Mr. Harper is not pleased

Recent incidents suggest a marked and sudden tightening of discipline on the government benches


Sean Kilpatrick/CP Images

Let us connect the dots. I think it’s been a damned interesting week.

It ends, or nearly, with the Chief Government Whip and designated general-purpose government hardass Gordon O’Connor shutting down a Conservative private member’s motion on abortion, or something distantly related to a motion about the circumstances within which a debate about abortion might arise (readers are invited to parse the fine print themselves.) Earlier the prime minister had said it was “unfortunate” that a parliamentary committee even deemed the thing votable, but it was, and it proceeds. But when the Chief Government Whip speaks in specific detail about his problems with a motion, the word should be considered to be out: the government has a strong preference that members not support it.

This comes a couple of days after Bev Oda, caught swanning around the finer orange-juice vendors of the old Commonwealth capital, was made to pay up, stand up and fess up in Question Period. Sure, other ministers have covered for her since. But the clip on TV will be Oda apologizing “unreservedly” for her own high living.

Taken together the two incidents suggest a marked and sudden tightening of discipline on the government benches. Of course, discipline is never perfect, and it was Harper himself who let slip a perfect illustration of Godwin’s law when he answered NDP questions about his intentions for Afghanistan with claims about the NDP and Hitler.

“Okay, CCF, same difference,” he said when corrected. Kind of sloppy there, big guy.

I’m struck, incidentally, by one of the more innocuous bits of his answer on Afghanistan: “Unlike the NDP we are not going to ideologically have a position regardless of circumstances.” Two things about that. First, having a position regardless of circumstances was precisely what Harper did on Afghanistan from 2008 until Remembrance Week in 2010. He was going to pull troops out in 2011 and that was that, and if Hillary Clinton herself came to town to ask for that plan to change, she was out of luck, because Stephen Harper had a position regardless of circumstances. A position which changed, making him look a bit goofy.

Second thing. “Unlike the NDP.” Harper is certain to keep portraying the NDP as the only bunch of witless ideologues in sight. In quiet moments Conservative strategists say that, if they ever tire of whacking Bob Rae, they will seek to portray the NDP as either extremist or incompetent. And indeed the newest feature on the Conservative party website is about “Mr. Mulcair’s NDP Team.

But in the Commons, it is not the NDP who have been looking like circus geeks. Tom Mulcair reads his questions from his little wooden lectern. Unlike generations of Liberals, he almost never yells up a lung in Question Period. Peggy Nash, same story. Paul Dewar, probably more methodical now than a year ago. Finally this week a New Democrat confirmed to me that this is strategy, and it is designed precisely to blunt the expected Conservative attack to the effect that only Conservatives are fit to be let near the good china. The New Democrats want to put restraint, method and diligence in their own column.

When I used to ask the Liberals, when they were the Official Opposition, why they didn’t calm down a bit in QP, they would complain that gesticulating was the only way to get on the news. And indeed the calmer New Democrats are not getting a lot of space on the news. What is getting space is Bev Oda’s global OJ adventure, Stephen Harper’s 70-year digressions, and private members’ bills that seem inspired by the Danielle Smith playbook of political success. Which may explain why the NDP does not begrudge the government its time in the spotlight.

The sharply reduced tolerance at Langevin Block for Oda’s expense account, once it became public, and the clear signal of disapproval for Stephen Woodworth’s motion, suggests Harper is realizing he is no longer facing the ineffectual histrionics the Liberals threw at him for five years. One suspects we’ll be seeing further steps to restore the internal discipline of the Conservatives’ first few years in office. One telling detail was that when O’Connor spoke tonight, he read from notes on a desk-mounted wooden lectern. Just like Tom Mulcair.




Mr. Harper is not pleased

  1. Exactly. Watching the clip of QP on question period today I thought it was telling that Harper got all huffy after the third question, and even given the juicy Hitler flub by Harper, Mulcair only seized on it to show distain, but without blowing his top. The very mild applause by CPC MPs when Harper gave his abortion answer was also notable.
    I think Harper’s main problem now is that he wants to shuffle his cabinet but while he has the numbers, he really doesn’t have the quality of potential cabinet ministers that he would like. Anyone he selects will not be seen as really any higher calibre than the top performers on the opposition side.

    • I’ve mentioned this before, but I think there’s also the minute Bev Oda feels slighted she threatens to call a press conference and say she was told directly by Harper to forge documents reversing the funding decision on kairos. She’s shown she can be kept quiet, but she’ll need to be kept happy, too.

