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, April 03, 2006

Harper appears interested in taking a Constitutional on Canadians' heads

I first heard about this yesterday while doing a quick check of some blogs while house-sitting for my parents while they went away for the weekend. I could not believe I was reading what I was reading when I did encounter it. I chose to not comment on it then in part because I was having trouble believing that Harper would be this foolish even after the prior evidence of foolishness since he came to power (Emerson, Fortier, Shapiro among others) given the recent history of such Constitutional discussions. After all I know he is old enough to remember the last two times we did this, both in Trudeau's time and in Mulroney's, and the fallout each session created for the long term. In the case of Trudeau it was the "night of the long knives" as perceived within Quebec which in turn seriously strengthened the belief within Quebec that it did not count for much if after all the Constitution could be repatriated and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms incorporated without their consent. It became over time one of the more useful tools for the separatists to use to whip up anti-federal/Canada sentiment.

However, as bad as the fallout from the Trudeau Constitutional discussions were the ones Brian Mulroney left us with made things far worse. For one thing it appears that his primary motive for his Constitutional talks was not principle, not belief in the need to include Quebec (although I will grant this one was a secondary motive for Mulroney) but his quite egotistical need to equal and/or pass Trudeau in the area of Constitutional reform. He was jealous of what Trudeau had accomplished and wanted to be able to claim that he did as much or even more by bringing in Quebec as well as making other changes. Well we know what that got us. First we had the Meech Lake process which ended up in disaster, not because of NFLD and Premier Clyde Wells despite the mythology that built up surrounding it (probably because it was more politically useful to blame a Liberal Premier than an Aboriginal MLA for the collapse of the Accord) but rather one Aboriginal MLA in Manitoba by the name of Elijah Harper (interesting coincidence of names to our current PM, thankfully no relation that I am aware of) who did not believe that the Accord was in the best interests of Aboriginals in this country and refused to allow it to pass in the Manitoba Legislature which needed unanimous consent to pass it within the necessary timeframe.

As a direct result of the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord Lucien Bouchard, the best friend of Brian Mulroney that Mulroney brought in to politics along with many soft separatists that he ran as PCPC candidates in 1984 and 1988 with the promise of giving Quebec special powers and status within the Confederation, broke away from the PCPC and took those PCPC MPs that were former separatists with him to create the Bloc Quebecois. When Meech Lake failed it was seen, and with good reason I might add, as the public rejecting the idea that Quebec is a special Province and therefore deserves powers that the other Provinces do not get to have. Thanks to the splitting from the PCPC of the BQ (which also attracted some Liberal Quebec MPS, but the clear majority of the original BQ and its core organizers were PCPC MPs and founded by Mulroney's best friend Lucien Bouchard.) to this day we are dealing with many negative repercussions from this debacle which was totally Brian Mulroney's fault (Who else remembers the infamous Mulroney line about sometimes you just need to roll the dice?). It was he after all that recruited these soft nationalists knowing their views and did so by promising them something he had no business promising since he could not guarantee it would happen since it required unanimous consent by all Provinces, hardly the easiest thing to get. He knew that the primary interests of these MPs were not the future of Canada but the future of Quebec, yet he brought them in and their networks within Quebec so he could have those back to back majorities. When he could not fulfill his promises to them they quite reasonably decided there was no longer sufficient interest/cause for them to stay within the PCPC or indeed any federalist party and decided to give the separatists federal representation with the BQ to help facilitate the destruction of Canada with the removing of Quebec from Confederation and being the voice of the Parti Quebecois in Ottawa in truth if not in name.

Then, just to add insult to injury Mulroney starts down the Charlottetown Accord with which he put to the general public in a referendum. It was sold as the last chance to keep Canada together and there was a lot of fear driven rhetoric placed behind it by Mulroney and the PCPCs, which in turn made the defeat of it that much easier for Quebecois separatists to sell that defeat as a rejection by Canada of Quebec and its aspirations and needs. So those two Accords, Meech and Charlottetown were instead of being the tools of healing and saving Canada became the tools which nearly destroyed it in the 1995 referendum in Quebec. It was the fervour raised by both the Accords within Quebec and the defeat of both which helped pitch the idea that separation was the only thing left for Quebec to do to maintain its social/cultural integrity and the fiscal disarray of the Feds after the Mulroney years made the economic argument appear that much more credible and sensible as well. So we have seen the last two Constitutional conferences of two PMs, one of whom succeeded in his goal and the other did not ended up creating serious negative long term impacts that we are still to this day recovering from. Yet Harper wants to reopen this? Madness in a minority position, especially a minority which is most likely to be propped up by the BQ since there is a certain degree of overlap in their agendas where devolution of powers is concerned from the feds to the Provinces.

Now, why did I rehash all of this? I did so to remind everyone that for at least a generation now the idea of Constitutional discussions has the taint of chaos and negative impacts to them, even in the one case where the goal was actually accomplished. It is also important to remember that both Trudeau and Mulroney had majorities for their respective mentioned Constitutional discussions and proposals. Harper has the weakest minority in our history. There is no desire to reopen the Constitution in the vast majority of the country, although I will note that there is some interest in the country for some things that can only be dealt with via opening up the Constitution, i.e. Senate reform EEE style. There is not though a general interest in doing so now, nor did the current PM and his party campaign in the slightest about opening up the Constitution for changes if they were elected. This is not something the average citizen thought was going to be a part of this government since it was not a campaign issue, and it certainly isn't a part of the (in)famous five priorities of this government as determined by PM Harper himself to his party and to the public.

