Harper’s Ottawa: games and trickery

Stephen Harper would like to run a majority government. Who wouldn’t, in his circumstances? When the choice is between the kind of…

Stephen Harper would like to run a majority government.

Who wouldn’t, in his circumstances?

When the choice is between the kind of compromises that make minority parliaments work, or running the country by imperial fiat, what would you pick?

Trouble is, a majority of Canadians don’t want Steve in charge.

Handicapped by the charisma of a jellyfish and a record of running down Canada for not being sufficiently American, he can’t get past that crucial 40 per cent margin.

This is encouraging evidence that at least 60 per cent of Canadians who vote have memories. They haven’t forgotten that the Conservative Party is really the Reform Party, which came into being because Brian Mulroney wasn’t cutting social spending fast enough.

They haven’t forgotten that Harper once called Canada “a northern European welfare state” and bemoaned the fact that we aren’t more like conservative America.

They remember that Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day once tried to push down the Bentley beer parlour with prayer, and that Ontario is still struggling to recover from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s part in the Common Sense Debacle.

Many Ontarians still recall that John Baird, now the minister responsible for protecting oil profits from environmental regulations, once held welfare rates in Canada’s most populous province to starvation levels while spending freely on himself, enjoying $200 “working dinners” and employing a $4,900 image consultant to help him sell his message of fiscal responsibility.

And unless they have very short memories, they haven’t forgotten that last month, in a time of declining manufacturing jobs all over the country, Flaherty shrugged off the lay-off of 1,200 automotive workers in his own riding with the observation that “People who have been losing jobs have been getting other jobs.”

With no majority government on the near horizon, the Conservatives’ second choice is to govern as if they had one anyway.

Why not, when the opposition Liberals are even weaker than they are?

The worst that Steve can see happening at the polls is another Conservative minority.

Oh, and the waste of millions of dollars in taxpayers money.

Harper is both an ideologue and a cunning strategist.

The fact that a majority of Canadians voted against his party is at worst a practical consideration.

The constraints of democracy are frustrating, but with good planning they can always be circumvented.

Plan A, authored by government house leader Peter Van Loan, took the form of a thick blue book full of tactics to delay, subvert and bully parliamentary committees and push the government agenda through.

After Plan A was leaked to the media it bogged down badly.

Harper would like to do what other prime ministers have done before him: shut Parliament down, drop the writ and try again for a better shake of the dice.

But his hands are tied by a law of his own passing which, following the US model, places federal elections on a regular schedule, which only the opposition can break.

Enter Plan B. Prorogue Parliament, get rid of all those unco-operative committees, start fresh with a throne speech, and then bring every item forward as a matter of confidence, throwing down a daily gauntlet until the House finally falls.

It’s hard to imagine a more cynical strategy, but it might just work.

People detest bullies, but they’ll elect them over victims every time.

All this gamesmanship might pay off, but it obscures the democratic reality that, when it comes to policy, a clear majority of Canadians oppose Harper on most of his major issues.

Only four out of 10 Canadians polled supported Harper’s decision last year to extend Canada’s Afghanistan mission to 2009. This May, 74 per cent were in favour of meeting our Kyoto Accord commitment, which Harper has always dismissed.

One of the most transparent ploys in the whole weary charade came when Harper told a press conference that (smirk smirk, my campaign manager is going to be so annoyed with me for saying this but) a minority government is the only foreseeable outcome of an election any time soon.

Translation: we know our agenda scares the hell out of you, but don’t be afraid to vote for us, we can’t get a majority anyway.

Conservative strategists know that most Canadians would as soon be governed by Toad of Toad Hall as by a Stephen Harper majority, so they decided the PM would “let slip” that they don’t expect to get one.

It’s not out of the question that these carnival tricks could get Harper the majority he wants, allowing him to push through policies with which few Canadians agree.

If he succeeds in gaining control of Parliament by trickery, bullying, and media manipulation, and then proceeds to push forward unpopular policies that would never survive an open, intelligent, public discussion, Harper will have taken the country one giant step toward a conservative American style of government — exactly the direction he’s always believed we should be moving.

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