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Can the Prime Minister be prime-ministerial?


 

Consider two statements made a day apart by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In the House on Wednesday, he characterized Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s decision to form a coalition with the NDP, supported by the Bloc Québécois, in these words: “This not a plan to improve the economy. It is a plan to destroy this country, which is why he should withdraw his proposal.”

Outside Rideau Hall on Thursday, having secured his government seven weeks’ reprieve when the Governor General accepted his request to suspend Parliament, Harper described the task at hand: “Today’s decision will give us an opportunity, I’m talking about all the parties, to focus on the economy and work together.”

How do you get from accusing your main adversary of setting out to “destroy this country” to “working together”?

Politicians say harsh things about their opponents all the time. Those of us who take delight in Parliament tend to kind of like it, sort of the way hockey fans enjoy watching the hits.

But just as a cross-check from behind into the boards never looks anything but ugly, hearing a prime minister accuse a devoted federalist of setting out to “destroy the country” takes the fun out of it. You wince. You think, this game isn’t what it used to be.

Harper’s willingness to talk trash is more than a side issue in the current situation. His own future depends largely on how prime-ministerial he sounds between now and when the House sits again on Jan. 26.

“The public is very frustrated with the situation in Parliament, and we are responsible for that,” he said outside Rideau Hall in the falling snow. “We are all responsible for that.”

If he meant all parliamentarians, he’s wrong. I know MPs in all parties who would never have accused their rivals of plotting Canada’s destruction. And many would never have attempted the partisan point-scoring Harper tried to sneak into last week’s economic update, which started this whole mess.

Yet he is more than capable of building support behind what he sets out to accomplish. (He did it to create the party he now leads.) Having pretty much destroyed any chance of restoring a decent working relationship with the other parties on Parliament Hill, he must seek allies elsewhere now, perhaps mainly in provincial governments.

His cabinet ministers have been instructed to work hard at strengthening ties with their provincial counterpoints. And of course Harper has called a key meeting with the premiers on the economy for Jan. 16.

It will be with the premiers that he must show off his conciliatory, team-player, nation-builder side—his best hope for looking like a prime minister who doesn’t deserve to be defeated later that month. The good news for Tories is that the other Harper, the guy who sounds off in QP, isn’t likely to be much on display as long as the House is prorogued.


 

Can the Prime Minister be prime-ministerial?

  1. Breaking: New polls show huge Tory gains:
    Ipsos: CPC 46, LPC 23, NDP 13, BQ 9, GPC 8
    Ekos: CPC 44, LPC 24, NDP 15, BQ 9, GPC 8
    Compas: 72% biz leaders see worse economy under Dion coalition

    He’s the most popular politician in this country right now. Bring it on baby, bring it on.

  2. Which, some might argue, has been part of the plan all along. Continually reduce the size, scope, stature and relevance of the federal government in this country, and hand everything left to the Premiers. Clever. Parizeau, Manning and even Mulroney would all be proud…

  3. I find Harpers action deplorable, He lies about everything Calling his fellow house members
    traitors, goes beyond the pale He should be replaced This is not Canadian Canada is better than that
    This us just plain wrong To hang on to power at any price after you caused the mess with no apology
    is disgusting. We have an economic crices now thanks to Harper we have a mess with Quebec as well
    If Quebec wants to leave because of all the names he called them in the house we will have Harper to
    thank. I seems the only thing thats important to him is his ego and his total power. He has no feelings
    for Canada his comments on Ont, and newfoundland are truly appaling God help canada now

  4. Acer: “He’s the most popular politician in this country right now.”

    Which is why polls asking if he should step down as leader invariably show everyone but Alberta believing so. Simply put: you’re confusing the party with the man.

  5. The cons will come back in January with the Sweetest Budget Ever. Money for you and for me. At that point, there’s no point in dropping them — keep them in minority, and wait for something else to vote them down on. There will be other opportunities. Perhaps wait for the new Liberal leader. Perhaps move that up a couple of months, and forget the whole convention idea.

    There’s this new thing called the internet and it can be quite effective in bringing people together.

  6. Ideologies aside, the coalition aside – everything else put aside for a moment…. it seems pretty clear to me that Stephen Harper is in WAY over his head. Even his defenders seem more prone to pointing out the faults of his opponents (which are numerous), than to explaining any core virtues or strengths he may possess.

    I don’t think history will be kind to him.

  7. Mr. Harper is quite likely the worst Prime Minister this country has had. He is petty, arrogant, and decidedly un-statesman like. What a shame!!

