Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Playing the hand that's dealt you

He could have gone another way. He could have assigned the International Trade/Vancouver Olympic portfolio and the Public Works portfolio to other people. He could have spared himself a major headache, but had he done, Harper would have a very different, and more difficult problem.

Right now Harper's problem is simple optics "You criticised Belinda and the Liberals and now you've done it yourself" and "what about 'elected' and 'accountable' -- where's the change and integrity you promised?"

I'm a partisan blogger, but I've said before, the only people I love unconditionally are my kids. The Conservatives have to earn my goodwill, it won't be bestowed without question. There are other conservative minded bloggers supporting Harper despite his having made these questionable appointments -- and who upon reflection -- have decided they support the appointments themselves. With this post, I rank myself among them.

A minority government is tricky. A minority government in which you have no natural ally in parliament is even trickier. A minority government where the three major urban centres have no representatives in the House--almost too much. Harper could maneouver the first two by making compromises and bending a little, but the third -- no representation within three major urban centres -- nothing was going to change that anytime soon. Harper and his advisors have come up with a creative solution. It isn't perfect, but its workable. Both appointments have precedents. Both men have solid credentials.

The Belinda/Emerson comparison doesn't wash. Belinda was recruited/sought inducements at a time when a precarious government hovered on the brink of falling. Her walk across the floor ensured that a festering sore of a government would live on. It was a cynical power grasping move by Martin and the Liberals. Her move changed the course of political history. The irony is that had she not crossed, and had there been an election then, Martin might well have won the majority he coveted. The country was so caught up in the 'let government work' mantra, they might have punished the opposition Conservatives and Bloc for bringing down a parliament that was 'trying'.
Anyway . . .

Emerson's move hasn't happened in the same context. The government will not live or die based on Emerson's decision to join the Conservatives. Anyone making the comparison might consider that Harper had absolutely nothing to gain and a considerable amount to lose by making this move. He risked the wrath of his own caucus, the cynicism of the media and the scepticism of the public in order to have Emerson in Cabinet.

International Trade would have done well with any number of stong Conservative MPs, and the Vancouver Olympics could have been overseen by James Moore or Jay Hill. Harper didn't need Emerson's 'talents' when the Tory bench is already so strong. What Harper needed was an astute and capable person in Vancouver. He didn't have one. That was the hand that was dealt him, so he reached outside his caucus, outside his party -- it was a gutsy move. Vancouver will benefit from Emerson being on the government side of the House -- might sound like spin, but it also happens to be accurate.

Fortier's appointment is more difficult. Harper had five Quebec MPs who weren't chosen for Cabinet but could have overseen Montreal, and Public Works could have gone to the capable Diane Albonzy or any number of others. I suspect that those in Quebec who didn't make Cabinet, were surprised at having been elected at all. It's unlikely that any of these people could have shouldered the responsibility of overseeing the interests of Montreal while learning to be an effective MP. Circumventing the electoral process and appointing Fortier a Senator is a backward way to achieve the desired outcome -- a solid seat in Cabinet for Montreal. It's a backward way -- but given that the front door was closed, it was this way or the door would remain closed.

Accusations that Fortier won't be accountable because he won't take questions in the House are specious. The portfolio will be covered in the House -- perhaps even more diligently because the Minister isn't there. Not only will this Ministry be under scrutiny because of the attention it received from the Auditor General and the Gomery Inquiry -- an absentee minister will only sharpen the focus on Public Works -- could it be that's what Harper both expects and wants?

Reaction to these two appointments has run the gamit. In Toronto editorials chide Harper for the roundabout way he included Vancouver and Montreal in Cabinet, while simultaneously lamenting that no similar move was made to include Toronto. Their thinking seems to be -- it's a bad thing, but it might be better if he'd done the same for us. And they claim Harper has lost credibility?

Harper is very aware of the importance of cities to both the country, and to a hoped-for future majority government. My guess is that he knows that despite having been heavy with Cabinet Ministers under many a Liberal regime, Toronto has been under-served. Having received litte benefit from our Cabinet seats in the past, Torontonians will likely be willing to forgive the lack of seat if we see improved representation. Those who believe that we can't be represented from outside the city need only to look at City Council to remind themselves how we are served from within.

