'The arrogance of a regime that thinks it can get away with just about anything' - Macleans.ca

‘The arrogance of a regime that thinks it can get away with just about anything’


The Prime Minister is apparently due to make his first public comment tonight on The National. In the meantime, Michael Ignatieff files this.

Last week’s shutting down of Parliament was a key moment. A turning point? Too dramatic. In any case, too early to tell. More important, it was one of those moments of supreme clarity. The audacity. The epic scale of the cynicism. The arrogance of a regime that thinks it can get away with just about anything.


‘The arrogance of a regime that thinks it can get away with just about anything’

  1. Again, what is it that they are "getting away with"?

    Postponing questions about Afghan detainees, a topic which almost nobody more than 100 feet from Parliament Hill cares about) for a month?

    Recalibrating the senate committees (and what's wrong with that, exactly)?

    Taking a "holiday" which is actually nothing of the sort (since MPs do work in their ridings)?

    Someone please let me know…what exactly are the Conservatives "getting away with"?

    • Apart from a determination in regard to allegations that Ministers of the crown knew about and did little to prevent torture here's what the Conservatives are "getting away with:"

      1. Shutting down the MPCC inquiry
      2. Lying in the House and to the media
      3. Obstructing a parliamentary committee by pressuring a witness
      4. Providing classified documents to retired generals and a friendly reporter
      5. Ignoring a vote of the House requiring those same documents be provided to the parliamentary committee.

      In other words contempt for parliament, contempt for quasi-judicial proceedings, contempt for both access to information AND secrecy legislation, and contempt for the primary principle of responsible government which is accountability. If you're willing to defend that, you'll have nothing to complain about when the next bunch of Liberal bandits to form a government take it to the next level of disdain for democracy.

    • He’s getting away with being in contempt of Parliament. It doesn’t matter what you think of the issue, the fact is that the government has now flouted the will of Parliament, which is the only democratic institution we have. Every ounce of legitimacy the executive branch has flows from Parliament. This just is not acceptable.

      • When even thoughtful Conservatives like JG don't get it this becomes worrysome…from what i've seen of legislatures operating under con govts in AB and BC it certainly looks like many conservatives have no problem at all with the executive holding all the reins of power…the opposition's just a noisy unnecessary expense.

  2. as he files this from where? guess folks – talk about phoning it in!

  3. Whatever it is, it's in large part due to a horribly ineffective Opposition, and an electorate that continues to get more and more disangaged. Maybe you're right about the Afghan issue, and I don't think there's been a vociferous reaction to the prorogation stuff either. That being said, indifference is, to me at least, much more alarming than an overwhelming reaction, whether it be positive or negative.

  4. …what exactly are the Conservatives "getting away with"?

    It's Wafergate all over again. Harper has tried to secretly slip parliament into his suit pocket when he though no one was looking. What audacity! Cynicism! Arrogance!

    Lucky for us, we have the faithful MSM nipping at his heels once again, protecting us from our apathy and ignorance (see polls). Today, after a week of outrage in the media, 25000 Facebook friends have heeded the call and clicked to the Join the Revolution Against the Conservative Fascists – 25000.

  5. "Mr. Harper is gambling that the public doesn't care how it is governed. In fact, in many ways it furthers his political interest to fuel public distrust about politics and depress even further voter turnouts in elections, since this strengthens the electoral impact of his "base."

    My favourite part of Iggy's article was this section. After the Chretien-Martin years – gaming referendums, strangling protesters, kowtowing to dictators, laundering money, shutting down Inquiries Libs do not like … the list is long, really – I don't believe Harper is gambling at all.

    If Martin can win minority government after it was revealed Libs were laundering tens of millions of $$$, Canadians are apathetic and don't really care how they are governed. And Harper has not broken any laws, opposition and msm (I know I repeat myself) just don't like what Cons are doing.

    And when I first read the excerpt Wherry has posted, I wondered if Iggy was referring to coalition trying to usurp the Government last winter but I guess not. Harper has long way to go before he debases politics as much as Libs have over the past fifteen years.

