And so it begins.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed his cabinet.
And, almost immediately, the pragmatism that Ottawa forces on national leaders began to undermine his grassroots support.
First problem: Harper’s Conservatives were shut out of Vancouver.
Simple fix: Recruit Liberal David Emerson.
On the surface, this looks brilliant. Paul Martin pinched Belinda Stronach from the Conservatives, so Harper retaliated with a similar coup, making Emerson minister of International Trade. In doing so, he tapped an experienced minister and secured a window on Vancouver — a good day’s work.
Except … many Conservatives didn’t like Stronach walking the floor. And it’s still fresh in their minds.
Remember Saskatchewan Conservative Maurice Vellacott, who fumed about Stronach prostituting herself?
Tuesday, he was a little more measured.
“I understand the pragmatism of it,” Vellacott told the Globe and Mail. “But to be honest, I feel a bit uneasy about it.”
In fact, 39 Conservatives publicly supported an anti-switching bill, which had been introduced by the NDP.
Many of those higher profile supporters weren’t talking yesterday.
“You’re not going to pin me down on that,” said Conservative anti-switching supporter Ken Epp, of Alberta.
“I think David’s going to be a great addition to our team and we need somebody to represent Vancouver,” said Alberta-based Conservative Brian Jean, another once-vociferous switching opponent.
And then there’s Ontario-based Conservative Helena Guergis, who refused to kowtow to Harper. True to her ethics, she started drafting a news release renewing her support for anti-switching legislation.
But she never finished it.
Harper made her Emerson’s parliamentary secretary. The release never showed up.
So much for ethics and accountability.
There’s another problem with Emerson’s vacillation that didn’t really crop up with Stronach.
In Emerson’s Vancouver riding, regular folk chipped in almost $100,000 to his election campaign under a Liberal banner just two weeks ago.
Today, they feel betrayed and want the guy to pay back the cash.
“You would not have received those funds … if you ran as a Conservative,” said association president Ivan Curman in a letter obtained by CTV News on Tuesday.
“Countless people donated money to support the election of a Liberal candidate in our riding. Some gave what little amounts they could afford to support the election of a Liberal MP.”
And then he sold ‘em out. Ethics, anyone?
Second problem: No Conservative voice in Montreal.
Solution: Recruit Michael Fortier, the Conservative’s campaign co-chair.
But, again the solution brings new problems.
Fortier wasn’t elected. So Harper’s appointing him to the Senate, allowing him to enter cabinet through the special patronage door.
He’ll sit as Public Works minister.
It bears noting that the precursor to the Conservative Party — the Reform Party — was founded on creating an elected Senate.
“This is shocking,” a Conservative MP told the Globe, on the condition of anonymity. “It’s just unbelievable. Who was Stephen talking to? We campaigned against this kind of stuff.”
Fortier never intended to run in Montreal — too busy, too many kids (five).
It wasn’t the right time to run, he said.
Given the Conservative’s pre-election popularity in Quebec, he probably didn’t think he could win.
Now Harper’s cleared a desk for him, allowing him to waltz in through the back door without a messy election.
And Fortier won’t run for election even if a seat comes up in Montreal.
He’s got more important things to do, like run a department.
So he’ll wait until the next election.
Well, Harper promised reform.
Most assumed he meant reforming Ottawa.
But, instead, he’s reforming Reform. (RM)