The Commons: ‘It gets to the point of being tragic’

When historians take stock of Harper’s life and times, they will certainly find better moments than this


There is perhaps nothing more crushing for the proud man than another man’s pity.

“It gets to the point of being tragic,” Jack Layton moaned the other day, sounding more than a little sad, “that the Prime Minister will make promises that he has no intention of keeping. Can the Prime Minister tell us which of the promises that he made in yesterday’s budget … he plans on breaking in the months to come?”

Stephen Harper, understandably a bit hesitant to prognosticate these days, didn’t have much of an answer for this one. Which is getting to be an identifiable trend.

Though clearly not the best of times for this Prime Minister, it’s probably a bit premature to declare this the worst of situations. For now let us merely say that when historians take stock of Mr. Harper’s life and times, they will certainly find better moments than this.

Having defined himself a month earlier as a bit of a scaredy cat, Mr. Harper reemerged this week for what one of his aides deemed no less than “one of the most important budgets in Canadian history.” After unprecedented consultation and consideration, we were told, Mr. Harper and his team had devised an unprecedented plan for unprecedented action in these unprecedented times. Billions would be spent on highways and hockey arenas. Jobs would be saved, the vulnerable sheltered, a shovel in every acre. Trains would not merely run on time, but, in fact, arrive ahead of schedule.

No doubt Mr. Harper awoke Wednesday morning quite surprised to find Canadians not rejoicing in the streets.

Indeed, reaction to date has varied wildly—from shrugs of resignation to apoplectic screams of indignation. Those who want less from this Prime Minister are outnumbered only by those who want more. Those who dismiss the federal budget as a failure are outnumbered only by those who view it as merely pointless. Those who question the Prime Minister’s budget as a way of solving the country’s economic problems now include no less than the University of Calgary professor who oversaw Mr. Harper’s master thesis in economics.

As expected, Danny Williams is fuming on Newfoundland’s behalf and Jean Charest is frustrated for Quebec, but equally unimpressed is Brad Wall, the boyish and conservative Premier of Saskatchewan. Less than 24 hours after the budget was tabled, the International Monetary Fund downgraded Canada’s economy and rendered moot much of Jim Flaherty’s work.

And if the prospect of haplessly presiding over financial apocalypse wasn’t worrisome enough, here came Michael Ignatieff, the notably confident opposition leader, vowing to put Mr. Harper on “probation.” Mr. Harper, Mr. Ignatieff explained, would answer to him from here on. The talk now is of having the Prime Minister on a leash, our duly elected leader reduced to a family pet for the new couple at Stornoway.

With few other options, Mr. Harper’s staff has devoted considerable effort to stage-managing a series of photo-ops to more flatter his efforts. Unfortunately their ham-handed efforts and the Prime Minister’s own unfamiliarity with a nail gun have only reinforced the image of a man whose political skills are no match for the sorts of realities that generally demand a different kind of leadership.

No wonder Mr. Harper seems a bit down these days.

This day, for instance, he seemed less feisty than frustrated—shaking his head and muttering as a Liberal disparaged his government’s support for scientific research, banging his forehead with his fist as a New Democrat lectured him about U.S. trade policy. There must seem no end to his troubles.

Setting aside this government’s budget, Michael Ignatieff rose first and called the Prime Minister to account for the protectionist measures included in new American legislation. Next, Mr. Ignatieff wondered whether the government might be preparing to fail the ailing auto sector.

The Bloc Quebecois were upset with plans to establish a national securities regulator. The New Democrats were steamed about a perceived lack of attention to pay equity and, as if Mr. Harper does not already have enough to worry about, this Prime Minister’s steadfast refusal to become Barack Obama.

“Mr. Speaker, it is a sad contrast. Look at what is happening in the White House today,” sighed Jack Layton. “The very first bill being signed by President Obama makes it easier for women to pursue pay equity and it allows them to sue employers for pay discrimination, something the Conservative government wants to take away.”

Mr. Harper’s answers were mostly perfunctory, a word that would equally describe the applause he received from a caucus that rose to cheer him a mere three times this day. Generally speaking, the excitement in this place is inversely proportional to the seriousness of the discussion, but the government side does seem very much to be wearing this economic slide. Indeed, even the Prime Minister’s stylist seems to be struggling, dressing him this day in a particularly garish tie (bright red with multi-coloured diagonal stripes).

