Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Harper and the Ethics Commissioner: an update

If you were Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the current Parliamentary ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, announced that he was planning on launching an investigation against one of your Conservative Members of Parliament for conflict-of-interest, what would you do?

If your response was, "Co-operate with the investigation to clear my name and the party's, which would fulfill my campaign promise of a cleaner government," you're wrong. The Harper way to do it is "rush to replace the ethics commissioner".

As I've said before, Parliament hasn't even started, but that whole cool, confident, righteous leader image that Harper managed to project during the election campaign has already fallen to pieces. The new prime minister's displays of resistance towards such a probe, even if there is any justification for the slightest hesitation, are becoming increasingly outrageous (even embarrassing) and are effectively tainting his leadership before he has even begun handling major national and international affairs (apart from appointing the Cabinet, of course).

All of this, of course, leads to bigger concerns. Ethics was a key issue and transparency was a major campaign promise. If Harper is willing to break from this so quickly and nonchalantly, it makes me wonder: what will happen to his promise to refrain from using the notwithstanding clause on the issue of same-sex marriage?

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  • Mr. Clean goes to Ottawa, and one of the first things he does is state that the rules which apply to all elected politicians do not apply to him because he does not want them to.

    So he has his spokesperson tell the world that they don’t want to obey those rules because they don’t like the ruler. As if any defendant in the dock of any court in any land in the whole wide world would say he liked the judge and jury and prosecutor. Not liking somebody who is investigating whether you broke the rules is human nature.

    But unlike all those others, Mr. Clean says he has The Power. Resorting to the tried and proven tactics used by the neocons of the US, lead by one Karl Rove, Mr. Clean changes the subject by framing it differently. It is not a question of his conduct in perhaps providing an inducement to an MP to change sides and so perhaps breaching the rules of ethics. Oh no.

    It is about the power of the Prime Minister to make cabinet appointments. So there! Take that, EthicsSmethicks Commissioner.

    Anybody else beside me here overtones of the imperial response Bush offers so often? I am President, therefore I am all-powerful, therefore I am above the law, therefore I can disregard those who would call me to account for breaking the laws.

    Is Mr. Clean really going to argue that because he is the head-elected-honcho in Canada, his power to appoint anybody he wants to, to the Cabinet cannot be questioned?

    Really? How interesting. How presumptious. How arrogant ...

    I wonder if Canadians are going to go along with this bushian logic coming from Harper.

    Because if they do, they are agreeing with a man who claims he can appoint anyone to any post without any oversight. Even if that person gave Harper a bribe? Are cabinet seats now open to the highest bidder, because Harper is head-democratically-elected-honcho in this here land of ours, and nobody has any say over him?

    How about it, then, Mr Harper – why not open a Dutch auction for some really nice posts? Want to be Ambassador to France? Offer the Prime Minister a princely sum and its yours. Illegal? Hell, no – he is the Prime Minister and nobody can oversee how he does this job of appointing people ...

    See how easily framing changes the nature of the discussion: suddenly Harper is defending democracy in refusing to cooperate with an ethics commissioner appointed by Parliament who is investigating whether one of the foundations of democracy was damaged by an MP perhaps being offered and accepting an inducement to take office as a Cabinet minister.

    Harper’s Rovian framing makes it simple: Harper is good. Ethics Commissioner is bad. End of story.

    And Canadians are the losers.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:39 PM  

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