Reflections on the Harper Cabinet

With the Emerson cross-over, Harper has unleashed the fury of the Conservative rank and file. Conservative bloggers are in a tizzy about the ethics of the Emerson move. Paul Wells is offering an award to the nominee who put forward the best apologia for Harper's decision, named SDA after Kate of Small Dead Animals blog, who opined that Harper had done just fine. Some Conservative bloggers are pissed as hell and are doing something about it.

BabblingBrooks is marshalling Conservative bloggers pissed at Harper's decision.
Check out his blog and you can follow the story from there.BabblingBrooks

The media are having a field day over the Emerson/Fortier appointments. The Ottawa Sun opined:

"Stephen Harper has ushered in the Conservatives’ promised new era of ethical and accountable government with a Senate appointment and a patronage plum.

"Despite all his lofty election promises to do government differently, Harper has constructed a cabinet more with an eye to political porking than principle, an executive administration designed more to dispense regional goodies before the next election than to restore public confidence in federal institutions tarnished by years of Liberal patronage and corruption.

"Too bad. He was doing so well."

Sheila Copps observed:

" Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have received a gift horse in the person of David Emerson that he will live to regret.

"Part of the balancing act of a minority government is keeping every caucus member on side. With a cabinet post for Emerson, that leaves other long-time Conservative loyalists seething in the back benches.

"But that's not the only problem. By elevating someone who has so little loyalty to Conservative values, Harper risks being tarred with the same opportunistic brush that he plied on the Liberals when they accepted Belinda Stronach."

On a different aspect of the Cabinet Jeff Simpson of the Globe and Mail notes the potential implications of the heavy representation in the Cabinet of MPs with provincial government backgrounds:

"Ms. Ambrose once worked as a civil servant in Alberta, and seven ministers served in provincial governments. Ms. Ambrose, those seven ministers, Mr. Harper himself and the nationalist Quebec ministers make this cabinet arguably the most province-friendly since Wilfrid Laurier attracted provincial Liberal heavyweights to his "ministry of all the talents" in 1896.

"The cabinet's composition, therefore, signals to provinces that Mr. Harper is serious about rectifying the "fiscal imbalance," an idea articulated by premiers, notably from Quebec, that Ottawa has too much money and the provinces too little, relative to their respective responsibilities. The Conservative platform was magnificently and purposefully vague about how this "imbalance" would be eliminated.

"To widen the beachhead in Quebec, Mr. Harper needs to deliver on this promise, while taking care that he does not become perceived elsewhere as, in Pierre Trudeau's famous description of Conservative leader Joe Clark, a "head waiter for the premiers.""

Insightful as ever, Chantal Hebert in the Star points out that the Tory hold on power may not be as secure as it looks. She notes that a Liberal-NDP coalition could present a viable alternative:

"If the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc agree with the Conservatives on anything, it is the fact that the country is in no mood to return to the polls anytime soon. But the Tories would be fools to assume that automatically gives them as much breathing room as current conventional wisdom has it.

As they ponder how much of their agenda they can safely move forward, the ministers appointed today should never lose sight of the fact that there actually is a potential alternative government sitting across from them...........

"If it came to an early showdown between the opposition and the incoming government, the Liberals and the NDP have enough members between them to cobble together a coalition and offer it up as a replacement.

"That would be a momentous turn of events. It would still leave Canada with a minority government — although one tilted to the left rather than the right — and it could not, of course, happen without the consent of the Bloc Québécois.

"There was a time when Gilles Duceppe would have gone out of his way to ensure the survival of a non-Liberal government, but that was before Stephen Harper emerged as the biggest threat not only to the Bloc's supremacy in Quebec but to the entire sovereignist agenda.......

"And so, given the smallest excuse, Duceppe could have a strong incentive to co-operate in the installation of a different government."


Anonymous said...

Jeff Simpson makes a good point.There is a definite provincial tilt to the Harper cabinet. This has implications for how he will deal with the question of federal and provincial roles. Let's hope that in addressing the so-called fiscal imbalance he doesn't give away the store with the candy.

Anonymous said...

Chantal Hebert's observations about a potential Liberal/NDP alliance offering themselves up as an alternative to an early election cannot be discounted. The BQ has a lot to lose if the conservatives make substantial gains in Quebec in the next election. This will influence how they behave in the first year of this Parliament.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous said...

Harper has squandered a lot of goodwill with these cabinet appointments. The Emerson flip-flop in particular stinks to high heaven.Let's hope that the training session at Meech Lake knocks some sense into all their heads.

Anonymous said...

There is a great risk that Harper will end up as a headwaiter to the provinces even if he doesn't intend so. Just look at the composition of his Cabinet!

Anonymous said...

You're right. Harper should have looked this gift horse in the mouth and turned it away.