Only once did Mr. Harper rouse himself to the tenor of those dramatic days in December when he was the nation’s only hope against socialists and separatist revolutionaries.

Mr. Layton had just finished his ode to the righteousness of the new American president and so challenged, the Prime Minister felt obliged to respond in kind.

“Mr. Speaker, I will tell the House what the only sad contrast is around here these days,” Mr. Harper began, his voicing rising with the syllable. “It is the leader of the NDP, who a month ago was prepared to support the mission in Afghanistan, prepared to support corporate tax cuts, prepared to support development of the oil sands, and now wants to go back and try to pretend he is a left wing ideologue all over again. It is his problem. He made his bed. He can sleep in it.”

His team jumped to its feet. And no doubt it sounded good at the time. Though one was left to wonder whether Mr. Harper was declaring himself a better socialist than the NDP leader or dismissing the dire socialist threat he warned us of just a month ago.

Dizziness is getting to be a theme around here.


The Commons: ‘It gets to the point of being tragic’

    • Well at least he scoops. I hate those owners who don’t.

  1. The prime minister is a petulant sort of fellow, and I can’t see him wearing this for any length of time. He does seem to want power at any cost, but he’s sure to cut and run — and get real ugly in the process — once it’s apparent he may very well lose the minority government he clings to so dearly.

    He has a history of quitting when feeling unloved and challenged. He’ll take everyone around him down.

    And I’m really glad to see Brad Wall finally challenge Harper — so much for the 13/14 conservative MPs in SK — their support means nothing to the conservative government. Ironic to think the lone Liberal, Ralph Goodale, has more strength and influence in opposition than Ritz or Lukiwski have in government. I hope Brad’s dismissal of the budget shines a light on the SK conservative MP’s inadequacies. It’s about time.

    • This is a little out of character for Brad Wall. He’s not a Danny Williams — Wall is more of a keep-your-head-down, no-news-is-good-news type whose approach to governing actually involves more governing than politicking. This isn’t his first public gripe against Harper.

      The difference between Wall & Harper is that Wall knows he’s a little too thin-skinned for the job he’s in & tries to deal with it. (That and he actually had a lot of senior administrative experience before going into politics . . .) While Wall keeps a fairly tight control on government communications through the Premier’s office, he actually lets his ministers do their jobs themselves.

      The Sask Party combined out of the old provincial PC & Liberal parties & aren’t very much to the right of centre. Policy-wise, they’re closer to the federal Liberals than to the CPC, and have already been pretty aggressive in using oil-boom money for paying down debt & rebuilding infrastructure.

      I suggest the rest of Canadian conservatives take a good look at the Sask Party. They campaigned against a seasoned, experienced “natural governing party” which, which hadn’t made any serious gaffes, but even a lot of their supporters felt had been in power too long. They’d fought & lost the previous election on ideology. In the last election, they chose a leader (Wall) who was short on ideology & personality but had a proven track record in economic development, and won. They haven’t tried to shift the political landscape, but they manage to make conservatism look competent.

      Or you could choose a doughy ideological policy wonk with zero job experience who wins a minority by playing opposition parties against each other, but in the meantime, totally pissing off over half the electorate.

      It’s your choice. If you want to convince people you’re business-friendly & economically responsible, show me some candidates with a track record. I can tear any ideology apart: the real world is too messy to hold up to any ideology. Show me some competence. The Liberals used to have it, until Paul Martin drove it out of the party in his quest for personal power. The Bloc have it, mixed in with their various agendas. The NDP don’t totally lack it. I’ll take a competent administration and a well-implemented policy I moderately disagree with over over a badly implemented good policy any day.

      Short version of above: Shovel-ready policy is good. Shovel-worthy ideology is bad.

      • “I’ll take a competent administration and a well-implemented policy I moderately disagree with over over a badly implemented good policy any day.”


  2. More fact-free media.

    Angus-Reid has 50% approval of the budget, with 31% disapproving. In a 5-party system where you only need 40% for a majority those are excellent numbers. Moreover, at least some of those disapprovers are fiscal conservatives that will vote Conservative anyway (the “government is doing too much” crowd).