    • I honestly think Harper has purposely selected Cabinet Ministers more for their ability to tow the line and even bully/lie though their teeth to protect their comrades than for any intelligence.

      • “toe the line”, actually.

    • Yes – and that’s because they aren’t! In fact, not one of them comes close. Look at his ministers…. Duncan, Fast, Fantino, McKay, DelMastro, Toews, Oda, Raitt, Ambrose … I mean, really! If these are the best he can do, he needs to leave now! and allow a party with integrity, intelligence, loyalty to Canada/Canadians, and at least a little honesty – to govern, not dictate!

  2. Might be a good time to start up those Access to Information requests on the number of chairs needing to be purchased for the offices in the House of Commons.

  3. That Alberta election was a real wake-up call for Harper. Arrogance, bullying and a breathtaking sense of entitlement threatened to topple the dynasty. Sound familiar?

    Danielle Smith had a similar wake up call the morning after the election. Can’t ignore those cracks in the wall.

    As for the Hitler remark, it’s real easy to add a tacky black mustache to Harper’s mugshot. Have to start doing that, now that our Prime Minister has made it fashionable.

    • Good Idea !!! I’ll do that too.

  4. Paul, perhaps, like this current PM, you don’t mingle with the ‘great unwashed’ much, but these past couple of months I have been hearing more and more outright hatred for this group of people who were elected to represent ALL of us. I don’t ever recall hearing so much overt and spoken-out-loud venom for a Prime Minister and his cabinet as I have heard recently about this one. They most assuredly have lost the moral authority to govern us and to represent Canada. they have become a national shame and an international embarassmetn.

    • Maybe you only hang out with people who are already ideologically predisposed to dislike conservatives.

      • So you’re saying Guest shows good taste and good judgement? ;-)

        • zing!

      • Or, maybe he hangs out with people that are ideologically predisposed to dislike politicians who compare their opposition to pedophiles and Nazi sympathizers.

    • They’ve lost moral authority because haters hate and are effective at getting press? If you don’t “recall hearing so much overt and spoken-out-loud venom for a Prime Minister and his cabinet as [you] have heard recently about this one,” you must be too young to have witnessed the same thing aimed at Brian Mulroney. Hatred disqualifies the haters more than the hated.

      • The outrage is the result of outrageous behaviour. I know the concept is sometimes lost on CPC supporters, but in a democracy, when the government acts in a manner counter to the views of a large (often a majority of) the population, instead of just “disqualifying” them from having a voice, they perhaps should listen – or at least make better attempts to win people over – rather than stonewalling us and insulting our intelligence, or calling us pedophiles.

    • I guess you haven’t heard the talk about P. Trudeau

  5. Ah, the NDP have yelled for years as well.

    But, the years of power are showing on the gov’t.

    THAT is the difference.

    • Whiskey, the Conservatives are by far the most disruptive during Question Period. What you hear may sound like angry yelling, but it is in fact necessary to raise one’s voice to be heard over the hooting and cat calls and yes, the insults, coming from the government side. You, as a member of the public, get it through a microphone situated near the member, but often MPs do not wear the earpiece unless they are expecting simultrans. So it is necessary to raise one’s voice just to be heard.

  6. Harper Cons are going to have to up their game now they are facing another ideologue party because they are going to start having to defend their policies. Libs are technocrats, they don’t believe in ideas, and that’s why they can only behave like fishwives. I expect our national debates to improve considerably over the next couple of years now we have two parties dedicated to policies and ideas.

    Canadian MPs are servile, they don’t really give their leaders any problems at all. Sure, there is an occasional minor outburst but nothing that’s difficult to deal with because our MPs are utterly fawning.

    In the UK, Con MP Nadine Dorries said this about her own leader a few days ago while being interviewed by BBC: “Unfortunately, I think that not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime”

    None of our MPs have as much gumption as Ms Dorries, it is pathetic.

    • “I expect our national debates to improve considerably over the next couple of years”

      Except that one particularly thin skinned PM would rather resort to Hitler taunts than engage in any real discourse.

      The good ship Toxic sails on.

    • “Libs are technocrats, they don’t believe in ideas, and that’s why they can only behave like fishwives”

      Even for you that’s monumentally stupid.

    • Nadine’s carrying a bit of baggage of the kind that shows she thinks it’s all about her and only about her.
      She’s not really a good example of a “friend of the average person.” It appears that she’ll chuck anyone under the bus if it suits.



    • Clicked you up. Let’s keep a sense of humour guys.