  6. Bullsh*t.

    First: I'm not defending anything Chretien/Martin did. But you're picking events from 13 years in power, and neglecting to mention that Martin did the right thing via an open investigation into Adscam.

    But in just *three* years, and with only minority governments, Harper has truly broken new ground. And you know it.

    He's continued the trend of centralizing power in the PMO, and taken it to a new, unprecedented level. He's deliberately sabotaged Parliamentary committees. He's abused the Ten Percenters, and taxpayer-funded advertising to an unprecedented degree to promote his political agenda. He's spent billions of taxpayer stimulus dollars in ways that favour his party, and refused to provide clear information on where it's spent. He's defied a Parliamentary demand for information on Afghan detainees. Now he's prorogued Parliament AGAIN, this time to deliberately interfere with a Parliamentary investigation into his own administration's actions. And he's interfered with non-Parliamentary bodies (MPCC, NRCC, etc) that threatened to hold him to account.

    Amazing how you "principled" conservatives are constantly pointing to the Liberal behaviour you decried at the time, as though it excuses Harper's behaviour. Even if Harper were merely as offensive as Chretien, it's no excuse. And the fact is that Harper's behaviour is even more damaging to Canada's democracy.

  7. I'd say Harper has upped the ante for debasing politics with justification assigned to past Liberal governments, who based justification on past Conservatives governments, who in turn…

    Harper not only conquered every debasing strategy he rallied against in opposition, but has normalized and grown them. Saying the Liberals did it first or the Liberals did it worse does absolutely nothing to prevent further abuse on our failing system in the future.

    It's only going to get worse; more arbitrary and whimsical, as many of us said last January…

  8. Look, this isn't difficult. Our system of governance has precious few checks and balances against the power of the government. Holding that government accountable to Parliament is one of the few that we do have. What Harper has done has use parliamentary procedure to find and end-run around acccountability.

    Whether you think that the Afghan detainee issue is important or a tempest in a teapot is immaterial. The House asked the Government to be accountable and the Government has refused. This is not a partisan issue, it cuts to the core of Parliamentary Democracy.

    What's dangerous here is how Harper is normalizing this action. Last year he had to go hat in hand and beg the GG for approval, this time? He literally phones it in. This should terrify anyone who cares about good governance.

    I ask all those Harper apologists – how will you react when a future Liberal PM uses proroguation to avoid being accountable to the House?

  9. I often refer to past Liberal atrocities, but usually it's not to justify or excuse Conservative atrocities…it's to ask the media that are hyping the Conservative atrocitiy of the day where the hell they were when the Liberals were doing exactly the same thing that they slag the Conservatives for.

    I'm not saying "it's OK because the Liberals did it"…I'm saying "where the hell were you when the Liberals were doing it? Why didn't you speak up then? And since you didn't speak up then, why should you be surprised or outraged only now?"

  10. All quite fair.

    But my point is that it *isn't* exactly the same behaviour – the Cons are taking things to a new depth. Chretien didn't do the things I listed – this is a new degree of assault on Canada's democratic institutions.

  11. Come TJ…there's no new depth here.

    For Chrissakes…Chretien prorogued Parliament just in time to prevent the Auditor General's report into Adscam from being tabled on his watch. How much more contempt can you show than that? And yet even that didn't generate half the ink that Harper's prorogue, which is nowhere near as controversial, is generating.

    The fact is that the behaviour of politicians in this country will never improve until the guys calling the game take their red sweaters off. The Liberals have zero incentive to step up their game as long as the guys that currently run the newsrooms are the type of people holding Parliamentarians to account.

  12. So the media which failed in the past (something I would not dispute) should now continue to fail just to be fair?

  13. "I often refer to past Liberal atrocities, but usually it's not to justify or excuse Conservative atrocities"

    Agreed. I don't support either Cons or Libs, pox on both their houses as far as I am concerned, but the hand wringing and general overwrought coverage of Harper and prorogue is absurd.