This is one of those 'wait and see' times. To my mind, the Conservatives have managed to justify the unjustifiable. But they won't get my goodwill a second time for this sort of questionable judgement call. They had better find a way to live up to their promises while not having to explain the route they took. The more you have to explain your actions, the more suspicious they become. Straightforward is best -- and that's what I'm looking for from this point on.

A lot of people have the button on their blogs: "I Support the Conservative Party and its Leader Stephen Harper" It isn't just your integrity at stake Mr. Prime Minister, it's ours.



BBS said...

Well said. For those that are currently supporting Stephen's decision, many have miscontrued their intentions. I acknowledge that the optics are bad but hopefully the results will be good. I'm with you on the "you must earn my trust" theme. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt this time and adopt a wait and see attitude. I may endorse this move for my own personal reasons, but people should not interpet that as blanket endorsement for anything and everything that the CPC government does.

Jason Monteith said...

Agreed. People are hugely over-reacting to these moves in cabinet. I do have to admit that these moves are not ideal… the optics are not good for sure. But Harper is showing me that he’s more concerned with governing Canada in the best way rather than ensuring the optics always look pretty. He’s not afraid to make the tough decisions. That’s why Harper will make a good PM.

Anonymous said...

"What Harper needed was an astute and capable person in Vancouver. He didn't have one. That was the hand that was dealt him, so he reached outside his caucus, outside his party -- it was a gutsy move. Vancouver will benefit from Emerson being on the government side of the House -- might sound like spin, but it also happens to be accurate."

And what about the 20,064 people in Vancouver East who voted Liberal? Not only that, they did so knowing the national tide was turning to the Tories.

Interesting on how the how the old Reformers in Harper's caucus seem less than comfortable with this Liberal-style politicking than some other Tories.

"In Toronto editorials chide Harper for the roundabout way he included Vancouver and Montreal in Cabinet, while simultaneously lamenting that no similar move was made to include Toronto. Their thinking seems to be -- it's a bad thing, but it might be better if he'd done the same for us. And they claim Harper has lost credibility?"

Here's all the Star editorial said: "Yet Harper saw no compelling need to name a minister from Toronto, the biggest city."

It went on to say:

"In opposition, Harper castigated Belinda Stronach for crossing the floor, calling it a betrayal of the voters' trust. And he argued senators should be elected, not appointed. Yesterday's appointments leave a whiff of cynicism, even hypocrisy, hanging in the air."

Harper did all those things the editorial notes. To me, that damages his credibility. A lot of Tory bloggers have been, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about Harper's moves.

"The Belinda/Emerson comparison doesn't wash. Belinda was recruited/sought inducements at a time when a precarious government hovered on the brink of falling."

About two weeks before she actually crossed, Harper got into a screaming match with Stronach over her defence of some items in the Liberal budget. He told her she'd never be party leader (apparently, she likes to be included in everything while Harper prefers low-maintenance types).

To me, that says at least as much about Harper's people skills as it does about Stronach's purported opportunism.

Emerson switched two weeks after being re-elected as a Liberal, after defending his party's policies, after attacking the Tories -- and after saying he was going to be "Stephen Harper's worst nightmare."

Now as to Harper's strategic acumen, luring Emerson over is a good move -- especially when you factor out the wishes of the constituents of Vancouver East, who voted to send a Liberal MP to Ottawa (the component parts of that riding, which has existed since 1997, has always supported NDP or Liberal MPs). The Conservative finished third.

If Harper was hoping to impress people as a man of principle, why not make Emerson submit himself to a byelection and have his adoring constituents ratify his switch?

You may argue that's not how big-league politics is played, and you'd probably be right. But some naive souls who voted Tory thought they were supporting a party that would do things differently.

All this reminds me of Brian Mulroney, who savaged John Turner over patronage in the 1984 election and then went on to make 1,300 patronage appointments in his first year in office.

Mr. Harper seems to be learning at the feet of the master.

Anonymous said...

All this reminds me of Brian Mulroney, who savaged John Turner over patronage in the 1984 election and then went on to make 1,300 patronage appointments in his first year in office.