  8. Harper is now a rogue Prime Minister who is governing without the confidence of the House through abuse of Parliamentary procedure. Not Jean’s fault, I would say, but this is a dark day for Canada.

  9. Toast!
    Harper’s tray stayed down so long he is totally blackened!
    Polls asking about the other three parties individually are useful in only one respect – you add the opposition parties numbers – and they total 51%!! Eat that Harper!
    I look at polls by EKOS Compass and IPSOS and say – bring on Nik Nanos please – I want to see real (unbiased) numbers! These are mere propaganda!
    If you Bots haven’t got the message yet – it will be Harper vs. all the rest come January 26th – and Sweater boy is about to be run over in the stampede to get his smell out of the place!

  10. Can he act like an honourable Prime Minister? For the sake of Canada, I wish he would. But there is very little evidence that that will be the case. There has been far too much acrimony and when you add in the incitement of hatred it’s gone too far over the edge.

    I’m sad, heartbroken really, about this whole mess. I think the Governor General made the wrong choice, but it is done and I’m sure it must have been agonizing to have to make it.

    As for the person who suggested the Cons would hand out a lot more money – wouldn’t that be exactly what Cons accuse Liberals of?

  11. Harper only needs 11 MP’s from another Party to pass legislation….He doesn’t need cooperation or bridge building exercises…he just needs 11 MP’s who will work with him. That’s what I heard in a clip at CTV. It didn’t sound like anything was learned. Harper will read those numbers and think himself god. He do it all again; things will get much worse.

  12. Harper doesn’t need to work with Dion, and Layton will fill the role of the official opposition until the Liberals get their act together.

    He needs to work with Duceppe, and there’s no reason why that can’t work. All this talk of revived separatism is nonsense.

    Quebec will get what it needs from the Conservatives and the Liberals and NDP will be shut out as they deserve to be.

  13. “He needs to work with Duceppe, and there’s no reason why that can’t work.”

    There is no way he can work with the Bloc at this point.

  14. “Harper is now a rogue Prime Minister ”

    So I suppose if on supports him, that makes one . . . wait for it . . . . pro-rogue?

    Let the groaning begin

  15. Can we start a list of MPs who should form their own coalition of the sensible? Michael Chong and Glen Pearson to start. Paul Dewar too? Hey maybe we could be like sports nerds and have fantasy cabinets!! Bill Casey! Even partisans with sense could join – Dianne Ablonczy anyone? Any others?

  16. That’s pretty funny, mtl_dude!

  17. >Politicians say harsh things about their opponents all the time.

    Yes, they do. Some of them even authorize messages which portray their opponents as people one step away from putting the police and army in the streets.

  18. “There is no way he can work with the Bloc at this point.”

    Please explain why. Are they so sensitive that they will shy away from his terrible rhetoric? Surely they would rather negotiate a stimulus package for Quebec than go through the inconvenience of another election.

    The Liberals and the NDP are now irrelevant. This simplifies matters considerably.

  19. Words to live by …… ” I heard on a clip at CTV “.

  20. Thanks Jack . . . . I’m surprised I haven’t seen that so far

    I’ll have to show that to my wife . . . for the better part of 20 yrs she has detested my lame puns & word-association jokes. Of course the fact someone on a political nerd blog liked it will probably reinforce her point.

  21. Everbody go give the bloc hugs Harper called them sepratist. If the bloc does not like it, time to drop the ruse and stop blackmailing canada…

  22. All this talk of working with the Opposition overlooks the fact that Parliament is now broken. What we saw these past few days went beyond partisan bickering and political rhetoric. It has now become personal. What we saw was naked hate and aggression, prompted and fed by Stevie. That, as this article has noted is NOT what we should expect of our leaders, and certainly not our Prime Minister. It also betrays some of our fundamental core values as a people, a nation, of tolerance, of compromise, and of compassion. Harper displays none of these qualities, and for that reason alone should do the honourable thing and step. Sadly, this he will never do as he is simply too arrogant and self serving.

  23. Oh yes, it’s so broken. Canada has never been through such a crisis? Give me a break. The show will go on.

  24. “Polls asking about the other three parties individually are useful in only one respect – you add the opposition parties numbers – and they total 51%!! Eat that Harper!”

    1. 51% will not translate into a majority of seats when split among 3 parties.
    2. If you poll people on Conservatives vs. Coalition it is 47-34.
    3. What ever happened to the 62% majority?
    4. So you implicitly accept the argument that governments must not only have a majority of seats, but legitimacy in the form of the support of the people? Thanks. Guess what, your coalition doesn’t have that support.

