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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Stephen Harper Exposes a Psychological Disorder

On Monday newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled his choices for cabinet. During the day there were more than a few surprises including the defection of a high profile Liberal member who will now sit in the Conservative cabinet and slightly improved the government’s hold on power in the House.

There are far too many subtleties to this round of cabinet appointments announced to cover in one article but there are a few that stand out because they are so obviously good, bad or questionable.

The Good

The new cabinet consists of 27 members (including the PM) from various parts of the Country and is much smaller than the preceding Liberal cabinet. Tightening up government and removing unnecessary high level positions will not only save on salaries and expenses but remove redundancy and hopefully speed up the decision making process.

The appointment of Stockwell Day to the Public Safety portfolio provides three primary benefits to the reigning Conservatives and perhaps to the Country. The appointment of a high profile western MP will ensure not only the support of his followers inside the Conservative party but more importantly those in the Western Provinces. As an ultra-conservative Day may prove to be a good choice to deal with crime, gun and violence issues and his appointment to what some would consider a “lesser profile” cabinet position may ensure that his “interesting” comments and views don’t receive too much publicity. (Maybe, but I doubt it.)

The appointments of Peter McKay and Loyola Hearn to the Foreign Affairs and Fisheries portfolios respectively may lead to a major step forward in the resolution of some key Atlantic Canadian fisheries issues. With the appointment of these two Ministers from the Atlantic region the stage is set for potential movement on custodial management of fisheries off our coast.

As far as fisheries matters go, Loyola Hearn is one of the most knowledgeable government members to have held the portfolio in many years. His mandate will include protection of fish stocks and if there is to be any hope for progress on custodial management it will require the support of the Foreign Affairs office. With a Nova Scotia MP heading up that portfolio there may be some movement.

Stephen Harper’s decision to name McKay to the Foreign Affairs portfolio was likely motivated more by self preservation than out of concern over fisheries issues but the result is the same. It was widely expected that this post would go to McKay in order to ensure that Harper’s most highly visible potential rival for leadership would spend a great deal of time out of the Country, but as they say every cloud has a silver lining.

As a side note, McKay will also be responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) an agency that was not previously run by a Minister. This move may signal a greater focus on Atlantic development issues and could mean greater control and accountability of activities within the agency. In the past ACOA has been alternately criticized for fiscal waste or applauded for supporting new economic initiatives. As for Loyola Hearn, being a Fisheries Minister from Newfoundland and Labrador may be a blessing and a curse. No matter what decisions he makes in this role he will undoubtedly upset somebody in the Province. The appointment may be good for the Province but it could very easily destroy Mr. Hearn’s career.

The Bad:

The appointment of former Liberal MP and Cabinet Minister David Emerson to the International Trade portfolio will not sit well with either the members of the Conservative party, the opposition parties or the general public.

One has to wonder about the ethical standards adopted by a government that would select an MP who has crossed the floor immediately after an election and before any issues have even arisen that could possibly lead to such a step on his part. The people who voted for David Emerson clearly rejected the Conservative candidate in favor of a Liberal one. They thought they were voting for a Liberal during the election two weeks ago and until today they thought they had elected one. Add to all of this the fact that he was formerly a high profile member of a disgraced and ousted party that just a few weeks ago were blasted by the Conservatives as being untrustworthy and this may well be the first big mistake of the Harper government.

The Questionable:
What was the Harper government’s second big mistake, perhaps the appointment of unelected Michael Fortier to the Senate and then giving him a Cabinet seat. Stephen Harper has said in the past that he doesn’t agree with appointing ministers who are not elected, in fact he said he wouldn’t do it, and now in an effort to appease Montreal voters who did not vote for his party in the first place, Harper has done a clear flip-flop on his own publicly voiced position.

Everyone recognizes that a very large segment of the Canadian population resides in the Montreal area but we have to question if the people of the area really deserve, or should they even expect, representation from a government they had no part in electing. I have to wonder if this were Winnipeg, Regina, St. John’s or Halifax would such a move have been made. The reality is that you only have to look to P.E.I to find that answer. There we have an entire Province without representation and no move being made to ensure that they do.
Since the appointment Mr. Fortier has stated publicly that he was tasked with building Conservative support in Montreal. Listening to him speak you have to wonder if he will have any time left over to actually devote to his portfolio.

The government ran a campaign based largely on accountability. The result of the Fortier appointment is a Public Works Department now being headed by a Minister who was not elected and who will not even have to face criticism or debate in the House of Commons. With Fortier’s own acknowledgement that his focus will be on winning support in the Montreal area it’s clear that the appointment was made for the obvious benefit of the Conservative party and not with the best interest of the Nation in mind.

There could not have been an odder choice for the leadership of the Department of Public Works than Michael Fortier, an unelected, appointed and highly partisan party campaign worker is now in charge of a department that was the center point of controversy during the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

The good, the bad and the questionable decisions taken by Canada’s new Prime Minister on his first day in office has left many confused and tentative voters right across the Country. Many are left wondering if Mr. Harper’s next decisions will be any less bi-polar (or is it schizophrenic) than his first ones have been.


CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Stephen Who?

On his very first day as PM, Stephen Harper showed clear signs of following in the footsteps of the bungling Joe Clark, who not only lost his luggage but succeeded in losing his bearings in Parliament as well. Like Joe, Harper seems to have forgotten that his is a minority government, not a majority one, and seems to have assumed – at great risk to his fledgling government – that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc will not oppose him and force another election for 12 to 18 months.

We shall see if that assumption is valid.

If an election is held soon, the Tories will start off with egg on their faces, due to Holier-than-thou Harper’s baffling judgment on Day One.

Why on earth did Harper harpoon his own left foot?

He did it once, with his turncoat-conversion and the Liberal into the cabinet before anyone can see it sleight of hand.

He did it twice, with his appointment of – among others – Stockwell Day to his cabinet, instead of more women, and more women it important posts. Does the other half of the population – women – not count in Stephen Who’s world?

He did it thrice, with his U-turn on an elected senate. Principles dumped for expediency?

He did it fourthly, with his appointment of a former lobbyist – and then breathtakingly wants to legislate against others being allowed to do the same.

He did it fifthly, with his introduction into Canada of the Karl Rovian doublespeak. Thanks to Stephen Who, Canadians can now also spend delightful hours parsing the speeches of politicians, to decipher just how they are being bamboozled.

What a beginning!

I wonder if he will last as long as Joe Who....

BNB said...

Bit of dementia from Harper just to keep everyone interested and/or afraid I guess. For the most part though it's a pretty anti-climactic. The distribution says a lot. Lots of Westerners and just a peppering from the East Coast. Couple of good ones though in McKay and Hearn.

WJM said...

As a side note, McKay will also be responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) an agency that was not previously run by a Minister.

No? So Gerry Byrne, Robert Thibault, Joe McGuire never existed?

Patriot said...

To WJM: When I said not previously run by a minister I meant the last government and no, Gerry Byrne was not a minister at the cabinet table. If you think he was then you should go back and look a little closer.