So by doing this Harper is again opening himself and his party up to accusations of having a "hidden agenda", something they have been doing whatever they can to dismiss and ridicule as paranoia and fear mongering by Liberals. So why provide yet more ammunition to give that argument/accusation substance? Especially why chose to do so on something as inflammatory and explosive as musing about the need to reopen the Constitution?!? It is also important to note that while Harper mused about opening up the Constitution he did not state for what purposes specifically he feels it may be necessary for. He was remarkably vague about the specifics that he feels this inherently controversial action necessitates, which both feeds the hidden agenda belief and also asks the question why he would muse about something this potentially explosive without any specifics as to why he feels this may be/is necessary.

Harper is opening a very messy can of worms if he chooses to open up Constitutional discussions. Even if he believes he can keep it focused on a few specifics of his choosing and nothing else he will still give voice to every special interest that wants a specific Constitutional change by virtue of opening up the discussion at all. Indeed, the more he ignores these other voices the more he looks like he is being arrogant in his refusal to consider the wishes of Canadians other than those wishes which correspond to his. Given this PM's perception issues in the country for arrogance and narrow mindedness (I mean in terms of considering ideas from outside his ideology and/or political affiliation nothing more) to ignore these voices feeds this, whereas if he chooses to open it up even slightly to any of these voices to be given credence then he has to open it up wide open or buys the worst of both worlds. Once this conversation gets started Harper *WILL* lose control of the discussion and debate, it is inherent in the nature of these conversations. This has been shown to be true when the conversations took place in a majority federal context, in a minority federal context with the Bloc Quebecois holding balance of power this will only be more so I suspect, and the law of unintended consequences has shown itself to play a major effect in all prior such discussions so I would expect it would happen here as well to the detriment of the country.

If Harper really thinks opening up the Constitution is necessary he should have campaigned on it and not bring it up without warning once elected. Or he should make it a part of his platform for the next election so he can get the mandate for it AND provide the basic shape of what reforms he wants to make so that if he wins the next time out he has a real mandate to do these changes as well as to not let it degenerate into a mess where everyone expects their issue to be on the table. To do things with the Constitution during this minority government with the absolute lack of any mandate to do so is just about the worst way to handle this I can think of. To do it this way is to be willing to take insane risks with this country, and not the act of a responsible PM at all.

This is really a bad idea for this Parliament, period. This was not what was campaigned on, it was not what the CPC was elected on, and Harper has no mandate to do so nor does he have the control a majority grants to at least keep the discussion under some sort of control within the federal level. If he must do this he first needs to lay out exactly what he wants to change, why he thinks it needs changing, and then sell it to the general public so that the Premiers will feel the pressure to commit to it as well instead of opposing it. Even doing it this way is fraught with risks but at least it is the honest way to go given the circumstances of Harper's minority, the election campaign which got it for him, and the complete lack of any discussion and/or promises within that election campaign of any discussion of Constitutional change.

I do not know what Harper is thinking with all of this. Instead of appearing to be gaining a better understanding of his new position and the responsibilities that go with the power and perks he appears to be losing understanding he once had. If he thinks Canadians are so fed up with the Liberals that he can do what he wants without the Liberals being a serious threat for a few years then I think he is making a very serious error indeed. He should reflect on the reality that despite the perfect storm against the Liberals last time out and their terrible election campaign they still got a third of the seats in Parliament and his party got 11 seats less than Martin did from the electorate. This was because they did not trust Harper and the CPC to not have this "hidden agenda" and such and that despite their ethical issues at the time the Libs still ran the country from the red to the black fiscally, helped grow the economy, and generally kept domestic peace after the referendum of 1995 until the Sponsorship scandal broke in the public thanks to the AG. The Liberals are far from beaten, far from totally rejected by the general public, especially if the CPC and Harper govern in a manner contrary to their election promises (something they have been doing since literally the first day of their government) and demonstrate that the agenda they ran on is not the agenda they actually enact as a government, thereby proving that the hidden agenda is not fear-mongering but reality after all. This is especially so if Harper and the CPC do this in a weak minority, since if they are this arrogant and contemptuous of the campaign promises they made to gain power with a minority which could be brought down anytime, what would Harper and the CPC be like with a majority where they would have at least four years to do whatever they wanted with.

I do not understand why Harper is making these basic mistakes, but he is. The reason the hidden agenda rhetoric had potency was that there really were indications that what this man and his party would do in power was different from what they would campaign on, and here they are doing everything possible to help shore up the diminishing belief in the hidden agenda. Politically this is a bad idea, and personally I think the country is not currently ready for a Constitutional discussion at this time so to try and have one I fear would do more harm than any possible good. Harper's intentions here may be good, but then we know what the road to Hell is paved with after all...

For other concerned opinions on this raising of the Constitution by Harper see Dave's at Galloping Beaver, Steve's at Far and Wide, Publius at Canadian Publius, BC Waterboy at Kalamalka Rainbow, John at Dymaxion World, and the Faithful Tribune at Best/Worst of Times.


Blogger Steve V said...

Your post brings me back to all of the furor over "distinct society". Strange that those words were so controversial then, and now we have federal politicans openly using the term "nation", which is clearly a more evolved definition.

Tue Apr 04, 03:29:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous GoodGrief said...

Goodness, here we go again. I just wish that politicians would serve the people rather than try to create their own universe and their own place in history. If they actually served the people diligently, in the best interests of all, perhaps their place in history would be assured.

Tue Apr 04, 07:43:00 PM 2006  

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