    • Yikes. Fiscal conservatives will vote Conservative anyway, given this budget? Scary thing is it’s probably true. But I just don’t understand how Conservatives get away with talking the fiscal conservative talk given what they’ve done to the Canadian fiscal situation over the last three years. I wonder how long it’ll be before people start to see through the farce?

      • You seem to think it’s a case of people not seeing through the farce.

        In fact, it’s a case of people choosing the lesser of four evils.

        • “In fact, it’s a case of people choosing the lesser of four evils.”

          Actually, I think that fiscal conservatives are now wondering whether the Harper Tories are indeed the lesser evil. The last two budgets surpassed previous Liberal spending. Add to that the fact that it is the Harper Tories who will go down in history as having presided over our economic demise and it is likely the Liberals who will see us out of it.

        • Further to my point:

          “Gerry Nicholls, a former colleague of Mr. Harper’s at the right-wing National Citizens’ Coalition, said he thinks the Prime Minister has lost his way.

          “The Conservative party is conservative in name only. It makes me yearn for the days when we had a relatively fiscally conservative leader like Jean Chrétien,” Mr. Nicholls said, referring to the former Liberal prime minister’s victory in slaying the deficit in the mid-1990s and paying down federal debt.”

          From today’s Globe and Mail

        • The reality is that the Liberal Party were going to take the government down and do up a budget in consultation with the NDP, the Bloc and wacky Elizabeth May.

          As dubious as some of the measures are in this budget, it would only have been worse with that bunch of left-wing loony-tunes. The NDP, the Bloc and Elizabeth May are all out of the mainstream on economic issues. NO ONE should be consutling them on economic issues.

          If the Liberals are such good economic managers why didn’t they vote down this budget as being irresponsible? Or even sought out amendments. No, as Michael Ignatieff said, Harper listened to us. People are calling it a Liberal budget. Sheesh, you can’t have it both ways Pol Junkie. Sorry to slice through your spin.

          • ‘People are calling it a Liberal budget. Sheesh, you can’t have it both ways Pol Junkie. Sorry to slice through your spin.”

            Jarrid, how about reading the exchange before jumping in?

            The point being made is that your core constituency is now coming to the realization that this Harper government can no longer be relied on to be fiscal conservatives. Critical Reasoning suggested that the Tory base will view the Harperites as the lesser evil and I provided a citation that seems to show otherwise.

            I realize that this uncharacteristic spending frenzy is being blamed on our dire economic times but let the record show that even before we ended up in this fiscal, this Harper govt had presented a budget that surpassed previous Liberal budgets in its spending measures.

            Face it, fiscal responsibility has never been a Tory skill.

          • Using hangover policies from the previous administration AND cutting program spending, a 46 billion $ annual spending deficit was converted to an annual surplus. In 3 years, the current administration, even before things turned apocalyptic economically, had many wondering if we wouldn’t be sliding towards deficit anyways.

            That purple mustache on your lip belies the Kool Aid, friend.

          • I repeat my question from above – “If the Liberals are such good economic managers why didn’t they vote down this budget as being irresponsible?” Instead the Liberals said the government listened to us. As I said PolJunkie, you can’t suck and blow at the same time.

          • Jarrid, because the budget had some good things (as Ignatieff said) and because Canadians want our government to work for the time being.

          • Don’t forget that Harper drove us into deficit during the good times – even before this budget was tabled.

    • Politics is a contest of motivation. The conservatives have lost a huge amount of collective motivation as a result of this budget. The fanatics that claim “The Liberals will ruin the economy by overspending!” now remember it was the Liberals that got Canada out of deficit and always the Conservatives that put us in deficit…

  3. Yeah, that really hurts: your teacher from way back doesn’t agree with you. I’m sure that never happens to other people.

    • Sure it happens, and Im sure he’s used to ignoring those type of comments. Yet as of late many have been questioning his credentials as an economist. Whats one more on the pile, eh?

      Cute kid in your picture SF.

      • What — are you saying you don’t question the credentials of ALL economists?

    • This is not, as you describe it, an old teacher, but a very recent confidant and advisor. The utility of considering his reaction is on judging the principle shift, wouldn’t you agree?

  4. Aaron opines – “No doubt Mr. Harper awoke Wednesday morning quite surprised to find Canadians not rejoicing in the streets.” And further “No wonder Mr. Harper seems a bit down these days.”

