Canadians have been hard on the PM since he made the decision to “prorogue,” and not just because doing so forced some of us to learn a new word. We don’t like that he’s treating parliamentarians with contempt and disdain. After all, that’s our job.
But let’s try to see things from Stephen Harper’s perspective. Yes, he abruptly shut down the institutions of our democracy over the holidays for a second straight year. (Once more and it will become a Christmas tradition on par with watching It’s a Wonderful Life and trimming Mike Duffy.) And yes, he didn’t even bother to cross the street to visit the Governor General—he just picked up the phone and ordered the No. 2 from Rideau Hall: prorogation with a side of crazy bread.
But you have to remember the holidays are a tough time for the Prime Minister. He gets very emotional and cries when he watches How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I mean, seeing the Grinch wuss out like that in the end . . . it gets to a guy. So let’s give the PM the benefit of the doubt and explore his reasons for shutting down Parliament. Surely his decision will then make sense.
Claim: the government needs to “recalibrate” its agenda.
This makes perfect sense. It’s New Year’s. We all feel the urge to “recalibrate” our lives. And we all use the powers entrusted in us by centuries of parliamentary convention to take two full months off to do it. (I, for one, am currently vacationing in St. Barts. This column was “written” by an iPhone app.)
And remember: it takes a formidable amount of time and manpower to embark on an elaborate process to gauge the viewpoints of parliamentarians, stakeholders and experts and synthesize this into an executive analysis that can be ignored when March comes and Harper goes and does what he was going to do all along.
But government recalibration is about more than fostering the illusion of consultation. The Prime Minister needs time for:
—Personal recalibration: Harper’s charisma simulator has been offline since 1983. Plus, the charm of his little singsong at the National Arts Centre is starting to wear off. Happily, it’s nothing a travelling one-man musical can’t solve: Stephen Harper is Stephen Harper in So Lifelike I’m Almost Human! (You try and tell MC Hammer you’re not available for breakdance practice because Parliament is in session.)
—Ministerial recalibration: Harper took so many trips overseas last fall that several of his ministers need to be emasculated all over again. That takes time. And yelling. And, for reasons better left unexplained, puppets.
—Global recalibration: the PM needs time to capitalize on the momentum he’s generated overseas. A lot of naysayers said it would be impossible to take staid, amiable Canada and make it a villain in the eyes of the civilized world. But one trip to Copenhagen and—boom!—we’re a global menace. That’s not the kind of momentum a leader wants to squander. After all, being hated by the entire world has worked out pretty well for the United States and Valentine’s Day.
Claim: the Prime Minister needs time to name at least five more senators.
This is just common sense. If you don’t take the time to get these appointments right, you’re liable to wind up with too few backroom cronies and too many partisan hacks.
Claim: the government needs to design the next phase of its economic agenda.
Tweaking the government’s fiscal plan is a complex undertaking. There are a number of critical steps that must be followed.
First, Harper needs to completely misread the economic signs. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the fall of 2008, pretty much everyone knew the economy was in bad, bad shape. Only Stephen Harper failed to notice. It takes time and focus to be that wrong.
Second, the government needs to devise a complex, multi-point response to changing economic conditions. For instance, in 2009 Harper and his team spent months developing the following action plan:
1. Spend. Spend everything.
2. Is there anything left? Spend it!
3. The couch! Check the cushions in the couch!
Now the Prime Minister needs to come up with an equally complex system to ensure that his government stops spending everything. Top economists predict such a strategy could, after months of round-the-clock work, look something like this:
1. Maybe stop spending everything?
And you expect Stephen Harper to work on this, go to question period and watch the luge. Get serious.
Claim: the Prime Minister needs time to train so he’s in peak physical condition by Feb. 12, when he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Games, prorogue the torch relay and light the Olympic cauldron himself.
Okay, less a “claim” than a “prediction.”