Open Government, Harper Style

I heard on the radio this morning that Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, doesn't want his (our) Ministers of Government speaking to the people of Canada, through the media, the source of government news for most Canadians, about what the government is doing on behalf of the people of Canada. Apparently, democracy works better in secrecy.

There is a myth that Conservative governments can't get a fair shake from the media. For Harper, that myth became real when he was practically booed off the political stage in the 2004 election. Most mature adults involved in the vicious games of politics can shake off an unpleasant experience like that. But it's made Harper paranoid, so much so that it seems to have blinded him to the fact that these days the media are lauding him, that government is more than the Prime Minister and the PMO, and that he cannot govern Canadians by keeping them in the dark. Canada is not an autocracy where the dictator informs his minions what to say and pats the people on the head and tells them to shut up and not worry about what the big boys are doing. Canada is a democracy that sends people to Parliament to represent the way they want to see their country governed. Representatives normally communicate back to the people who elected them.

But Harper has a serious control and fear issue. Control in that he wants to control everyone, and I do mean everyone. And fear because the need to control usually comes out of fear of what will happen if the control is lost. What will happen in this case is that his Ministers will work as a team (including bickering as teams are wont to do, so get over it already) and the media will write glowing reports about Harper because, as Harper ought to know, the media has such a short attention span -- which the Olympics helped along -- that it's forgetten all about Harper putting a non-elected and non-Conservative into cabinet. Today, the media see only the brilliant Afghanistan visit. Even Rick Mercer is applauding Harper.

Harper should not worry so much about the media nor about an informed populace. A democracy works better when the citizens remain informed because people can recognize when a leader has made a good move on behalf of Canada and will participate in making the country more vibrant. Good leaders can ignite people in their own lives. And that's why Harper should worry more about being a good leader than in controlling everyone and everything.

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Anonymous said…
Harper’s "famous five" as indicators of a snap election?

The pieces seem to be falling into place. The last piece was Harper’s muzzling of his ministers, and the instructions to all and sundry to talk just about his Five Points.

The evidence points towards Harper preparing to call a snap election, before the Liberals have a chance to select their leader and raise funds to pay off their election debt:

• The recent changes to the laws have put the Liberals in a relatively worse position than the New Tories, who rely on many small donations from thousands of members, as compared to the Liberal fat-cat financing of the past.

• The Liberals are leaderless, and are dragging their feet in selecting a leader; having many contenders would allow the Tories to decide to run against the weakest ones as and when they choose to.

Why call an election within a few months? Because the Liberals are in disarray. Because the wheels might come off the New Tories if they start trying to implement their full platform. Because their honeymoon might end. Because the longer it takes before the next election, the more distance the Liberals can put between themselves and the corruption charges of the recent past.

But what is the key indicator of Harper preparing for a snap election? Quoting the heading of Jeffrey Simpson's column in Saturday March 18 Globe & Mail, it is because of the "unbearable lightness of Harper's five vows".

Simpson does a superb job of analysing these five points which Harper wants his ministers to talk about, and concludes: Harper's famous five are "political winners and policy busts", and are on the table because they are "what the Conservatives think they need to win the next election."

Simpson tears strips off the famous five:

• the GST cut "represents a $5-billion political bribe".
• The Accountability Act outlined in the Tories platform "will be a mishmash of non-solutions to exaggerated problems".
• The daycare promise is a wash (his assumption) as politics and as social policy, slightly negative.
• The tough-on-crime stuff "flies in the face of the evidence" and an overblown response.
• The patient wait-time guarantees "reflects the shavings on the iceberg of the health-care system".

So why the muzzle on his ministers, and his insistence on the famous five being talked about and nothing else?

My bet? Because he is preparing for a snap election once his famous five are implemented, based on "I honoured my promises, so re-elect me to a majority government". Run against a disorganized Liberal Party. Throw some bones to Quebecers through the francophone step and some tax rights, to buy more Quebec votes. Choose two or three of the Liberal candidates and slam each one in succession (Stronach: no substance; Brison: Mr Emailer; Rae: really a socialist ... you fill in the blanks).

Manufacture a false crisis, and call the election based on it. Then appeal to Canadians to be fair and give his government, which delivered on the famous five, a chance to provide honest government as a majority government. During this election, avoid detailed discussion of the real policies of the New Tories at all costs.

Then, should he win a majority government, implement his neocon policies in the first four years...

Cunning fellow, that policy wonk. But I wonder how much of this strategy came from Brian Mulroney?
The Tory honeymoon ended with Emerson, and I doubt Harper thought he'd have any sort of honeymoon given that he believes that the media see him as the enemy. So I don't think that's part of his thinking for when he calls an election.

The corruption issue is also old news. The electorate barely cared during the election, except Quebeckers and people who cared about such things. But now we've had an election and dealt with that. The next election, even if held tomorrow, would not be about that, except in the context that Harper showed clearly he's as unethical as Liberals and lost credibility. The only way now for him to regain credibility as an ethical politician is to bring in a strong ethics package, which he can't do until Parliament sits. That's at least a month away, and then with a minority government, it won't be easy pushing anything through the House quickly. If he doesn't get an ethics package passed before the next election, he will have lost a core component of his platform. So that has to happen for him to succeed.

Taxes tick Canadians off. Harper will want to get that GST cut of 1% passed because he will make a lot of Canadians happy; he doesn't care what the pundits and economists think on this issue. They've flip-flopped on what's more regressive since the Mulroney era. I believe it's the sales tax, not the income tax. Anyway happy Canadians are more likely to vote in a majority Conservative government.

The child care issue can go either way, but passing it will keep his core supporters onside. As for the tough-on-crime, that will depend on what's happening at the time of the election. If a bunch of murders happen, and he's made no move to fix things, then he will be blasted.

I still think the muzzle on his ministers are all about control and his need to control everything and everyone around him. It's an extension of his style and way of leadership. He'll learn.

Harper wants a majority, but right now he has a minority. Nothing's going to happen quickly with the entire House needing to be massaged to his point of view. Also, although he's being advised by Mulroney, he's behaving more like Clark -- running the government as if he has a majority because, in his mind, his way is the right way and he can easily outsmart his opponents. The true test of his mettle will happen when Parliament sits again. The past few months have proven that sometimes elections and politics are highly unpredictable.