February 8, 2006

Near the end of my January 5 column I said that if the Harper Party managed to form the next government, it would spend so much time in damage control mode that it would have no time to govern. At the time, I thought the government benches would at least be warm before the first disaster struck, but I misjudged Stephen Harper’s propensity for self-immolation.

Before the first Throne Speech is delivered, Canada’s new prime minister has managed to destroy his own credibility, infuriate his own MPs, and negate his party’s moral authority to govern. This startling three-fold flame-out is not the result of a simple misjudgment; it represents a fundamental failure of character, and for a man who sanctimoniously prated on about the Liberals’ lack of ethics and how his party was going to revitalize Canadian democracy, this disaster is irreparable.

As recently as Dec. 14, 2005, Harper declared: “We need sweeping reforms to show Canadians that their national government will not tolerate corruption in the future. Cleaning up corruption and restoring accountability is the first step. We also need to vigorously pursue other measures to put Canada back in the forefront of democratic practice.”

Two elements of this plan for democratic reform include establishing a federal process for electing Senators, and requiring that a party’s local candidate has the approval of the constituency association.

Harper is a vigorous detractor of Canada's Senate because it is an appointed body, and he has condemned the Liberal practice of bringing in outside big-name candidates to carry the party banner in ridings where they have no history with the electorate or support among the constituency association. By appointing Michel Fortier and David Emerson to cabinet, Harper deliberately betrayed both principles.

Fortier was Harper's campaign chairman, and Harper appointed him to the Senate just so he could make him Minister of Public Works and Government Services. (Oooh, can you spell “cronyism?” Knew you could.) Emerson is/was an elected Liberal from Vancouver–Kingsway whom Harper invited to cross the floor to become Minister of International Trade inter alia.

All things being equal, the Fortier appointment should not be considered an outrage. In 1962, Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker appointed Malcolm Wallace McCutcheon to the Senate so he could become Minister of Trade and Commerce. According to tradition, political outsiders must be appointed to the Senate to sit in Cabinet or run in a byelection as soon as possible.

But things aren't equal. McCutcheon was an outsider who had had no political experience. Fortier is a long-time party apparatchik who should have had the courage to stand for election. Second, Diefenbaker didn’t run on a holier-than-thou platform of “democratic reform.” Many people supported Harper because of his contempt for the appointed Senate and his pledge to turn it into an elected assembly. Now they see that Harper would rather betray this principle so that he could appoint Fortier rather than select one of his 123 elected MPs.

Harper defended both the Fortier and Emerson appointments claiming that he needed to have government representation in Canada's biggest cities, but that’s a rationalization not an explanation. The lack of big-city MPs is entirely due to the fact that educated, urban voters overwhelmingly rejected Harper’s parochial brand of government.

Second, what does it say about Harper’s faith in his caucus. Long-serving Harper Party MPs like Diane Ablonczy and Jay Hill were passed over in favour of, um… “parachute” ministers. They and other MPs are justifiably furious that Harper would embrace the very practices the party condemned.

Of the two above-mentioned appointments, Emerson’s is clearly the most hypocritical. Last May, when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberal government, Harper Party MP Tony Abbott said she “whored herself out for power.” Emerson didn’t?! Here is a man who didn’t even wait until Parliament began sitting before accepting Harper’s offer, yet had the gall to say he “absolutely” would have stayed a Liberal if the party held on to power. Seems this political mercenary thinks himself too good to sit on the Opposition benches.

Thus, it came to pass that the man who declared in January that he wanted to be Harper’s “worst nightmare” overnight chose to become Harper’s wet dream.

Even if the Emerson/Fortier scandals hadn’t happened, Harper's Cabinet is hardly a model of ethical transparency.

Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness)—Day is a delusional Christian zealot and Israel ass-kisser who spent much of his time as foreign affairs critic denouncing the Martin government for not being an echo chamber for Israeli aggression. For Day, Palestinian resistance fighters against Israel’s illegal Occupation are “terrorists,” but not so the Israeli military, which enforces the Occupation and commits daily acts of genocide as defined by Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Count on Day to continue being a gormless cheerleader for the anti-Arab “war on terrorism.”

Also of note: when Day was an Alberta MLA, he was also was found guilty of libel for gratuitously impugning the character of a Red Deer lawyer. He billed the Alberta taxpayers for $750,000 in legal fees to fight a $60,000 judgment.

Vic Toews (Minister of Justice)—Last year, this former Manitoba attorney-general, pleaded guilty to breaking the Manitoba election law by overspending in the 1999 provincial election campaign. Like Harper, he opposes same-sex marriage and wants a free vote in the House to determine if MPs want to revisit the issue, even though overturning this law would be grossly unconstitutional.

Gordon O’Connor (Minister of Defence)—A retired Brigadier-General, O’Connor was a defence industry lobbyist before entering politics. Harper said he is opposed to cabinet ministers becoming lobbyists, but not lobbyists becoming cabinet ministers. A=B, but not B=A.

Canadian voters are a generally forgiving lot, but when they feel their trust has been betrayed they take their anger out on the ballot box; hence, Harper’s Party of the Damned can only mark time until the inevitable non-confidence motion forces the Governor–General to call another election or invites the Liberals to form a government. Given recent events and the fact that the sum of Liberal and NDP seats is greater than the Harper Party’s, this would be the more likely scenario.

I wonder, then, what would happen to Emerson. He can’t run again in Vancouver–Kingsway, which means he’d have to be parachuted—there’s that word again—into a safe Harper Party riding, perhaps over the democratic wishes of the local consituency association. Even if he should win, he’d end up in Opposition because the odds of the Liberal Party taking him back are nil. Ah, the price of hubris!

When all this is over, the Liberals will be back in power and the reign of Stephen Harper will be remembered as nothing more than a fart in Canada’s political winds of change.