A portrait of Canada's political culture (Part 2) - Macleans.ca

A portrait of Canada’s political culture (Part 2)

Andrew Coyne on Harper’s motives in the Doer appointment


090828_doerWhen Manitoba premier Gary Doer announced his retirement, there was much admiring commentary to the effect that he had chosen his own time to retire, gone out on his own terms, quit at the top of his game, etc. Indeed, Doer had been the first to praise himself in this regard, in that endearingly unaware way politicians have. Many people in politics stay too long, he mused.

Well it’s pretty easy to pick your own time to retire when some wealthy benefactor has prepared a soft landing for you. In Doer’s case, the wealthy benefactor is the government of Canada (Stephen Harper, prop.), and the landing is in Washington, DC, as Canada’s ambassador — among the juiciest patronage plums in the Prime Minister’s dispensary.

Some will interpret Doer’s appointment as a distraction, an attempt to change the subject from a particularly smell batch of Senate appointments. After all, isn’t Doer a card-carrying New Democrat? No patronage there!

Except… Doer is also the NDP’s biggest political asset in Manitoba, a wildly popular three-term premier who could very likely win a fourth term if he so desired. So long as Doer remained premier — and he gave no indication until yesterday that he was about to step down — the opposition Conservatives, led by Hugh McFadyen, had little hope of winning. But now? I’d say all bets are off.

So by smoothing Doer’s exit, Harper not only increases the likelihood of a Conservative premier coming to power in Manitoba, but one who would be very much in his debt.

But perhaps that consideration did not occur to him.


A portrait of Canada’s political culture (Part 2)

  1. Plus, Gary Doer would be enough to make the NDP a viable political threat federally, particularly if he brought along his party machine and skilled operators from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to push out the grey haired flakes the NDP have now.

  2. er, that the NDP have now at the federal level.

  3. I thought the problem with the NDP was the green-haired flakes from Halifax and Toronto.

  4. I dunno AC. You would know better than I. But, suppose a PC gov't was elected in Manitoba as a result of this. So what? How will being beholden to Harper really matter? You lost me there.

  5. Doer can never be a federal party leader because he speaks no French. End of story. I don't think Harper gives a hoot about what this means for the next Manitoba provincial election in 2011 – by then there is almost no chance that Harper will be PM of Canada anymore anyways.

    • Good point. I wasn't aware that he spoke no French.

      • He doesn't have to be leader to be an influential force in federal politics.

        There could also be time to work on his french while he is ambassador, even if there isn't any way he could find time to organize and intrude federally.

        Of course, this could be the result of a genuine affection between Harper and Doer. The men might have spoken with each other a time or two and developed a rapport. Perhaps Doer approached Harper rather than the other way around. It is all guesswork really.

    • I like that you said 'by then there is almost no chance that Harper will be PM of Canada anymore anyways' – couldn't agree more

  6. Harper appoints Conservatives, and it's derisive howls of "patronage". Harper appoints a New Democrat and we already have the derisive howls of "just trying to stack the deck for the Conservatives".

    Seems like he's damned if he does, damned if he don't.

    (Not that I in any sense favour appointing political flunkies of any stripe – anybody on top of the political game tends not to get there by individual merit. Wouldn't it be lovely if a government could appoint respected experts instead of party flacks and illiterate hockey coaches? But, then, this isn't Shangri-la.)

    • Lord Bob, were there any particular names that you would have liked to see on the list?

  7. Once again,

    Harper's playing chess, while…..ahhh you know the rest.

  8. "almost no chance Harper [will be PM]"

    You'd think that after three successive elections of steadily increasing seat totals, folks would stop writing Harper off.

    • They haven't stopped writing Layton off under the exact same circumstance–why would you expect anything different when it comes to Harper?

  9. Andrew, for a moment there I thought you were talking about Harper, not Mackenzie King. Pardon my ignorance.

  10. The 61 year old Gary Doer is no spring chicken, but there's still a chance he could return to the political scene following his service as ambassador. He might make a good candidate to replace Layton as NDP leader.

    • Why do you rubes persist. Layton isn't going anywhere and none of you would vote NDP even if Jesus returned to lead the party.

      • Agreed in full. (Though I admit it would be tough voting against Jesus, especially if he happened to be in my riding, with his name right on the ballot and all.)

