03 December 2008

Stephen Harper blew his chance at statesmanship

Stephen Harper had a chance to be a statesman. He indicated he would be. After the election, he told Canadians he would work with the opposition to deal with the economic crisis. He sounded like he truly wanted to be leader of all the people. Then he blew it. The first thing piece of legislation he brought in had nothing to do with the crisis and everything to do with undermining the opposition parties. The real Stephen Harper, the us and them, firewall-building Stephen Harper, couldn't resist an opportunity to shaft his enemies.

The master strategist must have thought he had them over a barrel. If they defeated his legislation, he would claim it was a vote of confidence and call an election. The Conservatives, being in by far the best financial position, would win their majority. If, on the other hand, the opposition supported the legislation, they would cut their own financial throats. They would have been at a huge disadvantage in the next election, which we can be sure would not have been too long in coming. It was a sleazy tactic, but it seemed win-win -- too good an opportunity to miss. What the master strategist didn't count on was the opposition calling his bluff.

The Conservatives are crying foul, of course, claiming the leader of the coalition, Stephane Dion, was not elected prime minister as their man Stephen was. But he wasn't. There is no prime ministerial election in this country. We elect representatives for our constituencies, and traditionally the prime minister is that party leader who can command the most representatives in the House. If that is the leader of the Conservatives, then Stephen Harper becomes prime minister; if that is the leader of a coalition, then the prime minister is ... well, whoever the coalition chooses.

I admit I was beginning to think a new Stephen Harper was emerging. Earlier in the year he talked about the Conservatives moving toward the centre if they hoped to become the natural governing party. The Globe and Mail supported him during the election, saying he was growing into the job, and I felt maybe they were on to something. Obviously I was as naive as the Globe. I have, however, been relieved of any disappointment by the possibility of a government that actually represents most Canadians. Who would have thought? But with the coalition, that's exactly what we would have. And we wouldn't have another election for at least 18 months. My cup runneth over.


  1. What puzzles me is the number of conservative supporters who seem to think that they had elected Harper PM and had rejected Dion. Are they merely unaware that in our constitutional democracy, Canadians only elect a House (i.e. Parliament)? Alternatively, do they think that the votes of the other 63% who had elected an MP from a party other than Harper's are not as important as theirs?

    All this yelling that what the coalition is doing is undemocratic and illegitimate, and a lot of this misinformation seemingly coming from Harper himself. Maybe they should teach the basics of Canada's Parliamentary system in high school, and not let anyone graduate unless they can pass a test on it.

  2. There is no prime ministerial election in this country. We elect representatives for our constituencies

    Yes indeed! This basic point cannot be repeated too often. It's been shocking over the last few days to see how few people out there understand how our system of government works.