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.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Harper tells Canadians they cannot trust his Cabinet

I am not going to go into great length on this one seeing as it has been chewed around over the last several days. However, I do think this is important enough to comment on here so I am doing so.

This is a degree of control over message that appears to be unprecedented in our history, especially when one combines this with the other complaints the Parliamentary Press Gallery has been lodging regarding access to Ministers for scrums by moving the location from where it has been for many decades now. I can understand Harper wanting to be notified of any public comments by his Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries (To be abbreviated as PS for future references), but to require complete and total vetting of any public comment, even a local letter to the editor appears to demonstrate a serious lack of confidence by Harper in his Ministers in being able to stick to the agenda of the government without such tight and extreme controls as Harper appears to be putting into place. Seriously, just think about this for a minute. In effect Harper has told all his Cabinet and all the PS in his government that he does not trust their judgment nor their ability to remain centered on the "5 priorities" his government was supposedly elected upon. He especially does not trust their ability to speak to anyone in the public on these issues or any other issues for that matter seeing as he wants only the "5 priorities" to ever receive public discussion. This shows a serious lack of confidence by the PM in his own Cabinet to perform a fairly basic responsibility of any Cabinet Minister, that being to speak for the government on the issues related to the files within the jurisdiction of that Ministry.

It also indicates Harper is continuing to believe that the best political strategist he has is himself. Apparently he has never heard of the notion that when a lawyer represents himself he has a fool for a client, that doctors are the worst patients, etc. This is important because it illustrates a failing typical to all human beings, that being even within our professional expertise when our personal feelings/welfare is directly tied to our expertise we have a remarkable tendency to miss things and/or misperceive things in our favour whereas if it was for an independent client it would jump right out at us as a bad thing/idea. This is as true for a political strategist as PM thinking his expertise as a strategist is better than anyone else's as any other. He will not be able to see past his own personal blind spots/beliefs which in turn will create areas missed/misunderstood and any action taken regarding it will inherently be seriously flawed. There is a level of hubris involved in thinking so highly of yourself as Harper appears to be doing in this matter that is very unhealthy, both for him and his party and for the country as a whole.

It also indicates a degree of control freak issues that cannot be brushed aside, for if he is this much of a control freak in things like this it is inherently that it will be an across the board problem. No man is the perfect man, period. The biggest problem with a dictatorship/tyranny is that the indispensable man required for such to work not only does not exist in nature, even assuming he did what happens when he gets sick or needs surgery or something? Harper is making a serious mistake if he is centralizing power within himself to this extent. One of the best political reasons for not doing so is that while yes you get all the credit you also get the blame instead of having handy disposable Ministers to take the heat for the PM when there is the inevitable serious mistake/misjudgment by any PM. It increases the chance of things slipping through the cracks since Harper is one man and his primary job is to run the country and not to screen everything his government/party is saying at all times for ideological/political agenda purity. It also makes it easier to portray Harper as not just a control freak that does not trust his own people that much but also as power hungry/corrupt. All around this is a bad idea, and that is without going into the history of these types of policies and their inevitable failures and consequences for the leader/party/government that was as foolish as to believe they could control the dialogue to this extreme an extent.

Yet again Harper shows that he does not recognize the political tone/impact of his decisions and how they can be used against him and his party/government. First Emerson, then Fortier, then the Ethics Commissioner loathing he did publicly (which given he did cooperate with unlike in the Grewal affair yet did little to draw attention to that fact prior to the report release also seems politically on the deaf ear side of things) and his tendency to sound a little too GOP/Bushish in his foreign policy commentary in Afghanistan all have contributed to a serious case of buyer's remorse from many that voted CPC in the last election.

I will also be doing a post on the Ethics Commissioner's report but I want to read through it first, which I should have done by the end of today, at least I hope so. Expect a post on it within the next couple of days since if I cannot get this done tonight it will probably be late tomorrow to Wed.


Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

I don't believe this policy is unprecedented, as Mulroney put a similar clampdown on his caucus during his first term IIRC. Also, the report I read clarified that Cabinet ministers are exempt from this edict. It applies specifically to deputy ministers and other non-Cabinet caucus members.

But the deaf-ear? Definitely. This sort of policy is a major annoyance to the press, as they won't get much in the way of quotes for their stories, and what they do get - assuming this fiat is successful - will not be juicy enough to grab headlines and anvance reporters' careers.

Tue Mar 21, 12:48:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Scotian said...


It is the combined media control that I think may be unprecedented and not just this clampdown, although it is the most visible/obvious example of this strategy being put into place. I remember when Mulroney tried the same thing, although I can't say the same for when Trudeau did it, I was still a couple of years away from becoming politically aware at that time.

If he is exempting Cabinet Ministers from this but is requiring this of the bureaucracy and the backbenchers he is asking for trouble I think. Either this kind of policy applies to all or it applies to none within the caucus otherwise it will create that much more internal tensions and unwanted leaking. I do not have a problem with a PM trying to manage the media message of his government, that is to be expected. The problem Harper has though is the trying to limit government discussions in the public domain to only five priorities, and five priorities that do not include international and security issues which he is going to be forced to deal with as the government whether it fits the five priorities or not.

