Home > News and politics > The Few and the Gray: Harper’s PMO “Outted”

The Few and the Gray: Harper’s PMO “Outted”

10-May-10 02:55 am EDT Leave a comment Go to comments
A mock-poster satirising comments made by (Canadian) Senator Nancy Ruth (PC) of Ontario, suggesting to international aid advocacy groups ought to restrain the tone of their criticisms of the government lest funding sanctions follow otherwise.

buddy posted the Canadian political parody displayed right to Twitter yesterday afternoon.  Curious, I took a moment to read the associated piece in the Toronto Star, an opinion column entitled “What’s behind ‘shut the f— up’”, which expresses (far more articulately than I ever could) what my concerns about Stephen Harper and his governing Conservative Party are.

I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the Conservatives over the past couple of years watching the events cited in the article unfold.  It isn’t enough to say the disposition of this government is summarily arrogant, obsessively paranoid or simply tyrannical.  None of these characterizations say it all — it’s about how they’ve governed lacking the legacy in government the Liberals or even the NDP have.  They just don’t exhibit a respect for the “why” behind the way government has operated in the past and are charting their own course, establishing a character as they do so.  And in so doing, the character of the new Conservative Party is gradually revealed.

And Harper can’t take all the blame.  Yes, he’s the chief; the head honcho, the guy with whom the buck stops.  But if we examine one of the aforementioned characteristics which leaves the Conservatives vulnerable to critique: looking at what might have triggered the collective muzzle placed on the bureaucracy and Conservative MPs in particular, one need only recall the trickle of scandals that plagued both the old Reform Party and even the Conservatives early in government.  I seem to recall the odd comment made by backbenchers that would inevitably embarrass the government and hobble the pursuit of its agenda — frankly stupid remarks, perhaps about one ethnicity or another, or perhaps about homosexuals or some other distinct group; made by the MP of some sparsely-populated, backwater riding in the periphery of Alberta that would singularly focus media attention.  Naturally, the leader’s job would be to find a way to put an end to tongue-wagging radicals in the Party screwing up the orchestration of favourable media coverage, so rather than deal with each slack-jawed yokel individually, he chose the more efficient route of muzzling everybody and channelling all outbound communication through the PMO (his office).  God knows there could have been no end to a pattern of disciplining MPs for making dumb remarks otherwise and since the instrument of choice in maintaining a squeaky-clean image of one’s political party is ejecting inconvenient MPs from caucus, he could be facing the loss of much-needed seats.  (Not something one needs in a minority Parliament if you’re the PM.)

I sometimes think Harper doesn’t fit into the Conservative Party “community”.  He hasn’t pursued most of the party platforms debated and adopted at earlier Conservative conventions with much apparent enthusiasm.  The Conservatives have done things they raucously derided the Liberals for when they were in government (including the stoking of the Senate with Conservative patronage appointees).  Harper is said to be a “policy geek” at heart; and there probably hasn’t been the opportunity to install the new policies he thought there would be, thanks in part to being able to form only minority governments thus far.  And most in his Party, unlike himself, haven’t been strolling about Parliament Hill for the past decade being exposed to the machinery of the Canadian government to understand its traditions, legacy or operation.  Indeed, perhaps Harper might even secretly wish on occasion that Michael Ignatieff was PM and that he found himself in the Liberal leader’s cabinet, frustrating the extremist ambitions of those in his Party ever-lurking just behind the curtain, away from the bright lights and cameras.

Whatever his true feelings, Harper leads a party that has evolved into that has broken (perhaps inevitably) away from its original character; one that sought to reform Canadian institutions in favour of greater openness and democracy to a force for the centralization of power, authority and, in particular, communications in a single office.  An obvious erosion of the line that is supposed to divide the executive and legislative components of government has taken place; and there are even signs the judiciary isn’t immune.  More and more columnists and pundits are expressing concern over this — and with good reason.  Since I’m not at all certain any political party will champion the reforms that need to be made to fix what’s broken, hopefully growing demands in the public will spur a movement that can form an advocacy for the real changes the Conservatives (overwhelmed with ideology) have failed to make.  Of course, in the short term, electing another party to government that pledges to end the annexation of power in the PMO would best-serve the interest of government institutions.  And, in my humble opinion, it can’t happen fast enough!

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