    Polls show – “After Budget, Conservatives Maintain Nine-Point Lead Over Liberals”

    That’s right dear BC readers, Angus Reid (who nailed the last election leaving Nanos in the dust) has the Conservatives up in a poll released today. Ontario has the Conservatives up 41 to 33. Canadians do seem rather satisfied with the Conservative’s budget with Ontarians leading the way.

    The Bloc and Danny Williams are pi**ed as ususal, but what else is knew?

    • Pissed is Williams normal mood.

  5. Ontario has the Conservatives up 41 to 33.

    Well, of course, the “budget” is good for Ontario. That’s where all the votes are, ask Chretein.

  6. I’m waiting for Wherry or O’Malley’s post claiming the coalition still lives.

  7. To me Stephen Harper’s real image is still that of one step forward, and two step backwards,,,

  8. For the first time since I started supporting the Conservatives, I hope Stephen Harper breaks all his promises.

  9. woecanada: you were a grand country till the 70s. alas you are no more.! elections now will forever be a farce. with multi-parties running and a party whose seats should not be considered in the count for a majority as they openly advocate the final destruction of the country nearly assured of 40-50 seats in one province,they, with 2 other unscrupulous loser parties will assure its destruction as with 4-5 dingbat parties running no 1 party will ever get to 51% of voters. we should resign ourselves to banana republic status forever and weep for what we could have been. as an old timer I see benefits of age. not too long to have to endure the stupidity of what was the real Canada being torn to pieces by the new arrivals and our own avaricious citizens forming weird coalitions to force their demands on the party which gained the largest share of the votes which does not beat out three or more coalitionists. maybe canada will end up so that mr. Ignatieff will not be out of line when next he utters his opening line. “We Americans”

    • Sheesh! And here I thought Coyne was a drama queen…

  10. Oh yes, Jack Layton, mister trustworthy, just happened to have attack ads ready. Ah, Mr. Layton, you worship Obama, you think you’re Canada’s Obama, but you are no Obama. You see, Obama doesn’t believe in demonizing. Strike 1 – 2 more to go to be out.

  11. This is the beginning of the end for Stephen Harper. Mockery’s worse than anger.

  12. Have you noticed there has been no complaints fron the Conservatives about Iggy having Harper on a leash ? Imagine if it were reversed or it was Dion on a leash or Lizzie May. So much more maturity shown here then the incessant whining from the Libs about puffins and poop.

    The leash thing was started by Iggy`s prize propagandist Kinsella and then peddled to friends in the media—-it`s the new thrifty way to go negative—all from Kinsella. One can hope the intellectuals at MacLeans will soon figure out they are being used.

    • William, i’m shocked yr making sense and before noon as well! Did someone up yr meds?Lefties are rather delicate creatures sometimes. And you’ve realised that cognitive dissonance cuts both ways, you’ll be discovering steam next!

      • Jeez—I better check my meds—-I think I see kc coming over from the Dark Side.—-awaiting confirmation.

  13. I seem to notice a recurring theme over the last few years when it comes to pundits and their analysis of Harper. First written off as a right wing looney neo-conbot with dreams of being a chess master to overnite a kind of machiavellian reincarnation of Goering. The interesting part though is that every time he is written off and his successor’s chosen, with battles between those who want to pick up what’s left of the political bones when the dust settles, he is still sitting in the seat. The part I find fascinating is how Harper seems to me to fight better as a counter puncher rather than leading with the offense and in point of fact evey time he tries to fight from a position of superior strength something terrible happens and wham off he goes to the gulag see Quebec arts and culture (which to me was the defining moment for losing a possible majority). Then you wake up next morning only to discover his opponents fighting each other over who gets the remains all the while not paying any attention to the stealth cruise missile heading in their direction. Time will tell how the next battle goes which between you and me won’t be this year but next year as it is plainly in the stars. I think Harper can outplay Iggy by letting Iggy continue to delude his party, voters and himself into believing that he has any role to play at all outside of possibly forcing an election, as he has clearly burned a bridge or with the NDP and the BQ and who knows maybe nect confidence motion when Iggy wants to pull the plug Jack and Gilles might not want to go up the hill to fetch a pail of voters. I would send Iggy a warning though because there is something brewing now that may come back to bite him = he’s getting popular in Quebec on the one hand this may seem to be fortuitous until you start to look at history and how such sentiments have unintended consequences. If I were the Igster I would be modifying my travel itinerary to a lot more stops out west and seed more humble and maybe a stern talks in the land of the Quebecois.