    I point out Libs misdeeds because msm don't – PM Martin ignored a confidence motion, bribed an oppo MP to cross floor with offer of a complex ministry and then held another confidence vote 10 days later when his numbers were more favourable. Was this presented as threat to democracy in similar way Harper asking GG to prorogue Parliament for two months? Was it heck.

    And people wonder why Canadians – minus the 0.00006% of Canadians who joined an online group – aren't too bovvered by Harper proroguing Parliament for two months.

  14. Not at all…but perhaps they could quit failing so frequently, and so predictably, in the present.

    When they put the same amount of coverage into the Liberals Elections Canada violations by <a href="http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Would+Liberal+leaders+miss+2006+debt+deadline/2406322/story.html"failing to pay their leadership debts</a> that they put into In and Out…when they give just as much coverage to the Liberal's "Body bag" 10 percenters that they do into the Conservatives more distasteful ones…when they put as much effort trashing the Liberals for partisan photos showing Stephen Harper getting assassinated or commiting bestiality as they did for a pooping puffin…when they make an honest effort to get into what Liberal was behind the fabrication of the WaferGate story, rather than giving up after a couple of days of stonewalling…then there will be hope. But I'm not holding my breath that it'll ever happen.

  15. You have only addressed one item on my list – Harper's prorogation of Parliament. You neglect to mention that this time, Harper is forcing a re-start of a Parliamentary investigation into his policies and STILL is in defiance of a Parliamentary motion. Chretien's prorogation did nothing to impact his accountability on the sponsorship scandal, except that he avoided facing QP.

    You (and jolyon) can wave your hands and act as blase as you like, but Harper's actions are a new, unprecedented level of contempt for Canadians and their system of government. I guess it's ok when your team does it, no?

  16. Keep talking about the Liberals, jolyon. Not a word about our current government, eh?

  17. The Audacity of Hope…in that the Liberals might possibly develop a collective spine while touring their ridings.

  18. I might agree with you if anybody cared about the Afghan detainee issue. But they don't. Nobody off of the Hill gives a sweet fox fart that some Afghan detainees may have been beaten up by some other Afghans. Much as the media may blather on about Harper proroguing to hide from this stuff, I honestly believe he doesn't care, because he knows the issue is meaningless to most people, and that the people for whom it's not meaningless would never vote for him anyways. That issue despite the full court press is costing him zero political capital, and I'm convinced that proroguing has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with finally getting the upper hand on Senate Committees.

    • I'm talking principles and democratic institutions. You're talking about polling numbers.

      Harper is systematically disabling all the means by which he can be held to account. Whether the public cares or not is irrelevant – this is a new, destructive assault on our democratic institutions.

      Which is what I've been saying all along.

    • ", I honestly believe he doesn't care, because he knows the issue is meaningless to most people, and that the people for whom it's not meaningless would never vote for him anyways."

      There in a nut shell is what's wrong with politics in this country…the people don't care[but they do] and the politicians with the power to change of effect that do nothing or use it for cover…and now most cons just shrug and say "you did it too"! No honest observer is claiming Harper started this crap, but he's sure riding it for all it's worth now…the irony of course is that Harper used to be a principled opposition leader, write articles about our benign one party state…he sold out, and so've most of his supporters as far as i can see. Yes the Liberals started the rot [mostly under Chretien in his latter term] …So what? How does that absolve a bovt that was elected on a platform of accountabiliy…throw the bums out…and if the Libs [or coalition] learn nothing from this…we'll throw those bums out too!

  19. Hmmm. Mr. Ignatieff finally deigns to weigh in on the topic, and it sounds like he's thinking out loud: "A turning point? Too dramatic. In any case, too early to tell." That's catchy, sir. I can imagine it on banners at campaign stops across the country.
    No matter, because even in a post that's ostensibly about Ignatieff, everyone is still talking about Harper. Or Chretien.

