Introspect this -

Introspect this


Silly questions, the latest in a lifelong series of them.

Are we past the point where it’s okay/acceptable/advantageous for politicians to be publicly introspective? Was it ever okay/acceptable/advantageous for politicians to be publicly introspective? Or is Mr. Harper particularly stubborn in his refusal to introspect as such? (Or, well, are we actually to take his refusal as evidence that he truly believes he has lived up to the finest standards of national leadership over the past two months?)

Watch, as the editor of this magazine asks the Prime Minister to participate in a little public introspection. See, how it takes four questions to get a sideways reference to something that might be considered a concession of some such.

Q: Over the last couple of months, through the formation of the coalition and proroguing of Parliament, what was the experience like for you? What did you learn from all of that?

A: Well, you know, in a sense it hasn’t changed the government’s plans. The plan was to pursue a budget as early as we could, early in January, and that’s what we’re going to do. I can say it’s been an interesting time—obviously there’s been a change in the opposition leadership as a consequence and so, you know, my great hope is it will lead us to some greater knowledge of what it is the opposition’s actually seeking in terms of public policy. We obviously have significant economic challenges in the country, we’re consulting widely on what should be in the budget, and what may be interesting out of all this is if we actually get some idea from the opposition what their economic priorities are.


Q: I asked you about what you learned through the month of the coalition and all that excitement. Aside from what the opposition’s up to and what the opposition wants, what about the way you guys handled things? Are you happy with everything you did?

A: Well, you know, my own judgment is that what we really saw there was a continuation of a pattern we saw prior to the election—part of what led me to call the election—and during the election was the increasing opposition-for-the-sake-of-opposition approach of the other parties, and their increasing willingness to work together to do that. I think that reached a crescendo, and now I think they’ll obviously have to make some decisions: you know, are they serious in providing the government with their input on the economy? If they are, obviously we will take those things into account. If not, they’ll make their own judgments about how to go. I mean, our focus will be on what we think is best for the economy.

Q: But you don’t think you made a mistake or you mishandled your relations with the opposition?

A: Well, I think it’s always the right of the government to pursue what it believes is in the public interest. There were some measures—particularly the political subsidy measure—the opposition parties disagree with, but the government listened, and the government has decided to go [with] a freeze instead of an elimination. But make no mistake, the government believes that the elimination of these subsidies has to be done eventually, that that’s in the public interest.

Q: So it’s good policy but the timing is a political mistake?

A: Well, I guess that’s a conclusion you have to reach because we withdrew it. That said, it’s still the right policy, widely supported by Canadians.

Full interview here.

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Introspect this

  1. I don’t often agree with the dictum ‘never apologize, never explain’ but pols seem to think it’s useful.

  2. If you really want an answer to the question you pose try a thought experiment imagine Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien all being asked the same question … what do you think the answers would be?

    • Now *that* is an interview I’d love to read/watch. It’s sad that we all have such a hard time getting past our hyperpartisan opinions (myself included) because that sort of conversation would be fascinating!

  3. I think introspection by a pol can make a powerful impression, humanizing the pol and demonstrating depth on both the political and policy front.

    Harper’s hyperpartisan approach and his policy thrashings make it damn near impossible for him to be introspective. It also makes it damn near impossible for opposition leaders to be introspective, since anything they say can and will be twisted and used against them.

    Look to the US to see the effect on honest, transparent communications.

    This isn’t necessarily new to Canada, but I think it’s a new low.

  4. I don’t think Mr. Whyte was seeking public introspection ( at least as I understand the word ) so much as a public admission of error. Good luck with that. If that were ever to come, it would be through ” anonymous sources ” with scads of plausible deniability.

  5. As though we can expect any politican, of any political stripe, to provide anything other than politically expedient public introspection. See Ignatieff, Michael “Getting Iraq Wrong” NYT Magazine, August 5, 2007

    • Good point.

  6. Where is the evidence of Harper’s view that sticking it to his political enemies by removing their funding is “widely supported”?

    Is there a poll to that effect that anyone can cite? Just curious as to why he keeps saying this.

    • If he says it enough times, it will become the truth.

    • cam,

      This article written by David Akin during The Madness references a poll showing 61% support for eliminating the $1.95 public subsidy of political parties. I suspect this is may be the source of Harper’s statement of broad public support.

  7. I cannot give any references but I am almost certain that he used to be a lot more introspective and honest in his interviews in the past, even after becoming Prime Minister.

    If anything we can at least admire his ability to spew truthiness with a straight face.

  8. I’ve always that Paul Martin tearing his clothes in shame and going all mea culpa ove the sponsorship deal was a big part of his demise. Harper rode that like it had no tomorrow. I somehow imagined that Chretien would have stuck with ‘yeah, some money might have been lost, it was bad but we’ve fixed it / it was worth it / get over it / etc’ and retained a much higher voteability factor in the eyes of the public.

    • not as endorsement of the strategy, but as an assessment of its likelihood and effectiveness, i have almost zero doubt.

      for political theatre’s sake, i would love to see Chretien v Harper. and my sense is that JC would make SH look silly.

  9. I wish the line of questioning had continued — But Mr Harper, why withdraw it if you believe it’s in the best interests of Canadians?

    Oh, merely for your own political survival? Thank you, sir.

  10. Michael, good example with Paul Martin, he oftened became quite introspective in public but I think it was because he was so bad at being “truthy”. Remember when Belinda Stronach switched teams? Martin couldn’t even keep a straight face when he made “truthy” statements and the press gallery laughed in his face.

    • Actually, in the middle of denying the obvious political bribery in the Stronach affair, in symphonic harmony with the press gallery’s guffaws, PMPM blurted out “I can count!”

      PM denies, Press laughs with a surprise burst of prime minesterial candour. Repeat it often enough, maybe make it a round, add a little orchestration, and you’ve got your next performance at the taxpayer-subsidized concert-hall-for-rich-people. Jazz it up, if you like, for afficionado Wells.