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.