  8. Agreed, Harper had some great discipline in the first several years in office. I will say that it’s a bit facile to say the Liberals were ineffectual and that the NDP are more effective now. Circumstance was very different for the Liberals when first in office as official opposition and for the NDP as official opposition now……and it’s only been a few months. IF you recall, the Harper discipline was indeed in lockstep and the media hadn’t yet accumulated a raft of faults yet to create a narrative with…..And I am still surprised that the media thinks for a moment that the Conservatives are going to attack the NDP with the same venom or the same vault of money they did with the Liberals….hasn’t anyone read Rove?

    • True to a point. The NDP are getting to pick the flowers the liberals chucked every which way.
      But that’s life. My question to the LPC – what are you going to do about it? Employ you last brilliant plan, wait for the NDP to do a face plant or collapse like the tories did?
      The LPC has forgotten the value of having a strategy and following it.

  9. Could it be that with the news media finally reporting the facts, not just the harper talking points, that harper is beginning to realize that his power to control the message isn’t what he thought it was?

    • Well of course he’s realizing it! The dishonesty of harper as well as his mp’s is so very obvious! It can’t be hidden any longer, regardless how much he wishes it could be. Regarding this private members bill – harper could have quashed it BEFORE it was put to a vote… he chose not to. That in itself should tell all that it was really his own idea, loaded onto the shoulders of a backbencher – it’s called ‘testing the waters’.. and the backbencher be damned! That’s his way.

  10. Liberals are at 20% and they still think the same old hyperventilating will be of any benefit? Give the NDP credit for seeing the obvious: nobody liked the hyperventilating. It didn’t work. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the Liberals are not seen as credible anymore.

  11. Harper cracking down on his party’s potential for “bozo eruptions”. Wonder if Rob Anders will be contesting the next election, though he is as well known for his noctural as well as bozo escapades.

    The Alberta election demonstrated that it is not always all about the leader, but how the leader reacts to situations. Interesting though that the Prime Minister seemed to be channeling Rob Anders in his Hitler response to the NDP. Irrelevant and wrong.

  12. I’m not a NDP supporter, but must give credit where credit is due: the NDP’s strategy of seeming cool, calm, and collected (and, even objective?!?!?) is one that would resonate with a lot of non-partisan voters.

    Having said that, will be interesting to see if Mulcair can keep his cool when the inevitable attack ads on his French citizenship arise – especially when one of them is bound to feature Layton’s criticism of Dion’s French citizenship (which Dion later renounced).

    And then there’s Pat Martin …

  13. Harper knows full well that most of the CCF M.P.s supported Canada’s entry into WWII. J.S. Woodsworth was opposed because he knew the terrible toll of WWI on Canadian soldiers and their families. He suffered a stroke the night before he made his speech opposing the war, and his wife wrote out his script on cue cards in inch-high letters because he could barely see. Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who had more class than anyone on the government benches now, objected when a few backbench Conservatives tried to heckle Woodsworth, saying: “There are few men in this Parliament for whom I have greater respect than the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. I admire him in my heart, because time and again he has had the courage to say what lays on his conscience, regardless of what the world might think of him. A man of that calibre is an ornament to any Parliament.” I cannot imagine Prime Minister Harper or his ministers making similar comments today.

    • Great post. From a history lover.

    • Well said. One can only hope that one of Mr. Harper’s aids will relay this comment to him and by a miracle of God, Mr. harper will take note…maybe even show a more honourable side and recognize the talent that lies with the opposition parties.

    • J.S. Woodsworth reminds me of my grandfather. Ten years ago, he was against Canada going to Afghanistan, because he had fought in WWII, and had seen firsthand the horrors of war. He was a career soldier, and fiercely proud of what they had done over in Europe, but nonetheless he opposed the Afghan war because he did not want Canadians of my generation to suffer as had Canadians of his generations. Is Harper going to accuse my grandfather, the WWII veteran who served in this country’s military for almost 30 years, of being a Nazi sympathizer, just because he happens to think that war is a horrible thing?

  14. I think one of the interesting things about attaining government power in the form of a majority, is that now the government must demonstrate to its base that it is both aware of their existence and actively listening to their concerns. The expectations are greater now, as the patience and caution requested while the government is seeking power is now wearing thin.

    What Alberta and the Wildrose has potentially demonstrated, is that there are and continue to be many conservatively minded citizens/voters who actively believe that certain things (like abortion for instance) are inherently and morally wrong. These people are not only those residents of Alberta, but I would argue exist everywhere else in Canada. To ignore this populace, in my opinion, would be a strategic error on the part of the Conservatives. By allowing a platform for a debate on the debate, the super social con base is partially satisfied that at least their representatives are trying to do something about the state of the law.

