Thursday, May 25, 2006

Harper the Petulant?

Is this a sign of things to come if the Conservatives win a majority? Is Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally dropping hints on his governing style if his MPs ruled the House? Perhaps: the past couple of weeks have been extremely telling.

Surprising, to this Grit, that the budget was so beloved by the country, and the polls are tilting in this Prime Minister of a Hundred Days' favour. I was awed when he offered money to the cities (which he was rumoured to loathe), and amazed when he prepared to send millions in aid to Darfur. I'll admit, he almost had me for a second there - but there was nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it did.

First came the political appointment commission (essentially a review board), part of Harper's sweeping ethics plan to clean up government. For this task, the Prime Minister handpicked Gwyn Morgan, an ex-CEO from Calgary as his nominee for the lead position. Morgan was rejected by a panel of Opposition MPs (Liberals and New Democrats) due to previous remarks he had made, including statements against specific ethnic communities, such as: "The run-away violence (is) driven mainly by Jamaican immigrants in Toronto, or the all-too-frequent violence between Asian and other ethnic gangs...", adding that those cultures were "dominated by violence and lawlessness..."

In response to the rejection, Harper did not seek a new nominee. Instead, he scrapped the program entirely, claiming, "We'll obviously need a majority government to do that in the future. That's obviously what we'll be taking to the people of Canada at the appropriate time,"

This is disconcerting. It appears that in the Harper government, there is little room for compromise. Or, in fact, no room at all. Something as important as an ethics program to help clean up government was just dropped because his first pick didn't make it in. Considering Morgan's statements on immigrants and multiculturalism, it seems that the Opposition MPs had good reason to reject him for an ethics program.

Not only that, but it seems that Harper now frequently alludes to a calling an election when something doesn't turn out as he would have liked, while shifting the blame to fall on the shoulders of the Opposition.

But this is not all.

Today, the Prime Minister declared war... on the media, reporters and journalists on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.


The Prime Minister's Office (PMO), since Harper's election, requires that a list of journalists' names be compiled, and the office would choose who gets to ask the questions during a press conference. Needless to say, this could possibly stifle the hard-hitting questions and journalists in favour of easier questions from friendly media outlets.

(Wow -- am I still in Canada, or did I somehow manage to walk into a Bush town hall meeting?)

More and more of the Ottawa press corps have declined to post their name on the list - to which Harper has responded to fewer members of the gallery. This is precisely what happened yesterday just before his press conference on giving more aid to Darfur. All reporters refused to submit their names; the response to this was that no questions would be allowed. On such an important issue, it was imperative that the journalists get to the bottom of the story , and of course, ask some questions - to deny them that is, well, ridiculous. As a result, the press corps (almost all of them) simply left, leaving only news cameras behind to capture the PM's announcement for broadcast.

Rather than make any concessions, Harper boldly stated, while in London, Ontario, that he would no longer deal with the national media, and "just take the message out on the road." And not surprisingly, he accused the media of "be[ing] the opposition to the government..." and taking an anti-Conservative, pro-Liberal bias.


This is not the case. During the election, according to the Canadian Press, "senior Liberal officials earlier this year complained of an anti-Liberal bias in the national media.

"In the dying days of the last election campaign, Paul Martin's staff grumbled that reporters were out to get them and were working to elect Harper."

Just before the May 2005 budget vote, when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberals, members of the press audibly laughed when then-Prime Minister Paul Martin said that he didn't know if this move would effect the outcome of the non-confidence motion. If that wasn't an open display of mockery towards a Liberal Prime Minister, then what is?

If anything, news coverage towards to Tory government has been quite positive in recent weeks. Even the CBC's Rex Murphy, whom I respect for his intelligence and wit, has been singing Harper's praises for the last month or so. To denounce the media as being biased against the government would be incorrect.


The truth of the matter is, the national press gallery tries to be impartial - sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn't - but never has it been treated as poorly as it was today.

Interesting that someone now considered to be "moderate" has such uncompromising undertones.Now, in the face of all of that, just imagine what Harper could do... or rather, would do with a majority.

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