        • Yeah, but is he "Canadian" enough?

        • We've finally found a scenario which would allow the NDP to break out of fourth place!

  11. But perhaps that consideration did not occur to him.


  12. The problem with AC's analysis is that the Manitoba PCs and McFadyen have proven themselves so thoroughly inept and incompetent that the NDP would have to elect a real dud as leader or really shoot themselves in the foot in order for the Tories to have a fighting chance. The Tories have had opening after opening to do some real damage and they can't seem to make any headway. Their party grassroots are non-existent, they have no ground game, McFadyen's office is amateur hour and they've got a bunch of 14-year-olds running the backrooms.

    All bets are off? Hardly. The NDP are still odds-on favourites to win, Doer or no Doer.

  13. The Manitoba PC's "can't seem to make any headway".

    The alternative view, is that notwithstanding some pretty major scandals, the press was wholly disinterested in taking down a leader they adored.

    Most Manitobans were never served up Doer on a platter by the press that many other national leaders are. Many legitimate complaints/concerns raised by the PC's – some extremely serious – were often portrayed as the standard complaints of an out-of-power opposition.

    We'll see with the new leader whether that will continue.

    • I disagree. Just read the editorial pages of the Free Press and the Sun (particularly the latter). They are hardly fawning toadies for Doer and the NDP.

      In fact, I would argue that the reason why the Crocus scandal, Rebate-Gate, etc got the attention they did was because of media coverage and investigation. In fact, in the case of Crocus, John Loewen and Stu Murray were told by senior Tories and others with influence in the party to back off. Cling to the myth of a fawning press if you must, but the reality is that the Tories' communications and research operators are hopeless.

  14. "So by smoothing Doer's exit, Harper not only increases the likelihood of a Conservative premier coming to power in Manitoba, but one who would be very much in his debt. But perhaps that consideration did not occur to him."

    In the famous words of Madame le Pompadour, "Après moi, le déluge."

  15. You're over-thinking this one Andrew. It is just a matter of fortuitous timing for both Doer and Harper. Harper gets a qualified ambassador to the US, and gets the media gushing over his "non-partisan" appointment. "Changing the channel" as they say. Doer, who wanted to quit anyway, gets to spend winters in Washington DC instead of Winnipeg. They both win.

    Hughie McFayden? He's about as big a factor in Harper's decision as he was in the last MB election.

  16. Andrew there is one other item that may have bben overlooked by the latest brilliant move by Harper : maybe he just likes the guy and figures he would make the best Ambassador for canada that he could think of. See Occams Razor

  17. I was under the impression that if he ever ran for Federal office he would as a Liberal? (BTW I am not a liberal supporter, just curious about this. Either way he will have influence any where he goes.

  18. " gave no indication until yesterday that he was about to step down"

    Indication #1. 2 years ago he personally intervened to prevent Manitoba Hydro from putting a transmission line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. It made both development oriented aboriginal leaders (who want an all weather road) and MB Hydro unhappy (will cost more) unhappy. Talked about it as a legacy for Manitobans and resisted criticism from all but environmentalists.

    Indication # 2. Moratorium on hog barns, also announced in this term. NDP was an active in the stupid subsidy of unsustainable factory farming, but got off the wagon to much criticism two years ago.

    Indication number 3: Rumours/private discussions for weeks about a cabinet shuffle because of the ministers who plan to retire before the next election.

    I was surprised he announced it so soon, but am unsurprised he isn't going to be leading the party into the election.

    It's mean-spirited to portray his decision as being inspired by this appointment. The timing was influenced by the appointment, but he was never going to run again. Maybe you're too Ottawa-centric to notice. He did his bit and even his opponents in Manitoba admit that.

  19. Nah… I think Doer made this move because his long term goal is to be PM. The Ambassador gig, by its very nature, is a temporary one. I think Doer is gonna pull a Bob Rae and turn his back on the NDP by throwing his hat in an upcoming LPC leadership bid.

    • Ding , ding , ding ……… we have a winner .

  20. Easy on the "wildly popular" Mr. Coyne. Doer was poised to go down last election before his opposite number promised to bring back the Jets.

    • Bwa ha ha ha! That's a good one!