    It is no secret that the inherent difficulty in federal politics lies in its wide and diverse base. As this week may have demonstrated, the government may be finding it difficult to blanket the variety of issues now being presented. A re-assessment of its recent practices, as Paul writes, may be due. One which can acknowledge that the playing field is now entirely different from the one striving for power.

    Obtaining power is one thing, but it is prudent to acknowledge that a partially satisfied voter is better than a dissatisfied one.

  15. The Northern Foundation party of 1989, is Harper’s true party. Harper is a fine one to call anyone else a fan of Hitler. They said Harper’s Northern Foundation Party, was organized by the skinheads. Most Canadians do not like dictators, and Harper has stepped way over the line.

    Other country’s, are right fed up with Harper’s bullying and his hissy fits, when he doesn’t get his own way. Another Common Wealth country’s media wrote, how badly Harper is destroying Democracy in Canada. Our Civil Rights and Liberties, are a joke in this country.

    Harper and MacKay have lied about the costs of the F-35, right from day one. Harper and his so called Conservatives, are the only ones being investigated for, election fraud and the robo-calls. Harper also campaigned over a Calgary radio station, right on election day, that too is election fraud. However, Harper in his huge arrogance, breaks the laws at his own discretion.

    The outrageous expense accounts of the Conservatives, are right out of control. We are fed up with Harper giving billions of our tax dollars to, banks, mines, and oil and gas corporations. He also gives them huge tax reductions. This was seen on the House of Commons TV channel. Harper now, does his dastardly deeds, behind closed doors…as he now does every day. A transparent government??? That will be the joke of the century.


    • Get a good deal on those commas? You, sprinkled, far, too, many, throughout, your, comment.

    • whats this talk about skinheads????!

  16. The NDP approach has merit, apart from having more dignity than screaming press seeking liberals. In advanced team sports, when players are all at a certain skill level, wins are mostly pulled by playing your positions properly until the opposition makes a mistake on which you capitalize to score more points. The scribe’s dig at Danielle Smith’s ‘playbook of political success’ was gratuitous. She succeeded in snagging a lot of seats for a nubey. The voter shift was away from perceived cronyism and pay for non-meeting committees; and Albertans threw a lot of good weight behind that check and balance. Like Harper did, she’ll sharpen her political correctness with experience. How else do new politicians learn but on the back of errors (spoken by others)? No one would go into politics if they continued to be the recipient of backhanded snipes like that one. It was a message to the PC’s that nest lining is being duly noted.

    • Yes.. a lot of good weight.. after all, if half of Redford’s caucus doesn’t show up, she might even lose a vote. Maybe.

      • 20% of the seats is still 20% no matter which aisle one sits on. Shrugs.

        • Yup. And still means somewhere between jack and squat the way that the legislature is run.

  17. I for one am entirely pleased that Mr. Harper is not happy.
    Perhaps he should realize that politics is not his forte and get out.

  18. the hon(?) steve and his cohorts are endlessly tiresome

  19. #%ck him. He is a liar and a thief. I’m voting CPC next time. Enough right wing retards already. They will be crushed next election. Unless this was april fools year.

  20. If Harper had any brains or balls, he’d throw Oda to the back benches. The issue of corruption in Goverment comes up at every election, and no-one does anything but bitch about it. A little action on the Prime Ministers part would show that someone actually listens to the people of the country. Limos on standby… what a crock. Take a freakin’ cab. Why do the people of Canada have to keep forking out so that so-called representitives can live a life of luxury. And the excuse that other politicians of the world will look down on ours if they don’t live like the rich and famous is bullshit. The people of other countries need to reign in the spending of their politicians too. In this age of internet and skype, why can’t politicians use video conferencing, and save us the expenses of their travel to luxurious spots, eating foods the rest of us can’t afford, and sight seeing places the rest of us will never see. “See the world, get voted to office”. It doesn’t seem to be just federal, either. City councillors travel the world to see how others live. How about staying home and living like the rest of us.

  21. Liberals have only themselves to blame… they have become a private elite group who believed that they were entitled to do whatever they liked. Strange the ruling Conservatives have also adopted that perspective.

  22. Thomas Mulcair spent 4 years as one of the shrillest, most mean-spirited people in the House. He was called “Layton’s pit bull”. Now he’s the epitome of calm in the House? What a farce. And the attempt to compare today’s Mulcair with yesterday’s Liberals is lazy and cheap. It seems the press’ memory is no less short than the electorate’s.