    • Good point Wayne about the counter punching but if you have studied the sweet science you will know it is easier to counter a left hook to the chops when you`re opponent is distracted and off-balance then to lead with a wild right.

    • Harper’s a paper tiger Wayne. If he ever does find the con who’s gone AWOL, he’ll only get laughed at; death to a pol, ask Dion! Harper can only play keep away now to prevent the libs from returning, once the public sense this [ kinda like Martin] he’s outta here. That said underestimating him is a mugs game alright!
      SH has arguably burned as many bridges as Iggy. But these guys are shameless and the ugly step sisters are wild cards now. As i wrote yesterday i now regard this affair as an ongoing episode in my new weekly saga: ‘ As the Parliament churns!” Want to write an episode? I haven’t decided yet but these guys may be the sorriest bunch of mis-fits, frauds and drama queens we’ve ever sent to the hill? It’s the logical end result of dropping voter turn-out and a lobotomised population. I need more coffee, i’m starting to channel Rex!

      • you are proving my point KC and probably don’t see it! See William above who incidentally is absolutely right about a counter puncher however the assumption is based upon being off balance although the sweet science is part of my tote bag of martial arts I much prefer my experience with Pakua (or Bagua if you prefer) using the opponents power against themselves in other words rather than engage in combat directly use circumstances, the environment and the tendencies of your opponent to have them defeat themselves. Harper a paper tiger you say .. well that is what former opponents also thought only to look up and and at the last minute see the stealth missile coming. Although I tend to agree with some of your conclusions I have come to accept to accept my inner Rex M. it must be my advanced years or simply being a political junkie moving from being one of the first revolutionairies to hand out Georgia Straight in Vancouver to harbouring draft dodgers from Vietnam to becoming a radical supporter of Trudeau and then either growing up and becoming Conservative or suffering a early form of dementia – pick one – I can now see the same patterns repeating themselves over and over again – the winter of my discontent!

        • I agree that Stevie boy may yet come out on top. But not because he’s a whizz at chess but rather that his opposition, possibly till now??? , has been of the galactically stupid variety. Witness jack who wants to be Pm one day. How’s he going to do it? By shutting himself up in a broom closet and muttering over and over,” i should be king, i should be king but for that Russian C***.” It wouldn’t surprise me if he came out for Quebac separation in order to stop Harper from causing the separation by letting Iggy hold his[SH] hand instead of letting Iggy hold his. [ jacks]
          So i wouldn’t get too high on Steve, seems to me they’re all sharing one brain. At the moment it’s Michael’s turn. Wonder who get’s it next.? Hope they don’t burn it out, or we’re all f***** !!

          • I wouldn’t be quite so hard on Jack after all he can still claim and quite rightly that the LPC puppies rolled over threw their paws in the air and demanded that Harper rub their bellies or else = a confidence motion! nope 3 more confidence motions considering the track record of the party when it comes to delivering the goods at the vote, I don’t think that Harper was exactly intimidated as now who knows if the Stevie and Iggy don’t get along at the next spring dance maybe Jack would be a better date for the summer gala event and what with Jack and Iggy on the outs.

  14. Aaron,

    You talk about the quiet tone from the government. It seems to me that the government is taking a deliberate low key tone in answering questions, especially those asked in a polite manner.

    There was a marked tone difference between Iggy’s questions and the PM’s answers and Layton’s tone, which got a little snarkier respone.

    I think that is appropriate.

    As for the rest of the article. Fair questions that the PM is satisfying no constituency, apparently. His old stomping ground is worried and the other side will never be satisfied. So trying to avoid the Ottawa and insider trap you look to polls. Geez, in a down economy the PM is still leading handily, for the moment. Imagine what the polls would be if the economy actually turns around.

    Anyway, there ultimately will be a point where people wont vote for the conservative underneath the liberal mask but for the liberal without a mask. It happened to McCain. This would be Coyne’s thesis, you might as well be a conservative, because nobody else is and you cannot be liberal the way the Liberal’s can. It works in reverse for the Liberals by the way,

    Tough times with no good choices, this on its own, is hardly news.