Wouldn't patronage be to appoint an alberta MP, rather than a LIBERAL?

Jim said...

Back at the time of the Stronach defection, Harper was asked by the CBC whether he would ban floor crosing. He said he would not because that would give too much power to party leaders and MPs needed to be able to follow their consciences. Recruiting Emerson may be a mistake in the long run but Harper, at least, is consistent.

BBS said...

anonymous01:28:10 AM, a rather long-winded, rambling way of saying not much at all.

As I've said before, the ironic thing is that Harper's decision may very well lead to a law banning or restricting floor crossings, and that law would have a good chance of passing due to Harper's policy of free votes on all things not a vote of confidence.

Nicol DuMoulin said...


I also support Harper and thinkthere has been a vast over-reaction on the part of many.

Nevertheless, that is because right now Harper has my benefit of the doubt and I know that he has a much bigger plan.

I f this keeps happening..I'll reconsider.

Anonymous said...

"Wouldn't patronage be to appoint an alberta MP, rather than a LIBERAL?"

And actually, since Harper also appointed a Conservative campaign co-chair who couldn't be bothered to run for election to the Senate so he could put him in cabinet to "represent" a place where he couldn't elect even one MP, that would be patronage.

In any event, the point wasn't patronage per se, it was hypocrisy.

Harper may have said he wouldn't ban floor-crossing, but I suspect he was thinking ahead to the fact he wouldn't be able to win a clear majority.

But if he truly believes that politicians should rule with the consent of the governed, Harper should have Mr. Emerson run in a byelection to see if his constituents really do want a Tory representing them -- considering they had voted Liberal two weeks before.

Peter Thurley said...

Canadi-anna, thank you for expressing cautious optimism at best and not reverting into the rah rah rah that any of my conservative friends and other BT'ers have done. Not surprisingly, I think they were moves that betrayed the public trust. It was a clever way to bring the cities into the picture, but, while not illegal, these appointments of an elected Liberal and an unelected co-chairman of the campaign (think of what would happen is Karl Rove had any sort of unelected but meant to be elected seat in the USA?) seem to fly in the face of democracy.

i was not a fan of Belinda crossing the floor. I similarily am not a fan of Emerson crossing the floor. A by-election ought to be held if due accountibility to constituents is to be had.

I hope this doesn't blow up in Harper's face. For me, who, having come to grips with the fact that Harper is Prime Minister had started to be optimistic about a new face and a new Canada, have once again started to wonder whether it is even possible NOT to be corrupt as a politician.

Anonymous said...

It is too early to start harping on Harper. I couldn't care what demographics are or are not within Cabinet, as long as it governs in a fashion worthy of my support. My view is that Stephen Harper will be one of our greatest Prime Ministers, or one of our last. I would prefer the former.

CuriosityKilledTheCat 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...

I think appointing a minister from outside of parliament is more common than it's made out to be. This link should tell you more ...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, here's the link again:

'Peg City Kid said...

Harper is a hypocrite, His whole campaign was run on the principle of integrity.

Now he does this, already. He's been PM for 2 days and he's already gone against his platform.

Not only that, but his need to appoint an un-elected minister to the cabinet AND senate as well as approaching an elected Liberal prove, without a doubt, how inexperienced this cabinet will be.

And just for the kick if it, three quotes from Harper.

"We don't go out of our way to romance MPs to get them to cross the floor. Liberals will do anything to win.

"We are trying to create a principled party where people act in a principled way, and obviously we're fairly cautious about encouraging party jumping, because that's the kind of thing that generates cynicism.

"And frankly, when someone jumps, once you're not sure you can trust them the next time, so I would always handle that with an extraordinary degree of caution."

I'd like to say I didn't see it coming, but whatever.

Candace said...

I'm with you on the "wait & see" C.

People are forgetting some important things here. "Poor James Moore" who didn't get cabinet seat is Parliamentary Secretary for DPW. He'll be the one taking questions in the House, I'll bet, and I'll also bet he's not complaining too loud or too long.