I have to admit I have been more than a little shocked at just how much of a deaf ear Harper has demonstrated, along with his internet cult of personality. They keep wanting to use as the standard of comparison for Harper's conduct the Liberals and their scandalous behaviour, yet what they miss is that politicians are not held to the standards of how their opposition performed but in how it matches up with their own rhetoric/performances/standards and that is why Harper has found himself so mired in controversy. Well that and his refusal to actually face the media on his decisions and defend them vigourously, instead by being so contemptuous of dissent he only made the story that much louder and longer. Not the smartest media strategy to go with, and for trying to make that point to Harper it got yet another Communications head fired by Harper for Harper's mistakes.

One of the main reasons the "left wing controlled media" rhetoric sold so well in America was because there was decades of work put into the creation of the meme, millions to tens of millions spent in selling the meme, and even then it took the 9/11/01 incident to completely subvert the American media to the political right. The same conditions do not exist in this country, as well American federal politics is polarized inherently by having only two parties whereas in this country we have three truly national parties and a regional/Provincial party as the fourth major party in Ottawa. So the politics of polarization into the simplistic left-right good-evil patterning favoured by the GOP and adopted by the CPC will not have the same credibility in Canada. Instead it will more likely look like making excuses and avoiding responsibility for one's actions.

Then there is the rather significant difference in the percentage of population that is inclined towards living a faith based life instead of a fact based life. The mentality for such is far stronger in America because of their history of overt religiosity despite being a secular State. Something most people tend to forget is that America is significantly more religious within its society than any other Western/first world nation. Canada is far more diverse in religious beliefs, is far less used to and for that matter appreciates far less jingoism being it religious or nationalistic in nature. So the rhetorical tools like the left wing media conspiracy has a far less fertile ground in which to grow, and those that failed to take the problem seriously on the left in America have shown the Canadian left how seriously they have to treat this notion to prevent it from becoming accepted wisdom even without any actual factual basis proving such, especially since what little study has been done on the Canadian media shows no such bias whatsoever. Indeed the CPC got a very favourable media ride last election, easier than any other federal party. Kind of hard to prove the left controls the Canadian media with that one.

Tue Mar 21, 12:42:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous john said...

"It also makes it easier to portray Harper as not just a control freak that does not trust his own people that much but also as power hungry/corrupt". Where is the corruption? I understand your argument that he is power hungry, but how does this make him corrupt?

Tue Mar 21, 03:36:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

(If I may take the liberty of responding to john)

I see it as a corruption of his message - the one that carried him into the PM's chair - that his government would be a breath of fresh air: transparent, ethical, on the up-and-up, etc. The fact is he appointed his campaign aide (Fortier) to the Senate and the cabinet, giving him a sensitive portfolio that primarily hands out pork. That makes the Martin Liberals more accountable and transparent right there. So what Peevey Stevie says and what he does are two different things - in this instance, diametrically opposed. That is a form of corruption in my book.

Wed Mar 22, 02:05:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous john said...

Scott, I beleive we are talking about him controlling his cabinets access to the press, not about Fortier, not about Emerson. Careful not to confuse issues here. However, I think I understand what you are saying. Perhaps clarifing the position would have been better because labelling people corrupt can have far reaching implications as most assume they have broken the law. I am sure that was not the intent here (snort) but it is important to make the difference.

Wed Mar 22, 10:23:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Scotian said...

Scott in Montreal said:

"So what Peevey Stevie says and what he does are two different things - in this instance, diametrically opposed. That is a form of corruption in my book."

In mine as well. It is called lying through one's teeth in other circles as well. I have noted time and again now Harper's amazing ability to say one thing and do the other in action, yet his defenders love to claim there is no problem with this at all, it is politics as usual in this country. Which to be fair is actually reasonably accurate. However, as you also noted the Harper minority was elected on the promise by Harper that it would not be doing politics as usual but something better. This, combined with the two year morality screeching from the CPC and Harper and the election question being ethics in government left an environment in the public very sharply attuned to the subject AND planning to hold Harper and the CPC to the same standards they insisted the Liberals were supposed to meet and so badly failing to manage.

Corruption does not have to mean financial gain only, there are many forms and means of expression for corruption. Harper is looking very arrogant and corrupted by his power as PM, the business with Shapiro underscored this. As did his rationalization of his election promise not to have an unelected Cabinet member, his promise to not appoint a Senator unless no other MPs had been elected from that Province (which given he had 10 Quebec MPs yet appointed Fortier for no necessary reason I might add but PEI which gave the CPC no seats he instead appoints MacKay a NS MP to oversee clearly blows that rationalization away, especially since that was the rational for doing so historically).

Harper's biggest mistake though was assuming he was safe to do whatever he wanted for at least a year and that by the time an election was called all of this would be forgotten or easily dismissed. Even granting that he is right about that year it was a very bad idea to be so blatant about it on his very first day as PM. You would think he understood symbolism better than that, but apparently not.