    As to Harper being gracious – why would he be gracious? Being a partisan asshole got him far, when the Liberals backed down on everything. In a minority, the credibility of going to an election over everything is necessary to get bills passed, especially in an adversarial westminster system where opposition parties often vote against things because they come from the government.

    That said, I think Harper got an important lesson. For the first time in his career, he feared for his job (not just PM, but Conservative leader). He learned that if provoked, the opposition can unite against him. He was saved by Dion’s sheer incompetence, but I think he knows that he got lucky. It wasn’t 100% luck – his response to the crisis was well-managed.
    1. He changed the conversation from the merits of the fiscal update to the composition of the coalition.
    2. He used the anti-Meech model for his opposition to the legitimacy of the coalition.
    3. He realized that even if public opinion didn’t affect the governor-general, it could break the resolve of a coalition where the largest member is in a leadership race. It also blew wide open the initial sense (and I felt it too) that the coalition’s victory was a fait accompli.
    4. He pushed for an unprecedented prorogation of parliament and got it, vastly increasing the chances of his survival.
    5. He immediately compromised on public sector strikes and the subsidy for parties – the most divisive elements of the plan.
    6. He had the best house of commons performances I have ever seen from him; no gaffes; and at least an adequate prime ministerial address (it could have been better, but whatever).

  25. Canada has been held hostage by Quebec for years. Here we go again?

    As a semi right winger, I am somewhat relieved by the GG’s decision. But, this does set precedent, and isn’t our system broken enough? I hope Mr. Harper uses this all to revamp the system. ELECT A SENATE ! Instead of a Mexican Beach Holiday club for Liberals.

    It is clear. The regionalism in Canada deems that either every province has its own separatist party or we loosen things federally and become a loose association of provinces.

  26. hosertohoosier: very well put

    “As to Harper being gracious – why would he be gracious? Being a partisan asshole got him far, when the Liberals backed down on everything. In a minority, the credibility of going to an election over everything is necessary to get bills passed, especially in an adversarial westminster system where opposition parties often vote against things because they come from the government.

    That said, I think Harper got an important lesson. For the first time in his career, he feared for his job (not just PM, but Conservative leader). He learned that if provoked, the opposition can unite against him. He was saved by Dion’s sheer incompetence, but I think he knows that he got lucky. It wasn’t 100% luck – his response to the crisis was well-managed.”

  27. There is no reason for Harper to back down in the New Year. If anything, he will be more incendiary and divisive in his comments unless there is a credible opposition. Even if a credible Liberal leader is chosen who might unite the coalition in May, the party finances of the opposition will be in such a shambles that they won’t want to do it. It will be in Harper’s interest to ride the wave and provoke an election by June.

    The main obstacle in his path is finding 10 or so supporters (regardless of whether they are the corrupt- eg Karygiannis- or the principled) in the next 6 or so months.

    It shouldn’t be a problem. This is awful for the country and for Parliament. By December 2009, we will have a new Conservative majority, and will have been sideswiped without leadership for over a year.

  28. Harper has become Chretien. So much for doing things differently.

  29. Interesting that the poll doesn’t really ask who thinks the opposition should support the F.U. & keep government going. The question seems to be, “Do you prefer the coalition or having no government whatsoever for two months in the worst economic crisis in 50 years?” The poll suggests we favour not having a government at all. Are we learning anarchist?

  30. Out of a population of over 30 million, why on earth can’t we find just one person that has what it takes to be a decent prime minister.

  31. Remarkable. Layton is caught red handed in secret deals with the BQ and it’s Harper who is to blame. And just on a point of logic (should that not be too infra dig) there is nothing inconsistent in asking Dion to stop doing X and be willing to work together if he will do Y.

  32. Remarkable. Working together with people with differing viewpoints is considered to be almost a crime by conservative supporters. And while there’s nothing inconsistent in the question Ken proposes, he of course misses the salient point of accusing a person of attempting to destroy Canada on one hand, and saying you’re willing to work together on the other. It’s wasn’t just a case of “asking to stop doing X” and only ignorants or partisan hacks refusing to acknowledge reality would think so.

    At a certain point I understand Ti-guy’s frustration. The freedom that a good portion of the right seems to claim to lie, dissemble, and use legalese to avoid the real meaning of things is astounding. What is more astounding is how heavily they attempt to villify anybody else who might move toward those same techniques.

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