Emerson ran because PMPM asked him to. Then PMPM lost the election & bailed on the party. Then the Dinwall payment came to light. Maybe Emerson was feeling a bit betrayed himself?

Whatever. I'll sit back & watch to see what happens.

I also wonder if this story doesn't have legs because the CPC caucus & cabinet aren't leaking anything to the MSM? Seen any unidentified CPC sources in a Taber article lately?

Canadi-anna said...

Peg -- your three quotes tend to show that Harper did proceed with caution -- he knew the risks and took them. None of those quote show him to believe that crossing the floor is unethical, simply that it's risky.
Do you think he just loved David Emerson? Or that he wanted to put one over on Liberals? Come on.

The degree of risk involved here in a minority parliament would not be worth it for sheer mercenary reasons.

There is nothing unprincipled about head-hunting. It's done when you know there is a job that needs to be done and no one in place to do it. Geography was the key factor, not experience.

And as for 'inexperience' does that mean that there was no one qualified to handle Transport in that big, smart Liberal Party so they HAD to have Lapierre, no one to do Health, so they HAD to have Dosanjj? No one to handle the Ministry of Complex Files -- so they HAD to have Belinda?

Get real. If experience was the only factor in determining who would form government and who would be a minister, there would never be any change in government.

Tim said...

Well Canadianna, I don't agree with you this time. To me this is pragmatism over principle. I am more of the old Reform mindset. What we see at work in this instance is all about power, power, power. I'm not naive. I realise a party must be in power in order to effect change, but at what cost? Sorry, I'm tired of this. I wish the Conservatives well but this looks to me like the same old song and dance. I hope I'm wrong.

valiantmauz said...

You know, I'd actually sipped the Kool-Aid.

Just a sip, but I actually thought that the CPC and Harper were sincere in their intention to "clean up Ottawa". Who knows, maybe they still are.

And yes, there were political justifications for wooing David Emerson and appointing Michael Fortier to the Senate.

There is less justification for appointing a defense industry lobbyist as Minister of Defense.

Here's my problem - over 80% of the voters in Emerson's riding voted Liberal or NDP. Mr. Emerson's defection is an affront to the wishes of an overwhelming majority of his constituents, who clearly wanted centre-left or left representation in Parliament.

And they now have a demonstrably venal Tory turncoat of a Cabinet Minister.

What exactly do our votes mean if they can be dismissed with such insolence?

I didn't like it when Stronach crossed the floor, and I don't like this, either.

Democratic Reform, my ass.

TrustOnlyMulder said...

You have been quiet lately Canadianna, but when you let loose, you really let loose. nice post. I think it showed a ton of guts to invite a Liberal into Cabinet. But with 103 as MPs being Liberal and only Tories in the Cabinet, the floor crossing had to be done.

If Harper wanted to really give the Liberals a slap back for Belinda he could have given HRDC to McKay!!

'Peg City Kid said...

My point wasn't to say Harper is unethical, although severely ethically confused, yes.

He berates Belinda for crossing the floor, now here he is courting MP from the Libs. Come on Canadianna.

"Do you think he just loved David Emerson? Or that he wanted to put one over on Liberals? Come on."

The issue is the size of the cabinet. It's small, not hard to fill with MP's elected by their constituents considering how many were elected.

So I don't know Canadianna, You explain it to me. Why did he go to a liberal? There are high experienced people in his party that didn't get a portfolio.

Doesn’t really seem like move by a worthy political figure.

Canadi-anna said...

Peg -- Geography. Emerson has a wealth of experience and he represents a Vancouver riding.
None of his other MPs filled both qualifications.
The only other MP close by was James Moore who is a great MP, but he is so talented and fluently bilingual, that his talent and language skills would have been wasted here.
Moore has been made parliamentary secretary for Fortier, who being in the Senate won't be answering questions in the House. He's really bright and he will be able to field questions in both official languages, so Harper put him where he was most needed.
No doubt there are other MPs who deserved and would have been capable of handling a cabinet role, but none of them were Vancouver MPs.
And Peg, there is a difference between what Emerson did and what Belinda did. Belinda switched sides on the eve of a confidence vote and changed the outcome. She tipped the balance of power.

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