  20. How many of those will he escape accountability for when Parliament resumes in early March instead of late January?

    The same number as if Parliament opened in January.

    you'll have nothing to complain about when the next bunch of Liberal bandits to form a government take it to the next level of disdain for democracy

    Given the track record of our media there's a better than average chance I'd never even know about it

  21. What, they don't have e-mail in the south of France? You think he might have resorted to a fax machine? :)

  22. Aside from just saying so, where is your proof the media covers CPC more negatively than the LPC?

  23. I`m no Harper apologist but I`ll probably react to a future Liberal proroguation as I did to previous Liberal ones, with a certain amount of indifference since they were using an available law to continue their agenda. But I`ll also be aware that if I don`t like their agenda, I will be patient and vote them out in the next election. If they have a majority i will have to be more patient and wait until they decide on the date of the election. If they have a minority I will encourage the opp. parties to force an election as soon as possible.

  24. It's my observation, it's not mathematical. I know many here disagree with it, but I can do no more than provide countless examples that I've noticed and let the readers decide for themselves.

  25. Get what, kcm? What has Harper escaped from that he won't face in March when Parliament re-opens? Be specific.

    The worst that can be said is that a bunch of bills need to be reintroduced. That to me is the most galling part of this proroguation.

    Unfortunately the opposition we currently have is little more than a noisy unnecessary expense. I don't wish that were the case, but it is what it is.

    • JG like many Canadians i don't think you really get what Parliamentary govt is….if we have no opposition however incompetent, we have no democracy…or do you advocate rule by order in counsel?

    • "The worst that can be said is that a bunch of bills need to be reintroduced."

      And, as you well know, the Parliamentary committees will have to be re-formed, and then re-start the investigation intp the treatment of Afghan detainees. Also, Parliament's motion demanding release of documentation on the issue will have to be re-created, if Harper makes room in the Parliamentary agenda. And, the Senate will be packed with Conservatives. And, the federal agenda will be dominated by a budget and a confidence vote.

      This, of course, following months of dedicated PR efforts by all cabinet ministers.

      You know all this, of course. I think it's pretty damned funny that kcm would declare you to be "thoughtful" when you're sticking to such a slanted view of the facts.

  26. Sorry JG. Now your moving from reasonable criticism of the media to partisan fantasy. Which potential scandal [ among the real ones like the Cadman affair] has Harper really paid a price for? What amounts to a real scandal is in the eye of the partisan beholder…you say they didn't cover the libs properly…i say they never did nail the cons to my satisfaction on a number of real issues. The reality probaly is that real investigative journalism is sadly lacking in this country for a variety of reasons…one of which is the establishment closes ranks on the Gvt of the day regardless.. another[i suspect] is the media and the govt only pretend to hate each other…in other words it's a small incestuous world out there…you and i aren't family. It 's why they rarely seem to put a glove on any sitting govt.

  27. Harper's playing hardball…Ignatieff's musing on the meaning of it all…why did this man go into politics at all? He doesn't get it. You don't turn up at a backstreet brawl thesaurus in hand and complain about the smelly venue.

  28. To my mind there have been no real scandals worthy of paying a price. That's the only thing in my mind that elevates Harper above the Liberals at this point; he's kept the government clean. Not a single financial impropriety.

    You can't argue that the media haven't tried desperately to find one scandal to milk out scandal of Cadscam (which they kept alive for 9 months somehow), In and Out, "sexy" isotopes, partisan stimulus-doling, partisan olympic clothing, partisan olympic torch route, and now detainees…but you're right, Harper hasn't paid much of a price…because these were not very scandalous things.

  29. Finally, something we agree on. I agree with every word you wrote here. But at the same time, I can't get behind those who make Harper out to be the worst, nastiest, most partisan PM ever. He's no worse (or better unfortunately) than those who came before him. He promised better, and then ended up delivering the same-old same-old, which has been a major disappointment for "c"onservatives like me who actually took him at his word. The only difference is that the media are louder about it now because at the end of the day, they are as selective about what they choose to criticize as…well, as you or I are.

