from the opposition yet! Bill Graham needs to capitalize on the situation. The greatest country in the world deserves better than a mediocre person like Harper. The media wanted Harper - let's make sure that they have "buyer's remorse".

Fri Feb 10, 12:24:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Noel M said...

Don't write off a Liberal/NDP alliance as an alternative in the case of a non-confidence vote. If Harper gets booted out, the GG can ask the Liberals to try to form a government, prior to having to call another election. If the NDP are willing to support a coalition, then an election may not be necessary.

This should prove to be a very interesting session in Parliament.

Fri Feb 10, 05:54:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Dana said...

This story is now on the verge of morphing into a story about Harper's refusal to face the press about it.

Over on the G&M someone in a comment mentioned seeing a newsclip of one reporter and cameraman waiting at the Parliament buildings for Harper's limo to appear. It appeared and pulled toward the front door but suddenly veered away and headed toward the side. The cameraman and reporter hotfooted after it only to have the limo quickly pull away from the side door as well, speed back to the front, disgorge Harper and his handlers and speed off.

If he doesn't somehow get himself back into some kind of position of credibility over this I predict a very rough term in office.

Following on the heels of his first press conference with selected journos only and then walking out prematurely this scenario of fleeing a single journalist sets a precedent no one in the press is going to like.

Fri Feb 10, 06:44:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous GoodGrief said...

Check out Irwin Loy's blog
Conservative candidate planned to step aside for Emerson.
“That was my plan. I heard lots of rumours that Mr. Emerson wasn't happy with the Liberal party long before the election,” Wong said in an interview yesterday. “If one day Mr. Emerson prepared to cross the floor I was ready to step aside for him.”

It's probably sour grapes, but if true, it would be the height of hubris.

Fri Feb 10, 09:12:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

Noel m, it's a little early to start talking about a Liberal/NDP coalition that could unseat the CPC. Maybe down the road though. It all depends on whether Harper can get his act together and continue to hold back his cabinet from too many fumblings and scandals. Martin is still officially the Liberal leader. I'm starting to think that with all the big names out of the picture, maybe the Martinites haven't lost hope of a Trudeau-style comeback after Clark.

Sat Feb 11, 12:43:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous GoodGrief said...

Yet another announcement that arouses my paranoia.
Focus on Family Canada is opening a think tank in Ottawa on Feb. 16th.
An initiative of Focus on the Family Canada, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) is mandated to conduct research and distribute its findings to various decision makers and influencers including MPs and journalists.
This the the organization headed by James Dobson in the states. He doesn't believe in global warming, believes in traditional marriage, thinks being gay is a lifestyle choice and they should be damned for all eternity, and thinks that hitting your children, preferably with a switch or other implement is the only way to raise them.

Sat Feb 11, 12:02:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous john said...

I think it is just that grief, paranoia. let's not put the cart before the horse here.

Sun Feb 12, 04:29:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scotian said...


Focus on the Family is a powerful tool of the political right in America, especially the religious right. Having them increasing their profile in this country is certainly cause for concern to those of us that are opposed to the agenda of the religious right. Given we have already seen examples of people like Ralph Reed coming to this country and giving pointers to members of the Canadian religious right on how to win elections as well as other contacts between the American and Canadian religious right the last several years makes it reasonable and not paranoia.


I noticed that at CC's, I can't say I'm all that surprised by it though. I expected as much from Dobson, especially if he thinks the winds of political fortunes are shifting in this country to a party/movement more in keeping with his political agenda. Especially since there is only one party in this country that comes close to agreeing with him whereas all the rest of the major parties are opposed to his agenda to varying intensities. Like CC and many others I plan on keeping an eye on what they decide to do in this country.

As for the CPC candidate claiming he was ready to step aside for Emerson prior to the election call, if there is any truth to this that is very disturbing. It would indicate that there was some sort of contact between Emerson and Harper prior to the election regarding his future in the Liberal party. If there was such contact, and if this deal was worked out prior to the election that he would cross in the event of a CPC win (so long as he won his own seat that is) then we have the makings of a very serious scandal indeed. So far though I haven't seen anything that would give me reason to consider this credible, just the candidate statement and the speculations regarding a mole in the Liberals during the election and how Emerson would explain how the CPC kept getting their hands on Liberal material before the Libs publicly released it.

I hope that such isn't true because it would represent a level of duplicity on not just Emerson's but Harper's behalf that I really do not want to see be true in our politics. However, I must admit after Harper's conduct in the Grewal fraud I can't simply dismiss the possibility from my mind, and I find that unfortunate.

Sun Feb 12, 06:13:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

This is a war.

This latest election ushered into Canada the culture war fought so grimly in the US for the past decade or so. . Harper’s New Tories, who are not a patch on the old Conservative Party but more like the Bush neocons, are waging the war on the new flank, Canada, with links to, objectives the same as, and tactics borrowed from, those neocons.

It is a war to turn back the clock, in many fields.

In religion, it is designed to install a theocracy by blurring the lines between church and state.

In civil rights, it is designed to remove the rights of women to choose whether to conceive, and return this right as the prerogative of men (fathers, husbands).

In criminal law, it is designed to remove the protection of the Charter for citizens, and to turn back to vengeance as a deterrent.

In political power, it is designed to severely weaken the power of the Canadian confederation, and hand power over to the provinces, where national standards may be chosen or ignored, depending on the whims of the current provincial governments.

In health care, it is designed to destroy the system Canada has built up so carefully over the years.

In economics, it is designed to remove constraints on corporations, so that the decisions are made by the wealthy.

In the cultural realm, it is designed to enforce a one-culture-fits-all concept, and remove the multiculturalism we have enjoyed.

The results will be the massive culture of corruption which we see in the US under the Bush neocon rule; with the transfer of powers, there will be no checks and balances, and greed, allied with sanctimonious quasi-religious utterings, will rule.

This war deserves to be fought with the utmost vigour by all those who believe in Canada’s core values. We need to fight the Trojan Horses used to introduce these far-reaching changes through stealthy methods, and shine the spotlight mercilessly on each and every instance of intrusion.

Sun Mar 05, 02:29:00 PM 2006  

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