Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Things Harper Hasn't Quite Grasped Yet

Stephen Harper has a serious problem. Instead of a honeymoon, with either the Canadian flock of press pundits or the Canadian public, he's standing out in the open with his fly down and his head cocked. He can't seem to fathom that the label coming for his head is attached to a large piece of ash wood and reads "Louisville Slugger".

Part way through the last election there was a general feeling in this country that we didn't need another election for some time to come. The life-expectancy of the Conservative government is estimated to be anywhere from 18 months to three years. I would suggest that if a poll were taken right now, those numbers would drop significantly.

Harper, who has formed a government with 36.3% of the popular vote from a 61% voter turnout, (which means he has less than 22% support of the Canadian voting population), is behaving as though he swept the country on January 23rd. He wasn't Prime Minister for more than 15 minutes when the bombshells began to drop and they seriously irritated most Canadians.

Perhaps Harper felt as though Canadians would bristle briefly over his surprise cabinet selections and then forget all about it. He dismissed the widespread anger now being expressed as "superficial criticism".

"I expected some of the superficial criticism I've seen," Harper told the Vancouver Sun in an interview.
The telling word in that line is "some". He didn't expect a wave of disbelief and outrage, and there's a good bet that he totally miscalculated the reaction of the constituents of Vancouver-Kingsway who are busy demanding David Emerson return all the campaign funding he received and have started a petition to recall Emerson. Attempting to write off criticism as superficial is dangerous at the least. The criticism runs deep and insulting all those critics as "superficial" will only garner more criticism.

Something he should keep in mind about Emerson. If he'll do it with you; he'll do it to you.

Harper, in explaining his choices provides little in the way of reasons short of empty platitudes:

"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," Harper said. "I think I was clear what I did and why I did it."
Really?!! Shorter Harper: Canadians are too stupid to understand so I won't waste my time. In any case, he might have been able to soothe the feelings of Emerson's constituents and didn't bother. The appointment of Fortier, who couldn't be bothered with an election, cannot be explained away. It flies in the face of parliamentary democracy. In any case, it goes in politics that if you have to explain it, it's already a problem and it's already lost.

Of course there is now the incredible discontent in his own party. Some Conservative MPs are hesitant to return to their ridings knowing they will have to explain Harper's actions to stalwart party supporters as well as those who voted with some misgivings about Harper and his "past" tendencies. Add to this a number of Conservative MPs who might have expected cabinet appointments and didn't get them. Things are going to take some time to settle down, particularly since that scab will be picked at for some time to come.

Harper has another problem: provincial premiers. Despite his pledges to trash deals made by the previous Liberal government, provincial premiers aren't likely to buy it. If he had taken over with a majority or even a stronger minority, he might have been able to get away with it. Not so now. Most premiers view Harper as having very little political traction and a government hanging on the edge of an abyss. Where the premiers might have made a lot of noise and been powerless to stop any plans Harper had for early child-care agreements, they are in a position to simply overpower him. It will turn Ottawa-bashing into a whole new sport, and the provinces have the power-play.

So, no honeymoon for Stephen. Without a single piece of policy, he has managed to find the dark side of federal politics and anger the average Canadian. The opposition needs to get to work. Harper's campaign was rigidly scripted. Now he has to think on his feet and his judgement is clearly lacking.

This government should be brought down at the earliest opportunity.

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