Friday, November 28, 2008

The 'non-ideological' Stephen Harper

The press bought into the idea of a kinder, gentler Stephen Harper hook, line and sinker. As recently as a week ago the CanWest chain was frantically spinning the reasonable, affable Steve who wants everybody to pull together in the face of economic crisis meme.

A contagion of niceness appears to be sweeping the political landscape, with a once-bellicose Prime Minister Stephen Harper leading the way.

Harper explained the new posture at a news conference last week: "It is clear for the foreseeable future we have a very significant problem and politics as usual just will not cut it."


This sudden more positive thrust surely is born of the self-interest of all parties involved.

At a time of job losses when people are losing their savings, politicians have correctly concluded the public won't put up with the partisanship that normally characterizes the political process.

Initiatives like rescuing the auto sector, improving financial odds for pensioners and funding infrastructure programs thus will be supported by every political party interested in its own survival.


No slouch when it comes to the art of politics, the PM understands the imperative of softening his image and losing the bare-knuckle partisanship that in the past earned him the name Mr. Nasty.

It's unlikely today's throne speech -- outlining the government's blueprint for action -- will feature divisive issues. The focus will be on the economy and cooperative approaches to ease prevailing pain.

That was then. Instead we got a blueprint of inaction on the economy as the Conservatives inexcusably stall the stimulus that is needed sooner rather than later in an attempt to burnish their ideological correctness and obfuscate that they were heading for deficits even before the economic crisis. And instead of the 'non-ideological' more civil approach to dealing with the opposition we get an unabashed poison pill in the attack on public election financing.

Harper wants an election do-over in yet another stab at majority government.

University of Ottawa political historian and constitutional expert Michael Behiels is convinced Harper is determined to trigger his own defeat to take another stab at winning a majority before a deep recession sets in.

"He's got the Liberals on the ropes and he's using the funding of political parties as a way to provoke the crisis," he said. "I think he's angry he didn't get the majority. He came so close, and now the longer he waits and the deeper the recession gets the chance of coming out smelling like a rose is diminished. So it's best to catch all the opposition off guard, force them to defeat the government and browbeat the governor general into giving him another election as soon as possible."

Will the media now catch up to the reality that their cherished narrative of cooperation and pragmatic governance has fallen apart only days later?

As to the rumors and speculation about an opposition coalition - I'm like anyone else, I'd enjoy seeing Harper outfoxed as much as anyone but I'll believe it when I see it. The Liberals won't accept Dion leading the way and I don't think the NDP can partner with a neo-con in sheeps clothing like Ignatieff.

Interesting times.

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