  30. It's like you've never seen his eyebrows, common man. How could they resist?
    Funny you should mention looking for a new political party, though. I was just musing to s_c_f yesterday how, long before the time arrives that I'm ready to vote for a party led by Stephen Harper, via his efforts to remain in power, he will have relinquished so many of his "conservative principles" and allowed himself to be pulled so far to his (and your?) left by the centre of Canadian politics, that you and yours could not possibly dream of supporting him. And that will be that for the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper.

  31. Harper the Emperor will speak to the plebians on tonight. What an honour. Let's do away with elections and have the Gov Gen draw lots to pick a new Emperor each year. Oops, I think Harper will remain the Emperor forever coz the Gov Gen seems to be cowed by him. She gets slighted, yet she kowtow to Harper.

  32. Conversely, if a person were to find a reason to abandon the Conservatives, who would have to be the leader of the Liberal party to make him look at them as his new party. Certainly not ignattief or Rae,nor Mcguinty or Kennedy and definetly not Justin. Maybe LeBlanc or Manley if he has any fight left in him, or maybe someone from the west if there`s any Liberals left there.

  33. lol
    "A turning point? Too dramatic. In any case, did you just knife me? O blessed shock, were it not for you, my greatest undoing would be a great deal more painful than I expect I, or most, could bear. Excruciating, even. Mother, is that you? What's that smell, Mother?"

  34. Again, what is it that they are "getting away with"?

    Whether or not they get away with it remains to be seen. An what exactly are they trying to get away with? In my view, it's nothing more than open contempt for the institution of parliament and – by extension – open contempt for the people of Canada. The Conservatives contempt for their supporters, btw, is equal to (or greater than) their contempt for their opponents.

  35. Most of what you say is probably true…although i believe there was something to Cadman…but Harper always makes it even worse by hiding, prorguing or blocking any attempt at inquiry or accountability. Mulroney was the same in many ways…his inferiority complex led to all kinds of unnnecessary difficulties…and of course the press piled on. Granted Harper seems to run a more financially scandal free govt than Mulroney…but again it's very hard to nail this guy since accountability is a fiction.

  36. I think you've stated it nicely craig. The libs and cons are in a sense two varieties of the same article… as far as the public is concerned. Right now they favour the con beer, sooner or later it'll make them sick, or bored enough to go back to the liberal brand…course they have had rather a lot of liberal beer over the years, so it'll take awhile. Who knows, one day they might even opt for a coalition highball…

  37. "Harper has long way to go before he debases politics as much as Libs have over the past fifteen years. "

    And some folks will cheer him every step of the way, it seems. The Liberals deserved to be thrown out on their collective ear and I happily cast my vote to help toss them. And now I will work just as hard, and just a diligently to toss out Harper and his crew. Hopefully, it won't take as long this time.

  38. "Harper has long way to go before he debases politics as much as Libs have over the past fifteen years. "

    The Cons should use that as their campaign slogan next election.

  39. A true democratic political party would never have appointed a naive rookie like Ignatieff as their leader just because some people thought he was some kind of Messiah. You may be ready to look for a new political party.

  40. Time is a factor, and you know it.

    In March, the Parliamentary committees will have to be re-formed (because Parliament was *prorogued*). Then they can *re-start* the investigation. Also – remember that Parliamentary motion demanding the release of documents relevant to the investigation of the Afghan detainees? Of course you do. That is lost because Parliament was prorogued. The opposition will have to try to find an opportunity in the agenda (set by the government!) to pass that motion again. Meanwhile, Harper can change the topic to a budget and the associated confidence measure. And all the while, Conservatives will be mounting a non-stop PR campaign, free from accountability to Parliament. And don't forget, by March, Stephen Harper will have stacked the Senate he hates so very much with more of his cronies.

    The delay matters in very real terms. And you know it.

  41. It really does pain me to say it, because I think the Liberals and Conservatives are largely two sides of the same coin. I don't think the Liberals necessarily need a tonne of new people to reassess them in the same way. Between the sort of voters that will turn back to them once they've had enough of what the Conservatives have had on offer, and the conservatives who stop supporting a Conservative Party that isn't conservative enough for their tastes, it will be enough.