Now we have the clampdown on any interaction with the media by any member of his caucus and government without his specific approval. Not to mention his changing a decades old area for scrums by the media with Cabinet members, thereby making it easier for the Ministers to avoid the media. In particular it makes it harder for the media to show that the Cabinet Ministers are running away from them which they can under the traditional location for scrumming.

Taken together we are seeing some fairly good evidence of corruption by Harper with his new powers and his desire to have more, as in a majority government where he can do what he wants for four years or so without fear of facing the electorate. For a man that gained what power he has by constantly screaming about government cover-ups, scandals, and lack of transparency he is going out of his way to prove in his first set of actions just how empty that rhetoric truly was. It is one thing to scream like that over principle, but once someone is revealed for the hypocrite they are and the power hungry say anything to get elected person that they are then the public does tend to notice and react negatively.

The fate of the Martin government awaits the CPC at this rate. Indeed, Harper is showing in his actions that Martin truly was more interested in accountability than Harper. The Gomery inquiry clearly was going to hurt the Libs in the pubic view and this was obvious from the outset yet Martin did it thinking it was necessary to show accountability instead of brushing it under the carpet like so many of the Chretien supporters thought he should have. Indeed I have already heard that from a few people that voted CPC last time out because they were so convinced by Harper that the Libs were evil and he and the CPC were a breath of fresh air. I guess they didn't like having their fresh air turn out to be flatulence in their face.

Wed Mar 22, 03:55:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous john said...

Scott, you can't possibly state with a straight face that the LPC is more accountable than the CPC. It still amazes me that there are Canadians out there who praise Martin for bringing into the light the corruption he was supervising. It's like championing the CEO who states publicly that a full investigation will be done into all the money he has been stealing for the last four years. Yes, what a true hero.
Let's be honest here. You don't like Harper and the CPC and will throw all the mud you can whether it sticks or not. I am sure you talk to a lot of your friends who agree with you but the polls show it differently.
People like yourself keep bringing up "issues" like Emerson (fully cleared by Shapiro), refusal to work with Shapiro (never actually said that), changing the press locations... there were even people complaining when he went to Afghanistan instead of the US as his first visit...what about when he shook his sons hand dropping him off for school.
I just want to keep the debate about issue and not petty differences. And for the record, I agree with you regarding Fortier and Emerson although I don't know that I would go so far as to villify him as corrupt. Less rhetoric and more debate please.

Wed Mar 22, 05:31:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

Projecting a little there, John? I am not a champion of Martin's, actually. At least not as PM. But I brought up the comparison because I find the irony rather thick. I think you're going out on a limb by saying Martin was "supervising" the adscam scandal though.

Now I don't dislike Harper (although I enjoy him Peevey Stevie) so much as I strenuously disagree with his worldview and the kinds of policies he is apt to set for the country. I think the right-wing mindset works to keep the downtrodden down and prop up those who don't need any help. The middle class usually finds itself closer to the latter but doesn't always figure out why on voting day.

And people who start off phrases with "people like yourelf...", are all the same - they generalize too much. And they all do it all the time, don't you hate those people? The ones who are guilty of using comma splices? I can see them a mile away. All Calgarians are like that, of course. Just like those Golgafrinchans. They're so snotty those Golgafrinchans.

Wed Mar 22, 10:16:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

Meant to say "I enjoy referring to him as Peevey Stevie..."

Wed Mar 22, 10:18:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

And the middle class finds itself closer to the former, not latter. Don't know what's wrong with my prufe reeding today.

Wed Mar 22, 10:21:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous john said...

All Calgarians, I love it. Those redneck bastards with all their oil money that they won't share. Maybe we have more in common than I thought.
Yes Scott, people like yourself. People who will take a debate about, oh I don't know, Harper controlling his cabinets access to the press and then label him as corrupt for issues outside the scope of that debate. That was my point. Stick to the issues and stop trying to slag the guy with the same shit over ever new issue.
If Martin wasn't supervising Finance then who was??? Doesn't matter, that has nothing to do with the subject of this blog. We can debate that one at a later point.

Thu Mar 23, 03:18:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

john, I had a feeling you wouldn't be able to detect a point made with sarcasm. Explains a lot actually. Made my day, thanks.

Fri Mar 24, 09:11:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

You just gotta love Harper's latest fashion edict for Ottawa (those cute little colour-coordinated "HarperMuzzles" so many Tories will be wearing for next few months). There is absolutely no truth to the rumour that the only permissible colour for the HarperMuzzles is blue. I have it on good authority that any primary colour will do, in fact, some expect Tory ministers to have a different colour for each day of the week! Now, that's being cutting edge!

But fear not, political discourse inside and outside the House will still find a way to bypass the HarperMuzzles and wander over the rest of the Harper New Tories agenda.

Then the true discussions will start on exactly what sort of Canada Harper wants to have.

Mon Mar 27, 01:16:00 PM 2006  

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